There are several almost-lost Mithraic temples in Britain. Mostly recycled and now known as "early Christian chapels". But enough have survived for us to be able to trace the origins of Mithraic (Roman) Christianity in Britain.
One of them has recently been restored and is on display in the basement of the new Bloomberg building in London.
(c) Guardian, London Mithraeum is housed in Bloomberg’s European headquarters, designed by Norman Foster.
It's important to appreciate the roots of this brand of Christianity (via the Roman army) before looking at the Gnostic Christianity which arrived via a different route.
The Mithraic doctrine of the soul is intimately linked with the myth of creation and with Platonic philosophy. As in the Timaeus, the soul of man came down from the heaven. It crossed the seven spheres of the planets, taking on their vices (e.g. those of Mars and Venus) and was finally caught within the body. The task of man is to liberate his divine part (the soul) from the shackles of the body and to reascend through the seven spheres to the eternal, unchanging realm of the fixed stars. This ascension to the sky was prefigured by Mithra himself, when he left the earth in the chariot of the sun god.
Ref: correspondence with Kevin Kingsland, 1996, The Genesis of Spectrum Theory.
Note the similarity between the ascents of Mithra and Jesus. The "seven spheres of the planets" is an analogy for the ascent through the realms of our own personalities from the physical to the creative and cosmic.
One of the names of the sun in Sanskrit is "saptasvaan" which means seven (sapta) horses (asva). Asva also means "rays". The reference is to the seven coloured rays the sun emits (VIBGYOR). Taittareeya Aaranyaka of the Vedas says that a single ray is known by seven names "Eko Asvah Vahati Saptanaama", that is to say, the single colour, white splits on refraction into seven colours.
Ref: p. 156, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, The Vedas, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1991.
Mithraic initiates were organised into seven grades and went through a series of seven initiations. These were enacted by passing through seven gates and climbing a ladder of seven steps. Each grade was attributed to one of the seven planetary gods.
Ref: p.198 Vol 8, Britannica.
For continuity with later forms of mystery schools, it's worth noting that:
Worshippers of Mithras had a complex system of seven grades of initiation, with ritual meals. Initiates called themselves syndexioi, those "united by the handshake …. The Romans themselves regarded the mysteries as having Persian or Zoroastrian sources. Since the early 1970s, however, the dominant scholarship has noted dissimilarities between Persian Mithra-worship and the Roman Mithraic mysteries, and the mysteries of Mithras are now generally seen as a distinct product of the Roman Imperial religious world"
Ref: Mithraic mysteries
Modern-day masons (in England) have three or four grades of initiation, with ritual meals (the "festive board"), and the handshakes. Mithras is a form of Mithra, apparently an “Old Persian” God. But Mitra is also a god in the Indian Rig Veda, and In Sanskrit, "mitra" means "friend" or "friendship". Which equates to the masonic ideal of brothers or brethren. In Roman Mithras tradition, Mithras is depicted as being born from a rock. Which might equate in masonic symbology to the initiate as the rough stone (ashlar).
Mithraic initiates were required to swear an oath of secrecy and dedication, and some grade rituals involved the recital of a catechism, wherein the initiate was asked a series of questions pertaining to the initiation symbolism and had to reply with specific answers. An example of such a catechism, apparently pertaining to the Leo grade, was discovered in a fragmentary Egyptian papyrus.
... He will say: 'Where ... ? ... he is/(you are?) there (then/thereupon?) at a loss?' Say: ... Say: 'Night'. He will say: 'Where ... ?' ... Say: 'All things ...' (He will say): '... you are called ... ?' Say: 'Because of the summery ...' ... having become ... he/it has the fiery ... (He will say): '... did you receive/inherit?' Say: 'In a pit'. He will say: 'Where is your ...?... (Say): '...(in the...) Leonteion.' He will say: 'Will you gird?' The (heavenly?) ...(Say): '... death'. He will say: 'Why, having girded yourself, ...?' '... this (has?) four tassels. Very sharp and ... '... much'. He will say: ...? (Say: '... because of/through?) hot and cold'. He will say: ...? (Say): '... red ... linen'. He will say: 'Why?' Say: '... red border; the linen, however, ...' (He will say): '... has been wrapped?' Say: 'The savior's ...' He will say: 'Who is the father?' Say: 'The one who (begets?) everything ...' (He will say): '('How ?)... did you become a Leo?' Say: 'By the ... of the father'. ... Say: 'Drink and food'. He will say '...?'
