• antiquitatem en Español

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Mithra, god of the sun, was born on December 25, day of the winter solstice

Published | 0 Comments

On the night of 24 to 25 December it is celebrated in the West the birth of Christ. But it was not always so and today it is not in the whole Christian world; until the fourth century it was celebrated on January 6 and it continues so in the east, among the Orthodox.

The winter solstice occurs on December 25th; It is the time when in the northern hemisphere the days are shorter and the nights are longest. But from this  moment the day begins to grow and  "dies natalis solis invicti"  “the birthday of the unconquered sun",  is celebrated on this day .

That invincible sun is the god Mithra, whose worship and devotion competed with Christianity with which has certain similarities.

I have dedicated an article to this issue in this blog: http://en.antiquitatem.com/christ-was-born-before

I also spent another comment on some aspects of ritual and celebration of our Christmas, including the episode called "Three Kings".



Mithraism and Christianity have many similarities and many differences. This is demonstrated by some Christian parents and polemicists,  who curiously give us often many details of these secret or semi-secret religions of salvation . Otherwise Christianity also takes elements from  religion and worship of Isis and Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, Dionysus.

To explain the coexistence of similarities and differences we must imagine the spiritual and religious environment of imperial Rome in which there are all religions and rites with which they are encountered in their imperial progress and also the popular atmosphere is very conducive to the development of religions and inimical to atheistic positions.

Reference may be able  the current environment of some American cities where all kinds of religions and sects, mixture of rites and various ideas, emerge.

Note: syncretism is called the phenomenon of mixing, assimilation, fusion of diverse elements into one. The word comes from the Greek συγκρητισμός, synkretismos, consisting of συν- prefix syn, with, together, at once, and perhaps the κεραννυμι, kerannymi,  verb, meaning to mix. Or maybe, as Plutarch explains in his Moralia, on Brotherly love ( De amore fraterno), 19,  relates to Crete and its practice of joining all Cretans against the common enemy. This is an interesting etymology I will try in an exclusive article.

Mithra Is a Persian god  at least 4,000 years old. Its existence has to be before the separation of Hindus and Persians, because this god exists in the Vedic pantheon of India and exists in the Medo-Persian religion, then developing a different evolution. In India he diluted, he was accentuated in Persia and he was prominent in the mysteries of Roman times. His primitive holy book is the Avesta.

It is characteristic of this religion the existence of an absolute dualism: there were two opposing gods, Ahura-Mazda, the god of good and heaven, and Ahriman, god of darkness and hell. In between there is a mediator, Mithra, benefactor and protector of men.

The Mithra of Persia is many centuries later spread throughout the Roman Empire, first accompanying the Roman legions, also led by officials and merchants, among whose members will quickly settled.
But to get here it underwent many changes and contamination. First the original Persian religion and primitive rites were reformed by Zarathustra, whom the Greeks called Zoroaster, leading to Zoroastrianism. It was very also affected by the religion of Babylon and the various peoples of Mesopotamia, and impregnated with astrology, it is also spread throughout Asia Minor, it came into contact with Jews and other Semitic peoples, it influenced and in turn it was affected by Greek philosophy, taking helena form, etc.

In many cases their gods were identified with Asian or Greek gods: Ormazd or Ahuramazda with Zeus, Hades with Ahriman, etc. Mithra remains as such because he has no equivalent in the Greek pantheon. That is, Mazdeism  is also an example of  syncretimus.

Mithraism spread throughout the empire in the early centuries of the Empire accompanying especially the soldiers. Precisely the religious life of the devotee of Mithras is conceived as a militia and way of perfection. It is no wonder that it had remarkable success among the legionaries. An essential factor, of course, was the favor of the emperors, whose tendencies to deification and justification of power by divinity, grew stronger the Oriental Mithraic beliefs.

Testing the extension and development of this cult it is for example the existence of many kings of the area called Mithridates: Pontus, Parthia, Cappadocia, Armenia.

The  mithraea or temples of Mitra appear throughout the empire, particularly associated with Roman legions camps. In Rome there were several, perhaps the greatest it is under the church of San Clemente near the Colosseum.

