The best books on ancient mystery cults

Peter Mark Adams Author Of Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos
By Peter Mark Adams

The Books I Picked & Why

Mystery Cults of the Ancient World

By Hugh Bowden

Mystery Cults of the Ancient World

Why this book?

This is without doubt the most accessible, enjoyable, lavishly illustrated, and informative guide to the mystery cults of antiquity that you will ever find. Its author, Hugh Bowden, is a renowned expert on the history and archaeology of mystery cults. That said, he has managed to combine a highly readable text with informative diagrams and images of the cult sites, cult objects, inscriptions, and wall paintings. This book provides the perfect introduction to the major cults, how they were organised and what they stood for.   


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Ancient Mystery Cults

By Walter Burkert

Ancient Mystery Cults

Why this book?

Although a step up in terms of depth of scholarship, this book remains my favourite resource in my ongoing research into the mysteries. At just 100 pages this short text is nevertheless packed with important insights and observations, all of which are backed-up with relevant quotations and pointers to further resources - unsurprisingly, perhaps, since its author, Walter Burkert, is one of the world’s leading classical scholars. For all these reasons this book remains a standard reference work for those studying or wishing to deepen their understanding of the ancient mystery cults.


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The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Vol 2

By Joseph Campbell

The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Vol 2

Why this book?

The international colloquia known as the Eranos conferences were designed to bring together scholars from diverse fields - historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and theologians - to interact, share insights and seek a higher synthesis in thought and understanding. The Mysteries is a collection of papers delivered from these varying perspectives in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the mystery cults of antiquity. This collection of essays is characterised by its outstanding quality, the variety of topics and outlooks represented, and the testimony it provides to that enduring search for a higher order of meaning.  


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The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

By Marvin W. Meyer

The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

Why this book?

For those wishing to dig a little deeper into the topic, Marvin Meyer’s The Ancient Mysteries is a key sourcebook for both the serious researcher and the curious amateur alike. For each of the major mystery cults of antiquity - the Rites of Eleusis, those of Isis and Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras, and others - Meyer has collected every pertinent classical reference to provide ready access to contemporary sources relevant to understanding each of the cults. 


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Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Secret Cults

By Michael B. Cosmopoulos

Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Secret Cults

Why this book?

Greek Mysteries brings together a collection of essays on a variety of specialist topics related to the ancient mystery cults. Written by some of the world’s leading scholars, many of these essays were originally published in academic journals and are therefore appropriate for a more scholarly readership. That said, this important work provides the perfect entry into contemporary academic scholarship on the mysteries.  


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