This place is blessed, holy, observant and bounteous: Mithras has marked it!
The Tauroctony/Spring Equinox/Full Moon will take place this coming Wednesday at 5:58PM. What a wonderful time as I’ll be home, awake and prepared! Not the usual combo, I can assure you.
[Strewing barley] Hail and welcome, bright-eyed Athena! Please accept these offerings in thanks for your guidance and support!
And it’s the prep that is currently consuming my mind, which is nice as I’ve been kinda sluggish recently. I have three different lists going (things I have, things I want, things I need to get.) I have about three lines of praise for the Lord of Light, which is cool because, as I told the wife over dinner, I just don’t do solemn.
Hail and welcome, Mithras! Today, at this hour, Your labors on our behalf are complete! Boreus has given way to Zephyrus as Sol’s glorious chariot enters the Ram.
My mental image of the upcoming event will take place on the patio. It was hot for Spring today, so I raked and blew it clean of leaves. I know which tablecloth I’ll use and my goal is to lay out a sumptuous feast. Happily the wife was just as enthusiastic as me, and together we were throwing out ideas.
The fruits of Your labor are before You. Rejoice and rest. Enjoy this bountiful feast prepared in Your honor.
So, here are the lists, as you’ve already seen my lines of praise. 😉
Things I have: Tauroctony image, Bull’s Blood wine, Skinny (the cow hide), incense, the super-secret sacred something of my spelaeum, pine cones, hummus, pita, olives, olive oil, dates, almonds, water, honey, barley, a knife…
Things I want: Greenery, fresh pine cones…
Things I need to get: Meat to stab, bread, more barley, mint, figs…
And here’s the fun image for the day. I went up to the butcher at my local high-end food store, phone in hand, gallery queued. I showed him the picture of my sister before the tauroctony at Lens and zoomed in on Mithras’ hand. “I want the cut of meat where His hand is.” He didn’t bat an eye. “That’s the neck, you want a chuck roast.”
(Their quotes, not mine…. though, frankly, I agree with them.)
noun: liturgy; plural noun: liturgies
a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.
It was surprisingly easy to get a copy of the Hans Dieter Betz translation of The “Mithras Liturgy”, and I urge you to do the same. Inter-library loans are your friend! My borrowed copy didn’t even have to leave the state, coming to me from Princeton.
I wanted to see/read how complete a ritual T”ML” was thought to be. I went so far as to type it up, so as to REALLY pay attention to what I was reading. I can now say that I’m just not seeing what others might.
In the context of a ritual, I call upon Mithras by name. I don’t beat around the bush and allude to Him. Sure, I might add some pretty epitaphs, if I’m feeling really churchy, but coy I am not. MY Mithras is a soldier; He’s filthy, bone-weary exhausted, hungry, parched, but He’s also ready to fight, no matter what. I don’t see Him as, [line 696] “…immensely great, with a shining face,  youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic  and a golden crown and trousers, and holding in his right hand  a golden / shoulder of a young calf.” I’m adding the next line as a curiosity:  “This is the Bear which moves and turns the heavenly vault…”
You know what I get out of the above description? Some serious awareness-altering drugs were in use at the time of writing. Kinda makes me think of John on the island, eating the local flora, and writing Revelations.
That being said, I still want serious followers to read it. Just because I thought it was far too purple, doesn’t mean there isn’t something new to learn. I’m a big fan of the Queen Mother of the West, which is a sidebar to my actual love, the Shan hai Jing. (See! The things you don’t know about me are legend.) And Auntie, as She is known, is “fond of whistling.” Well, T”ML” is full of vox magica, which I apparently find charming.
And I’m going to conclude with one more snippet of Pattie info for your evening: I’m also a certified herbalist. Why do I mention this? Because the last hundred or so lines of T”ML” are how to make the mind-altering drug needed to see the white clad god mentioned above, but most importantly, how to identify the plants needed. Seriously, the author went on and on about an herb called Kentritis. Seems it was his bae. Sadly, it’s also unknown.
