Mithras

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Mithras, also known as the Rock-Born God, is the Savior God of the light, truth, oaths, integrity and covenants. He is a guardian Solar Deity who presides over a path for the perfection of the Soul, and is the companion of Zeus-Helios.

 

Myth

It’s difficult to fully reconstruct the myth of Mithras’, but some pieces can be pieced together. Some ancient philosophers and historians, such as Porphyry and Pseudo-Plutarch, did write of myths regarding Mithras to some extent, and a lot of iconography found in Mithraea, temples of Mithras, show a sequence of events that can be made sense of. Here an educated reconstruction of the myth will be purposed, using Manfred Clauss’ work and new understandings of Mithraic imagery. Special thanks to Ceisiwr Seith!

 

Burning of the Cosmos

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The lion-headed Ariomanus has a specific role. In iconography Ariomanus stands on a globe and outside the boundaries of the zodiac – the symbolism connects the deity to the cosmos outside the zodiac. Bounded by the serpent, Ariomanus represents a Platonic world-soul and marked the ultimate boundaries of the cosmos. Ariomanus keeps all souls bound to this world which He rules over, however it is Ariomanus who is seen to hold the keys to heaven. Ariomanus is not an evil entity- Ariomanus is a servant of divine will. It is through Ariomanus can humans escape the material and reach the spiritual realm. and allows humans to reach their spiritual realm. Ariomanus, as imprisoner of the spiritual, is himself the means by which the soul of the initiate can find henosis.

Through the agency of Ariomanus the world cave is cleansed by fire through Mithras. The entire cosmos is destroyed in a great conflagration. Time and space are burned up and then reconstituted into a new universe.

 

Birth of Mithras Petragenetrix

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Now we see the birth of Mithras Petragenetrix. Mithras isn’t being born into the zodiacal ring; He is being born out of it. The stone He births from is aflame, the serpent that bounded Ariomanus unable to bind Mithras. The torch that Mithras holds is that of Ariomanus. The old cosmos have been burned down, and Mithras and His servants have escaped into the divine realm.

It is said that on December 25th the great Mithras was born from stone, already in his youth, nude except for His sacred Phrygian cap, His legs together. He bursted forth with a torch in one hand and dagger in another.

  • With the torch of Ariomanus, He creates light and starts anew.
  • With the dagger He will bring life by slaying the bull.

His subordinates, Cautes (who holds his torch up, representing sunrise) and Cautopates (who holds his torch down, representing sunset), torchbearers who bear witness to this miraculous birth, also provide assistance, helping by lifting the Stone-Born God as He rises from stone.

The rock He springs from not only represent the cosmos, but the Earth itself; and He is born out of the boundaries of the cosmos. He is the God of light; bursting forth from the vault of the heavens behind the rocky mountains. This rock is the world cave, within the zodiac, and it is from fire; for He is escaping from the old universe into the new. Already at birth He is ruler of the world, kosmokrator.

 

Miracle of the Rock

Another of Mithras’ exploits is the miracle of the rock. Promised by Mithras to His two torch-bearers, the Invincible one sat on a stone as one of His loyal followers eagerly stood by. Aiming a flexed bow at a rockface, the great God shot an arrow. The arrow struck the rock, and from that rock water flowed, allowing one of the brothers to cup their hands and catch the water, feeding the brothers with the heavenly nourishment of the rock’s nectar. Mithras is the ever-flowing spring and bestower of water, and from this rock He struck sprung flowers. This miracle scene may be a reaffirmation of Mithras being able to bring forth Spirit within Matter.

 

Hunting the Bull

To redeem Himself, Mithras goes before and hunts for a bull to sacrifice, which aims to bring about rebirth through death. Hunting the bull, a great struggle breaks out. The Invincible One fights bravely, going in head-on, forcing Himself with His own strength against the beast’s renitent horns. The bull tries to flee; but is found again by the great God who hangs onto its neck as it gallops at lightning speed. Mithras, who in a large display of strength, holds on and actually rides the bull, managing to get the beast to tire itself.

The Bull can obviously be identified with Taurus, which is assigned to Venus. As a creator and lord of genesis, Mithras is placed in the region of the celestial equator.

 

Mithras Defeats & Carries the Bull

Mithras Carries

The bull, now exhausted, is easily overwhelmed by the Stone-Born God. Mithras puts the bull’s hind legs over His golden shoulders and drags it away as it thrashes its tail in defeat, hauled into the cave of the cosmos.

 

Slaying the Bull

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Here the most triumphant action of Mithras is done. Beneath the arching roof of the cave, Mithras, with a valiant grace and vigour, forces the mighty beast to the ground, kneeling in triumph with his left knee on the animal’s back, and constraining its rump with His almost fully extended right leg. Grasping the animal’s nostrils with His left hand and so pulling its head upwards to reduce its strength, Father Mithras then plunged a dagger into the neck of the beast with His right hand, causing the animal’s throat to rattle, its tail to jerk up, and finally perish. The bull is overcome not by sheer strength, but by the superiority of Mithras’ Godly soul. From here, life springs forth to suckle from the bulls wounds.

