Original Posting:  September 22, 2009 at 21h19 UTC

Updated:               April 20, 2010 at 21h03 UTC

Present Version:  02.08                     

 

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Copyright 2009, 2010 Eric J. Pijeau. All world wide rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

An Analysis of the Tauroctony (Mithraic Bull-Slaying)
and the Resultant Corollaries

by Eric Pijeau

 

 

 

(Note: If the reader is looking for an abstract then they should go to the Conclusion at the end of the paper. This conclusion is written in the form of a summary that touches on the most important points presented.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preface

 

This article presents the results of several years of research and analysis. As the title indicates, its primary thrust is an analysis of the tauroctony, the central image of the Mithraic mystery cult. This analysis has led to a new and original ‘reading’ of the tauroctony. The secondary intention of this article is to pursue several avenues of thought issuing out of this new interpretation.

 

This is not intended to be a primer on the ancient Roman cult of Mithras, so if the reader is unfamiliar with the topic then they are advised to briefly look at an overview such as the Mithraic Mysteries entry at Wikipedia.org or Dr. Alison Griffith’s Mithraism, available at the University of Evansville site. The newcomer to this topic should be warned that there is a great deal of confusion about what is fact and what is conjecture; the hard facts are few.

 

This paper was written for a general audience. For that I make no apologies. The intention was to reach as wide an audience as possible. This being said, I have still maintained the practice of presenting a bibliography and citing sources. I chose primary or secondary sources based on what I thought would maximize the reader’s knowledge on any particular item. I have also maintained the practice of citing images of artefacts using, what is called, the “CIMRM” number. This acronym is nothing more than a reference to M. J. Vermaseren’s catalogue of artefacts, entitled Corpus inscriptionum et monumentorum religionis Mithriacae (this translates roughly to The Body of Inscriptions and Monuments Regarding the Mithraic Religion). This should be of no concern to the casual reader; more a supplement for those who want to investigate further. I have not included any images in the body of the text. I have, however, included links to some images. The reader, if they are interested in seeing more, can easily open another instance of their browser and go looking for examples – this is the web after all. A good way to do this is to go to “http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page” and enter “tauroctony” into the search field.

 

The ideas presented are not overly complex and the line of argument is fairly straightforward. (Some readers who are not very comfortable with astronomical concepts might find some sections a little challenging, however.)

 

I have divided the paper into two parts. The first covers the aforementioned analysis of the tauroctony. The whole thesis stands on this analysis. The second part contains a collection of corollaries, some highly speculative, that arise from the findings drawn from the first part.

 

While on the topic of speculation, I would like to address my use of it in this paper. Speculation is the engine of hypothesis building. My purpose here is to produce the simplest hypothesis, which will explain the most verified facts (as per Occam’s razor). If I may present a metaphor: in Mithraic studies we have very few verifiable ‘dots.’ To ‘flesh out’ our understanding of ‘what went on back then,’ a few brave souls must attempt to connect as many of those dots as possible with the fewest number of lines. I believe that I have done just that, and I believe that I have made a clear distinction between what is fact and what is conjecture.

 

Furthermore, I believe this paper is no more speculative than any of the other attempts at explaining the cult. A careful reading of any of the more celebrated works written on this topic would prove this out. Even some of the more staid explanations contain huge ‘leaps of faith.’ The contents of this paper appear more speculative than they actually are. This is due to their newness rather than their disregard for the facts. Many of the ideas are novel. Some appear, at first glance, to be simply outrageous. But, assembled together into an ensemble, they form a cogent hypothesis that simply makes good sense. Again, this hypothesis explains the ‘most’ with the ‘least.’

 

By way of acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr. Russell Redman, Dr. Jacques Vallée, Dr. Alan Batten and Sharon Dousset of the National Research Council of Canada for their assistance in reviewing some of my astronomical arguments.

 

If you have any comments or questions, I can be contacted at the following email address:

“comment at tauroctony.com”

 

- Eric Pijeau

 


 

 

 

Part One: Analysis of the Tauroctony


The Celestial-map
Let us examine the cult’s central image, the tauroctony (‘bull slaying’). It is commonly agreed that this canonical image, captures, in symbolic form, most or all the core beliefs of the cult. This is owing to three facts. First, the vast majority of surviving artefacts are two dimensional portrayals of the tauroctony. No other single image dominates the cult’s iconography like the bull-slaying. Second, all tauroctonies seem to follow a canon or pre-set formula; implying an underlying interpretation. And, thirdly, the tauroctony, when found in the mithraeum, the cult’s central place of worship, always takes up a central and important location. To decipher it is to understand the core ‘theology’ of the religion.

 

It can safely be assumed that most, if not all the figures represented in the tauroctony represent some celestial phenomenon, body, entity or concept.[1] Some of these we recognize immediately. We recognize the astrological zodiac. About this, we do not have to guess since astrology has come down to us more or less intact.

We recognize Sol (the Sun) with all of his emblems and symbols: his solar halo and quadriga. Again, with Luna (the Moon) we are very familiar with her iconography so we can be certain of her portrayal. This is also true of the planetary divinities, which are often portrayed. If most emblems are readily acknowledged as representing celestial entities then it is a reasonable extrapolation to assume that the remaining emblems, whose meaning is unknown or uncertain, would also be of a celestial nature. It is these unresolved emblems that are the barrier to finding a workable solution to the puzzle.

The Bull
Among those who believe the tauroctony is a star map, the bull is often interpreted as representing the constellation Taurus.[2] This idea has its flaws, however. The link between the bull and the constellation Taurus has never been entirely satisfactory. With the constellation of Taurus we only see the representation of the front half of a bull.[3] In the tauroctony, the bull is complete. In several portrayals of the constellation of Taurus it is implied that the bull is swimming and thus it could be linked to the disguised Zeus in the myth of the Rape of Europa. Several classical writers have linked the constellation with the rape of Europa and others with the myth of Io (or perhaps the bull that comes from the sea; sent by Poseidon).[4] Furthermore, the constellation, in any of its known representations, never shows any wound as it bears in the tauroctony. There is no sword and the link with the constellation of Perseus (proposed as a possible constellation represented by the figure of Mithras) is tenuous, at best.

Other interpretations of the tauroctony regard the bull as almost secondary in importance; little more than a container for a mystical, life-giving force.[5] And yet the bull, with the god astride it, is always at the centre of all tauroctonies. This is odd; a minor role-player being consistently presented as ‘front and centre.’ It might be argued that it is Mithras that is front-and-centre and that the bull is present to show the critical sacrifice. If this were true then we would probably find some variability in the representation of the bull and its proximity to Mithras, much as we do with, say, the Cautes-Cautopates pairing. But we don’t. Instead the bull is always central and, like Mithras, is always represented according to a fixed canon.

The idea of the bull representing the celestial constellation of Taurus is based on the assumption that the tauroctony is a representation of the night sky; a celestial map. With a celestial map, the point of view is from the earth looking upwards to the sky. If, however, the tauroctony were not so much a celestial map, but rather, an emblematic portrayal of a geocentric cosmology, then this would give the bull a completely different meaning. With most visual representations of geocentric cosmologies, the Earth is shown at or near the centre of the image. If we follow this logic, it would lead us to the conclusion that the bull itself represents the Earth.
 
The question might be asked, why use the image of a bull to represent the Earth? In classical mythology the Earth is usually represented by a female divinity or symbol.[6] Rarely, if ever, do we see the male aspect used to symbolize the Earth as a whole. Titans might be used to represent a monstrous volcano but no male emblem is ever used to portray the entire planet. Why use a male symbol rather than the usual female one? The cult seems to have held a strong bias in favour of the male sex. If we look for ‘female’ sexed emblems in the tauroctony, we find very few. Only Luna and the planet Venus (virtually impossible to replace with male emblems) are clearly female. (This bias against the female sex even extended to membership. Up until recently it was generally believed that the cult was completely closed to women.[7])

There is nothing in the mythology of the bull that precludes it from being used as a symbol for the Earth. The bull does not have any single mythography; it holds no specific meaning. A survey would show that its use is varied and numerous. It can represent male strength and virility. Zeus raped (carried off Europa) in the guise of a bull.[8] It can seem to represent the ill-tempered and destructive male drives that must and are restrained. It seems to have also represented an invading and terrorizing entity, a group or an individual, man or beast. This can be seen as an undercurrent in both the stories of the bull of Marathon and the Minotaur. [9] And yet it can also act as a symbol of fertility and abundance. The bull was also used as an emblem for female divinities such as Luna, Artemis[10] and Hera.[11] (In the case of Hera, it would be more accurate to say that her association is with oxen.) The point being that the bull, as a symbol, is so wide-ranging and varied that outside of the context of its use, it could mean almost anything.

In the ancient world the bull, as an actual animal, was readily known to all. It would easily have been identified as one of the largest, most powerful and ill-tempered animals in domestication.[12] (The auroch or wild bull was still alive in legend while almost completely extinct in the wild.[13]) As a male symbol for the Earth, the bull would have been an excellent candidate: massive, powerful, immovable, unpredictable, unruly, and yet a potent and virile source of abundance.

If we look at the tauroctony in this new light, we begin to recognize certain similarities with other portrayals of geocentric cosmologies. These portrayals place the Earth at or near the centre of the image, as we see in the tauroctony. Portrayals of geocentric cosmologies (if not all cosmologies) tend to have highly circular compositions.[14] Likewise, the tauroctony, despite being presented most often in a rectangular format, has a strong circular compositional flow. Emblems are placed around the central pair of Mithras and the bull in a circular fashion.[15]

Many tauroctonies show the bull’s tail as a sheaf of grain. This is a further, convincing indication that the bull represents the Earth. Grain grows from the Earth as it does from its symbol, the bull. Furthermore, there are numerous instances where the blood flowing out of the wound inflicted by Mithras is represented as stalks of grain or a cluster of grapes.[16]

We also see portrayals of the bull being captured and carried by Mithras (presumably to be brought back to the cave).[17] [18] There is nothing in this that contradicts our belief that the bull symbolizes the Earth. Rather, it reinforces the symbol, and lends meaning or a possible interpretation to what Clauss calls, “The Sacred Narrative.”[19]

 

As well, there are examples of Mithras portrayed as Atlas, carrying a globe.[20] Presumably this globe represents the celestial spheres. (It is a common misconception that Atlas is carrying a globe that represents the Earth when in fact it is the celestial spheres.) Again, there is nothing contradictory about this. Rather, it reinforces the idea that the bull represents the Earth. If Mithras is capable of controlling and carrying the Earth, as symbolized by the bull then he is also capable of carrying the celestial spheres, as Atlas did.

