Why Do We Have Mysteries Anyway?

INTRODUCTION

This website exists because my life has been a process of both moving through and being supported by Mysteries. A ‘Mystery’, in the sense I am meaning it, is a transformative experience which uses symbolism to reveal greater truths about your self and/or the Divine. The word used to be applied to the secret rites of ancient Greece (eg The Eleusian mysteries) into which one could be initiated.

Today I’m not a participant in such ancient traditions though I would point out that many of our social customs and religious forms derive from Mystery ritual. Yet the mystery process of symbolism and awakening still wraps our psyche if we choose to allow it.

Let me illustrate this with a small recent incident from my life:

I am at this time of life reaching that stage when I review the ‘why’ of many of my life choices, so as to ‘tidy up’ a bit. Always religious, many of my choices throughout my life had been triggered by either religious needs or inadequacies, so to put it bluntly I did have a lot of ‘spiritual shit’ to clean up.

A few months ago the presiding minister of the religious group I was studying with, came to me and announced he wished me to do the first bible reading of the following Sunday morning service. I knew that within the process of religious services the purpose of the first reading is generally to set the context of whatever theme the service is going to cover.

Inquiring which text in particular he wished me to read I was told it was Leviticus 25: 18-24 (see endnote #1). To say the least I was flummoxed – Leviticus would be the one book of the Old Testament I had read the least, a compendium of rules and punishments set during the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness.

So where did the Mystery bit come in? Well the Minister who gave me this assignment had died eighteen years previously, in fact my study time with him had been more than forty years ago. So in lucid clarity I had dreamt the entire incident.

The following day I decided to read through Leviticus , trying to discover what could be of relevance. Though I may have once judged it boring I found now within it a fascinating interplay between the biblical God and Moses, the intermediary for the people.

NB: I know some readers of Jewish faith may object to my using ‘God’ instead of the more respectful ‘G_d’ but I believe the term as a label for a ‘Process’ whose essence is beyond terminology – ‘God’ is to me as good as any other shorthand for the indescribable.

Then, in coming to the selection I had to read the text ‘lit up’ in my gaze as I read God telling the people that the land was His and they but ‘tenants’. More importantly they were there for ‘the redemption of the land’. In a couple of verses both our relationship to this world and what we are here to do was explained.

When in the late 1970’s I had departed his classes I had packed up my biblical symbolism studies and moved away – but I never threw the books away. Now, it seems an inner part of me, or perhaps the mystery in which I had once joined needed re-awakening.

Another point is that it doesn’t matter if the dream is a result of unresolved guilt, or a fixation on role models, or a spirit visitation from beyond or any other explanation; what matters is that I was given a ‘Sign’, a wake-up call. In other words a mystery which I was initiated into long ago continued on.

Although Mysteries are things we awaken into they aren’t necessarily hidden in a secret way. Let me give a metaphor that hopefully shows this:

I could give you an English language street map to Paris but if your language and reading is in Cantonese then it would be a complete puzzle to you. If however you had me show you on the map where you were (a starting point) then profound possibilities open up.

By looking about you could orientate your landscape with the maps, and learn street names and find directions. In fact you could learn French names from signs and English translations from the map and inevitably write a Chinese language guide to Paris!

What separates the street map from being a key to a Mystery is that a Mystery has a transformative intelligence; it wants to help you change and grow. Just as my dreaming mind re-awoke my interest in biblical symbolism after thirty or more years so too can mysteries wait patiently in our lives to ambush us with sensitivity to inner meanings.

THE WAYS OF MYSTERY

There are levels of meaning in Mysteries: not necessarily ‘grades’ per se but stages of awakening that move from metaphorical symbolism (eg: Climbing a mountain = working our way up toward God) through derivative symbolism, numeric equation etc. This may sound artificial but in fact it is created by our very human need to include others less capable, though not to our level. Ask any father who’s young child has asked “What are you doing Daddy?” The answer will be in terms the child can understand.

Of course there is nothing ‘wrong’ or amateurish about using plain text of a Holy book. Most saints and mystics of whatever religion seem to have had experiences of the Divine without muddling through years of studying obscure tables of correspondences and symbolism. Then again we cannot know what arcane traditions their monastery or religion had schooled them in so as to raise their level of awareness so that they could act or speak from the level of divine awareness.

