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James Christie The Younger-About The Four Agents Of The Ancient Initiation Rites

Engraving by Antoine Cardon from Ouvaroff ’s ‘Essay on the Eleusinian Mysteries’.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from James Christie’ s ‘Observations occasioned by Mr. Ouvaroff’s ‘Essay on the Eleusinian Mysteries‘’, published in the appendix of its 1817 London Rodwell & Martin edition. English translation from the original French by J.D. Price.


‘Of the celebration of mysteries in Thrace, several notices appear. Samothrace, Imbros, and Lemnos, were Thracian islands, famous for Cabiric and Corybantian rites; and these again were imparted to them by the Pelasgi. The Pelasgi and the Thracian may have been the same people; at least we discover, that these mysterious doctrines and rites were not first derived from Egypt, but were established in Greece, by a people who came north about, and brought with them their opinions and ceremonies from the center of Asia.

I mean not, from these deductions, to establish the antiquity of one particular race of people, in preference to another; but i would correct any unfair prejudice that may be entertained in favor of Egypt. Both nations received their learning from one central point, and at the same early period. I would merely show, on these authorities, that the Pelasgi were the first to communicate what they knew to the Aborigines of Greece.

We may now therefore endeavor to meet a complaint of Mr. Ouvaroff, in an early part of his Essay, that the analogy which subsisted between the mysteries of Samothrace and those of Eleusis has never been satisfactorily determined. This analogy will best appear from considering the agents in both of them. The priests at Eleusis were four in number: The Hierophant, the Torch-bearer, the assistant at the Altar, and the Sacred Herald. They severally bore the symbols of the Demiurgus, The Sun, Moon, and Mercury. It is probable, that at first, they were actors in a drama. In later times they contented themselves with showing and explaining the machinery within the temple. ‘The Hierophant is the mystagogue, or priest, who shows the mysteries’.

The Cabiric priests in Samothrace were four. The Scholiast upon Apollonius Rhodius has named them Axieros, Axiocersos, Axiocersa, and Casmilus. The scholiast also term them Ceres, Proserpine, Hades and Mercury; doubtless he means to mark their correspondence with these deities at Eleusis. For the Pelagian founders of mysteries in Samothrace had no names for the gods, according to Herodote, who expressed himself as a polytheist; and were no distinction of names obtained, the unity of the Deity was perhaps acknowledged. These Samothracian cabirs therefore, (as the word cabir implies,) were rather powers or attributes than deities. With these may also be mentioned the Idaei Dactyli of the Phrygians, who were said to have received their mysteries from Samothrace about the time of Dardanus.

From the want of better means of illustrating a subject on which ancient writers have observed so profound a silence, the accompanying engraving from a Sicilian painted Vase is offered as it exhibits something like the four priests or agents in the Samothracian and Eleusinian shows. In this the Hierophant appears as a workman at his forge, in which capacity he properly personates the demiurgus, bearing a sledge hammer; in same way as the Cabiric Vulcan is represented on some ancient coins. Thus the character of the Idaean Acmon may be determined, for his name implies an anvil. The second personage in this engraving is a female assistant, not indeed at the Altar, but at the furnace of Hephaestus. The third in his attitude of a person proclaiming or commanding, may represent Casmilus, or the sacred Herald. The fourth is the Dadouchos-Torch-bearer with his torch across his knee. Two of these last figures occur in more than one plate of d’Hancarville’s ’Etruscan Vases’, where their action is further shown.

From Ouvaroff’s ‘Essay on the Eleusinian Mysteries’, London-1817.

These four figures seem designed for the elementary principles alluded to by Varro. Hephaestus, fire; Isis, water; Mercury, air; and Pan, matter. The vital part of which last, the Sun is denoted by his Torch, and we have already noticed that the Dadouchos-Torch-bearer, carried a symbol of the Sun. The torch is about to be ignited at the command of Hermes, the spiritual agent in the workshop of Creation. (Hermes as a personification of Winds or Spirit, was considered by the Pagans as the winged messenger of heaven. He was originally the same as the Orphic Eros, and the winged Iacchus became his substitute at Eleusis.) I apprehend it to be consistent with the principles of the mysteries, that the primary Great Cause should not appear. His representatives the Elements are produced; they were selected as fit symbols of the essence and the attributes of the Deity; they denoted his presence, his commands, his judgements, his mercies, and his promises, of all which the ancient world were not without some indistinct knowledge, preserved to them from patriarchal traditions.

‘Iacchus riding Ceres’s cart’. From Ouvaroff’s ‘Essay on the Eleusinian Mysteries’, London-1817.

But these primary powers or Cabirs, were not always proper to Pelasgia alone. In after times, in the Erectheum in the Acropolis at Athens, were four altars, erected to Jupiter, Poseidon-Erectheus, Butas and Hephaestus; where, though the order be transposed, yet the demiurgic Hephaestus again appears, and a stranger, Butas. In Egypt were also four primary Deities, Osiris, Isis, and Typhon; denoting the creating, preserving, and destroying powers of the Deity, and a fourth named Horus, who agreed with Iacchus at least, in being represented of tender age. In India we find Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, as primary powers, figurating the creator, preserver, and destroyer, by the symbols earth, water and fire; and a fourth, who now appears discarded from the mystic college, and has long been worshiped apart-the deity Boud, who i consider to be a personification of spirit; and if the four be classed together, they present a very singular analogy to the deities and the hero revered in the Erectheum at Athens, and the four agents in the Samothracian and Eleusinian mysteries.’

‘Ceres siting on a cube displaying the Indian trinity on one side and the head of Isis on another’. From Ouvaroff’s Essay on the Eleusinian Mysteries’, London-1817.


James Christie The Younger-About The Four Agents Of The Ancient Initiation Rites

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