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Understanding the Dionysian Cult and Eleusinian Mysteries

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  • Understanding the Dionysian Cult and Eleusinian Mysteries

    So I backed the kickstarter for Scion as I am always interested in different ways of life that are different from my own. And I got lost.

    Unfortunately I am not very familiar with the European ways of life beyond the basics and the one example pantheon is one I am wholy unfamiliar with.
    I did read the blog about how certain ways of life,cults, religion, or whatever term you prefer to use, will be revived and exist in the modern world. The Theoi example mentions
    two cults that become widespread in the modern world and I would like to understand them to a degree.

    So my questions are:
    What are they exactly?
    Does history have to change for these ways of life to survive into modern times?
    what would a typical person be like in one of these organizations in the instance of making a PC or NPC?

    I would most like a perspective from a local mythologist/historian but I would be still interested in anyone who has an opinion on these questions.

    Sorry, I just don't understand this mythology so thank you for taking the time to answer. Hopefully Neall gives another Pantheon example like the Chinese, Japanese, or Indian ones so I can better wrap my head around the approach that is being taken.


    How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
    -Zhuangzi

  • #2
    Both of them are 'mystery religions,' which were very popular in Ancient Greece and Rome; they're all about levels of initiation into the mysteries, with higher-ranking members holding onto religious/philosophical secrets until others are deemed ready to understand them. They last through the end of Roman times and technically well after (one could argue that any of the crazy secret societies you see in the Victorian era through today, like the Freemasons, fit this type) and are lucky compared to mainstream polytheism in that their secretive nature helps hide them from monotheistic purges, though I think Scion's setting of The World is less harsh on paganism as a whole. Mystery religions were usually for philosophers and other scholars as a way to hide secrets from each other, though some Roman cults instead recruit from the military; if they're larger in The World, then likely anybody can join and begin initiation into the mysteries.

    Dionysus is gold of partying (with a heavy focus on alcohol) whose followers can sometimes lose themselves to passion but can sometimes achieve revelations; think of them sort of like various ecstatic beliefs, like a sexier dervish or the New Age version of tantric sex. I imagine a lot of these cultists are largely just looking for an excuse to get drunk and fuck strangers, but some of them are genuine seekers of revelation or those trying to escape the conservative order of things.

    The Eleusinian Mysteries are a little tougher to grasp. We know they were all about the myth of Persephone, who was wed to the god of the underworld but permitted to return to the living world every year, but they had some interesting beliefs about the afterlife and immortality. They may have taken hallucinogens to try and commune with the gods through altered states of consciousness, but all we really know for sure is they took the whole secretive aspect of the mysteries very seriously; if you weren't in and initiated, you didn't get to know. I imagine lots of their followers in The World are those who lost loved ones and hope to commune with the dead, or possibly guarantee a better afterlife for themselves.

    Hope any of this helps! I'm dying to see some more Pantheons too.


    Just call me Lex.

    Female pronouns for me, please.

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    • #3
      As for what in history has to change for them to survive - that's a very good question. Basically [late Roman up through Early Modern] Christianity had to be historically much more tolerant of polytheism co-existing with it than actually occurred in history.

      In my own take on the World, I'm inclined to make this the case by treating Christianity as a Henotheistic rather than Monotheist tradition, thus downplaying the "religious exclusivity" that arose in the Western world. You must accept Christ's sacrifice to be saved, but whether other gods exist is religiously irrelevant (not unlike how Buddhism is concerned with enlightenment and has no problem with the local deities of the places it spreads). Thus you still have all the historic religious conflicts between Protestants, Catholics, and other Christian schisms over leadership, ritual, and their views on Salvation, but without the need to suppress other deities outside those questions. Except of course where national politics are involved: Certainly the Church of England, and the Church of Ireland likely were very suppressive toward worship of the Tuatha de Dannan along with Catholicism, but had no such qualms about worship of the Aesir in their Anglo-Saxon aspects. And of course the treatment by white Europeans of Manitou and Orisha worship would still be as horrific as in reality, but in the World these are purely matters of racial imperialism, not Christian religious exclusivity.

      That's my completely non-canon take on how to historically accommodate the continuous (rather than reconstructed) survival of European paganism.


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      • #4
        Originally posted by atamajakki View Post
        Both of them are 'mystery religions,' which were very popular in Ancient Greece and Rome; they're all about levels of initiation into the mysteries, with higher-ranking members holding onto religious/philosophical secrets until others are deemed ready to understand them. They last through the end of Roman times and technically well after (one could argue that any of the crazy secret societies you see in the Victorian era through today, like the Freemasons, fit this type) and are lucky compared to mainstream polytheism in that their secretive nature helps hide them from monotheistic purges, though I think Scion's setting of The World is less harsh on paganism as a whole. Mystery religions were usually for philosophers and other scholars as a way to hide secrets from each other, though some Roman cults instead recruit from the military; if they're larger in The World, then likely anybody can join and begin initiation into the mysteries.
        .
        Oh ,so like the mystery cults in Japan (such as the Yamabushi) and China (such as the Falun Dafa); for some reason I wasn't connecting the dots because the description in the teaser text made them feal cosmopolitan rather than rural.