Which might equate to the question and answer format of some masonic lodge ritual.
In the Mithraeum of ancient Capua (which is now Santa Maria Capua Vetere in Campania) there are five frescos which may depict the initiation rituals. The first shows a blindfolded naked man; in the second he is also kneeling and his hands are bound behind him; in the third he is no longer blindfolded and is being crowned; in the fourth he is being restrained from rising; in the fifth he is lying on the ground as if dead.
Ref : The Roman Cult of Mithras
Admission into the community was completed with a handshake with the pater (father). The initiates were thus referred to as syndexioi, those "united by the handshake".
According to Q-Mag:
There is an enormous and incredible misunderstanding about the so-called “cult” of the Sol Invictus Mithras, which is always presented as a “religion”, arisen in parallel with Christianity and in competition with it. Some historians go so far as to maintain that this religion was so popular and deeply rooted in Roman society that it very nearly won the race with Christianity. Yet there is absolute evidence that the so called “cult” of Mithras, in Rome, was not a religion, but an esoteric organization, with several levels of initiation, which from the oriental religion had borrowed only the name and a few exterior symbols. For what concerns contents, scope and operative procedures, however, the Roman Mithras had nothing in common with the Persian god.
Ref: Mithras, Jesus and Josephus Flavius
Q-Mag also says that:
While there are similarities in name between the Roman and Zoroastrian Mithra/Mithras, there are also some clear distinctions. The Roman Mithraism was not a religion dedicated to the worship of a specific divinity, but an association of mutual assistance, whose members were free, in their public life, to worship whatever god they liked. It seems it was not a mass religion, but an organisation to which only members of the Roman army and of the imperial bureaucracy were admitted. Within a century, Sol Invictus Mithras was so strongly associated with the Roman Army throughout the whole Roman empire, that it is now often considered by historians to be the “religion” typical of Roman soldiers.
Sol Invictus Mithras may also have been the elite organisation for the same people (initially St Paul and then Josephus Flavius) who took Paulian Christianity to Rome, and from there, throughout the Roman Empire.
As an aside, the last part is probably the part that most disturbs modern-day (Paulian) Christians. Even more so when it appears that the following Mithrac attributes pre-date Christianity.
• Mithra was born in December of the virgin Anahita.
• The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
• He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
• He had 12 companions or "disciples."
• He performed miracles.
• As the "great bull of the Sun," Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
• Mithra ascending to heaven in his solar cart, with sun symbol
• He ascended to heaven.
• Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the "Way, the Truth and the Light," the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
• Mithra is omniscient, as he "hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him."
• He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
• His sacred day was Sunday, "the Lord's Day," hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
• His religion had a eucharist or "Lord's Supper."
• Mithra "sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers."
• Mithraism emphasized baptism.
Ref: Mithra: The Pagan Christ
It gets worse if we point out that the Paulian (Roman) Christianity has fundamental (sic) differences to the original Essene/Coptic teachings of Christ.
Before the Romans
But here's the immediate problem: Freemasonry legends are almost entirely based around events in Israel, not Persia or Rome. Where does that leave us or take us?
The Roman Mithras, with bulls having their throats cut seem just too typically bloody Roman. Plus it seems to follow the Roman pattern of grabbing someone else's religion/mythology by the wrong end of the stick and make a pig's ear of it (is that a suitably mangled-enough metaphor?).
Going back a bit, Magog is said in some accounts to be the grandson of Noah. Magogians are called Scythians by the Greeks, but also descended from Scythes, the youngest of the three sons of Hercules. In the Ancient Paths by Graham Robb, he described the Scythians as descendants of one of the mass migrations of Celts eastward and down the Danube, going so far geographically as to sack the Oracle at Delphi in Greece.
