Mary Stewart – Author

I read my first book by Mary Stewart in the summer between fifth and sixth grade, it was titled The Crystal Cave, and it was the first book in her Merlin trilogy.

The Crystal Cave opened my eyes to many things, among them was the notion that there were actual historical antecedents for Camelot and King Arthur, subjects that I had been fascinated by for a couple of years at that point, but which I thought were figures of myth and legend.

Mary Stewart wrote this book from the perspective of Merlin, she set the time in the fifth century CE, the period of time when Roman influence was waning in the British Isles, her books linked the rise of Arthur to a Roman dynasty.

She wrote about the Roman Army, thereby introducing me to the Cult of Mithras, Sol Invictus. She wrote about the Celtic people of Gallia, and she wrote about the Druids. She wrote about their myths, peeling away the most fantastical elements and leaving me to wonder if what was left, even the magic, if it was true.

The figures in her stories, Uther Pendragon, Merlin, Igraine and Arthur were presented with a kind of grittiness that made me believe in them. They were already mythic figures in my imagination, but through her narrative they became real; I felt connected to them.

Through her discussion of Mithraism I came to be interested in the real history of Christianity. I became a researcher, and I began to question everything that I had been told was true about the origins of the Church.

I cannot thank her enough for this.

If I had not read Mary Stewart I may never have become a theologian, if my interest in those things had not been peaked by her authorship, I would not be the person I am today, and for that she is a hero of mine.

Her books had an oversized influence on my life, though I did not read much of her body of work beyond the Merlin Trilogy, but I read everything I could get my hands on concerning King Arthur, including the work of Mallory, the La Morte de Artur, and all of the variations of that text which flowed from it.

From Mary Stewart I learned about many other things, I discovered the real presence of Arthurian myth in European culture, how it served as a beacon of hope, providing my ancestors with a set or mores and a code of conduct that instigated and promoter the chivalric ideal, while at the same time becoming a vehicle for subversion, as in the Albigensian Heresies, and other counter cultural movements around the turn of the tenth century.

Given First – 2020.05.09Mary Stewart

Halloween – A Holiday Reflection

When I was young I imagined that Halloween was for children.

It was costumes and candy and imaginary play.

Halloween was an escape from reality, it was a chance to take a glance into another world, to pierce the veil of what is real and true.

We use to go block to block in our costumes, we called it Trick or Treating, we carried pillow cases slung over our shoulders, taking candies at nearly every door we knocked on, with nearly every bell we rang.

We scoffed at the people who only handed out little bibles or toothpaste, or some home-made fare, thinking they were doing something good.

We would rather have nothing at all than have those things, which quickly found their way into the trash.

I remember the drill of searching through our candy piles at the end of the night, looking for suspicious things, open packages, pins and needles and razor blades.

We understood that some people hated children and would slip these into the candies.

I never found anything dangerous, never once in all of those years.

Halloween is not all fun and games, though, it has a deeper meaning, than we were taught as children, a long history

Halloween is was not just about ghosts and goblins and friendly witches.

In the celebration of Halloween an ages old conflict is present, between the Christian Church, and the “Old Time Religion,” the customs of the pagans, paganus, pagani, the country folk and their persistent traditions lurking just beneath the surface of the Christian rites.

On the Christian Calendar; Halloween is All Hallows Eve, a celebration of the honored dead, of all the saints who had passed before, who have gone already to meet the maker.

For the old pagans; whose traditions are tightly interwoven with the church, Halloween is a celebration of the dead, plain and simple, of all of the dead, of the saints and sinners who have passed from this world together.

Halloween is an acknowledgment of the dead whose spirits live among us still; good and bad, honored or not; more often than not Halloween celebrates the dangerous, the macabre, the frightening and the weird, those qualities and characteristics that every person hides within themselves, because they are in fear of the world.

I was fourteen the last time I went Trick or Treating, and really, I was only chaperoning my younger brother, I was not dressed up, but I took some candy nonetheless.

In that same year I remember the Pastor at my church lamenting the popularity of the pagan festival. Believing that the Christian feast should be honored above it instead, or better yet, to the exclusion of anything else.

There was no fun in that, there was no fun in him. He was just an old man watching his tradition fade away, usurped by those of another generation, less committed to the Church.

In the years that followed, the number of children who go out in costumes seeking candy has declined by 25%, so the media outlets say.

Halloween is no longer considered safe or wholesome. It has yielded to the real dangers of the real world.

For me it is just another day, Halloween, I do not believe the dead walk with us. I have never seen a ghost, or any evidence of magic.

There are real horrors in the world, package bombers and angry middle-aged white guys with guns.

We have a pumpkin colored demagogue for a president, spreading fear, night and day at every turn.

We should all be thankful that we have the time to luxuriate in the fantastic and the surreal.

2019.10.31

Given 1st – 2016.10.31

Memorial Day – A Reflection

Memorial Day is a day set aside for reflection. It is a day meant for us to honor our fallen dead.

The meaning of Memorial Day has changed a great deal since it was founded. At its inception, it was meant to honor African American soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War, both our soldiers who were born-free, as well as those who were former slaves; men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who gave everything they had to keep the union whole.

Memorial Day was created to honor those who died for an America which they only dreamed could exist. They died for these United States, for a vision of it that the prayed for, but was not yet real; they got something different, they got this reality, an America that is still in a state of becoming, one that is more or less just, depending on where you are born, what color your skin is, what class you belong to.

Those men and women died for us, for good or ill, they died for us. They died for promises that went un-realized.

We have yet to repay them, we have yet to fulfill their hopes for the America they dreamt of; America, daughter of liberty, America the true, and good, America the arbiter of justice.

Now, we honor our dead on this day; our soldiers and sailors and airmen, our police and firefighters; we honor them.

We honor all of our citizens who spent their lives, who gave their days to public service; we honor our doctors and nurses and teachers, the good works of our ordinary citizens, of our friends and neighbors, we honor everyone’s sacrifices; known and unknown, and those yet to come.

This year we must even children, who stood in the way of gunfire to protect their classmates and paid for it with their lives.

We must honor them, and their sacrifice, they died upholding our most cherished values, in recognition of the fact that we are one people, that we are descended from many nations, and that we each come into the world with the absolute right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all other rights are subordinate to these.

On this day of all days, do not make the mistake of thinking that it is our service women and men who keep us free.
It has been at least sixty years since America faced an “existential” threat from a foreign power.

We are not kept free through armed conflict.

We do not face such an existential threat from beyond our borders and shores right now; not from Iran, not from North Korea, not from Russia, not from anywhere.