Mithraism disappeared, but their beliefs into two antagonistic powers that dominate the universe, good and evil, light and darkness, remained in Manichaeism and other beliefs as bogomilism, in the Cathars or Albigensians.

Even the Zoroastrianism  still occurs in the small community of Parsis, ancient Persians who migrated to the India. See you: http://en.antiquitatem.com/exposure-of-corpses-burial-cremation-

Between Mithraism and Christianity there are great similarities in the doctrinal aspect and in the ritual and consequently there was a strong rivalry, which triumphantly came out Christianity from the fourth century, but as at the time the French philologist, philosopher and writer Renan (1823-1892) said in his book "Marcus Aurelius", 579,:

If Christianity had been checked in its growth by some deadly disease, the world would have become Mithraic.”

It is impossible to make a detailed study of the multiple similarities and therefore I will only to point out the most important.

In the doctrinal aspect, both are religions of salvation and  mystery because they promise an eternal life of happiness after death to believer; only initiates participate of the rites, which are secret. Mithra is the intermediary between heaven and hell, between the realms of good and evil. He is the representative of Ahura-Mazda on earth who protects us men from demonic forces of Ahriman. Mithra is the "light of the world", symbol of truth, justice, loyalty. He is also called the "judge of souls" which purified ascend to heaven. Mithra is the heavenly father who receive them in their heavenly mansion. They firmly believe in heaven and hell, survival and resurrection of the body after death, punishment and reward; benevolent God will do justice to the righteous who will grant eternal salvation day of reckoning, when the triumph of light over darkness will definitely occur.

It is also a religion with great moral content, self-control, resistance to sensuality, in which the devotee has to travel a path of purification of seven degrees, until the Father, which is perfect as Mithra, and must to fight the forces of evil. In this struggle he will have the help of Mithra.

This type of religion in which there are no one god but several, though only one of them is superior to the other and the only worthy of worship, it is technically called henotheism them, from the Greek εἷς, ἕν, heis, hen one, and θεός, god, theos, and -ism, one god.

The similarities of the rites of both religions are very striking.

The cult of Mithras is made in natural or manufactured caves but with some element to remember the cave origin, called mithraea,  indicating that its origin is very primitive. In Latin it it is called spelaeum, specus, spelunca (Speleology or study of caves derives from this word), antrum. Precisely the birth of Christ, which the popular devotion placed in a "portal" in the West, in the East it is often presented in a cave. In them the image of Mithra taurocton  or “slaughtering bulls”  ( after the Greek word tauroktonos (ταυροκτόνος; from Latin taurus, bull and Greek κτείνω, kteino, slaughter, kill) appears as the central iconographic motif.

The great feast of the birth of Mithra is celebrated, of course, the day of the winter solstice, December 25.
The centerpiece is the sacrifice, without that implies  that a bull was sacrificed really. Alfred Loisy in his book “The pagan Mysteries and the Christian mystery” tells us: "What is shown is the sacrifice of the bull as the beginning of the blessed life promised to initiate and of virtue that is in the sacred banquet for obtaining that immortality "

Within Mithraic iconography, the image certainly the best known is the taurocton Mitra who presided certainly the sacred space of mithraeum.

I take the exact words of Alfred Loisy to describe it, in a good example of ekphrasis.

Note: écfrasis or ekphrasis, from Greek  ἔκφρασις, 'to explain to the end. An ekphrasis, according to  rhetoric and classical tradition, is a verbal description, in words, of a work of visual art, a painting or a sculpture):

 "... The bull is in a cave, brought down, lying on the ground, the front legs bent over the body, the rear extended; Mithra is on the animal, left knee bent, right leg extended on the right hind leg of the bull; with the left hand lifts the snout of the animal, whose head turns toward the sky, and with his right hand a large knife stabs at birth neck. Mitra himself has his head turned, as if looking behind him, and often with a singular expression of sadness. Generally a crow, left, leans toward him; often in the left corner there is the figure of the sun, to the right of the moon; Below there is a dog which sheds on the blood gushing from the wound, and also a serpent; a scorpion takes the testicles of the expiring beast with its claws and it bites them with its tail; sometimes an ant I also involved; or below the bull  there is a crater with a lion which  seems to look or drink in it, while on the other side, the snake seems to do the same. On each side there is a young, one, Cautes, with a raised torch; and the other, Cautopatés, with a given torch back, both dresses and hairstyles as Mithra. One last thing that should not be the least important: the bull's tail, raised, ends in a bunch of spikes; There are also monuments in which from wound of bull ears instead of blood spring. These ears  are what give meaning to the scene, or it is superfluous look for it.  (Alfred Loisy: Los misterios paganos y el misterio cristiano, pág. 139. Ed.Paidos. Barcelona, 1990)

