"...One result of the Persian-Hellenic blend of myths was Mithras.Mithras was a Persian deity, but other than his name used" to give itself an exotic oriental flavor," Hellenic Mithraism was distinctly pagan. Mithraism began and flourished at the same time as did Christianity. The cult gained enormous popularity and by the third century hundreds of mithraeum--underground temples where Mithras was worshipped--were spread out across Asia Minor, Africa,Italy, Greece, and the German and Scottish frontiers where Roman soldiers were stationed. Mithras is the most recognizable of the Mediterranean gods that was said to have been physically virgin-born; a flattering imitation of the Ishtar priestesses of Babylon. Mithras was depicted as a" bull-slayer" and stone-carved reliefs display a tauroctony where Mithras plunges a knife into the neck of a great bull, while the blood spills down to the ground. The bull-slaying scene always takes place inside of a cave, symbolically represented by the mithraeum's locations in caves and underground grottos. To understand this symbolic bull- slaying, we must first look briefly at the Greco-Roman world's understanding of the universe.
The ancients believed that the sun, the moon, "wandering" stars (planets), comets, and other celestial bodies were heavenly gods who were in motion about a stationary earth. Since the sun (Sol invictus) seemed to be the most influential of the celestial gods, it was especially worshipped and regarded as annually "reborn" at its lowest point in the sky during the winter solstice of December 25th. Since the plane of the ecliptic--the path that the sun travels in the sky--traces out the band of the twelve star-patterns that make up the zodiac, the sun was considered a god that gave "birth" to, or was a father of, the twelve zodiacal gods. The Greek astronomer Hipparchus made the astounding discovery in 128 BCE that the zodiac of constellations slowly drifted backward over time so that they appeared, with respect to the suns position at winter solstice, in a new location in the heavens. Every 25 thousand years these constellations slowly moved; a phenomenon we know today to be the precession of the equinoxes which is caused by the "wobble" of the earth on its axis. To the ancients, it was a frightening and astounding event:
Hipparchus, who assumed that the earth was immovable and at the center of the cosmos, could only understand the precession as a movement of the entire cosmic sphere. In other words, Hipparchus's discovery amounted to the revelation that the entire universe was moving in a way that no one had ever been aware of before. . . . [The precession] had profound religious implications. A new force had been detected capable of shifting the cosmic sphere: Was it not likely that this new force was a sign of the activity of a new god, a god so powerful that he was capable of moving the entire universe?
At the time Hipparchus made his discovery, the spring equinox, which signaled the resurrection of the sun-god, appeared in the constellation of Aries the Ram. Before Aries, it was seen that the equinox fell on Taurus the Bull. This celestial movement taking place among the heavenly gods and the "death" of Taurus the Bull made a tremendous impact. Mithras became that celestial force who was strong enough to slay the bull and was able to command the very heavens to do his bidding.
In Mithraism, just as in Christianity and Zoroastrianism before them, the world was a constant battleground of good and evil; a bitter dualistic struggle between the hosts of demons and the elect who serve God. Spirituality warred against the physical, and darkness imperiled the good fortune of light. Mithras represented the divine son of the sun-god and the savior of good against darkness in the universe who battled against the minions of evil to save mankind.
Because Mithras could move the celestial sphere at will, he was seen as outside of the universe. Carvings of Mithras reflect his birth as a naked child bursting from an egg-shaped petra genetrix, or "Generative Rock." The rock caves where the mithraeum were located symbolize the "womb" from which Mithras emerged. His escape from the confines of the rock, attest to his extra-universal power to escape the celestial sphere and command the heavens:
[Mithras'] birth is said to have been brought about solo aestu libidinis, "by the sole heat of libido...." The earth has given birth--a virgin birth--to the archetypal Man.
Mithras was born on December 25th, the eve of the winter solstice when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. With the dawn of light on Mithras' birth "the priest emerged from the temple to announce triumphantly: The God is born!"
When Christianity gained power in the fifth century, Mithraism was declared heretical and ruthlessly scourged. Before that time, Christianity and Mithraism coexisted and were undoubtedly influencial upon each other. This mingling and influence are apparent in the manner with which Christianity overtook Mithraism. The former had no trouble incorporating Mithraism's followers into its own ranks and many former mithraeums were converted to churches. Many Roman churches today, the Church of San Clemente in Rome most notably, still contain well-preserved mithraeums in their vaulted burial crypts. The lines that divided Mithraism from Christianity were understandably blurred due to this slow and steady absorption of Mithraism by Christianity during the centuries that the two existed side-by-side. This process led to the similarities that we now see shared between the two religions:
[Mithras] was said to have been sent by a father-god to vanquish darkness and evil in the world. Born of a virgin (a birth witnessed only by shepherds), Mithras was described variously as the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Word, the Son of God, and the Good Shepherd and was often depicted carrying a lamb upon his shoulders. Followers of Mithras celebrated December 25th (the winter solstice) by ringing bells, singing hymns, lighting candles, giving gifts, and administering a sacrament of bread and water. Between December 25th and the spring equinox (Easter, from the Latin for earth goddess) came the 40 days' search for Osiris, a god of justice and love. The cult also observed Black Friday, commemorating Mithras' sacrificial bull-slaying which fructified the earth. Worn out by the battle, Mithras is symbolically represented as a corpse and is placed in a sacred rock tomb from which he is removed after three days in a festival of rejoicing."