        How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
        -Zhuangzi

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        • #5
          The Eleusinians were definitely more cosmopolitan and associated with privileged classes - though they may have had rural roots given that it's effectively a fertility religion built around the turning of the seasons and rebirth of the year in the Persephone myth. But like Christianity, its main draw was the promise a better afterlife to its initiates (this is probably where the Elysian Fields concept first entered Greek Myth) - unlike Christianity, it didn't make that offer publicly available to everyone, and treated membership as a privilege elevating the few who were connected enough to get in over the masses.

          Dionysians its hard to know definitely because so much of what we know about them is mixed up with propaganda against them, so its hard to separate the fact from fiction. For example, the Roman Senate, when they outlawed the Bacchanal rites, wrote about the rites being matriarchal in nature and the cult being led by women - but this may have just been the Patriarchal Romans villifying them with ideas they were scared of corrupting their youth. Like I said, hard to know for sure. Some would argue Dionysus as a god of male virility, would not have had a female led cult. Others counter that as god of inversion, transgression, and that which is other, that's exactly what he'd have in a patriarchal society. His festivals would intentionally invert social roles (which is why the Roman authorities so feared them, because they inverted the strict Roman social hierarchy).


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          • #6
            Originally posted by glamourweaver View Post
            The Eleusinians were definitely more cosmopolitan and associated with privileged classes - though they may have had rural roots given that it's effectively a fertility religion built around the turning of the seasons and rebirth of the year in the Persephone myth. But like Christianity, its main draw was the promise a better afterlife to its initiates (this is probably where the Elysian Fields concept first entered Greek Myth) - unlike Christianity, it didn't make that offer publicly available to everyone, and treated membership as a privilege elevating the few who were connected enough to get in over the masses.

            Dionysians its hard to know definitely because so much of what we know about them is mixed up with propaganda against them, so its hard to separate the fact from fiction. For example, the Roman Senate, when they outlawed the Bacchanal rites, wrote about the rites being matriarchal in nature and the cult being led by women - but this may have just been the Patriarchal Romans villifying them with ideas they were scared of corrupting their youth. Like I said, hard to know for sure. Some would argue Dionysus as a god of male virility, would not have had a female led cult. Others counter that as god of inversion, transgression, and that which is other, that's exactly what he'd have in a patriarchal society. His festivals would intentionally invert social roles (which is why the Roman authorities so feared them, because they inverted the strict Roman social hierarchy).

            Ah, I need to be careful about my thinking framework, I don't want to be an occidentalist about a culture very different from my own. Regarding your opinion about what might have to change in history in order for these cults to survive, I had to look up Henotheism to get your Buddhist comparison but I think I've got it and it would be interesting, but wouldn't that make europe very syncretic in comparison to what it is in real life. I know a few Japanese people, for example, that follow the traditions of Shinto and Bukkyo and which has its own word known as Shinbutsu and then there are Shugendo and many others. My understanding is that Europe is not particularly syncretic, although please let me know if I am being occidental about this.


            How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
            -Zhuangzi

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            • #7
              I'm kind of bummed that the Orphic Hymns mystery weren't mentioned, honestly.

              Maybe Mithraism will get a mention when they talk about the Roman-exclusive members of the Theoi.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Crying View Post
                I'm kind of bummed that the Orphic Hymns mystery weren't mentioned, honestly.

                Maybe Mithraism will get a mention when they talk about the Roman-exclusive members of the Theoi.
                Probably with the Yazata, when they come up; word of Neall is Mithras is a member of both the Yazata and the Theoi, and since his primary pantheon is the Yazata...


                Scion 2E: What We Know - A wiki compiling info on second edition Scion.

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                • #9
                  I'm profoundly curious to see what religions exist in The World for the other Pantheons; elevating the Mysteries to the level of a known faith is a really interesting one. How did Egypt handle Christianity and Islam in The World, I wonder?


                  Just call me Lex.

                  Female pronouns for me, please.

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                  • #10
                    Strictly realistically, the Roman Mithras and the Persian Mithra probably weren't actually connected at all beyond the name being borrowed - but as we know so little about Mithras, and LEGEND about the cult connects them, if Scion leaned into the myth and connected the Cult of Mithras to Zoroastrianism, and made Mithras an aspect of the Yazata, I'd be fine with that.


