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Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Donysos
Author: P
eter Mark Adams
Publisher: Scarlet Imprint
Print: Paperback – Rogue Edition
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 38 images including full colour photographs of the restored frescoes

The Dionysian themed frescos of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries constitute the single most important theurgical narrative to have survived in the Western esoteric tradition. No other practitioner account of the ritual process for conducting a mystery rite has survived down to today. The frescoes’ vivid and allusive imagery illuminates both the ritual activity of the participants as well as its esoteric import.

The frescoes, created in the most private rooms of the extensive Roman villa, were never meant to be seen by anyone other than the members of the all-female Bakkhic thiasos who conducted their most secret rites within them. Buried and preserved for posterity by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, these stunning proto-Renaissance images guide the viewer through the consecutive stages of a theurgic rite of initiation into the mysteries of Dionysos.

Arising from within the unique interface between Greek and Roman culture in Southern Italy, the frescoes attest to the survival of an unbroken initiatic tradition of Bakkhic mystery rites on the Italian peninsula stretching back to the fifth century BCE.

The recent restoration of the frescoes has provided a fresh opportunity to elucidate the ritual processes hidden in plain sight. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Peter Mark Adams draws on current scholarship on dithyrambic performance; the ritual dress of Greco-Roman priestesses; classical philology and the comparative ethnography of rites of higher initiation. With the same attention to detail which he demonstrated in The Game of Saturn, Adams reveals the stages of initiation encoded and accomplished in dance, gesture, ordeal and sign.

Adams interprets the frescoes through the distinct performative lens of the ritualist, throwing light, for the first time, on the significance of the ritual vocabulary and the phenomenology of ritual participation. We are pulled into the dance ourselves, and emerge transfigured by the experience.
Book Contents


I · The Performative Nexus of the Mysteries

The mysteries i: Myesis
The cultures of dance i: The Korybantic dance
The mysteries ii: Telete
The cultures of dance ii: The circular chorus
The mysteries iii: Epoptai
The cultures of dance iii: The chorus of the stars
The deixis of sacred choral dance

II · The Mysteries in their Campanian Social Milieu

Dionysos in Campania
Dionysian thiasoi and lineage holders

III · Reading the Frescoes’ Implicit Narratives

The Villa of the Mysteries
The rooms and their frescoes
Designing an esoteric narrative
Modes of visuality
Imagistic modes of religion and the theatre of memory
Heterotopias and the interstices of initiatory space
Chronotopic inversion
The frescoes’ exotopic female gaze

IV · The Initiatory Drama of the Mysteries

Reading the frescoes

The north wall

i · Family group of itinerant initiatrix
ii · Ritual of purification
iii · The rural idyll
iv · The ‘alarmed woman’

The east wall

i · The Korybantic scene
ii · The epiphany of the gods
On the epiphanies of gods
Ariadne as protomystēs
Ariadne’s thread
iii · The initiatory crux

The south wall

i · Of this men shall know nothing
The role of entheogens in Bakkhic ritual
ii · The dance of the bakkhe
iii · The robing of the bride

The west wall

The Domina


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Additional information

Weight 38 oz


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