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the tutelary deity of armies;261 and thanks to the ardent support of the troops, the worship spread rapidly throughout the Roman provinces, especially Gaul, Britain, Germania, and the valley of the Danube, where many centers of Mithraism were established, while slaves and freedmen of private households of Rome, and many who were government officials, were enthusiastic devotees and active in propagating the new religion among the people. The cult attracted little attention till toward the end of the first century A.D.;22 but it had slowly penetrated among the masses, and now was steadily permeating the better classes until it finally won the support of the cream of Roman society and of the highest officials of the State,208 so that during the third and fourth centuries, the worship of Mithras became by far the most influential of all the Oriental rites, before which others faded into comparative insignificance." The cult was the chief exponent of the scientific methods of divination by astrology, and penetrated under cover of the sidereal theology taught by the 'Magi' and 'Chaldæi'; but although its doctrines were accepted, it never received the authority of a State religion. Representing a pantheistic sun-worship, Emperors adopted it and regarded Mithras as the protecting divinity of their imperial power, as the "master and god by right of birth," this being illustrated by the dedication of an altar to Mithras, "fautori imperii sui," by Diocletian at Carnuntum on the Danube in A.D. 307.285 The sun-god Elagabal of Emessa, set up early in 261 Cumont, op. cit., p. 144.
262 H. S. Jones, "Mithraism," in ERE viii, 755-759.
263 It is believed that Commodus was one of the initiates (CIL vi, 2271), his successors were lenient toward the cult, and Alexander Severus showed Mithraism the same respect paid to Christianity.
264 Carter, op. cit., pp. 87-88.
265 Cumont, op. cit., p. 150.
Probably the form for the Hebrew word meaning 'Mountain
the third century A.D., was superseded by the Aurelian State cult of Sol Invictus, a name under which Mithras was absorbed into the solar pantheon as 'invictus Mithras' and 'deus Sol invictus Mithras'; and, until the conquest of Constantine overwhelmed paganism, Mithraism bade fair to become a world-wide religion.
Mithras was beneficent, the friend of mankind who had furnished the moisture essential to life, and was represented as sacrificing the bull, the source of all generation, by whose death he overcame unrighteousness, and spreading its blood, which impregnated all things, brought about fertility and regeneration. Mithras personified moral light, truth and justice,267 the two essentials developed in the Mithraic theology as necessary for purity, moral and mystic, and the conception of the destiny of the soul after death. Life was an ordeal, a struggle against evil. Purity, in thought, word, and action, was indispensable to victory. After death came the judgment, the soul being condemned to torture in the abyss with Ahriman; or, protected and assisted by Mithras, shaking off all earthly taint, was accorded the privilege of returning through the seven planetary spheres to the eighth heaven and there enjoying the sublime essence, the light in which the gods sojourned in an eternal beatitude. The romantic story of Mithras' struggles for humanity, as the minister of Ahura Mazda, together with the profoundly religious content of his doctrines of redemption, salvation, and the attainment of ideal hopes of immortality, of which the taurobolium,268 or baptism of blood, was the pledge, made the strongest possible appeal to the deepest emotions; while initiation in the seven grades of the Mithraic Mysteries, from Corax (the Raven) to Pater (Father) (CIL vi, 749-753; Jerome, Epistolæ, cvii, ad Lætam; Tertullian, 267 Reinach, Cults, Myths, and Religions, pp. 180 ff.
