Mithraic Mysteries

Mithra killing bull

Mithra is an Indo-Iranian god, worshipped at least as early as 1400BC. In Hinduism he is praised as the binomial Mitra-Varuna. A hymn is also dedicated to him alone in Rig Veda (3.59). He is the Lord of Heavenly light, protector of truth, and is invoked when a contract or oath is taken.

In Persia Mithra was the protector god of the tribal society until the Zorostar’s reformation of Persian polytheism (628-55BC). Mithra like the rest of the gods and goddess of the Iranian Pantheon was stripped of his sovereignty, and all his powers and attributes were bestowed upon Ahura Mazda. However due to his popularity we see in Avesta (Mehr Yasht) Ahura Mazda saying to Zoroster: “Verily, when I created Mithra, the Lord of wide pastures, I created him as worthy of sacrifice, as worthy as prayer as my self Ahura Mazda.”

In Avesta Mithra or Mehr (trans: love, sun) is the protector of the Aryan nation, giving victory to ‘those who lie not unto Mithra’ He is the warrior deity carrying the ‘hundred knotted mace’ whom all demons flee in fear. In a Yashet 6 during a prayer to sun Mithra is mentioned again and refered to as a friend: “...I will sacrifice unto that friendship, the best of all friendships, that regins between the moon and the sun”

Mithra is also seen in Chinese mythology, where he is known as ‘The Friend’. Mithra is represented as a Military General in Chinese statues, and is considered to be the friend of man in this life and his protector against evil in the next.

In the west Mithra is best known as ‘cult of Mithras’ which had an immense popularity among the Roman Legions, From late 1BC until 4AD. During which it came under the influnece of Greek and Roman mythologies. However like other mystery traditions of that period; Eleusinian mysteries and Isis mysteries. The Mithraic cult maintained secrecy and its teaching were only reveled to initiates. Remains of Mithraic temples can be found through out the Roman empire, from Palestine across north of Africa, and across central Europe to North of England.


The Rites of Mithras:

There were seven degrees of initiation, these degrees allowed the neophyte to proceed through the seven celestial bodies. Allowing the reversing of the human soul’s descend into the world at birth.

The first degree was of corax(Raven) under Mercury. This stage symbolized death of neophyte. In ancient Persia it was a custom to expose dead bodies to be eaten by ravens on funeral towers. Raven as symbol of death can also be seen in some tarot packs as card 13 instead of Grim Reaper. At this stage the neophyte dies and is re-born into a spiritual path. A mantra was given to him to repeat and his sins were washed away by baptism in water.

The next degree is of Nymphus(male-bride) under Venus. The neophyte wears a veil and carries a lamp in his hand. He is unable to see the ‘light of truth’ until the ‘veil of reality’ is lifted. He is vowed to the cult, and becomes celibate for at least duration of this stage. He is a bride(lover) of Mithra. He also offers a cup of water to the statute of Mithra, the cup is his heart and the water is his love.

On reaching Miles(solider) under Mars, the neophyte had to kneel (submission to religious authority, naked (casting off old life), blindfolded with hands tied. He was then offered a crown on the point of a sword . Once crowned, his binds were cut with a single stroke of the sword and blindfold removed. This represented his liberation from bondage’s of the material world. He would then remove the crown from his head and placing it on his shoulder, saying: “Mithra is my only crown”(Fanz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra). This also symbolizes the removing the head(intellect) itself, allowing Mithra to be the guide.

At this stage the neophyte starts the real battle against his lower self, a solider is one actively struggels with the real enemy.

The stage of Leo(lion) is first of the senior degrees and is under Jupiter. He is entering the element of fire. Therefore the lions were not allowed to touch water during the ritual, and instead honey was offered to the initiate to wash his hands and anoint his tongue. The lions carry the food for the ritual meal that was prepared by the lower grades to the ritual feast, and take part. Lions duties included attending the sacred altar flame. The ritual feast represented Mithras last supper of bread and wine with his companions, before his ascend to the heavens in Sun’s chariot.

Mithra Sacrificing The Bull

The degree of Perses (Persian) under moon, “The initiate to this grade obtained through it an affiliation to that race which alone was worthy of receiving the highest revelations of wisdom of Magi” (Fanz Cumont, Rapport sur une mission a Rome, in Academic des inscrition et Belles-Letters, Comptes Rendes, 1945 p.418). The emblem for this stage was a harpe, the harpe that Persus decapitated the Gorgon. Symbolizing the destruction of the lower and animal aspect of the initiate. The initiate was also purified with honey as he was under the protection of the Moon. “Honey is associated with purity and fertility of the moon as this was, in ancient Iran believed to be the source of honey, and thus the expression of honey-moon denotes not the period of a month after marriage, but continued love and fertility in married life.” (Dr. Masoud Homayouri, Origin of Persian Gnosis).

In grade of Heliodromus(sun runner) under sun, the initiate imitates Sun at the ritual banquet. Sitting next to Mithra (Father), dressed in red, color of sun, fire and blood of life.

Highest grade was of Pater(father) under Saturn. He was Mithras earthly representative, light of heaven embodied, the teacher of congregation which he lead, wearing a redcap and as well as a “red baggy Persian trousers, carrying a staff symbol of his spiritual office” (Charles Daniels, Mithras and his temples on the Wall).

Mithra also presided over changing of seasons and the movement of heavens themselves, The scene of Mithra slaying a bull represents, “the precession of the equinoxes; Mithra was in effect moving the entire universe”(Prof. David Ulansey, The origins of Mithraic Mysteries). Mithras represented by constellation Persus changes the position of the celestial sphere by slaying constellation Taurus and moving the earth into constellation Aries at spring equinox, this ‘miracle’ of Mithra is product of Roman astrologers and a latter development that is not seen in Iran to same extent. However the celebration for changing of seasons was carried out both by western and eastern followers of Mithra: Nou-roz(spring equinox), Mehregan(autumn equinox), Shab-Yalda(winter solstice) and summer solstice.

As Christianity gathered momentum and eventually became the Roman Empires state religion, Mithraism was not tolerated. The Apologist saw it as a “satanic transversty of the holiest rites of their religion”(Fanz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra). Nevertheless Catholicism has preserved some of the outer form of Mithraism to name some; the timing of Christmas, Bishops adaptation of miters as sign of their office, Christians priests becoming ‘Father’ despite Jesus’ specific proscription of the acceptance of such title (Matthew 23:9), and “the Mithraic Holy father wore a red cap and garment and a ring, and carried a shepherd’s staff. The Head Christian adopted the same title and outfitted himself in the same manner.”(William Harwood, Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus). While the outer appearance of Mithraism can be detected in Catholicism, some traces of the inner teachings of Mithraism can be found in Sufisim, therefore study of Sufisim allows a new insight into Mithraism, and possibly vise versa.

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