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Introduction to Orphism

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Introduction to Orphism

Post  Erodius on Fri May 24, 2013 1:31 pm

Orphism
Orphism, an ancient religio-philosophical tradition, incorporates elements of Dionysian myth into its full-blown cosmology. A Greek hero, Orpheus is considered the founder figure of Orphism and, some would say, a prophet and a reformer of the Dionysian Mysteries. He was from Thrace, a child of the Muse Calliope, and depending upon the account, of Apollo or of the Thracian Oeagrus.

According to the classical references, Orpheus, unlike the typical warrior hero, was a peace-loving patron of the arts, especially of music. Because of a prophecy, Jason included Orpheus among his heroic crew of Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. The Argonauts came to be spared from seduction and death by the Sirens’ song because of Orpheus’ own divine singing. When Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice, died from a snake bite, the despondent Orpheus descended into the Underworld and charmed Pluto and Proserpina through the holiness of his song. They released Eurydice on the condition that Orpheus not turn to look upon her until they had completed their journey from the Underworld. But the anxious Orpheus prematurely turned to verify his wife’s presence, and she vanished back into the realms of Hades. Orpheus met his own death, according to one tradition, when he was dismembered by Thracian women jealous of his devotion to Eurydice. In another version, the women believed themselves to be acting on behalf of Dionysus in revenge against the Olympian flavor of Orpheus reforms, though upon learning of their deeds, Dionysus punished the women by transforming them into trees. In any case, they threw the head of Orpheus into the Hebrus River, and it floated to the island of Lesbos, where, caught upon the rocks, it continued to sing and deliver prophecies for generations.

Parallels between the myth of Orpheus and that of Dionysus are apparent in these traditions: their common origin in the land of Thrace, their sea journeys, their wandering that led both to the Underworld in a quest to rescue a feminine principle — Dionysus’ successful rescue of his mother, Orpheus’ unsuccessful rescue of his wife — the similar death of both by dismemberment, and their association with prophecy. Yet Dionysus embodied the elemental principle of nature, whereas Orpheus’ father, Apollo, embodied civilization, while Orpheus came to bridge the two. Thus, the first century BCE historian Diodorus Siculus wrote:

“Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, who was to superior to all in natural gifts and education, learned from his father; Orpheus also made many changes in the practices of religion and for that reason the rites which had been established by Dionysus were also called Orphic.”

Diodorus also compared Orphic literature with the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose teachings, he claimed, agree with those “which are set forth in the Orphic poems and are introduced in their rites, but it is not lawful to recount them in detail to the uninitiated”. Nevertheless, contemporary references to Orphism were most often to its literature and lifestyle rather than to its cult practices.

The Orphic Myth of Dionysus
Orphic literature focuses on the overlapping themes of theogony, cosmogony and anthropogony. Their unity is summarized in the Orphic principle attributed by the early 3rd century CE writer Diogenes Laertes to Musaeus, the disciple of Orpheus:
"All things proceed from Unity, and are resolved again into Unity."
The Rhapsodic Theogony, dated as early as the first century BCE, preserves a composite version of the Orphic myth, which was the Hellenistic standard. According to this version, Time in the beginning first created the One, represented in the Orphic cosmogony as the Silver Egg of the cosmos. The hermaphroditic First God, Bacchus/Dionysus-Phanes, known to the Orphics also as Protogonus (First Born) and Love, the creative principle, burst out of the cosmic Egg. Phanes, who ruled over the Golden Age, the first Orphic age, created Night (or split into masculine Love and feminine Night), and with Night created Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth, in turn, gave rise to the Titans. One of the Titans, Saturn/Kronos, sealed his dominion over the earthly sphere by castrating his father Heaven. Thus, a first Orphic age was defined by the successive rules of Phanes, Night, Heaven and Saturn/Kronos.

He had children by Rhea, but fearing the same treatment from them that he had shown his own father, Saturn eliminated his offspring by swallowing them. However, their mother, Rhea, was able to save her son, Iupiter/Zefs by disguising a stone that caused Saturn to regurgitate the offspring. Iupiter in turn swallowed Phanes, embodying in himself all the previous age and securing his rule over a new age. This second age is the present age of mortals and provides the setting for Orphic anthropogony.

According to Orphic anthropogony, Iupiter, with his daughter Proserpina/Persefoni, gave birth to a new Bacchus, Zagreus. His rule over all the world as the son of Iupiter, and over the Underworld as the son of the Maiden, aroused the jealousy and greed of the Titans. In a rage, the Titans dismembered, roasted, and devoured the young Zagreus. But Iupiter incinerated the Titans with thunderbolts and a great storm, and from their ashes arose, ultimately, the human race. Humans are thus constituted of the evil nature of the Titans, the sons of earth, but also from the divine Zagreus, whom the Titans had eaten. In this way, according to Orphic understanding, the divine Zagrean Soul had been imprisoned in a body (in Greek 'soma'), and must be liberated from this prison (in Greek 'sêma') in order to regain its true nature. One must flee the Titanic in order to liberate the Zagrean.

The Titans devoured all but the heart of the young Zagreus, which was recovered by Pallas (Minerva/Athini). Iupiter swallowed this heart and by it gave birth to the new Dionysus by Semele. This resurrected Bacchus was able to assist humanity in purifying themselves of their Titanic nature and in recalling their true Zagrean self. He thus became one of the major Hellenistic savior gods. Orphism, then, understood human existence under the rule of Fate as fallen, and consequently understood mortal life as a period of punishment and purification.

Orphic Mysteries

The name Orpheus was applied to the authorship of certain 'mysteriosophical' writings and upon a particularly ascetic lifestyle. There were many examples of local Orphic confraternities around the Mediterranean, although recent studies speak increasingly of an Orphic bearing or attitude that permeated much of ancient and Hellenistic Greek religious thought.

If it is possible to speak of the Orphic Mysteries apart from greater Orphic religion, they were communicated primarily through literature and not through rituals. The second-century traveller Pausanias equated reading and instruction in the Orphic teachings with actually witnessing the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Orphic 'literary Mysteries' preserve the outward form of Hellenistic Mystery religion in the written word. If the reader of the Orphic holy texts had turned away from the world, as evinced by an ascetic lifestyle, this literary presentation could affect him/her just as if he/she had ritually participated in actual mystery ceremony.

More striking to Hellenistic outside observers of Orphism than any of their ritual practices were their ascetic practices by which they sought purification from their fatal Titanic nature. For it was through this ascetic purification that the Soul, the Bacchic-Zagrean Self within, would be reunited with the One from which it was derived and to which it would ultimately return.
____

From:
Martin, Luther H. Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. 98-102.

_________________
"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Introduction to Orphism

Post  Erodius on Fri May 24, 2013 1:32 pm

And another, much older, article:

The Orphic Reform

_________________
"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Blog: eusebeis.wordpress.com
The Orphic Way: www.hellenicgods.org
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Re: Introduction to Orphism

Post  Pemphredo on Fri May 24, 2013 7:12 pm

cheers Thanks Erodius, both for the introduction as for the links!!! cheers
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