The Secrets of the Mystery Schools
Annotated and Recommended Reading List for Magicka School Students.
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The Mysteries of Eleusis – Goblet D’Alviella – The Aquarian Press, 1981.
This is a very readable and recommended book for anyone who maybe wishing to familiarize themselves with Mystery Schools for the first time. Although, in the words of the author the book it “does not set out to be a learned treatise”, it is nevertheless clearly grounded in good scholarship.
The author has taken what available research was available at the time of writing and attempted a reconstruction which is plausible.
Mithras: Mysteries and Initiation Rediscovered – D. Jason Cooper – Weiser, 1996.
There are many ways to view and assess any historical phenomenon. This book is of interest to us here as it is written by an occultist and therefore contains views and observations that might otherwise be overlooked or discarded by more conventional researchers.
It also makes comparisons between the Mithraic Mysteries and modern contemporary Mystery Schools such as The Golden Dawn.
With a good number of illustrations, this book is a good read for anyone wishing to know more about one of the longest lasting religions in the world and its continuing influence today.
Isis in the Ancient World – R.E. Witt – The John Hopkins University Press, 1971.
This book is useful to gain insight into the history of religion particularly in the ancient Greco-Roman world into which the Cult of Isis was embedded. There is a specific chapter on ‘Mystery and Sacrament’, which actually documents a very short history and purpose of Mystery Schools of the ancient world.
Naturally the story of Isis begins in Egypt and we read a little about the mythical story of Isis and the work of her priesthood. But the story moves quickly into the spread of the Egyptian religions into the Greco-Roman world and ultimately to the time when the cult of Isis competes with Christianity.
The Egyptian Mysteries – Arthur Versluis – Arkana, 1988.
Arthur Versluis is an Academic and one of the pioneers of academic esotericism. This work on the Egyptian mysteries is, as one would expect, hailing from the academic tradition. He claims that the biggest barrier to understanding the Mysteries is the way the modern mind has lost the ability to think in a visionary and symbolical way.
In trying to repair this loss he draws upon Greek, Roman and Hermetic texts as well as Vedantic, Buddhist and Platonic sources as a way of illuminating what might otherwise seem impenetrable. He describes the major deities in the Egyptian cosmology and the main metaphysical concepts, underpinning it. This is a book to dwell and reflect upon.
The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World – David Ulansey – Oxford University Press, 1989.
This is a book for anyone wanting to dig a little deeper into the Mithraic mysteries. The author here proposes a theory the challenges earlier interpretations of the extant evidence as to the origin of the cult. Through the study of Mithraic iconography, the author suggests that a secret astronomical code was embedded in them.
Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction – Luther H. Martin – Oxford University Press, 1987.
An accessible foundation book, which is – as the title says – an introduction. The author divides the Hellenistic approach to religion into three main strands; that of Piety, Gnosis and Mystery. So in this respect it offers the reader an opportunity to gain a sense of what else what going on in the mix at the time when the ancient Mystery Schools flourished.
As an introduction, this book works very well, giving at times very short taster sections on a wide range of subjects within the general sphere of Hellenistic religion. These topics include amongst others magic, alchemy, The Stoics, The Mysteries of Dionysis, Isis, Eleusis and even Gnostic Christianity.
Paganism in The Roman Empire – Ramsay MacMullen – Yale University Press, 1981.
This is a highly academic book. To give a flavor of this, the main texts comprises of 137 pages, the endnotes and bibliography a further 100 pages. Well researched, it gives a flavor of the diversity of practices spread over an entire empire that is breathtaking in itself. The book ends with the chapter “ The manner of the death of Paganism” (within the empire) alluding to how and when Christianity became the religion of the state.
Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation – Henrick Bogdan – State University of New York Press, 2007.
This is an invaluable work for anyone interested in the form and development of rituals as currently practiced in the western esoteric tradition. It is highly descriptive and in many cases Bogdan cites extracts from the actual rituals under scrutiny.
Using the rituals of Craft Freemasonry as a blueprint, the author traces the development of the form of these rituals and describes their evolution and use in organizations such as The Golden Dawn and Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft movement.
Eleusis: Architypal Image of Mother and Daughter – Carl Kerényi trans Ralph Manheim – Princeton University Press – Mythos Series, 1991.
Focusing on the Sanctuary of Eleusis, this work explores not only the known facts and archeology on the site (of which there are illustrations and photographs) but also on the myth of Demeter and Persephone, which the author claims, underpins of Mysteries that were conducted there.
In taking this approach, human nature and the quest for identity is taken into consideration. The author was a close friend of C.G. Jung, so perhaps we should not be surprised.
Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth – Mircea Eliade – Spring Publications, 1994.
This is a wide-ranging work dealing with the subject of ‘initiation’ from many viewpoints. Eliade takes us on a worldwide journey through what initiation meant in primitive religions and rites of passage, through to ‘Shamanic and Heroic initiations finally arriving at what he terms ‘higher’ religions, Puberty rites and Mystery Schools.
Interwoven themes throughout the book are the questions about what the act of initiation is trying to achieve, the language of symbols, and ideas of death and re-birth.
Ancient Mystery Cults – Walter Burkert – Harvard University Press, 1987.
In the words of the author “this is meant to be a readable account, not a thesaurus; the aim is to give a perceptive view of ancient mystery cults with some graphic details and adequate documentation, and thus provoke thoughts rather than bury them under an avalanche of material”. And this is does, very well.
Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred – Jeremy Naydler – Inner Traditions, 1996.
A favourite book of Magicka School in how it re-visions our own perception of the world from a presentation of how it might have been seen in Ancient Egypt. Naydler attempts, and possibly succeeds in showing an almost alien world-view where magic and religion, daily life and the deities, were not seen as separate.
The Secret Teachings of All Ages – Manly P. Hall – TarcherPerigee, 2003.
A sweeping survey of ancient mysteries which was intended to be an encyclopedia of esoteric knowledge. Richly illustrated by J. Augustus Knapp, this became a classic for a century, although much of its research is somewhat dated on many of its subjects. However, as a dictionary and reference to popular conceptions and misconceptions of its vast range of subjects, it is essential reading.
Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean at Philipharland.com is a fantastic resource.