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MITHRAS
The Persian god of created light and of all earthly wisdom. In the course of time he became identified with the sun-god I who conquers all demons of darkness. In the time after Alexander the Great, his worship, mixed with various customs peculiar to Western Asia, was extended over all the Oriental kingdoms. In the first half of the lst century B.C. it is said to have been introduced into the Roman provinces in the West by the Cilician pirates who were at that time masters of the Mediterranean. There are traces of his worship at Rome under Tiberius; and in the beginning of the 2nd century after Christ, under the Antonines, it became common throughout the whole Roman empire, and was kept up till the end of the 4th century. Mithras was a special favourite of the Roman armies. Being born from the rocks, he was worshipped in natural or artificial caves, such as have been found in every part of the Roman empire. He is represented as a Young Man in oriental dress and as an invincible hero, stabbing a bull with his dagger or standing on a bull he has thrown down. [Fine specimens of this group may be seen in the Louvre and in the British Museum and elsewhere (see cut).] The cave itself was explained by the ancients to signify the world, into which the human soul must descend, that it may be purified by many trials before leaving it. Before any one was initiated in the mysteries of Mithras, it was necessary for the person to undergo a series of (it is said eighty) trials of increasing difficulty; and an undaunted, unsubdued spirit had to be maintained in fire and water, hunger and thirst, scourging, and solitude, and the aspirant was thus prepared for the initiation. It consisted of seven degrees, that of the ravens, the secret, the fighters, the lions or she-lions (for women were also received), the Persians, the sun-runners, and the fathers. Various Christian rites seem also to have been introduced into the mysteries of Mithras. Epithets like "Lord and Creator of all things," "Father and source of all life," enable us to recognise Mithras as one of the pantheistic divinities of declining heathendom.

Pictures and Media
THE SACRIFICE OF MITHRAS. (Paris, Louvre.)
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