What is a Mystery School?
This is an introduction to Jerhoam‘s Mystery School. “But hey, what is a mystery school,” you might be asking yourself, “and what is a Jerhoam?”
A mystery school is a particular type of spiritual school. In the historical ancient world mystery schools were very popular. Among the famous ancients who were in mystery schools we can count Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus, to name three whose names begin with a P.
“Why were they called mystery schools?” According to scholars, they were called mystery schools because members, or initiates, were sworn to secrecy about the rites and inner teachings of the schools. The English word mystery itself comes from the Greek mystes for a mystery school initiate. They were called mystes because the initiates vowed to keep the rites and their experiences secret, or in other words to keep their mouths closed (myseis). Other scholars suggest that they were called mystes because they had had an experience of the divine that was impossible to describe in words- leaving the initiate with a “closed” mouth, or because they provided unusual, special knowledge that is “closed” to most people.
Secrecy and vows of secrecy can play many different roles in mystery schools. Perhaps the most interesting one is to preserve the spiritual power of a ritual. It is sometimes believed that common talk about rituals dissipates the energies they can invoke. Rituals or practices can come to create a strong energy field after many years of use in a school, through the specialized attention and intention of the officiants. Having ordinary types of attention focused on the rituals might weaken the effect of this accumulated historical intent. Thus the secrecy often associated with mystery schools is not intended to deprive anyone of knowledge, but to help preserve it for everyone.
From the term mystery school we get the modern term mystic- a person who seeks a transcendental, revelatory experience of the divine. The mystery schools taught that salvation comes from divine knowledge, or gnosis, and that religious or spiritual activities, including good works, intercession by divine or human agents, rituals, study of philosophy, cultivation of faith, practice of spiritual exercises, etc., are ultimately valuable only because they prepare the student for a direct experience/perception/knowing. (Those slashes indicate that the words bracket an intended meaning without any one of them hitting it on the nail. Spiritual gnosis is not an experience, perception or knowledge in the conventional senses.) This direct experience bypasses the conceptual mind. The ineffable nature of this direct experience is good, since it allows contact with a reality that cannot be deeply known through the mediation of concepts, but it also makes things difficult because without concepts we cannot justify our knowledge, explain it, define it, prove it, or make it easily understandable.
Mystics are therefore sometimes thought to be superstitious, deluded or dishonest. They have also been accused of deliberately hiding valuable knowledge from people. Of course, all of these accusations are made without considering the central point of mystical experience- that it happens outside of the conceptual mind, which is all most adults ever use to relate to the world.
From a conceptual point of view, authentic mysticism cannot exist. Therefore, most people search for mystical experience not because of explanations, but because they have already glimpsed something beyond their conceptual mind. They recognize the importance and value of that direct perception, and seek out ways to regain and increase it. Because they have already had mystical experience, no one can convince them it is not real.
The very people making arguments against mystical experience appear to be mere phantoms in comparison. People who have had glimpses of mystical experience often develop a yearning to have more, and they are able to verify the value of a mystery school by the degree to which it helps them to go beyond concepts and re-attain those first experiences.
The origin of the ancient mystery schools is lost in time. Some mystery religions are traceable back to the first Mesopotamian city-states some 5,000 years ago. The Mother Goddess of 8,000 year old Çatal Hüyük, one of the earliest known cities in the world, seems to be the antecedent of the historical Anatolian goddess Cybele, the deity of a mystery religion that became very important in Rome where she was known as Magna Mater. Was there a mystery school in Çatal Hüyük? Are the cave paintings from 20,000 and 30,000 years ago products of mystery schools? Paleo-anthropology may never be able to answer such questions for sure, but most mystical schools affirm extremely ancient origins.
Perhaps some of the practices still followed today were invented or adapted by those first urbanized shamen. Those traditions originated millennia before the dawn of history, in a vastly different world, yet if present-day students of the mysteries met people from those ancient schools they might find that they felt closer to them than to many people of their own era.
Mystery schools allow us to contact a stratum of humanity far more primal than the zeitgeist, a stratum that is even prior to our nature as homo sapiens. The ancient mystery schools of Europe and the Middle East were outlawed, along with most other ancient traditional types of religion, by the Roman emperor Theodosius in 391 CE. Today, as far as historians know, there are no surviving direct descendents of these schools. Yet they had a strong influence on many spiritual traditions, and similar types of schools have existed in many places and times, including our own.
