For over a thousand years, from the birth of the Greek civilization through the very end of the Graeco-Roman Empire, learned people of the Ancient world held with great reverence and respect the teachings, the Initiates and the secrets of a small, mysterious island in northern Greece. So great was the respect for the secrets of this island, that to this day, almost nothing is known to the public of the practices and teachings passed on there.
With most of the major works on Samothrace lost in time, (possibly in the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria) what little public information we do have, comes mainly from scraps and brief ref-erences by ancient Greek historians. Some of these mention an even more ancient people called the Saii, who had a civilization, language, and an ancient religion peculiar to themselves, who inhabited the area of Mount Saos (so named for its great height) long before the Mediterranean Sea had its present shape. When the floor of the sea shifted, and great portions of the area sank below the water, these people took refuge in the mountains to escape the flood. A sanctuary from the sea from its very birth, Mount Saos became the island of Samos. Later, to distinguish it from the island of Samos in the Ionian Sea, it was called “Thracian Samos” or Samothrace because of it’s proximity to Thrace. Besides the forested mountains and a popular type of onion that grew there, the island itself was known for the ancient monuments and altars that encircle the island, built by the Saii at the place where the water stopped rising. For centuries it was said that fishermen sometimes dragged to the surface parts of great and ancient submerged ruins entangled in their nets…
Mountainous, almost entirely uncultivable, and surrounded by very rough sailing, the island was largely left alone, undesired, unconquered and uninvolved in the political turmoil of the times. Thus, the island continued its function as a sanctuary, attractive both to sailors in need, and to other persecuted, oppressed, or less aggressive people. Among the refugees to find a home there were peaceful descendants of the pre-historic matriarchal age of the Great Mother Goddess, who were finding survival more and more difficult in the increasingly violent age.
From the region of Mount Cabeiros in the country of Berekyntia, servants of the Phyrgian Great Mother goddess came to Samothrace. Marvellous wizards and magicians were they. The people of Samothrace were greatly impressed by their wisdom and became the first converts to their secret cult of the Cabiri, mixing with it some of their own ancient language, religion, and style.
Later, a people known as the Samians, driven out of their homeland took women and booty from the Thracians and took refuge here too, staying after the captive Thracian women burned their boats. They gave the island and the mountain that forms it their present names, and added some of their own religious style and language to those on the island as well.
The collective faith of all these people of the Great Mother: the ancient people the Saii, the magicians and wisdom of some Phrygians, the influence of the Samians and of the Thracians who were renowned for an especially famous cave-temple sacred to Hecate, all served to attract great minds to the island. Here, a very powerful and ancient system of initiation and enlightenment found a sacred sanctuary, and a distinct style of its own.
On this island was born the religious system that would later shape the characters of the Greek and Roman civilizations. So effective were the practices on Samothrace, that its initiates were renowned for becoming better and happier people in all regards, successful in all their major undertakings. Many became instrumental in the formation of the ancient world.
Here studied and were initiated the greatest figures of antiquity. Some of the first were Iasion and Dardanus, who were instrumental in the formation of the Greek and Trojan states. Orpheus is believed to have studied and taken initiation on Samothrace, and later became the first to teach the mysteries and rites of initiation to Greek peoples. Dardanus, too took initiation here and became the first to teach the mysteries in this form to the Trojans. It is said that
the Argonauts, even Hercules and Ulysses had become initiates and taken part in the secret rites practised there. Some of the great minds of western history such as Pythagoras had studied there as well.
It is said that a young girl by the name of Olympias was celebrating the secret mysteries of the Cabiri when she first saw the young Philip of Macedon in the course of his initiation there. Upon seeing each other during these rites of the nuptial torch, they fell in love and persuaded Arybbas, her half-brother to betroth them. To be sure, the union of two such initiates of the deepest mysteries of the ancient world was no small thing. It would, in fact, change the face of the western world forever, for born to them was the extraordinary being known as Alexander the Great.
The religious system of Samothrace and the outlook that went with it spread throughout the northern Mediterranean and continued to grow with the civilization it influenced so heavily. Secret temples and schools of the Cabiri were established throughout the known world, two of the most notable being those on the island of Lemnos and in Thebes, Egypt. There is even historical reference to “an island near Britain on which rites are performed like those in Samothrace that have to do with Demeter and Kore”.
With those teachings brought to the Greeks by Orpheus and others from Samothrace, Eleusis became the outer, public spiritual centre of the Greek era. Samothrace remained the inner spiritual centre of the age. At Eleusis, where initiations occurred at times dictated strictly by the religious calendar, only Greek free citizens were allowed initiation, and everyone was granted the next degree of initiation after one year of elapsed time. By contrast, in Samothrace, initiation took place any time, possibly as a course of the nightly rituals of the order. Here, all people, regardless of nationality, race, or profession, slave and foreigner alike were granted an equal opportunity for admission to the order. In further contrast with Eleusis, admission to the higher degrees of initiation was granted solely on the basis of the candidates motives and degree of realization. There are many recorded cases where dignitaries visiting Samothrace from other countries were denied initiation into the deeper degrees, whereas their own ships crew, and sometimes their own slaves were immediately granted admittance to the deepest mysteries.
So great was the power of the Cabiri and the respect for the wisdom of it’s initiates, that the Sanctuary of Samothrace was regarded as a place especially sacred and it was continually granted political immunity and independent rule by the political powers that shifted through time. All the way through the end of the Roman Empire, it endured as a true sanctuary and refuge from all types of misfortune, including crime and the law.
Samothrace was respected as a place where one confessed and was purified. It was understood that people who lived there became initiates, and thereby became more caring, happier persons with the highest principles and ethics, entirely unafraid of death or the after-life, and protected by the powerful and mysterious Cabiri from all types of calamity at sea, whether the sea of water, or the ocean of life.
The initiates who spread through the known world soon became famous for their abil-ities to help others in distress as well, and grateful rulers, noblemen and merchants sent funding and rich gifts of thanks to the island in support of the work performed there.
The Mystery Religion
To Understand the power and significance this Island held throughout the Graeco-Roman era, one must know something of the nature of the mystery religion and of initiation.
Here is a description of the mystery religion that been published previously:
“The words Mystery Religion imply a system of traditional teachings about the mysteries of the Divinity, Nature and Man. (Mystery in this context meaning: Truths known only by insight and revelation and not by the senses and/or logic.)
As with all true mystical-magical systems, it has a central myth or legend which contains in allegorical language and symbols the main theme of the cult, embodying motivations, attitudes, and sacramental practices (sacrament: outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace), which are gradually revealed and explained to its followers as they progress through the traditional Three Degrees.
The Three Degrees are actually three stages of the candidate’s development from the darkness of ignorance to the spiritual light of her identity with the Gods.”
It is the goal of all religions, as the word itself implies, to convey a re-union (re-legion) with all things, with the whole of experience and one’s own significance in that whole.
The problem in doing so is a problem with the nature of communication. On the transmitting end, we gather words and gestures that we associate with the idea we wish to convey, hoping the receiver holds the same associations as we do, and hoping they will triggered into sharing our idea. On the receiving end, we endow a message with meaning and relative importance by the associations brought to mind from our own past experience. Of the millions of associations brought to mind, we hope and try to find the same associ-ations the transmitter had in mind, and thereby understand and share the transmitter’s experience.
