15/1/2023 0 Comments
The Cult Of Mithras
This weekend I fancied getting out and going to a museum, and luckily living near London there are lots to choose from! A friend suggested the London Mithraeum, a free museum housing the ruins of the Roman temple of Mithras. Mithras is a God I had vaguely heard of, but knew absolutely nothing about, so it immediately piqued my interest.
The museum itself is free, although it isn't a museum as such; there are the ruins, three interactive stands which tell you about the temple and Mithras himself, an audio talk, and an immersive experience. The whole thing took less than half an hour to complete, but was truly fascinating.
The temple was built around 240AD and dedicated to the young God Mithras - hence why it is called a 'Mithraeum'. The worshippers were an all male cult which spread across the Roman empire between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. By the 5th century AD, the temple had been abandoned, and was later repurposed as a temple to Bacchus. The ruins aren't exactly reconstructed in its original place; they were actually moved, and then moved again, although they are now very close to the original site of the ruins. Worshippers would have gathered in a room attached to the Mithraeum before entering the temple through a narrow doorway. Three steps led down to a nave, and at the end of the temple was a raised dias where the Pater would have led ceremonies. Timber benches were placed in the higher side aisles, and a well was also present in the temple, the water from which would have been used in rituals. Seven pairs of columns separated the nave and the aisles, and it is believed that these columns could have represented the seven grades of initiation into the cult; Corax (raven), Nymphus (male bride), Miles (soldier), Leo (lion), Perses (Persian), Heliodromus (courier of the sun) and Pater (father).
It is believed that the cult worshipped Mithras in the temple for roughly 80 years. When they abandoned the Mithraeum, a group of sculptures were buried beneath the floor, near the door. These were clearly placed there with care and respect, and remain some of the finest examples of Roman sculpture ever found in Britain.
Within the temple there were two main artefacts discovered which give us an insight to the God, and this pieced together with artefacts found across Europe from other Mithraeums tell us all we know about this deity, although that in itself isn't much. It is believed that he emerged as an entirely 'new' deity, but his cult borrowed reconisable motifs, such as his manner of dress, from eastern cultures.
Mithras was often depicted wearing a soft, conical cap which appears to be of eastern origin, possibly Persian. It is very similar to the caps given to Roman slaves on their release from bondage. He is typically shown looking away as he slays the sacred bull, or looking up, perhaps to the sun God Sol.
Mithras and his tussle with the sacred bull is shown on the second artefact found in the temple, the Tauroctony. It would have been the central icon to the cult, given prominence in the temple. He is shown in his distinctive cap atop the bull, his head turned away as he stabs the bull in the neck. It is unknown whether this scene shows a battle or a sacrifice, but either way, it depicts the young God as a hero.
There are other symbols surrounding this depiction. These include the twelve signs of the zodiac, and twin torch bearers either side of him. One of the torch bearers, Cautes, holds a burning torch upwards whilst the other - Cautopates - holds a nearly extinguished torch downwards. It is believed that these represent opposites - sunset and sunrise, life and death, or may refer to the constellation Gemini.
There are also other animals depicted in this scene. A dog licks the blood from the bulls wound whilst a snake reaches up to also join the feast. A scorpion is shown attacking the bulls testicles, whilst a raven, believed to be the messenger of Sol looks down on it all. Scholars believe that this may refer to myths about creation and fertility, or that the animals represent different constellations. Some believe that the killing of the bull represents a ritual sacrifice, with the bulls blood providing nurishment for the world, thus considering it a 'creation myth'.
We also have the depiction of two other deities on the Tauroctony. The naked sun God Sol rides his horse drawn chariot into the sky, whilst a fully clothed Luna - the Goddess of the moon - drives her bull-pulled chariot downwards.
Finally, we have what is believed to be a depiction of the seasons; two Gods with wings on their foreheads, one youthful and shaven believed to represent the warmer months, and one old and bearded believed to represent the colder months.
The Tauroctony is accompanied by an inscription which translates as 'Ulpis Silvans, veteran of the second Augustan legion, paid his vow: he was initiated at Orange [France]'. It is possible that this man was the founder of the temple.
There are no texts that explain the Tauroctony and scholars continue to debate its meaning. Others have been found with small variations in imagery across what was once the Roman empire, signifying regional differences in beliefs and rituals.
As for how, or why Mithras was worshipped, this again is largely known. Archaeological evidence suggests that worshippers consumed chicken, wine, and honey, which was also used in cleansing rituals. Evidence also indicates elaborate initiation ceremonies which may have included chanting, shouting, music, and the burning of pine cones as a form of incense.
So whilst Mithras remains a mystery, if you are in central London and get the chance to visit the London Mithraeum, I highly recommend you go and check out these fascinating remains!
It's been a very busy year! As well as launching my 'Art of Lithomancy' book in March, promoting that with various articles, podcast interviews, and even a conference talk, as well as preparing for the launch of my second book 'The Water Witch: An Introduction to Water Magic' in February, and working on my third book, keeping this website up to date and trying to up my social media game, one of my main aims for 2023 was to launch my own range of short course. So I spent a lot of 2022 working on these, and I am happy to announce that today marks the launch of the very first course - Shell Magick!
My original intention was to create enough courses to be able to release one long one, or two short ones a month throughout 2023. Unfortunately, I have just not had the time. It's incredible how much time it takes once you really get into it - the research, the writing, the recording, the video making....it's very time consuming. And to be honest, my recording and video game aren't even to that high of a standard.
If you head to the menu of this site you will see a section called 'Online Courses'. Click on this to be taken to the course page where you can see the courses that have already been released (in this case, just the Shell Magick one for now), as well as the other courses that will be released throughout the year. So if there is anything that takes your fancy then bookmark that page and check back later, or follow me on instagram (@thecottagemysticwitch) for updates as to which course is dropping when.
As someone who primarily practices water witchcraft, most of the courses are water witch themed, but I am hoping that you can gain something from them no matter which path you follow. Some of the courses are just short - 15 minutes to an hour long - whereas some are several hours long and comprise of several videos. The videos are all hosted on Youtube and you can either watch them embedded into the course page, or watch directly on Youtube. On the course page here on the website you will also find word documents you can download with all of the information from the course for you to refer back to whenever you want.
I have tried to make each course as practical as possible, with a mixture of theory and practical exercises, including spells, chants, meditations, and a little bit of arts and crafts thrown in there at some points.
As I mentioned, the quality isn't of the highest standard, but I'm hoping you will cut me some slack as this is the first time I have ever tried making and recording courses such as these! It is definitely something I want to improve on in the future, and I have a lot more courses planned for the future! But the main thing I wanted was to make these free to everyone; if there does ever come a time where I start charging for anything then that money would definitely be used to improve the production quality. But unless anyone finds the quality really that bad, I would much rather have it be a little bit naff but able to offer these for free to you all.
If you do have any feedback then I would love to hear it, the good, the bad, and the ugly! Either use the contact form on this website, or just message me directly on instagram. If you have any ideas for courses, any subjects or topics you would like to see covered, then please just let me know - I'm always keen to get input, and make sure I'm focusing on content people would actually like to see.
Hope you all have a great 2023, and please enjoy the courses!
The Weekly Witch:
Once I week I talk about something 'witchcraft' related I have done with my week. How we incorporate witchcraft into our every day lives is always a topic that has interested me, so I wanted to start this blog to explore it further!