Notes: The solar cult of Mitras may have been a fertility cult

The Real History Behind the Da Vinci Code by Sharan Newman at p. 170:

“As early as AD 160 Justinian Martyr wrote about the Christian celebration of the Eucharist adding, “This also the wicked demons in imitation handed down as something to be done in the mysteries of Mithras, for bread and a cup of water are brought out in their secret rites of initiation, with certain invocations which you either know or learn.”5

A hundred years after Justin, in the third century, the Christian writer Origen stated that “in the mystery of Mithras … of Persian origin … there is a symbol of the two orbits in heaven, the one being of the fixed stars and the other that assigned to the planets, and of the soul’s passage through these … There is a ladder with seven gates and at its top an eighth gate.”6

A non-Christian account of Mithras comes from Apuleius, whose satire The Golden Ass was popular well into the Middle Ages and is still read today. He describes his initiation into the rites of Isis. ” When I ended my oration to the great goddess, I went to embrace the great priest Mithras, now my spiritual father.”7

The connection to Isis is especially important because in some of her temples there was a ritual slaying of a bull, as in the image of Mitrhas. The genitals of the bull were cut off (see the scorpion in the picture….) and burned. I have read that this took the place of an earlier ritual castration of the high priest. ..


Ancient authors assumed that Mithras was a form of a Persian god Mithras. Until recently, modern scholars followed this, assuming that any differences between the two were the result of cultural changes as the cult moved east. But recently people have tried to look at the representations of Mithras without a Persian base. The results have been interesting and sometimes controversial.

Just looking at the images in Mithraea, one scholar states, “We may still wonder at the attnetion devoted to the dying bull’s genitals … which depict semen being collected in a krater [a bowl, the root of the word grail], a scorpion grabbing at the testicles, and the tail turning into ears of grain. This seems to hint at themes of fertilization*, castration and miraculous procreation for which we have no text.”8 I’m sure we’d understand a lot more about the Roman world if we did have one.

One theory is that the image of Mithras killing the bull is really Perseus ending the Age of Taurus to bring on the Age of Aries.9 Now since Mithraism began in the Age of Pisces, this theory becomes complicated. But an astrological explanation of the symbolisms does fit in many ways. The scorpion, snake and dog are all constellations that follow Taurus across the path of the ecliptic of the sun from winter to summer solstices. The zodiac is shown in most settings of Mithras. He is associated with the sun god. … Mithraism lasted at least into the fifth century. The Emperor Julian the Apostate, who ruledi nthe late fourth ncentury worshipped Mithras. Eventually Mithraism died out or was suppressed. …”

This may be what Mithraism was all about…”

Newman in highlighting the above passages, draws our attention to the ear of grains and the fertilization and castration motif and original castration of the priest (bull-substitute) indicates the ancient theme that death is necessary to bring about life, procreation or fertility of the land.

Themes about castration and fertility remain in the various Testicle Festivals around the world. Bull’s testicles, for example, are known delicacy in Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Serbians from the central village of Lunjevica (see Cooking with balls: Serbian chefs honor animal testicles, NY Times, Sep 9, 2013 – where bull’s testicles are said to have  been popular dishes with Serbian chiefs since medieval times). In ancient Greece it was thought that eating bull testicles before a battle would strengthen the soldiers, in ancient Rome,  a way to cure testicle maladies, for the Chinese a boost for libido and cure for impotence. In Granada, Spain, bull testicles (criadillas) are considered a delicacy and bulls symbolizes bravery and strength. (see Testicle Festival, Digital Journal)



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