 

Mithras
The god Mithras has been linked with the constellation of Perseus. Numerous authors have proposed convincing arguments for this association.[21] These arguments are rather lengthy and for brevity sake they will only be outlined here. Mithras is a hero god.[22] The constellation of Perseus has, across many cultures been most often associated with a hero figure.[23] From his Phrygian cap and trousers any ancient Roman would have associated him with the ‘East.’[24] For a Roman, the East was Asia Minor, the Levant, Parthian empire and beyond. From a certain standpoint, ‘Parthian’ and ‘Persian’ are synonymous with each other. And of course, classical mythology not only links Perseus with Persia, it names him as the ‘father’ of all Persians.[25] Numerous commentators have noted the similarity in Mithras’ body position in the tauroctony to that of Perseus in the constellation: one knee is held up and the other leg is extended. The head is turned backwards.[26]

For the purposes of our argument let us retain this relationship between the god, Mithras, and the constellation of Perseus. Let us, however, make a subtle distinction in this association. It is not so much the constellation of Perseus that is of interest but rather its location near the ‘top’ (‘top’ being defined as the northernmost part) of the Milky Way. We could view the constellation of Perseus as being the ‘head’ of a personified ‘body’ that is the Milky Way.
 
The Cave
If the bull is a symbol representing the Earth then the cave where the bull-slaying takes place should represent the ‘cave’ of the cosmos; the ‘dome’ of the night sky that encircles the Earth. Even we moderns, with our scientific explanations of the Universe, cannot help but be moved when we look up at a clear sky at night. Away from the light pollution of city lights, we get a sense of what the ancients must have felt when they looked up. The spectacle is awe-inspiring.

Even when we know that there is no dome, no celestial sphere, we cannot help but feel that there is a vault present. The visual illusion is overpowering. Imagine how it must have been for the ancients, who had no knowledge or conception of the ideas and theories around the infinitely long distances of space and enormously large stars. A comprehensive cosmology that explained the impressive spectacle of the night sky in terms that they were familiar with, would have been powerfully convincing. Seeing is believing.

The cave, the arch and the vaulted archway are all perfect visual devices for expressing this dome of the night sky; the ancient Romans were familiar with all three.[27] We see the cave and the arch consistently portrayed in tauroctonies.[28] The mithraeum is usually constructed from a cave or a vaulted archway, or a combination of both.[29] All tauroctonies portray the cave behind the central figures and many also show an arch to delimit the boundary of the dome, to reinforce the curved aspect of the cave and to compositionally frame the central group. The arch also acts as an artistic device to present the celestial paths taken by both Luna (the Moon) and Sol (the Sun).[30]

Luna and Sol
Sol (the Sun) and Luna (the Moon) are presented in virtually every tauroctony. Sol has a consistent location of the upper left hand corner, usually just outside the aforementioned arch (or the edge of the cave; however it might be visually expressed). As well, he is usually portrayed as being in motion, either explicitly or implicitly. In many tauroctonies he is seen riding his quadriga (chariot drawn by four horses). It is shown moving from this upper left-hand position towards the right. Frequently, he is shown riding along a path outlined by the aforementioned arch.[31] If he is not portrayed as being directly in motion then some aspect of his portrayal shows an intention of moving to the right. For example, he might be shown entering the cave from its exterior or he may be portrayed looking towards the right.[32] This left-to-right motion is emulated by Luna, who is consistently located in the upper right-hand corner. She is shown riding from left to right. If Sol is portrayed as simply looking to the right then Luna is shown looking the same general direction.[33][34] If Sol is shown with his quadriga then Luna is shown with her biga.[35]

An important aspect of this representation of Sol and Luna is that Sol is always shown, in various ways, as ‘rising,’ whereas Luna is always represented as ‘setting.’ We see Sol coming from behind the upper-leftmost edge of the arch. Either he is entering into the interior of the ‘cave’ or he is coming out of an inclusion or recess in the arch that marks its edge. Likewise, Luna is shown exiting the ‘cave’ or going into a recess or inclusion in the arch of the cave.  Clearly, this is an artistic and emblematic portrayal of the geocentric orbits of these two celestial bodies. Not only is it a portrayal of their orbits but it also captures specific moments in these orbits. Sol is clearly shown at or just before sunrise; Luna is portrayed at or after setting.

East and West
If we accept that the intention is to portray Sol just before sunrise and Luna just after setting then it would stand to reason that we could consistently assign standard cardinal directions to all tauroctonies. The cardinal directions of north, east, west and south are an important aspect of orientation for the reader of a map. On many older geographical maps an explicit graphic of a full compass (known as a ‘compass rose’ or ‘wind rose’), which have all four cardinal points shown, is present so that the cardinal directions are unambiguous. When we, the reader of a map, understand the assumption that most, if not all, geographical maps will have a point-of-view from the zenith then this allows the map maker the additional convention of only indicating one cardinal direction. Usually, this is north. And of course this comes from common usage. If we, the map-maker and its readers agree, via further usage, to an additional convention - that the top edge of the map will always be north, unless indicated - then we can remove all indications of cardinal directions from the map.

It would follow, then, that the left edge of all tauroctonies represents the eastern cardinal direction. Sol is rising from the left and moving to the right as he would be seen on his daily journey across the sky from east to west. The right edge of tauroctonies would then represent the western cardinal direction.

This leads to the obvious question, “if east is left and west is right then does the upper edge mark north and the lower, south?” The answer is, “yes” with a caveat: there is always a certain awkwardness in expressing three-dimensional space in two dimensions. (Although most surviving tauroctonies are bas-reliefs and there are several sculptures in the round, the image itself is essentially two-dimensional in nature.)

 

This awkwardness is exacerbated with the tauroctony because it mixes two vantage points: extra-terrestrial and terrestrial. Why? For an image to convincingly portray the cosmos, it should make reference to the experience and knowledge of its audience. The ancient Roman knew only of what they saw in the night sky and what they were taught about the forces of nature (the deities and spirits that acted behind the scenes). They had no knowledge of space-age science and technology. The perspective of the ancient Roman was highly terrestrial. By representing the bull, emblem of the Earth, as being acted upon by the god Mithras, the tauroctony presents a very ‘extra-terrestrial’ point-of-view. But to be ‘readable’ and convincing it must use references that make sense to its intended audience. An example of this is the cardinal directions of east and west. East and west have little or no meaning when viewed from outer space. From that vantage point they are no more than relative and transient directions. However, from the perspective of someone directly on the planet, ancient or otherwise, they are … ‘cardinal.’ Therefore, on the tauroctony east is left, west is right, north is towards the top and south is towards the bottom of the image. But, again, this orientation should not be taken too literally since much of what is portrayed comes from a terrestrial perspective.[36]

 

Cautes and Cautopates
Our discussion of cardinal directions would not be complete without examining the two figures of Cautes and Cautopates. If we look to the left and right of the Mithras-bull pair we see Cautes and Cautopates. These two figures are richly syncretic. They seem to represent several different polar dualities. In general, we can say that these figures are emblems for the natural process of cyclical waxing and waning. Cautes with his torch held at an upward angle represents the waxing or rising aspect; Cautopates with a torch held downward represents the waning or setting aspect. In fact, their interpretation is so vague that their meaning often needs to be clarified in the tauroctony by the additional emblems. For example, Cautes will often be portrayed with an emblem of sunrise, such as the rooster.[37] This renders clarity to the interpretation; Cautes, in this case, is not just a symbol of ascension, in general, but specifically of morning, sunrise and its horizon.  

We see two different ‘usages’ of the Cautes-Cautopates pair in tauroctonies. One usage has Cautes to the left of the Mithras-bull pair and Cautopates to the right.[38] The other has Cautopates to the left of the Mithras-bull pair and Cautes to the right.[39] For ease of discussion we will name them Cautes-Cautopates and Cautopates-Cautes, respectively.

Let us look at Cautes-Cautopates first. In this case, the pair is signaling cardinal directions, much like the compass rose, which we had mentioned earlier. Cautes and Cautopates are simply indicating that the left side of the bull signifies eastern rising horizon of the Earth and right side of the bull signifies the western setting horizon of the Earth. (This ‘left is east and right is west’ orientation matches our deductions from looking at the Luna and Sol emblems.)

 

With the Cautopates-Cautes configuration, the pair indicates something other than cardinality; they represent the two halves of the sky. Cautopates flags the half that corresponds to the winter solstice and where the ecliptic descends below the celestial equator. Conversely, Cautes corresponds to summer solstice and where the ecliptic ascends above the celestial equator.

Why do some tauroctonies have the Cautes-Cautopates configuration and others the Cautopates-Cautes? The answer lies with a difference in latitude. As the viewer’s latitude becomes more northerly (latitude increases), the eastern and western horizons become less well ‘defined.’ Rising and setting celestial objects skim along the horizon for some time before they actually rise or set fully.[40] This is especially true at the solstices. So the emblems of Cautes and Cautopates in these instances represent the two halves the sky. Again, among adherents located in more northerly locations, a tradition of representing this orientation must have been established.

We can see that the creators of these tauroctonies often attempted to reduce the obvious ambiguity and confusion that would result from this syncretic double-interpretation by augmenting the two figures with additional emblems. For example, when Cautes is to the left of the bull we may see the additional emblem of the ascendancy of light, like the raised torch or a rooster, to strengthen the signification of sunrise and thus the eastern horizon. To follow suit, Cautopates bears additional emblems that signify the setting Sun. When Cautopates is to the left an additional emblem or emblems indicate that it signifies the region of the sky where the ecliptic falls below the celestial equator. Frequently we see the additional emblem of the scorpion, thus Scorpius.[41] Likewise, with Cautes we then see the emblem of the bull’s head’s to signifying the constellation of Taurus.[42] (Not to be confused with the central emblem of the bull representing the Earth.) Both of these regions of the celestial sphere are located where the ecliptic’s path is at or near their extremes.

