top of page

Peter Mark Adams’ Mystai: Dancing out the Mysteries of Dionysos is the only full length, scholarly study of the ritual process of initiation into the mysteries of Dionysos as depicted in the frescoes of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries.


The Dionysian themed frescos of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries constitute the single most important theurgical narrative to have survived in the Western esoteric tradition. No other practitioner account of the ritual process for conducting a mystery rite has survived down to today. The frescoes’ vivid and allusive imagery illuminates both the ritual activity of the participants as well as its esoteric import.

The frescoes, created in the most private rooms of the extensive Roman villa, were never meant to be seen by anyone other than the members of the all-female Bakkhic thiasos who conducted their most secret rites within them. Buried and preserved for posterity by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, these stunning proto-Renaissance images guide the viewer through the consecutive stages of a theurgic rite of initiation into the mysteries of Dionysos.


Uniquely, these newly restored and, here for the first time, stunningly reproduced images guide the reader through the stages of initiation vividly illuminating the ritual activity.


Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Peter Mark Adams interprets the frescoes through the distinct performative lens of the ritualist drawing on current scholarship across the disparate fields of classical philology; the ritual dress codes of Greco-Roman priestesses; art history; and the comparative ethnography of rites of higher initiation to illumine the significance of the ritual grammar and the phenomenology of ritual participation.


Arising from within the unique interface between Greek and Roman culture in Southern Italy, the frescoes attest to the survival of an unbroken initiatic tradition of mystery rites of Dionysos on the Italian peninsula stretching back to the fifth century BCE.

Mystai: Dancing Out the Mysteries of Dionysos

    bottom of page