The real threat we face is from ourselves, from our ignorance and from our fear.

It is we, and we alone who can protect us from ourselves.

Our own apathy, our prejudice and hatred, these are the most dangerous forces aligned against us, that threaten our freedom. They are more deadly than any other worldly power.

To honor our fallen dead, you must do your part to keep us free. You must participate in our democracy.

Vote, stay informed, organize, build alliances and collaborate.

Our collective failure as citizens of the Unites States has allowed a criminal, autocratic, demagogue to hold power in the White House, allowed the Supreme Court to state that corporations are to be treated as people, and money regarded as free speech, while those same justices have told ordinary American’s that their right to free speech does not include the right to be heard, and that our right to vote does not include the guarantee that our votes will be counted.

This rank cynicism is more dangerous to our freedom than any rag tag group of militants half way around the world, more dangerous than immigrants looking for a better life on our side of the border we share, they are only seeking the same thing as my own forebears did when they came here a little over a hundred years ago.

Honor our fallen dead. Not with cards and flowers and barbeques (but do those things because they are good), honor them by standing up to racism and bigotry, to religious zealotry and corporate greed, to scientific ignorance and xenophobia, to corruption in our public officials in our highest offices, and to the notion that the right to keep and bear arms does not include our responsibility to regulate them.

Honor them by participating in public discourse. Do not lose heart, and do not give up.

Stand up, and be counted!

We must rebuild America, reform our institutions, we must do this for the sake of all Americans and our future generations. We must take responsibility for our own freedom.

We will have nothing to protect if we let our freedom be stolen from us while we are busy watching TV, posting pictures on social media of the last meal we ate, and arguing with one another about who is the most liberal, most progressive, most concerned about the common good.

Honor the fallen, in this way.

Participate!

Jay P. Botten, Veteran, U.S.N., Hospital Corps, 1990 – 1994

Given 1st 2015.05.25

Revised 2019.05.27

Christmas – On Jesus and Mithra, et al…

Part One

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. The narratives of his birth, and childhood are complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 C.E. is imbued with metaphor and allegory, so much so that none of it is reliable as history. The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua, but instead we call him by a Greek variant, Jesus.

If we desire to understand this story, (as we should) to understand how it came to be in the form that we have received it, we must engage that broader narrative. We must engage the complete societal, and theological context from which the Christian story emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, beyond the Greco-Roman world, we must go to Persia. That is where the story begins, with Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied. It is commonly regarded by scholars as merely one of many religious movements that competed with the early Christian Church for the devotion of the masses.

It was much more than that.

Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, (principally by members of the Roman army) in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia. It is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” within the Roman army.

Throughout its evolution, propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East, and Southwest Asia.

This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, but most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and most significantly our beliefs about Jesus.

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant.
Most scholarly research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, these scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few notable, but nevertheless subtle differences is enough evidence to argue for a complete separation, and distinction of the traditions, despite the greater number of obvious similarities.

The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

“The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra. ”

Some of his Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one culture to another, across great expanses of geography and time.

His particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form, and ritual activity, which are the structures that we would expect to change over time and distance.

The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism, the closely held beliefs that had existed from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central theme remains the same; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.
Part Two

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is a demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, God of light, and source of all-life.

Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), holding that Ahura-Mahzda was the only deity, and that there were no others.

However, if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its early evolution the belief system became dualistic. Another deity was established through doctrine, as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda; together they formed a pantheon of sorts.

This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (from whose name we have derived the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was in diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda.

This dualistic view of reality suggests that the drama of our lives on Earth is a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, the Mithraism of the Roman Empire, the demi-god Mithra is once again depicted in that same relationship to the high God. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus, and is iconographically represented as the sun. Mithra is the hero, demi-god and the offspring of Sol.

While this form of Mithraic worship is best understood as belonging to Rome, it should be noted that the cult of Sol Invictus, was also prevalent in Gaul prior to the Roman conquest of the Celts.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe. In the former tradition this is Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition Sol Invictus.

In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that Mithra and Sol become con-joined, through the meal they share, because they have dined together, they are now “one.”

Sol and Mithra are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes, each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, properly sequenced through the rites of initiation, the individual would become one with Mithra, and therefore one with Sol Invictus, thereby gaining access to the heavenly worlds of the afterlife.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work, Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows: Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one.” Angra-Mainyu slays Mithra and the bull together, in an act of violence.

Angra-Mainyu attempts to destroy Mithra and the bull, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through the power of the god of light, stalks of wheat, and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things, and good creatures flow from the bull to fill, and populate the created world, and now those good things and creatures are to be used for the benefit of human beings.

Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, Mithra is restored, and returns to Ahura-Mahzda in heaven.

There is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth.

In both versions of the myth, Mithra is sent to Earth by a God of greater authority than himself.

In both versions of the myth, the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth.

In the Roman version of the myth, the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice.

In the Persian version of the myth, the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit.

The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is.

The Roman version is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul, it is teleological and eschatological, insofar as it address the final resolution of conflict and evil in the world. The Persian version balances these two concerns.

In the Persian account, Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a myth of cosmogonic myth of origins.

Their death, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but does serve the interest of Ahura-Mahzda. Mithra does not die. His soul is immortal, and returns to heaven. From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater, because, the God not only has the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also having the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself.

In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the myth, the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life.

It is the creation of life itself.

It is life restored.

The principal actor in both versions of the myth is the creator God, figured as either Ahura-Mahzda, or Sol Invictus, respectively.

Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu, that does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, God of life, God of light, God of good.

What is significant and most consistent in the worship of Mithra from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia?

It is the belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions in the Near East and broader Mediterranean world
Part Three

There are several clues that we can follow. They will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, which we can uncover in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief in either the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. However, there was a period of time in which these beliefs did flourish.

After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter the Hebrew tradition, and over the next few centuries they become more clearly developed, especially among those Jewish communities remaining in the diaspora, living outside of Palestine and the former kingdoms of Israel, and Judea, which was the majority.

When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon, they were granted their freedom by the Persians, under the Persin king Cyrus, who had just recently conquered the Babylonians.

Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people in the Hebrew scriptures, as a servant of their God, Yahweh:

“22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’ ”

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was (or was perceived to be), but we can surmise that his beliefs and the beliefs of the Persian court did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time.

This passage indicates that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of these two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus, or his priests, saw a considerable amount of compatibility between the faiths of the two cultures and their systems of belief.

At this time, Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They both held, as basic beliefs, that creation was good.

Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop this theme in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of that new movement within the Hebrew culture became known within the Judean community, Samaria and throughout the diaspora, as the Pharisees.

The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster, who were called the Parsees. This etymology clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism, and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Palestine and Judea itself. This belief system was primarily taught by the Pharisees, and by the Essenes, in the remote desert community of Qumran.

Belief in the immortality of the soul was popular among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life, and not the temple in Jerusalem.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran, also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile.

Our word angel, meaning divine messenger, comes to English, from the Greek angelos, which is itself derived from the Persian word, angaros, meaning courier.

Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees received these teachings directly from the Parsees when they were exposed to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity.

It is also impossible to rule it out.

What we can say for certain, is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile, and I do not believe that these belief systems developed independently of one another, because I do not believe in that type of coincidence, therefore I take the Pharisaic movement within Judaism to be a case of pure theological syncretism, the cultural purchase by the Hebrews of an earlier Persian theology.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major streams of influence that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, insofar as they were the generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region, and the Near East at that time.

It should be noted that in most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, included the idea that those blessed places were reserved for people of heroic stature.

Because common people, and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic life, they had no hope of enjoying a blessed state in the hereafter.

Mithraism, and in more significant ways Christianity changed all of that; by promising the hope of salvation to anyone, regardless of gender, class, or status. Through these religions, common people and outcasts were able to entertain hopes of a blessed afterlife if, and only if they sought to align themselves with the God of creation, the God of light, and the God goodness, through an initiation into their mysteries.
Part Four

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. Officially, the patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, but as Ulansey points out, Perseus, as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way.

In his journals, the Roman general Pompey points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra in the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra, and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world, the gods and heroes were regarded differently, in different cities, and different regions, at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep, and they are important; as I will demonstrate:

“According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships ‘numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,’ and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, ‘offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.’…For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus. ”

Among the Greeks Perseus is considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus.

Tarsus is the city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull,” Taurus.

Perseus, like Mithra is intimately linked to the sun, referred to as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol.

Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. Also, the order is at times reversed with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun, this is done in keeping with the themes of mutuality, and co-extensive identity between the two.

The two are one.

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire.

The Greeks believed that his son, Perses, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

“The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult. ”

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull, making it so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand, ready to make the ritual cut while looking away from the sacrificial victim, just as Mithra is always depicted in the artwork depicting the tauroctony in Mithraic temples.

These similarities are too many to ignore.

The Cults of Mithra, and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time, and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.

In the city of Tarsus, Mithra is Perseus, at least insofar as they were worship.

The city of Tarsus figures prominently in the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity.

Tarsus is an old town, it originated as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo notes that by the first century BCE, it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor. More significant to our thesis is this, it was the birthplace, and home of Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jew, a Pharisee, and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

There is no research explicitly stating that Paul was aware of, or was influenced by Mithraism, but to suggest that Paul would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home, that would be improbable.

Furthermore, Paul was a Pharisee. As I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs that Pharisees and Mithraites shared included beliefs about the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation, and the ministry of angels.

If Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas, a conclusion we may draw simply by virtue of the fact that Paul was a Pharisee.

Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and its influence on Christian doctrine, constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology and theology, of Persian soterieology on the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first being located within the timeframe of the Babylonian exile, and subsequent diaspora.

Mithraism influenced the Judeo-Christian tradition, first through the teachings of the Pharisaic sect in general, second through the teaching of Saint Paul, who was Saul of Taursus (himself a Pharisee).

I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were syncretized and concretized by the early church.
Part Five

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread both through the travels of merchants, and through the Roman army spreading as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, and as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa, and Egypt, and it was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way across the Persian Empire to India.

As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar also, known as the Saturnalius, on December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Caesar Augustus, as well as the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that all of these people shared the same birthday does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. It was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, because it is that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns, the days get longer, and the deepest dark recedes.

The Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, it was closed to outsiders, closed to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation. Like other mystery religions, it purported to disclose to its initiates, the mysteries of the universe.

Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome, they had to keep to themselves and guard their secrets.
The necessity of secrecy for the cult of Mithra, as with that of many other cults, had much to do with the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors.

All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another; this was on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and were constantly suspicious of treason.

The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the Roman army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions with the army.

The emperors were always dependent on the power of the armies to keep them in the seat of power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith, it was guaranteed that they would lose power.

As I noted earlier, Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but not so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems; their icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal crucial things about that relationship, and also the close relationship between Mithraism and Christianity.
Part Six

In the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism), the priests were called Parsees. Outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic.

In the Roman form of Mithraism; the chief of a Mithraic temple was called father. To be a “father,” the individual had to have risen through all seven stages of Mithraic initiation.

The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity.

The Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers, just as the priests of Mithras and Zoroaster were in actuality.

Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, and not an accurate retelling of history, the presence of the Magi in his narrative is not accidental. It is purposeful and therefore indicative of the sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believed in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a God of goodness and light, as well as the expectation of a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin, and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE, Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son of Sol Invictus. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast he prepared from the flesh of the “Primal Bull,” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol.

Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, to dispute Ulansey’s claim, we can easily identify path of transformation through the cult of Perseus, the patron deity of Tarsus.

Note well, as stated earlier, in the iconography of the city of Tarsus, Perseus and Mithra are one and the same.

Perseus is the son of the Titan Zeus, king of the Olympians, and the human Danae.

The symbolism in their union is profound.

When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or another type of animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae, by a shower of gold is the only scene like this depicted in all of the Greek mythologies.

This is to say that Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form, through the exalted and ephemeral medium of a “golden-mist.” This is the most idealized and spiritual form Zeus could take.
The impregnation of Danae in this manner, and the subsequent birth of Perseus, is the closest thing in all of the Greek mythologies to a “virgin birth,” a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Danae subsequently gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern, she remains a virgin, never having been touched by the hands of men.

In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth.

As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features.

The earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, from which we are born, like Mithra, like Perseus, we are born into new life.

The worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion.

In army outposts on the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches.

In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, it remains the case that most Mithraic worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities, such as Ostia, were later converted to Christian worship.
Part Seven

Among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another.

Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community.

Mithraism, like Christianity promoted the notion that its teachings would transform the individual spiritually, while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart. It manifested itself in their position in the life of the Mithraic temple, or Mithraic shrine, as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank, outside of the Mithraic community would change. A slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian.

The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance in the social order outside of the community.

In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner), and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity, there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…

The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move through the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father, thereby becoming the Father himself.