It should be concluded that all cases where there are double Cautes found, some error in restoration is involved. The same holds for tauroctonies that have double Cautopates. Examined in light of common sense, this is only logical. These emblems, by their nature, describe dualities. We should always find both of them together. The restorers were not cognizant of the iconographic significance of the pair; they saw them only as compositional elements and therefore created visual balance by mirroring the same figure, whether it is Cautes or Cautopates, on both sides of the Mithras-bull pair.[43]
 
The Scorpion, the Snake and the Dog
There are several other animals and an object that appear around the Mithras-bull pair. Among these are the scorpion, the snake and the dog. These animals have been convincingly identified as representing the constellations of Scorpius, Hydra and Canis Minor, respectively.[44] What is interesting about these three is that their placement seems to represent an instruction for astronomical observation; their positioning in relation to bull-Earth emblem, fix a date. If we take the scorpion to be the constellation Scorpius and we agree that this scorpion is making contact with the bull on its eastern side (remember, all tauroctonies have left as east and right as west) then we could conclude that the constellation Scorpius should be ‘touching’ the Earth at the eastern horizon. (This contact between the scorpion and the bull is often interpreted as the scorpion attacking the bull’s genitals.) If we take the small dog to be Canis Minor and that it, in turn, is represented as being in contact with the bull on its western side (the dog appears to lunge at the blood coming from the wound on the bull’s neck) then we could conclude that the constellation Canis Minor should be ‘touching’ the Earth at the western horizon. Hydra, the snake links these two constellations together to form an arc. (Hydra is not adjacent to the modern constellation of Scorpius but a section of Libra was part of the ancient configuration for Scorpius, and therefore, would make Scorpius adjacent to Hydra in the time of ancient Rome.[45] [46])

Occasionally, Leo (the lion) and Crater (the goblet) are portrayed. They are often seen in the tauroctonies of the Rhineland[47]. This addition of Leo and Crater is very likely due to the fact that Hydra is not easily seen or completely visible at certain latitudes. At higher latitudes, it is completely or partially below the horizon. It cannot be seen, at all, when the viewer is above 60 degrees north. However, both Leo and Crater, which are located near Hydra, are more northerly constellations and are thus more easily seen at these higher latitudes.[48] (It is interesting to note that the constellation of Leo is ‘linked’ to Hydra via the constellation of Crater.) It would seem that they are included as a supplemental visual aid much like certain emblems that are added to the figures of Cautes and Cautopates. Again, their presence aids the more northerly cult member to note this celestial configuration.

In the ancient world, the most convenient way to accurately mark a date or a specific time-of-year was by watching for a particular star or group of stars either at sunset or at sunrise. Solar calendars of the ancient world were notoriously inaccurate; they had to be repeatedly corrected to match the seasons. One could measure the length of an object’s shadow at a certain time of day but this meant maintaining both the object and the measurement of its shadow from year to year. No accurate or independent (of the sky’s motion) timepieces existed. The change of season could be relied upon but it would not indicate an exact date or even an exact month. The only choice was to know a particular set of stars and to check for them at dusk or at dawn. Dusk is by far the easier and more convenient of the two. This is when most people see the night sky. A viewer of the night sky would not have to stay up all night or rise early to check for any given configuration just before dawn. Noting a given configuration at sunrise would mean having to be vigilant for some time before dawn since once daybreak arrives, the stars quickly disappear from sight. Not so with sunset. (It is interesting to note that sky charts or sky maps published in contemporary astronomy magazines often follow this convention of showing the night sky at dusk.) So the ancient viewer of the night sky could conveniently use this process of noting star configuration at dusk to mark a particular time-of-year.

 

It might be asked, do these constellations of Scorpius, Hydra and Canis Minor, grouped together, have some special symbolic or mythological meaning to the cult, other than marking a date? It would seem not; their presentation was purely utilitarian. It is the smallest set of constellations possible to mark out the full arc of the sky for the largest range of viewing latitudes possible. Hydra covers one of the largest arcs of any constellation. Leo and Crater, the ‘optional’ constellations, extend Hydra’s visibility northward. Canis Minor with its bright star, Procyon, is visible from a wide range of latitudes (from 40 degrees to 60 degrees north). And Scorpius (with Libra included) covers a lot of area as well. And all are, of course, adjacent.


We had, at one point, discussed the orientation of Cautes and Cautopates in relation to the Mithras-bull pair. Here we can complete this discussion: In the case where Cautes is to the right of the Mithras-bull pair and Cautopates is to the left, they indicate the two halves of the celestial sphere. In this instance Cautopates and Cautes are simply reiterating the date that is being marked by the celestial arc of Scorpius, Hydra and Canis Minor. That is, at sunset, on the day in question, the lowest point of the ecliptic (the winter solstice as represented by Cautopates) will be to the east side of the sky and the highest point (summer solstice as represented by Cautes), the west. (In fact, if we adjust for precession of the equinoxes, we see that at this moment the point of the vernal equinox – the celestial intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator – was, in the ancient world, ‘overhead.’)


Once we accept the assumption that this arc of three constellations sets a date then the obvious question is, which date? The answer for our ‘arc’ is on or around July 17th. This date also marks the start of the annual Perseid meteor shower. It should be noted that meteor showers don’t have a specific date on which they commence. Although their peaks are set at a fairly narrow date range, their start and end dates are rather ‘soft.’ But it can be said that when this arc - formed by the constellations of Scorpius, Hydra and Canis Minor - is fully visible in the night sky (and for those northerly viewers, Leo and Crater as well) at dusk then the viewer can expect a start to the Perseids.

 

The Perseids are the most visible and the most impressive meteor shower of the year.[49] The Perseids are named after our constellation of interest, Perseus. In Astronomy, a meteor shower is named after the constellation that holds its radiant. A ‘radiant’ is the location in the night sky where the meteors appear to originate. For each meteor shower the location of its radiant is more or less fixed among the arrangement of stars. As the stars rotate across the night sky, so does the radiant. What is interesting for our study is that the Perseid radiant is located at the top of the hero’s head. In other words, the meteors of the Perseids appear to be emanating from the head of Perseus. As we had noted before, the constellation of Perseus is directly linked to our god Mithras.

The Perseid trails (tails of a meteor) are the most persistent (the longest) and visible of any asteroid shower.[50] A persistent trail is important to our discussion because a long trail allows the ‘naked-eye’ viewer to easily track the apparent source of the meteor and gives the full visual impression of the ray of a shooting star. As well, the Perseids have the longest peak activity period of any meteor shower (from August 8 to August 14). It has among the higher rates (and the most consistently high rates).[51]

We could conclude, then, that one of the intentions of the tauroctony was to instruct or remind the cult member of when they can view this meteor shower. Every year on, or around, July 17th the Perseids begin their month-long nighttime spectacle.[52]  

Of course, the reader may wonder if, in 2nd century CE (or even earlier), this Scorpius‑Hydra‑Canis-Minor configuration did coincide with the advent of the Perseids. Before we can answer this question, we need to do a little astronomy. The timing of a meteor shower is set by the orbit of its parent body. A parent body is the object that leaves a trail of debris as it travels its orbital path. This debris trail is called a filament. It is the interaction between the debris in the filament and the Earth’s atmosphere that cause the bright flashes of a meteor shower. The parent body of the Perseids is the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.[53] [54]

We need to also make a distinction between what could be called tropical (seasonal) time-of-year and sidereal (star) time-of-year. Although precession will cause a slow shift in the tropical time-of-year and the actual calendar date for the meteor shower, the actual constellations up in the night sky at any given time will remain the same.[55] This is because the seasons are governed primarily by the tilt of the Earth, and it is this that is changing with precession. But the general orientation of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in relation to the ‘backdrop’ of constellations – in terms of two thousand years – remains more or less the same. So does the filament and its intersection with the Earth’s orbital path.


So, to answer the question of, “whether or not the placement of our Scorpius-Hydra-Canis configuration would, in the ancient world, have coincided with the start of the Perseids,” we must visualize the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in relation to the distant stars that outline the constellations in question. Over the course of fifteen hundred to two thousand years, the orbital path of the Earth on the plane of the ecliptic has not change radically in relation to the Sun or the visual orientation to the constellations of stars that surround the solar system. Although the filament does disperse and drift, this is a slow process. And in the specific case of the Perseids this filament (or more accurately, group of filaments) is ‘re-seeded’ by every pass of the comet. Its location in the solar system, relative to the constellations would remain more or less the same.[56]

From, at least 354 CE, Christians have marked the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence on August 10th. The Perseids have been known as the “Burning Tears of Saint Lawrence” by Christians from at least the middle ages. This is because the meteor shower’s peak date of August 12th coincides with the saint’s feast date.[57] This is further indication that there is certain stability in the dates in regards to the Perseids.

A further objection to this proposition might be, “how do we know the Perseids were present in the ancient world?” Swift-Tuttle was first astronomically identified, independently in 1862, by astronomers Lewis A. Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle and was not seen again until 1992.[58] We are not absolutely certain but listed sightings for Swift-Tuttle set its periodicity at about a hundred and thirty years. Astronomers are reasonably certain about other documented sighting in 1737 and 188 CE. Less certain is a sighting in 69 BCE.[59] With a periodicity determined and a strong case for the 69 BCE sighting we can be reasonably certain that the meteor shower was present in the ancient world before our first dated record of the cult.[60]

It seems, then, that one of the mysteries of the cult was the belief that the Perseids are a manifestation of Mithras’ presence. The Perseids, as we have seen, have their radiant located at the head of the constellation of Perseus, which we have linked to the god Mithras. This image of meteors shooting out from a god’s head brings to mind numerous artefacts that are attributed to the cult. We have sculptures of Mithras showing him with a headdress of what appears to be rays beaming out form his head.[61] We also have stone altars with relief images of the god that have slots cut into them. These slots start from the head and radiate outwards.[62][63] Although this ‘tiara’ has been interpreted as the solar crown of Sol Invictus there is nothing explicitly preventing our re-interpretation to a tiara of meteors. Is it likely that the adherents to the cult wanted to recreate the celestial display of Mithras by using this sculpture as a projector? They could have placed a flame behind the image and the light would flicker out to give the appearance of shooting meteors.[64]
 
Once a year, these meteors radiate from Mithras’ divine head as he pulls the bull by its muzzle. The direction of his effort is from right to left and, as we have already surmised, right is west and left is east. So Mithras is the force responsible for turning, or rather, rotating the Earth from west to east.

More About Luna and Sol
Further evidence of the link between the tauroctony and the Perseids comes from the representations of Sol and Luna. The presence of the two celestial gods has always been a mystery. They seem to serve no purpose in the drama taking place below them. They almost seem like detached observers of a performance sitting in their private theatre boxes. But their presence is, in fact, highly functional to the information encoded into the tauroctony. As we have seen, their presence gave us a hint as to the cardinal directions as they are represented on the tauroctony. But they also provide us with instructions on the best time of night in which to view the Perseids.

