Mithraism

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Related to mithraistic: Zoroastrianism

Mithraism

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall! Rome is above the nations, but Thou art over all! ("A Song to Mithras," by Rudyard Kipling)

Mithras, "the soldier's god," was worshiped in Rome for more than three hundred years. Because the rites were so secret, there is no written record and very little other evidence indicating what that worship consisted of. Tradition identifies him with a Persian god who belonged to the pantheon ruled over by the great god, Ahura Mazda (see Ahura Mazda/Ahriman), the god of goodness. Ahura Mazda fought the evil god Ahriman for the souls of humanity and the fate of the world. As the incarnation of Ahura-Mazda on earth, Mithras's job was to be the "judger of souls." He labored to protect the souls of the righteous from the demonic hoard of Ahriman. Persian tradition said Mithras was the one born of Anahita, the immaculate virgin called "the Mother of God." She conceived him from the seed of Zoroaster (later called Zarathustra by the Greeks) that had been preserved in the waters of Lake Hamun in the province of Sistan in Persia. Called "the Light of the World," Mithras was the mediator between heaven and Earth. Born in midwinter, he remained celibate all his life. Striding forth into the coldness of the world, he killed the sacred bull and offered the blood of the sacrifice to his followers. In ritual celebration, they drank wine that was said to have turned into blood and ate the bread of the sacrifice after an initiation ceremony consisting of a ritual baptism. They worshiped on Sunday and celebrated the birth of the Hero, Mithras, on December 25th. After Mithras finished the work he had been sent to do, he ate a last supper with his followers and ascended into heaven to watch over them until the Day of Judgment, when good and evil would be separated.

The resemblance to Christianity is remarkable. And Mithraism arose in the Roman world at the same time Christianity did. Origen and Jerome, early Church fathers, noted the amazing resemblance and commented on it.

Although no written records have survived, many inscriptions to Mithras have been discovered and a series of Mithraistic temples in Italy have been excavated, one existing right under the present Church of Saint Clemente, near the Coliseum in Rome.

No one has seriously suggested that Mithraism was the sole inspiration for Christianity. Early Christian sources are simply too well documented. But the resemblance and the timing is too perfect to be totally coincidental. Early Christianity borrowed from many religious traditions (see Christianity, Development of) and very probably was influenced in some way by Mithraism.