Friday, August 19, 2016

Level 16 in Ingress

Last night I made it to Level 16, the current highest level, in the game Ingress. My first few years playing this game I played solo, but over the last year I've been playing more and more with other Enlightened agents. I took part on a recharging team on one anomaly and then was an active player in another. Now my attention will be focused more on finishing off the badges (the hexagons in bottom half of the picture below).


Monday, August 15, 2016

The Struggle For Freedom

By Albert Pike

The Ancient Wrong rules many a land, whose groans 
Rise swarming to the stars by day and night, 
Thronging with mournful clamour round the thrones 
Where the Archangels sit in God's great light, 
And, pitying, mourn to see that Wrong still reigns, 
And tortured Nations writhe in galling chains.

From Hungary and France fierce cries go up 
And beat against the portals of the skies; 
Lashed Italy still drinks the bitter cup, 
And Germany in abject stupor lies; 
The knout on Poland's bloody shoulders rings, 
And Time is all one jubilee of kings.

It will not be so always. Through the night 
The suffering multitudes with joy descry 
Beyond the ocean a great beacon-light, 
Flashing its rays into their starless sky, 
And teaching them to struggle and be free,-- 
The Light of Order, Law, and Liberty.

Take heart, ye bleeding Nations; and your chains 
Shall shiver like thin glass. The dawn is near, 
When Earth shall feel, through all her aged veins 
The new blood pouring; and her drowsy ear 
Hear Freedom's trumpet ringing in the sky, 
Calling her braves to conquer or to die.

Arm and revolt, and let the hunted stags 
Against the lordly lions stand at bay!-- 
Each pass, Thermopl√¶, and all the crags, 
Young Freedom's fortresses! -- and soon the day 
Shall come when Right shall rule, and round the thrones 
that gird God's feet shall eddy no more groans.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Mithraic Mysteries, Part 2

In Part 1 I gave an introduction to the religion of ancient Rome. Part 2 is going to cover the Roman Cult of Mithras by looking at its history, mythos, symbolism, and what is known about its initiations. There is a great deal of misinformation out there concerning the Cult of Mithras by anti-Christians seeking to revise the history of Christianity and by fanatical Christians spreading an agenda against anything pagan. Due to its secretive nature and no existing documentation, the study of the Cult of Mithras is done primarily from archaeological research done on the surviving temples around Europe and Middle East. Some texts that mention the Cult of Mithras or the god Mithras were authored by Plutarch, Porphyry, Tertullian, and Origen.

The Cult of Mithras was one of several mystery cults practiced within the Roman Empire. Worshipers of the Cult of Mithras, or sometimes known as the Mithraic Mysteries, were all male and particularly popular among soldiers. It is not surprising to see why the Cult of Mithras was popular among soldiers. The religion of ancient Rome was pragmatic (practical) and more contractual than spiritual while mystery cults concerned themselves with establishing a personal relationship with a particular deity and on one's salvation. The Cult of Mithras, with its warlike imagery and promise of salvation, must have been a natural fit with an occupation where soldiers were sent to the far ends of the empire far from home and where death was almost a certainty. Initiates referred to themselves as "syndexioi" which means "united by the handshake." It was composed of 7 grades (or degrees) of initiation: Raven, Bride, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Sun Runner, and Father. The initiations and meetings often included meals which took place in their temples called "mithraeum." The Cult of Mithras was practiced in the Roman Empire from the 1st century AD to the 4th century AD.

The Mithraic mysteries center on the Persian god Mithra (Mithras being the Greco-Roman spelling), but scholars debate whether or not this Mithras was the same as the Mithra found in Zoroastrianism. Some argue that the Cult of Mithras was merely inspired by the Persians, but the Roman Mithras may be a different god from the Persian Mithra as the former was a sun god while the latter was not; the Persian Mithra was a judicial deity and guardian of cattle, the harvest, and the waters. However, I will go further into the god Mithras and let the reader decide for himself.

The Cult of Mithras was most likely introduced into Rome through the wars the Roman Republic had with the Parthian Empire (Arsacid Empire) starting in 92 BC and the Roman Empire had with the Sasanian Empire (successors of the Parthians). Some believe that it was through the conquest of Armenia where the Cult of Mithras was introduced to the Roman legions and it should be noted that Armenia was the last holdout of the cult during its decline. The cult was established in Rome around 75 AD and made it to the provinces around 150 AD. Due to its popularity with Roman soldiers, the Cult of Mithras spread to the frontiers of the Roman Empire, to the Iberian Peninsula, Britain and Scotland, Dacia (around modern day Romania), Gaul, and Germania. It is said that the Mithraic Mysteries reached the height of the popularity in the 3rd century AD leading into the 4th century AD. Along with the mithraea, there are also many altars and shrines that were dedicated by Roman Emperors. One such example would be with the Emperor Diocletian who, in 307/308 AD, dedicated an altar of Mithras as the "benefactor of the Empire." With the rise of Christianity and the conversion of Constantine, the Mithraic Mysteries declined, but with the ascension of Emperor Julian there was an attempt to keep the cult alive. However, during the reign of Theodosius I, all pagan worship was outlawed.

