The Orphic Cult: Salvation in Purity

The Cult of Orpheus was a more sedate, more tranquil offshoot of the Cult of Dionysus. The cult spread throughout the Greek World and Southern Italy. Its tenet was that "by eating the raw flesh of the suffering and dying god (Zagreus – Dionysus), the initiate might strengthen the divine element in him; by following the Orphic rules of purity, wearing white garments, abstaining from all meat (except that of the god in the mystery), avoiding the breaking of taboos against sex, violence, and pollution. . . .he might avoid going to the place of punishment after death" (Noss 50). In Orphic thought, the divine soul is stuck in a body that is partially evil; "full liberation of the divine soul could be achieved through a cycle of incarnations and the gaining of transcendental knowledge" (Brown).

Orpheus is often shown as a fisher who had the power to pull souls from a sea of ignorance into truth (Brown). As with Dionysus, Orpheus braved the underworld in a search for his wife, who had died when, fleeing rape, she was bitten on the heal by a snake. Unlike Dionysus, he did not succeed in his search – his wife stayed in the underworld – but, again, he acts as a bridge between life and death. Such imagery corresponds to those of the Church.

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