MITH'RAS (Gh.M/Opac,Ar. MiOra,Skt.
friend). One of the chief deities of the an cient Persian religion. The god seems to have been known to the Indo-lranians before their separation. as lie appears in both Avesta and Veda. He is a god of light, invoked in company with the heaven (Ahura and Vanilla), and is the guardian of truth and the enemy of all falsehood. in India this deity seems to have been early superseded, hut in Persia he retained his place as one of the chief gods. It may be con sidered very doubtful whether the god was bor rowed from the early Babylonians at a date long before our knowledge begins, more especially as in the earlier texts Mithras is not the sun. but the light of heaven. hi the Zoroastrian religion lie is one of the Yazata or spirits of the second rank, though even here he occupies a high posi tion, seeing and knowing everything, a being whom it is impossible to deceive and in constant conflict with the powers of darkness, so that he becomes a warrior who is the chief helper of Ahura-Mazda in his struggle with Ahriman. In the Old Persian inscriptions, it should he said, he is invoked by the Aelnemenlike along with Ahura-Mazda and Anahita. and his festival (on the I 13th day of the 7th month) was one of the solemn functions of the State religion. Honored by the numerous princes who built up small principalities throughout Western Asia after the division of Alexander's kingdom, the god was a prominent divinity in CiBela. Cappadocia, and Commagene, though practically unknown in the Greek world. From these regions his worship came to the West through the Romans, although it is not mentioned by contemporary writers till the first century of our era, and the earliest Latin inscriptions belong to the early second century. The cult with its mysteries was popu lar in the army and quickly spread over the whole Roman world, as its monuments in all the frontier provinces plainly show. The nature of the religion is obscure, as the sacred writings have perished and information must be drawn either from the writings of Christian adver saries or from the representations in the numer ous places of worship. It seems clear that the
basis of the cult was derived from the 3lazdean worship, but with a considerable mixture of Chaldfcan worship of the heavenly bodies. INlithras seems II) have owed his prominence to the belief that he was the source of all life. and could also redeem the souls of the dead and bring them into the better world. This worship was celebrated in underground chambers of small size, to which only those who belonged to the higher degrees were admitted, and was probably conducted according to elaborate ritual pre scriptions. The ceremonies included a sort of baptism to remove sins, anointing, and a sacred meal of bread and water, while a consecrated wine believed to possess wonderful power played a prominent part. The mysteries contained seven degrees, of which the first three seem to have been probationary and not to have admitted to the sacred ceremonies. The degrees are given in this order: (1) Coma' or Raven; (2) Gr./whits or Griffin; (3) Miles or Soldier; (4) Llo or Lion; (5) Perscs or Persian: (0) Ileliodroinos or Courier of the Sun: (7) Palms or Fathers, who were at the head of the cult, and whose chief was the Paler patron. The other initiates called themselves brethren (fratres). Wcmen seem to have been excluded from the rites. The nature of the initiatioil is 1101 known. The un doubted similarity in much of this worship with the new religion of Christianity seems only to have made the battle between the rivals bitterer. and with the triumph of Christianity began the destruethm of the 'Alithras worship. and lee end of the fourth century it seems to have Imen practically extinct in the West. Consult: Cu mout. Teri( s et 'armaments figuri's tilatifs aux ingsti'res Mithras (Rrassels, 1594-99) ; Lea de Mithras 12d ed.. Paris, 19021: id.. in The ()Ian Court (Chicago. November. 1902).