But I ask you, good men, how can anyone live without the occasional snack? Suetonius, Claudius 40
When thinking of the food/feasting that was present in any given mithraeum, it’s always important to consider several things: the season, what was available locally, the number of members, the “event”, and that eternally crucial consideration, the cost. (While we’d all like to be able to “spare no expense,” it isn’t always possible or practical, so we’ll assume this last one and move on.)
It’s the height of summer here in lovely NJ, and the summer fruits are everywhere. I’m sure the exact same thing was happening at Lentia in Noricum where archaeologists collected about 8.5 pounds of cherry stones. What does this tell us about this mithraeum?
That it was in use during the summer, that cherries were available locally, that feasting wasn’t limited to wine, meat, and bread and perhaps, most importantly, that many went home with stained fingers.
Clauss (p 115) gives us a nice shopping list of the kinds of food finds that send me running for my copy of Apicius. Meats came in the form of: cattle, pigs, sheep, lamb, goats, fish, shellfish, chicken and geese, as well as eggs. We know wine was important to Romans, and that water was important to Mithras. From the Earth we know that cherries, grapes, plums, damson, apples and walnut remains have been found.
And not all of this waste was disposed of thoughtlessly. Many mithraea had a refuse pit, within the actual building, to collect the remains of meals that were (we assume) purpose cooked. We suppose this means that an animal, sacrificed for some event, was then cooked to be consumed by the members. These bones couldn’t be tossed on the garbage pile, so were buried in the floor before the altar like honored guests.
In a video that is currently making the rounds, we see benches supporting bowls and plates on either side of the door to the central aisle of the Mithraeum of Symphorus.
But there is no evidence of food in the video. IMO, it’s coming, much like waiting for the pizza to be delivered. Whoever was in charge of food for the event will bring it. Sure there were mithraea where cooking/reheating could be done on site (and this might be the case in the video and is simply a detail the artist omitted) but again, we’re forced to consider the size of the mithraeum in question, the financial means and, lets face it, the actual cooking skills of the members.
I recently spoke of holidays and imagined a member of the local mithraeum (let’s call him Marcus) kissing his wife (let’s call her Marcella) goodbye as he departs to celebrate Mithras’ birth. Let’s conjure Marcus up again, only this time Marcella’s handing him a large basket, stuffed with straw that’s blanketing a covered pot. It’s still hot, she tells him, but reminds him how to reheat it if they get to talking and the dish cools. Marcus heads out, knowing that other members were ordered to bring food, and that bread and wine will be provided by the mithraeum’s finances, so the feast is going to be awesome… especially if someone brings cherries.
What Marcella might have made…
From a different translation of Apicius, Roman Cookery by J. Edwards. This book catches a lot of flack from “real” reconstructionists, but not from me. I’ll cook/eat just about anything and I don’t care how adapted the recipe is.
Roasted Duck in Spiced Gravy
3 lb duck (or a chicken, as your purse allows!)
3 Cups water
1/4 t aniseed
2 T olive oil
1 Cup duck stock (this is the reserved broth)
1 t oregano
1 T coriander
1/2 c boiled red wine
Simmer duck in water and aniseed for 30 minutes. Remove duck to a roasting pan, reserving broth. Season duck with olive oil, oregano and coriander. Pour reserved stock into pan and roast duck for 1 hour at 375°, basting from time to time. Add boiled wine to pan and cook 30 minutes longer.
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 t celery seed
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t coriander
pinch of fennel
1/2 t rosemary
1/2 c boiled red wine
dash wine vinegar
1 c gravy from roasting pan
2 T red wine
1 T flour
Grind spices in a mortar (or mortarium if you have one!) Add spices to boiled wine, vinegar and gravy from pan. Bring mixture to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for a few minutes to blend flavors. Make a slurry of red wine and flour, and mix into gravy to thicken. Pour over duck and serve it forth.
I was about to post to my Facebook group, when I thought I might expand upon what I was going to say and speak to you all.