Tout le monde connaît le type de Cette représentation : dans une caverne, le taureau dompté, tombé à terre, les jambes de devant pliées sous lui, celles de derrière étôndiies; Mithra sur la bête, lé genou gauche plié, la jambe droite allongée sut la cuisse droite du taureau; de la main gâuche il soulevé les
naseaux de l'animal, dont la tête se tourne vers le ciel, et de la main droite il lui enfonce, au défaut de l'épaule, un long Coutelas; Mithra lui-même a la tête tournée, comme regardant derrière lui, et souvent avec une singulière expression de tristesse; ordinairement un corbeau, à gauche. Se penche dé sôft côté; souvent, dans l'angle à gauéhe est la flgute du Soléil, a droite celle de la Lune; en bas, se jetant vers le sang qui jaillît de la blessure, est un chien, aussi un  serpent; un scorpion pince les testicules de la bêté expifànte et les pique dé sa queue; une fourmi quelquefois se met aussi de la fête; ou bien, au-dessous du laureau, un cratère est représenté, un lion a l'air de le garder ou d'y boire, tandis que d'autre part, lé serpent a mine d'en faire autant; de chaque côté, un Jéune homme, l'un, Caulès, avec une torche levée, l'autré, Càutopatès, avec une torche renversée, tous deux vêtus et coiffés comme Mithra; dernier détail, qui ne doit pas être le moins important, la queue du taureau, relevée, se terminé en toufle d'épis ; on signale même dés monuments où ce sont des épis qui jaillissent, au lieu de sang, dé là blèsssure du taureau’. Ce sont ces épis-là qui donnent le mot de la scène, ou bien il est superflu de le chercher.
(Alfred Loisy: Les mystères paíens et le mystère chrétien)

In this iconographic ensemble there is represented the Avestan myth of the slain at the origin bull, from  whose wound  the plants emerged and from their offspring  the species of farm animals born; Mithra killed the bull.

The representation of the sacrifice of the bull is a symbol and  remembrance of the sacrifice of the primeval animal (it was the first living creature that was created by Ahura-Mazda) and cosmic animal that gave rise to life to men. The death of the bull is a symbol of the new year and salvation in the hereafter. So on the mithraeum of Aventine in Rome man reads " You saved men by the shedding of eternal blood."

Another essential element of Mithraic ritual is the celebration of the banquet or Eucharist, where they ate the bread and drank the holy water, which at one point was wine, substitute of the original drink fruit of the poisonous plant of homa, equivalent to "soma "or Hindu sacred drink.

Also an essential element in the rite is baptism or purification by water that the devotee must  to perform in one of the seven steps, and the signal (signatio) in front in the so-called  step "Soldier".

There are many other similarities in theology and ritual we can not comment on this article, such as the clothing of the priests, the initiation ceremony called "sacramentum" because it is a similar sort of oath to the military oath soldiers, the touch of chimes at some point of religious service and so on.

These similarities drew wide attention of the early church fathers, who polemicise sharply with the Mithraists. Indeed most of the details of these rituals we know from the description which   the Christian parents make .

Tertullian is the son of a centurion and he is connoisseur of the Mithraists rites. Certainly he, impressed by the similarities,  only finds an explanation for the many coincidences: these rites and this religion is the work of the devil who is interested in discrediting and extinguish the Christian religion.

