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Mithraism

When the article on Mithras, page 671, was first composed no sources of information w ere available except passages here and there in Greek and Roman writings and in the polemical writings of early Church Fathers; and these last hated Mithraism so bitterly that they cannot be trusted. Since that time the full, detailed history of Mithraism has been put together, piece by piece, by archeologists, who have discovered tens of thousands of inscriptions and manuscripts. On the whole, the collected writings of Franz Cumont, though among the first in the scientific period, still are the best introduction to the subject In the most skeletonal outline, Mithraism was: an Ancient Mystery Cult; the germ of it was in the old Iranian and Babylonian sun cults; it became a separate cult in Phrygia; planted in Greece it was cleansed of its old ugly imagery, often very brutal and even savage, by artists and sculptors; after being introduced into Italy in the First Century, it soon became popular, especially in the army, and some Emperors belonged to it; soldiers carried it as far west as Ireland, as far north as the Baltic, as far east as the Danube, and as far south as Egypt. For some two centuries it was Christianity's most powerful rival. Once it was overthrown, Churchmen destroyed every trace of it they could find, and in consequence a once great religion was forgotten for nearly a thousand years.

A local building and center was called a mithreum; it had a priesthood, sacred writings, baptism, doctrines of God, Satan, heaven, hell, judgment day, end of world, missionaries, admitted candidates by initiation, divided its membership into grades or degrees, etc. Much of Mithraism became embodied in Manicheism, the cult in which Augustine had been a member before his conversion; Manicheism in turn became reembodied in Patraism, etc., and thence very distinct traces of it are found in the Waldensians, the Albigensians, the Huguenots, the Anabaptists, and on into Puritanism. The root idea which persisted through its transformations w as the doctrine of dualism; that evil is as real as the good, and that man's life is a struggle between the two. (See Chapter in Gould's History of Freemasonry; and [more modern] in A History of Freemasonry, by Haywood and Craig.)

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