The Mithras reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Mithras

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Mithras was the central savior god of Mithraism, a syncretic Hellenistic mystery religion of male initiates that developed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and was practiced in the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. Parthian coins and documents bear a double date with a 64 year interval that represents Mithra's ascension to heaven, traditionally given as the equivalent of 208 BCE, 64 years after his birth.

The name Mithras was adapted from the Persian god Mithra, the mediator between Ahura Mazda and the earth, the guarantor of human contracts, although in Mithraism, to a few elements of Mithra, much was added. However, some of the attributes of Roman Mithras may have been taken from other Eastern cults: for example, the heavy Mithraist use of astrology strongly suggests syncretism with star-oriented Mesopotamian or Anatolian religions. At least some of this syncretism may have already been underway when the cult was adopted in the West.

Roman soldiers, possibly having encountered the cult of Mithras as an element of Zoroastrianism in what is now Armenia, Syria and eastern Turkey, brought the religion back to the center of the empire, one of a crowd of mystery religions competing in the Empire. The Romanized Greek historian Plutarch (46-125 A.D.), reported that Mithras was first introduced into Italy by captive pirates brought back from Cilicia, who initiated Romans into their mystery cult. In 67 BCE, the first congregation of Mithras-worshipping soldiers, under Pompey's command, existed in Rome. By around 100 CE it had become widely popular. Among the legions this was especially so, with Mithraism's strong emphasis on honor and courage, the brotherhood of the Good combatting Evil.

With the conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity and the decrees under Theodosius I (391) banning the use of non-Christian places of worship, Mithraism began a rapid decline. Despite a temporary resurrection under Julian the Apostate (331-363) the cult finally disappeared.

Table of contents
1 Elements of the cult
2 Hierarchy
3 Mythology
4 External link
5 References
6 See also

Elements of the cult

It is difficult for scholars to reconstruct the daily workings and beliefs of Mithraism, as the rituals were highly secret and limited to initiated men only. Mithras was little more than a name until the massive documentation of Franz Cumont's Texts and Illustrated Monuments Relating to the Mysteries of Mithra was published in 1894-1900, with the first English translation in 1903.

In every Mithraic temple, the place of honor was occupied by a representation of Mithras killing a sacred bull, called a tauroctony, which many scholars believe is an astrological allegory and not an actual animal sacrifice. In fact, it is widely accepted nowdays that the image of Mithras, the bull, and the other representations of the tauroctony, such as the scorpion and dog, actually represent constellations (Ulansey, 1991). Mithras is associated with Perseus, whose constellation is above that of the bull.

Worship took place in a temple, or "mithraeum", an artificial cave probably constructed to resemble the place of Mithras's birth. Although some of these temples were built specifically for the purpose, most of them were rooms inside larger structures which had a different purpose, such as a private home or a bath house.

From the structure of the mithraea it is possible to surmise that worshippers would have gathered for a common meal along the reclining couches lining the walls. It is worth noting that most temples could hold only thirty or forty individuals.

Hierarchy

Members would ascend through seven grades of initiation, each aligned with a symbol, and a planet. From low to high, the grades were:

Those members who reached "pater" level could themselves head a congregation, perhaps a reason that the individual temples were so small: ascent in the ranks probably led to splintering of the congregation, and the founding of a new temple.

Mythology

His followers believed Mithra to have been born from a cave, or sometimes from a rock.

One of the central motifs of Mithraism is the sacrifice by Mithra of a sacred bull created by the supreme deity Ahura Mazda, which Mithra pursued, overcame, and dragged into his cave, only to have the bull escape.

Ahura Mazda sends a crow to carry a message to Mithra to find and slay the bull. Mithra reluctantly obeys, and stabs the bull to death as it returns to the cave. From the body of the dying bull spring plants, animals, and all the beneficial things of the earth, and the bull, resigning itself to death, is transported to the heavenly spheres, redeemed by its sacrifice.

External link

References

See also