At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that later, after death, would be used to get him into the heavenly realm appropriate to his rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes, and secret passwords that would allow the individual through the gates of paradise, was widely believed among practitioners of the Hebrew Kabala (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), as well as among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism.

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete, from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or end.

In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism, wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done through full immersion.

In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice, the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal, or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases the blood would be replaced by wine.

This rite of blood, wine, or water is referred to as the purgation. It was a ritual cleansing of the individual from their sins. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual, or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water.

The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation, in which a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself.

It is the same ritual system.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol.

Ideally, the sacred feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches, it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any sacrificial animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine, could be sufficient.

Such compromises were theologically sound, because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.
In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who, prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Saint Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus.

This is evidence that Saint Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that it is a matter of historical record that Saint Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ.
Saint Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), is thought to have enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome.

However, in the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have been the same person; believing that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra.

If this is true, it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Saint Constantine the Great, think that he was an incarnation of Christ, Christ returned, the Second Coming?

Here is one thing that I know with certainty, Christianity and Mithraism, as religious and spiritual philosophies, are both filled with hope:

Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us in the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Mithraism wanted to keep to its secret ways at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, defining the terms of its orthodoxy, and rooting out those groups of heretics, the Gnostics, who had those same tendencies that Mithraites did toward secrecy and exclusivism.
Bibliography

Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, published by E. J. Brill, 1968

Mithraic Studies, edited by John R. Hinnells, published by Manchester University Press, 1975

Mithraism in Ostia, edited by Samuel Laeuchli, published by Northwestern University Press, 1967

The Mithras Liturgy, edited and translated by Marvin W. Meyer, published by Scholars Press, 1976

Mysteries of Mithras, by Franz Cumont, translated by Thomas J. McCormack, published by The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903

The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, published by Doubleday, 1989

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, published by Oxford University Press, 1989

The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, published by Oxford University Press, 1993

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, published by Oxford University Press, 1997

A Homily – (The Second Sunday of Advent)

The Gospel of the Day – Luke 3:1 – 6
Gospel Acclamation – Lk3:4,6
Second Reading – Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 125(126) ©
First Reading – Baruch 5:1-9 ©
(NJB)
Integrity and Mercy, these Are the Splendor of God

Bear this in mind:

In the scripture reading for today, from the Prophet Baruch to the Apostle, Saint Paul, we must take Jerusalem and Israel as representative of the whole people of God, we must see these images as humanity writ large.

The hope expressed in the scripture, from the Psalms to the Gospel, is a hope for the whole human race, it is not selective, it cannot be limited to a select group of people in a specific time and place.

Remember this, the splendor of God is not the splendor of royalty. We must not seek the honor of princes or of queens and kings.

The glory of God is the glory of service, we should not expect any reward other than peace.

Though it may be true that our work is met with enmity, remember this, God, the creator of the universe, God has no enemies, and we may not regard those who oppose us as such. They are God’s children, even as we are. They are equal recipients of God’s love.

The path of God’s servant may be arduous, but at the end of the day there is rest.

Do not expect God to prepare the way, for God does not intervene in the affairs of human beings, set those vain notions aside and take up the mission in faith and trust

It was not God who released the Jews from captivity, from bondage in Egypt or in Babylon. It was Moses and Joshua. It was the Emperor of Persia.

Those were great deeds, marked by heroism and courage and mercy.

The clemency offered to the Jews, which led to the diaspora, honored the fellowship that all human beings share. Insofar as all good deeds have their origin in the goodness of the creator, then yes, God deserves the credit.

Nevertheless, it was the free choice of the Persian King to release those who had been enslaved and allow them to return to their homes. That was Cyrus not God who exercised that agency.

Many of those who were freed by the Persians never returned Judea, they remained living in the diaspora, carrying on their traditions in foreign lands, becoming citizens, building synagogues sharing the faith of their ancestors among them.

Some of those who were released returned to Judea, and chose to regard their neighbors and cousins as gentiles, as impure and as outcasts.

This was unjust, and out of alignment with the will of God. It is a mistake that has been repeated over and over again, in their history. It is an error they are living through in the modern day.

Listen to the Prayer of the Apostle

Listen to the Apostle, we are the objects of God’s love, every single one of us.

The creator of the universe loves us.

God has set out to make a good work through our agency, God will see it through. God will not abandon anyone.

The work will be completed and no-one shall be lost.

This is the hope of the Gospels, this is the good news.

Listen, the Apostle prays for you, he prays for everyone, in so doing the Apostle echoes the prayer of Jesus, the prayer of God’s own self; it is a prayer of love, a prayer of hope and a prayer of faith.

God has placed God’s trust in us. God trust is not a façade.

God has placed God’s hope in us, God’s hope is without measure.

God has placed God’s love in us, like a fruit that will flower forever.

To Emulate Jesus We Must Practice Forgiveness

Understanding of history is a crucial component of understanding the gospel. The Christian tradition has always attempted to root itself in historical realities; but with greater and lesser degrees of success, often with outright failure, and intentional malfeasance.

Nevertheless, the study of the tradition gave birth to modern historical criticism; without which we would have no understanding of the uses and limitations of history whatsoever

That only took eighteen hundred years of scholarship to develop.

Our narrative about the life and mission, the arrest and killing of Jesus are a part of the testimony of our faith.

Our understanding of these events is aided when we are able to locate the point in time, the singular moment when our commitment to the teachings of Jesus took place.

Jesus was born during the reign of Tiberius, heir to Augustus, and during the Herodian dynasty’s, he came of age and started his mission when Pontius Pilate was governor of Palestine.

We recall the role that Pilate played in the killing of Jesus, we shout it out at every hour of every day in all parts of the world; we proclaim that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried.

This story is told unceasingly and without end.

It is long since time that we, as heirs to the ministry and teaching of Jesus, forgive Pilate for the role he played in that political murder.

Just as the Apostle prays for us.

John the Baptist taught us to repent and be forgiven, but Jesus taught us simply, to forgive.

Jesus forgave those who killed him, even as they were killing him, asked God to forgive them when he was up on the cross.

It is time we do the same. This is the character of mercy that we are called to.

The promise of Isaiah, which John echoed in the wilderness cannot be fulfilled unless we do.

Remember, God is the author of our salvation, but we are the agents. It is incumbent on us to proceed with the healing, if the human race is to be made well.
First Reading – Baruch 5:1-9 ©

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:

Since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven, since the name God gives you for ever will be, ‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east:

See your sons reassembled from west and east at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.

Though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you like royal princes carried back in glory.

For God has decreed the flattening of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills, the filling of the valleys to make the ground level so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.

And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade for Israel at the command of God; for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and integrity for escort.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 125(126) ©

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels
the Lord worked for them!’

What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.
Second Reading – Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 ©

May You Become Pure and Blameless in Preparation for the Day of Christ

Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes; and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.
Gospel Acclamation – Lk3:4,6

Alleluia, alleluia!

Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight,
and all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

Alleluia!
Gospel Reading – Luke 3:1-6 ©

The Call of John the Baptist

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.
The Second Sunday of Advent

Blame It On the World – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion
11.24.2018

Blame It On the World
“Blame it on the world,” the fake President said, in reference to the murder of a journalist, a man who wrote for the Washington Post, a newspaper the fake president has decried as a purveyor of fake news, which according to the fake president’s rhetoric makes them the enemy of the people.

“Blame it on the world, the world is a nasty vicious place,” the fake President said, about the murder of this man who lived in Virginia, who was a permanent resident of the United States, who was lured to Turkey, by the government of Saudi Arabia on the grounds that he needed to visit the consulate there to acquire the paperwork that would allow him to marry.

Mr. Khashoggi was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and a vocal critic of the House of Saud, the Crown Prince, his government and their horrible record of human rights abuse.

The Crown Price is on record for stating that he wanted this journalist silenced. The Crown Prince ordered that they lay a trap for Khashoggi in Turkey. The Crown Prince sent fifteen members of his personal security detail to Turkey to murder him, including a doctor equipped with a bones saw to oversee the dismembering of his corpse, and a man who played as a body-double posing as Khashoggi, wandering around Istanbul in the murdered man’s clothes, after the killing had been done.

“Blame it on the world,” the fake President said, “the world is a nasty vicious place.”

I know that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is nasty and vicious. T-Rump is nasty and timid, he is a coward, but he delights in the viciousness of others, that much is clear.

The CIA, and numerous other intelligence agencies around the world, among our allies have reviewed the evidence of this murder provided to them by the Government of Turkey, they have authenticated it and concluded the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is responsible for ordering Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.

T-Rump has opted to take the word of the murderer instead, accepting his denials, even though they were preceded by numerous other lies, which the Crown Prince walked back, he accepted those denials for some murky reason we have yet to discern.

It is reminiscent of his acceptance of Vladimir Putin’s lies and denials about interfering with the 2016 election.

The fake President cannot help himself when he thinks there is a dollar to be made, and he is hungry for those dollars.

“Nature is red in tooth and claw,” Saint Augustine said.

Thomas Hobbes wrote his seminal work Leviathan, as a reflection on this premise. “We live in a Hobbesian World,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, and that is why the founders took such pains to draft our constitutions with its extensive system of checks and balances in place..

The recognition of this reality is not a cause to excuse it. Rather, the recognition of this reality is what requires us to adhere to the dictates of our social compact. It is why we need a government derived from the consent of the governed, and this is the principle motivation behind the American experiment in self-government.

Without this social compact the strong will always tyrannize the weak, in keeping with the nature of the world, as a nasty vicious place. We cannot allow this to be the way of our world. We cannot look away from the face of brutality. We cannot excuse the tyrant.

It is the duty of the American President, of whoever holds that office, their legitimacy notwithstanding, to represent the American ideals to the world. We cannot abandon American principles for cheaper oil, for an arms contract, for a fistful of dollars, or a pocketful of lies.

Veteran’s Day

Today is Veteran’s Day, November 11th.

Today we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars, though regrettably it was not.

I am a veteran, as is my father and some few of my friends (very few).

From the end of World War I, until 1954, we celebrated this day as Armistice Day, as a remembrance of that moment in that first great-global conflict, when the fighting stopped along the lines, in the trenches at the fronts. It stopped suddenly, it stopped all at once, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month; as if the war had a director who yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, all the pawns in the field, the millions of people in their graves could get up from what they were doing and go home.

That is not what happened.

Nearly twenty million people were killed in World War I, twenty million families broken, with many millions more suffering in the aftermath.

World War I was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it would end war itself for all time, but that would not be the case.

The gods of war are busy, always
The conflicts they sew never end, ever
We hunger and thirst for it, the failure
Of humanity

Today is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. He is the patron saint of soldiers, St. Martin of the Sword, he is called.

He was the first Christian Soldier.

It was in recognition of him, and his feast that this date was selected, to bring a halt to World War I.

It might have come sooner for the soldiers in the struggle, but the politicians acting like art directors wanted to wait for a symbolic moment, to bring it to a close.

11:11:11

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was easy to remember.

Pope, Saint Gregory the Great, the man who gave us our calendar, penned Saint Martin’s hagiography. It is not likely that Martin ever even lived. All of Gregory’s writing were works of fiction, either cut from whole cloth, or steeped and dyed.

Even if the life of Martin was based on the life of a real person did, his hagiography is a fiction, our celebration of Saint Martin is a piece of propaganda, it is just another terrible lie.

His hagiography was a fable penned with a purpose, through it Pope, Saint Gregory gave permission for Christians to takes up arms.

He gave Christian soldiers leave to march to war, which had been theretofore a matter of deep contention, a thing that was forbidden to the followers of Jesus.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…their will is our own. There is no god of war, there are only human pretenders.

In 1954, President Eisenhower, the man who had been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, he changed the nature of the November 11th holiday; from Armistice to Veteran’s Day, in honor of all Veterans who had fought in any conflict, anywhere in the world.

Friend or foe, ally or adversary, we celebrate the courage of the average person, woman or man, who was willing to risk everything for their tribe, their nation or their clan.

That is what we celebrate today.

We do not celebrate the end of war, because it seems that war itself will never end.

We do not celebrate the fictional life of a fictional saint, whose usefulness as a tool of propaganda suggested that it was possible to serve Jesus, with a sword, and we do not celebrate the lie that peace could ever be the fruit of war.

The fruit of peace springs from a different seed altogether.

We celebrate the character of those who have had the courage to enlist, to risk their lives for the sake of their sisters and brothers, whether at home or beside them in the field.

We should always celebrate that quality of character, while simultaneously naming the flaws in our own that lead us to war; fear and greed, anger and hatred, calamities all.

The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…they are the children of Aries; Fear, Panic and Strife, they own a piece of us.

We are possessed.

We are still waging war all around the world, one hundred years after the end of World War I. We the United States of America are waging war in Afghanistan, in Africa, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, fighting a war by proxy with Iran in Yemen, and feeding other conflicts in every sector of the globe.

I served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, from 1990 – 1994.

I served during the first Gulf War, though I did not serve in that theatre where we killed 300,000 Iraqi people in the space of a few months.

My father served for twenty-two years; the first four as a Marine, the next eighteen in the Air Force. Our nation went to war only once during that time, in Southeast Asia, where my father served multiple tours of duty, and in which we killed 3,000,000 people of Vietnam.

We have killed millions more in many other nations in the decades since then.

Millions of families broken.

We are terrible, we are profligate killers, we are experts at it, we Americans.

Today our President went to a ceremony to mark the one hundred year anniversary of World War I. All of the leaders gathered there walked arm in arm down the Champs Elysees, all except two, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, who arrived at the celebration late, in disgrace.

Make of that what you will.

Every bullet we fire, every missile we launch, each of them is an admission of our failure as diplomats, as human beings.

Violence does not beget peace. Violence it begets violence, and so it will always be.
Only peace and reconciliation bring peace.

Love one another; pay respect to the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of your disagreements, regardless of the pain you are carrying from your past.

To be free from it, requires that we forgive.

Commit yourself to meet conflict with love, respect all people, even your adversary, this is the thanks you can give to a Veteran today.

Indigenous People’s Day

Christopher Columbus was a monster. He sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of his vanity, of wealth and titles. He sailed across the Atlantic four times and back; he became wealthy, he earned titles, though his vanity was never satisfied.

He was born in obscurity, an Italian from Genoa. As a boy he went to sea where he learned the skills and the knowledge that brought him to a captaincy.

In this he was remarkable, and deserving of respect.

He became an adventurer in the service of the monarchs of Spain; Ferdinand and Isabella. He made his first voyage for them in 1492, as I learned by song, when I was a boy, that Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue.

He set sail on September 6th sighted land in what we now call the Islands of the Bahamas on October 12th. He named the island that he landed on San Salvador, which island this was, is now lost to memory.

He expected to be in Asia, but to his surprise, and to the surprise of everyone back in the Spanish and European courts, there were other continents and other oceans they had yet to traverse in order to get to India.

They still wanted a westward route to India, but they were more than happy to find what they did.

Columbus opened up these new continents and all of their peoples, to the incessant appetites and cruelties of the Europeans, their hunger for gold, and land and war.

Columbus never sailed past the Islands of the Caribbean. He never set foot in what came to be known as the America’s, and his life was not without controversy.

He became wealthy and he earned titles, but he was also arrested, jailed and relieved of his governance, before eventually being released and to a lesser degree redeemed.

Though wealth and titles came to him his vanity was never satisfied.

His heirs did not inherit the titles he had earned, he never entered the true nobility. He died at the age of fifty four, a sailor from Genoa, Admiral of the Ocean Seas.

His coming to the West, was the beginning of the end for countless peoples. Tribes whose names history did not record, peaceful people, who were captured and enslaved, and worked to death which began under the tyranny of Spanish rule.

Columbus was a harbinger of death.

Given 1st – 2018.10.08

Saint Patrick’s Day

The feast of Saint Patrick, we celebrate the day of his sainthood, the ascendancy to heaven of a British man, who was of Roman heritage, and lived sometime in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Common Era.

He is the patron saint of Ireland, but he was not Irish at all, he was a Roman of the Patrician class, he was from a family of rank, and privilege.

He is credited with converting the people of Erin, to faith in the Universal Church, the Church of Jesus, separating the Celtic people from their Gaelic traditions, and subordinating them to Catholic Church of Rome.

Small wonder that he was named a saint for this, Patricius. He won with the word what could not be accomplished through war.

It should be noted here that Saint Patrick has never been canonized, or even beatified by any Pope. He is not officially a Saint of the Catholic Church, but he is recognized in the annals of Saints of the Church of England.

History tells us that he was a humble man, a rare quality for those of rank. History also tells us that he proofed the plan of spreading the faith through the conversion of chieftains, he was a politician first.

He spread the faith, he established churches earning the rank of Apostle.

History tells us that his mother was a relative of Saint Martin of Tours, the patron Saint of Soldiers, Saint Martin of the Sword whose Biography was written by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, and is in fact a fiction, Saint Martin never lived, but his story gave license for Christians to be soldiers and brought the Roman legions into the fold.

He is said to have had heroic piety, praying day and night, in the mountains and the woods, through storms of snow and ice and rain, he should be the patron saint of post men if this were true, but all hagiographies are lies.

His story tells us that he spent six years as a captive and servant to a Celtic Chieftain and Druid named Milchu in Dalriada, where he mastered the language and their stories.

However, it is more likely that he fled his home to wander abroad in order to escape the duties that were expected of him as the son of a noble. Such departures were so common that it was referred to as the “flight of the curiales,” boys running from their responsibilities.

Rather than being taken captive it is more likely that he paid for asylum in Milchu’s house, and paid for the the services of teachers to help him learn the language.

The Druids were great teachers and oral historians that much is true.

The story of his escape (if it was in fact an escape from servitude), and subsequent journey were of his own account. He cast the entire experience in dramatic, even biblical terms, both to cover up his crimes of abnegation, and to acquire fame.

It is said that he escaped from Milchu and fled to the mainland of Europe, entered the priesthood and became a missionary. On his return to Ireland however, the first place he went was to his former home in Dalriada. Where, after some period of conflict and the affectation of some miracles, Milchu immolated himself to make way for Patrick. He threw himself on a fire after burning the collected scrolls and mysteries of his people, a human sacrifice at the foundation of the church in Ireland.

It looked more like the ritual destruction of the Celtic people in favor of the ascending Romano-British invaders.

On Easter Sunday, 433 a conflict of will ensued, the historians mythologized it as a battle of divine forces likening the contest between the Roman Saint Patrick and the CelticArch-Druid, Lochru, to the contest between Moses and the Egyptians, or Elijah and priest of Baal, and this contest ending with Saint Patrick magically hurling Lochru into the air, and breaking him to pieces on a sharp rock.

It was another ritual murder at the foundation of the Celtic Church, a human sacrifice to be sure.

This same Saint Patrick was said to have been able to raise the dead.

It should be noted the Columbanus, who was the most significant representative of the Irish Catholic Church after the Dark Ages, who lived and wrote and sent missionaries from Ireland to Continental Europe, building Churches and found religious communities, he makes no mention of Saint Patrick at all in his writing, and asserts that the Church in Ireland was founded by a man named Palladius.

The entire legend of Saint Patrick could be a myth designed to subordinate the Irish heart to a British noble of Roman descent.