Some of their writings have been preserved and have had a strong influence throughout history. Many scholars believe they had an important influence on the modern European worldview. For example, the Hermetic writings of ancient Egypt were significant influences in the European Enlightenment. Even some people key in the development of modern science, including Roger Bacon, Giordano Bruno and Isaac Newton, studied the Hermetica, as did many poets and artists including William Butler Yeats and William Blake. So while the ancient mystery schools of the classical world may no longer be with us, their influence is.
“If these schools were such a mystery, and they are extinct, how does anyone know anything about them?” In spite of the vows of secrecy, over the thousands of years of time that these schools flourished bits and pieces of writings accumulated. Archeologists discover and study ancient artifacts. Scholars study ancient texts. Careful study of these remains enables us to know something about their teachings, which happen to have much in common with those of Jerhoam’s (Modern) Mystery School.
In comparing different teachings, and different descriptions of the path to inner freedom, it is important to keep in mind that many wisdom schools hold enlightenment to be non-conceptual, that is, it is beyond any description in word/concept. Since most teachings attempt to describe or point to the goal of spiritual practice in some way, they inevitably develop a metaphor for enlightenment that reflects the spiritual approach of the school. These metaphors can appear to be different and even contradictory, but they are just maps of different aspects of the same higher reality.
Two different maps of the same area can be different sizes, use different colors and symbols, and might even contain different information. Consider, for example, a topographic map, a map of political boundaries, and a road map of the same region, which look completely different from each other.
The limitations of verbal formulation of mystery wisdom explain why the effectiveness of any school derives not from the recorded “metaphors” of the school, but from the realized minds of the teachers and students. The knowledge is handed down from person to person using words and books as aids. One common metaphor in the ancient religion of the Middle East is ascent to the divine domain. The temple was understood as being heavenly territory, and the separation of the sacred from the mundane was created and protected by various rituals, such as washing in a sacred pool before entering the sanctuary. Love and gratitude toward divinity was cultivated.
One aim of the initiatory rites of the ancient mystery schools was to give the initiate an experience of this divine reality. Walking into the temple was said to be entering the divine domain where live divine beings. Invoking the divine is also an important aspect of Jerhoam’s Mystery School.
Another metaphor from ancient mystery religion is spiritual death and rebirth. This terminology can be found in the New Testament. This was also a theme of the most ancient historical Middle Eastern religions, in Mesopotamia, in Egypt, and in Greece, where a number of dead and resurrected gods were worshiped. This includes Dionysius in Greece, Osiris in Egypt, and Attis the consort of Cybele in the Middle East. In Tibetan Buddhism this approach to spiritual practice is found in the Bardo Thodol. Enlightenment is understood by the Sufis as “dying before you die”. Shamanic visits to the Other World, the Bardo, or the Spirit World, which are found in many tribal cultures from around the world, are simply journeys of awakening by another name.
These journeys are also a primary focus in Jerhoam’s Mystery School, which provides “Bardo training” for conscious living and dying. A common metaphor in ancient religion is redemption. Plato and some of the Greek and Roman mystery schools taught that human souls were fallen from the heavenly realms, which appear to have been understood literally as being up in the sky. Fallen into incarnation either as punishment for sin, or through ignorance, the soul needed redemption. Redemption could come in many ways- divine grace, spiritual practices, moral behavior, contemplation, etc. The transformed soul would return to the heavenly realms upon organic death.
A mystery school intends to help the student transform her soul to regain the divine world. The soul cannot be transformed without first being recalled, awakened or uncovered. People are understood to live, ordinarily, without direct contact with their own souls. Once recalled, or reawakened, through any one of the many methods used in schools, the soul is transformed through a natural process and attains awakening, liberation, freedom or enlightenment- all different names for redemption.
One transformational method used in ancient mystery temples was the invocation of divine presences, deities or angelic spirits, whose influence through subtle radiations causes transformation. The specific concept of angels enters the Western tradition through Judaism and Christianity as influenced by Zoroastrian religion; angels are immortal, supernatural beings similar to the minor deities of traditional religions, but reinterpreted within the framework of revealed monotheism. The ancient invocation of deities is described in detail, just as practiced in late antiquity, in Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis ; angelic entities are still invoked today in Sufi and other mystery schools.