The problem with the nature of communication arises from the nature of experience itself. An experience is something that involves all the senses and the perceptions and associations that together comprise the entire state of mind of the experience. When someone tries to share an experience, to fully understand what is being said, one must feel the same things, perceive the same things, and have the same associations of significance. In other words, the idea has to be presented within the right context, or the listener won’t be getting the significance of what you are saying, they won’t be able to see the relevance of your idea. For example, if you say “I could go for a steak” in the context of food, one immediately thinks of meat, but in the context of a camp (stake), one thinks of a peg (stake), and in the context of a gold rush, one thinks of a claim. Imagine the confusion possible if you were pitching a tent during a gold-rush while someone said they were hungry. If you don’t establish the context of your point before hand, both the meaning and relative importance of what you said will probably not be understood.
We try to establish a context by carrying on a “conversation” in which we trade associations back and forth, adjusting our sphere of context, until we share approximately the same expe-rience, or find that such is not possible, or desired. Usually, we don’t bother with a 100% re-creation of an experience when we communicate. We just say enough that someone “gets the idea”, and we don’t care if the person understands the message, or shares the total experience, and this is major part of humanity’s social problems.
Often, it’s not necessary to convey an entire experience, as when a sales clerk tells you that your chocolate bar costs 85 cents. But when you are trying to remind someone of their in-born union with all things, with the whole of experience, and of their own significance in relation to everything in that whole, a few words just won’t re-create the idea in the mind of the listener. What suffers most is the profound signifi-cance of the message, for a message gets it’s significance from the associations in the mind of the receiver, and a few words just won’t recreate an environment of associ-ations, and certainly won’t re-create an entire experience. It won’t re-create the context that provides the idea’s relative profundity.
There is one exception to this fact. When two or more people have undergone the same experience, a reminder or symbol of the experience can trigger the same associ-ations and memory of an experience in each of their minds.
Now, what if, after millions of years of evolution, by pure chance, someone has stumbled upon an experience of Being, that is so absolutely intimate, and so absolutely profound that words cannot be used to re-create the same perception. What if someone became aware of that One Point of View, that of being Awareness Itself, and the relationship of Awareness to the sum total of Experience. Words cannot draw attention to such intimacy nor the infinite context in which it is per-ceived. The idea is simply more intimate than any other experience, and cannot therefore be conveyed by means of association. The context of the experience, being as vast as the totality of experience itself, involves simply too many associations to bring to mind. We might trade associations forever, and still never approximate the totality of the context of such an absolute experience.
Even though it is impossible to exactly communicate such an intimate and profound experience, it is possible, given the right conditions, to use skilful means to engender such an experience in someone open to it. This is so because we are always having this experience, though we may not be aware of it, or think of it as such. We may not know the profound significance of simply being aware. This is what true religions try to draw attention to, and Remind us of.
A mystery religion involves an ingenious technique of deliberately hiding and then revealing ideas for building associations, and thereby, a specific context in the mind of the student. Then, within the context of these very definite associations, the intimate and simple message is conveyed. The totality of the associations in the experience still cannot be conveyed, nor can the absolute intimacy of the perception, but the genius in the technique is shown in the fact that the message starts one on a definite line of thought, and the associations define a specific way of seeing things. Like an arrow, this carefully aimed line of thought eventually leads to the context toward which it was aimed, and the student eventually arrives at the absolute experience in his or her own time.
To illustrate the technique, let’s use as an example a myth of a lost heir to a kingdom.
The Royal family is alone in the woods for a picnic, and the party is beset by enemies who are killing everyone. Before she is discovered and killed, the Queen, who is bathing her baby at the river puts him in a basket and pushes him out into the river to float away from the carnage. A nearby farmer sees the whole thing, and rescues the child, but keeps quiet for many years in fear for his life and that of the child. The farmer makes sure that the boy is never told anything of the kingdom or even the existence of the palace, for fear that he might be discovered and killed. In the poverty and suffering he grows up with all his life, he wishes he could do something for the people of the land, but feels powerless as the son of a farmer. Years later, when the enemies are all dead and the child has grown of age thinking himself the son of the farmer, the farmer contacts the regent to the throne and reveals by the existence of a birthmark, the true identity of the farmer’s son as heir to the throne. The regent comes to the boy and verifies that this is so, and tells him he is king, and tries to take him from his home to the palace. The boy wants no part of the strange palace and doesn’t know what a king is, and the regent, perplexed, sees that the boy and his family are poor and suffering, and instead offers the boy a job in the royal stable. In this first degree of kingship, he learns of the palace and the people there, and the complex social order that surrounds it. As he does well with the horses he is promoted to gardener, and in this second degree of kingship, learns still more of the affairs of the palace. Then he is given the job of janitor in the palace, and a bit closer to the throne each time, learns of the people who the regent must deal with, and the affairs of the kingdom, but from behind the scenes, and hears what people say after the formal meetings are done. Later, still closer to the throne as personal aide to the regent, the boy discusses affairs of state as a matter of friendship, and when he has demonstrated his understanding and his wisdom, the regent again tells the boy who he is, and he finally takes the throne. Like all kings, the boy still does not know completely the significance of who he really is, but he knows enough to function, and he continues to learn on his own for the rest of his life.
The point is this: an extremely profound idea has no meaning without the context that gives it significance. By successive revelations of significance, a specific context can be built, that gives the idea it’s intended meaning and significance.
Now I can tell you right here and now, that you are the One in whose Mind this whole universe is played out, and that everything you see is indeed a part of you. The total experience I’m trying to convey is far more intimate than I can put into words, and extent of the context to which the experience applies is totally lacking. But if you were to undergo the successive mysteries, initiations and revelations provided in a true mystery religion, you might know enough to function as who you really are, and continue to learn on your own for the rest of your life. The magical tools and symbols presented to you during the initiations will then be triggers or reminders that freshen a specific realization in your mind.
To properly understand a mystery religion then, we must know something of the central myth that embodies the motivations, attitudes and sacramental practices which are gradually revealed to the initiate. In this way, we will understand something of the religion’s message and something of the significance of that message.
The fact is however, in all the centuries of the life of Samothrace, of the thousands of Samothracian initiates who spread throughout the then-known world, not one of them is known to have ever published the actual myths, rites, practices or teachings involved in their cult. This astounding fact is a great testament to the power of the Cabiri, the integrity of those initiates, and to the deeply intimate, emotional impact those mysteries had on them.
Unfortunately for us, this means that without being Samothracian initiates ourselves, we cannot study and learn about the details of what was involved in this rare and very successful institution of ancient times. We can however, infer a great deal about what little we do know of the Samothracian mystery religion by applying what we know of other mystery religions. A lot more can be said if we should happen to have a friend who had previously been a hierophant at Samothrace, continues to teach the mysteries to this day, and who remembers something of the rites of the Cabiri: a possibility inherent in the nature of the Cabiri, and which will be explained by the end of this essay.
One of the things ancient historians did record about the Samothracian mysteries is that it’s central myth involved Hecate, Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. Knowing that the Eleusinian mysteries came originally from the teachings of Samothracian initiates, and that it’s central myth also involved the same deities, we can learn a lot about the Samothracian sacred myth by studying the one used in Eleusis, though details will have changed to suite the different character and motivations of the Eleusinians.
Here, then, is a version of the Myth of the Abduction of Persephone that was used at Eleusis:
The Abduction of Persephone
Having defeated the Titans, Zeus divided dominion of the World among himself and his two brothers, Poseidon and Hades. To Poseidon was assigned the oceans, to Hades, the Underworld, and the Heavens Zeus kept for himself.
