What is a Neopagan Mystery Religion?
Before I get into this article, I want to quote a passage from Witchvox about the Traditional Wicca. (http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usfl&c=basics&id=4575). Hopefully this will connect the rest of the article back to the neopagan associations.
“Traditional Wicca is considered a 'mystery' religion, one that requires initiation by the coven and has a "degree system" or different levels of rank based upon coven training and the readiness of the initiate to accept the duties and responsibilities of that degree. Traditional Wiccan covens have a core of inner knowledge-often called the "Book of Shadows"-which is shared only with initiated Wiccans. Most Traditional Wiccans believe in the balance of male-female divinity. Traditional Wiccans are seldom solitary except for those 'Elders'-usually former priests and priestesses-who may have retired from active coven involvement, have taken a voluntary sabbatical or do not have access to a Traditional coven in their area.”
The Religious System – The Foundation of the Mystery School
There are core beliefs in any religious system. These beliefs represent the foundation of an established spiritual system. Only those who are fully invested in the religious system can fully claim and teach this set of core beliefs. The investment occurs through secretive intense training over a period of time. Those with the proper qualifications become the guardians of the beliefs, and through them, the guardians of the religious system.
What is a religious system? Religion is a practice and observance of beliefs supported by faith in the Divine. While faith is inherently ecumenical, that is, its greater precepts cross the boundaries of culture and geography, religion can be very much tied to the tribe and society in which it is practiced. In this, the practice of religion presents a framework for individual and/or group observance of divine truths, and recognition of faith. The group observance is shaped by their environment, history, traditions, and language. Borrowing from Dictionary.com, the core of religions becomes a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
The Religious System's Mystery Schools
Religious systems are protected by the use of secrets. When these secrets are only taught to initiates, the religion takes on the label of 'mystery religion'. Wikipedia.org defines a mystery religion as:
A mystery religion is any religion with an arcanum, or secret wisdom. In a mystery religion, an inner core of beliefs, practices, and the religion's true nature, are revealed only to those who have been initiated into its secrets.Designed for all possible initiates, the revelations are paced to provide a gradual understanding of the religion's core. The teachings of the mystery religions are progressively revealed to initiates, building upon prior teachings. Oath-bound, the initiates are told not to reveal any of the groups secrets to outsiders, less the knowledge be profaned. Sometimes, once understood, teachings are discarded so a higher order of the mystery can then be revealed. The teachings can be purposely erroneous to a small degree, requiring initiation into higher orders of learning before the correct understanding is revealed. Ultimately the progression leads to the fullest understanding of the mystery religion. The order and meaning of teaching is part of the religion's mystery. Any one piece of information, by itself, is meaningless unless seen in the context of the full mysteries. Full understanding of the mystery religion is only possible when seen through the lens of prescribed understanding..
The Path of Guardianship
Every person or religious group must decide who they will serve. There are two models for this. These are "strongly serving a few people" or "lightly serving many people" models. I've written about these two types in a previous blog. Those associated with mystery religions, or who are religious guardians in general, tend towards the role of serving few greatly. The dynamic plays out in this way:
"serving few greatly" person - They see themselves as honest, stalwart guardians of a few people. They see themselves as extremely passionate caretakers of those around them. The amount of attention that can be given to specific people is substantial, providing for maximum impact and growth. Those who criticize the "serving few" person do it from a place of not understanding. The extreme "serving many lightly" people are seen as scattered, uncaring, lazy, unfocused, and so on.
The Role of the Guardian
In theory, all those initiated into a group religious system become a guardian. The guardian is charged to secure the beliefs of the system while they minister to the other members of the tribe. While those outside of the tribe are acknowledged, it is the fellow members that are most important to the guardians.
How does the guardian perform their duties? One way is the "serving few greatly emphasis". Another way is to see group information as oath-bound. Outside revelation of the information is seen as profane disclosure. What is profane? The applicable dictionary.com meanings are:
- characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious.
- not devoted to holy or religious purposes; unconsecrated; secular (opposed to sacred).
- not initiated into religious rites or mysteries, as persons.
- to misuse (anything that should be held in reverence or respect); defile; debase; employ basely or unworthily.
- to treat (anything sacred) with irreverence or contempt; violate the sanctity of: to profane a shrine.
Shadows of a Mystery Religion
I wish to cover the shadows first. I do this as to not seem to emphasize these as the outcome of all mystery religions. Instead, I only list these negative outcomes as warnings of what can happen. The shadow side of the mystery religion rests in its small size and insular nature. The small size of the religion threatens it with extinction if key members are no longer present. Teachings can be lost if not passed down prior to the removal of members. The insular nature provides little recourse if there is perceived abusive behavior towards initiates. The path for remediation is an exit into the world of the profane. The insular nature also resists growth and furthering of beliefs, potentially moving from a dynamic heart of spirit to a dogmatic heart of stone. Lastly, in battling the profane world, the guardians of the mystery religions are perceived as xenophobic, close minded, mean-spirited, and aggressive. The goodwill of the outside world is disdained. The initiates of the religion are painted with a brush most unfair. These shadows are avoided when a mystery religion remains aware of it's charter purpose and scope, abandoning dead dogma for the divine realities of life.
Benefits of a Mystery Religion
The mystery religion is an incredible place to develop spiritually. The pace is focused and intentional. The spiritual progression is more rapid than the lone individual can attain. There is companionship and a sense of a family. The mysteries shared with the initiate bind them to archetypal truths. Grand vistas are glimpsed as the landscape shifts during each phase of the teachings. Ultimately, the initiate truly knows the Divine. The mystery religion and tribal religion are the pathway, the pathworking, on which the initiate walks to met their God(s).
The intention of this article was to look at the function of the mystery religion/school and the important role of guardianship. The outcome of the mystery school guardianship is not without its shadows. To talk about these in the open is controversial, but I believe that the consideration of these aspects is important as the shadows seem to have deepened. The purity of guardianship has turned from compassionate protection to harsh condemnation. I can make no apologies for speaking to these matters. I truly believe that the neopagan religions are needed to bring balance to our world. This is only possible if we, the neopagans, do not destroy ourselves from the inside.