 

Sol is portrayed as rising or just about to rise, and Luna as just set or setting. It is well known among stargazers that the best conditions for viewing the Perseids, or any other meteor shower, for that fact, are in the hours just before dawn and after the Moon has set. The early hours before dawn are the best for viewing because, as the Earth moves forward on its orbit around the Sun, it moves forward through the particles (meteoroids), which make up the filament that creates the meteors. Most particles start their “head-on collision” with the leading part of the Earth’s atmosphere. This leading part of the Earth’s atmosphere is overhead a six o’clock after midnight, standard time, for any given time zone. That means the Earth rotates into the direction of its orbital path. Since the particles make their first contact with this leading part of the planet, stargazers will see more meteors after midnight, just before dawn. Very few are seen at dawn because the rising Sun makes it impossible to see all but the brightest meteors. Although it is possible to see meteors between sunset and midnight, these tend to be from particles that are large enough to survive a longer trip through the atmosphere, or those that create enough light to be seen from a greater distance. Most burn up long before they make their way to the other side of the planet. Therefore, perceived rates tend to be much lower before midnight. The presence of the Moon in the night sky, especially if it is full, makes meteors far less visible. Only the brightest meteors will be seen. With the Moon set, a much higher rate of meteors will be detected by the human eye.

 

We should not assume that the ancient viewer of the Perseids was aware of the optical effect that bright celestial bodies have over the visibility of meteors. This is an important point. More than likely, they believed that the meteor shower started and stopped with the setting of Luna and the rising of Sol. That is, Mithras would radiate meteors only with the exit of Luna and would halt it again with Sol’s rising. They must have come to this mythological conclusion after numerous years of observation. Presumably, the ancient viewer was unaware of the fact that these meteoroids are constantly colliding with the atmosphere, we only see them – or see more of them – when the light from other celestial objects do not interfere with our observations.

 

Manfred Clauss supplies us with further indication that this mythological ‘start and stop’ process was part of the cult’s beliefs. He describes several artefacts that use oil-lamps to produce dramatic lighting-effects:

 

A kind of Sun to Moon transition could be enacted on a third example from Ostia, this time from the ‘Mithraeum of the Painted Walls’ (V 267). Once again, there is an aperture through the back of the altar. The front carries a relief depicting the full bust of the sun-god in his chlamys and radiate crown. At the height of his shoulders, there is preserved to left and right the ‘keel’ of the crescent Moon, which could be illuminated from the aperture at the back. In the darkness of the mithraeum, therefore, the relief could first be lit up from the front, so that the sun-god’s radiate crown would show up. When this lamp was extinguished, and at the same time the lamp inside the altar lit, the Sun’s rays ‘disappeared’, just as the Moon’s crescent began to shine.[65]

 

The setting of the Moon and the rising of the Sun, as we outlined it, could have been re-enacted as Clauss describes it here with this altar. Furthermore, if we take the figure of the Sun and we re-interpret him as being Mithras then this ‘transition’ is similar the one we had discussed.[66] If we reverse the order as described by Clauss so that the illumination of the Moon is shown first and then that of Mithras then this re-enactment would exactly follow what we concluded: the cult member believed that when Luna (the Moon) sets then Mithras begins his radiating of meteors. (Of course, it is possible to have a situation where the Moon rises before sunrise and thus prematurely halts the viewing of the Perseids.)

 

On any account, the time-of-year and ideal time-of-night are encoded directly into the tauroctony and is completely readable to anyone who understands the emblems. It operates as a kind of primitive astrolabe.

Coordination with Sol
The tauroctony shows signs of coordination between Sol and Mithras. In the canon of the tauroctony, Mithras’ body faces right so as to be able to ‘rotate’ the bull from right to left by pulling on the bull’s muzzle and thus the symbolic representation of the rotation of the Earth. (Portraying Mithras pushing the bull would appear awkward and undignified.) Despite this, Mithras is looking over his shoulder back towards Sol. It appears that there is communication and coordination going on. The ray that is portrayed traveling between them is probably a meteor. Its portrayal is further indication of a communication. Whether Sol is indicating to Mithras that he will rise soon or Mithras is watching for Sol is difficult to say. But what is clear is that they cooperate. Sol and Mithras coordinate and collaborate. The moral message is clear: neither takes ascendancy since both must work in concert to fulfill the task at hand and so it should be among mortals. We see this ethos within the cult as attested by surviving records.[67]

The Raven as Messenger
On many tauroctonies, a crow is seen flying or riding what appears to be the aforementioned ray.[68] In most tauroctonies the bird is seen flying from Sol to Mithras. The raven or crow’s association with Apollo is well known. Phoebus Apollo was very closely associated with Sol; in fact, virtually the same god. The raven/crow was sacred to Apollo. Apollo often used the bird as a messenger and an informant. In one myth, Apollo punishes the bird for lying to him.[69] In another myth, the bird informs Apollo of the infidelity of his lover, Coronis. Apollo kills the girl in a fit of rage and in remorse punishes the bird by transforming its plumage from white to black.[70] From these myths it is clear that the bird is viewed as being talkative, unreliable, undisciplined and mendacious. It is also interesting to note that the Raven is the lowest rank of the cult; a rank probably reserved for new initiates; those who would be seen as the least reliable. [71] Within the context of the cult image, it would seem that Sol is communicating to Mithras via his sacred bird, the raven.

The Raven as Representation of Falling Stars
Although the bird’s plumage is black, it is not a colourless black. Its feathers have an iridescent quality to them. This is why, one can frequently catch a bright flash of colour off a wing or tail as sunlight reflects off its feathers. These flash reflections are reminiscent of the flash of a meteor against a dark night sky. This, of course, could make a reference to the falling stars of the Perseids.

The Raven as Psychopompic Figure
Ravens and crows are often considered harbingers of ill fate and/or death.[72] Their caw is believed to announce the death or imminent death of someone important. They are often seen as guides to the dead. This reputation comes, in part, from the fact that these birds, with their dark and ominous plumage, are highly successful scavengers of the unburied dead. Both birds are often present in great numbers on the battlefield; even before the conflict has begun. In numerous cultures they were seen as having an effect on the battle’s outcome, even before it begins. Their scavenging after the battle was seen as the selection of the most courageous fallen heroes. Once selected, their souls would be carried off to some eternal reward. This psychopompic aspect of the raven and the crow is similar to that of Mithras. Mithras was seen as a guide to the dead.[73]


Mithras’ Sword
What other conclusions can we make from the tauroctony by applying this new interpretation? If Mithras is not freeing the life-giving force in the form of the bull’s blood then what is the significance of the sword, the sword-thrust and the bull’s blood? We saw that the bull represents the Earth and that Mithras is a powerful celestial god acting upon the Earth (turning the globe). What are the interactions that the sky has with the Earth that could be represented by the sword-strike? One answer is the meteorites and fireballs that occasionally strike the Earth. Although meteor showers have little to do with actual meteorites, most people make an erroneous connection between the two.[74] The vast majority of meteors in a meteor shower never come close to making it all way to the Earth’s surface. They are caused by specs of dust smaller than a grain of sand and are quickly vapourized. The meteorites that survive entry into the atmosphere and hit the Earth are considerably larger and usually have origins that are unrelated to the filaments of dust that cause meteor showers. But, again, people generally make a connection between the two phenomena. In fact, folklore or the mythology of most cultures has made this incorrect assumption.[75] Could Mithras’ sword symbolize these dramatic events? Could the cult of Mithras, be a kind of meteorite cult? We see examples of meteorite cults in the ancient world; recovered meteors are often revered as having some divine source. An example of is the ancient Egyptian’s ritual of the “Opening of the Mouth.” The adze used in this ritual had an axe-head made from recovered meteorite ore.[76] This raises an interesting question: are any of the surviving Mithraic artefacts made from meteorite material?

Likewise, we could interpret the sword-strike as representing the sky’s often tumultuous interaction with the Earth: thunder and lighting. With volcanic eruptions we see lightning. We could say that the blood that flows from the bull is the Earth’s blood: lava. This soil renewing molten rock provides the Earth’s surface with its richest soil, and hence the emblematic staves of corn represented on the bull. So Mithras would be the source of meteorites, lightning, thunder and the agent that causes the volcanic release of lava and ash.

 

We find evidence for this in one of the cult’s few surviving documents, the “Mithras Liturgy.”[77] There are no less than seventeen references to “fire” in this brief text of 345 lines. There are five references to “thunder” and three references to “lightning.” Four references to “stars” (falling stars included) and several references to “earthquakes.” It includes some epithets such as, “Thou Thunder-rouser”[78] and “O Thou Star-tamer.”[79] Some examples of text are: “… expect to hear a mighty thunder-clap so as to startle thee.”[80] Again, “... thunders and crashings shalt thou hear in the Surround, and feel thyself a-shake with every crash.”[81] And finally, the very convincing, “… thou shalt see lightnings down-flashing, and lights a-quiver, and the earth a-shake …”[82]


The Banquet Scene
Closely linked to the tauroctony is what has come to be known as the ‘banquet scene’ or the ‘feast scene.’ It shows Mithras and Sol in what appears to be a banquet.[83] It is often presented as a carving on a stone tablet; verso to the tauroctony. It is generally believed that this is a feast being shared by the two gods in celebration of the successful sacrifice of the bull. This feast is partaken over the skin or carcass of the bull. The grapes, bread and wine of a meal are all present.[84]

 

In the light of our thesis proposing that the bull is a symbol for the Earth, this feast scene takes on a new meaning. We could maintain that the bull still represents the Earth, however, in the form of a carcass or hide. (It is interesting to note the story of Dido and her negotiations for the purchase of land for the establishment of Carthage. She was allowed to buy as much as could be covered by the hide of a bull. This lends credence to the idea that the hide of the bull symbolizes the face of the earth.[85]) Sol has entered the scene from his usual position of the upper left-hand corner. It is after sunrise and he is present with Mithras. Radiant Sol, with Mithras in attendance, illuminates the bull’s hide, symbol of the Earth’s surface. Often with this verso image, we see Luna portrayed in the upper left-hand corner as opposed to her customary upper right-hand corner in the tauroctony. She is seen moving out towards the left-hand edge.[86] So we can assume that the cardinal directions on the verso image are maintained in terms of the physical edges of the tablet. This means that on the tauroctony side, left is east and on the verso image left is west. This implies a symbolic connection between the two; one is the ‘flip’ side of the other. One side has Sol absent; the other has him fully present. We could then conclude that the tauroctony is a portrayal of the cosmos by night and the feast scene is a portrayal of the cosmos by day. Using the presentation device of the two sides of a single tablet is a natural expression of the revolving concept of night and day. Working in full cooperation with each other, the deities move the daily cycle forward.