Now Zeus and Poseidon were very social beings whose amorous adventures are famous to this day, but Hades preferred the quiet solitude of the realm of the dead, and rarely even knew of the dramatic carryings-on above. Wrapped in gloom, the Lord of the Dead grew lonely and Zeus decided he should have as a wife one of his many daughters. Without consulting her mother, Zeus chose the beautiful and innocent maiden Kore, daughter of Demeter, and bid him claim his bride.
The socially inexperienced Hades, in search of a way to attract the maiden, appealed to Gaia for help. She created a special flower for him with which to attract the maiden. In the lush meadows of the Nysean fields there appeared a radiant wonder such as never before seen by gods and men, and all were astonished by its beauty. A hundred blossoms sprouted from its root, sweet fragrance spread around it and brought a smile from the heavens and the earth and the salty flood of the sea.
The maiden Kore was playing in those lush meadows together with Athena and Artemis and the daughters of Okeanos. They were picking roses and crocuses, violets, irises and hyacinths, when, unsuspecting, she came upon the wondrous flower, the narcissus created for her. Spellbound by its strange beauty and its sweet scent, she reached out for the delicate flower, and as she did so, even before she picked this rare jewel, the ground rumbled and roared and a great chasm appeared in the Nysaean Fields. From the depths of the earth sprang the Lord of the Underworld the Son of Kronos, the god with many names, with his immortal black steeds. He set the struggling maiden on his golden chariot and carried her off despite her wails.
Shrilly she cried out for help to her Father, Zeus, the supreme ruler, but he listened not. Neither god nor man paid heed to her cries, not an olive stirred. Only the tender daughter of Persaios, the goddess Hecate heard the cry from her cave; and it was heard too, by Helios, the splendid son of Hyperion. Her Father sat remote from the gods, in his much-frequented temple and he stirred not. It was his doing that his daughter had been carried off by her uncle Hades, Lord of the Dead, the Commander of Many Souls, Host to Many Guests.
The maiden vowed that as she still could see the earth and the starry sky, the sea and the sun, she would see again her mother and the eternal gods. The mountain-peaks and the depths of the sea echoed her immortal voice. The Lady her mother heard the cry and sharp pain laid hold of her heart. She tore the headdress from her immortal hair, cast her dark cloak from off her shoulders, and flew like a bird over land and sea in search of her child.
For nine days the Lady Demeter wandered upon the earth with two burning torches in her hands, but knowing the all-powerful father was behind the treachery, no-one was willing to tell her the truth, neither god, nor man. Not even a bird flew to meet her as a sign. In her grief, she neither ate nor drank the ambrosia, nor did she moisten her body with water.
It was not until the tenth morning that Hekate, also carrying a torch, met her and brought her tidings: “Lady Demeter, bringer of ripeness and giver of rich gifts, who was it then, who stole Persephone and so deeply troubled thy heart? I heard the cry, but I did not see who it was. Had I done so, I would tell you the truth.” At Hekate’s suggestion, the two flew to meet the sun, the chariot of Helios, the watcher over the Gods and men. With torches in their hands, the two halted in front of his horses, and the great goddess asked about her daughter and the ravisher. The son of Hyperion answered her: “Daughter of Rhea, Lady Demeter, thou shalt learn the truth. I have reverence for thee and pity at thy grief for the maiden with the beautiful ankles. None other of the immortals is responsible but Zeus, who gave her as a wife to his brother Hades. Hades carried her off in his chariot, taking her by force to the realm of darkness and paying small heed to her loud weeping. But thou, goddess, cease lamenting! There is no need to scold so inconsolably. In thy brother Hades thou hast received no unworthy son-in-law amongst the gods. Since the apportionment of the World, he has been honoured with a third of creation, and where he dwells he is indeed king.” With that, Helios stirred his horses and they drove onwards as swift as birds.
The goddess was stricken by still more dreadful and gnawing grief. In anger at Zeus she left Olympus and the assembly of the gods and went amongst men and visited their cities and places of work. In her grief she neglected her appearance and for a long time moved among men unrecognized.
She came to the palace of the wise Keleos, who at that time was a king in Eleusis, that city fragrant with sacrifices. She sat down by the wayside, sunk in the grief of her heart, by the Well of the Virgin, where the people of the city drew water. Sitting there in the shade of an olive tree, she looked like an old woman who can no longer bear children and has no more share in the gifts of the goddess of love. Thus look nurses of royal children and the elder serving-woman of echoing palaces.
Four daughters of Keleos, son of Eleusis, came to draw water in brazen pitchers for their father’s house. They were goddess-like, in the flower of maidenhood: Kallidike, Kleisidike, Demo, and Kallithoe, the eldest. They did not recognise the goddess, for indeed it is not so easy for mortals to behold the gods, and they said to her, “From whence art thou, old woman, and whither goest thou? Why has thou left thy home, and why comest thou not into the palace? Within its shady walls thou wouldst be at home, in thy old age, just as are the younger women, who would use thee well both in word and in deed.”
The goddess answered in a friendly manner, calling the maidens dear children, and told them her name in a distorted form, and invented a story, saying that pirates had brought her against her will from Crete. She said that when they landed near Thorikos and were preparing a carouse for themselves with the women, she had escaped and now knew not where she was. She asked for help and hospitality in the house of which the maidens were the daughters, suggesting that perhaps there was a child there for whom she could care as nurse. She offered to prepare the bed for the master and mistress, and to teach handiwork to the other women of the household. Kallidike, the most beautiful of the maidens, told her that none of the families in the land would turn her away, that any would take her in at first sight, for so great was her resemblance to the goddesses, but bid her wait until they, the four sisters had asked their mother Metaneira to invite the stranger into her house. They added that there was indeed a sweet and recently born son in the palace; and that whoever took care of him and reared him would be envied and richly rewarded.
When their mother agreed, the maidens came running back and led her home. Demeter followed them with a veil over her face, in a long, dark robe that flowed rustling down to her delicate feet. They entered Keleos’s outer hall, where sat the Lady Metaneira before her chamber. In her lap she held the child, the new offspring. The maidens ran to their mother, and the goddess stepped over the threshold. Her head touched the roof, and the doorway was filled with divine light. The Queen was stricken with awe, astonishment and terror. She rose from her seat and demanded that the goddess should sit in her’s. Demeter would not do this, but stood in silence, with eyes cast down, until the wise handmaiden Iambe set a stool before her, and threw over it a silver-white sheep-skin. Thereupon Demeter sat down and lowered the veil from her head over her face. Long she sat there making no sound, in deep grief; she spoke no word and made no sign. Without smiling, without touching food or drink, she sat there mourning for her daughter, until the wise Iambe with mockery and jests so cheered the divine Lady that she first smiled and then laughed, and her soul grew merry again. Metaneira offered her a goblet of wine, but Demeter refused it, saying that she was not permitted to drink red wine. She asked that barley should be mixed with water, that she might drink it with delicate mint. The Queen made the potion, and the goddess took it, as have others ever since, who are dedicated to sacred purity and may not drink wine.
Only now did Metaneira speak the words of greeting and bid the stranger welcome. She said that she could read in the eyes of the goddess her royal rank, even in misfortune, and she entrusted her with her late-born, long hoped-for son, and offered her great reward if she would care for him and rear him until he reached the age of youth.
Demeter, goddess with the beautiful wreath, undertook to care for the child, and promised his mother that she would be no bad nurse, but one who knew the charms against all evil influences. In her immortal hands, she took Demophoon, son of Keleos, to her fragrant breast, and Metaneira rejoiced.
