“Mithra” plays a very prominent role in the Mazdyasni/Zoroastrian religion; the 7th month of the zoroastrian calendar starting with autumnal equinox is dedicated to Mithra. The celebrations and festivities of this month in ancient days, were in par with the new year or “naúv-rooz” celebrations starting with vernal equinox, and were highlighted by an elaborate wine festival. Also, the 10th hymn in the YASHTs or “adoration songs” in Avesta; is dedicated to Mithra. This Avestan hymn to Mithra is one of the most poetic and beautiful portions of the Avesta after the enchanting gathas; and provides the most comprehensive information/record on Mithra among all indo-european sources.
Scholarship on Mithras in the West began with “Franz Cumont,” Cumont’s hypothesis, was that the Roman religion of Mithraic Worship was “the Roman form of Zoroastrianism.”. Cumont’s theories were examined and largely rejected at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies held in 1971. However, it appears now that Cumont was pretty much correct afterall. Since the 1970s scholars have generally rejected Cumont, but recent theories about how Zoroastrianism was during the period BC now makes some new form of Cumont’s ideas very likely. It is important to add that all records of the ancient world concerning Mithra, refer NOT to “Mithraism,” but “Persian or Magi Mysteries.” In fact, the term “Mithraism” is an academic invention of fairly recent origin and has no precedence in the ancient world. All ancient sources report furthermore that the adoration/worship of Mithra was founded by the seer/prophet Zarathushtra.
In fact, a number of Zoroastrian rituals have found their way into Catholic ceremonies via Mihraic worship. For example “eucharist” is almost identical to the “droen” bread of the zoroastrians, and wine is of paramount importance during Zoroastrian religious ceremonies and festivities. Catholic “mass” reminds one of the ancient “myazd” or banquet table during “Yasna” ceremony. It should be added that “Yasna” ceremony is the most important and sacred worship ceremony of the Zoroastrians which starts after midnight, and is continued to early morning hours or havan gah. havan gah or time to press the nectar is dedicated to Mithra. Also, the close association of Mithra/benevolence with the sun, and Mithra’s symbolic birth at winter solistice brings images of christmas to the mind. The use of bells in catholic churches and ancient Zoroastrian fire temples is another example. Mithra’s association with the number 12, and the 12 signs of zodiac with the christian 12 apostles could be another point of resemblance. In addition Mithra’s emergence from solid mountain rocks, symbolizing the breakthrough of life giving rays of light and water from behind the rocks and stones in the mountains evokes images of rock in christian writings, and Koranic passages concerning the flow of life and water from the heart of rocks. It might be interesting to add that in ancient Iranian Inscription of the Achaemenid days Mithra is evoked along anahita or undefield waters. The persian saying that pure water is light has its origin in Avesta. The gushing forth of water from rocks and the emergence of light from behind the mountains is a frequent image in mithraic symbolism. Mithraic Roman worship was always conducted in a cave; and the general belief in the early Church that Jesus was born in a cave is a direct instance of the taking over of Mithraic ideas. The words of Paul, “They drank of that spiritual rock … and that rock was Christ” [I Corinthians x. 4.] are borrowed from the Mithraic scriptures; for not only was Mithra “the Rock”, but one of his mythological acts, which also appears in the acts of Moses, was the striking of the rock and the producing of water from it. Justin Martyr [Justin Martyr, /Dial. with Trypho/, ch. 70.] complains that the prophetic words in the Book of Daniel [Daniel ii. 34.] regarding a stone which was cut out of the rock without hands were also used in the Mithraic ritual; Despite christian apologists attempt to minimize these similarities, and allegeing old testament influence on Mithraic worship and/or allege that it was in fact early christianity that influenced Mithraic rites; the similarities are too great to be ignored through an objective analysis.
Also, the western assertion that “Mithraism” was the pre-zoroastrian religion of the ancient iranians lacks even one single solid evidence. There are no left traces whatsoever in the Ṛgveda or any other indo-european record that suggests any separate Mithra worship or mithraic personification outside or prior to Zarathushtra. The Ṛgveda has only one hymn to Mitra, which originally must have consisted of two (3.59.1-5 and 6-9). It is considered pale, but it clearly reflects the main characteristics of the vedic Mitra. In the Vedas, Mitra makes peoples take a firm position (yātayati) in their relationship to each other and is about benevolence (3.59.3). Whoever exerts himself in the commitment to Mitra ; no anxiety reaches him (3.59.2).
The main difference between the Vedic Mitra and the Avestan Mithra is that the Vedic Mitra lacks the elaborate mythical and poetic aspects of the Avesatn Mithra. In the Ṛgveda, all the extraordinary, personified powers of Mitra, the divine force of LOVE; are attributed to Indra or thunder. I should add that in the Norse Mythology Thor or Thunder (Compare Persian Tondar, Sanskrit Indra) is also a god of LOVE. This might be attributed to the resemblance between the sudden spark, lightning and sheer force of thunder with love and the poweful emotions and feelings associated with it.
Mary boyce correctly states that “NO satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that among the ancient Iranians/Aryans, Mithra – or any other divinity – ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own outside either their ancient or their Zoroastrian pantheons.”
