History of Mithraism
Mithras is first known to us as one of the gods worshipped by ancient Indopersian tribes who came to settle in Iran and India.
Mithras was the god of the covenant – the agreements people made with each other. It was he who kept people to their promises so that relative strangers could trust each others word and collaborate. Mithras is the god of justice and of civilisation – the human association that grows larger than the family group.
Zarathustra – who possibly lived around 1000 BC – introduced the idea of Humanity – the Good Mind working consciously and directly to support the good order of existence and the flourishing of life.
Later philosophers such as Gautama the Buddha in India and Heraclitus in Greece were inspired by the enlightened philosophy of Zarathustra and spread its influence. Stoic philosophy also owes a debt to Zarathustra.
The best of the Magi or Zoroastrian wizards worked to develop the good religion and the good government of the country for the common benefit.
King Cyrus the Great gained and ruled a world empire encompassing half the population of the globe. He was known for his humanity and for allowing the autonomy of his subject peoples.
Middle-eastern movements and religions such as Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity and Manichaism all absorb from the Persian tradition.
Roman Mithraism originates in about 100 AD at about the same time as Roman Christianity. Roman Mithraism is in many ways a radical departure from the earlier Persian Mithraism but shares a common veneration for Mithras.
Roman Mithrites gather together in small fellowships or sodalities to conduct mystery rituals in underground caverns known as spelea or speluncae. There is emphasis on building solidarity between members and in self-improvement. Some see the later Freemasonry movement as well as the Sufi movement having roots in the Roman Mithraism.
Roman Mithraism is eventually eclipsed by Christianity but the latter absorbs many traits of the former.
Meanwhile Zoroastrianism is still flourishing in Iranian-speaking lands and their neighbours though Buddhism, Christianity and later Manichaism are also making inroads. The Arabic invasion into the West of the Persian empire deals a major blow to Zoroastrianism as a state religion though Zoroastrian thinking is absorbed into Islam. In later centuries nomadic warriors destroy major cities of Persian culture in the East. Some Zoroastrians flee to India and set up the Parsi community still continuing today. Zoroastrians remaining in Iranian lands decrease in numbers over the centuries under pressure from Islam. Yet still a few remain especially around the city of Yazd.
Christianity remain dominant in Europe for many centuries. But in the 19th and 20th centuries academic interest in Zoroastrianism and Mithraism grows.
In the last couple of decades religious interest in Zoroastrianism and Mithraism have been increasing.
Zoroastrianism particularly attracts those looking for a rational ethical system not dependent on religious superstition.
Mithraism is a label used by those more open to spiritual and religious practices and draws not only from Zoroastrian tradition but also the Indopersian and European pagan heritage , Greek and Roman philosophy, Roman Mithraism and Christianity.