God of the Week: Mithras

God of the Week 12/21/09: Mithras

Mithras Killing the Bull

It is possible that the god Mithra (Mithras) has been worshiped for thousands of years across three popular religions. Starting as a minor deity in Hinduism, he appears to have been adopted into Zorostrianism, until he finally became the central savior god of the Roman Mystery Religion, Mithraism.

Much of what had been know of Mithras had been lost since Mithraism was the most popular religion in the Roman Empire. It was Franz Cumont who, at the end of the 19th century, traced the origin of the Iranian god, Mithra to the Hindu god Mitra:

IN THAT unknown epoch when the ancestors of the Persians were still united with those of the Hindus, they were already worshippers of Mithra. The hymns of the Vedas celebrated his name, as did those of the Avesta, and despite the differences obtaining between the two theological systems of which these books were the expression, the Vedic Mitra and the Iranian Mithra have preserved so many traits of resemblance that it is impossible to entertain any doubt concerning their common origin.
-Franz Cumont, Mysteries of Mithra

A minor god in Hinduism, once adopted into Zoroastrianism, Mithra developed a very strong following.

… no god can be compared with Ahura Mazda, the wise creator of all good beings. Under him are the Amesha Spentas, or “Immortal Holy Ones,” and the Yazatas, or “Venerable Ones,” who are secondary deities. …

Mithra is by all odds the most important Yazata. Although pushed by Zoroaster into the background, he always enjoyed a very popular cult among the people in Persia as the god of the plighted word, the protector of justice, and the deity who gives
victory in battle against the foes of the Iranians and defends the worshippers of Truth and Righteousness (Asha), His cult spread, as is well known, at a later period into the Roman Empire, and he has as his satellites, to help him in his function of guardian of Law, Rashnu (“Justice”) and Sraosha (“Discipline”).

– Mythology of All Races, Volume 6: Indian and Iranian

Louis Herbert Gray, Editor

It was K.B. Stark, though, that made the connection between the images in the Mithraic wall murals and reliefs and the solar constellations. In these pictorial depictions, the god Mithras is shown slaying a bull, accompanied by a dog, a scorpion, a raven, and a snake. These coincide with the constellations of Taurus, Canis Minor, Scorpius, Corvus, and Hydra which all line up just below the celestial equator.

The modern philosopher David Ulansey, in Origin of the Mithraic Mysteries, expanded on Stark’s hypothesis by proposing that the character of Mithras himself, may have been a reinterpretation of the constellation of Perseus, which is poised above the constellation of Taurus in much the same way that Mithras is posed in the reliefs.

Moreover, the accompanying constellations all follow along just below the celestial equator, the Perseus/Mithras character being the only one above it. This would make the worship of Mithras, at least the Roman version of it, completely celestial in nature, perhaps giving him credit for the movement of the heavens. The title “deus sol invictus” (unconquered sun god) is found in many Mithraic ruins further tying the character to celestial events.

It is not certain how long Mithraism survived. But, when the Roman emperor Theodosius the 1st (347-395) decreed that all non-Christian religions be made illegal, it lead to the organized destruction of many religious temples. No doubt Mithraic temples were victims of this persecution as well.

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2 Comments on “God of the Week: Mithras”

  1. Mithras is my fav god, followed closely by Ganesh!!

    Mithras is one of the god’s we honor by observing the Dec 25th winter solstice festival… his will be done.

    Have a Happy Mithras holiday

  2. Jenni Tan Says:

    thank u for sharing information about the god Mithra.

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