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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 6. Symbols of Mithra.

To point to these Mithraic monuments, of which there are so many examples, is to point out, further, that the old Persian aversion to images of deity had disappeared with the extension of the Mithraic cultus. 2 There is no doubt as to the original forbiddal of images, despite the common delusion that the Jews were the first to lay down such a veto. But it was inevitable that, in the artistic countries, 3 the adoption of Mithraism should involve the representing Mithra by images, like other deities. Nor was this all. One reason for regarding the Zend-Avesta as substantially ancient is the comparative simplicity of the Mithra cultus it sets forth. Just as happened with Christianity later, the spreading faith assimilated all manner of ancient symbolisms, and new complications of ritual; and Mithra is associated with the strange symbolic figures of the lion-headed serpentine God, bearing two keys, but above all is presented in that of the slayer of the bull. Whence came that conception? There are many explanations. It has been variously decided that the bull slain by Mithra is the symbol of the earth, the symbol of the moon, the symbol of the sun, the symbol of lust, the symbol of evil, the symbol of the cloud, the bull of the Zodiac, and the cosmogonic bull of the Magian system. 4 All of these conceptions

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may be held to connect with the symbolism of the Veda, where Agni is the bull; and it is in a similarly early sense, as the Sun-God among the cows, that Mithra is in the Avesta the bull and the cow-stealer 1—which last name he retains in the late Roman period, 2 when he has the epithet in common with Hermes. On the basis of the primitive nature-myth arose a host of imageries, all interfluent and inseparable, because all fanciful. Any one who has followed the maze of symbolism in Plutarch's Isis and Osiris will be prepared to believe that for the later ancients Mithra as the bull had half-a-dozen significations. 3 In that famous treatise, Isis and Osiris and Typhon successively represent a number of different Nature-forces—sun, moon, moisture, the Nile, the Earth, generative warmth, injurious heat, and so on—shifting and exchanging their places, till it becomes plain that the old theosophy was but a ceaseless flux of more or less congruous fancies. We may be sure that Mithraism was as hospitable to mystic meanings as Osirianism. It is intelligible and probable that Mithra slaying the bull should have meant for many the rays of the sun penetrating the earth, and so creating life for mundane creatures, 4 as the dog feeds on the blood 5 of the slain bull. In the Vendidâd, the older (Vedic) God Yima, whose "glory" was secured by Mithra when Yima fell through disobedience, 6 is represented as "sealing the earth with his golden seal," and thrusting into it with his dagger, 7 which is perhaps the earliest form of the myth under notice.

But those who adopt this as the whole explanation 8 overlook a principle perhaps bound up with the origin of Mithraism proper—the significance of the bull as one of those signs of the zodiac through which the sun passed in his annual course. It is nearly certain that the zodiac was the source of very much of the later symbolism and mysticism of those ancient cults which their priesthoods associated

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with the sun, not to speak of those whose priesthoods professedly repudiated sun-worship. And one of the most important facts established by the collection and comparison of ancient monuments 1 is, that the Mithraic cultus connects symbolically with an Assyrian or Akkadian cultus far older—the cult which produced those common Assyrian monuments in which a divine or kingly personage slays a lion or a bull, thrusting a sword through him. 2 There can be little doubt that these successive religious representations of the slaying of the lion and the slaying of the bull rest partly on a zodiacal system of sacred symbolism, in which the slaying of a given animal means either the passing of the sun into or out of a particular sign of the zodiac at a particular season of the year, or the slaying of the animal represented as a special sacrifice, or both.

The zodiac, which is of immense antiquity, 3 has come to be conventionalised—that is to say, it is fixed, so that the signs have long ceased to coincide with the actual constellations whose names they bear. But originally the students of the stars must needs have had regard to the actual constellations. And this carries us very far back indeed. The view that the slaying of the bull originally pointed to the sun's entering the sign of the Bull at either the vernal equinox or the winter solstice 4 is supported by the circumstance that the bull was at once a symbol of the Sun-God and a symbol of agriculture, the early plough being drawn by bulls or oxen (whence possibly the naming of the constellation); 5 and is

