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GoodGod!

December, 2018

Meet the Gods: Mithras, the Pagan Christ Child

 

(This figure of the Persian god Mithras is at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.)

 

Merry meet.

Mithras, god of the sun in ancient Rome, was born around the winter solstice and experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox. The ancient Persian-Roman religion called Mithraism thrived before Christianity, dating back some 4,000 years. It gains attention because the similarities between his story and that of Jesus are numerous.

He was born of the virgin Anahita on December 25. He was, according to an article on truthbeknown. com by Acharya S. and D.M. Murdock, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.”

He traveled far and wide as a teacher and a master who performed miracles and had 12 companions. He was omniscient. Both the lion and the lamb were his symbols. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the Lord’s Day, or Sunday, was said to be Mithras’ sacred day. Baptisms were important, midnight services were held and he was often said to carry a lamb on his shoulders. Mithraism’s scared rock was Petra.

As the ‘great bull of the Sun,’ Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace. He ascended into heaven. Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the ‘Way, the Truth and the Light,’ the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah,” according to the article.

Mithra was worshiped as Mitra or Itu in the Indian Vedic religion. It is believed he was born in a cave on December 25 and was the mediator between man and god.

 

(In this relief from the 2nd century AD, Mithras kills the sacred bull and from its blood and semen arise the plants and animals. Source: Neues Museum, Berlin)

 

His cult spread from India west to Germany, Spain and England, and was supported by soldiers of the Roman Empire, becoming the primary rival to the newly developing religion of Christianity. In 307, Diocletian consecrated a temple on the Danube River to Mithra, “Protector of the Empire,” as stated in britannica.com.

According to myth, Mithra was born, bearing a torch and armed with a knife, beside a sacred stream and under a sacred tree, a child of the earth itself. He soon rode, and later killed, the life-giving cosmic bull, whose blood fertilizes all vegetation. Mithra’s slaying of the bull was a popular subject of Hellenic art and became the prototype for a bull-slaying ritual of fertility in the Mithraic cult,” according to the entry written by the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Mithra, also spelled Mithras, was the god of light in ancient Indo-Iranian mythology.

The Persian version of Mithra was a benevolent solar deity bestowing wealth and health.

He was mighty, strong, unconquered and king of the gods, and was often portrayed as a sun disc in a chariot drawn by white horses.

Winter festivals, common in cultures around the world, were intended to strengthen the fire of the sun so that it would return. They were celebrated in the name of Mithras, who can be called as a god to your circle this Yule.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

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About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Moon Owl Observations

October, 2011

A little touch of Rome

Ancient Romans had a major effect on modern paganism and parts of their culture need to be credited. Romans owed a high proportion of their language, architecture, religious beliefs and philosophy to the Greeks after the Greek culture was absorbed into Roman society when it became part of the empire. Even with this, Romans were a highly successful and intelligent society who introduced new technological advances into life.

Early Romans paid homage to spirits rather than specific deities. The divinity in all things and early deities were known as ‘Numina’. Numina were divine manifestations. They were faceless and formless but very powerful. The Numina included the Lares (guardians of the field, boundaries or ancestors), the Penates (guardians of the home and food), Janus (guardian of the doorway) and Vesta (guardian of the hearth).

Everything in nature was thought to be inhabited by spirits and the Romans would live under the gods, constantly trying to please them. They believed that the spirits in everything needed to be kept happy, and this led to various rituals and sacrifices. An example of that would be that Romans would sacrifice bulls and use the entrails to predict the future or read the will of the gods. They were also believers in syncretism- the belief that the same gods existed everywhere, just by different names.

Gods taking on a human form came along later with the influence of the Greeks and Etruscans. Roman spirits became associated with more humanized Greek gods and they began to absorb the Greek myths and gods as their own. Twelve gods called the Dii Consentes were especially honoured by the Romans. They were: Apollo, Ceres, Diana, Juno, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Venus, Vesta and Volcanus. They believed in various deities but certain ones would become more popular depending on who was the emperor, however; two particular deities were the most important to the Romans almost through the entire period of the Roman Empire- Vesta and Janus.

Vesta was by far the most popular. She is the guardian of the hearth and was one of the Numina worshipped. Since the Roman state was divided into the free and the enslaved it was good that Vesta was a deity that was linked to all classes of people.  There were temples of Vesta that housed a sacred fire that was to be kept constantly burning by the Vestral Virgins. The virgins  had important roles and the maidens would be chosen at childhood. They took very serious vows, and if one broke these vows they were often sentenced to death.

In 312, Constantine converted to Christianity and by the end of the 4th century the worship of all the old gods had been outlawed and ceremonies and rites related to Paganism were banned. Juliam the Apostate tried to revive Paganism afterwards but by then Christianity was too popular. There were still many high society Romans who did remain true to the old gods in this time even though it was forbidden. Then,  when Emperor Theodosius reigned he was tolerant of Pagan beliefs at the beginning but soon sent troops to destroy Pagan temples. Many Pagan festivals were absorbed into Christian holy days and those that weren’t were simply turned into working days. Theodosius declared a war on Paganism and the De Obitu Theodosii contains a detailed account of the supression of Paganism. This of course led to an increase in Christianity- making it the official religion of Rome.