268 Frazer, op. cit., i, 274; also Showerman, in ERE xii, 214-215.
op. cit., 8) gave full assurance of forgiveness of sins by expiation and personal consecration to the god. Mithraism, a religion of revelation which brought light and purity to the minds of men, banished all evil, and inculcated the brotherhood of man, became the most formidable antagonist of Christianity and at one time threatened to prevail over it.209
Little is known of the rites of the cult, which appear to have consisted in the usual lustrations, libations, and sacrifice, and, in addition, initiation in the Mysteries with their revelations. The seven degrees of Mithraism corresponded to the seven zones through which the soul of the deceased must pass for its several transformations before reaching that of eternal peace. The initiation, which gave the worship its originality and strength, was designed as an earthly rehearsal to prepare the soul for the vicissitudes it was assumed it would meet on its journey after death, and the requirements for passage through the gates of each of these zones to its home of eternal rest.270 These ceremonies, conducted in costume and character appropriate to the several grades, are asserted to have been ordeals by fire, cold, hunger, thirst, etc., with the requirement of showing steadfastness in the face of threats of death (Tertullian, de Corona, 15). The communities of the cult acquired an internal solidarity. The members were called brothers (fratres), and all others were excluded from its temples." The ceremonies of the cult were conducted in small underground chapels (spelaa or Mithræa, CIL iii, 4420), holding not more than one hundred each, on the walls of which were depicted the slaying of the bull by the god. The largest Mithræum known was discovered in 1912 in the Thermæ Caracallæ
269 Carter, op. cit., pp. 120 ff., 138 ff.
270 Jones, in ERE viii, 756; also Elderkin, Kantharos, p. 32. 271 Toutain, op. cit., ii, 121-177.
in Rome, with an inscription to Zeus-Helios-SerapisMithras. Mithraism was essentially a man's religion; and since its votaries wished their wives to have similar religious advantages, a union was made with certain female cults which supplied to them what Mithraism could not offer, a notable example being the alliance with the worship of Magna Mater. 272
The priests of Mithras were past masters in the arts of magic and the pseudo-science of astrology, and the cult concerned itself with politics, science, etiquette, and personal affairs. Healing was a prominent part of the cult functions; and the priests cured the sick by divination, astrology, magic, and the use of medicinal herbs which had sprung from the blood of the bull.273
The festival of December 25, sacred to Sol Invictus (Natalis invicti Solis), was in practice a festival of the nativity of Mithras, the Unconquered Sun (Soli invicto Mithra), although the rites were addressed to the Sun as the State deity.275 In the fourth century A.D., the day was adopted by the Western and Eastern branches of the Christian Church (at Antioch about A.D. 375) as the true date of the Nativity of Christ.276
SABAZIUS, originally a Thracian or Phrygian deity of a nature similar to that of Dionysos, was the presiding divinity of a mystic and orgiastic cult which invaded Rome from Greece. The Romans associated him with Iupiter as Iupiter-Sabazius; but though it is said that he was known in Rome during the Republic, there appears to be
272 Cumont, Mysteries, p. 179; also Jones, op. cit., in ERE viii, 759. 273 Bruzon, op. cit., pp. 136, 138.
274 Cumont, Textes, ii, 99 ff.
no positive proof that the cult and its mysteries, the Sacra Savadia, gained a foothold in the city and in Italy before A.D. 2.277 The worship was attached to that of Magna Mater and was finally absorbed by it. In the late period, holy marriages, or sex communion with the god or goddess, was a part of its mysteries as conveying a sense of deity, and this was assailed as obscene by the early Christian Fathers, though it was claimed that the ritual was only symbolic and was at most only very indirectly detrimental to morals.
Sabazius was a healing deity, acclaimed a second Esculapius. His hand had both prophylactic and therapeutic powers, and healing by the laying-on of hands was common in his cult. The right hand of the god placed on the abdomen warded off evil, assisted child-birth, and effected delivery; while, with at least three fingers outstretched, it was used in healing and as a symbol of protection and blessing. It was customary for women who had been assisted in confinement to dedicate votive hands to Sabazius in gratitude, and many such offerings have been found with fingers open, and often with figures of animals, or of the eagle and the eagle-stone, carved upon them, supposed to represent the 'healing hand of Sabazius. 278 The serpent was the emblem of the divinity, and his initiates wore a golden snake attached to the breast of their garments (Clemens Alexandrinus, Protrepticus, ii, 16, p. 14, ed. Potter).
SERAPIS was a prominent divinity of the later Egyptian pantheon who, through the influence of Ptolemy I, supplanted Osiris and Apis, acquired their functions and 277 Wissowa, op. cit., p. 376.
278 Weinreich, op. cit., pp. 16, 18, 28.