Mystery Cults of the Ancient World

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Overview

"As clear and well-informed an account as one could imagine of ancient cults involving secret initiation. Hugh Bowden puts together in a highly accessible way the literary and material evidence. Well-paced and an attractive read, this is a very welcome addition to ancient history and religious studies, and will also appeal to the general reader."—Robin Osborne, University of Cambridge

"This book debunks some longstanding misconceptions about mystery cults and provides an accessible introduction to a fascinating topic."—Radcliffe Edmonds, Bryn Mawr College

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Editorial Reviews

Parabola Magazine
Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and richly illustrated, and gives a solid introduction to an extremely elusive phenomenon. . . . [I]t remains a reliable and accessible guide to the religions that gave 'mystery' its name.
— Richard Smoley
Choice
Greek and Roman men and women by the thousands, even millions, chose to be initiated into religious cults amid strict vows of secrecy; remarkably, not a single voice from antiquity has ever spilled the beans. Despite centuries of scholarly probing, the exact words, visions, benefits, or promises revealed during these closely guarded rituals remain unknown. This important book presents a sensible, convincing account of what these occasions may have offered their participants; how they related to mainstream, public traditions; and what the mysteries likely entailed. . . . Well-organized by cult types, splendidly illustrated, and jargon-free, the book deserves a wide readership.
Witches and Pagans Magazine
This book should be on the bookshelf of every thinking pagan, from the most scholarly reconstructionist to the most insouciant eclectic. What we need to know—and what it abundantly reveals—is why mystery cults were (and still are) important. . . . [A]s a guide to pre-Christian classical Paganism, this book is unsurpassed.
— Barbara Ardinger
American Journal of Archaeology
Students and generalist readers, as well as classicists looking for basic information on mystery cults, will find much useful information here. . . . [T]his is an eminently readable, enlightening overview of a fascinating topic and will become the go-to generalist resource . . . on ancient mystery cults.
— Bronwen L. Wickkiser
Canadian Journal of History
Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and highly accessible both to scholars and interested general readers alike. . . . Bowden's multi-discipline approach to studying the value of these cults in people's lives, rather than an attempt to piece together a list of rituals or practices from scattered sources, is refreshing.
— Carey Fleiner
Parabola Magazine - Richard Smoley
Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and richly illustrated, and gives a solid introduction to an extremely elusive phenomenon. . . . [I]t remains a reliable and accessible guide to the religions that gave 'mystery' its name.
Witches and Pagans Magazine - Barbara Ardinger
This book should be on the bookshelf of every thinking pagan, from the most scholarly reconstructionist to the most insouciant eclectic. What we need to know—and what it abundantly reveals—is why mystery cults were (and still are) important. . . . [A]s a guide to pre-Christian classical Paganism, this book is unsurpassed.
American Journal of Archaeology - Bronwen L. Wickkiser
Students and generalist readers, as well as classicists looking for basic information on mystery cults, will find much useful information here. . . . [T]his is an eminently readable, enlightening overview of a fascinating topic and will become the go-to generalist resource . . . on ancient mystery cults.
Canadian Journal of History - Carey Fleiner
Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and highly accessible both to scholars and interested general readers alike. . . . Bowden's multi-discipline approach to studying the value of these cults in people's lives, rather than an attempt to piece together a list of rituals or practices from scattered sources, is refreshing.
From the Publisher
"Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and richly illustrated, and gives a solid introduction to an extremely elusive phenomenon. . . . [I]t remains a reliable and accessible guide to the religions that gave 'mystery' its name."—Richard Smoley, Parabola Magazine

"Greek and Roman men and women by the thousands, even millions, chose to be initiated into religious cults amid strict vows of secrecy; remarkably, not a single voice from antiquity has ever spilled the beans. Despite centuries of scholarly probing, the exact words, visions, benefits, or promises revealed during these closely guarded rituals remain unknown. This important book presents a sensible, convincing account of what these occasions may have offered their participants; how they related to mainstream, public traditions; and what the mysteries likely entailed. . . . Well-organized by cult types, splendidly illustrated, and jargon-free, the book deserves a wide readership."—Choice

"This book should be on the bookshelf of every thinking pagan, from the most scholarly reconstructionist to the most insouciant eclectic. What we need to know—and what it abundantly reveals—is why mystery cults were (and still are) important. . . . [A]s a guide to pre-Christian classical Paganism, this book is unsurpassed."—Barbara Ardinger, Witches and Pagans Magazine

"Students and generalist readers, as well as classicists looking for basic information on mystery cults, will find much useful information here. . . . [T]his is an eminently readable, enlightening overview of a fascinating topic and will become the go-to generalist resource . . . on ancient mystery cults."—Bronwen L. Wickkiser, American Journal of Archaeology

"Mystery Cults of the Ancient World is clearly written and highly accessible both to scholars and interested general readers alike. . . . Bowden's multi-discipline approach to studying the value of these cults in people's lives, rather than an attempt to piece together a list of rituals or practices from scattered sources, is refreshing."—Carey Fleiner, Canadian Journal of History

Library Journal
Bowden (ancient history, King's College, London; Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy) draws readers into antiquity and its religious practices, exploring the spread of such cults in Egypt, Greece, Rome, and throughout the Mediterranean. Bowden describes methods of private initiations and mystic rites of cults for various gods and goddesses as well as how these mystery cults influenced practices of early Christianity. His book dovetails nicely with earlier works such as Walter Burkert's Ancient Mystery Cults and Marvin W. Meyer's The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts. VERDICT Numerous illustrations help the reader visualize and better understand the subjects discussed, which, Bowden admits, represent a wide leap from the religions that flourish today. The author's concise explanations of ritual practices allow even beginners to follow his analyses of religion, culture, and politics in ancient history. An excellent, easy-to-read, and fast-paced introduction to the topic.—Crystal Goldman, San José St. Univ., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691146386
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/4/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 712,229
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Hugh Bowden is senior lecturer in ancient history at King's College London. He is the author of "Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle" and general editor of ""The Times" Ancient Civilizations" (HarperCollins).

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