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Orpheus, Orphism and the Orphic Mysteries

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Orpheus surroundend by animals. Ancient Roman ...

Orpheus surroundend by animals. Ancient Roman floor mosaic, from Palermo, now in the Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Orpheus was a legendary ancient Greek musician, singer, poet and philosopher from Thrace, said to be the ancestor of the poets Homer and Hesiod.

In ancient lore, Orpheus could charm wild beasts with his melodious lyre (a musical instrument, like a small harp).

According to the myths, his wife Eurydice died from a poisonous snake bite, prompting Orpheus to journey to Hades in the desperate hope of rescuing her. He used his lyre to liberate Eurydice from the underworld‘s Lord of Death, the giant three-headed dog Cerberus. But while escaping, and like the Biblical Lot‘s wife, Orpheus ignored a dire warning to not look back. In looking back, Orpheus lost Eurydice to the underworld forever.

Orpheus & Eurydice by Cervelli

Orpheus & Eurydice by Cervelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Orpheus died his lyre transformed into a constellation. As a rough parallel to this story, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and many other faith groups believe that the right type of music can help to deliver a fettered soul to a better existential plane. And the grim fates of both Eurydice and the Biblical Lot’s wife arguably symbolize the importance of not obsessing on the past.

Orphism was the ancient Greek mystery religion stemming back to the 6th century BCE, based on the myth of Orpheus. In its Elusinian form Orphism emphasized the rebirth of the soul. The myths and practices of Orphism were based on poems attributed to Orpheus, and the movement had some influence in Pythagorean and Christian circles.

Deutsch: Orpheus

Orpheus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Orphic Mysteries were an important aspect of Orphism. Grounded in the myth of Zeus and Persephone‘s son, Zagreus, the mysteries dealt with the Titanic (evil) and Dionysian (divine) aspects of humanity. By participating in the mysteries and their strict purification rites, one apparently overcame the Titanic aspect, becoming worthy of eternal life.

In more recent times, I think the name of the enigmatic figure, Morpheus in The Matrix films was well chosen. Although Morpheus was the ancient Greek god of dreams, the similar sound of his name to “Orpheus” arguably serves to maximize the deep, unconscious resonance which movie goers most likely experience.¹

¹ See also Numinosity

Related » Pythagoras, Transmigration, Eleusinian Mysteries, Original Sin, David Bowie, Gregorian Chant, Mantra, Polyphonic Chant, Raga, Rock and Roll, Song, Synthesizer, Throat Singing

 

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