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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Ostarion View Post


                      Ah, I need to be careful about my thinking framework, I don't want to be an occidentalist about a culture very different from my own. Regarding your opinion about what might have to change in history in order for these cults to survive, I had to look up Henotheism to get your Buddhist comparison but I think I've got it and it would be interesting, but wouldn't that make europe very syncretic in comparison to what it is in real life. I know a few Japanese people, for example, that follow the traditions of Shinto and Bukkyo and which has its own word known as Shinbutsu and then there are Shugendo and many others. My understanding is that Europe is not particularly syncretic, although please let me know if I am being occidental about this.
                      You are correct. In reality the Abrahamic faiths bore the concept of religious exclusivity into the world (that being the idea that following a given religion is mutually exclusive with following any other, something many Westerners don't realize is a distinctly Western concept), beginning with Judaism's strict monotheism, and then aggressively enhanced by the proselytizing aspects of Christianity and Islam (Judaism by comparison strictly forbids the worship of other gods by its community, but does not worry about what anyone else does as it is not a proselytizing faith). My thinking is things need to be a bit different in "the World" for European polytheism to have continuously survived rather than having been completely supplanted by Christianity as in reality.*

                      *To be fair, aspects of European paganism survived in folk customs, including things as common as the Christmas tree or May pole, and even directly inside Christian traditions, such various gods being assimilated as Saints. But if the straight up worship of the Theoi, Tuatha, and Aesir continuously survived in Europe, the relationship between Christianity and paganism needs to have been substantially different.

                      Note: Ancient Israelites before the Babylonian Captivity were probably initially henotheists themselves. But post-Babylonian Captivity, certainly by the time you get to the Roman rule of Judea, there is firm monotheism and the rejection of the concept of other gods even as lesser to their One G-d (something that endless confused the polytheist Romans, who were used to being able to introduce their gods and the Imperial Cult into the cultures they conquered alongside or equated with the local gods, but the Judeans absolutely refused to budge on the whole monotheism thing).
                      Last edited by glamourweaver; 09-24-2016, 12:32 AM.


                      Check out my expansion to the Realm of Brass and Shadow

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by glamourweaver View Post

                        You are correct. In reality the Abrahamic faiths bore the concept of religious exclusivity into the world (that being the idea that following a given religion is mutually exclusive with following any other, something many Westerners don't realize is a distinctly Western concept), beginning with Judaism's strict monotheism, and then aggressively enhanced by the proselytizing aspects of Christianity and Islam (Judaism by comparison strictly forbids the worship of other gods by its community, but does not worry about what anyone else does as it is not a proselytizing faith). My thinking is things need to be a bit different in "the World" for European polytheism to have continuously survived rather than having been completely supplanted by Christianity as in reality.*

                        *To be fair, aspects of European paganism survived in folk customs, including things as common as the Christmas tree or May pole, and even directly inside Christian traditions, such various gods being assimilated as Saints. But if the straight up worship of the Theoi, Tuatha, and Aesir continuously survived in Europe, the relationship between Christianity and paganism needs to have been substantially different.

                        Note: Ancient Israelites before the Babylonian Captivity were probably initially henotheists themselves. But post-Babylonian Captivity, certainly by the time you get to the Roman rule of Judea, there is firm monotheism and the rejection of the concept of other gods even as lesser to their One G-d (something that endless confused the polytheist Romans, who were used to being able to introduce their gods and the Imperial Cult into the cultures they conquered alongside or equated with the local gods, but the Judeans absolutely refused to budge on the whole monotheism thing).

                        Then I look forward to how that will come about in the 'world' of Scion. Conversely what they do about the already existing ways of life in my region because there are quite a few of them.

                        For now, though, I am curious, Does anyone actually know what the secret mysteries are for the Eluisinian, because most of what my own research has found is speculation.


                        How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
                        -Zhuangzi

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                        • #13
                          Given that the three major Asian Pantheons in the core (the Deva of India, Shen of China, and Kami of Japan) are all part of continuous living traditions in reality, I would assume reality needs less tinkering there than with the European Pantheons.


                          Check out my expansion to the Realm of Brass and Shadow

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by glamourweaver View Post
                            Given that the three major Asian Pantheons in the core (the Deva of India, Shen of China, and Kami of Japan) are all part of continuous living traditions in reality, I would assume reality needs less tinkering there than with the European Pantheons.

                            Perhaps, but if they do, that would most likely mean that the Deva are the most populous followed by the Chinese based on current figures (not that I put much trust into those statistics simply because of how they are acquired). Even if you ignore statistics, those populations alone are a sizable chunk of the world population.

                            As we know worship is not important when it comes to power and legend, but it has social implications and influence.

                            Therefore, I am hoping for changes to them to reflect that they are not monolithic entities (which they aren't in real life but orientalists tend to categorize them as such) and provide a more pluralistic view of things.

                            Edit: also I hope that the Siberian and West Asian regions are covered in the future.
                            Last edited by Ostarion; 09-25-2016, 04:17 AM.


                            How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
                            -Zhuangzi

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Ostarion View Post


                              Perhaps, but if they do, that would most likely mean that the Deva are the most populous followed by the Chinese based on current figures (not that I put much trust into those statistics simply because of how they are acquired). Even if you ignore statistics, those populations alone are a sizable chunk of the world population.

                              As we know worship is not important when it comes to power and legend, but it has social implications and influence.

                              Therefore, I am hoping for changes to them to reflect that they are not monolithic entities (which they aren't in real life but orientalists tend to categorize them as such) and provide a more pluralistic view of things.

                              Edit: also I hope that the Siberian and West Asian regions are covered in the future.

                              This world seems like it has a much larger variety in religions in general, so I don't think you have to worry too much.

                              And I, personally, would love to see an active Mongolian pantheon.

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