Mithras

The Mithraic Mysteries centers on the worship of the Proto-Indian, Persian god Mithras. Some sources believe that he was the son of Ormuzd, a god of light, and Anahita, a virgin fertility goddess. Mithras himself was a god over contracts ("contract" being the etymological root of his name). He's also said to be the protector over the harvest, cattle, and water.

Mithras is said to have been born out of a rock on the Winter Solstice. Some legends of the birth of Mithras state that the rock from which he came from contained both light and fire, making him a god of light and fire; although this may have been later changes to keep in sync with the newer adaptations of this god. Myth states that he was born wearing a Phrygian cap holding a dagger and a torch of light; Phrygia was a kingdom in what is modern Turkey, around the Sakarya River. Mithras is said to have remained celibate throughout his life and represented a system of ethics, temperance, and self-control.

The first mention of Mithras is in the Vedic (Hindu) Scriptures dating back to around 1400 BC, and over the years spread to Persia where the worship of Mithras spread. The Magus Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) reformed the Persian religion (now referred to as Zoroastrianism) which placed Mithras as a lesser deity beneath Ahura Mazda. According to the Avesta, Ahura Mazda created Mithras in order to guarantee the authority of contracts and promises. Some believe that it is the association with the Babylonian god Shamash, their god of justice and a sun god, that Mithras was later seen as a sun god. With the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, Persian religions spread into the Hellenistic world.

Mithraeum

The initiates of the Mithraic Mysteries met in temples called "mithraeum" (plural: mithraea). Mithraeum were often natural caves or small rooms beneath existing structures. They are typically found near sources of fresh water such as streams. One mithraeum was discovered beneath the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. At its height of popularity, it is said that there may have been around 680 mithraea just in Rome. It is not known exactly how many there were around the Roman Empire, but today there still exists one in Bosnia, five in France, seventeen in Germany, three in Hungary, two in Israel, two in Romania, two in Spain, one in Switzerland, one in Syria, four in England, one in Armenia, and eight in Rome.


Mithraea were typically 10-12m long and 4-6m wide with raised benches called klinai on the sides where the initiates would eat their meals with a narrow aisle in between. From this commonly used floor plan seen with existing mithraea, that each mithraeum could only hold 30-40 individuals. If the mithraeum was beneath a building, there would be holes in the ceiling to allow light in. The ceiling of the mithraeum was also often painted with a star-decked heaven. The mithraeum served as an area for initiation and where the ritualistic meals were held. Meals were particularly important to the initiates of the Mithraic Mysteries as it pertained to Mithras and the killing of the bull. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that a sacred fire was kept burning in the mithraea.

Mithraea were decorated with a variety of iconography. In every mithraeum there was a representation of Mithras killing a bull, often referred to as the "tauroctony." In some mithraeum there are still surviving images of each degree (see below). In some sculptures Mithras is depicted carrying a rock on his back. Others show him wearing a cape with the stars in the inside lining while others show him emerging from a zodiac ring as some myths of Mithras believe he helped create the physical world. Other representations show Mithras attended by two torch-bearers, Cautes and Cautopates, who were present at his birth. Symbolically, the mithraeum had several meanings: 1) it served as a microcosm of the universe, 2) represented the cave where Mithras is said to have killed a bull, and 3) the process of purification of the soul. Many mithraea were later converted to crypts and tombs after the rise of Christianity.

The Tauroctony

One of the central icons and legends of the Mithraic Mysteries is the "Tauroctony". The Tauroctony, from the Greek word "tauroktonos" meaning "bull killing," concerns the myth where the god Mithras sacrifices a sacred bull. Ahura Mazda is said to have sent a crow, an animal traditionally used a messenger of the gods, to Mithras and ordered him to kill the bull in a cave in order to create plants and animals. Sculptures and reliefs commonly show Mithras straddling the bull, grasping it by the nose with his left hand, and with his right hand stabbing the dagger into the bull's shoulder. It is also often show dogs beneath the bull drinking the blood, a scorpion attacks the bull's genitals, and a raven sits on the bull's back; other reliefs show a lion, a boar, or a snake. There are other differences seen on a variety reliefs still existing in uncovered mithraea around Europe and these differences are thought to be the result of the differing native cultures being fused with Roman religion and the Cult of Mithras.