The erroneous allegation of a certain group of quasi intellectual apologists claiming that Zarathushtra had a particular dislike for Mithra lacks credibilty and is devoid of merit. Zarathushtra uses the common noun mithra in Yasna 46.5, second line, which he could have avoided by using a quasi-synonym. Furthermore, such erroneous claim shows an ignorance of these psuedo intellectuals for the very nature of the manthras/gathas as enchanting, spiritual formulas that deal with various levels of mind/consciousness. Concerning “mithra” we read in the poetic gathas: “úrvátöish vá hü.zéñtüsh mithrö.ibyö vá.”
“úrvátöish” FAVORABLE TURN OF EVENTS, SMOOTH SAILING, “váfringánö” in ancient commentaries, “afringan” in persian. The avestan word comes from the root “vr,” to turn, shift, veer, sail navigate.
“hü” is the same as sankrit “sú,” sap, milk, NECTAR. Old.English. sæp, Old.High.German. saf, German. Saft “juice”, Latin. sapere “to taste.” Ancient commentary translates this as xvúp/khúp, GOOD; as in good/pure thoughts, words and deeds. Sanskrit sabar “sap, milk, nectar” comes from the same base. “zéñtüsh” coming from the root “zañ;” to know, have intimate knowledge of; compare Russian znat “to know; Latin. gnoscere; Gk. gno-, as in gnosis; Skt. jna- “know. “hü.zéñtüsh” implies having DELIGHTFUL, INNERMOST KNOWLEDGE OF THINGS. The ancient commentary translates the compound as “khúp-kshnássaki,” good understanding. Also, “zhnátá” and “zhnöishta,” inmost knowledge and the innermost knowledge, are divine names attributed to Ahura Mazda; see Yasht 1.13.
mithrö.ibyö; MEETING of hearts/minds, Ability to CONNECT; KINDNESS, BENEVOLENT MEASURE, COMPASSION, LOVE. Compare Old.English. metan, Old.Norse. mætr. Also, latin AMORE, english AMITY and names such as AMI/AMEE/AMY come from the same root. Ancient commentary translates it as “padman; compare latin pactum, russian pazu: to agree/join;” and mehröbani; kindness, benevolence, COMPASSION.
The above verse/manthra says in a nutshell that: “through good understanding and innermost knowledge of things; through ability to CONNECT; life events turn favorable and a smooth sailing through life becomes possible.”
This idea is in complete conformity with the “béressád prayer” where Mehr or Mithra is closely associated with “khshathr-var” Old.Norse. styra, Old.High.German. stiuren, Ger. steuern, Goth. stiurjan, english. to steer: namely “to govern, RULE AT WILL, have magnetic charm;” compare Gk. kybernan “to steer or pilot, direct” (the root of cybernetics). Mithra or Mehr in the same passage is also closely associated with celestial sky, sun and boundless realm of lights.
Also the association of Mithra with the “elixir of eternity” or HAOEMA, Sanskrit SOMA; (compare O.N. same, P.Gmc. samon, O.H.G., Goth. sama; O.H.G. samant, Ger. samt “together, with,” Ger. zusammen “together”), from “sameness, one, together.” Greek. hama “together with, at the same time,” homos “one and the same,” homios “like, resembling,” homalos “even;” L. similis “like;” O.Irish. samail “likeness;”) is demonstrated in the following passages from the hymn edicated to Mithra in Avesta.
88.’To whom the life-giving, healing, fair, lordly, golden-eyed HAOEMA offered up a YASNA on the highest of the heights, on the Haraiti Bareza (the bright heights, alborz in modern farsi,) he the undefiled to one undefiled, with undefiled baresma/twigs, undefiled libations, and undefiled words;
89. ‘Whom the auspicious Ahura Mazda has established as a priest, quick in performing the YASNA and loud in song. He performed the YASNA with a loud voice, as a priest quick in YASNA and loud in song, a priest to Ahura Mazda, a priest to the Amesha-Spentas. His voice reached up to the sky, went over the earth all around, went over the seven keshwars/kingdoms.
90. ‘Who first lifted up HAOEMAS, in a mortar/HAVAN, inlaid with stars and made of a heavenly substance. Ahura Mazda longed for him, the Amesha-Spentas longed for him, for the well-shapen body of him whom the swift-horsed sun awakes for prayer from afar.
The following passage in the same hymn is reminiscent of catholic rituals concerning remission of sins and purity: 122. ‘Let them wash their bodies three days and three nights; let them undergo thirty strokes for the ceremonial and prayer unto Mithra, the lord of wide pastures. Let them wash their bodies two days and two nights; let them undergo twenty strokes for the ceremonial and prayer unto Mithra, the lord of wide pastures. Let no man drink of these libations who does not know the statöta yäsnya: Vispä ratvö.
Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread.
i like to conclude this article with he following beautiful passage from the Avestan hymn to Mithra:
142. ‘Who, with his manifold knowledge, powerfully increases the creation of Speñta Mainyü, and is a well-created and most great adorable being/Yazata, self-shining like the moon, when he makes his own body shine;
143. ‘Whose face is flashing with light like the face of the star Tistrya; whose chariot is embraced by that goddess who is foremost amongst those who have no deceit in them, O Spitama! who is fairer than any creature in the world, and full of light to shine. I will worship that chariot, wrought by the Maker, Ahura Mazda, inlaid with stars and made of a heavenly substance; (the chariot) of Mithra, who has ten thousand eyes, the powerful, all-knowing, undeceivable god-force.
‘For his brightness and glory, I will offer him a ceremonial worth being heard….