Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Secret Rites of Mithras

Double-faced Mithraic relief. Rome, 2nd-3rd ce...Image via WikipediaI'm up to my ears researching Cilician Pirates and any possible ways I can connect them to the Cilician djinn in my story. Last week, a footnote about Mithraism tickled my synapses and sent me off looking for info on that and... Violá! I was at a book swap, when out of only a handful of books what should appear? A hardbound copy of "A History of Pagan Europe" with a blurb on the back about Constantine. Thinking I might find some interesting tidbit about Vanadis or Byzantium, I tucked it under my arm and went on my merry way.

At home later, I randomly opened the book to an underlined passage on Mithraism! Uh...something is pointing me in that general direction.

So today we have: The Secret Rites of Mithras! Or what I can make sense of it. Remember when I connected the djinn to Zoroastrianism? Well, Mithraism is somehow connected to Zoroaster, and guess what - to the Cilician pirates too!

Here's where I started to make two columns -
What I Know and What I Need to Find Out (and a WTF column too, but nevermind that one.)

What I Know:
  • Mithra was one of the deities of the syncretic Graeco-Iranian royal cult founded by Antiochus I, king of the small, but prosperous "buffer" state of Commagene, in the mid 1st century BC (wikipedia)
  • The first Cilician pirate was supposedly Seleucid, which is right next door to Commagene.
  • Indo-Persian Mithras was born from a rock. He struck water from stone with an arrow. He killed a sacred bull. His pal was the god Sol. He and Sol feasted on the bull. Then Mithras ascended to heaven in a chariot.
  • Mithras was portayed as a young hero with a dagger and he wore a Phyrigian hat (something to do with liberty which I don't fully understand yet.)
  • In the depiction of the feast, a follower points the caduceus (decidedly Platonic and yet related to Kundalini) at a flame near the base of the altar. (The flame is very significant to a djinn - so is Kundalini.)
  • Mithraists worshipped in underground caves or rooms, usually near a spring or water source. There was usually a basin in the temple. Evidence points to a constellation mural on the ceiling.
  • This guy on the right (a leontocephaline) had something to do with them and only them. (separate post next week - I hope!)
  • There are lots of caves in the rock faces of Cilicia Trachea.
What I Don't Know:

  • Was Mithraism founded by Zoroaster? Lots of clues point to him, but there isn't a smoking gun.
  • Was there something to do with equinox and a shift in the way people perceived astronomy? Did someone create a new religion? OK...but why use an avestan (persian, for lack of a better explanation) name?
  • Is Mithras another name for Perseus? Perseus is above Taurus in the stars and the stories share ideas.
  • What does Mithraism have in common with summer solstice? Records indicate a celebration then, which would make sense if Sol was important. Aside - December 25th is an important day for Mithras - his birthday. World religion and spirituality is so intertwined it's hard to find the thread I need.
  • How can I tie in to the djinn world better? Notice there are lots of links to past posts today, so it shouldn't be that difficult, and yet...there's sooo much info I'm in a quagmire. Which is how I felt with Sybil last time I was plotting, so it can only be a good thing...right?
And lastly...Why do I always find the MOST obscure things to research?? I used to think this stuff was so awesome when I was in college....Sigh.

Rudyard Kipling:

MITHRAS, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
' Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!

Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads ; our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows !

Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again !
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!

Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice !
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light,
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

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Sarah said...

This is so fascinating--thanks for letting us see your research process. I think your story is going to be riveting! I want to read it!

Deniz Bevan said...

Love this sort of obscure research! Writing is the next best thing to university for leading one down strange paths of reading and discovery [g]

Matthew MacNish said...

My god this is cool. You are always researching the most fascinating things!

Witless Exposition said...

I heard in a long ago half remembered World Religions lecture that at one point Mithraism was the leading competitor against Christianity among the Romans. It was a man's man type of religion from what I remember (Did they bathe in bull's blood? I seem to remember that, too).

Thanks for sharing your research!

Unknown said...

I thought what I researched was complicated. I'm having trouble figuring out all the names. All I know is this, your story will be amazing and so realistic because of all the hard work now.

Jules said...

Well crap, you mean Zorro was a pirate? :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Old Kitty said...

WOW!!!!! What research of such AWESOMENESS!!! I only know of Zoroastrianism as ye most ancient of religions still hanging around in this day and age (and long may they continue!) but I do like the links here with Mithras!!!

That Mithras fella is one shifty warrior god!!!! TOTALLY AWESOME!! Take care

Hart Johnson said...

Yay for serendipity! Love that you found the book, just when you were pondering the matter. (and I love the WTF column, even if you didn't share it)

Mithras was the dude with the December 25 birthday that the Christians coopted, wasn't he? I didn't remember that until you said he sprung from under a rock.

Good stuff!

Carolyn V said...

That actually sounds like great research! And so great that you are doing the work to find out! (I need to do more of that. Eck.)

Southpaw said...

That is so cool. Research is so fascinating. Then it’s fun to figure out what and how much to include in your story.

Christopher said...

I love that you're so into/good at research. I wish I was more committed to that because I find the results fascinating. Until then I have your blog. said...

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