Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mysteries of Mithras

There are none of the Ancient Mysteries which afford a moree interesting subject of investigation the Masonic scholar than those of the Persian god Mithras. Instituted, as it is supposed by Zeradusht or Zoroaster, as an initiation into the principles of the religion which he had founded among the ancient Persians, they in time extended into Europe, and lasted so long thar traces of them have been founded in thr fourth century. "With their penances," says Mr. King, (Gnostics, p. 47,) "and tests of the courage of the candidate for admission, they have been maintained by a constant tradition through the secret societies of the Middle Ages and the Rosicrucians down to the modern faint reflexof the latter - the Freemasons."

Of the identity of Mithras with other deities there have been various opinions. Herodotus says he was the Assyrian Venus and the Arabian Alitta; Porphyry calls him the Demiurgos, and Lord of Generation; the Greeks identified him with Phoebus; and Higgins supposed that he was generally considered the same as Osirus. But to the Persians, who first practised his worshipped as the God of Light. He was represented as a young man covered with a Phrygian turban, and clothed in a mantle and tunic. He presses with his knee upon a bull, one of whose horns he holds in his left hand, while with the right he plunges a dagger into his neck, while a dog standing near laps up the dripping blood.

This symbol has been thus interpreted. His piercing the throat with his dagger signifies the penetration of the solar rays into the bosom of the earth, by which action all nature is nourished; the last idea being expressed by the dog licking up the blood as it flows from the wound. But it will be seen hereafter that this last symbol admits of another interpretation.

The mysteries of Mithras were always celebrated in caves. They were divided into seven stages or degrees, (Suidas says twelves,) and consisted of the most rigorous proofs of fortitude and courage. Nonnus rhe Greek poet says, in his Dionysiaca, that these proofs were eighty in number, gradually increasing in severity. No one, says Gregory Nanzianzen, could be initiated into the mysteries of Mithras unless he had passed throught all th rituals and proved himself passionless and pure. The aspirant at first underwent the purifications by water, by fire, and by fasting; after which he was introduced into a cavern representing the world, on whose walls and roof were inscribed the celestial signs. Here he submitted to species of baptism, and recieved a mark on his forehead. He was presented with a crown on the point of a sword, which he was to refuse, declaring at the same time, "Mithras alone is my crown." He was prepared, by anointing him by oil, crowning him with olive , and clothing him in enchanted armor, for the seven stages of initiation through which he was about to pass. These commenced in the following manner: In the first cavern he heard the howling of wild beasts, and was enveloped in total darkness, except when the cave was illuminating by the fitful glare of terrific flashes of lightning. He was hurried to the spot whence the sounds proceeded, and was suddenly thrust by his silent guide through a door into a den of wild beasts, where he was attacked by the initiated in the disguise of lions, tigers, hyenas, and other ravenous beasts. Hurried through this apartment, in the second cavern he was again shrouded in darkness, and for a time in fearful silence, until it was broken by awful peas; of thunder, whose repeated reverbations shook the very walls of the cavern, and could not fail to inspire the aspirant with terror. He was conducted through four other caverns, in which the methods of exciting astonishment and fear were ingeniously varied. He was made to swim over a raging flood; was subjected to a rigorous fast; exposed to all the horrors of a dreary desert; and finally, if we may trust the authority of of Nicaetas, after being severely beaten with rods, was buried for many days up to neck in snow. In the seventh cavern or Sacellum, the darkness was changed to light, and the candidate was introduced into the presence of the Archimagus, or chief priest, seated on a splendid throne, and surrounded by the assistant dispensers of the mysteries. Here the obligation of secrecy was administered, and he was made acquainted with the sacred words. He received also the appropriate investiture, which, says Maurice, (Ind. Antiq., V., ch. i.,) consisted of the Kara or conical cap, and candys or loose tunic of Mithras, on which was depicted the celestial constellations, the zone, or belt, containing a representation of the figures of the zodiac, the pastoral staff or crozier, alluding to the influence of the sun in the labors of agriculture, and the golden serpent, which was placed in his bosom as an emblem of having been regenerated and made a disciple of Mithras, because the serpent by casting its skin annually, was considered in the mysteries as symbol of regeneration.

He was instructed in the secret doctrines of the rites of Mithras, of which the history of the creation, already recited, formed a part. The mysteries of Mithras passed from Persia into Europe, and were introduced into Rome in the time of Pompey. Here they flourished, with various success, until the year 378, when they were proscribed by decree of the Senate, and the sacred cave, in which they had been celebrated, was destroyed by the Praetorian prefect.

The Mithraic monuments that are still extant in the museums of Europe evidently show that the immortality of the soul was one of the doctrines taught in the Mithraic initiation. The candidate was at one time made to personate a corpse, whose restoration to life dramatically represented the resurrection. Figures of the corpse are found in several of the monuments and talismans. There is circumstantial evidence that there was a Mithraic death in initiation, just as there was a Carbiric death in the mysteries of Samothrace, and Dionysiac in those of Eleusis. Commodus, the Roman emperor, had been initiated into the Mithraic mysteries of Rome , and is said to have taken great pleasure in the ceremonies. Lampridius, in his Lives of the Emperors, records, as one of the madfreaks of Commodus, that during the Mithraic ceremonies, where "a certain thing was to be done for the sake of inspiring terror, he polluted the rites by a real murder; an expression which evidently shows that scenic representation of a fictitious murder formed part of the ceremony of initiation. The dog swallowing the blood of the bull was also considered as a symbol of resurrection.

It is in the still existing talismans and gems that we find the most interesting memorials of the old Mithraic initiation. One of these is thus described by Mr. C.W. King, on his valuable work on the Gnostics and their Remains, (London,1864:)

"There is a talisman which, from its frequent repitition, would seem to be a badge of some particular degree amongst the initiated, perhaps of the first admission. A man blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back, is bound to a pillar, on which stands a gryphon holding a wheel; the latter a most ancient emblem of the sun. Probably it was in this manner that the candidate was tested by the appearance of imminent death when the bandage was suddenly removed from his eyes."

As Mithras was considered as synonymous with the sun, a great deal of solar symbolism clustered around his name, his doctrines and initiation. Thus MEI... was found, by the numerical value of the letters in the Greek alphabet , to be equal to 365, the number of days in a solar year; and the decrease of the solar influence in the winter, and it revivification in the summer, was made a symbol of resurrection from death to life.

An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry