Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mithras & Mithraism

In Our Time has a discussion of Mithraism this week led by Melvin Bragg with Greg Wolf of the University of St. Andrews; Almut Hintze, of the School of Oriental and African Studies, and John North, Acting Director of the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London.

The first Mithreae occur on the banks of the Danube in the first century CE perhaps connected with the port Ostia. Extending from Hadrian's Wall to the Black Sea, the cult of Mithras offered a sense of help and salvation (perhaps in another life). We see it from the outside so it is had to reconstruct.

An Indo-Iranean god Mithra dates back to 1300BCE from the ANE mentioned in a contract with four deities to whom a king swears to keep a contract. There is a hymn to Mithra in which Mithra is invoked as an object of worship.

In the 70's, scholars challenged a connection between Zoroastrian ideas and Mithraism (posited by Franz Cumont), arguing instead that western Roman accounts e.g. by Porphyry should be examined in their own right. However, the argument of Cumont persists here. Although we have no first person singular accounts, in accounts of Mithraic mysteries and in Mithraea, an important act depicted is the slaughter of a bull.

We know a little about the initiation through seven stages of initiation indicated through revelation, perhaps connected to the seven planets. Men start as a raven and work their way up to the level of "Father" but perhaps few people made it through all seven. Here are some examples of Mithraea today (the picture is one I took of the Mithraeum in Walbrook, London in 2009).

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