The cult of Mithras is a very helpful alternative for a comparability with Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, as a result of a number of components of Mithraic faith have been adopted by early Christians (the clue is within the identify – it’s a Roman faith!). Historical Mithraists shared a ritual meal of bread and wine, similar to early Christians (although the Christian element of the unleavened bread comes from the Jewish Passover). Each Mithras and Jesus have been related to mild and the solar. The early Christians intentionally took over Mithras’ birthday on the 25th December to have a good time the birthday of Jesus as an alternative, a date conveniently near the Roman winter competition of Saturnalia (17-23 December), although nowhere close to the place the Christian gospels would place the delivery of Jesus (if there have been shepherds out all evening watching sheep and lambs, it should have been spring). And, like most thriller cults, Mithraism supplied private salvation on this life and the subsequent, simply as Christianity did. In 1882, a historian known as Ernest Renan truly recommended that if Christianity had not taken over the Roman world, Mithraism would have achieved – most trendy historians would disagree with that, however the affiliation has caught.
Nevertheless, some components of the “Mithraic” faith within the present could be fully unrecognizable to an historical follower of Mithras. Historical Mithraism was not a monotheistic faith. The thriller cults included cults to the Egyptian goddess Isis, the Anatolian goddess Cybele, the Greek god Dionysus and the Greek hero Orpheus, they usually weren’t rivals to historical pagan faith usually; they have been add-ons. Everybody within the Roman Empire (besides Jews) was anticipated to worship the principle state gods – Jupiter, Juno, Neptune and so forth – in addition to the cult of the emperors who had change into gods (i.e. those who hadn’t been assassinated).
We name them “thriller cults” as a result of the rituals they practiced, the “mysteries” or “secret rites”, have been stored secret from anybody who wasn’t initiated into the cult. They have been members-only golf equipment, which you needed to pay to affix, and undergo an initiation ritual. We don’t know precisely what these have been like as a result of, in fact, they have been a secret! Solely members may be taught the secrets and techniques of the god or goddess and participate within the secret ceremonies. Like trendy Freemasonry, historical Mithraism additionally allowed members to rise by the ranks of the cult, gaining completely different ranges as they went. Additionally like Freemasonry, and in contrast to the opposite thriller cults, membership was normally restricted to males.
All because of this plenty of the attitudes of the “Mithraic” on the present would sound fully bizarre to historical Mithraists. They might be particularly confused by the Mithraic reliance on a ebook of “Scriptures”, because it was forbidden on ache of loss of life to jot down down something concerning the sacred mysteries or the secrets and techniques of the cult. Most of what we learn about historical Mithraism, we’ve put collectively from photographs and inscriptions from inside the key chamber of the Mithraeum. This was a spot of worship designed to seem like a cave, which solely individuals who had been initiated into the cult have been allowed to enter, so nobody exterior the cult would see the pictures or know the cult’s secrets and techniques. The concept any group would solely be allowed to listen to tales from “Scriptures” represents an excessive minority even for Christianity, however would have been fully complicated to historical Mithraist.
Historical Mithraists have been additionally extraordinarily unlikely to get entangled in any form of holy battle. As a result of the cult was an add-on to the worship of many gods, the members of the cult could be concerned in worshipping plenty of different gods anyway, with Mithras as an added private additional. Historical folks usually weren’t too eager on atheists, as any refusal to sacrifice to the gods may endanger everybody if the gods obtained offended about it, so a holy battle towards atheists may be extra doubtless than one towards one other faith, but it surely wouldn’t be as a result of they thought the atheists ought to all worship their one particular god.