These became the Galatian people
From the description of the Galatians by Strabo, it seems clear they had Druids with them.
Each tribe was divided into cantons, each governed by a chief ('tetrarch') of its own with a judge under him, whose powers were unlimited except in cases of murder, which were tried before a council of 300 drawn from the twelve cantons and meeting at a holy place, twenty miles southwest of Ancyra, written in Greek as Δρυνεμετον (Drunemeton or Drynemeton, Gaulish*dru-nemeton "holy place of oak"). It is likely it was a sacred oak grove, since the name means "sanctuary of the oaks" (from drus, meaning "oak" and nemeton, meaning "sacred ground"). The local population of Cappadocians were left in control of the towns and most of the land, paying tithes to their new overlords, who formed a military aristocracy and kept aloof in fortified farmsteads, surrounded by their bands. (Wikipedia)
Drunemeton is a place name of great significance, across large parts of Europe, as a just-visible link to an almost forgotten pre-Roman history.There were many Celtic-Druid place names in Gaul (France). They are still some in Britain, curiously a lot of them are in Devon (e.g. Drewsteignton, Broad Nymett, Nymet Tracey) or in Scotland
These Celts were warriors, respected by Greeks and Romans. They were often hired as mercenary soldiers, sometimes fighting on both sides in the great battles of the times… In 189 BC, Rome sent Gnaeus Manlius Vulso on an expedition against the Galatians, the Galatian War. He defeated them. Galatia was henceforth dominated by Rome through regional rulers from 189 BC onward. Galatia declined and fell at times under Pontic ascendancy. They were finally freed by the Mithridatic Wars, during which they supported Rome.
Once can only hope these Galatians didn’t end up as auxiliary troops sent to Gaul and Britain to fight their own kind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massagetae
Other reports say the Scythians established and controlled a vast trade network (Silk Road) connecting Ancient Greece, Persia, India and China. Around 650-630 BC, the Scythians even briefly dominated the Medes of the Iranian Plateau, stretching their power all the away to the borders Egypt. Or the Saka as they were known north of Persia.
Nice outfits by the way.
Zoroastrianism was the state religion of all these empires. The Zoroastrian Mithra is an angelic Divinity (yazata) of Covenant and Oath. Mithra is apparently an “Old Persian” God. But Mitra is also a god in the Indian Rig Veda, and In Sanskrit, "mitra" means "friend" or "friendship". Which might equate to the masonic peaceful ideals of brothers or brethren.
Gods Of Light
Zoroastrianism revolves around three basic tenets - Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. These bear comparison to the "Three Great Principles" on which Freemasonry is founded: Brotherly Love (showing tolerance and respect for the opinions of others), Relief (to help those in distress) and Truth.
Ahura Mazda (the god of Light and Wisdom) seems like a more fitting comparison to the masonic Great Architect of the Universe (from whom all goodness emanates) than a blood-soaked Roman god. Re the differences between Roman and Zoroastran Mithras/Mithra, there might be one part of special interest from the Zoroastran version. The supreme god Ahura Mazda has one Eye, or else it is said that 'with his eyes, the sun, moon and stars, he sees everything.' Could the Zoroastran "all-seeing eye" be the origin of the Masonic Eye?
From the Boun-dehesh (a Zoroastrian text) (translated by Anquetil Du Perron?)-
The Caucasus means the Bull Mountain, and Herodotus gave them the name Taurus.
Which might explain the Roman triumphalistic adoption of Mithras, to add one more realm to those dominated by Rome, symbolically cutting the Bull’s throat to show Roman dominance over the Caucasus. Or it might
“represent the sun, passing to the upper hemisphere, through the sign of Taurus, which in that remote period (four thousand six hundred years before our era) was the equinoxal sign.”
– either way, the Roman version was a garbled version. Also in the Boun-dehesh we find that
"the longest day of the summer is equal to the two shortest of the winter; and that the longest night in the winter is equal to the two shortest nights in summer".
Which is a latitude of around 50 degrees, much like Avebury and Stonehenge. This is far north of Persia, in Scythian territory. Another megalithic connection?
Ref : Sacred texts
Next : The Mysteries of Eleusis