Let’s examine three of the ways in which mysteries may hide deeper truths:

Analogy. This is where the reader infers another meaning ‘like’ that given in a text or saying. For example a text that said ‘Jesus went from Bethlehem to Canaan’ could be interpreted with another level of meaning depending on what interpretation you give ‘Jesus’, ‘Bethlehem’ and ‘Canaan’ . Charles Fillmore of the Unity School of Christianity used the biblical application of this technique in the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary.

Symbolism. This is where an object or action conveys an associated set of meaning, usually to serve as a hint of a far bigger truth. Many examples of this can be found in prophetic literature; a key example for Christianity being in the Book of Revelations, Chapter 1, verses 12-20 (endnote #2). Here John who is narrating his vision sees ‘one like the Son of Man’ and proceeds to describe his attributes: White hair, shining countenance, sword extending from mouth, voice like many waters etc.

To the modern reader this figure is a fantasy of extremes, but what would a person in the Greek world under Roman rule have thought about it? They from their daily exposure to myths, statues and festivals would have seen a composite figure drawn from the signature symbols for each of the planetary Gods.

The ‘Son of Man’ that John saw had the white hair of Chronos, the flashing eyes of Zeus, the Sword of Mars, the voice of the Moon (drawing the ocean tides) etc. From the symbolism of these attributes we know John is being introduced to the potentate that has within itself all the powers of all the Gods, a being above the planetary rulers.

So the visual symbolism of the ‘one like the Son of Man’ can convey much more meaning – if you know Greek Mythology.

Number. If you were to take out a dictionary to the bible and look up under various numbers you’d find that certain numbers re-occur. This is because this numbering implies in itself a meaning. E.g., the number 12 is associated with the number of sons of Jacob, the number of tribes of Israel (OK, it’s the same thing), the number of apostles, signs of the Zodiac, knights of the Round Table and so on. Twelve implies completion.

Yet if something has ‘twelveness’ does that mean it shares a meaning with other things with twelveness? Jewish mysticism would assert it does and much of their mysteries are cloaked in numerical association.

Hebrew, the written form of the language is remarkable by being one of very few current languages wherein each letter of the alphabet has a numerical value. This means obviously that every word has a value as well.

More importantly, in an almost digital way this promotes accurate transmission across centuries because letters transcribed incorrectly won’t ‘add-up’ the same. Scholars, discussing some obscure text may come across a reference to a number value in the past but if it isn’t there now then you know something’s been altered on the way.

A ‘deep question’ that arises from all this analysis is “whether it is really possible for a person to excel beyond their personal reality. In Herman Hesse’s ‘The Glass Bead Game’ the central character Meister Ludi appears to have transcended even the universal understanding granted by training in the game’s technique – he has become a ‘master’ of the game. The question the characters in the novel have to grapple with is whether that is even possible.

That something can exist beyond ‘the system’ is very dangerous to those who’s authority is based on the context of the system. Mysteries however do try to take us beyond the ‘ultimate system’ of our personal sense of reality. By using what is available in your experience (myth, ritual, custom and symbolism) they point you to a realization beyond.

Mysteries are therefore dangerous to social authority and their use has throughout history been either controlled (making it hard to get in as in the Freemasons) or designated anti-social and therefore feared.

In writing this I just remembered the original film version of ‘Bedazzled’ wherein an Anglican bishop bemoans the ongoing “God Problem”, pointing out how much more popular his church would be if they could just get rid of ‘the big guy’; leaving presumably the warm feelings, morning tea and biscuits.

And if God was just a product of intellectual study then we’d all have a degree in ‘God’, rather than a need to find the experience. My view is that we are by design doomed to feel incomplete and trapped by any mundane reality – and that The Mysteries are an age old tradition which unleashes within us a greater perspective.

As a site Deep Things can only point out parallel layers of meaning in a text hoping that these in turn may raise fundamental questions about our personal reality. It’s intended to give the reader a ‘Red Pill – Blue Pill’ quandary, hopefully making it hard for you to comfortably sink back into group consciousness.

ENDNOTES:

1. Lev 25:18-24 (NRSV)

18 You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely. 20 Should you ask, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?” 21 I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the old crop; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old. 23 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. 24 Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.

2. Rev 1:12-16 (NRSV)

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turn-ing I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like
burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Painter, Christine Valters. Lectio Divina – The Sacred Art, 2012 SPCK Publishing, London. ISBN:978-0-281-06711-4

Fillmore, Charles. Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Unity School of Christianity, Unity MO 1931

Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), 1989,
ISBN 0-06-065527-5

Hesse, Hermann: The Glass Bead Game, Originally published: 1943, Henry Holt and Company