On Jesus and Mithra

Part One

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. The narratives of his birth, and childhood are complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 C.E. is imbued with metaphor and allegory, so much so that none of it is reliable as history. The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua, but instead we call him by a Greek variant, Jesus.

If we desire to understand this story, (as we should) to understand how it came to be in the form that we have received it, we must engage that broader narrative. We must engage the complete societal, and theological context from which the Christian story emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, beyond the Greco-Roman world, we must go to Persia. That is where the story begins, with Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied. It is commonly regarded by scholars as merely one of many religious movements that competed with the early Christian Church for the devotion of the masses.

It was much more than that.

Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, (principally by members of the Roman army) in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia. It is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” within the Roman army.

Throughout its evolution, propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East, and Southwest Asia.

This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, but most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and most significantly our beliefs about Jesus.

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant.
Most scholarly research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, these scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few notable, but nevertheless subtle differences is enough evidence to argue for a complete separation, and distinction of the traditions, despite the greater number of obvious similarities.

The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

“The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra. ”

Some of his Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one culture to another, across great expanses of geography and time.

His particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form, and ritual activity, which are the structures that we would expect to change over time and distance.

The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism, the closely held beliefs that had existed from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central theme remains the same; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

 

Part Two

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is a demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, God of light, and source of all-life.

Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), holding that Ahura-Mahzda was the only deity, and that there were no others.

However, if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its early evolution the belief system became dualistic. Another deity was established through doctrine, as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda; together they formed a pantheon of sorts.

This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (from whose name we have derived the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was in diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda.

This dualistic view of reality suggests that the drama of our lives on Earth is a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, the Mithraism of the Roman Empire, the demi-god Mithra is once again depicted in that same relationship to the high God. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus, and is iconographically represented as the sun. Mithra is the hero, demi-god and the offspring of Sol.

While this form of Mithraic worship is best understood as belonging to Rome, it should be noted that the cult of Sol Invictus, was also prevalent in Gaul prior to the Roman conquest of the Celts.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe. In the former tradition this is Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition Sol Invictus.

In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that Mithra and Sol become con-joined, through the meal they share, because they have dined together, they are now “one.”

Sol and Mithra are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes, each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, properly sequenced through the rites of initiation, the individual would become one with Mithra, and therefore one with Sol Invictus, thereby gaining access to the heavenly worlds of the afterlife.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work, Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows: Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one.” Angra-Mainyu slays Mithra and the bull together, in an act of violence.

Angra-Mainyu attempts to destroy Mithra and the bull, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through the power of the god of light, stalks of wheat, and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things, and good creatures flow from the bull to fill, and populate the created world, and now those good things and creatures are to be used for the benefit of human beings.

Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, Mithra is restored, and returns to Ahura-Mahzda in heaven.

There is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth.

In both versions of the myth, Mithra is sent to Earth by a God of greater authority than himself.

In both versions of the myth, the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth.

In the Roman version of the myth, the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice.

In the Persian version of the myth, the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit.

The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is.

The Roman version is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul, it is teleological and eschatological, insofar as it address the final resolution of conflict and evil in the world. The Persian version balances these two concerns.

In the Persian account, Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a myth of cosmogonic myth of origins.

Their death, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but does serve the interest of Ahura-Mahzda. Mithra does not die. His soul is immortal, and returns to heaven. From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater, because, the God not only has the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also having the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself.

In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the myth, the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life.

It is the creation of life itself.

It is life restored.

The principal actor in both versions of the myth is the creator God, figured as either Ahura-Mahzda, or Sol Invictus, respectively.

Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu, that does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, God of life, God of light, God of good.

What is significant and most consistent in the worship of Mithra from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia?

It is the belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions in the Near East and broader Mediterranean world

 

Part Three

There are several clues that we can follow. They will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, which we can uncover in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief in either the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. However, there was a period of time in which these beliefs did flourish.

After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter the Hebrew tradition, and over the next few centuries they become more clearly developed, especially among those Jewish communities remaining in the diaspora, living outside of Palestine and the former kingdoms of Israel, and Judea, which was the majority.

When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon, they were granted their freedom by the Persians, under the Persin king Cyrus, who had just recently conquered the Babylonians.

Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people in the Hebrew scriptures, as a servant of their God, Yahweh:

“22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’ ”

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was (or was perceived to be), but we can surmise that his beliefs and the beliefs of the Persian court did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time.

This passage indicates that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of these two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus, or his priests, saw a considerable amount of compatibility between the faiths of the two cultures and their systems of belief.

At this time, Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They both held, as basic beliefs, that creation was good.

Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop this theme in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of that new movement within the Hebrew culture became known within the Judean community, Samaria and throughout the diaspora, as the Pharisees.

The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster, who were called the Parsees. This etymology clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism, and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Palestine and Judea itself. This belief system was primarily taught by the Pharisees, and by the Essenes, in the remote desert community of Qumran.

Belief in the immortality of the soul was popular among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life, and not the temple in Jerusalem.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran, also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile.

Our word angel, meaning divine messenger, comes to English, from the Greek angelos, which is itself derived from the Persian word, angaros, meaning courier.

Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees received these teachings directly from the Parsees when they were exposed to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity.

It is also impossible to rule it out.

What we can say for certain, is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile, and I do not believe that these belief systems developed independently of one another, because I do not believe in that type of coincidence, therefore I take the Pharisaic movement within Judaism to be a case of pure theological syncretism, the cultural purchase by the Hebrews of an earlier Persian theology.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major streams of influence that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, insofar as they were the generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region, and the Near East at that time.

It should be noted that in most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, included the idea that those blessed places were reserved for people of heroic stature.

Because common people, and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic life, they had no hope of enjoying a blessed state in the hereafter.

Mithraism, and in more significant ways Christianity changed all of that; by promising the hope of salvation to anyone, regardless of gender, class, or status. Through these religions, common people and outcasts were able to entertain hopes of a blessed afterlife if, and only if they sought to align themselves with the God of creation, the God of light, and the God goodness, through an initiation into their mysteries.

 

Part Four

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. Officially, the patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, but as Ulansey points out, Perseus, as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way.

In his journals, the Roman general Pompey points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra in the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra, and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world, the gods and heroes were regarded differently, in different cities, and different regions, at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep, and they are important; as I will demonstrate:

“According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships ‘numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,’ and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, ‘offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.’…For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus. ”

Among the Greeks Perseus is considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus.

Tarsus is the city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull,” Taurus.

