The best books on ancient mystery cults

Who am I?

For longer than I can remember I have been fascinated by ancient civilizations, earth mysteries, cave art, magic, mythology, and shamanism. As an author, my research and writing continues to be inspired by these interests. I specialise in the ethnography of sacred landscapes and rituals; and more generally in esotericism, consciousness, and healing. My non-fiction is published by Inner Traditions and Scarlet Imprint; literary prose and poetry by Corbel Stone Press and Paralibrum. My essays on energy healing have appeared in the peer-reviewed Paranthropology Journal and the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology as well as on my academia.edu page.


I wrote...

Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos

By Peter Mark Adams,

Book cover of Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos

What is my book about?

The two-thousand-year-old Dionysian-themed frescoes of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries are the only surviving depiction of the secret rites of a Greco-Roman mystery cult. Mystai leads the reader, step by step, in a process of patient detective work to decode the clues embedded in the imagery and reveal the lost secrets of the initiatory process. Lavishly illustrated, Mystai includes full-colour reproductions of the recently restored frescoes and related artefacts that illuminate key aspects of the ritual process.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mystery Cults of the Ancient World

Peter Mark Adams Why did I love 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.   

By Hugh Bowden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mystery Cults of the Ancient World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first book to describe and explain all of the ancient world's major mystery cults - one of the most intriguing but least understood aspects of Greek and Roman religion. In the nocturnal "Mysteries at Eleusis", participants dramatically re-enacted the story of Demeter's loss and recovery of her daughter Persephone; in the Bacchic cult, bands of women ran wild in the Greek countryside to honor Dionysus; and, in the mysteries of Mithras, men came to understand the nature of the universe and their place within it through frightening initiation ceremonies and astrological teachings. These cults were an important…


Book cover of Ancient Mystery Cults

Peter Mark Adams Why did I love 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.

By Walter Burkert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ancient Mystery Cults as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The foremost historian of Greek religion provides the first comprehensive, comparative study of a little-known aspect of ancient religious beliefs and practices. Secret mystery cults flourished within the larger culture of the public religion of Greece and Rome for roughly a thousand years. This book is neither a history nor a survey but a comparative phenomenology, concentrating on five major cults. In defining the mysteries and describing their rituals, membership, organization, and dissemination, Walter Burkert displays the remarkable erudition we have come to expect of him; he also shows great sensitivity and sympathy in interpreting the experiences and motivations of…


Book cover of The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Vol 2

Peter Mark Adams Why did I love 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.  

By Joseph Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mysteries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Essays by Julius Baum, C. G. Jung, C. Kerenyi, Hans Leisegang, Paul Masson-Oursel, Fritz Meier, Jean de Menasce, Georges Nagel, Walter F. Otto, Max Pulver, Hugo Rahner, Paul Schmitt, and Walter Wili.


Book cover of The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts

Peter Mark Adams Why did I love 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. 

By Marvin W. Meyer (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ancient Mysteries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Zeus and the other gods of shining Olympus were in reality divine only by popular consent. Over the course of time Olympian luster diminished in favor of religious experiences more immediate to the concerns of people living in an increasingly cosmopolitan ancient world. These experiences were provided by the mysteries, religions that flourished particularly during the Hellenistic period and were secretly practiced by groups of adherents who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another. Unlike the official state religions, in which people were expected to make an outward show of allegiance…


Book cover of Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Secret Cults

Peter Mark Adams Why did I love 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.  

By Michael B. Cosmopoulos (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greek Mysteries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by an international team of acknowledged experts, this excellent book studies a wide range of contributions and showcases new research on the archaeology, ritual and history of Greek mystery cults.

With a lack of written evidence that exists for the mysteries, archaeology has proved central to explaining their significance and this volume is key to understanding a phenomenon central to Greek religion and society.


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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Interested in cults, Greece, and Ancient Greece?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cults, Greece, and Ancient Greece.

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