Name for a complex strand in Ancient Greek religious thought, contrasting with the more familiar strand of the Olympian deities (Zeus, Apollo, and so on).

A body of religious writings from the 7th and succeeding centuries BC was attributed to the mythical singer Orpheus and his followers.

In Classical times, Orphic ideas were connected with current mystery religions. They concerned purification and initiation rites, and doctrines to do with reincarnation and post-mortal punishment and reward.

Philosophically, their main importance lies in their influence on Pythagoreanism and Plato (c.427-c.347 BC), notably in his Meno and Gorgias. However, modern scholars have doubted how much can be attributed to a specifically Orphic movement distinguishable from the wider background of mystery religions generally.

I M Linforth, The Arts of Orpheus (1941); takes a somewhat sceptical approach

Orphism (more rarely Orphicism; Ancient Greek: Ὀρφικά) is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices[1] originating in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic world,[2] as well as from the Thracians,[3] associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into the Greek underworld and returned. Orphics revered Dionysus (who once descended into the Underworld and returned) and Persephone (who annually descended into the Underworld for a season and then returned). Orphism has been described as a reform of the earlier Dionysian religion, involving a re-interpretation or re-reading of the myth of Dionysus and a re-ordering of Hesiod’s Theogony, based in part on pre-Socratic philosophy.[4]

The central focus of Orphism is the suffering and death of the god Dionysus at the hands of the Titans, which forms the basis of Orphism’s central myth. According to this myth, the infant Dionysus is killed, torn apart, and consumed by the Titans. In retribution, Zeus strikes the Titans with a thunderbolt, turning them to ash. From these ashes, humanity is born. In Orphic belief, this myth describes humanity as having a dual nature: body (sōma), inherited from the Titans, and a divine spark or soul (psychē), inherited from Dionysus.[5] In order to achieve salvation from the Titanic, material existence, one had to be initiated into the Dionysian mysteries and undergo teletē, a ritual purification and reliving of the suffering and death of the god.[6] Orphics believed that they would, after death, spend eternity alongside Orpheus and other heroes. The uninitiated (amyetri), they believed, would be reincarnated indefinitely.[7]

In order to maintain their purity following initiation and ritual, Orphics attempted to live an ascetic life free of spiritual contamination, most notably by adhering to a strict vegetarian diet that also excluded certain kinds of beans.

2 thoughts on “Orphism

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