Mithra and Christianity

By Barbara Walker



From The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Persian savior, whose cult was the leading rival of Christianity in Rome, and more successful than Christianity for the first four centuries of the "Christian" era. In 307 A.D. the emperor officially designated Mithra "Protector of the Empire."1

Christians copied many details of the Mithraic mystery-religion, explaining the resemblance later with their favorite argument, that the devil had anticipated the true faith by imitating it before Christ's birth. Some resemblances between Christianity and Mithraism were so close that even St. Augustine declared the priests of Mithra worshipped the same deity as he did.2

Mithra was born on the 25th of December, called "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun," which was finally taken over by Christians in the 4th century A.D. as the birthday of Christ.' Some said Mithra sprang from an incestuous union between the sun god and his own mother, just as Jesus, who was God, was born of the Mother of God. Some claimed Mithra's mother was a mortal virgin. Others said Mithra had no mother, but was miraculously born of a female Rock, the petra [undecipherable], fertilized by the Heavenly Father's phallic lightning.4

Mithra's birth was witnessed by shepherds and by Magi who brought gifts to his sacred birth-cave of the Rock.5 Mithra performed the usual assortment of miracles: raising the dead, healing the sick, making the blind see and the lame walk, casting out devils. As a [undecipherable], son of the petra, he carried the keys of the kingdom of heaven.6 His triumph and ascension to heaven were celebrated at the spring equinox (Easter), when the sun rises toward its apogee.

Before returning to heaven, Mithra celebrated a Last Supper with his twelve disciples, who represented the twelve signs of the zodiac, In memory of this, his worshippers partook of a sacramental meal of bread marked with a cross.7 This was one of seven Mithraic sacraments - the models for the Christians' seven sacraments.8 It was called [undecipherable], Latin missa, English mass. Mithra's image was buried in a rock tomb, the same sacred cave that represented his Mother's womb. He was withdrawn from it and said to live again.9

Like early Christianity, Mithraism was an ascetic, anti-female religion. Its priesthood consisted of celibate men only.10 Women were forbidden to enter Mithraic temples. The women of Mithraic families had nothing to do with the men's cult, but attended services of the Great Mother in their own temples of Isis, Diana, or Juno.12

To eliminate the female principle from their creation myth, Mithraists replaced the Mother of All Living in the primal garden paradise (Pairidaeza) with the bull named Sole-Created. Instead of Eve, this bull was the partner of the first man. All creatures were born from the bull's blood. Yet the bull's birth-giving was oddly female-imitative. The animal was castrated and sacrificed, and its blood delivered to the moon for magical fructification, the moon being the source of women's magic lunar "blood of life" that produced real children on earth.

Persians have been called the Puritans of the heathen world. They developed Mithraism out of an earlier Aryan religion that was not puritanical or so exclusively male-oriented.14 Mithra seems to have been the Indo-Iranian sun god Mitra, or Mitravaruna, one of the twelve zodiacal sons of the Infinity-goddess Aditi. Another of Aditi's sons was Aryaman, eponymous ancestor of "Aryans," whom the Persians transformed into Ahriman, the Great Serpent of Darkness, Mithra's enemy.15

Early on, there seems to have been a feminine Mithra. Herodotus said the Persians used to have a sky-goddess Mitra, the same as Mylitta, Assyria's Great Mother.16 Lydians combined Mithra with archaic spouse Anahita as an androgynous Mithra-Anahita, identified with Sabazius-Anaitis, the Serpent and Dove of Anatolian mystery cults.17

Anahita was the Mother of Waters, traditional spouse of the solar god whom she bore, loved, and swallowed up. She was identified with the Anatolian Great Goddess Ma. Mithra was naturally coupled with her, as her opposite, a spirit of fire, light, and the sun.18 Her "element," water, overwhelmed the world in the primordial flood, when one man built an ark and saved himself, together with his cattle. according to Mithraic myth.19 The story seems to have been the Hindu Flood of Manu, transmitted through Persian and Babylonian scriptures to appear in a late, rather corrupt version in the Old Testament.

What began in water would end in fire, according to Mithraic eschatology. The great battle between the forces of light and darkness in the Last Days would destroy the earth with its upheavals and burnings. Virtuous ones who followed the teachings of the Mithraic priesthood would join the spirits of light and be saved. Sinful ones who followed other teachings would be cast into hell with Ahriman and the fallen angels. The Christian notion of salvation was almost wholly a product of this Persian eschatology, adopted by Semitic eremites and sun-cultists like the Essenes, and by Roman military men who thought the rigid discipline and vivid battle-imagery of Mithraism appropriate for warriors. Under emperors like Julian and Commodus, Mithra became the supreme patron of Roman armies.20

After extensive contact with Mithraism, Christians also began to describe themselves as soldiers for Christ; to call their savior Light of the World, Helios the Rising Sun, and Sun of Righteousness; to celebrate their feasts on Sun-day rather than the Jewish sabbath; to claim their savior's death was marked by an eclipse of the sun; and to adopt the seven Mithraic sacraments. Like Mithraists, Christians practiced baptism to ascend after death through the planetary spheres to the highest heaven, while the wicked (unbaptized) would be dragged down to darkness.21

Mithra's cave-temple on the Vatican Hill was seized by Christians in 376 AD. Christian bishops of Rome pre-empted even the Mithraic high priest's title of Pater Patrum, which became Papa, or Pope.2 Mithraism entered into many doctrines of Manichean Christianity and continued to influence its old rival for over a thousand years.24 The Mithraic festival of Epiphany, marking the arrival of sun-priests or Magi at the Savior's birthplace, was adopted by the Christian church as late as 813 A.D.25

2.271; Angus, 168. 2. Reinach, 73.
"Smith, D.C.P., 146; Campbell. M.I.. 33. 4. de Riencourt, 135. th. 129; Hooke, S.P.. 85; Cumont, M.M., 131. 6. H. Smith. 129. S.P., 89; Cumont, M.M., 160. 8. )ames, 250. 9. H. Smith, 130,201. 2,261. ll.Ledercr, 36. 12. Angus,205. 13. Campbell,Oc.M..204. D.W.P.,63. 15. O'Flaherty, 339. 16. Lamusse, 314. M.M.. 17. 18. Cumont, O.R.R.P.. 54.65. 19. Cumont, M.M.. 138. M.M., 87-89. 21. Cumont, M.M., 144-45. 22. J.H. Smith, D.C.P., 146. 1,252. 24. Cumont, O.R.R.P., 154. 25. Brewster, 55.



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