This myth doesn’t represent the thoughtless destruction of life, but rather represents life being reborn out of death. The bull is sacrificed so new life may be produced; life brought through Mithras, the almighty God of light. This is supported by the grain sprouting from the bull’s tail, and fits in well with general Indo-European views on sacrifice as creative, and the fact that the zodiac surrounds Mithras as He slays the bull, implying that a new cosmo have been given life. Mithras has provided salvation.

The story is interpreted by Porphyry and Lactantius Placidus.

  • The bull itself can be thought as representative of Selene, the Goddess of the Moon. This is referenced by both Porphyry, who writes extensively on Mithraic beliefs, writing that “The moon is also known as a bull and Taurus in its ‘exhaultion’”, as well as Lactantius Placidus. Selene is also depicted as much as King Helios is in Mithraic imagery, often taking up the top-right hand corner as King Helios takes the top-left. The bull representing Selene is further suggested due to the bull’s traditional iconography in Hellenism with the moon, as well as the shape the bull makes as its slain, with its tail extended in the air, is reminiscent of a lunar crescent. It is this that points to the bull’s death in the myth ultimately represents death and rebirth each day, with creation rising from the death of the bull; who as a symbol of the moon represents embodies death and restoration to life.
  • Another further point is that Mithras Himself may be symbolic of Mars and tied to the constellation of Aries, as Porphyry writes. The bull would be tied to Taurus, and associated with the planet Venus.
  • As the bull is slain, Cautopates, who represents death in this context, reaches and grasps the bull’s tail. This action symbolizes death needing the power of the bull to find new life, which is represented by his brother Cautes. Cautopates and Cautes are thought to represent constellations.
  • Animals come forward to feast on the bull’s life force to sustain themselves. This gives the impression that only constellations that overlapped the equatorial line were important enough to be included in Mithraic imagery.
    • A scorpion grabs the bull’s testicles. Thought to be representative of a constellation.
    • A dog licks blood from the bull’s wounds so it may absorb its life-giving power.
    • A snake suckles from the bull as well. The snake is understood as often representing a chthonic deity in Hellenic contexts, and thus the bull’s death may represent fertility given to the Earth. The snake is thought to be in the same position as Hydra.
    • Sometimes a lion may be depicted, which is thought to represent the constellation, Leo.
  • The bull’s tail turns into grain, representing life coming forth from death.

 

Meeting & Banquet with King Helios

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Following the slaying of the bull, the Celestial Demiurge and King of the Gods Zeus-Helios comes before Mithras and kneels in humility. Zeus-Helios shakes Mithras’ hand before an altar. This handshake is incredibly sacred: it is one of unification, as initiates of the Mithraic rituals are called syndexioi, those “united by the handshake”.

King Helios crowns Mithras with a crown like His own, and they sit to dine together. Having been given the solar crown, and Mithras is on par or even greater than the sun, because He’s burned down His own cosmos and brought life to the new.

A ritual meal is then had where the bull is eaten and the skin of the bull is stretched out over a table, and Cautes and Cautopates join the banquet from below.

 

Ascension to Heaven

Mithras has completed his earthly duties and King Helios grants him a chariot to return to the heavens. He makes his journey to the sun, and takes His place by Zeus-Helios’ side.

 

Lord of this Age

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Mithras is reborn, emerging from an egg, rising naked from the lower part of an eggshell while the upper half of the shell caps his head; surrounding him is are zodiac symbols representing the cosmos. He rises as Mithras Saecularis, or “Mithras, Lord of this Age.” Mithras sacrificed the bull, bringing into being a new world, into which He bursts, born from the cave, understood to be the world egg. He is reborn with the torch of Ariomanus, which he uses to give new light to the cosmos He gave life to. He is reborn not only with the knife that he will use to kill the bull, but the tools he did use to kill the cosmic bull. He will He becomes in that world the preeminent ruler, equal to the sun in ours. He is Phanes, arising from the cosmic egg. He is creator of the universe and father.

 

 

Worship

Evidence shows that water was widely used in worshiping Mithras, which represents the myth where Mithras produces his followers sacred water by striking a rock. Further, ritual feasts are also commonly had, where bread and wine is thought to give rebirth and nourishment to the soul. The slaughter of sacrificial animals are also common. Further, Mithras and His temples often appear with depictions of astrological symbolism such as 12 Zodiac signs, implying that He has a strong astrological importance.