Demeter cared for the boy within the palace. The child grew like a god, without eating or drinking. The goddess anointed him with ambrosia, breathed upon him with her sweet breath and held him in her lap. Every night, without the knowledge of his parents, she exposed the child to the full strength of the fire, tempering him like a billet of wood that is being made into a torch.
To his parents it was a great marvel how their son grew: he was fair as one of the gods. Demeter would even have made him into a never-aging immortal had not Metaneira, in her thoughtlessness one night peeped out from her chamber and seen what was being done to the child. She screamed, and in terror beat both hands upon her thighs, and burst into lamentation, saying, “Demophoon, my son, the stranger lets thee waste away in the great fire, and me she plunges into bereavement!” The goddess heard her, and was filled with anger against the Queen. With immortal hands she laid the child aside, upon the ground, having first wrathfully taken him from the fire, and at the same time she said to Metaneira: “Ignorant are ye human beings, and thoughtless! Ye can foresee neither good nor evil! I swear the great oath of the gods, by the water of the Styx, that I would have made thy dear son into an immortal, who would have remained eternally young, and I would have won for him imperishable renoun. Now he no longer has any way of avoiding death. Imperishable renown he shall receive, because he sat in my lap and slept in my arms. Continually the sons of the Eleusinians will at appointed intervals wage wars in his honour, but I am Demeter, the mistress of all worship, a divinity of the greatest beneficence, who bring the greatest joy both to the gods and men. Now you and your whole people shall erect to me a great temple and an altar in front of it, beneath the city wall and above the well with the beautiful dancing-place, on the spur of the hill. I shall teach you the sacred rites, so that in future you may offer me the worship that comforts my soul.”
As the goddess spoke, she resumed her original stature and shape. No longer an old woman, she was bathed in beauty, a desire-awakening fragrance spread around from her sweet-smelling robe; far shone the radiance of her immortal body, her golden hair fell upon her shoulders and brightness filled the chamber as if with a flash of lightning.
The goddess strode from the palace and the Queen fell down in a swoon. Long she lay there making no sound, not thinking to pick up the child from the ground. Her daughters heard his weeping and leapt up from their bed. One of them picked up the child and took it in her lap. Another lit a fire. A third ran to their mother, helped her to her feet and brought her from her room. All busied themselves with the child, washing him while he struggled and surrounding him with love. They spent the whole night praying to the goddess, quaking with fear.
At the grey of dawn they told the powerful Keleos what the goddess had bidden them to do, and the king summoned the people together and called upon them to build a rich temple and an altar to Demeter, upon the spur of the hill. The people at once obeyed, and built as he commanded.
When they had finished and saw the fruit of their labours, they went home. In the temple Demeter sat, remote from the gods, and she mourned for her daughter. A dreadful year she sent upon the all-nourishing earth, a year of bitter misery for mankind. From no seed would the earth allow anything to sprout; Demeter caused everything to lie hidden in the ground. In vain the oxen drew the ploughs on the fields, in vain fell the white barley into the furrows. She would have destroyed all mankind with evil famine, and the Olympians would have received no more worship, had not Zeus thought better of it.
First of all he sent Iris, the lovely goddess with golden wings, to fetch Demeter back to Olympius. Iris obeyed and hastened to Eleusis. She found Demeter in the temple, swathed in her dark cloak, and implored her, but in vain: the goddess would not consent.
Then the Father sent all the gods to her: they came one after another, to fetch back Demeter, and they brought her splendid gifts. But none could move the angry goddess to come back. She would not set foot within the fragrant palace on Olympus, nor would the earth again bear fruit, until she once more saw her daughter.
At this, Zeus sent Hermes, the god with he golden staff, into the darkness of the Underworld, to persuade Hades with soft words and to bring Persephone back from the gloom and up to the gods and the light. Hermes obeyed and sprang from the Olympian abode down into the subterranean depths. There he found the lord of the palace at home. He sat leaning on the bed beside his shamefaced wife, who was deep in grief, yearning for her mother. Hermes stood before them and told Hades, the Lord of the Dead, the Dark-Haired God, of the reason for his arrival. The eyebrows of Hades were raised in a smile. He was obedient to King Zeus, and at once spoke to his wife: “Go thou, Persephone, to thy mother, the goddess with the dark cloak. Go with a gracious heart and be no more so exceedingly sad. I shall be no unworthy husband of thee amongst the immortals — am I not own brother to Father Zeus? If perchance thou comest here at times, thou shalt rule over all living creatures and shalt have the greatest honour among the gods. Whoever insulteth thee, and bringeth no sacrifice of contribution, shall atone for it eternally.”
Thus Hades spoke and Persephone sprang up rejoicing. As he spoke, her husband offered her a few honey-sweet seeds of a pomegranate, lovingly placing them in her delicate mouth, so that she should not remain for ever with Demeter. He harnessed his immortal steeds to the golden chariot, the goddess mounted it, and Hermes, with reins and whip in his hand, drove the team through the air.
Hermes halted the steeds at the place where Demeter sat before her fragrant temple. At sight of the chariot she sprang up in joy to meet her daughter, no longer the innocent Kore, but Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Persephone, leaving the chariot, flew to meet her and while they embraced, Demeter was already asking her daughter whether she had taken food in the palace of Hades, for if she had, she must spend one-third of the year below the earth, and only for the other two-thirds could she remain with her mother and the rest of the immortals, returning to them with the spring.
Persephone told how, at the moment when she sprang up in joy to return to her mother, her husband had slipped the seed of a pomegranate into her mouth, and had compelled her to eat it. She also told how she had been carried off while she had been playing and picking flowers with the daughters of Okeanos and with Athena and Artemis.
Thus she and her mother passed the whole day, enveloping each other in love. Then came also Hekate of the gleaming headdress, and she, too, lovingly welcomed the daughter of holy Demeter. Hekate became her companion, and her guardian, saying that she would make sure that Persephone shared her time as agreed, between the realms of the dead, and world of the living. Zeus sent his mother Rhea, the dark-robed goddess, as a messenger to the pair of them, to Demeter and Persephone, that she might fetch them, and he promised them whatever honour they might desire. Rhea flew down from Olympus to the Rharian Fields, which had formerly been fruitful but now lay there sterile, without a single green blade, keeping the white barley hidden within the soil, in accordance with the will of Demeter. It was on these fields that the goddess, coming from Heaven, now first set foot. Gladly they beheld each other, the mother and daughter, Rhea and Demeter. Rhea told what Zeus had promised, and besought Demeter to permit the life-giving corn to grow again.
Demeter consented, and caused the fruit of the heavy-clodded fields to sprout forth. Thickly she covered the broad earth with blade and blossom. Meanwhile she continued to visit humans and taught them the sacred rites, and initiated them into the sacred worship, which may be neither revealed, nor heard, nor even spoken aloud, for sacred awe for the goddess chokes the utterance. Blessed is the man on earth who has seen such things. But he who remains uninitiated and has no share in them will when he is dead have no portion in the like blessings in the musty darkness down below.
When Demeter had given all these instructions, the goddesses went up to Olympus, into the gathering of the other immortals. There they dwell beside Zeus, enjoying great honour. Blessed is the man on earth whom they love. They will readily send him Ploutos, the god of wealth, into his palace, to be for him a guest who bestows riches upon mortal men.
