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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Orpheus

Legendary hero in Greek mythology. Credited with superhuman skill in music and song, his mother was believed to be the Muse Calliope and his father was said to be the river god Oeagrus (or, in some stories, Apollo). Myths abound about his exploits; typical is his descent into Hades to restore his wife, Eurydice, to the upper world, which is well-known. His music so charmed the underworld deities that they allowed his wife to return on condition that he preceded her and did not look back. He failed to observe the terms and he lost her again. One story recounting the death of Orpheus has it that he incurred the anger of Dionysus because he preferred to worship Apollo, a rival god. Dionysus contrived to have the Maenads tear Orpheus to pieces during a Bacchic orgy. His head and his lyre floated to Lesbos where an oracle was established.

Orpheus was believed to have written certain sacred books dealing with the birth of the gods, purification and life after death. Worshipers of Orpheus laid stress on rewards and punishments and that the soul only achieves its true potential after a number of incarnations; these incarnations may be in a higher or lower form according to the conduct of the individual in the previous life.

Helena Blavatsky seems to be of the opinion that Orpheus was not a mythical god, but an historical person. She writes, “A secret language, common to all schools of occult science once prevailed throughout the world. Hence — Orpheus learnt ‘letters’ in the course of his initiation. He is identified with Indra; according to Herodotus he brought the art of writing from India” (CW V:306).

P.S.H.

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