As mentioned above, Cautes and Cautopates are sometimes shown in depictions of Mithras. In the Tauroctony, Cautes is to the right of Mithras and below the sun in his chariot while Cautopates is to the left of Mithras and below the moon. Both being torchbearers, Cautes' torch is held up while Cautopates' torch points downward (may be shown as extinguished). Some have interpreted that Mithras and his two attendants represent three phases of the sun during the day time: dawn (the rising sun), midday (the sun at meridian height), and dusk (the setting sun). Myth states that after Mithras killed the bull that he kneels before the sun god, Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun), and both then dine on the slain bull. They are said to have ate the bull on a table draped in the hide of the slain bull.

Initiates are said to eat a meal together in a mithraeum. It is speculated that in some instances to imitate and revere the gods Mithras and Sol Invictus in order to maintain a personal relationship. From paintings and reliefs, it is believed that initiates in lower grades, Raven through Lion, act as attendants of higher grades and serve food during the meal. While some believe that the killing of a bull was purely figurative and not actually killed by the cult members, archaeological evidence shows that bulls were killed and eaten, but when bulls were not available they would dine on other domesticated animals.

Some believe that the Tauroctony has an astrological meaning behind it. Some have speculated that the killing of the bull coincided with the end of the Age of Taurus and the beginning of the Age of Aries which occurred around 2000 BC when some think that the Mithraic Mysteries originated.

The Initiatic Grades

Initiates referred to themselves as "syndexioi" and while they were united in this sense they were still divided into seven grades: Corax (Raven), Nymphus (Bride), Miles (Soldier), Leo (Lion), Perses (Persian), Heliodromus (Sun Runner), and Pater (Father). Handshakes are seen as a commitment to a contract and as Mithras was a god of contracts the use of a handshake is very appropriate for those who worshiped him. Handshakes are also a gesture of friendship.

From the archaeological evidence, members were expected to progress through the first four grades, but few would go beyond to the last three grades. Neophytes were said to have gone through some kind of trial or preparation before going through the initiation. The severity of these trials vary depending on the sources, though the reliability of some is questionable. The purpose of these trials though would be to ensure that the individual would be prepared to go through the initiation and be worthy of the secrets of the mystery cult.

The initiations would include some kind of oath to never reveal any of the secrets of the Mithraic Mysteries, ablutions, purification rites, admonishments, and marking the initiate on the hand (from the frescoes it could be done by fire brand or tattooing). The initiation was conferred by one who had attained the grade of Pater, or Father.

Most initiates were said to not advance beyond the grade of Lion. These in the lower grades attended to those in the higher grades, but could still participate in the privileges of the cult such as the sacred meal. It is possible that lower initiates took turns serving and other times were served.

The grades of initiation for the Cult of Mithras are extremely fascinating though we have limited resources to study them. The existing symbolism though is rich and provides us with an insight into each grade. While there is no existing literature on the specificity of each of the seven grades, here is some information on each of them:

Corax or Raven

The Raven plays an important role in Mithraic Mysteries as the Raven was sent to Mithras as a messenger of Ahura Mazda who sent Mithras to kill the sacred bull. While Mercury is the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology, the raven has replaced him as a symbol, but Mercury is still associated with the Raven in this context. On a cup found in Ostia (near Rome) there is an inscription of "Nama Coracibus tutela Mercurii" meaning "Hail to the Ravens under the protection of Mercury".

Birds often serve that role in a variety of other mythologies. Huginn and Muninn, ravens in Norse mythology, served as messengers of Odin. In Hinduism, crows are messengers of the dead to living. In Christianity the dove is often used, as seen with the story of Noah's flood where God sent a dove to inform Noah that dry land had returned. In Roman mythology were associated with good luck. In Celtic mythology, ravens were associated with warfare and death. In several Native American mythoi, the raven is involved in the creation of the world, but is also considered a trickster god. In Japanese mythology, the raven is seen as a guide. In Christianity Ravens are used as description, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.

Along with being messengers, birds are associated with knowledge and enlightenment. In Egyptian mythology, Thoth (represented by an Ibis) is the god of magic, writing, and numerous sciences. In Roman mythology, Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was accompanied by an owl. Birds were also used in various mythologies to bring life (the stork) and to represent the soul in the afterlife. It should be noted that pagan gods and goddesses would also take the form of birds for a variety of reasons.

