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potent as ritual. Again, the very object of the strangeness of these new rites, of the whirling dances, the frenzied shrieks, and the streams of blood which flowed over the devotees as they scourged or gashed their limbs or their tongues, was to work upon the worshipper's emotions until he had no control over them, and was swept away by the tide of ecstasy which was shared, as he saw, by his fellow-worshippers. Add to this that an essential feature of these revivalist rites consisted in returning to the primitive fashion of offering the solemn and awful sacrifice of the totem-god by night, and we shall understand that these private mysteries were both morally and spiritually at the best in a state of unstable equilibrium, and might easily lapse into the excesses and debauchery which attended the spread of the Baccanalia in Italy. The very freedom with which the organisation of these societies was permitted worked in the same direction. It is doubtful whether there was in Athens any restriction on the formation of these societies : foreigners were not, as a rule, allowed to acquire or possess land in Attica, but when they wished to purchase a site for a temple in which to worship their own gods after their own fashion, they were allowed to do so, as we know from the stone-record of the decree which gave permission, on the express ground that there was no law to forbid the proceeding:1 the purpose to which the site was to be applied constituted actually a reason in favour of allowing the foreigners to acquire Athenian soil. But whether this Attic law allowed Athenian citizens to partake in such foreign worships is another and disputed question. It has been both asserted and denied ? that the legal penalty for the introduction of new gods (in the sense of inducing citizens to worship other than their ancestral gods) was death; but, without undertaking to settle this obscure point, we may note that there is no instance on record in which anyone was even prosecuted, much less condemned, on the sole charge of introducing new gods : there were always other counts in the indictment, which seems to indicate that for some reason or other there was no prospect of getting a jury to convict on the ground simply of worshipping strange gods. Whatever danger there may have been for the Athenian citizen in such worship, could be to some extent, if not wholly, averted by a demonstration of the mythological identity of the foreign deity, say Sabazios or Cybele, with some Greek god or goddess, as Dionysos or Rhea ; and it is possible that fear of the law as well as the desire of commending a strange god by proving him to be merely an old deity under a new name, may have helped to give the gods of the Orphic mythology the haziness of outline and want of definition which at once marks them off from the genuine gods of Greece, and enables anyone to be identified with any other. Be this as it may, it is certain that no penalty attached to the private worship of the established gods with the new ecstatic ritual, and that no permission or licence had to be obtained from the state in order to organise a thiasus or orgeon for the purpose.
1 The Citiatus, έδοξαν έννομα ικετεύειν, C. Ι. Α. Gardner and Jevons, Greek Antiquities, 219 and 560,
Consequently any adventuress who chose might set up as priestess, and, under the pretence of orgiastic worship, might make her house the scene of “orgies" in the modern sense of the word.
That this actually was done in some cases is certain, but that all private mysteries were a mere excuse or occasion for debauchery is improbable in itself, and is contradicted by the evidence. If any charge of this kind could have been brought or even insinuated with any degree of probability by Demosthenes against the mother of Æschines, we may be sure that it would not have been omitted. There is not in the speech of Demosthenes any suggestion that Glaucothea's thiasus was anything but respectable from the moral point of view: there is contempt for the semi-menial functions performed by Æschines in the ritual, there is a satirical juxtaposition of the barbarous rites and the solemn formula, Bad have I escaped and better have I found, to emphasise the absurdity and folly of people who imagined that spiritual regeneration was to be effected by the external application of a mixture of clay and bran, but even Demosthenes does not venture to hint at anything worse than folly in the members of the thiasus, and perhaps semi-conscious imposture on the part of the promoters of the organisation. In a word, the attitude of the better class of Athenians towards these private mysteries was very much that taken by many educated people at the present day towards spiritualistic séances, or towards the methods adopted by the Salvation Army.
In the case of the larger and more permanent associations, which were wealthy enough to possess investments, to build and maintain temples, halls, and dwellings for their officials, and which were not exploited in the interests of a promoter, but were managed by the free votes of all the members, it is obvious that we must set aside the theory of imposture, conscious or semi-conscious, and of inordinate folly: if the number of members could be maintained at the level necessary to keep such a voluntary organisation in working order, it must have been because this particular form of religious society provided some spiritual satisfaction which was not otherwise to be obtained. Nor on this point are we confined to à priori reasoning: we have the evidence of the inscriptions to show that the members of these societies were largely foreigners and slaves, in other words, to show that the worship was a genuine worship, such as they were familiar with in their own country, and welcomed in a strange land. That such“ barbarous," i.e. foreign, worship should be despised by the better class Greek, and that contempt and distrust should be the feelings manifest in Greek literature towards this importation from abroad, is perfectly natural, but is not an absolutely final verdict in the matter, nor a condemnation from which there is no appeal. For one thing, religious progress may outstrip the advance of material civilisation ; for another, it was not in the domain of religion that ancient Greece rendered its service to the cause of civilisation. We cannot therefore accept the literary Greek as a specially qualified judge in matters religious, but must endeavour to form our own opinion.
