Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

The Mithraics

29. Mysteries of Mithras.—Upon the trunk of a religion so spiritual and hostile to idolatry, which undertook iconoclastic expeditions into Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, and Libya, which vindicated the pure worship of God, destroying by means of the sword of Cambyses the Egyptian priesthood, which overthrew the temples and idols of Greece, which gave to the Israelites the Pharisees, which appears so simple and pure as to have bestowed on the Parsfees the appellation of the Puritans of antiquity, and on Cyrus that of the Anointed of the Lord—on this trunk there were afterwards ingrafted idolatrous branches, as perhaps the Brahminic, and certainly the Mithraic worship, the origin of which latter Dupuis places at 4500 years before Christ.

30. Origin of Mithraic Worship.—Mithras is a beneficent genius presiding over the sun, the most powerful of the twenty-eight izads, or spirits of light, invoked together with the sun, and not at first confounded with it; the chief mediator and intercessor between Oromazes and man. But in course of time the conception of this Mithras became perverted, and he usurped the attributes of divinity. Such usurpation of the rank of the superior Deity on the part of the inferior is of frequent occurrence in mythology; it suffices to refer to Siva and Vishnu in India, Serapis in Egypt, Jupiter in Greece. The perversion was rendered easy by confounding the symbol with the thing symbolised, the genius of the sun with the sun itself, which alone remained in the language, since the modern Persian name of the sun (mihr) represents the regular modification of the Zend Mithras.

The Persian Mithras must not be confounded with that of India, for it is undoubted that another Mithras, different from the Zendic, from the most ancient times was the object of a special mysterious worship, and that the initiated knew him as the sun. Taking the letters of the Greek word "Meithras" at their numerical value, we obtain the number 365, the days of the year. The same holds good of "Abraxas" the name which Basilides gave to the Deity, and further of "Belenos," the name given to the sun in Gaul.

31. Dogmas, etc.—On the Mithraic monuments we find representations of the globe of the sun, the club and bull, symbols of the highest truth, the highest creative activity, the highest vital power. Such a trinity agrees with that of Plato, which consists of the Supreme Good, the Word, and the Soul of the World; with that of Hermes Trismegistus, consisting of Light, Intelligence, and Soul; with that of Porphyry, which consists of Father, Word, and Supreme Soul.

According to Herodotus, Mithras became the Mylitta of Babylon, the Assyrian Venus, to whom was paid an obscene worship as to the female principle of creation, the goddess of fecundity, of life; one perhaps with Anaitis, the Armenian goddess.

The worship of Persia Mithras, or Apollo, spread over Italy—at Rome, in fact, it superseded the Greek and Roman gods—Gaul, Germany, Britain; and expiring polytheism opposed to the sun Christ, the sun Mithras.

[NOTE: Underneath the church of St. Clement, at Rome, a singularly well-preserved temple of Mithras was discovered some years ago. When the monk who had, on my visit to Rome, shown me the church above, said that he would now take me down to the pagan temple of Mithras, I could not help saying to myself, "If you but knew it, Mithras is above as well as below!" A well-preserved temple of Mithras was discovered at Ostia in 1886, displaying in mosaics all the symbols of the worship of the Persian sun-god.]

32. Rites of Initiation.—The sanctuaries of this worship were always subterranean, and in each sanctuary was placed a ladder with seven steps, by which one ascended to the mansions of felicity. The initiations, into this degree were similar to those detailed in the foregoing section, but, if possible, more severe than into any other, and few passed through all the tests. The festival of the god was held towards the middle of the month of Mihr (October), and the probationer had to undergo long and severe trials before he was admitted to the full knowledge of the mysteries.

The first degree was inaugurated with purifying lustrations, and a sign was set on the neophyte's brow, whilst he offered to the god a loaf and a cup of water. A crown was presented to him on the point of a sword, and he put it on his head saying, "Mithras is my crown."

In the second degree the aspirant put on armour to meet giants and monsters, and a wild chase took place in the subterranean caves. The priests and officers of the temple, disguised as lions, tigers, leopards, bears, wolves, and other wild beasts, attacked the candidate with fierce howlings. In these sham fights the aspirant ran great personal danger, though sometimes the priests caught a Tartar. Thus we are told that the Emperor Commodus on his initiation carried the joke too far, and slew one of the priests who had assailed him in the form of a wild beast.

In the next degree he put on a mantle on which were painted the signs of the zodiac. A curtain then concealed him from the sight of all; but this being withdrawn, he appeared surrounded by frightful griffins. After passing through other trials, if his courage did not fail him, he was hailed as a "Lion of Mithras," in allusion to the zodiacal sign in which the sun attained his greatest power. We meet with the same idea in the degree of Master Mason. The grand secret was then imparted. What was it? At this distance of time it is difficult to decide, but we may assume that the priests communicated to him the most authentic sacerdotal traditions, the best accredited theories concerning the origin of the universe, and the attributes, perfections, and works of Oromazes. In fact, the Mithraic mysteries represent, the progress of darkness to light. According to Guignault, Mithras is love; with regard to the Eternal, he is the son of mercy; with regard to Oromazes and Ahrimanes, the fire of love.

33. Thammuz.—The ceremonies connected with the myth of Thammuz, the Chaldean sun-god, were another phase of solar worship. M. Lenormant was the first to demonstrate, from the Assyrian tablets, that Thammuz was the prototype of Adonis, and of all the subsequent sun-gods worshipped in various countries and under various names. On those tablets also is found the story of Istar, the prototype of Astarte, Isis, and the other female deities, who afterwards, under various names, represented cosmically the female principle, and astronomically the moon. The great festival of Thammuz was held at the summer solstice (even now in the Jewish calendar the month of July goes by the name of Tamuz); it lasted six days, and in the functions ascribed to each day we find a curious agreement with the corresponding properties of eternal Nature (11). For the first day was a day of rest, motionless, inactive; the second and third days celebrated the struggle of the imprisoned life to become free—they were days of grief and suffering; the fourth day was dedicated to the conquest over lions and serpents; that is to say, the fire; the fourth property began the conquest of the first three or dark properties; the fifth day was considered favourable for sacrifice, the happy influence of the newly-risen sun, or light, became perceptible; and on the sixth, the conjunction of Sol with Istar was celebrated with joyous songs. The eighth chapter of Ezekiel comprises the day of mourning and that of rejoicing at the recovery of Tammuz (107).

There is one circumstance connected with the story of Istar referred to above, which though not strictly within the scope of this work, is yet of so striking a character that the reader will readily excuse my referring to it. That story is comprised within a short poem entitled "Istar's Descent into Hell." Its opening lines are:

"Towards the country without return, the land of putrefaction,

Istar, the daughter of Sin, has set her mind.

Towards the dwelling, into which you enter,

whence never to issue again.

Towards the path from which there is no return.

Towards the habitation at whose entrance all light is withdrawn."

Who, on reading these lines, is not inevitably reminded of the "Inferno" of Dante, who, of course, never had heard of this Chaldean poem?

Another remark, which may fitly be introduced here, has reference to Tammuz. In Chinese his name is Tomos; and to this circumstance is due the fable that St. Thomas had been in India and China. The first Roman Catholic missionaries took Tomos for Thomas, who had there preached the Gospel; wherefore the first Christians in those countries called themselves the Christians of St. Thomas, telling wonderful stories of the doings of St. Thomas, and that at last he was put to death by the Brahmins, whose trade he spoiled.