The Raven would naturally be associated with the element of Air, but some have said that a water baptism is a part of this initiation to symbolize the purification of the soul. From frescoes and mosaics, initiates of this grade as said to wear a raven mask. Being the first degree and entrance into the Mithraic Mysteries, the Raven is meant to represent the death of neophyte and rebirth into mysteries, and his new spiritual life. Other symbols associated with this grade are the beaker and caduceus (staff of Mercury).

Nymphus or Bride

With this degree it is important to remember that mystery cults were about becoming closer with a particular deity. While this degree is named "Bride" it should be noted that it meant not a literal wedding, but establishing a bond with Mithras and does not preclude civil marriages. Some Christian fundamentalists have attempted to denigrate this degree as being homoerotic, but scholars, even Christians, agree that there was no evidence that sexual rites were involved with the Mithraic Mysteries.

A mural depicting this grade shows an initiate wearing a veil and is under the protection of the goddess Venus. From the text of Julius Firmicus Maternus there is a concerning this grade which states: "Behold, Nymphus, hail Nymphus, hail new light." Some have hypothesize that this statement would be made as the veil would be removed from the initiate. This ceremony would also involve the candidate offers a cup of water to a statue of Mithras where the cup symbolizes the candidates heart and the water his love for Mithras. This grade is associated with the element of Water.

Murals of Nymphus also contains a torch, a diadem, a mirror, and a lamp. Torches and lamps are obvious symbols of light, of knowledge, and guidance. Torches are often symbols of hope and enlightenment. When a torch points downward they are meant to symbolize death while the opposite is meant to symbolize life. One of the most famous torches in today’s world is the Olympic Torch which is meant to symbolize the fire given to mankind by Prometheus. It's interesting to note that lamps and torches are connected to marriage ceremonies, even in Christian text.

A diadem is simply a crown. Crowns, mitres, headdresses, hats, and so on have traditionally been symbols of authority or sovereignty. For Christians the crown (and those who wear it) is said to remind us of the Crown of Thorns Christ wore as well as Christ being the King of Kings. Symbolically we can see through its circular shape it denotes perfection, which Heaven is seen as, and eternal life, and while wearing it we unite the spiritual world with this material world where the sovereign can receive divine inspiration to justly rule.

Mirrors in the ancient world were considered a luxury and indicated social status to the owner. They were usually polished bronze or black stone. Mirrors are symbols of introspection and reflection, both physical and spiritual. As the physical mirror reflects our appearance so too does the spiritual mirror reflect soul. Mirrors were also considered gateways to other worlds and used in divination. To break a mirror is still considered bad luck.

Miles or Soldier

According to the Avesta (the Zoroastrian sacred text), Mithras was an invincible god who sought to secure victory for his followers on the battlefield against evil. All initiates who attained the grade of Miles were said to be enrolled in service to Mithras. In murals in Santa Prisca and Ostia displays initiates dressed as soldiers with kitbag, helmet, and lance. Being a grade centering on warfare, this grade was associated with the god Mars (the god of war) and while Mars is associated with fire this grade is associated with the element Earth. With this grade, it is presumed that the initiate is battling against his lower self.

According to Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus), the initiate is marked on the forehead (style unknown) and the candidate is offered a crown/wreath at the point of the sword. Once his hands are freed from bondage he takes off crown/wreath stating that being a follower of Mithras he needed no crown/wreath. This is said to be a test of the candidate’s courage and devotion to Mithras. Other symbols associated with this grade is a drum, belt, and armor.

Leo or Lion

The fourth grade is the Lion. The Lion is highly regarded in the legends of Mithras and is often depicted in the Tauroctony murals and reliefs. Murals depicting this grade show an initiate dressed in a long scarlet and with a fire-shovel. This grade is associated with the element Fire and the god Jupiter. Since water is the opposite of fire, honey was used as a purifying agent to cleanse the initiate. Baptism by fire for the candidate may also be symbolic of the destruction of evil by Mithras and the conflagration of the earth. Those purified by fire would be immune from the destructive power of the fire. Along with being an attendant at meals, those initiates who had received the grade of Leo also were said to attend the fire in the mithraeum.

Lions have been used as symbols of royalty, courage, and king of animals for thousands of years by cultures in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In Sumerian and Babylonian mythologies, the lion was a symbol of kingship. In Greek mythology, the Nemean Lion was a vicious monster whose mane was impervious to mortal weapons and who was killed by Hercules; the constellation Leo is said to represent the Nemean Lion. There are many uses of lions in Christianity including with the story of Daniel, St. Mark was symbolized by a lion, and the Tribe of Judah used the emblem of a lion. These are but a few examples of lion mythology.