I’ve written about being fearless in your quest for information on Mithras, and while I’m speaking to your subconscious, I want you to keep a very open mind about finding Him in places you don’t expect. For instance…
While recreating Carrawburgh at Yale, I spent HOURS on eBay searching for Roman coins for Coventina’s Well. I was not going to pay more than $1 per coin, and frankly, that was high. I amassed quite a pile and finally had to pump the breaks on myself as I was getting carried away. I added a $1 fibula, some glass beads and pearls to the mix, as I knew they were items found among the coins. I think She was happy.
Now, this isn’t to say you’re going to find coins with Mithras on them, but Victory, Fortuna and Apollo are easily gotten, and since Roman’s didn’t worship Mithras alone, we shouldn’t either.
I stated recently that I’m not one for dress-up, and I know that puts me in a minority, so if you’re looking for a Phrygian cap, head to Etsy. (Keep in mind you’ll want red.) But don’t stop there! Search “replica roman” and you’ll find Samian and Castor ware, coins, statues of deities, fibula, oil lamps… everything you need to outfit your growing temple. Someday I’ll break down and buy a raven skull for my altar.
As pagans, we come to expect there to be about 8 holidays a year. We want reasons to light candles, burn incense and put on fancy clothes. (Not me though. I don’t believe in pretending to be something I’m not.) We want to tell our boss that yeah, we won’t be in tomorrow because it’s the holiest day in our calendar, yaddi yaddi. But for some pagans, such as myself, we’ll probably never know when (or even if) certain days were more special than others… so we try to create a calendar for ourselves.
I have said it before, and I’ll keep saying it; the only day we know with any degree of certainty is that Mithras was born on Dec 25th. This is if we believe M. J. Vermaseren, which I don’t, so I’ll just put this Wiki quote here: Clauss states: “the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of Natalis Invicti, held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.” Moreover:
Immediately after the last month of Kronos and before the new moon we observe the renowned festival in honour of the Sun, celebrating the feast to the invincible Sun, after which none of the gloomy rites which the last month involves, necessary as they are, may be completed; but in the order of the cycle the festal days of the sun succeed immediately upon the last days of Kronos. May mine be the good fortune often to celebrate and to confirm these by the favour of the royal gods, and above others of the Sun himself the king of the universe. (Geden)
Cumont says that “this fragment, given by Fabri as relating to Mithras, in reality makes allusion to the festival celebrated on 25 December in honour of Sol Invictus, festivals which have only an indirect connection with the mysteries of Mithras.”
So even our only “certain” date is open to debate. However, the return of the sun is historically celebrated on the winter solstice and so I open the rock on my altar on this date.
So there’s one of eight. Cool! Now what do we do for the other seven? We make it up, of course!
I have asked on various, Mithraic internet groups for other peoples’ thoughts and suggestions, and have received practically no replies. I don’t know what it is about this deity that makes people not want to talk about Him, but it’s kinda weird, IMO. So I address the issues on my own: Which events are “worthy” of being top tier? Do I take astronomical events into account? How much astrology should I consider? Am I including, saint-like, the boys, the bull, Aeon, the grades, etc.? And most important is, IMO, were there holy days at all?
I am a firm believer in human nature and the fact that it never changes. On the Mithraic front, I fall into the camp of people who see the mysteries as a proto-Masonic group of men who got together to eat, drink, and occasionally have “rituals”… but mostly to drink. Why? Because human nature hasn’t changed ever. Get a group of men together and there ya go! The mysteries at work! They tell their wives they have to be at the temple for… for…Mithras’ birth! Yea, Mithras’ birth. She nods sagely, kisses him good bye, and off he goes.
Somethings never change.
And now, Lughnasadh has just passed. I wanted to mark the day in some way, and so wrote a short prayer. It might have taken me 15 minutes, beginning to end, but I was happy that I did SOMETHING, no matter how small. And while the prayer was seen by many, it was “liked” by a few and commented on by one. Seriously, this religion is never going to get off the ground again if the people who actually worship Him don’t start sharing.
