Mithraism and Christianity

Part 3

Mithraic sculpture depicted the Taurobolium with invariable consistency. Mithras was always depicted in the cave kneeling on the back of the bull, dagger in hand, wearing a flowing cape and Phrygian cap (the rounded, conical hats currently en vogue amongst rap-music fans). He was shown pulling back the bull's head by its nostrils and stabbing it with the dagger, back foot extended over the bull's right leg. A dog and a snake were shown leaping into bull's wound, representing the dualistic conflict of good and evil at the moment of creation. A scorpion was shown at the bull's genitals, depicting evil seeking to destroy life at its source. Ears of corn sprung from the tail of the bull representing victory of good over evil. During the celebration of the vernal equinox, the Phrygian priests of the Great Mother attributed the blood shed in the Taurobolium to the redemptive power of the blood of the Divine Lamb shed on the Christian Easter. It was maintained that the dramatic Taurobolium purification ritual was more effective than baptism. The food that was taken during the mystic feasts was likened to the bread and wine of the communion; the Mother of the Gods (Magna Mater) received greater worship than the Mother of God (Mary), whose son also had risen again. An inscription in the Mithraeum under the Church of Santa Prisca in Rome referred to Mithras saving men by shedding the eternal blood of the bull. On the very spot on which the last Taurobolium took place at the end of the fourth century, in the Phrygianum, today stands the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica.

The Decline of Mithraism

"As the religious history of the empire is studied more closely, the triumph of the church will, in our opinion, appear more and more as the culmination of a long evolution of beliefs. We can understand the Christianity of the fifth century with its greatness and weaknesses, its spiritual exaltation and its puerile superstitions, if we know the moral antecedents of the world in which it developed." (Franz Cumont)

The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism

As the final pagan religion of the Roman Empire, Mithraism paved a smooth path for Christianity by transferring the better elements of paganism to this new religion. After Constantine, Emperor from 306-337 A.D., converted on the eve of abattle in 312, Christianity was made the statereligion. All emperors following Constantine were openly hostile towards Mithraism. The religion was persecuted on the grounds that it was the religion of Persians, the arch-enemies of the Romans. The absurdity with which Christianity enveloped Roman paganism was characterized by the early Church writer Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), who noticed that the pagan religion utilized baptism as well as bread and wine consecrated by priests. He wrote that Mithraism was inspired by the devil, who wished to mock the Christian sacraments in order to lead faithful Christians to hell. Nonetheless, Mithraism survived up to the fifth century in remote regions of the Alps amongst tribes such as the Anauni, and has managed to survive in the near-east until this day.

Mithras is still venerated today by the Parsis, the descendants of the Persian Zoroastrians now living mainly in India. Their temples to Mithras are now called 'dar-i Mihr' (The Court of Mithras). A scholar living among Parsis in Karachi, Pakistan reported that a Parsi mother, finding one of her grandchildren fighting with a younger child, told him to remember that Mithras was watching and would know the truth. Upon initiation, Parsi priests are given a 'Gurz', the symbolic Mace of Mithras, to represent the priestly duty to make war on evil. The priests continue to conduct their most sacred rituals under Mithra's protection. In Iran, up until 1979, traditional Mithraic holidays and customs still continued to be practiced. The Iranian New Year celebration called 'Now-Ruz' would take place during the spring and continue for thirteen days. During this time Mehr (Mithras) was extolled as ancient god of the sun. The 'Mihragan' festival in honour of Mithras, Judge of Iran, also ran for a period of 5 days with great rejoicing and in a spirit of deep devotion.

These celebrations were encouraged under the Western-style cultural liberalism of the 1963 Revolution of the Shah, until exiled Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini returned to

Iran in 1979 to impose strict Islamic codes of behaviour and dress on all Iranians. Khomeini immediately reversed the Westernization movement and proclaimed Iran to be an Islamic republic. Finally, all traditional Mithraic rituals were suppressed in the land that was once Persia, birthplace of the religion of Mithras.

Manichaeism and Later Heresies

Back in early medieval Europe, a form of Mithraism had managed to survive for centuries beyond the edicts of Constantine. Even when it had been dethroned by Christianity, the Mithraic faith lived on in dignified opposition by mutating into a Christian heresy known as Manichaeism, which was to become a source of strife and bloodshed right down to the Middle Ages. The Persian dualism of Zarathustra introduced such strong principles into Europe that they continued to exert an influence long after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Manichaean faith succeeded as an heir to Mithraism, spreading within decades throughout the territories once covered by Mithraism in Asia and throughout the Mediterranean, eventually encompassing regions from China to North Africa, Spain, and Southern France.

Mani was born in 216 A.D. nearly 500 years after the incarnation of Mithras, and given the title 'The Seal of the Prophets' (a title since given to Mohammed by Islam). He was also called the Bagh, or the Lord to succeed Mithras. Mani preached a dualistic theological system emphasizing the purity of the spirit and the impurity of the body. He believed that the universe was controlled by the opposing powers of good and evil which had become temporarily intertwined, but at a future time would be separated and return to their own realms. Manichaean ethics focused on freeing the soul from the body and opposing material and physical pleasures. Mani's followers attempted to assist this separation by leading ascetic lives, preaching renunciation of the world, and discouraging marriage and procreation.

Ironically, Manichaeism was denounced in the west by the Papacy as a dangerous heresy considered detrimental to social life and common human institutions. It was also condemned in Persia for similar reasons. Mani was persecuted and finally put to death in 276 A.D., as were many of his followers. Regardless, Manichaeism spread widely and was a major religion in the East until the 14th century. It died out in the West by the 6th century, but later led to the creation of several early Christian heresies, such as the those of the Cathars and the Albigenses.