 

And so we have come to the mystery of the sacred meal. The blood of the bull shed by Mithras provides for rich soil that in turn yields crops. And thus in turn provides the bread and wine that is our daily sustenance.

Palingenesis
According to Platonic and Neo-platonic thought, newly deceased souls find their way to a ‘gate’ on or near the celestial South Pole. Porphyry, in Caves of the Nymphs, says that there are gates located in Cancer and Capricorn (the locations of the summer and winter solstices in ancient times). [87] [88] Plato describes this in the Myth of Er from his Republic. According to Plato’s account there are two sets of two doors (four in all). One door of each pair was to go in and the other was to come back out. Through these doors were ‘holding areas.’ One holding area was for the good and the just. It was like paradise. The other, a ‘holding area’ for the unjust, was much like purgatory, very unpleasant. Once ‘processed,’ the souls would go to another site to be reborn. Plato does not specifically state from where the souls are reborn, only that, “…then in an instant they were driven upwards in all manner of ways to their birth, like stars shooting.”[89]

 

Both the southern and northern gates that Porphyry describes are located in or near the Milky Way. It should be repeated that the constellation of Perseus is located in the Milky Way and that this constellation’s meteor shower, the Perseids, has its radiant situated at the very ‘top’ of the Milky Way. There was a long tradition in the ancient world of linking the constellation of Perseus with the Milky Way. Ulansey states that, “the connection between Perseus and the Milky Way seems to have been regarded as mythological significant as early as the fifth century B.C.E., …”[90]

And so the Milky Way was seen as a kind of procession or ‘holding area’ of souls all moving up from the underworld. These souls - those that are destined for palingenesis - progress upward along the Milky Way to a ‘gate’ on or near the celestial North Pole. (Porphyry says that Pythagoras indicated that the name “Milky Way” came from the milk that these newly born babies would soon be consuming.[91]) Clearly, we can associate this northern gate with the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower. The shooting stars that radiate out from Mithras’ head that make up his tiara are not just devices of display; they are, in fact, the souls of those being reborn. The cult member must have seen himself, or at least his soul, as just such a star. Invariably, this is what we find in the “Mithras Liturgy.” In the text, the faithful recite, “I am a star!”[92]

Mithras and the Milky Way
As we have just seen, there is a good case for believing that cult members believed that souls were sent to be reborn from a gate at the top of the Milky Way; more precisely the radiant of the Perseid meteor showers. When we look at the portrayal of Mithras in the few paintings that we have, Mithras appears to be semi-transparent. Could it be that the body of Mithras is the anthropomorphisation of this place of dead souls, the Milky Way? Mithras’ tunic is often shown with stars on it.[93] Is this a visual device intended to show Mithras as the Milky Way? Again, if we go to the “Mithras Liturgy,” we read: "Then shalt thou see lightnings leap from His Eyes and from His Body stars."[94]

Note that Mithras makes contact with the bull, the symbol of the Earth, at the muzzle and at the hind hoof. His body parallels the body of the bull along its full length. Likewise, the Milky Way forms an arc from the celestial North Pole all the way to the South Pole. It would appear that Mithras is not only a god that moves the Earth and keeps it in its proper place, he is also the agent of rebirth and his body seems to be the vessel by which this rebirth occurs.

 

It is interesting to note that most, if not all, the emblems portrayed in the tauroctony do not, in and of themselves, carry any profound symbolic or mythological meaning. They are straightforward symbols placed together to visually communicate a secret; they are parts of speech in the recording and transmission of a sacred message.

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Implications of the Analysis

 

A Meteorite-Volcanic Theology
We had discussed the idea of meteorite strikes and volcanic activity being represented by Mithras’ sword thrust. We could work this idea further by formulating a kind of ‘meteorite-volcanic theology.’ We could speculate that one of the central themes of the cult was that the Universe is metallic and molten in nature. From this molten nature comes the richness of the soil and thus comes our daily bread, the sustenance of man. The idea of a metallic and molten Universe is not new to the ancient world. The ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras was tried in court for presenting the idea that the Sun was a mass of red-hot metal, larger than Peloponnesus. (For this he was expelled from Athens.)[95]

This ‘meteorite-volcanic theology’ applies well to giving an explanation to the “water miracle.” (The water miracle is a portrayal of Mithras in the act of striking rock with a bow and arrow, and causing liquid to issue from the rock.[96]) Since the bull, symbol of the Earth, bleeds lava, it would only be logical that Mithras would be responsible for releasing it from the Earth. Why would we presume that it is water that is being portrayed in the bas-relief?[97]

This ‘theology’ also works well in helping explain the image of Mithras Petragenetrix. Mithras Petragenetrix or Mithras’ ‘rock birth’ is a portrayal of Mithras being born out of a rock. In this ‘rock birth,’ Mithras appears to be a fully formed adult and is shown coming from a rock.[98] The connection to the ‘meteorite-volcanic theology’ is obvious. We could say that Mithras comes from rock, just as molten lava is released from a volcanic crevice. Many of these sculptures are hollowed out and have tiny holes in them. As Clauss states: “If a lamp or torch was placed inside the rear aperture, the light would shine through the little perforations, or even flames issue forth, …”[99] This would make the rock section of the ‘rock birth’ look very much like cooling lava. Coiled or writhing snakes are often represented on these rock bases.[100] The snake is not only a symbol of regeneration but here the writhing snake is visually reminiscent of lava issuing from a volcanic fissure.

Fire is a recurring theme in the cult. For example, for the grade of Lion, honey is used for anointing rather than water because, “water is not suitable for a fire-like substance.”[101] Remember that the text of the “Mithras Liturgy” has numerous, seventeen in all, references to “fire.”[102]

 

Pine cones are often used as a symbol of ‘resurrection after conflagration.’[103] Many species of pines have cones that will survive forest fires. Several actually require burning in order to germinate.[104] Pine cones were part of the rituals performed by the cult.[105] Some images of the ‘rock birth’ appear more like births from out of pine cones than rocks or orphic eggs.[106] Perhaps for the adherent to the Mysteries, the pine cone was a symbol synonymous with the orphic egg.

The iconography related to Leontocephalus, the lion-headed god, contains numerous references to fire. In many representations, Leontocephalus is seen breathing fire.[107] The emblem of the male lion with his golden mane has always been closely related to the solar disc and the aspect of fire.  Note that we discussed the image of the coiled or writhing snake having a visual similarity to lava issuing from a volcanic fissure. The lion-headed god is frequently portrayed with the emblem of the writhing snake.

Mithraeum
Mithraeum or spelaeum is the place of worship for the followers of the cult. They were most often constructed in a cave or underground in such a way as to resemble a cave. As we can see, certain night-time celestial events had special significance. If a member of the cult wanted to reinforce his faith or simply witness manifestations of Mithras firsthand then all he needed to do is look up at the night sky under the right conditions. If he knew the core secrets and could determine the ideal viewing conditions then there would be no need for a temple, church or chapel. If the Mysteries of Mithras could be witnessed firsthand then why do we have the mithraeum?

Viewing the night sky requires a certain amount of adaptation to night vision. This is especially true for viewing a meteor shower. The better adapted the eyes, the more they can see. This adaptation can take up to thirty minutes to achieve, and if the eyes are exposed to any light source, other than red light, the adaptation process must start over again.[108] Therefore, for city dwellers, even in the ancient world, viewing the Perseids was a matter of getting out of the city and into the countryside. Even the light from a torch or a campfire can nullify certain acquired night vision. And even if one were to get into the countryside, there is no guarantee that the night sky would be clear; clouds make stargazing impossible.

In addition to the inconvenience of finding an optimal viewing location away from interfering light sources, there were all the risks of nighttime dangers, real and imagined. People would not want to wander out too far from their homes at night. Combined together, these two factors made first-hand viewing of the Perseids inconvenient, at best. There were, however, two groups that did not find it an inconvenience, soldiers and mariners, since they were forced to live and work in those conditions. Far from inconvenient, the night sky was the constant companion to these individuals. It is interesting to note that these two groups are often counted among the cult’s most numerous adherents.[109][110]

So the mithraeum - other than being a place to store and secure dedications, votives, relics and holy items against theft and prying eyes - would have been a convenience; a simulation of the night sky. The mithraeum could have been a comfortable alternative site for ritual and instruction; a kind of ‘backup’ in case of poor weather. It may also have acted as an alternative for the old and the invalid.

Most individuals in the modern western world have never experience the awesome and dazzling experience of a truly dark sky unencumbered by light pollution. When studying or discussing Mithraism within the context of our new thesis, we should remind ourselves of how powerful an experience it is to look up in true conditions of darkness. As we discussed, with the image of the ‘cave’ as representation of the celestial dome, the night sky gives, especially when looking towards the horizon, the distinct illusion of appearing like a dome or a vaulted arch. The architecture of the mithraeum strives to imitate this.

Another aspect of the mithraeum is an emulation of stars. Several mithraea have been found to have small holes in their walls. These holes allowed light from the exterior to enter the mithraeum in pinhole fashion thus giving the appearance of stars in a night sky.[111]

Scholars often marvel at the small size of the mithraeum.[112] This is perhaps due the fact that they are conditioned to the dimensions of churches, temples and sacred buildings of Abrahamic religions and other religious buildings of the ancient world. They wonder how a cult that was so widespread and influential could have gathering places of such small dimensions. Keeping in mind our assumption that the mithraeum may have been a ‘simulation’ of the night sky, perhaps we can further speculate that the primary site for cult practice was, in fact, out-of-doors. These ‘artificial’ caves that seem to emulate the celestial domes were a secondary site, and functioned more like private chapels and not central temples. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that several mithraea were built into or part of private homes.[113]

The mithraeum may also have served a pedagogical purpose. They generally have a seating capacity of thirty to forty. This size is more in line with a typically modern classroom rather than that of a religious congregation. (Keeping in mind that early Christian congregations probably had a size no large than this.) We believe that cult meals took place in the mithraeum but there is nothing precluding its use as a classroom.[114] Not only would the acolyte have learned the meaning of the various cult objects but he would have learned to read the sacred image, the tauroctony. In fact, in a predominantly illiterate or semi-literate society the tauroctony would have acted as an ideal teaching tool. It is full of visual symbols that are composed specifically to render a sophisticated message. It can be ‘read’ and interpreted. (Not only would it have been a perfect teaching tool, it would also have been an ideal memory guide.) The ancient mithraeum could have been very similar in function to our modern planetarium; the tauroctony, our modern planisphere.