Read what he says in his work:


But lastly, from whence (I pray) comes that Interpretation which is the immediate cause of Heresies ? From the devil most certainly, whose grand affair it is to corrupt the truth; and who in his idolatrous mysteries pretends to imitate the sacred rites of the true Religion. He in his turn too baptizes some, namely his own disciples and followers; by washing he promises a purgation from sin, and if I yet remember, Mithra signs his soldiers in their foreheads; he makes an oblation of bread, puts on the form of the resurrection, and withal he crowns them with a mimick martyrdom. To this also may be added, that his chief priest is the husband of one wife, that he hath his virgins and his  continentes. But if we look back upon the superstitions of  Numa Pompilius; if we take a view of the  sacerdotal offices, the marks of honour, and the privileges; if we reflect upon the sacrifical performances, the Instruments and vessels for sacrifices, the variety of vows, and the numerous expiations, we shall manifestly see, that the devil hath had in his eye throughout the whole Institution the scrupulous nicety of imitating the Jewish Law. It is he who hath affected so exactly to express the rites wherewith the Christian sacraments are administered; It is he (I say) that makes use of the same artifice in corrupting the instruments of divine truth and of Christianity, by drawing one sense from another, taking words from words, parables from parables, and adapting all to a profane faith, which bears some faint, some languid resemblance to the true. And therefore no one has any reason to doubt, but that these spiritual wickednesses, from whence Heresies proceed, have sprung from the devil, and that they differ not from idolatry, feeing they both have their rise from the same author, and are both of a like nature. For either heretics feign another od in opposition to the Creator, or if they confess and acknowledge one Creator, they do not allow him these perfections which are truly and properly his; and therefore every lye they tell of god is a species of idolatry. (Translated by Joseph Betty. 1722)

De praescriptione haereticorum, 40

XL. [1] Sed quaeritur, a quo intellectus interuertatur eorum quae ad haereses faciant? [2]  A diabolo scilicet, cuius sunt partes interuertendi ueritatem qui ipsas quoque res sacramentorum diuinorum idolorum mysteriis aemulatur. [3]  Tingit et ipse quosdam utique credentes et fideles suos;
expositionem delictorum de lauacro repromittit, [4]  et si adhuc memini Mithrae, signat illic in frontibus milites suos. Celebrat et panis oblationem et imaginem resurrectionis inducit et sub gladio redimit coronam. [5] Quid, quod et summum pontificem in unis nuptiis statuit? Habet et uirgines, habet et continentes. [6] Ceterum si Numae Pompilii superstitiones reuoluamus, si sacerdotalia officia et insignia et priuilegia, si sacrificantium ministeria et instrumenta et uasa,
ipsorum sacrificiorum
ac piaculorum et uotorum curiositates consideremus, nonne manifeste diabolus morositatem illam Iudaicae legis imitatus est? [7]  Qui ergo ipsas res de quibus sacramenta Christi administrantur, tam aemulanter adfectauit exprimere in negotiis idololatriae, utique et idem et eodem ingenio gestiit et potuit instrumenta quoque diuinarum rerum et sanctorum christianorum, sensum de sensibus, uerba
de uerbis, parabolas de parabolis, profanae et aemulae fidei attemperare. [8]  Et ideo neque a diabolo inmissa esse spiritalia nequitiae, ex quibus etiam haereses ueniunt, dubitare quis debet, neque ab idololatria distare haereses cum et auctoris et operis eiusdem sint, cuius et idololatria.
[9] Deum aut fingunt alium aduersus creatorem aut si unicum creatorem confitentur, aliter eum disserunt quam
in uero est. [10]  Itaque omne mendacium quod de Deo dicunt, quoddammodo genus est idololatriae.

Similarly Justin  expressed himself , also impressed by the similarities of the Christian Eucharist with the Mithraic, including the formulas of consecration, for which, as Tertullian, no other explanation is that the intervention of the devil. So after explaining what the Eucharist is, tells us in Apologia, 1. 66:

CHAP. LXVI.—Of the Eucharist.

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of me,[136] this is my body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is my blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. (Translated by Marcus Dods)

In short, as Loisy says: "The Mysteries of Mithra were a great religion"

All these historical issues have been extensively studied since the late nineteenth century and they are known, but generally they do not reach the public because the authorities and the responsible religious or not know or do not want to know, and much less to transmit to the faithful, whom they  should consider not ready to know the historical truth.

So it causes so much commotion and distress the statements of  hierarchy as simple as that performed by Pope John Paul II on December 21, 1993, when he acknowledged that Christmas Day replaced the pagan festival of the Invincible Sun, which coincided with the solstice Winter. The media news were echo of that and we can  easily locate it in anywhere hemeroteca.