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strongly suggested further by the hostile function assigned in the monuments to the Scorpion, which is the opposing sign, and would represent the autumnal equinox. 1 This symbol then dates back, probably, more than 3,000 years before the Christian era—6,000 years if we assume the original zodiacal year to have begun at the winter solstice; while the symbol of the slaying of the lion would signify the sun's entrance into Leo at midsummer in the same periods, and may connect with the worship of Tammuz, after whom the midsummer month was named in Syria—unless the God took his name from the month. In point of fact, astronomy tells us that, by the precession of the equinoxes, the constellation of the Bull had ceased to be the sun's place at the vernal equinox for about 2,100 years before the reign of Augustus, the constellation of the Ram taking its place. Still, just as the symbol of the slaying of the lion had, on this theory, held its ground in religion after the bull played a similar part, so did the sign of the Bull play its part in symbol and ceremony long after the sun had begun to enter the constellation Aries at the sacred season. Nevertheless—and this seems a crowning vindication of the zodiacal theory—while the bull holds its place on the monuments of the Christian era, we find at this very period, in connection with the worship of Mithra as with those of Dionysos 2 and (more anciently) of Amun, 3 an actual ceremony of slaying a ram in honour of the Sun-God. In Persia, the sign Aries, the Ram, was known as the Lamb; 4 and in some of the Mithraic mysteries at the Christian era, it was a lamb that was slain. 5 That fact, as we shall see, has further bearings; but thus far it surely counts for much as a proof of the zodiacal element in the symbolism of the ancient sophisticated sun worships. The notion of a Fish God is deeply rooted in several of the older eastern religions, 6 and though it may be explained as arising from the fancy that the sun was a fish, who plunged into the sea in the evening and emerged in the morning—a natural type of immortality for later mystics—it also strongly suggests an ancient connection with zodiacal astrolatry.

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[paragraph continues] In any case, there is no more plausible explanation than the zodiacal one of the early Christian habit of calling Jesus Christ the Fish. The sign of the Fishes comes next the Ram in the zodiac; and that constellation had actually taken the place of the Ram, at the spring equinox, when this symbol came into use. 1

We may further infer, when we read of Phrixos, the son of Athamas, who was carried to Colchis by a ram with a golden fleece, 2 and who in his statue on the Acropolis was represented as having "just sacrificed the ram to some God," 3 that in some eastern cult 4 which the Greeks misunderstood, a deity was latterly figured as borne on the zodiacal Ram, in the manner of Mithras "bull-borne," 5 and as sacrificing the ram in its turn. And that there was a constant astronomical significance in the Mithraic cult in particular, we know from the testimony of Origen, to the effect that its mysteries included an elaborate representation of the movements and relations of the stars and the planets, and the movements of the disembodied human soul among these. 6

Every widespread religion, however, is necessarily a complex of many ideas, and in the cult of Mithra this is abundantly seen. In the course of its western evolution it became closely associated, like that of Attis, with the popular worship of Cybelê, the Magna Mater, Mother of the Gods; 7 and in virtue of Roman military tradition it was bracketed with that of many specifically Roman deities. In the Mithraic cave-temples have been found images and names of Juno, Minerva, Apollo, Mars, Bacchus, Mercury, and Venus, "and especially Silvanus, who had taken on the character of a pantheistic God, doubtless because he was the Latin equivalent of the Greek Pan."' This, by the way, is not the sole reason for approximating Mithra to Pan." 8 A collocation of the Sun-God with the Goat-God occurs constantly in Greek mythology, and can be clearly traced back to the Babylonian system, on which Mithraism had independently drawn. 9 The image of the slaying of the bull, in particular, whatever its original bearing, came to be associated

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specially with the idea of sacrifice and purification; and the great vogue of the Phrygian institutions of the Taurobolium and Criobolium, 1 or purification by the blood of bulls and rams, must have reacted on Mithraism, even if it were not of strictly Mithraic origin. Mithra, like Osiris 2 and Dionysos, 3 we saw, 4 was the bull as well as the God to whom the bull was sacrificed, even as Amun, to whom rams were sacrificed, was "the great ram"; 5 and herein lies one of the germs of the dogma of the death and resurrection of the God; another being the ancient astronomic myth, to which we shall come later, of the Descent of the God to Hades. In the procedure of the Taurobolia and Criobolia, which grew very popular in the Roman world, 6 we have the literal and original meaning of the phrase "washed in the blood of the lamb"; the doctrine being that resurrection and eternal life were secured by drenching or sprinkling with the actual blood of a sacrificial bull or ram, often doubtless a lamb, that being a common sacrifice from time immemorial, on the ground that for certain purposes the victim must be sexually pure. Thus we have such mortuary inscriptions as Taurobolio criobolioque in aeternum renatus, "By the bull-sacrifice and the ram-sacrifice born again for eternity." 7 But inasmuch as there was a constant tendency in the mystical systems to substitute symbolism for concrete usages, the Mithraists may be surmised to have ultimately performed their sacrificial rites in a less crude form than that described by Prudentius. 8


298:2 Cumont, i, 10, note; i, 236, note.