Hecate: Overseer of the Mysteries
It should be understood that the Goddess Hecate had a special significance to the initiates of the Mysteries of the Cabiri. The island of Samothrace itself was said to be sacred to Electra, whose children, the three Cabiri and the six Cabirian nymphs, are said to be the original inhabitants of the Island. Now, Electra is an aspect of Hecate, showing forth her tremendous curiosity and passion for experience, an Enthusiasm of “electric” intensity. Of the sacred features on the island, only the sanctuary itself is mentioned more often than the Zerynthum: a sacred cave in which were celebrated the mysteries of the Cabiri, the cave of Hecate, a cave of initiation. The mystery system of Samothrace involved three degrees of initiation, and throughout these three degrees the triple goddess, the three-faced goddess was a constant guide and companion to the seeker of the Mysteries.
Hecate, who was Supreme before the time of creation, Ancient Aunt to even the Titans, was the only goddess Zeus dared not cross. She, in the form of Styx was dreaded, hated and feared by all the gods, for she had the power to punish them like no other. This is so because She is the primordial Fate, or Karma, inherent in existence, that was before creation, what is in fact, creation itself. This Primordial Fate, or Karma is the sorceress who’s illusions are the entire expanse of space, and all the life and evolving creatures within, including the Gods themselves. Of course, they don’t cross her… they are all in her mind. They are her own emanations, her own illusions, her own thoughts. She is cast out of the realms of the Gods because the illusions of personal importance, of power, growth and progress are obviously only illusions in her presence, and there’s no fun in playing a game if it’s not convincing.
The Cabiri: Servants of the Great Mother
With the influence of the many servants of the Great Mother that came to the island of Samothrace, the religion of the island was rich, diverse, and colourful in its symbolism, teachings, and rites, though it remained carefully organized and single-minded in its message throughout its history.
Throughout history to the present day, there has been a great deal of confusion about who and what were the Cabiri.
Some report that the Cabiri were three: Demeter, Persephone, and Hades.
Others insist that the Cabiri were seven or nine or more magical beings. This is due to the fact that, in the mysteries of the Cabiri, the magical intelligences of nature were depicted as children with ancient faces, to show their childish character as children of the Great Mother, but not to lose sight of the fact that they have greater age, experience, and potency than mere mortals. Indeed, this description equally well describes the character of the wise Initiate who, as a child of the Great Mother, is also able to retain a child-like innocence and awe for life, while at the same time embodying the Ancient Wisdom.
Some have said that the Cabiri are two male warrior-like beings. It is said that two huge bronze statues stood outside the main temple, either side of the great main double doors. They were of naked phallic male figures, reaching up with their hands, much like other Greek statues of Hermes. These are believed to have been two of the three Cabiri born to the Mother along with three Cabirian nymphs. With two at the entrance to the temple, the third of her sons is conspicuously missing.
Still others say that the Cabiri refers to the people who originally inhabited the island of Samothrace.
All of this confusion makes perfect sense when one considers that all these views are correct. It was a polytheistic religion and each deity had many names and many aspects. Collectively, the deities of Samothrace were known as the Cabiri. The meaning of this word is clear when analyzed by relating it to a word of the ancient Semitic tongue. In Hebrew, Cabiri is , KABRYM, from the root , ABYR, which means powerful, mighty ones, very old and powerful; or from the root , KBR, which means great, powerful, or multiply abundantly. Thus, Cabiri can be translated as The Mighty Ones.
Some teachings by a heirophant of the mysteries regarding the Mighty Ones have been published before, and are included here with editing and permission of the previous publisher:
“In a general sense, the Cabiri, or “Mighty Ones” are five great Orders of beings, children or emanations of the Great Mother and her consort, the God. As such, they are extremely important not only in an over-all sense but in the daily life of the initiate, for they are the messengers and servants of the God and Goddess, and in a deeper sense, their ever present immediacy. For this reason the individual initiate enjoys a very close and personal, day-to-day relationship with the Mighty Ones, always working in and through their presence and with mutual loving support. It is with the deepest devotion and respect that they are summoned to Guard and to Witness all the sacred rites of the Gods.
Actually, the term “Cabiri” is a general one, as stated before, and includes many different types of beings. At the bottom of the ladder are the Elementals, the crude, basic awareness of the Elements themselves: the Four Great Hosts of Nature. Next, the spiritually awakened intelligences of the Elements, identical to the Archangels and Angels of the Judaeo-Christian systems. Beyond these are “The Mighty Dead”, all the great and powerful Wise Ones who have ever lived, and like the Goddess Herself, have made the sacred Oath of Eternal Return for the welfare of all that lives — the Sacred Oath to watch, to help and to teach all those in need, and to come to the Brethren when properly called, as was taught of Old. Beyond all these are those great and exalted beings called “The Watchers”: the Sleepless Guides and Guardians of Humanity whose deepest concern and constant work is the evolution and the happiness of Mankind. And finally, the greatest, mightiest of all, are none other than the Goddess and the God, with their boundless Power, Love and Wisdom.
Tradition teaches that it is the constant Work of the Mighty Ones to provide and maintain the Elements of Nature. It is taught that these great beings emanate or incarnate in and as the whole scale of Nature and its Forces, from the first Cosmic Explosion or Orgasm to the tiny oxygen producing unicellular organisms that make life possible. If we understand this properly, we begin to see how they are not only the cosmic field of Creation, and the contents thereof, but also the Guides and Guardians of it. Legend has it that “The Dread Lords of the Outer Spaces” descended upon the Earth about fourteen million years ago, when Man was little more than a faint ethereal being, bringing with them as gifts the seeds of civilization, agriculture, and religion. The Legend tells us that they are still here today, Watching, Guiding and stimulating mankind out of his childhood, always teaching the Ancient Wisdom. It is to celebrate as well as participate in this very real on-going process of Guidance and Inspiration that the Traditional Initiates always salute the East to begin their rites, paying loving homage to these great beings and to the long lineage of ancient and modern Cabiri who have handed down the Teaching, for Tradition tells us that the Wisdom came from the East.”
The Rites of the Cabiri
Of the ritual activities on Samothrace, little is known. We know that the rituals began with a ritual bath or shower, for which a specially equipped “shower stall”, with hot water and a drain, was built into the north west corner of the main temple of initiation. In the centre of the temple was a small hearth, just large enough for a purification and offerings by fire, which must next be passed in ones progress through the temple. The main temple itself was different from those found elsewhere in Greece in several respects. It had two rows of benches along the entire length of the hall, on either side, and the back of the temple was curved, both at the ceiling and the back wall, to give a general impression and an echo as though the hall was an ornately decorated cave cut in white marble. We know not what decorations or tapestries hung in that hall, if any, but a curtain was suspended across this curved Southern end of the hall allowing for the ritual hiding and then revealing of objects and activities to an audience seated along the walls of the hall.
The sacred activities of Samothrace involved the heavy use of mystery plays in which were enacted, before initiates of the proper degree, parts of the sacred myths, and the initiates took part in these rites and plays.
The initiate became intimately familiar with the Cabiri by taking part in the nightly rituals, and viewing the mystery plays on special occasions. Upon attaining a special affinity for one character or another, according to the initiate’s progressive development, the initiate might play the part of one or other character in the sacred plays.