Religious Exoticism and a Legitimizing Persian Antecedent
We should address the thorny issue of the cult’s apparent Persian origin. Cult members believed themselves to be true inheritors of ancient Persian mystical secrets. Their belief and the semblance of a link don’t necessarily mean that a true historical provenance existed. The argument for a genuine Persian origin is weak, at best.[115]

It could be argued that this Persian inheritance is completely fictitious (intentional or not) and that its invention was a necessary device that served two purposes. First, it functioned to legitimize the cult; link it to an established tradition. There is nothing unusual about this; most new religions use, what could be termed, a legitimizing antecedent. If we were to examine the theologies of most world religions we would see that they hark back to a previous, older belief. And more often than not, the provenance is more invented than real. In fact, when there is a true provenance it is one where the new faith is in conflict or in opposition to its proposed antecedent; that it attempts to review or reform the older belief system. (The reader can test this proposition against known world religions and find that it is generally true.) Where there is a true provenance, it is usually a relationship of conflict and reform. (Where there is serious doubt around the lineage or it has been proven to be false, the relationship is usually presented as harmonious.) From what we know about the Mysteries of Mithras, there is nothing that would lead us to believe that the cult was in conflict with its proposed Persian parent. It seems to have been presented simply as an export. This simple concord adds to the suspicions of the veracity of this provenance.

Another purpose for using a Persian predecessor was to give the cult an exotic patina. We could call this “religious exoticism.” This religious exoticism renders the cult more attractive and mysterious. It gives the appearance that the cult holds foreign secrets not know to local residents. The exoticism of its ‘foreignness’ makes it attractive to potential new members. This is particularly true for ancient Romans. Most of the ancient Roman religions and mythology were not indigenous; most were imported from the ‘East.’

We have examples of a similar ‘exoticism’ in our own day. Do members of the Shriners[116] actually believe that they are Turks or Arabs, or descended from Turks or Arabs? Although there is a difference here from the Mithraist - cult members truly believed they were members of something that was Persian whereas Shriners know that their costumes and rituals are not genuine. Many of the faiths that we import from the Indian subcontinent have the same exotic appeal.


It is interesting to note that despite the ongoing military conflicts between the Romans and the Persian (or perhaps more correctly the Parthians) Mithraism remained popular even within the military. If the reader stops and thinks about this for awhile, they will realize that a position of conflict would in fact increase the exoticism and subsequently the appeal of the cult. It also would have helped to conceal any possible falsehood regarding its true origin. If the proposed source of an invented faith is behind a defended border then who can easily go and verify it?

So then, the devices of a legitimizing antecedent and religious exoticism helped the cult, in its early years, to survive and flourish. It gave the cult greater credibility and rendered it more attractive to potential adherents. Very late in the history of the cult the philosopher Plotinus attempted to get behind the defended Parthian border. He attempts this by accompanying Emperor Gordian III’s campaign against the Parthians and he does so to learn more about Persian thought.[117] This reveals several things. First that the Romans really didn’t know very much about the beliefs that apparently should have been, at the very least, well known to the members of the cult. Secondly, despite the enmity between the Parthian and the Romans, the “spiritual wisdom” within the Parthian borders was held in high esteem.

The Billowing Cape
In tauroctonies, Mithras is never portrayed without his billowing cape.[118] In cases where it is absent, there are always clear signs of breakage.[119] The cape is always billowing; there is no ancient - that is, authentic - example of the cape resting loosely on Mithras’ back. Obviously, the presence of a cape and its billowing are part of the visual canon of the tauroctony; if it were only an artistic device then we would see numerous examples where it is absent. Following our line of inquiry, we should ask the question, “what celestial phenomenon resembles a billowing cape?” The answer is the Aurora Borealis. This is probably the most contentious part of our thesis. As outrageous as it sounds, let us examine it further.

 

For those readers who are not familiar with the Aurora Borealis - more commonly known as the Northern Lights - they are a light display caused by the interaction of ionized particles from solar flairs and the atmosphere. Since the magnetic field of the Earth directs these ionized particles towards the two magnetic poles, the Aurora occur high above the Earth, just above the two magnetic poles. At higher latitudes, a viewer of this impressive spectacle could easily perceive them as huge green, blue, violet or red sheets of glowing, transparent fabric or curtains flapping across the entire sky in an unfelt celestial wind. Interestingly, scientists use the term ‘curtains’ to describe the bands of descending ionized particles. In painted tauroctonies, the cape is given the same colours as those seen in Aurora Borealis: green, blue, violet and red.[120]

As members of the cult watched Perseid meteors radiate from the god’s head, they may also have caught sight of his billowing cape in the form of the Aurora Borealis. Both celestial phenomena can and are seen together. The Perseids and the Aurora Borealis both appear in the northernmost parts of celestial dome. As well, the autumnal equinox (September 22nd or September 23rd) occurs less than a month after the close of the Perseids (August 24), and the Aurora Borealis is at its most active around the time of the equinoxes.[121] Astronomical journals frequently publish impressive photographs of a Perseid meteor with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.[122] Why would such a dazzling spectacle not be viewed by travelers of the northern half of the ancient Roman Empire?

The billowing cape is often interpreted as the ‘dome of the sky.’[123] This interpretation comes from the fact that the cape is often (but not always) depicted as curved and hemispheric in shape, and occasionally shown as being spotted with stars.[124] But if the cape represents the dome of the sky then we would have two ‘domes of the sky’ portrayed in the tauroctony, the other being represented by the vault of the cave. Duplication of representation does happen in tauroctonies (for example, multiple bulls are sometimes portrayed) but still, this does weaken the argument for the cape being a representation of the night sky. As well, many tauroctonies show stars on the wall of the cave instead of on the cape.[125] If the cape represented the dome of the sky then why are there stars on the cave wall as well? Doesn’t the wall of the cave represent the ’dome of the sky’ rather than the cape? More than likely, this portrayal of stars on the cape is, in fact, a visual rendering of transparency; the same effect one perceives when viewing the background sky through the Aurora Borealis.

There may be an additional objection to this interpretation of the cape: that the Aurora Borealis can only be seen in the northernmost latitudes and that Rome, at 40 degrees north, is too far south. This is not true. The only place on Earth where they are not easily seen is in the tropics.[126] The location of the Aurora Borealis is determined, not by the rotational poles of the Earth, but rather, by the magnetic poles. Presently the magnetic north pole is located in Northern Canada. It drifts slowly over time. It is not known with any certainty where its location was in the first century CE. In periods of extreme solar activity the Aurora Borealis can be seen even in the tropics. For example, an extremely powerful flare was emitted towards Earth on 1 September 1859. It caused a visible Aurora Borealis that could be seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii.[127]

The reader should not forget that Mithraic finds are disproportionately located in the northern parts of the former empire’s territory. The heaviest concentration is found in the Rhineland.[128]  At latitudes of those of North Africa mithraic finds are far sparser. Even in Britain, where Roman populations would be presumed to have been low, significant numbers of mithraea are found.[129]

Even in the southern latitudes, many adherents to the cult were probably well-traveled and likely would have witnessed the North Lights. It should be noted that the most widely traveled of the ancient world were soldiers and mariners. Mithraic scholarship seems to agree that the cult was very popular with these two groups.[130] Both took special note of the stars and the night sky!

Before going on, a commentary is in order on the commonly held assumption that there is a direct association between the distribution of cult finds and the level of cult activity. We should be careful about drawing hasty conclusions from these distributions. The fact that we find more artefacts in a particular region should not automatically lead us to the conclusion that the cult was more popular in those regions. The cult did not simply wane and wither away from general disinterest. The cult was severely sanctioned and suppressed; its property confiscated; its holy images and objects aggressively vandalized and eradicated.[131] This suppression should qualify our analysis of the cult’s distribution. Is the absence of cult artefacts a result of little interest or is it a sign of a more effective attack and suppression? Are there more cult sites on the frontiers because the cult was popular among the military or was it due to the fact that such regions were less within the reach of iconoclasts and zealot who engaged in the destruction of mithraea and their contents? Are there much fewer sites in North Africa and the eastern empire (Syria) because the cult was not popular there or was it because these areas held higher populations of Christians?[132] In effect, we could be looking at map of the effectiveness of Christian resistance and/or suppression rather than a map the distribution of cult’s presence. We must remember that most of our tauroctonies have not come down to us completely intact.[133] Clearly, there are signs of breakage due to vandalism. In fact, almost all Mithraic artefacts show signs of defacement. So mapping out the distribution of mithraea and cult finds may in fact show the effectiveness of suppression, or lack thereof, thus skewing our perception of its popularity in various regions.

Having noted this caveat, we can still be reasonably comfortable with saying that the cult was more popular in the northern parts of the Empire. This gives further credence to the argument that the tauroctony makes reference to the northern celestial phenomena of the Perseids and the Aurora Borealis.


Speculation on the Origins of the Cult
If the origins of the cult are not Persian then what are they? It is generally assumed that, in the absence of a Persian or eastern origin, the cult must have been formulated within the precincts of Rome or Ostia.[134] But very rarely is something created out of nothing. Usually, something new is the result of a synthesis of pre-existing components.
In the domain of religions, there is nothing new about this. Several Hellenistic faiths are the result of an intentional syncretic ‘marriage’ of two or more belief systems. A perfect example of this is the Hellenistic Egyptian cult of Serapis.[135]

 

What are the components that constitute the cult of Mithras? As we have seen, there are strong Platonic and Neo-platonic elements in the Mysteries. But there is more there than just the Platonic and Neo-platonic. The unusualness of the iconography betrays the presence of a highly foreign element. There’s something ‘un-Roman’ even ‘un-Hellenistic.’

 

The geographical distribution of the archeological evidence gives us a clue. The distribution is rather oddly skewed to the northern regions of the former empire. Perhaps we need to look north for the source. It has been assumed that the large number of finds in the Rhineland is due to its popularity with the troops.[136] Perhaps, we may have overemphasized this popularity. Maybe this high concentration is also an indication of the true origin of one of the cult’s key components.