Perses or Persian


This grade associates with the Persian origins and Zoroastrian Magi. Murals depict the Perses dressed in a grey tunic and under the protection of the moon. Like Leo, the candidate is purified with honey, but because the Perses was considered the guardian of fruit. According to ancient Persian lore, honey came from the moon which is why the moon is associated with this grade.


Other symbols associated with Perses is the sickle/scythe. These symbols are often symbolic of time and transition just as is the moon, but some say that Mithras was the divine reaper (being the protector of the harvest). The symbolic meaning associated with this instrument has always stood for the reaping, to include of humanity and the cutting off of life. The personification of death is often seen carrying a scythe or sickle. There are many legends, myths, and lore connected with this feared entity. Today it is known as the "Grim Reaper", but depending on the time and culture, it has gone by many other names. The Scythe was not always seen as the weapon of choice for the Reaper, with the agrarian cultures we see the attachment. One of my favorite mythologies was the Greek mythologies. In it there are three Fates or Moirai, named: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. While all of them were regarded as cruel due to their inexorable duty, it was Atropos who was feared as she was the one wielded the shears that would cut the thread of life, while her sisters spun and measured the thread of life. In the Book of Revelations there is a similar reference to the scythe and reaping:

And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. (Revelations 14:14-28)

Heliodromus or Sun Runner

Sometimes known as Courier of the Sun or Sun Runner, Heliodromus is the sixth grade of the Mithraic Mysteries. The grade designates an initiate as a servant of Sol Invictus, the sun god. It is guessed that the initiation includes a re-enactment of the meal that Mithras and Sol Invictus share after the killing of the sacred bull.

In murals initiates are dressed in red garments with a yellow belt and holding a globe in his left hand. They are also depicted with a whip, a torch, and a halo. The whip is meant to symbolize implement needed to urge the horses onward that carried the sun through sky each day. Whips also symbolize domination, sovereignty, slavery, and penance. Halos are rings of light that surrounds a person in artwork and is used to indicate holiness, divinity, or sacredness.

Pater or Father

This is the final and highest grade in the Cult of Mithras. Initiates who reach this pinnacle are said to be Mithras' representative on earth and thus are depicted to be dressed like him. It is unclear whether or not a mithraeum had more than one Pater, but it is unlikely since the Pater was considered the teacher, mentor, and father to the initiates of that mithraeum. With the uncovering of mithraea throughout the old Roman Empire, there were inscriptions like "pater patrum" meaning "Father of Fathers" many have speculated that there was a central authority that all the mithraea reported to, but there is no evidence to suggest this.

The symbols associated with this grade are the staff, the Phrygian cap, and the curved sword. The use of staffs by officers is very symbolic and has been used in a variety of cultures. The most obvious use is by the god Mercury, who was the messenger of the gods, and who carried the caduceus, a type of staff. The caduceus was used to ward off evil and to ensure that he was unimpeded in his journey. Carrying a staff is a mark of authority and we see this with the king's scepter, the bishop's or verger's staff, the mace of Parliament, and, Biblically, with the staff of Moses.

The Phrygian Cap is a soft felt or wool conical headdress fitting closely around the head and characterized by a pointed crown that curls forward and is also known as the Cap of Liberty or Symbolizing Cap. The Phrygian Cap also carries some of the symbolic meaning as the diadem, but also stands as a symbol of enlightenment and freedom. Some have gone so far as to say that the Phrygian cap is the origin of the mitre worn by priests.

The Sword, an emblem of duality, not only symbolizes security, but also light, purification, righteousness, spiritual transition, and from its double-edged it shows us the defensiveness and destructiveness. The sword is like the mind and knowledge, without proper training and honing of skill, one can cause great damage and face many challenges. The scholar and the master swordsman alike must be well-trained and keep their metaphorical and physical sword sharp.

Very little knowledge on the Cult of Mithras exists today, but there seems to be a growing interest in recent years. I am curious to see what future discoveries reveal of this mystery cult. In Part 3, I will compare and contrast this initiatic tradition to Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and Christianity.

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34. Cirlot, J. E. (1962). A Dictionary of Symbols. 

35. Halo. (n.d.). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/art/halo-art 

36. Halo. (n.d.). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/art/halo-art 

37. Halo (religious iconography). (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_(religious_iconography) 

38. Halo. (2012). Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Halo 

39. Jennings, H. (1907). Rosicrucianism in Strange Symbols. Retrieved from Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/sro/rrm/rrm34.htm 

40. Phrygian Cap. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrygian_cap 

41. Weapon Symbolism in Western Painting. (2003). Retrieved from History of Painters: http://www.historyofpainters.com/weapons.htm

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Masonic Society

I came to the realization today that I have been a member of the Masonic Society for 5-years now (as of April). I joined while deployed in Iraq to have access to their forum and to their excellent journal. It wasn't until 2014 that I was able to attend their annual meeting and dinner at Masonic Week (called a First Circle gathering), but I look forward to it each year.

