5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2012
I was taught by Prof. Bowden at University. His particular lectures we invariably excellent, and the passion and knowledge for his subject comes through in this book. The previous reviewer highlights a failure of the author to get to grips with the mystical side of the subject. However, the comparative studies with modern shamanism are particularly instructive. If there is to be a criticism then I was only disapointed that Prof. Bowden's critical examination removed some of the childlike wonder I had previously held the 'mystery' cults in. Surely no bad thing. Indeed, having read several studies into ancient religion I would venture that this is the first to really deal with the core essence of Ancient Religion on its on terms and in fundamental detail. It is of note also for being the first book to describe and explain all mystery cults and that in itself makes this something of a key work of reference.
For the layman or introductory reader the level of analysis and wide range of sources means the work is scholarly, however, the prose is so easily readable the book rewards even the briefest of surveys.
A superb piece of work.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2010
The merits of this book lie in a clear and detailed description of the principle mystery religions of the ancient world. The examination of ancient texts relevant to the mysteries is particularly useful. The shortcomings of the book lie in its failure to get to grips with the more controversial aspects of the subject. The ancient mystery religions have been connected to altered states of consciousness. The author's attempt to refute this is much too superficial. The suggestion that the rites were a type of theatre does not tie very well with the texts quoted, nor the Greeks familiarity with one of the high epochs of the public theatre. It could also be argued to conflict with the implications of possibly the most fascinating chapter of the book, describing snake-handling sects in modern America. Similarly, the argument that there was not much connection between Christianity and the mysteries needs a lot more discussion given the extensive writings in favour of this view. These shortcomings are similar to those in other books from the same publisher, where academics write for a more popular market. There may be a notion that controversial topics are best kept within the academic fold, but this probably misses the point that non-academics buy such books to address just such controversies.