The people and the gods of the Sanctuary of Samothrace became known as “a kind of inspired people and as subject to Bacchic frenzy, and in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry”. Some have written glimpses of the rites, describing how “together they raise and together they lower their staffs and multiply their steps”. They mention the Samothracians having special names “by which they called the attendants, choral dancers, and ministrants of the sacred rites, namely, Cabiri, Corybantes, Pans, Satyrs, and Tityri”. They mention that all took part in the celebrations with the sound of the flute, and castanets and cymbals and drums. They speak of the quickening frenzy of a sacred dance to the sound of a tootling pipe and the drums and the cymbals and the rhythmic stamping of feet and the triumphant cry of “Evoah!”
The Mysteries of the Cabiri
In this mystery religion of initiation, one is introduced to each of the three Cabiri, one by one, through great rituals of initiation, ordeal, and discovery. Each of these introductions to the Cabiri involved successive initiation into each of Three Degrees. Before admission to any but the First Degree, the aspirant had to prove his readiness for it, both in motives and in insight, and the aspirant had to be willing to accept the responsibilities of certain commitments involved. In a secluded place outside the Eastern wall of the main temple, there were two ancient square stones facing each other, one elevated above the other, with a third fitted to hold a torch between the two. On these stones stood the aspirant and his examiner, where the initiate was challenged of his readiness for the next phase of the unveiling of the mysteries.
As an aspirant to the Mysteries of the Cabiri, a person who joined the order was given the title of Κσμιλoς, Kasmillos meaning “servant of the gods”, or “one who attends to the gods”, or “who goes before the secret god”, or “herald of the secret gods”.
It was explained that the Mother of the Gods, Electra, bore three sons and three daughters to a father whose identity shall remain a secret. In daily ritual meditations, “Kasmillos” was to honour and respect and come to know intimately these six Cabiri.
The First Degree: The Lesser Mysteries
The first Degree was called ΄Αξερoς, Axieros, a term associated with the Mother Goddess in her many forms and many names. Though also associated with Kore, the young and innocent Persephone, it was generally identified with Demeter, the suffering Mother Goddess. The Kasmillos, as did Kore, looked to her for comfort and guidance, for the first degree is the degree of suffering, the reason for travelling the Paths of Initiation. Sometimes the Kasmillos looked to Axieros as Electra, the Mother of the Gods, and sometimes as Hecate, for it is She who presides over and watches over all travellers, including the Kasmillos on his journey through the mysteries. He looked to her as Hecate also because she presides over the essential work of the First Degree: the work of purification.
It is likely that the Kasmillos of this first degree had a lot to do with the Zerynthian cave of Hecate, for it was here, that the initiate was to “slay the wild dog” in his own nature by taming his mind and thus dedicating it to the Goddess and to the Great Work ahead.
Though Axieros was ordinarily associated with Demeter the Mother Goddess, the inner association was with the young Persephone, Kore, as in the oldest known version of her adventure (See the essay on Cerberus). At this stage in the journey through the mysteries, the Initiate is like the innocent and ignorant maiden, hiding in Hecate’s dark and appealing cave of birth and rebirth, caught up in the web of her own habitual creations. It is the Degree of initiation where the Kasmillos first descends into the underworld through that cave of Hecate, having been given a torch as a companion, for protection, and to light the way in the darkness of ignorance and confusion. Some have written of old, with longing, the memory of the ancient nightly rite and procession on Samothrace, in which each awe-struck participant carried a pine torch of the Great Mother, Hecate.
In this degree, the Initiate as one of the Secret Children of the Great Mother, was introduced to and became a member of the Four Great Orders of the Cabiri. These are the forces of nature which appeared to them in the forms of small and powerful Ancient Children of the Great Mother, each with a special gift inherited from Her, each with a character and friendship unlike the others. In this degree the Initiate learned to be with them, and to play with them and to love them as brothers and sisters, for the Cabiri loved the Initiates of Samothrace as one of their own.
In the course of their deepening relationship with the powerful and ancient Cabiri, the intensity of the adventures and playful scuffles among them forced the Initiates to “get a hold of themselves” and to come to grips with their own characters. Playing with such ancient and powerful forces without being “blown away”, called out the best in every initiate, always walking the razor’s edge between the spiritual and material, work and play, selfishness and sacrifice, power and weakness, ego and self-neglect. With the help of all these Cabiri, the initiate learned from his mistakes and stumbling and faltering, how to balance on that Razor’s Edge, or choose the middle of the three roads, and how to round out, balance and develop any deficiencies in his or her character.
As the Initiate found a balance of character, and earned the respect of the Cabiri as someone they could depend upon, who could be Trusted and Loved in all respects, whom one could turn to for help in times of trouble, the Initiate was ready for the second phase of initiation.
The Second Degree: The Greater Mysteries
The second of the three Cabiri was called ΄Αξικερσoς, Axiokersos. This was the general term for the God in his many forms and many names. He was generally identified with Hades, the Zeus of the Underworld, though he was also known as Dionysus and as Zeus, depending on the aspect of the God emphasized at the time. In this degree, the Kasmillos studied the inner nature of the Cabiri, and thereby explored his own inner nature, and learned what it means to be the master of oneself, to be Hades, King of the Underworld. If the Kasmillos be a woman, it was through her relationship to the Father of the Gods that she found in herself a Queen, and the innocent and lost Kore was transformed into Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.
Having put into perspective, and come to grips with his or her own suffering, with this Degree, one learned to care for, and take responsibility for the suffering of the others who came for help.
One learned of the secret history of Mankind, and the secret Destiny of Man. One learned of the pain and terrible trials Man must endure in his own Cosmic Initiations. One learned of the veils of mass hysteria, mass insanity, and mass extinction, that Man must pass for each milestone offreedom,justice and enlightenment, in his slow and painful tempering in the fires of Hephaestus, like the tempering of Demophoon by Demeter.
Just as Iasion, archetypal initiate of the Cabiri, from his intimacy with Axieros was struck by lightning and reborn a god, so the initiate also learned of the awesome responsibility of being a here-and-now, flesh-and-blood incarnation of the God or Goddess Him or Herself. One learned what it means to be Prometheus, the Sacrificed God; His willingly endured and lovingly offered agony: the agony of feeling and of sympathy for the suffering of beings. One learned of His desperate efforts at easing the pain and the horrors he has unleashed in the world by giving Humanity fire and power over his own destiny. One learned the agony of being a Parent, of fearing and hoping for such a mischievous and accident prone child as humanity and its cousins in Creation. One learned the responsibility and agony of being a God. One learned to be the Parent of the Gods themselves.
As the Kasmillos discovered, explored, and further developed those personal qualities of Father or Mother of the Gods within him or herself, and having taken this Responsibility: not out of pride, or glory, or lust of power or fame, but instead out of desperate caring and unconditional love, the Kasmillos tries to help all creatures who suffer as his only child.
Therefore, in this degree was passed to the Kasmillos, the “seed” and secret inner keys of the cult, enabling him or her to teach others the Mysteries of the Cabiri, perhaps giving birth to a humble and secret temple elsewhere in Europe, or the Middle East, or even Asia.
Through the realization that All Creation is continually suffering and playing at once, and feeling for All Creation as His or Her own Child, the initiate truly becomes the Mother or Father of the Universe in outlook. Finally taking that One Point of View, the Kasmillos Remembers Her or His True and Original Nature and is ready for the Third Degree of the Mysteries of the Cabiri. This rare and precious event, when the Universe finally finds Itself, Remembering Its True Nature, is Celebrated with the Highest of Initiations: the Initiation of the most Secret Cabiri.