298:3 I do not quite follow Canon Rawlinson's meaning in the statement (Seventh Oriental Monarchy, p. 632), that "the Persian system was further tainted with idolatry in respect of the worship of Mithra." For that matter, however, the "idolatry" of antiquity in general is on all fours with the reverence of images under Christianity.

298:4 Cp. Hammer-Purgstall, Mithriaca, Caen and Paris, 1833, p. 31; Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon, col. 3051-3: Creuzer, Das Mithrēum von Neuenheim, p. 31; Darmesteter, Ormazd et Ahriman, pp. 144-153; Baur, Das manichäische Religionssystem, 1831, p. 91; Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, iii, 361; and Hyde, as there cited. Darmesteter holds that the p. 299 bull, like the Vedic cow, = the cloud; that its seed is the rain (p. 149); and that its true slayer is the serpent (p. 153). In the zodiac, the bull was domus Veneris. But the idea that the bull or ram symbolised lust could well be primary; and in the Persian myth the ram helps to lead the first man and woman into sin (Spiegel, Erân. Alterthumsk., i, 511-512; Bundahish., xv, 13). For Porphyry, the God (Mithra) who was a stealer of oxen was secretly concerned with generation (De antro, xviii). As to the primeval ox, source of all animals, see the Bundahish, iii, 4-18; iv, 1, etc. (West's Pahlavi Texts, i, 17-20. S.B.E. vol. v).

299:1 Mihir Yasht, xxii, 86.

299:2 Firmicus, De errore, v, calls him abactor boum. Cp. Commedianus, Instructiones, i, 13(cited by Windischmann, p. 64, and by Cumont, ii, 9),who speaks of the cows as hidden in a cave; and Porphyry, as last cited.

299:3 For Porphyry, Mithra is "the Bull Demiourgos" and "lord of genesis" (De antro, xxiv).

299:4 This interpretation is clearly adopted in one monument which makes ears of corn instead of blood come from the bull's wound. Cumont, ii, 228.

299:5 For another signification of the dog here, see Mr. King's Gnostics and their Remains, 2nd ed. p. 137. Compare the Osirian theory in Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, c. 44.

299:6 Zamyâd Yasht, vii, 35.

299:7 Vendidâd, Fargard, ii, 10, 14, 18 (32-3).

299:8 King, pp. 135-6.

300:1 See the series in Lajard's Atlas. Professor Cumont, while of course rejecting Lajard's theory that Mithraism originated in the Assyrian system, recognises that the planetary and zodiacal elements in Mithraism were certainly borrowed by it from the ancient Chaldean system; and that in general Chaldean elements were early superimposed upon the Iranian when the cults met at Babylon (Textes et Monuments, i, 73, 109).

300:2 Sometimes in the Persian period a griffin or dragon (pronounced by Justi, Gesch. des alten Persiens, p. 109, to be the Arimanian beast) takes the place of the lion or bull. See the figure from Persepolis in Ancient Calendars and Constellations, by the Hon. Emmeline E. Plunkett, 1903, p. 64. Miss Plunkett points out that this figure is a compound of the four zodiacal figures, the Bull, the Lion, the Scorpion, and the Eagle. The bull and the lion, as well as this composite, appear in Persian sculpture of the age of Xerxes, evidently following the Assyrian models. Reber, History of Ancient Art, Eng. tr. 1883, pp. 123-5. Again, there is a presumption that the design of a lion attacking a bull or an ilcorn, seen on a number of ancient coins in Asia Minor, and even in Macedonia, is a symbol analogous to that of Mithra slaying the bull (see Parker and Ainsworth's Lares and Penates, 1853, p. 187, where the explanation given will not stand). Persia is still the "Land of the Lion and the Sun." Cp. the figures on the palace of Xerxes, reproduced by Justi, p. 106.

300:3 Cp. Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 397-8; Narrien, Histor. Account of the Orig. and Prog. of Astronomy, 1850, pp. 79-83, 126-137; Tiele, Hist. comp. des anciennes relig. Fr. tr. 1882, p. 248; Cumont, Textes et Monuments, i, § 6; Jensen, Kosmologie der Babylonier, 1890, pp. 57-95; Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia, and Assyria, 1898, pp. 434, 456. The careful argument of Letronne (Mélanges d’érudition et de critique historique; Origin des Zodiaques) to show that the zodiac originated with the Greeks is exploded by the discoveries of Assyriology. The ideas of Macrobius and of Dupuis and Volney, which Letronne undertook to overthrow, are thus in large measure rehabilitated. See R. Brown. jun., Eridanus: River and Constellation, 1883; The Phainomena of Aratos, 1885; and Primitive Constellations of the Greeks, Phœnicians, and Babylonians, 1899. The point is newly established in Miss Plunkett's work, above cited, which is an important contribution to astronomical mythology, though not very advanced in Biblical matters.