 

Normally, when determining the source of any dispersion, whether it be a salt dissolved in a solvent or a particular language introduced into a new cultural milieu, the point of origin or the original point of introduction is usually (with all other factors being equal) near or in the area of its highest concentration. That is to say, the origin of something dispersed outwards is usually indicated by the point of its present highest concentration. Could the Rhineland, or somewhere in Northern Europe be the source we are looking for? Let us examine this hypothesis.

As we have seen, the iconography of the cult seems to make reference to celestial events better seen from northern latitudes. Furthermore, a belief system is often most at home and most accepted in the cultural milieu that first fostered it. Correspondingly, the cult seems to have been almost absent among the regions in the southern parts of the empire.[137]

If a key element is Celtic or Germanic then why do we not see a clear Celt or German-ness to the cult? The answer rests with the ancient Roman attitudes towards the Celtic and German cultures. They were considered uncivilized, barbaric and essentially un-Roman. Where eastern religions were adopted with enthusiasm and even endorsed, the beliefs of the Celts and the Germans were suppressed.[138] We see this with the Roman suppression of Druidism.[139] All things ‘Eastern,’ however, were considered sophisticated and exotic. So a cult based on Germanic beliefs and mythology would have had great difficulty taking root. However, a fundamentally Germanic belief system could have been made palatable, even popular, to the ancient Roman by binding it with Platonic ideas and giving it an eastern patina; hiding its fundamental northern-ness. Give it a fictitious origin that could not be easily verified; located behind a defended border. Protect it further with the secrecy of a mystery cult and no one would be the wiser.

What further evidence is there that a key element of the cult has a northern origin? Much of the cult has striking parallels with early Germanic beliefs as they come to us via Norse mythology. If we look at the god Wotan or Odin we see similarities with Mithras. As the premier deity in the Norse or German pantheon, Wotan (Odin) is a god of oaths, vows and contracts.[140] He collects oaths and contracts, written in runes, upon his spear.[141] He is a psychopompic god; he guides the dead to their resting place.[142] The crow or raven is an important emblem in the cult of Mithras, as it is to Wotan.[143]

The Valkyries are Wotan’s daughters and they attend all battles. They bring Wotan’s judgment of who will live and who will die. They select the greatest heroes and carry them off to the halls of Valhalla. In the halls of Valhalla all the greatest heroes are ‘collected’ so that Wotan will have an army of heroes for the final battle of good against evil.[144] We know the Valkyries as beautiful Amazonian warriors on winged horses, with shields, helmets and spears. In fact, the Valkyries seemed to have been ravens, those that congregate at the site of an upcoming battle.[145] All the birds of the crow family are highly intelligent and learn very quickly the signs of impending conflict, and the fact that this means that soon carrion will be available. After the battle they would circle and select the corpse of the bravest heroes. The word "valkyrie" means “chooser of slain.”[146] The ancient German or Celt must have seen a divine purpose from what we see as gruesome.

It was also believed that the armor of the Valkyries were the source of the Aurora Borealis.[147] If we accept the argument for the idea that Mithras’ billowing cape is a representation of the Aurora Borealis then the fact that the early Germans believed that the Valkyries caused the Aurora Borealis is further indication of a link between the two beliefs.

The ethos of many of these Norse legends is similar to that of the cult of Mithras. Roman military authorities may have noticed how courageously the northern tribes fought. They noted that they fought fearlessly because they believed that if they died in battle having fought with courage then Wotan’s Valkyries would come and collect them and bring them to Valhalla. A religion with a strong military-martyr aspect would have served the Roman army well. Even more useful would have been the aspect of contractual fidelity, as embodied by Wotan. Unfortunately, a Germanic import would have been a very ‘hard sell.’ As stated before, anything Celt or German was viewed as base and barbaric and would not have been widely accepted. However, if the authors of this cult merged elements of the Germanic with Platonic ideas commonly held in the empire; disguised it as an Eastern import then the result would have been far more acceptable.   

 


 

Conclusion

 

By changing some of the basic assumptions regarding the interpretation of key visual symbols in the tauroctony we can derive a simple, self-consistent and logical interpretation. If we reinterpret the bull, victim of the sacrifice, as a visual symbol for the Earth - rather than a representation of the constellation Taurus or a vessel that contains a life-giving force - then we begin to see that the tauroctony is both a portrayal of a geocentric cosmology and a set of concise instructions for viewing celestial manifestations of an otherwise invisible god.

 

The role of the scorpion, the snake and the dog within the tauroctony is to represent the three constellations of Scorpius, Hydra and Canis Minor, respectively. These constellations form a celestial arc. (The additional emblems of the lion and the cup represent the more northerly constellations of Leo and Crater, respectively, that simply supplement and aid in the locating of this celestial arc.) This arc marks a date. This date is the beginning of the month‑long Perseid meteor shower. The radiant (apparent point of origin) of the Perseid meteor shower is located at the head of the constellation of Perseus, which we linked to the god Mithras. The ideal time of night to view any meteor shower is just before sunrise and after the Moon has set. The tauroctony tells us just that: Sol (the Sun) is shown just about to rise and Luna (the Moon) is setting.

 

The meaning of the Cautes-Cautopates pair depends on their orientation. When Cautes is on the left side and Cautopates is on the right of the Mithras-bull pairing then they indicate the eastern and western cardinalities, respectively. They also indicate eastern and western horizons of the Earth, as represented by the bull.

 

When Cautes is to the right and Cautopates is to the left then they indicate the two halves of the celestial sphere. This orientation comes out the fact that the rising and setting of celestial bodies are less defined at more northerly latitudes. In this instance Cautopates and Cautes are reinforcing the information specified by the aforementioned celestial arc of constellations.

 

The constellation of Perseus, which we linked to the god Mithras, is itself located at the top of the Milky Way. The belief was that the stars of the Milky Way are souls waiting to be reborn. Furthermore, it was believed that the meteors of the Perseids are these souls descending to their new lives on Earth. Members of the cult probably believed that Mithras was the director and the embodiment of this process of rebirth. As Mithras pulls the bull, representing the Earth, towards the rising Sun, he watches for dawn and the signal to halt the rebirth of souls.

 

Since the primary mystery of the cult took place in the night sky, there was no need for a temple in which to present this ‘sacrament’ to the faithful. Anyone who knew the secret could witness it for themselves. The mithraeum did serve a purpose however. Many perhaps were private chapels. Certainly, they were meeting places, places for communal meals and instruction; a place to hide and secure sacred images and objects. Its curious construction leads one to believe that it may also have served much the same purpose as our modern planetarium.

 

Cult members probably saw the nature of the Universe as being molten, metallic and fire-like. This is further evidenced by Mithras’ rock-birth, the image of the lion-headed god, and the use of pine cones as emblems and in rituals.

 

Although the cult members believed themselves to be direct descendants of a Persian mystery tradition, they were probably mistaken. The true origin of some of the cult’s key elements may have been Northern European since the ethos of the cult has strong parallels within the ancient mythologies of Norse and Germanic tribes.

   
It is easy to see why the cult was so popular: it presented a cosmology that explained the workings of the Universe. It explained unusual and spectacular celestial phenomena; and it offered hope, through the intercession of a psychopompic god, of an afterlife within the Neo-platonic zeitgeist of its day.

FINIS.

 

 

This website and its contents are the property of Eric J. Pijeau.

Copyright 2009, 2010 Eric J. Pijeau. All world wide rights reserved.


 

Bibliography

 

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Akasofu, Syun-Ichi., Secrets of the Aurora Borealis. Alaska Geographic Society: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company. 2004.

 

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Beck, Roger. “Cautes and Cautopates: Some Astronomical Considerations,” Journal of Mithraic Studies 2, number 1. 1976,

 

Beck, Roger. “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis,” The Journal of Roman Studies. 1998.

 

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This website and its contents are the property of Eric J. Pijeau.

Copyright 2009, 2010 Eric J. Pijeau. All world wide rights reserved.

 



[1] A long list of scholars like K. B. Stark, Roger Beck, S. Insler, A. Bausani, M. Speidel and David Ulansey have argued convincingly that the tauroctony is a representation of a star map. See Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 19-21. 

[2] K. B. Stark, Roger Beck, S. Insler and David Ulansey are foremost among these. Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 15-16.

[3] Most representations of the constellation of Taurus, even contemporary ones, show only the front half of the bull. For constellation’s appearance see Condos, Theony, Star Myths, pp. 191-194.

[4] For the rape of Europa: Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, pp. 353-357. For Io: Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, pp. 452-454. For the Bull of Marathon (linked to Poseidon): Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, p. 499.

[5] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 80-81.

[6] Gaia, Demeter and Magna Mater are just a few examples.

[7] David, Jonathan (2000), "The Exclusion of Women in the Mithraic Mysteries: Ancient or Modern?", Numen 47 (2): 121-141, at p. 121.

[8] Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, pp. 353-357.

[9] Ibid, pp. 498-499.

[10] Luna and Artemis: the Moon’s crescent is visually reminiscent of the crescent shape of bull’s horns. This association is regularly portrayed in the Mithraic iconography, as we see with Luna being drawn in a biga (See CIMRM 1083 for example).

[11] One of Hera’s (Juno) emblems was the cow and thus her associated with the bull. Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, pp. 90-91.

[12] Man, Myth and Magic, vol. 3, pp. 305-309.

[13] Julius Caesar, Gallic Wars, chapter 6.28.

[14] Scanning any well illustrated history of Astronomy, such as John North’s, Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology, makes this self-evident.

[15] Just a few examples: CIMRM 245, CIMRM 368, CIMRM 810.

[16] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 79-80. Examples are numerous; CIMRM 122 being one.

[17] For example see CIMRM 1292.

[18] For example see CIMRM 1283 and CIMRM 1497.

[19] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 62.

[20] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 95-98.

[21] Ibid, p. 45.

[22] Mithras’ feats, like those of Hercules, are heroic in scope: his capture and subjugation of the bull; the bull sacrifice; his collegial relationship with Sol. See Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 74-90.

[23] Condos, Theony, Star Myths, pp. 157-160.

[24] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 25.

[25] Ibid, pp. 28-29.

[26] Ibid, p. 26.

[27] Robertson, D.S. Greek and Roman Architecture, p. 231.

[28] For example, CIMRM 164, 415, 437, 546, 1083, 1137.

[29] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 44. Examples can be seen in CIMRM 180 and CIMRM 476.

