Word Origin & History
early 14c., in a theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, mystical presence of God," from Anglo-Fr. *misterie (O.Fr. mistere), from L. mysterium, from Gk. mysterion (usually in pl. mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine," from mystes "one who has been initiated," from myein "to close, shut,"
perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites). The Gk. word was used in Septuagint for "secret counsel of God," translated in Vulgate as sacramentum. Non-theological use in English, "a hidden or secret thing," is from c.1300. In reference to the ancient rites of Greece, Egypt, etc. it is attested from 1640s. Meaning "detective story" first recorded in Eng. 1908.
"handicraft, trade, art," late 14c., from M.L. misterium, alt. of L. ministerium "service, occupation, office, ministry" (see ministry
), influenced in form by M.L. mysterium (see mystery
(1)) and in sense by maistrie "mastery." Now only in
mystery play, in ref. to the medieval performances, which often were staged by members of craft guilds. The two senses of mystery formed a common pun in (secular) Tudor theater.