The Masonic Society was founded on May 1, 2008, by a group of Masons from around the United States to create what has become the fastest growing Masonic research organization. The purpose of the Masonic Society is to be a "center of union for Freemasons who desire to study and promote Freemasonry, its history, philosophy, rites, customs and practices while promoting the common good and general welfare of its mystic art." To accomplish this purpose, the Masonic Society holds conferences around the United States and also wishes to assist individual Research Lodges around the world. One of the way the Masonic Society wishes to assist Research Lodges is by giving their members the opportunity to publish their own research papers.

The Masonic Society is governed by a Board of Directors composed of the President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, Editor-in-Chief, Fellow Directors, and Member Directors. The President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Editor-in-Chief also constitute the Executive Committee of the Masonic Society. The first officers of the Executive Committee are elected while the Secretary-Treasurer and Editor-in-Chief are appointed.

The Masonic Society is open to any Master Mason in good standing of a recognized Lodge. For both those seeking membership in the Masonic Society or just a journal subscription (for non-Masons) the annual dues are $39 per year ($49 for those outside of the US). Members, upon joining, receive a commemorative pin, a patent of membership, an annual dues card, and quarterly issues of the Journal of the Masonic Society.


The Journal of the Masonic Society doesn't just include articles on the history of Freemasonry, but also includes articles that explore the challenges facing Freemasonry now and what is on the horizon. The article has included pieces by well known Brothers and was for a time edited by Bro. Chris Hodapp.

Members of the Masonic Society also have access to the online forum. Those who only have Journal Subscription-only do not have access to the online forum. The Masonic Society also has created the Masonic Society School which will start in October 2016 and this first course will be a video lecture series covering a wide range of topics.

In recognition for a member's intellectual and Masonic contributions to the fraternity in general and the Masonic Society specifically, they may be named a "Fellow of the Masonic Society." The Masonic Society also awards each year to a Masonic research an award called the Masonic Society Scholar. The recipient of this award receives "a $2,500 grant to conduct a Masonic research project during the following year." The Masonic Society Scholar is required to be available for presentation at various Masonic events. At the end of the year the The Masonic Society Scholar will present his research at an event set up by the Board of Directors.

The Annual First Circle gathering is held at Masonic Week each year, but other First Circle gatherings may be held in the form of symposiums or conferences. Masonic Society members may hold local, state, or regional meetings which are referred to as Second Circles. For those Master Masons who are desirous of furthering their Masonic education and wish to perform their own research should join the Masonic Society.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Mithraic Mysteries, Part 1

During my studies in History, I took a couple courses focused Ancient Rome. In one of the courses, Ancient Religions, the class was broken into groups who had to recreate some kind of ceremony from an ancient religion. My group selected the Roman Cult of Mithras and we recreated one of their initiatic rituals. I found the research into this mystery cult to be extremely interesting and here I wish to expand on my knowledge on the subject. This article is the first in a three-part series: Part 1 is an introduction to the religion of ancient Rome, Part 2 will focus upon the Cult of Mithras, and Part 3 will compare and contrast this initiatic tradition to Freemasonry.

It is difficult to examine the religion of ancient Rome without looking at some of the history of Rome. The legendary roots of Rome trace back to the sack of Troy during the Trojan Wars, when Aeneas and other survivors fled to what is now Italy; Aeneas was said to be the son of Venus (the goddess of love). Rome is said to have been founded in 753 BC by Romulus, the great-great-grandson of Aeneas. Romulus, and his brother Remus, were by legend to be sired by Mars (the god of war). This use of divine lineage will continue with various leaders of Rome, particularly with the Roman Emperors.

Starting with Romulus, seven kings would rule Rome before the founding of the Republic in 509 BC. Romulus ruled from 753 BC to 716 BC, and one of the most important things attributed to him was the founding of the Senate. Numa Pompilius would follow after Romulus, reigning from 716 BC to 674 BC, and he is remembered for his religious contributions such as the formation of public priests known as "pontifices". The last king, known as Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was deposed following a coup d'√©tat led by Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic. Legend has it that Lucretia, related to Brutus, was raped by the son of the last king which led Brutus to rally the people of Rome against Tarquinius. The Roman Republic would last from 509 BC to 27 BC, but it was during this time that Rome became an empire before it had an emperor. Starting in the 3rd century BC, Rome expanded its hand outside of the Italian peninsula. The Roman Senate had real authority over Rome itself, but most of the empire was really a network of towns and provinces that were ruled by military leaders and elected magistrates. With the 1st century BC came a time of political and military upheaval which would lead to the rise of Julius Caesar as "dictator in perpetuum" (dictator in perpetuity) until his assassination in 44 BC. After his death, his son Octavian continued Julius Caesar's work by solidifying his power and taking on the title of "Augustus" fully ending the Roman Republic. With this very brief synopsis of Roman history, let's dive into the religion of ancient Rome.