At the outset, however, it must be noted that there is in our own day and circumstances a cause at work which tends to make our judgment unduly unfavourable to these early attempts to escape from the gift theory of sacrifice, and to bring the belief in a future life into some living relation with religion. In the conviction that spiritual regeneration or conversion, to be real, must manifest itself in making the man a better man morally, so much stress is now laid on the necessity of moral improvement, that the spiritual change is frequently regarded merely as a particularly efficacious, perhaps the only really efficacious, means of effecting a moral change. The identity of the spiritual life and the moral is emphasised; their difference, and the wider area of the former, tends to be lost from view. When, then, we find that in the antique religions there was a lively, if intermittent, sense of the need of a reconciliation between God and man, and a craving for a spiritual life and communion with Him, but at the same time find, though many external acts and ceremonies were prescribed, no moral amendment was insisted upon, we are apt to infer that there was no real religious force at work either. Whereas the truth would rather seem to be that the force was religious, but was misdirected. The aspiration to communion with God, not only in this life but in the next, can only be described as religious; and it was misdirected, not merely because erroneous conceptions of the Godhead were entertained, but because there was no consciousness that it was in the direction of moral purity that satisfaction for the spiritual aspiration was to be sought. It would, however, be rash to infer that because a consciousness of the connection between moral reform and spiritual progress was wanting, therefore the connection itself was wanting. That would be much the same as arguing that because Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had no name for the conscience or the will, therefore they possessed no conscience and no will. In fine, many must have failed to obtain even the degree of spiritual communion which was open to them, who would have attained to it had they been taught the necessity first of amending their lives. Of the rest, those who regarded the mere acts of ceremonial purification as all-important and of sole importance, derived no more spiritual benefit from them than they would have derived from the rites and ceremonies of a higher religion ; but those who considered them merely as aids in their search for the better, cannot have failed in some measure to escape from evil. Doubtless the purificatory acts themselves were very barbarous and puerile, and especially do they seem so to us who would rather they had purified their hearts; but, trivial as the acts were, their
spirit and intent were religious; mistaken though the rites were, the desire of the worshipper was to fit himself to approach his God; and though we may despise or deplore the means he adopted, we may also hesitate to assert that the yearnings of his heart were wholly defrauded in the result, or that his spiritual travail brought forth no moral fruits.
We can, however, go a step further than this. We need not rely exclusively on the à priori argument that the genuine desire for closer communion with God, in both worlds, must result in a more godly and righteous life. We have direct and explicit evidence to show that in the private mysteries moral amendment was actually laid down as the condition of such communion and of future bliss. In the second book of his Republic, Plato wishes to insist on the fact that righteousness is desirable in itself and without regard to consequences, that the truly moral man is he who loves and does what is right for its own sake, and simply and solely because it is right. He therefore denounces the common, vulgar teaching that honesty pays, because so many people at once jump to the conclusion that the only reason for doing what is right is the material advantages which ensue from right-doing; in a word, that it is not reasonable or sensible to do what is right for its own sake. But if the bourgeois doctrine, that prosperity in this world is the proper motive for honesty, appears immoral to Plato, much more monstrous does it seem to him that the doctrine of future rewards and punishments should be used to bribe men into doing what is right and frighten them from doing wrong. And it was precisely this doctrine which, according to Plato, was taught in the private mysteries by Musæus and Orpheus: in the next world the righteous received blessings 2 and a life of happiness as a reward for their virtue 3 in this life; whereas evil-doers were punished in Hades.
In the face, therefore, of this explicit testimony from a hostile witness, it seems impossible to maintain that the wide diffusion and permanent success of the private mysteries in
1 363 (. 2 Ιbid. νεανικώτερα ταγαθά... παρά θεών διδόασι τους δικαίοις. 3 1bid. αρετής μισθόν.
As, c.J., M. Foucart does at the end of his otherwise excellent work, already quoted.