300:4 The latter is the hypothesis argued for by Miss Plunkett, work cited, p. 18 sq.

300:5 Sayce, p. 48. "The title given to Merodach, the Sun-God, when he passed through the twelve zodiacal signs, was Gudi-bir, 'the bull of light.'"—Cp. pp. 290, 292.

301:1 Lenormant (Chaldean Magic, p. 56) rejects the idea that there was an astronomical significance in the Assyrian bull-slaying; but his arguments do not amount to a refutation. He rests his denial on one fragment of a conjuration, which makes demons bulls.

301:2 The ram "supplied the favourite Dionysiak sacrifice." R. Brown, The Great Dionysiak Myth, ii, 65. In one version of the Dionysiak myth. Zeus changes Dionysos into a ram to save him from Herê. Smith's Dict., art. Dionysus, citing Hyginus and Theon. Cp. Herodotus, ii, 42.

301:3 Herodotus, as cited.

301:4 Bundahish, ii, 2. In this list of the zodiacal constellations the Lamb comes first, then the Bull.

301:5 Garucci, Les Mystères du Syncrétisme Phrygien, p. 34. A ram was the first sacrifice offered by the first man and woman in the in the Persian myth; and they, as we saw (p. 294) are specially associated with Mithra.

301:6 Cp. the illustrations collected in W. Simpson's Jonah, 1899.

302:1 Cp. Gerald Massey, Natural Genesis, i, 454, ii, 389, sq., and the plate in Simpson's Jonah, p. 263, with the fish on the head of the Horus-bearing Isis. Horus had long been "the Fish."

302:2 Apollodorus, i, 9, § 1.

302:3 Pausanias, i, 24.

302:4 One of the children of Athamas in the myth is Melicertes = Melkarth. The story being one of child sacrifice by way of averting a drought, it has analogies to the myth of Abraham and Isaac, which is a late sophistication of an earlier legend. See Frazer, G. B. ii, 35, as to the Greek development of the myth.

302:5 Such a figure is found in Egypt—Harpocrates (Hor-pi-Khrot, "Horus the child") riding on a ram. See Erman, Handbk. of Eg. Relig. Eng. tr. p. 323. This may or may not be the ground of the Greek myth.

302:6 Against Celsus, vi, 22.

302:7 Roscher, 3043-4; Cumont, Textes et Monuments, i, 161, 333.

302:8 Roscher, 3045; Cumont, i, 147-8.

302:9 See Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 318-26.

303:1 Referred to by Firmicus, c. 28.

303:2 Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, cc. 20, 29, 39.

303:3 Plutarch, Quæstiones Græcæ, 36.

303:4 Above, p. 299. So in the Babylonian system "the Sun-God eventually became the monster slain by a solar hero." Sayce, p. 293. Cp. Hubert et Mauss, Essai sur le sacrifice, in L’Année Sociologique, ii, 129.

303:5 Tiele, Egyptian Religion, p. 147.

303:6 Gibbon, Bohn ed. ii, 145, note.

303:7 Given in note on Firmicus in ed. Hackiana, 1672, p. 56. See it also in Orelli, No. 2352, and in Cumont, Inscr. 17 (ii, 96). See further in Cumont, Nos. 20-24, and in Orelli, Nos. 1899, 1900, 2130, 2199, 2322, 2326, 2328, 2330, 2331, 2351, 2353, 2361. Compare Boeckh, 6012, b, c. Here the taurobolium and criobolium are directly connected with Mithraism; and it would appear from Strabo (xv, 3, § 14) that the Mazdeans practised something very like it, slaying victims over pits into which the blood dripped. Concerning the taurobolium at Athens, see Dittenberger, Inscr. Atticæ æt. Roman. 172. 173. Cp. King, Gnostics, p. 154.

303:8 De Coronis. Hymn X, 1009-1050. The initiate was placed in a pit over which there was a grating. On this was placed the animal to be slain—young bull or young ram—and the blood dropped on the votary beneath, See Cumont, i, 187, 334, as to the origins and vogue of the Taurobolium (properly Tauropolium).

Next: § 7. The Cultus