The Third Degree: The Great Mystery
The third of the three Cabiri was called ΄Αξικερσας, Axiokersas. This was the general term for the Daughter of the previously mentioned Mother and Father. This Cabiri was generally identified with Persephone, not as the young virgin now, but as the fully mature Queen of the Underworld, true Mother of all things living and dead. To this degree is attributed Persephone having returned from the Underworld, and the joy of her re-union with her Mother: such re-union as is the goal of all true religions.
Now it is with the attainment of this third degree that the Kasmillos was told of a fourth and secret Cabiri, the missing son of Electra (recall that statues of only two of the three brothers adorned the entrance to the main temple). The Kasmillos was told that the true nature and identity of this secret Cabiri would now be revealed to the Kasmillos. With great psychological and magical impact, the Kasmillos was led to a plain and simple small room, one that the initiate had continually passed un-noticed in his routine daily activities, and was there shown an image of this most secret of the Cabiri. It was veiled with a purple sash, the colour of royalty, dyed with the most expensive and rare colour of the ancient world. It was explained that this fourth Cabiri was the secret father of the six Cabiri, children of the Great Mother, and that this Cabiri, the “herald of the Gods”, was the “traveller”, and identified with Hermes or if a female, with Iris. The purple veil was drawn back, and the initiate was profoundly awed to see there her or his own reflection in a sacred mirror, with the name written upon the alter: Kasmillos, the Secret Father of the Cabiri.
This done, the Kasmillos, the “one who goes before the secret god”, is adorned with and wears as a Reminder, that very purple sash that previously veiled the sacred mirror, that previously veiled her or his true Self-Image. The Initiate, now Remembering who he or she really is, is taken to a sacred marriage ceremony to celebrate the reunion of their true nature with their suffering and longing self: the reunion of the lost Kore with the longing Demeter, and of the Queen Persephone with the King Hades.
In this marriage celebration, was explained the deepest of the Mysteries of the Cabiri and the secret genealogy of the three sons and three daughters of Electra:
“Know then, that all Gods are One God, and All Goddesses are One Goddess, and Both are One. He is, at the same time Her Father, Her Son, and Her Lover. She is at the same time, His Mother, His Daughter, and His Lover.”
At this point, assuming the form of the daughter of Electra, the beautiful and Ancient Harmonia, the female initiate took the hand of the male initiate who was the Secret Father of the Gods, “and together, they bring eternal ecstasy”. In the context of this profound intimacy was the Great Mystery of the Gods revealed:
“That I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy. And if that which thou seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.
For behold, I have been with thee from the very beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”
This is the Great Mystery and the single message of the myths, symbols, rituals, practices and teachings of the Cabiri. This is the single message of that Great Mother and Sorceress, Hecate, and the meaning of Her every illusion in the Cosmic Dream that is Creation.
It is the single message and significance of that One Point of View which is our very awareness, and its companion, the Cosmic Dream, both of which are illusions that arise out of habit, pure and simple.
This ultimate Habit, or Fate, or Karma as it is called, is the true Sorceress and conjurer of even the Gods themselves. This Cosmic Habit is the true Hecate, who speaks the words of the Great Mystery. She is the one “before whom, time is ashamed, the Understanding:dark, the Mind: bewildered”, whom Gods and even Zeus feared, for even He and his entire domain is the product of her sorcery, of Fate.
She is that Mysterious Goddess, whose Island this was, and in whose cave the Initiate first began the course of the Mysteries so long ago. She is that triple Goddess, who has been a constant guide and companion to the traveller, present in each the three degrees, who had “been with thee from the very beginning”, and who is “that which is attained at the end of desire”.
Now, the initiate aware of this intimate part of herself or himself, the three-faced Hecate remains a constant companion and a reminder that the three degrees are each an on-going journey, three never-ending roads which are travelled simultaneously by the highest initiate of Her Mysteries. All this serves as a reminder that one always has the ever-present, on-going choice of three Paths to follow: to focus on the outer world of appearances, to focus on the underworld behind it, or to focus on the illusory nature of it all.
Afterward, the sacred marriage was celebrated with a Feast of the Gods and as reminders of the profound implications of what has been taught throughout the course of the Mysteries, each of the Gods presented the couple with gifts to keep and to remember, and to trigger at will the realizations and the powers of the Cabiri.
For the initiate, each of these objects had played an outstanding role in the rituals, plays, initiations, ordeals and revelations of his course through the mysteries of the Cabiri. Demeter presented the fruit and the sheaf of grain, Hermes a lyre, Athena the renowned necklace, a robe, flutes, and the Spear of Destiny. Electra presented the sacred rites of the Great Mother of the Gods, as she is called, together with cymbals and kettledrums and the ecstatic revellers of her ritual. Hephaestus presented the net, the hammer and tongs; Hestia, a flaming circle of protection; Poseidon, a Trident; Aphrodite, the Zona or girdle of Venus; Zeus, a thunderbolt; Hera, the Cuckoo Sceptre; Pan, a syrinx. Apollo played on the cithara and the Muses on their flutes and the rest of the gods spoke them fair and gave the pair their aid in the celebration of the wedding.
Mysteries of the Ancient Wisdom in our Midst.
Though the Island of Samothrace has been long abandoned and left for ruins, we can find proof that the Mysteries of the Ancients, and the Ancient Wisdom they carried are very much alive today. In the modern adaptations of these teachings, we can find proof that the Cabiri are still potent and still honour their vows of Eternal Return for the welfare of all that lives.
One very old and obvious example of such proof lies in the mystery religion and the initiations of Traditional Wicca, with it’s three degrees sacred to the Great Mother, the Horned God, and the Ancient Harmony, in that order.
A twentieth century example lies in the mystery religion called Thelema, also composed of three degrees sacred to the Goddess Nuit, the God Hadit, and their child Ra-Hoor-Kuit.
(“The word of the Law is Θελημα. Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under will.”
– Liber AL, Chapter I verses 39, 40, and 57)
A more readily accessible, and perfectly preserved example of the survival of the Ancient Wisdom in mystery traditions of initiation, can be found in the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Though differing from Western systems in cultural style, and evolving entirely independent of the Ancient Western world, the messages and techniques are exactly the same, with far more detail and skilful means preserved over the centuries. In this tradition, the ancient practices and teachings, as well as the documented work and discoveries of great minds through history were preserved from the destruction of the past two thousand year cycle by virtue of a natural fortress which Europe lacked, namely, the unconquerable Himalayas. It is because of the wealth of techniques and teachings preserved here that the Mighty Ones, those Great Guides and Guardians of Humanity, often appear wearing the robes of a Tibetan Lama…
The 32nd Path: Initiation to the Mysteries of the Cabiri
As the aiming of an arrow determines its course, and where it will eventually end up, so does our first pathworking, the 32nd Path, determine the course for our entire journey ahead, and where we will end up. This path is therefore like the table of contents, or a synopsis at the beginning of a book, showing us in an encapsulated and abbreviated form what the entire pathworking is all about. It is an introduction to, and the Initiation of the Great Work we are undertaking.
In our travelling the 32nd Path, we have experienced for ourselves the mysteries of the Cabiri, and therefore these mysteries hold the key to the real meaning and significance of working the twenty two paths.
Our experience in this path has been that of investigator, traveller, and seeker, playing the role of Hermes or Iris, who was identified with Kasmillos in the Mysteries of the Cabiri.
As Kasmillos, our first apparition is of Axeiros: Demeter suffering and longing for her lost pure nature, Persephone. We demonstrate our concern for the archetypal suffering of Axeiros by asking what is wrong, almost as though we have said, I wish to know because I care, or “I wish to know in order to serve”.
With such intention declared, we become proper candidates for initiation to the first degree of the Mysteries, and we find ourselves in the Zerynthum, the cave of Hecate, where dogs were slain. Here in this cave, we are to slay the wild dog in our own nature, the wildness of our minds by taming it and dedicating it to Hecate, to the Path of the Mysteries, to the Great Work. We have to calm and quiet our minds, learnto free it of distractions as in a sensory deprivation tank, or a meditation cave. Through meditation, we must explore and learn to know our deep, quiet, dark, inner selves. We might just as well say “I wish to find the Kingdom of Persephone”.
In the depths of our meditation, our own awareness like a gift of Fate, habitually acts like a torch by which we see, and we receive this gift from Hecate: a pine torch like that used on Samothrace in the nightly rites of the Cabiri. As our meditation deepens further, we descend still deeper into the Zerynthum, to another part of Her cave which is the underworld, the kingdom of Persephone. As we descend, we are reborn, and become Initiates of Axeiros, the first Degree of the Cabiri.
With the golden value of self-control and character development thus earned in our descent into deeper meditation, we find it easier to cross the Styx. Now She tests us in the form of Cerberus; our own habitual nature, our Fate or Karma rises up as our own mental blocks against exploration of our deeper nature. We are tested here to see if we have really slain the wild dog in ourselves by taming it and dedicating it to Her, by uncovering it, and knowing it for what it really is. As with any guard dog, you will be turned away if you are afraid or if you are hostile. The only way to pass the threatening beast is to come with Perfect Trust and Perfect Love in your heart.
Passing the ordeal, our meditation deepens to the point where it can deepen no further, and we experience the absolute central Point of all experience: awareness itself, and we are introduced thereby to Axiokersos, Hades, Father of all things, King of the Underworld, the absolute Centre of the Universe. (Represented as male only to symbolize a polarity with the Goddess or the Universe that enfolds Him.)
By the grace of Hecate, the habits inherent even in awareness itself, our experience of Pure Awareness naturally gives rise to Awareness Of. It triggers the recognition that the entire play around your awareness, the consort of this King of the Dead, is not a crone withered and decomposed, but a young vibrant play of life, the Mother of all Creation, All-Powerful Queen of the Underworld. This is Axiokersas, Persephone, and we are undergoing the third initiation of the Cabiri. Together, these three Cabiri, Axieros (in the form of Cerberus), Axiokersos (as Hades) and Axiokersas (as the Queen Persephone) lead us to the sacred mirror to gaze at the fourth and secret Cabiri, Kasmillos. There we see the Mystery of our own true nature, and as we gaze, King and Queen of the Dead disappear, for “All Gods are One God, and All Goddesses are One Goddess, and Both are One”: the One in the mirror. In the mirror we see ourselves, the One Dead, (Dead in
the sense that the illusions of a seperate self are dead) or maybe we see no reflection at all, for we, our awareness and its environment are all Hecate’s illusions of the ancient and compulsive habits of grasping for some things and rejecting other things; the King and Queen of the Dead are dead themselves and do not really exist at all: Awareness and Experience are illusions themselves, from this ultimate and absolute point of view, they do not really exist at all, in any absolute or objective sense.
Now Hecate or Fate, the primal conjuror of all Experience, who has been with us from the very beginning of the Cosmos, still in the form of Cerberus, the tamed habitual discriminating mind, leads us through the mirror, through the recognition of our own true empty nature, to the shores of our Cosmic Self, where we may gaze upon the expanse of our true and infinite nature, being naught, and our infinite heritage thereby. There hangs Saturn, the symbol of death, restriction and now of release. The view strikes wonder and awe in our hearts, and this awe and this wonder wells up out of the ocean, brilliant white and pure as the moon. Drawing closer to the Clear Light of the Moon, smelling it’s sweet clean scent, we pass under the symbol of death and release: Saturn, the god of Death and release, whose names are those of ultimate liberation, who brings the Final Release, Spiritual Immancipation or Liberation. We are reunited with our Cosmic Mother in an ecstatic, intimate embrace: the sacred marriage of the Point of Awareness, in the arms of the Play of Life; the Union of the Ancient Harmony.
Now Fate, Hecate, habit, pushes us away from that Cosmic Ecstasy and we return, passing again under Saturn, symbol of restriction, concentration, focus, specialization and rebirth, to quickly return to the world of the living and our familiar, habitual lives.
But some things are changed by our initiations. What was an untamed threatening dog-like mind is now an eternal playmate to our deepest self, and we have eternity and the infinite shores of our Cosmic heritage in which to play together. At the same time, our personality, Persephone, no longer the lost, confused and innocent Kore, but now the wise, all-powerful Queen of the Void and the Dead has returned to the world of the living and delights in the company of the life itself, Demeter, whose joy now brings forth the Fruit of our journey.
For us, being dead and being alive are as natural as it is for Persephone to spend part of her time alive with her mother, and part of her time in the underworld, with her loving husband. We no longer see the change as painful and disorienting. Like Hecate, our fate is no longer a fearful mysterious force in the darkness, but a close companion, friend, and even guardian.
Just as Hecate swore to enforce the return of Persephone, indeed, we are forced by our caring, by love, which is the essence of Fate, ultimate nature of Karma, and the true nature of Hecate, to swear that we will regularly return to the world of the living, to ease the suffering of all that lives, for each and every suffering being is as our own mother, the suffering Demeter.
Finally, we step through the veil, back to our own world. We have been through quite a journey: we have been initiated to the highest degree of the mysteries of the Cabiri, then having “died,” recognized our own true nature to be empty and void of essence, yet fully aware, radiant and eternal, and rested a while in this Clear Light of the Ancient Harmony. The fate, habit, or karma inherent in all things: love, has caused us to reappear from the clear light again, and be reborn in human form as before, but with an entirely enlightened view and as an entirely different being, as different as Persephone is from Kore. We return asa God appearing in the form of a human being for the reason we stated at the beginning of our transformation: because we care about the suffering of all beings, our mothers, Demeter, and the lost Kore.
Now what? What do we do, now that we are thus transformed and initiated?
In the next path we will meet others like us who have been through this transformation, who wear the mark of this path, Tau, on their person. We will see that they, like ourselves, even though they know they are really dead, and the authors of the infinite universe and naught, continue to return and be reborn and suffer still. These are the Mighty Dead, who have sworn the Oath of the Sword, the Oath of Eternal Return for the sake of all that lives. We will see how they, like ourselves suffer the agony of being a God enchained to the human form and torn at continually by the eagle of life’s trials and tribulations. We will see that thus they suffer, though in between the days, and in between incarnations, they are refreshed in the return to the Ancient Harmony and the Clear Light. We will examine how they continually return to the living for the sake of the other’s in the tribe of humanity, to ease the suffering of the Demeter’s and the confusion of the Kore’s around us, by acting as teachers, healers, inventors, counsellors, statesmen, and parents. We ourselves will willingly undergo the burning of the painful work of easing the pain of others, as the mark of transformation, of Initiation, becomes part of ourselves as well. Now with the conscious qualities and likeness of God, like the archangel Michael (who’s name means “Divine Likeness”), we will also take the Oath of the Sword, and become the one of the Mighty Ones, one of the Cabiri, one of the Mighty Dead ourselves.
“That which was never born, can never die. So the Wise weep not, but rejoice.”
– Book of Shadows