Alongside the staple ritual of sacrifice, “mysteries” (mystēria, orgia) were among the most respected ways of honouring gods and goddesses in the Greco-Roman world.  Mysteries were rituals that involved some degree of secrecy and only those with special status (those who were “initiated”) could participate fully in them.  The term mysteries could encompass a variety of practices, including animal sacrifice, communal meals, re-enactment of the myths of the gods, sacred processions, and hymn-singing.  Often, the most important aspect of initiation was the unveiling of sacred symbols by the “revealer of the sacred objects” (hierophant), often by lamp-light.  Yet there was also great diversity with regard to what symbols were considered sacred to particular deities or what steps were necessary for initiation.  Although one could encounter such practices in honour of various gods and in many settings (from official imperial cults to civic temples to local informal gatherings), the most well known mysteries that involved small gatherings or associations of “initiates” (mystai) are those connected with deities like Dionysos, Demeter, Isis and Sarapis, the Great Mother of Phrygia (Cybele), the Great Gods of Samothrace, and Mithras.  There were also similar mysteries celebrated in honour of the emperors, or “revered ones,” as I explore in the book (also see the inscription of the Demeter worshippers at Ephesos on this site).


  Read more about initiates and mysteries in the following articles: