THE MITHRA WORSHIP
[Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 18, February, 1889, pp. 524-525]
All visitors to the Classical Galleries in the British Museum are familiar with the Mithraic Bull. In this a young man, wearing a Phrygian cap, bestrides a bull, into which he strikes a knife, while at the same time this bull is attacked by an insect, either scorpion or crab, and followed by two ravens or other birds. I therefore ask the meaning of this sculpture.
I. What analogy is there between this idol and the Hindoo Vâch?
II. What analogy is there with the Hebrew “golden calf” or “cherub” which was manufactured by the Israelites in the wilderness from the metal of which they had deprived the Egyptians?
III. Does the insect represent Cancer or Scorpio?
IV. Are the two ravens interpreted by the ravens of Mephistopheles (see Goethe’s Faust); by the Norse mythology; or by the higher symbolism indicated in The Secret Doctrine? Is the mystic signification of the word raven, which forms so important a factor in the legends of Noah and Elijah, interpreted in any way by the Mithraic myth?
To question I, we reply—
I. We know of no analogy between the Persian Mithra and the Hindu Vâch. If “A Bookworm” knows of any, let him “rise and explain.”
II. Save the fact that a cherub and a calf are synonymous in symbology, and that the calf is a young bull, we see no relation between the golden calf of the Jews and the Mithraic Bull. Both bulls, young or old, are emblems of strength and of creative or generative power. The Mosaic allegory has a reference, moreover, to that secret knowledge of which the Jews despoiled the Egyptians. Moses was learned in their wisdom and used it for good purposes;
the Israelites accepting the dead letter sought to use it for selfish purposes, or black magic. Hence Moses destroyed the object; the mode he adopted for it showing plainly his knowledge of alchemy. For it is stated that he burnt the “golden calf,” ground it to powder and strewed it upon the water, making “the children of Israel drink of it” (Exod. xxxii, 20)—a feat having a sense in it for the Alchemist, but reading like a jumble of physical impossibilities to the profane.
III. This insect represents e (Scorpio) of course, the sign which rules the reproductive faculty and the generative organs astrologically, and which represents esoterically the fierce animal passions of man symbolized by the bull. The Spiritual man is Mithra, the Sun. As the Sun governs astrologically the fiery triad of ^ (the Ram, or lamb), b (Leo), and e (Scorpio), so Mithra is shown as the liberated man, hence the Phrygian cap, probably, astride on _ (Taurus, the sign which succeeds Aries), and killing it—i.e., the animal passions. The allegorical representation is beautiful and ingenious, being suggestive of the Mithraic Mysteries, in which man was taught to subdue his animal Self.
IV. The ravens cannot signify either of the first two speculations. It is the decadence of the divine into black magic, which made of the ravens during the mediaeval ages the adjuncts of witches and fiends. Birds typified in both the Aryan and Semitic symbology, angels, divine messengers, and, in the inner man, his Spiritual and Human Souls or Buddhi and Manas. It is these two that follow the insect which goads the animal passions (see the part on the “Mithraic” Bull which is so attacked) in order to return into the man as soon as he has conquered, by killing it, the animal nature in him represented by the Bull. But these supposed ravens are probably hawks. The latter was a divine bird, sacred to the Sun (Mithra) in almost every mythology, whereas the raven was the symbol of longevity, wisdom through experience, and of the intelligent and firm will in man. Hence the allegories of the raven of Noah, who never returned to the Ark, and the ravens of Elijah,
who fed him morn and eve––i.e., his intelligence (Manas) provided him with means of support. For if taken in its dead-letter sense––for which more than one Bible worshipper will battle with us––how comes it that a raven, which, physiologically and Biblically is an unclean bird (vide Leviticus xi, 15), was chosen by the “Lord God” to feed the Tishbite, in preference to a dove or any other clean and holy bird? ––[ED.]