The Albigenses were a heretical Christian sect whose influence became widespread in Southern France around the year 1200. Its theology was based entirely upon Manichaean dualism. The Dominican Order was founded in 1205 in order to combat this heresy. Following the assassination of the papal legate in the year 1208, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Albigenses. This developed into a political conflict with civil war between the north and south of France lasting until 1229. The Knights Templar, a religious military order founded by Crusaders in Jerusalem in 1118, came into contact with Manichaean heretics who despised the Cross, regarding it as the instrument of Christ's torture. This tenet was believed to have been adopted by the Templars, who were suppressed and charged with blasphemy in 1312 for committing homosexual acts, worshipping the demon Baphomet, and ritually spitting upon crucifixes. To this day, the Knights Templar have been emulated by dozens of mystical sects and secret societies, including the Freemasons, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the notorious Ordo Templi Orientallis reformulated by Alistair Crowley.

Conclusion

"If Christianity had been checked in its growth by some deadly disease, the world would have become Mithraic."Joseph Renan, French religious historian and critic Marc-Aurèle et la fin du monde antique The Mithraic legacy resulted in customs still carried out today, including the handshake and the wearing of the crown by the monarchy. Worshippers of Mithras were the first in the western world to preach the doctrine of divine right of kings. It was the worship of the sun, combined with the theological dualism of Zarathustra, that disseminated the ideas upon which the Sun-King Louis XIV (1638-1715) and other deified sovereigns of the West maintained their monarchial absolutism. Of all the Roman pagan religions, none was so severe as Mithraism. None attained an equal moral elevation, and none could have had so strong a hold on mind and heart as the worship of this sun god and saviour. The major competitor with Christianity during the second and third centuries A.D., not even during the Moslem invasions had Europe come closer to adopting an Eastern religion than when Diocletian officially recognized Mithras as the protector of the Roman Empire. But in the end, Christianity finally became the champion of the inevitable conflict with the Zoroastrian faith for the dominion of the known world.

In theory, a proper coup-d'etat by the Mithras-worshipping Roman centurions could have prevented the Emperor Constantine from establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Mithraism could quite possibly have survived through the following centuries with the theological assistance of the Manichaean Heresy and its various offshoots, assuming that the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth had somehow have been simultaneously quashed (possibly through an increased number of crucifixions). With the absence of Christianity due to the continuation of Mithraism in the west, the rise of Islam may similarly have been prevented in the seventh century, and the violence of the crusades need not have occurred. Assuming that Islam had not enveloped Persia, the worship of Mithras could have continued within the pantheon of Zarathustra. Consequently, Mithraism would have made an even stronger indentation upon the pantheons of India and China, and possibly spread beyond to other far-eastern countries. Columbus set sail during the Inquisition, another savage event representing the culmination of over a thousand years of European Christianity. Had Mithraism survived the millennium until the year 1492, the Indigenous people of the Americas would have been exposed to Mithraic worshippers instead of Catholic missionaries. Quite possibly, the Taurobolium would have been transposed upon the buffalo hunt rituals of the Plains Indians and the sacrificial ceremonies of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec, and these great empires would not have been annihilated by thebrutal European conquerors who plundered in the name of King

and Christ.

By playing quantum physicist through manipulating causality and further extending this 'What If?' scenario (and selectively ignoring countless variables) it is possible to reconstruct our current North American society with Mithraism in place of Christianity as the predominant religion and cultural driving force. After all, best selling author Mary Stewart used the concept of the local revival of Mithraism in medieval Britain for her novel Merlin of the Crystal Cave. The great Mithraic researcher Franz Cumont also commented extensively on the possibility that Mithraism had survived beyond Constantine. "The morals of the human race would have been but little changed, a little more virile perhaps, a little less charitable, but only a shade different. The erudite theology taught by the mysteries would obviously have shown a laudable respect for science, but as its dogmas were based upon a false physics it would apparently have insure the persistence of an infinity of errors. Astronomy would not be lacking, but astrology would have been unassailable, while the heavens would still be revolving around the earth to accord with its doctrines. The greatest danger, would have been that the Caesars would have established a theocratic absolutism supported by the Oriental ideas of the divinity of kings. The union of throne and altar would have been inseparable, and Europe would never have known the invigorating struggle between church and state. But on the other hand the discipline of Mithraism, so productive of individual energy, and the democratic organization of its societies in which senators and slaves rubbed elbows, contain a germ of liberty. We might dwell at some length on these contrasting possibilities, but it is hard to find a mental pastime less profitable than the attempt to remake history and to conjecture on what might have been had events proved otherwise."

(Franz Cumont Les Mystères de Mithra)

B I B L I O G R A P H Y

Undoubtably the world's most widely recognized researcher of Mithraic Studies was Franz Cumont. Born in 1868, Cumont published his monumental work of some 931 pages, Textes et monuments figurés relatifs aux mystères de Mithra in 1896, followed by Les Mystères de Mithra, as well as

The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism. His research into Roman pagan religions has been the basis of most of the factual content of this report.

1.Beny, Roloff. Iran: Elements of Destiny. McClelland

and Stewart Ltd. London, 1978.

2.Cumont, Franz. Les Mystères de Mithra. Dover Publications,

Inc. New York, 1956.

3.Cumont, Franz. The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism.

Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1956.

4.Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. The World

Publishing Company. Cleveland, 1958.

5.Hinnells, John R. Persian Mythology. Peter Bedrick Books.

New York, 1985.

6.Perowne, Stewart. Roman Mythology. Hamlyn Publishing

Group Ltd. London, 1969