Alchemical transformation is another metaphor from the mystery schools. Alchemical traditions originate in Hermetic texts from Alexandria in Hellenized Egypt, dated to the first and second centuries AD but containing much older authentic ancient Egyptian traditions related to the god Thoth. European mystery schools picked up on and elaborated the Hermetic alchemical traditions. Isaac Newton, who discovered the basic laws of physics and helped bring about the scientific revolution, was also a devoted alchemist and reader of Hermetic texts. There is also another East Asian alchemical tradition, found in Taoism. Alchemy often speaks of transmuting lead into gold. While some alchemists are simply trying to get rich, and others pursue actual chemical lab work as a spiritual practice or ritual, most often the alchemical terms are treated as a metaphor for the inner transformation. The chemical reactions are changes in our subtle energies brought about by the special conditions created in schools.
Spiritual work is understood as being material, rather than being a change in ideas or beliefs. The intensity of practice is captured in the image of metals being melted in red-hot crucible. The use of chemical symbols for inner spiritual realities is explained as a secret code to protect the mystery schools from persecution, and also as a magical procedure in which the manipulation of external objects produces inner conscious evolution. Of course, no merely mechanical manipulation or procedure can produce consciousness. The mystery schools are trying to help us to locate and magnify the seed of longing for the divine that is buried inside our hearts.
In this spirit, Jerhoam’s Mystery School applies detailed and accurate alchemical knowledge that is most helpful in initiating and maintaining the natural process of spiritual transformation. Some ancient mystery schools emphasized philosophy. Awakening to original nature, or finding our true identity, is a more philosophical way of describing and navigating the path to enlightenment. The true nature of things was the topic of Neo-Platonism, an important philosophical movement of late antiquity associated with mystery schools. Such a path can also be combined with psychological self-study and emotional healing as we unravel the onion-skins of our apparent identity to discover our true self.
Buddha taught that our belief in a false self was the root of our suffering. Above the entrance to the temple of the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece was written the dictum gnothe seauton, know thyself. Finding out who we really are is, strangely enough, one of the most challenging and rewarding of treasure hunts. Jerhoam’s Mystery School teaches a variety of methods to pursue this investigation, with a strong emphasis on yogic meditation.
“Who is this Jerhoam guy you keep talking about?” Jerhoam is the teacher who organized the school and gives guidance and instruction. Of course he is a nice guy, but the point of a mystery school is for students to discover their own true nature, not someone else’s.
In the ancient world, many temples had oracle priests on their staff. These men and women channeled information, guidance and teachings from sources the ancients considered divine. For example, the sibyls of the Delphic Oracle, which operated for over a thousand years and influenced the decisions of kings and generals, were held to transmit the words of the god Apollo. There were many oracle priests throughout the ancient world, on all the continents inhabited by people.
Jerhoam happens to be a channeled entity rather than an incarnated person; he also organized mystery schools in pre-historic times. While in ancient times oracles were accepted routinely by all of society, in our day and time that is not the case. The best way to verify the reality of the phenomenon of an oracle is to attend a Jerhoam presentation and see for yourself.
“Big deal, he’s a channeled entity. So is my uncle. But exactly what do people do in a mystery school?” The student in the mystery school might participate in many different activities, including theater, meditation, chakra clearing, balancing of centers, service to the community, martial arts, hatha yoga, etc. Jerhoam’s school emphasizes the value of artistic creativity such as painting, pottery, writing, music and dance. Students might fast, feast, have solitary retreats, hold parties, garden, put on plays, have relationships, raise children, spend time with nature, pursue careers, and read and discuss literature. The school is a place to explore deep, supportive friendships and practice compassion and understanding; it also provides a context where interpersonal friction is an aid to healing and transformation instead of an obstacle.
All activities of life can be used by a school as fields of practice. Many of the activities of the school have the form of play. This includes theater, dance, hiking, martial arts, art, music, etc. Some people study mathematics to sharpen their minds. Students work on psychological self-study and psychological transformation with an array of techniques including affirmations. Martial arts and physical exercise are important practices in the school. Many different types of meditation are taught, and the great wisdom traditions are studied. Sometimes students are asked to make what are called “super-efforts”, which means efforts beyond what a student would normally consider her limit.
The right super-efforts at the right time can help students to access certain reserves of extraordinary energy, strength and ability which, while mostly untapped in conventional life, are necessary for inner transformation. The school also emphasizes the path of service; doing everything just for personal benefit can reinforce the illusion of separation.
Students in the school have organized social service projects, such as building schools in Kenya. Students are shown how to pursue vibrant health through diet and exercise. The school offers assistance with conscious relationship and conscious sex. Some students explore their psychic abilities and learn to give readings. Others start conscious businesses. Students are encouraged to embrace life in all its aspects and transcend through mastery. Simply living life fully with one’s whole being is a powerful practice itself.