But enough of that. Happy August! Enjoy the heat, and say a prayer to the Invincible Sun:
I really have to get these books back to the library, and so am spending today reading Cautes and Cautopates, the Mithraic torchbearers by Martin Schwartz (still reading the Proceedings.)
I got no further than the opening sentence when I encountered the word dadophoric and had to stop to get a definition. Half an hour later, the wife and I were deep into the kind of discussions that make life with her so wonderful. She’s a researcher by trade, so getting her to help me is always an experience. And our conclusion is that dadophoric is particular to the boys and means torch bearer, though we did find one reference to Hecate, which makes sense as She helped Demeter search for Persephone.
What follows is a detailed examination of the etymology of their names. Here’s an example of the riveting narrative: As has been seen, an Old Iranian reconstruction *kaut- for Caut- , formally the simplest assumption, has been proposed unconvincingly for a number of meanings (burning, torch, heap, fortune, sunshine).
Allow me to confirm your suspicions: I’m skimming.
Mercifully, it was a short article, and the author ends with his assurance that of his two theories, he prefers the second one. Yet he did point out that the boys are forever Mithras in miniature, which I agree with. Thinking of the three of them as rising, setting and noon suns is a tidy way of looking at them. Frankly, I was hoping for more background on their origin, but if we do embrace the three suns idea, then no more story is needed. They are simply what they are.
Continuing, Hinnells has less to say on the subject of the scorpion, but does continue in the same this creature is not evil vein, railing against Cumont’s Zoroastrian theory. And again, the ‘facts’ are there if we strip off our old lenses.
I can’t find the tauroctony I want, so we’ll come back to it, but the reason I’m looking for it is to show Cautopates holding a scorpion (in my mind he’s holding it like a stuffed animal.) The creature is larger than normal, because, let’s face it, scorpions aren’t that big (thank heaven!!) But it’s not the only example of a scorpion with or in place of Cautopates.
Without getting into too much detail on this now lost tauroctony (I’m bettin’ it’ll be its own report at some point) this very creative rendering shows the boys off to the side, but within the actual tauroctony the artist went with a shorthand rendering of them that doubtless members of the cult would recognize: a fruitful tree, downward torch and scorpion for Cautopates, and a barren tree, upward torch and bull’s head for Cautes. These are marked with the letters V and X respectively.
But we can go one better! Let’s take a walk through a tauroctony!
Welcome to Mitreo degli Animali in Ostia. On the floor you can see the major parts of a tauroctony rendered as mosaics. (The link shows the creatures in greater detail and I invite you to take a look.)
You enter on the mosaic of the naked conglomerate figure of Pater and Lion. He’s holding both a sickle and a fire shovel. Turning right toward the altar, you encounter a cock and a raven. Everyone is doing double duty here, the cock being Sol and Cautes (a not uncommon attribute), the raven representing the grade and being the messenger of Sol. Next, the scorpion is both Cautopates and the scorpion in the tauroctony. Okay, the snake isn’t anything but a snake, my bad. And then we get to the bull and the knife what done the deed.
At no point are these scorpions threatening. And I don’t think it’s a case of the artist not being up to the challenge of rendering a scorpion about to strike. There’s plenty of other details that are just as delicate and yet presented…the dog’s tail, for example, or the body of the snake. It doesn’t matter if these details survived to the present day or not, what matters is that they were carved and there is no reason to doubt a threatening tail could have been done as well.
Hinnells lists the deities whose attribute is a scorpion: Heremes, Serapis, Isis, Mercury and Artemis. He calls the scorpion a symbol of abundance and good fortune, pointing out that it is often used in amulets that guard against poisons and the evil eye. In the zodiac, when aligned with the human body, Scorpio’s position is on the genitals, which, at this point, should surprise no one.
The happy conclusions is, here’s another chance to look at the tauroctony, but with new eyes… while I continue to look for the one I want…