[30] For example, CIMRM 415.

[31] Ibid.

[32] For example, CIMRM 650.

[33] For example, CIMRM 164 , 174 and CIMRM 357.

[34] There are examples where Luna is facing to the left but these are in the minority are probably due to errors in restoration.

[35] For example, CIMRM 554 and CIMRM 1292.

[36] Roger Beck forms a similar conclusion: looking southwards at the night sky the viewer has east to his left and west to his right. See Beck, Roger. Cautes and Cautopates: Some Astronomical Considerations, Journal of Mithraic Studies 2, number 1. 1976, p. 10.

[37] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 95-96.

[38] Examples are CIMRM 415, 417, 670, 759, 810 and CIMRM 1137.

[39] Examples are CIMRM 164, 172, 366, 736, 1084 and CIMRM 2085.

[40] This is obvious to anyone who has lived both above 50 degrees and in the Tropics. At high latitudes sunset and sunrises are long drawn out events whereas nearer the equator these events take only a few minutes.

[41] For example, CIMRM 335 and CIMRM 2120.

[42] For example, CIMRM 335 and CIMRM 2122.

[43] See CIMRM 368.

[44] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 15-16, pp. 19-20 and p. 24.

[45] Condos, Theony. Star Myths. pp. 187-189.

[46] Ridpath, Ian. Star Tales. Online: http://www.ianridpath.com/startales/scorpius.htm. (Accessed 2009.06.22.)

[47] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 20 and p. 52. An example is CIMRM 1727.

[48] Leo is visible between latitudes of 90 North and 65 South. Crater is visible between latitudes of 65 North and 90 South. See any astronomical viewing guide such as the Observer's Handbook. Patrick Kelly, editor. The Royal Astonomical Society of Canada. 2009.

[50] Ibid.

[52] The precise dates of the Perseids are from about July 17th to August 24th with a peak in activity between August 8th and August 14th. The most active day is August 12th. From http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/25jun_perseids2004.htm  (Accessed 2007.04.01).

[53] Jennisken, Peter. Meteor Showers and Their Parent Comets. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK. p. 203.

[54] For some meteor showers the parent body has ‘burnt-out’ and vanished, leaving nothing but the filament. This is not the case with the Perseids.

[55] Precession or precession of the equinoxes is the westward movement of the equinoxes along the ecliptic relative to the fixed stars. It is caused by a ‘wobble’ in the Earth’s rotation, much like the wobble of a top.

[57] Feast date from the inventory of principal feasts of Roman martyrs from the fourth century onwards. From early Christian calendars such as the Almanac of Philocalus.

[59] Cosmic Collisions/by Sally Stephens, Astronomical Society of the Pacific/(c) 1993 Astronomical Society of the Pacific

[60] First records of the cult date to around the first century CE and our earliest known sighting of Swift-Tuttle is 69 BCE.

[61] For example, see CIMRN 2053 or this.

[62] For example, see CIMRM 847 and CIMRM 1241.

[63] Manfred Clauss discusses numerous examples in his book, The Roman Cult of Mithras, (pp. 125-130).

[64] The author has duplicated the effect with a flame and a piece of cardboard and it is uncanny how the flickering flame light shot through narrow slats duplicates the visual effect of a meteor.

[65] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 128.

[66] How do we know with any certainty that these are portrayals of Sol? The crown of rays could be a depiction of the Perseids. We have ‘rock births’ where Mithras is wearing a chlamys, so this does not exclusively mark it as an emblem of Sol. Besides, Mithras and Sol are so syncretically linked that one is often presented as an ‘aspect’ of the other.

[67] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 102-105 and pp. 144-145.

[68] For examples see, CIMRM 357, 437, 556 and CIMRM 641.

[69] Ovid, Fasti, 2.243-66. Probably Ovid invented this myth to explain co-location of three of the constellations that we see in the tauroctony: Crater, Corvus and Hydra. In this myth Apollo sends the bird to retrieve some water for a sacrifice. The bird delays, in order to wait for figs to ripen. As an excuse he captures a snake. He flies back to Apollo and presents the excuse: the snake delayed him. Apollo is not deceived and places all three into the heavens.

[70] Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 600-634. As well, see Morford and Lenardon, Classical Mythology, pp. 204-205.

[71] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 131-133

[72] Probably due to their black pumage, cawing call and diet of carrion.

[73]  Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p 153.

[74] Observer's Handbook. Patrick Kelly, editor. The Royal Astonomical Society of Canada. 2009. p. 262.

[75] Rickard, T. A. The Use of Meteoric Iron. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 1941. pp. 55-66.

[76] Ibid.

[77] The Mithras Liturgy, part of the magical codex of Paris (Papyrus 574 of the Bibliotheque Nationale). (Available at http://www.hermetic.com/pgm/mithras-liturgy.html and http://www.hermetic.com/pgm/mithraic.html .) The Liturgy is a small section of a greater opus written in Greek. It was dismissed outright as not being Mithraic by Cumont, mostly because it did not substantiate his Persian provenance theory. However, evidence for its authenticity, will not go away. In the light of Cumont’s theory having less currency this ‘liturgy’ has become more credible. To date, the general consensus is that it is Mithraic but possibly as a variant of the ‘mainstream’ religion.

[78] Ibid, line 600.

[79] Ibid, line 605.

[80] Ibid, line 575.

[81] Ibid, line 625.

[82] Ibid, line 685.

[83] For example see CIMRM 641.

[84] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 108-113.

[85] Dido was allowed to purchase as much land as could be covered by the hide of a single bull. She had the hide cut into strips so thin that she was able to encircle most of the country. This allowed control of the whole territory which was named, Byrsa, “Hide of the Bull.” (Virgil, Aenid, 1, 367).

[86] See CIMRM 641.

[87]  Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 60-62.

[88]  Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Thirteenth Book of the Odyssey, p. 25.

[89] Plato, The Republic, Book 10.

[90] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, pp. 61-62.

[91]  Ibid.

[92] The Mithras Liturgy, part of the magical codex of Paris (Papyrus 574 of the Bibliotheque Nationale) line 570.

[93] A specific example is the famous tauroctony fresco at Marino, Italy.

[94] The Mithras Liturgy, part of the magical codex of Paris (Papyrus 574 of the Bibliotheque Nationale), line 705.

[95] Taylor, A. E. On the Date of the Trial of Anaxagoras. Classical Quarterly. 11. pp. 81-87.

[96] For example see CIMRM 1225.

[97] The author is unaware of any ancient images existent that show the liquid issuing from rock as being represented as blue in colour rather than red and thus confirm that it is in fact water issuing from the rock.

[98] For examples see CIMRM 353, 1088 and CIMRM 2134.

[99] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras. p. 129.

[100] For example see CIMRM 1492.

[101] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras. p. 135.

[102] The Mithras Liturgy, part of the magical codex of Paris (Papyrus 574 of the Bibliotheque Nationale).

[103] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras. pp. 97-98.

[104] Fire climax pines have seeds that are stored in closed cones and fire is needed to open the cones and release the seed. An example of this is the Pinus radiate.

[105] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras. pp. 97-98 and p. 126.

[106] See CIMRM 2134.

[107] For example see CIMRM 383.

[108] Observer's Handbook. Patrick Kelly, editor. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 2009. p. 257.

[109] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras. pp. 33-37.

[110] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 6.

[111] Ibid, p. 17.

[112] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 42-43.

[113] Ibid, p. 43.

[114] Ibid, pp. 108-113.

[115] Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 7.

[116] The 'Shriners' official name is the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (abbreviated to A.A.O.N.M.S). It is a men's society based in the United States. Members wear fezzes and other Turkish garb. See Shriners of North America. A Short History: Shriners of North America and Shriners Hospitals. September 2004 edition. pp. 3–4.

[117] Porphyry, On the Life of Plotinus and the Order of His Books, Ch. 3 (Armstrong's Loeb translation: "… he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline …").

[118] The author is unaware of any authentic examples where Mithras has no billowing cape.

[119] For example, see CIMRM 352.

[120] For example, see reproductions of the famous tauroctony fresco from the mithreum in Marino, Italy.

[121] The link between the equinoxes and the Aurora Borealis has only been known for about a hundred years. See http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/20mar_spring.htm (Accessed 2008.05.21).

[122] An example can be found at http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast31jul_1.htm . (Accessed on 2007.06.22.)

[123] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 98.

[124] For examples see CIMRM 245 and CIMRM 390.

[125] For examples see CIMRM 368, 390, 435 and CIMRM 1727.

[126] Observer's Handbook. Patrick Kelly, editor. The Royal Astonomical Society of Canada. 2009, pp. 195-197.

[127] Green J. L., Boardsen S., Odenwald S., Humble J., Pazamickas K. A.. Eyewitness reports of the great auroral storm of 1859. Adv. in Space Res. 38 (2006) 145-154.

[128] Refer to the map in Maarten Jozef Vermaseren’s, Corpus inscriptionum et monumentorum religionis Mithriacae. This map is reproduced in David Ulansey’s, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 5. As well, Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 37

[129] Ibid.

[130] Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 6.

[131] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 170.

[132] Refer to the map in Maarten Jozef Vermaseren’s, Corpus inscriptionum et monumentorum religionis Mithriacae. This map is reproduced in David Ulansey’s, The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries / Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World, p. 5. As well, Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 37.

Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras pp. 52-56.

[134] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, p. 7 and p. 22.

[135] The god Serapis was the merger of Osiris and Apis.

[136] Ibid, p. 36

[137] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 26-27.

[138] For example, during the Second Punic War the cult stone (Magna Mater) was brought to Rome from its home in Anatolia after a consultation of the Sibylline Books., Livy, 29.10.5.  Many other examples exist: the Cult of Isis, the Cult of Dionysus, etc.

[139] For example, Augustus forbade Roman citizens to practice "druidical" rites. The suppression continued until the belief system was extinguished.

[140] Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, pp. 280-281.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Ibid.

[143] Clauss, Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras, pp. 133.

[144] Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, pp. 280-281.

[145] Ibid.

[146]  Comes from the Old Norse valkyrja (plural "valkyrur"), from the words "val" (slain) and "kyrja" (choose). Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. p. 172.

[147]  According to Bulfinch's Mythology (1855), the armor of the valkyries "sheds a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the northern skies, making what men call the 'Aurora Borealis', or 'Northern Lights'.” (retrieved from http://www.mythome.org/bxxxviii.html)

 

 

 

 

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