 

Mithraic Mysteries

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The cult surrounding the worship of Mithras was called the Mysteries of Mithras, a secret religion where worshipers had complex system of seven grades of initiation. These grades are said to be connected to planetary deities:

Grade Symbols Planet/tutelary deity
Corax, Corux or Corvex (raven or crow) birb2

beaker, caduceus

Mercury (Hermes)
Nymphus, Nymphobus (Bridegroom) 2

lamp, hand bell, veil, circlet or diadem

Venus (Aphrodite)
Miles (soldier)  

3

pouch, helmet, lance, drum, belt, breastplate

Mars (Ares)
Leo (lion) 4

batillum, sistrum, laurel wreath, thunderbolts

Jupiter (Zeus)
Perses (Persian) 5

akinakes, Phrygian cap, sickle, sickle moon and stars, sling pouch

Luna (Selene)
Heliodromus (sun-runner) 6

torch, sun iconography, Helios whip, robes

Sol (Helios)
Pater (father) 7

patera, Mitre, shepherd’s staff, garnet or ruby ring, chasuble or cape, elaborate robes jewel encrusted with metallic threads

Saturn (Kronos)

Before initiation, one had to show themselves holy by applying to the Mysteries with the Pater (Father or Leader of the community) and undergo tests and initiation rituals. Initiates called themselves syndexioi, those “united by the handshake.” They met in underground temples, called Mithraea, of which over 500 have been found all across the Roman world, from Britain to Africa. These temples are usually underground structures that were modeled after the cave of the Sacred Cosmos where Mithras slew the bull, and were often near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers or springs; all in reference to the miracle of the rock. His worship was especially popular among military ranks due to being a God of oaths and covenants. It is written by Emperor Julian, a Mithraist himself, that there were “commandments of Mithras,” and so laws of morality were expected of Mithraists. There was also a wide amount of regional variety, and these holy laws and beliefs were interpreted differently region-to-region.

Ritual meals were commonplace in Mithraeum, where Mithraists would dine on bread, wine and other foods infront of an image of Mithras at the head of the room, which may be understood as Mithras being the host of the meal.

The Mysteries of Mithras are thought to have ended in the 5th century ACE, when persecution against Hellenism increased dramatically. Due to the communal isolation of the Mithraic Mysteries, little information survives of it today; but new discoveries coming through archaeology uncover more and more of the Mysteries’ secrets. The last proven Mithraic site dates back to 408 ACE.

 

Origins

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Zoroastrian depiction of Mithra

The Mithraic Mysteries ultimately has origins from Iran and India, as well as general areas in the Middle East, where the worship of the God first derived from as Mithra (Also spelt Mihr and Mitra). In a cuneiform tablet dating back to the 15th century BCE containingontains a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni, Mithra is invoked as the God of oath. He also has Zoroastrian origins, where Franz Cumont writes how the Avesta describes that Mithra is “is the genius of the celestial light. He appears prior to sunrise on the rocky summits of the mountains; during the day he traverses the wide firmament in his chariot drawn by four white horses, and when night falls he still illumines with flickering glow the surface of the earth, ‘ever waking, ever watchful.’ He is neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, but with ‘his hundred ears and his hundred eyes’ watches constantly the world. Mithra hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him. By a natural transition he became for ethics the god of truth and integrity, the one that was invoked in solemn oaths, that pledged the fulfillment of contracts, that punished perjurers.”

The Mithraic Mysteries formally begun in the 1st Century ACE, however it’s said that Mithras was already being worshiped thanks to Indo-Greeks writing back to their homeland about Him during the Hellenistic period. It’s likely that Greeks aided in establishing the Mysteries due to Greek exposure to Iranian beliefs and the elements of Platonism in the Mysteries. There are far less Mithraea in the Roman East, indicating that the Mysteries organized in the holy city of Rome itself and spread among the western provinces. Despite the influence of Persian beliefs, there is no direct continuation between the Zoroastrian worship of Mithra and the Hellenic worship of the God, rather influences are at best indirect.

 

Bibliography

Clauss, Manfred. The Roman cult of Mithras: the god and his mysteries. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Cumont, Franz, and Thomas J. McCormack. The mysteries of Mithra. Lexington: ZuuBooks, 2012.

Daryaee, Touraj. “Another Ariamanus Statue Found: The Evil Spirit of Mithraic Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. May 14, 2014. Accessed December 03, 2017. https://www.ancient.eu/article/685/another-ariamanus-statue-found-the-evil-spirit-of-/.

Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.

Manuvera. “Roger Beck: Mithraism .” The Official Website of Dr Kaveh Farrokh. December 19, 2013. Accessed December 04, 2017. http://kavehfarrokh.com/zoroastrianism/professor-roger-beck-mithraism/.

Miller, Mark. “Mithraism May Become a Bit Less Mysterious with New Temple Discovery in Turkey.” Ancient Origins. May 5, 2017. Accessed September 02, 2017. http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/mithraism-may-become-bit-less-mysterious-new-temple-discovery-turkey-008020.

“MITHRAEUM.” MITHRAEUM. Accessed September 02, 2017. http://www.mithraeum.info/.

“Mithraic Mysteries – Crystalinks.” Crystalinks. Accessed September 02, 2017. http://www.crystalinks.com/mithraism.html.

Parkin, Andrew. “Worshipping Mithras in the Roman Empire. A guest post by Flora M. Kirk | Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Blog.” Tyne Wear Archives Museums Blog. August 21, 2017. Accessed December 03, 2017. http://blog.twmuseums.org.uk/worshipping-mithras-in-the-roman-empire-a-guest-post-by-flora-m-kirk/.

Porphyrius, and Thomas Taylor. On the cave of the nymphs. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1991.

Serith, Ceisiwr. “Ceisiwr Serith Homepage.” What is Mithraism? Accessed December 01, 2017. http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/mith/whatismith.htm.