Note: hemeroteca, from Greek hemera (Ἡμέρα), day and theke (θήκη), wardrobe, safe deposit, in which news data and magazines are stored.

The declaration of the successor of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI caused no less surprise and dismay among the faithful devotees, when in November of 2012 he published the book “The childhood of Jesus”, which he recognizes the error of the calendar to set the date of birth of Jesus or he claims that the iconographic elements of birth of Jesus, as the accompaniment of the mule and ox,  are mere ornaments of tradition and they  have nothing to do with historical reality. This suppression of these animals disoriented many citizens practicing religion with apparent naivete.

Well, back to the topic of Mithraism, I will say that Franz Cumont (1868-1947), historian and philologist Belgian, put the basis of historical studies about this religion.  He published a huge documentary work about  that. He, having been a teacher university for several years, was rejected as a professor at the University of Ghent by Catholic education minister. The fact caused a huge media and student campaign  to reject the interference of religion in college.

Another great specialist in the study of the history of the mystery religions was Alfred Loisy (1857-1940), theologian and French priest, contemporary of Cumont. He is considered the founder of modern biblical studies.  He soon came into conflict with the Vatican, which excommunicated him in 1908 and his books were being included each year in the index. The Second Vatican Council rehabilitated him implicitly and partially . His work “Les  païens Mystères and the chrétien Mystère” was published in 1919, but in Spanish it was not until 1967, outside of Spain, of course, entitled The pagan mysteries and the Christian mystery; in Spain was reprinted in 1990. In 1909 he was appointed professor at the prestigious French College (Collège de France) where he taught and researched for many years.

They are really exciting few paragraphs of the preface to the first edition in which we can discover  the consciousness of a man who using the method of history has discovered what he believes to be the truth, but whose publication must certainly cause novelty; he, fearing an unexpected death, believes it is his duty to publish the historical truth that he has found, but it is aware of the need to keep expanding and showing that information.

I transcribe these paragraphs as an example of the difficulties that not long ago and even today, the  historians find, but they  they should only serve historical truth  that the texts transmitted to them:

Life is short, and when man  feels the yours as eminently fragile, man  has, perhaps, the right to say without much delay what he has been believed grasp of truth. An in-depth and thorough of all testimony concerning the pagan mysteries and Christian origins discussion could absorb many stocks, and man is not required at all, no doubt, to be silent about it, waiting for a generation of scholars have thoroughly scrutinized all details.

It is also possible to ask whether it is absolutely essential to have exhausted the question to know what to expect on essential points. Moreover, as it relates to Christian origins, knowledge of the texts is not all  and the total independence of judgment is important. The texts are known and studied from a long time, but criticism hardly differs from the faith, whose oldest documents are those texts. Addressing them without  theological or polemical interest is undoubtedly condition to understand them well from the standpoint of the history. Well, this condition can still to be, at present, a great novelty.

La vie est courte, et, lorsqu'on sent la sienne éminemment fragile, on a peut-être le droit de dire sans trop de retard ce que Von a cru saisir de vérité. Une discussion approfondie et minutieuse de tous les témoignages concernant les mystères païens et les origines chrétiennes pourrait absorber plusieurs existences, et Von n'est point sans doute obligé de se taire sur le sujet en attendant qu'une génération d'érudits en ait minutieusement scruté tous les détails . Il est permis aussi de se demander s'il
est absolument indispensable d'avoir épuisé la question pour savoir à quoi s'en tenir sur les points essentiels. D'ailleurs, en ce qui regarde les origines chrétiennes, la connaissance des textes
n'est pas tout, et tindépendance entière du jugement a son importance. Les textes sont connus et étudiés depuis longtemps, mais la critique est à peine dégagée de la foi dont ces textes sont les plus anciens documents. Les aborder sans aucun intérêt théologique ou polémiqua est sans doute une condition indispensable pour les bien entendre au point de vue de l'histoire. Or cette condition peut encore, à t heure actuelle, passer pour une grande nouveauté.


    No comment published yet.

You must be registered to write a comment.

Esta web utiliza cookies, puedes ver la política de cookies, aquí Si continuas navegando estás aceptándola
Política de cookies +