Merry Mithras

Warning! The history which follows will be hard to hear for most at this time of year.

Mithraism’s center of worship of an ancient Sumerian/Persian savior-god/messiah religion was at Tarsus, the home of a huge Roman army garrison and also the home of Saul who later had the vision to shut down the fledgling Jesus movement out of Galilee (the one that spoke of a kind, generous and unconditionally forgiving/loving ABBA always present among us), and labeled that peasant movement as “anti-Christ.”

Instead, Saul/Paul turned it into an apocalyptic Christ/Messiah/Savior movement similar to Mithraism which would relate better to the Gentile/Romans and pagans who were already well acquainted with Mithras. – Very clever idea which was destined to finally become the new Christian atonement religion about three centuries later, that is, with the help of NT narratives written a couple generations after Paul, and especially with Emperor Constantine’s decree to unify the Empire under the symbol of the cross. -HH

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Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Mithras to All!
by Stephen Van Eck

One of the most tiresome and predictable aspects of the holiday season is the annual lament that we’re “forgetting whose birthday it is.” Related to that is the exhortation to “keep Christ in Christmas.”

Those who employ these tired slogans simply do not understand Christmas at all. A review of the true historical roots of Christmas might help ease their confusion, and should be diverting to those who’ve never been bothered by the secular aspects of this holiday.

Devout Christians are of the opinion that Christmas has been corrupted, becoming more secular in recent decades than in its authentic form. Nothing can be further from the truth. What they fail to understand is that Christmas is actually the awkward amalgamation of two distinct cultural heritages, Christian and pagan. And the pagans had the holiday first.

Unknown to many, Christmas has its origins in the winter solstice festivals that virtually all ancient civilizations observed. (The Romans called it the Saturnalia.) The sun had ceased its ebbing, and had started to return to the world. Days stopped getting shorter, as if the light were reborn. The occasion was marked with feasting and merrymaking.

The original Christian church spread itself into cultures that had strong pagan traditions. They found these practices difficult to eradicate, and instead settled on a policy of consciously co-opting them. Pagan traditions continued, but in a new Christian context. This is what happened with the winter solstice festivals.

There is no record whatsoever of the specific date of Jesus’ birth, but December 25th is extremely unlikely. (While shepherds watched their flocks by night? Not in the winter they didn’t!)

The Church quite deliberately selected December 25th as a way of co-opting the solstice celebration. Since it was the time of the light coming back into the world, it had a practical symbolic tie-in that served their purposes well.

It could have been December 21st, a typical date for the actual solstice, but December 25th happened to be the birthday of Mithras, a Persian savior-god who was himself considered the light of the world. Mithras had a sizable cult within the Roman Empire during the first two centuries of the Christian Era, and by appropriating his birthday for their Savior, Christians could more easily convert Mithraites with a remarkably similar tale. As Mithras is forgotten today, it’s clear the strategy was a rousing success!

But Christmas continued as a schizophrenic holiday, part pagan festival, part Christian narrative. Along the way it absorbed more pagan elements that had absolutely nothing to do with Christian theology. Such things as decorating fir trees, hanging mistletoe, and sleigh bells in the snow simply do not pertain to ancient Palestine or Christian dogma at all, but they’ve had a strong appeal to our civilization just the same. It’s a true reflection of our forgotten pagan heritage.

Eventually, most Christians were no longer aware of the pagan origin of Christmas, which only created confusion over its persistent pagan aspects. The Puritans, however, did recognize its essential pagan character, and some early American colonies actually prohibited the celebration of Christmas.

One suspects they may have been disturbed not just by the paganism, but by the prospect that some people might actually cut loose and have fun. To them, December 25th was strictly to be just another working day, to be faced as sternly and joylessly as possible. The present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses attitude, when it comes to the legitimacy of Christmas, is pretty much the same.

The increasing secularism of the Christmas season, then, represents not a corruption of its original form, but a re-emphasis on the paganism that lies at its very foundation. Paganism that, since it was the original source of the holiday, has a more legitimate right to define what that holiday is. And let’s face it – all these pagan customs are actually rather enjoyable.

You’ll get no “bah humbug” from me – I’ll leave that to the Christians, who failed to co-opt the holiday completely, and are now upset that to most of us, it means something besides a drab indoctrination.

Merry Mithras to all, and to all a good night!

Henry Hasse ~ December 8, 2014

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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