Tauroctony Ritual

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.”

Gotta love New Jersey. XOXO

How cute is she? >_<




The “Mithras Liturgy”

(Their quotes, not mine…. though, frankly, I agree with them.)

noun: liturgy; plural noun: liturgies
  1. 1.
    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,  [697] youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic [698] and a golden crown and trousers, and holding in his right hand [700] a golden  /  shoulder of a young calf.” I’m adding the next line as a curiosity: [701] “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.

Sometimes life is just like that.

Come on! It looks just like Him!




Cherry stones and potlucks

Schale mit Kirschen / röm.Mosaik - Bowl w.Cherries / Roman Mosaic / C3rd - Coupe de cerises / Mosaïque romaine / 3e siècle
Détail d’un parterre de mosaïque …

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.

unswept floor
A detail of the unswept floor mosaic at the Vatican Museum.


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.





Finding Him in unlikely places

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…

eBay. Etsy.

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.

my coin
From my parents for my 50th birthday. I just adore Fortuna with Her rudder.

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.


Mini Grand Tour

If you were wondering where I disappeared to all of July so far, we hit Prague, Vienna, Lens, Paris and handfuls of castle and châteaus in Normandy. I visited two tauroctonies, as well as paying homage to the Venus of Willdendorf and marveling at the Bayeux Tapestry (Omaha Beach was also awe inspiring.)

One of my favorite things about travel is seeing art live. You’ve seen it in books, films, on line, etc., but to be standing before it, meeting its eyes, as it were, can be life altering. This time at the Louvre I made it my business to get up to the Mona Lisa, rather than just be in the same room. I also dragged my party 3 hours by car to the satellite Louvre-Lens to see CIMRM 415.


Top to bottom, we estimated this statue to stand 10 feet tall. Yes, I would have preferred it to be on the ground, but looking up at His poorly repaired face was wonderful nonetheless. Everyone I was with was impressed at the size, quality and detail of the piece. I took pictures from every angle and spent about 20 minutes just being in His presence. It was a short visit for such a long ride, but it was totally worth it.

In Vienna it was my sister who found CIMRM 736. This came after I checked to see if there was anything Mithras related before we left. Seems I suck at research after all!

Slightly blurry image of the wife, for scale.

Sadly, travel also opens you up to a world of germs, so I’m going to go sit on the sofa and cough. More to follow, when my eyes are less slitty.

Life is like that, sometimes.

I’m still in shock. My older sister walked into the house tonight with a fresh-from-our- local-library copy of The Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh! I was all, Who do you know??? lol She left with it, offering to make a copy. She’s a total Goddess, I kid you not.

I have made it through this little book, and will be happy to own a better copy than what I currently have. I’d be even happier if I could post pdfs of it somewhere so that everyone can thrill to the descriptions of pottery. Allow me to share a tidbit from page 79: 58. Fragment of a plain-rimmed platter, with chamfered base, in black-fumed fabric, decorated with lightly scored arcs. There are dozens of similar descriptions. Pottery from all major phases, pottery from outside the building, and strays that washed into a time period they didn’t come from.

Riveting, I tell you.

But also massively educational, as you would suspect. Pages 58 and 59 discuss the grades, as mentioned in a letter from St. Jerome, but they also cite the less common titles of cryphius, hieroceryx and stereõtes. Cryphius was used for the second grade before the more familiar nymphus came into usage, and I’m pretty sure the name nymphus was discovered in Ostia. I’ll check back with ya on that.

But hieroceryx and stereõtes are, IMO, titles used for the people acting out parts during an initiation. Hieroceryx means ‘holy herald’, and stereõtes means ‘strengthener’ (an awkward word if  ever there was one.) Having been involved in pagan rituals, I know that giving a name to a position/role helps both the person who is leading the rite, and the person assuming the assigned role. It takes the guesswork out of a fraught situation. (We refereed to it as “Stage-fright of the Gods.”)

I remember seeing a list of titles granted to the grade of pater, such as pater patrum (father of fathers, not unlike Primus inter pares, just to throw that in there). I’ll run that list to ground for ya, too.

In the meantime, I’m reading Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain by H. E. M. Cool. She’s a wonderful writer, and I’m totally enjoying reading about ancient food packaging. Seriously. And yet I was disparaging about the pottery? It’s all in the presentation, I guess. =D

That guy on the left, I’m going to call him Stereõtes. And the guy behind the kneeling initiate, he’s now Hieroceryx. Because I said so. 😉

“…formally desecrated a Mithraic temple…”

…leaving me to wonder what an informal desecration looks like.

Still reading The Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh. Still learning lots; for instance, three water vole (Arvicola amphibia) bones were found on site (a humerus, partial skull and femur.) I had no idea what a water vole was, so googled it. I came up with this image:


Knowing the size of a typical red fox, I have to wonder if vole was being used as a substitute for something Roman that they couldn’t get on the frontier, à la stuffed dormouse. (Before you say anything, I know you can get dormouse in England.) Though, three bones do not a meal make, IMO. Offerings? Wandered in, died and was a meal for something larger? We’ll never know.

However, Appendix V in the text had a lot of what I was after, giving a detailed list of the “mammalian bones” found on site.  The happy news (for the purposes of this project,) is that they ate a lot of young pork. Pig bones were found in building phases II and III. There were also bones from oxen, veal, sheep (or goat), and lamb/kid. The fowl on site took the form of older, male birds (Gallus bankiva var. domestica) with at least six bodies accounted for. Goose bones were also found, from two different birds.

Fowl was apparently sacrificed in the dedication of the building, and the text (p. 24) says: “…the appropriate nature of the offering is emphasized by the Greek designation of the cock as “the Persian bird”.” There is no footnote on this statement, so where the designation was seen, I have no clue. But, that doesn’t stop my brain from haring off to an article I recently  read which was extremely convincing in its Mithras = Perseus argument. Ulansey was the first, I believe, to put this theory forward, and while I knew of it, I never really bought into it. (And, at the moment I can’t put my hands on the article, but will link to it as soon as I find it.)

I am nearing the end of the first section of the book and, on p. 42, we learn the fate of the temple. As we know, the three altars were left as they were, but the only trace of the tauroctony is a single bull’s horn. No mention is made (as yet) of the size of this find, but owing to the absence of this necessary scene, it must have been small enough to be physically carried out, rather than face desecration; or, more likely, was annihilated completely. Cautes and Cautopates were maimed where they stood, and the Mother Goddess in the narthex (building phase III) was knocked off Her pedestal, but was unharmed. The roof was stripped, and nature did the rest with her blanketing embrace of peat and water.


As for the quote that is the title of this post, I’m still on p. 42: “It was only in A.D. 377 that a Christian praefectus urbi Gracchus, formally desecrated a Mithraic temple in Rome.” And, so it seems that Carrawburgh suffered the same, if earlier, fate. There are no Constantinian coins on site, so we are left to conclude that the temple was abandoned and well under Mother Nature’s sway by A.D. 305.