“Fascinating, but what can I expect to gain from all of this?” Unfortunately, no teaching can magically relieve us of our limitations and suffering for the simple reason that we are, unconsciously, imposing these on ourselves. Like anything else, either you are both lucky and freakishly talented, or you have to rely on perseverance and hard work. Getting the best advice, training and support vastly increases the value of our efforts, but this is still basically a do-it-yourself job. No teaching can produce instant or mechanical paint-by-number enlightenment in us because ultimate reality is, on the one hand, uncaused and hence unproducable, and, on the other hand, already present as our true nature and fundamental condition.
It’s a reverse catch 22- you can’t get it because you already have it. On the one hand, this paradox of an impossible ignorance is bewildering and confusing, on the other hand, it means the goal is closer than we think (get it?). Since we are producing our own confusion, knowing ourselves is a powerful key to conscious evolution.
Students try to see themselves as they are through various processes, including self-study and feedback from others. As we discover the truth about ourselves as we are, we often become extremely eager to change. We may find that we need to confront our inner fears or limitations in order transform them. This takes great courage but it is a necessary part of the healing process, which takes place on many levels. Facing this deep, repressed pain puts us on the path of awakening, but breakdown often precedes breakthrough, and if we want to change profoundly we may need to be prepared to face the “long dark night of the soul”; although often the long dark tea-time of the soul is sufficient.
The school reminds us, encourages us, and inspires us to make our best efforts to attain the goals we have set ourselves. Above all, it encourages an easeful practice based on relaxation and enjoyment.
Private consultations are one way of getting guidance and instruction. Group programs of different lengths are held throughout the year. Programs are held in different locations and sometimes include international travel and sight-seeing. There is much to be learned and practiced in different environments such as Stonehenge, Hawaii, Athens or Paris. Anyone reading this will have their own reasons for being interested in a mystery school- what they hope to gain from one. A mystery school will support them in these aims.
However, people who wish to identify with their social persona, pursue the aims of mass consciousness and avoid any discomfort are not advised to seek participation in a real school. Comfort and lack of challenge do not encourage people to change. Another question, though, is the school’s reason for having students- what is the purpose of the school? Is it just to serve the students, or can it also have another purpose as well? As students, are we only interested in our own gain, or would we really like to help others too?
We all know what it is like to want to stop and help an animal hurt by the side of the road, we have all experienced a naturally arising wish to help another. The school exists not just to serve its own students. Jerhoam’s Mystery School follows the path of service; purely selfish actions are not likely to lead to transcendence of a false self.
“Is this spiritual practice stuff time consuming? I mean, I don’t want to miss ‘Heroes’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’.” People sometimes feel that they don’t want to be part of a spiritual school because it is too limiting. They don’t want to surrender their individuality, autonomy or independence; they feel that life itself is already the natural expression of spirituality. They are busy just living life and don’t want to be restricted by participation in a school. In a genuine mystery school individuality is prized; the goal of practice is individuation and escape from conformity.
People, quite often, have already confined themselves to a very small box without windows; they think that this box, with its limited thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions, represents the whole of what life has to offer them. The box is very narrow and claustrophobic; usually, life in a narrow box is unsatisfying or even painful and depressing. Yet it is familiar and safe, and everyone they know lives in a box. They don’t believe there is anything outside of the box- they are absolutely convinced that it is the whole universe.
When people do come across a doorway out of their tiny box, they can have several reactions. One is fear of the unknown. Another is to confuse the doorway itself for the world outside the box. The doorway itself may appear smaller and more limiting than the box, but in reality it is the exit into the freedom of the whole universe. Only those with the good fortune to have tasted freedom, even for an instant, will know how much it is worth pursuing, even at the cost of temporary inconvenience. Besides, Adventure is Fun and Exciting, sitting on the couch watching TV is just a diversion.
Jerhoam’s school has no conflict with anyone’s religious affiliation or belief, or lack of affiliation or belief. A mystery school is not a religion but a place of study and practice. Each person is welcome to participate in the school at their own pace and level of intensity and with their own goals. Each person has their own way to follow. That about wraps it up.
What can you expect from Jerhoam’s Mystery School? Travel, excitement, adventure; good friends and companions; magic and mystery; the journey of creativity; support and guidance in dealing with life’s problems; the profoundest teachings on the meaning of life, the universe and everything; not to mention the long dark tea-time of the soul and eventual Liberation into the Clear Light of Non-Duality.