The main characterization of this religion is the secrecy associated with the particulars of the initiation and the ritual practice, which may not be revealed to outsiders. the mystery schools pdf century, the details of these religious practices are derived from descriptions, imagery and cross-cultural studies. Because of this element of secrecy, we are ill-informed as to the beliefs and practices of the various mystery faiths.
We know that they had a general likeness to one another”. Through the 1st to 4th century, Christianity stood in direct competition for adherents with the mystery schools, insofar as the “mystery schools too were an intrinsic element of the non-Jewish horizon of the reception of the Christian message”. They too were “embraced by the process of the inculturation of Christianity in its initial phase”, and they made “their own contribution to this process”. The Mysteries were thus schools in which all religious functions were closed to the uninitiated and for which the inner workings of the school were kept secret from the general public.
An individual could easily observe the rites of the state religion, be an initiate in one or more mysteries, and at the same time adhere to a certain philosophical school. In contrast to the public rituals of civil religion, participation in which was expected of every member of society, initiation to a mystery was optional within Graeco-Roman polytheism. Many of the aspects of public religion such as sacrifices, ritual meals, and ritual purification were repeated within the mystery, but with the additional requirement that they take place in secrecy and be confined to a closed set of initiates. The Roman establishment found Christianity objectionable, and even subversive, not on grounds of its tenets or practices but because early Christians saw their faith as precluding participation in the imperial cult. The mystery schools offered a niche for the preservation of ancient religious ritual, and there is reason to assume that they were very conservative.