That in these august mysteries, doctrines contrary to the popular religion were propounded, is a theory that has, I think, been thoroughly overturned. The exhibition of ancient statues, relics, and symbols, concealed from daily adoration (as in the Catholic festivals of this day), probably, made a main duty of the Hierophant. But in a ceremony in honour of Ceres, the blessings of agriculture, and its connexion with civilization, were also very naturally dramatized. The visit of the goddess to the Infernal Regions might form an imposing part of the spectacle: spectral images - alternations of light and darkness - all the apparitions and effects that are said to have imparted so much awe to the mysteries, may well have harmonized with, not contravened, the popular belief. And there is no reason to suppose that the explanations given by the priests did more than account for mythological stories, agreeably to the spirit and form of the received mythology, or deduce moral maxims from the representation, as hackneyed, as simple, and as ancient, as the generality of moral aphorisms are. But, as the intellectual progress of the audience advanced, philosophers, skeptical of the popular religion, delighted to draw from such imposing representations a thousand theories and morals utterly unknown to the vulgar; and the fancies and refinements of later schoolmen have thus been mistaken for the notions of an early age and a promiscuous multitude. The single fact (so often insisted upon), that all Greeks were admissible, is sufficient alone to prove that no secrets incompatible with the common faith, or very important in themselves, could either have been propounded by the priests or received by the audience. And it may be further observed, in corroboration of so self-evident a truth, that it was held an impiety to the popular faith to reject the initiation of the mysteries - and that some of the very writers, most superstitious with respect to the one, attach the most solemnity to the ceremonies of the other.
XVI. Sanchoniathon wrote a work, now lost, on the worship of the serpent. This most ancient superstition, found invariably in Egypt and the East, is also to be traced through many of the legends and many of the ceremonies of the Greeks. The serpent was a frequent emblem of various gods - it was often kept about the temples - it was introduced in the mysteries - it was everywhere considered sacred. Singular enough, by the way, that while with us the symbol of the evil spirit, the serpent was generally in the East considered a benefactor. In India, the serpent with a thousand heads; in Egypt, the serpent crowned with the lotos-leaf, is a benign and paternal deity. It was not uncommon for fable to assert that the first civilizers of earth were half man, half serpent. Thus was Fohi of China  represented, and thus Cecrops of Athens.
XVII. But the most remarkable feature of the superstition of Greece was her sacred oracles. And these again bring our inquiries back to Egypt. Herodotus informs us that the oracle of Dodona was by far the most ancient in Greece , and he then proceeds to inform us of its origin, which he traces to Thebes in Egypt. But here we are beset by contradictions: Herodotus, on the authority of the Egyptian priests, ascribes the origin of the Dodona and Lybian oracles to two priestesses of the Theban Jupiter - stolen by Phoenician pirates - one of whom, sold into Greece, established at Dodona an oracle similar to that which she had served at Thebes. But in previous passages Herodotus informs us, 1st, that in Egypt, no priestesses served the temples of any deity, male or female; and 2dly, that when the Egyptians imparted to the Pelasgi the names of their divinities, the Pelasgi consulted the oracle of Dodona on the propriety of adopting them; so that that oracle existed before even the first and fundamental revelations of Egyptian religion. It seems to me, therefore, a supposition that demands less hardy assumption, and is equally conformable with the universal superstitions of mankind (since similar attempts at divination are to be found among so many nations similarly barbarous) to believe that the oracle arose from the impressions of the Pelasgi  and the natural phenomena of the spot; though at a subsequent period the manner of the divination was very probably imitated from that adopted by the Theban oracle. And in examining the place it indeed seems as if Nature herself had been the Egyptian priestess! Through a mighty grove of oaks there ran a stream, whose waters supplied a fountain that might well appear, to ignorant wonder, endowed with preternatural properties. At a certain hour of noon it was dry, and at midnight full. Such springs have usually been deemed oracular, not only in the East, but in almost every section of the globe.