Roman religion was polytheistic which is more orthopraxic than orthodoxic (like modern Christianity is). Orthopraxy is where adherents focus more on the correct performance of rituals, myths, and traditions. The Roman religion centered on the gods and goddesses who, while anthropomorphic, the interaction of the gods was considered anthropocentrism where humans are the focus of the gods. Believing that the gods controlled so much of their lives, the Roman spent a great deal of time worshiping them. Roman religion wasn't just casual afterthought or something that was relegated to a single day, but something that permeated the daily life of the ancient Roman.



Most are familiar with the primary gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon: Jupiter, Pluto, Neptune, Juno, Mars, Minerva, Vesta, Apollo, Venus, Ceres, and Diana. However, there were numerous other deities (some call them "secondary deities") who also had altars and shrines built to them. It should be noted that the gods and goddesses were not all inherent to Rome or Italy, they were a mixture of several different religions. Many deities came from Greece, but renamed (such as Jupiter being the Roman equivalent of the Greek Zeus). Some originated from the Etruscan, Umbrian, and Latin tribes, while others came from conquered lands of the Roman Empire. The Roman religion was an inclusive religion and this played a significant role in the Roman Empires expansion. When the Roman Empire took control of an area it did not convert the natives into the Roman religion, but rather brought their deities and ways of worship into the fold. If the natives had a god that was an equivalent in the Roman religion it would be absorbed and this would better assimilate the natives under Roman authority.


The Roman religion was a practical religion and being orthopraxic was filled many myths where the gods all had various duties and responsibilities to perform. Each deity had a festival day and some, of greater importance, were on public holidays. These festivals and holidays gave the people the opportunity and chance to visit the temples where priests or religious leaders would provide over the required rituals.

The Roman religion was a state religion where political leaders were often the religious leaders as well. Due to the fact that the Roman religion was polytheistic and inclusive (integrating the gods of conquered nations) there was no single or centralized priestly caste over the Roman religion. There was however a great variety of priests and religious leaders to be found in the Roman Empire. It should be noted that one's religious duties were dependent upon one's social status. Priests were male, free and a Roman citizen. Slaves could not officiate in their own name, but could do so in the name of his master. Women could only officiate over rituals relevant to themselves or other women.



In private families, the rituals and faith were presided over by the "pater", the father (eldest male) of the family. Each family had "Penates" which were gods that were supposed to guard over the welfare and prosperity of the family. The family also worshiped "Lares" which were deified ancestors who also watched over the family. The Romans also believed that each individual, family/household, and city had a guardian spirit that needed to have offerings made to it. In most of the cities and colonies within the Roman Empire, the public and religious rituals, festivals, and assemblies were presided over by the magistrate (elected official).

During the time of the Emperors, they served as the "pontifex maximus" which served as the head of the Roman religion. The Roman Emperor was also considered to be a god and were deified. This practice probably came about with the contact the Roman Republic and Empire would have with the Middle East and North Africa. This practice also gave some legitimacy to the new Roman Emperor.

At the Republic, and later Imperial, level, the Roman religion was composed of four religious colleges. The highest college was the Pontifical College which was composed of the Rex Sacrorum, Pontifices, Flamines, and Vestal Virgins. The Rex Sacrorum (king of rites) was an office created during the early Roman Republic, but during the Empire, it became an honorary office. Sixteen Pontifices (priests) oversaw the coordination and documentation of religious events. The Flamines were priests to specific individual gods who specialized in specific prayers and rituals particular to their god or goddess. There were six Vestal Virgins, young women of noble birth, whose primary duty was to guard the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta (virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family). 

The College of Augurs consisted of fifteen members. The Augurs would study the entrails of the dead animals (called haruspicy), the behavior of animals, and interpret various omens to predict the future and the will of the gods.

The "Quindecemviri Sacris Faciundis" was a college of fifteen priests who had less clearly defined religious duties. One of their duties was to guard the Sibylline Books (a collection of oracular utterances) and consult them when requested to do so, usually in times of crises. This college also oversaw the worship of foreign gods that were introduced to Rome.