Perseus, like Mithra is intimately linked to the sun, referred to as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol.

Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. Also, the order is at times reversed with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun, this is done in keeping with the themes of mutuality, and co-extensive identity between the two.

The two are one.

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire.

The Greeks believed that his son, Perses, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

“The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult. ”

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull, making it so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand, ready to make the ritual cut while looking away from the sacrificial victim, just as Mithra is always depicted in the artwork depicting the tauroctony in Mithraic temples.

These similarities are too many to ignore.

The Cults of Mithra, and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time, and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.

In the city of Tarsus, Mithra is Perseus, at least insofar as they were worship.

The city of Tarsus figures prominently in the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity.

Tarsus is an old town, it originated as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo notes that by the first century BCE, it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor. More significant to our thesis is this, it was the birthplace, and home of Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jew, a Pharisee, and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

There is no research explicitly stating that Paul was aware of, or was influenced by Mithraism, but to suggest that Paul would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home, that would be improbable.

Furthermore, Paul was a Pharisee. As I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs that Pharisees and Mithraites shared included beliefs about the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation, and the ministry of angels.

If Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas, a conclusion we may draw simply by virtue of the fact that Paul was a Pharisee.

Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and its influence on Christian doctrine, constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology and theology, of Persian soterieology on the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first being located within the timeframe of the Babylonian exile, and subsequent diaspora.

Mithraism influenced the Judeo-Christian tradition, first through the teachings of the Pharisaic sect in general, second through the teaching of Saint Paul, who was Saul of Taursus (himself a Pharisee).

I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were syncretized and concretized by the early church.

 

Part Five

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread both through the travels of merchants, and through the Roman army spreading as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, and as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa, and Egypt, and it was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way across the Persian Empire to India.

As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar also, known as the Saturnalius, on December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Caesar Augustus, as well as the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that all of these people shared the same birthday does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. It was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, because it is that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns, the days get longer, and the deepest dark recedes.

The Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, it was closed to outsiders, closed to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation. Like other mystery religions, it purported to disclose to its initiates, the mysteries of the universe.

Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome, they had to keep to themselves and guard their secrets.
The necessity of secrecy for the cult of Mithra, as with that of many other cults, had much to do with the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors.

All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another; this was on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and were constantly suspicious of treason.

The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the Roman army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions with the army.

The emperors were always dependent on the power of the armies to keep them in the seat of power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith, it was guaranteed that they would lose power.

As I noted earlier, Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but not so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems; their icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal crucial things about that relationship, and also the close relationship between Mithraism and Christianity.

 

Part Six

In the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism), the priests were called Parsees. Outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic.

In the Roman form of Mithraism; the chief of a Mithraic temple was called father. To be a “father,” the individual had to have risen through all seven stages of Mithraic initiation.

The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity.

The Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers, just as the priests of Mithras and Zoroaster were in actuality.

Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, and not an accurate retelling of history, the presence of the Magi in his narrative is not accidental. It is purposeful and therefore indicative of the sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believed in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a God of goodness and light, as well as the expectation of a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin, and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE, Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son of Sol Invictus. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast he prepared from the flesh of the “Primal Bull,” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol.

Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, to dispute Ulansey’s claim, we can easily identify path of transformation through the cult of Perseus, the patron deity of Tarsus.

Note well, as stated earlier, in the iconography of the city of Tarsus, Perseus and Mithra are one and the same.

Perseus is the son of the Titan Zeus, king of the Olympians, and the human Danae.

The symbolism in their union is profound.

When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or another type of animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae, by a shower of gold is the only scene like this depicted in all of the Greek mythologies.

This is to say that Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form, through the exalted and ephemeral medium of a “golden-mist.” This is the most idealized and spiritual form Zeus could take.
The impregnation of Danae in this manner, and the subsequent birth of Perseus, is the closest thing in all of the Greek mythologies to a “virgin birth,” a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Danae subsequently gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern, she remains a virgin, never having been touched by the hands of men.

In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth.

As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock. And it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features.

The earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, from which we are born, like Mithra, like Perseus, we are born into new life.

The worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion.

In army outposts on the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches.

In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, it remains the case that most Mithraic worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities, such as Ostia, were later converted to Christian worship.

 

Part Seven

Among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another.

Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community.

Mithraism, like Christianity promoted the notion that its teachings would transform the individual spiritually, while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart. It manifested itself in their position in the life of the Mithraic temple, or Mithraic shrine, as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank, outside of the Mithraic community would change. A slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian.

The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance in the social order outside of the community.

In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner), and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity, there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…

The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move through the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father, thereby becoming the Father himself.

At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that later, after death, would be used to get him into the heavenly realm appropriate to his rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes, and secret passwords that would allow the individual through the gates of paradise, was widely believed among practitioners of the Hebrew Kabala (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), as well as among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism.

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete, from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or end.

In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism, wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done through full immersion.

In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice, the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal, or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases the blood would be replaced by wine.

This rite of blood, wine, or water is referred to as the purgation. It was a ritual cleansing of the individual from their sins. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual, or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water.

The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation, in which a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself.

It is the same ritual system.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol.

Ideally, the sacred feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches, it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any sacrificial animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine, could be sufficient.

Such compromises were theologically sound, because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.

 

In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who, prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Saint Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus.

This is evidence that Saint Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that it is a matter of historical record that Saint Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ.
Saint Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), is thought to have enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome.

However, in the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have been the same person; believing that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra.

If this is true, it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Saint Constantine the Great, think that he was an incarnation of Christ, Christ returned, the Second Coming?

Here is one thing that I know with certainty, Christianity and Mithraism, as religious and spiritual philosophies, are both filled with hope:

Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us in the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Mithraism wanted to keep to its secret ways at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, defining the terms of its orthodoxy, and rooting out those groups of heretics, the Gnostics, who had those same tendencies that Mithraites did toward secrecy and exclusivism.

 

Bibliography

Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, published by E. J. Brill, 1968

Mithraic Studies, edited by John R. Hinnells, published by Manchester University Press, 1975

Mithraism in Ostia, edited by Samuel Laeuchli, published by Northwestern University Press, 1967

The Mithras Liturgy, edited and translated by Marvin W. Meyer, published by Scholars Press, 1976

Mysteries of Mithras, by Franz Cumont, translated by Thomas J. McCormack, published by The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903

The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, published by Doubleday, 1989

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, published by Oxford University Press, 1989

The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, published by Oxford University Press, 1993

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, published by Oxford University Press, 1997