Mysteries of Mithras: the pagan belief that shaped the Christian world. By Payam Nabarz,
Inner Traditions, 2005 isbn 1594770271 $14.95 approx £14.99, 230pp, heavily illustrated.
This is an engaging and entertaining book encompassing the author _ s personal journey into the magick of a Roman mystery cult. The author, who has an Iranian background, was drawn to the schema of initiatory work, as set out in Aleister Crowley _ s Liber Astarte. The idea of this particular practice is to counteract the overly intellectual character of the western mystoi, to thereby activate a more devotional mind set. Many on this path find it useful to work in a tradition that already possesses some form of cultural resonance. It was for this reason that the author chose to work with Mithraism. This book is one of the fruits of that labour. Not surprisingly the book therefore presents a lively combination of mystical insight and academic research.
The first half of the book sets out the basics of the Mithraic history and iconography. This section is a mine of interesting information, perhaps a little breathless in delivery; only occasionally inaccurate, well illustrated and often thought provoking. It is here that the author sets out certain facts concerning the influence of Mithraism on Early Christian iconography. In reality this is a minor component of the book, although the one that the publisher, rather misleadingly in my opinion, chooses to make the book _ s chief selling point. Personally I wasn _ t too convinced by this line of reasoning. I agree that Mithraism had some impact on Christianity after its rise to Roman state religion in the third century. However I cannot see how this justifies the conclusion that it shaped the Christian world _ surely if anything, Christianity shaped the Christian world?
The book _ s real core is the revivalist material, where over several chapters, the author sets out the main components of the cult. Here it adheres as much as sources will allow, to the inner workings of the Roman cult. Thus there is a chapter on the celebrated _ Mithras Liturgy _ _ a sorcerous rite used by the mage, whose library of magical books was only discovered in the last century, after two millennia buried in the sands of the desert. Into this mix, the author adds some material from the Persian manifestation of the cult, with a chapter on the pre-Zoroastrian goddess Anahita. This does much to correct the false impression that the cult of Mithras is only for the macho.
Some of these themes continue in what is undoubtedly the core of the book, a modern reconstruction of the seven fold initiatory schema of Mithraism. Archaeological and textual records demonstrate that the cult shared the classical world _ s obsession with the symbolism of the number seven _ seven stars in the starry plough, seven steps to heaven, seven Hathos etc., etc. Perhaps we shouldn _ t be surprised that the actual details of a mystery cult are now lost to us. So the author uses whatever is to hand, grafting material from classical and Persian sources, and indeed where necessary reusing contemporary magical material, until the result is a pleasing revivalist version. I sometimes found it a little hard to see the join. Also, although the material works well as a literary fugue, I wasn _ t sure how it would pan out as an actual set of ritual workings? The rubric was a tad confusing. But I for one was happy to just read it as a literary creation - which is indeed a form of trance or meditation work. Anything else and I wouldn _ t be sure if I was supposed to be breaking off from the train of thought, to put more wood on the bonfire. Seen this way, this book did take me on an interesting and thoughtful excursion into the uncharted territory. - [mogg]