The College of Epulones was composed of seven members and their duty was to oversee the organization of the religious festivals. Depending on the calendar (as there was no single religious calendar over the entire Roman Empire), there was hardly a week or a month that went by where there was not a religious festival.


It was through the policy of integration that the Roman Empire absorbed what would be referred to as "mystery cults". Roman religion focused more on the well-being while alive, worship of the gods was more contractual rather than focusing upon the salvation of one's soul. This was something new that mystery cults brought to the Roman religions. Mystery cults often involved initiation or rite of purification that was meant to change the relationship between a particular deity and the supplicant. These initiations were extremely secretive which makes it difficult to study. Most evidence of them comes from archaeological evidence, but some sources are problematic as they came much later and with severe biases (often against them). Scholars believe that these mystery cults originated with tribes and clans where the members of those tribes and clans were initiated, but when they were taken to Rome initiation was a matter of personal choice rather than due to familial ties. Mystery cults reached their peak of popularity in the first three centuries AD.

Traits common among the various mystery cults are:
Followers of the mystery cults found deep symbolic significance in the natural processes of growth, death, decay, and rebirth.
Each mystery religion also passed on a “secret” to the initiate that included information about the life of the cult’s god or goddess and how humans might achieve unity with that deity. This “knowledge” was always a secret or esoteric knowledge, unattainable by any outside the circle of the cult.
Each mystery also centered around a myth in which the deity either returned to life after death or else triumphed over his enemies. Implicit in the myth was the theme of redemption from everything earthly and temporal.
The mysteries had little or no use for doctrine and correct belief. They were primarily concerned with the emotional life of their followers.
The immediate goal of the initiates was a mystical experience that led them to feel they had achieved union with their god. Beyond this quest for mystical union were two more ultimate goals: some kind of redemption or salvation, and immortality.
Out of Greece came the Cult of Demeter (the Eleusinian mysteries) and the Cult of Dionysus (the Orphic mysteries) which had been around since the 6th century BC, but didn't start gaining hold in Rome until the 2nd century BC. The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held every year for the Cult of Demeter. They are one of the most famous of the mystery religions that came from ancient Greece. The Cult of Demeter surrounded the myth of the abduction of Persephone by Hades (Pluto) which led to the seasonal changes with winter representing the time when Persephone spends time in Hades. The Cult of Dionysus was said to have been started by Orpheus. This cult was about liberating individuals from their constraints and taking them back to their natural state through the use of intoxicants. There were said to be initiation rituals for men and women in the Cult of Dionysus. It was suppressed by the Roman Senate in 186 BC because it was said to be subversive and unruly.

From Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) came the Cults of Cybele and Attis. The Cult of Cybele is said to have date back to the 6th century BC. Cybele was viewed as the "Great Mother" (to include of all the gods) and her initiation ceremonies are described as orgiastic thereafter the male worshipers were required to castrate themselves to become priests of the cult. The initiation surrounds the myth that Cybele drove Attis, her lover, insane after he was unfaithful to her which caused him to go mad and castrate himself. Attis died, but Cybele brought him back to life.

The Cult of Isis originated out of Egypt and was established in Rome around the beginning of 1st century BC, reaching the height of its popularity in the 2nd century AD. This cult focused on the goddess Isis and god Osiris, and focused on the murder of Osiris by his brother Set and reincarnation of Osiris through the effort of Isis.


From the Levant came the Cult of Adonis. Adonis is a Hellenized version of "Adonai", a Canaanite fertility god. Little is known about this cult, but it seemed to be composed of women who would mourn the death of Adonis each year.


The Cult of Mithras originated from Persia (modern day Iran). The Cult of Mithras was introduced into Rome around 75 AD. This cult was particularly popular among Roman soldiers. This cult was composed of seven grades of initiation and met in underground temples called "Mithraea."


In summation, the religion of ancient Rome is a difficult one to study because it has been dead for so long and there is a limited number of extant sources. Some say that because the Roman Empire had taken in so many gods that the religion became convoluted that facilitated the rise of Christianity, much simpler in contrast. The Cult of Mithras will be the focus of the next section which should come out next month.

References

Ancient Rome Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved from Ancient Rome: http://ancient-rome.com/rlg_f.htm 

Burton, H. F. (1912, August). The Worship of the Roman Emperors. The Biblical World, 40(2), 80-91. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3141986?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Carr, K. E. (2016, April). Roman Religion. Retrieved from Quatr: http://quatr.us/romans/religion/ 

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Karoglou, K. (2013, October). Mystery Cults in the Greek and Roman World. Retrieved from The Met Museum: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/myst/hd_myst.htm 

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