What is commonly forgotten by the soul…

The movement of epistrophé is the only proper form of worship of the Divine; therefore Proclus explains in his commentary to the Timaeus that humans should repay services to each other but, in the case of the Gods, things are more complicated. In the case of the innumerable good things that the Gods lavish on us, we have little that we can give to repay Them, because the Divine is self-sufficient. However, although They do not need it, the Gods appreciate that we show our gratitude by reverting upon Them (epistrephomen) because, being good, They wish that we too participate in the good. That is why They have established the religious practices and the various forms of worship, in order to enable mortal men to revert and return to the paternal harbor; if we think well, we can see that this same idea is present in the words of Goddess Demeter to Metaneira in the Homeric Hymn: “Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot, whether good or evil, that comes upon you. I myself will teach my rites, so that hereafter you may reverently perform them and thus win the favor of my heart”. This is the theme of the ascent (anagogè), hence the reversion of the human soul towards the intelligible world.

Which are the two basic pillars of the celebrations of all the Mysteries? Purifications and Knowledge, required in order to reach the final intelligible vision that is perfectly pure: this is a theme that we find many times in the Orphic/ Pythagorean/ Platonic system:

“Pure I come from the pure, Queen of those who are below the earth, and Eukles and Eubouleus and the other immortal Gods; because I claim that I am of your blessed race.”

The recalling to the communion of race is what is commonly forgotten by the soul; it is written in the Orphic Golden tablets, in the statement of Caecilia Secundina who is claiming to be the child of Zeus. The fact that she ought to be treated as a member of the Divine Family reminds us the ideal time before the separation of Immortals and mortals.

“For there once were common feasts and councils of immortal Gods and mortal men together.”

Hesiod’s description of the unity of Gods and men, that ended with the divisive sacrifice at Mekone, is only the most obvious of the numerous myths of an ideal primeval communion of Gods and men. The Pythagoreans claimed that the golden race achieved the status of Daimones because of their virtuous and pure behavior, so the Pythagoreans associated the idea of living a virtuous and pure life with a return to this age of the golden race and the possibility of achieving the status of Daimon and perpetual union with the Gods. The modus vivendi, the philosophical way of life, the ascetic way of life, is the right path to attain the blessed state of the highest initiates: the conquest of dominion over the desires, that in the earthly life serves to mark the separation of the initiate from his body and from worldly concerns, is projected into the afterlife, where the askesis practiced in life helps the deceased to drink of the water of Memory. Such practices were characteristic of the Pythagoreans and other religious groups, that extended the ritual prohibitions applicable only in special circumstances to the ordinary people to a lifelong practice that kept them in a condition of extraordinary purity.

In the final myth of Er, only those who have practiced philosophy will be able to make the correct choice in the lottery of souls. Those who have lived good lives but without the askesis risk heedlessly making a poor choice. Moreover, while all the souls must drink from the Ameles water, those who are able to restrain their thirst after the journey through the parching plains of Lethe do not drink too much of the waters that make the soul forget everything, as oblivion is just like death for the soul.

This is how an initiate illustrates this concept: “Pure has my life been since the day when I became an initiate of Idaean Zeus and a herdsman of night-wandering Zagreus, and having accomplished the raw-feasts and held torches aloft to the Mountain Mother, yes the torches of the Kuretes, I was raised to the holy abode and called Bakchos. Clad in all-white garments, I flee from the birth of mortals and, not accosting the place of corpses, I guard myself against the eating of the flesh that has a soul.”


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