The Mysteries of Mithras and the Nodes

The relief depicted above can be seen in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It depicts Mithras and the Bull. This relief, is interesting as it depicts two torchbearers, which are an important part of Mithras iconography, but not always depicted.

We know very little of the Mysteries of Mithras as it was an initiatory religion. Its ceremonies were secret. Most of the historical written records we have are polemic and unlikely to be accurate, or if accurate then very strongly misrepresented. What we do know is that there was a very strong Persian, that is Zoroastrian influence. We can safely say that the Mithras Mysteries inherited the star wisdom of the Magi. We just don’t know to what extent. The only real ‘documents’ we have are the remains of cult centres devoted to Mithras. These were always in a cave or grotto and usually had an image of Mithras near the altar. (At its height in the late Roman period, there were more than 600 Mithraeum alone in Rome! )

Mithras is a solar god, and it is not very difficult to recognise star imagry in the images associated with him. You will find the Bull, the Scorpion, the Serpent, the Twins, and references to other constellations. Overlaid is also the tropical zodiac, if what Porphyry describes in his “The Cave of the Nymphs” is accurate:

On this account they assigned a place congruous to Mithras, near the equinoctial; and hence he bears the sword of Aries, because this animal is martial, and is the sign of Mars: he is likewise carried in the Bull, the sign of Venus; because the Bull as well as Venus is the ruler of generation. But Mithras is placed near the equinoctial circle, comprehending the northern parts on his right, and the southern on his left hand… (The Cave of Nymphs) 24, Th. Taylor trans.

If we carry our discussion of the exaltation and fall of the Moon’s Nodes further, then the Mithraen representation may be considered as a classical astrological “source”. I would like to suggest that the two torchbearers are images of the Nodes. They are twins, but with one difference. One holds his torch upright; he is the immortal twin, the ascending Node. The other holds his torch upside down; he is the mortal twin, the descending Node. In the following photo their position has been lightened, along with the scorpion that is clawing the bull’s scrotum:

If you recall in the article “Nodes in Exaltation” we spoke of how the axis of the solstice at Cancer/Capricorn also forms the axis around which another set of ’shadowy’ points, the antiscia are generated and that any position in Cancer/Capricorn has its antisicion in Gemini/Sagittarius, which corresponds to the traditional North Node/ South Node exaltation position. If we consider what Porphyry has to say about the Cave of the Nymphs, we have Cancer and Capricorn as the two gateways into which souls enter and leave the world. These gateways are marked by the solstices. The two torchbearer’s, interestingly enough carry a light, and considering that the nodes have no light, but mark the crossing of the pathways of the lights, it is not entirely absurd to conjecture that they indeed represent the Nodes. Think about it. And if you have another suggestion, please say so!

8 thoughts on “The Mysteries of Mithras and the Nodes

  1. Hello Thomas

    That is an interesting hypothesis you have there!

    I had always understood the two cross-legged figures depicted on either side of Mithras to be those of the celestial twins of light and darkness Cautes and Cautopates, who marked the crossing points of the Sun with the Equinoxes; Cautes holding his torch aloft when the Sun crossed the Vernal Point and Cautopates dipping his torch below the horizon at the Autumn Equinox. This then makes sense of the ritual ‘killing’ by Mithras (the Sun) of the Taurean Bull when precession moved the Vernal Point into Aries.

    So you suggest the crossed legs of Cautes and Cautopates are representative not of the intersections of the Ecliptic with the Equator as previously supposed, but instead portray the intersections of the orbit of the Moon with that of the Ecliptic?

    Neat idea! 🙂


  2. Excellent post, Thomas.

    Roger Beck writes about Cautes and Cautopates in his well-researched text “The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire.”

    Those who have read this particular book (or, at least, the relevant portions thereof) will appreciate the argument (which I now understand and fully agree with) that Caput Draconis is exalted in Gemini (“exaltation exalted”) and domiciled in Virgo (“exaltation humiliated” [i.e., fallen]) while Cauda Draconis is exalted in Sagittarius (“humiliation humiliated”) and domiciled in Pisces (“humiliation exalted”).

    Alcabitius writes:

    “Caput Draconis is masculine. Likewise it is beneficent and its nature is compounded of the natures of Jupiter and Venus. And it signifies kingly power and fortune and (worldly) substance. And some have said that its nature is to augment, because when it is with indicators of fortune it increases the fortune, and when it is with bad indicators it increases their badness.”

    And then Cauda is described as the opposite.

    From a somewhat different perspective, the American Vedic astrologer Dennis Harness writes:

    “I have observed the additional effects of Rahu to reflect the Uranus energy of sudden change while Ketu is somewhat similar to mystical Neptune.”

    And the traditional Hindu astrologer Satya Prakash Chowdhary writes:

    “Uranus is a secondary manifestation of the graha (principle of energy) called Rahu, while Neptune is a secondary manifestation of Ketu.”

  3. Hello Caroline,

    There are very different viewpoints given. As we know so very little about the cosmological teachings transmitted in the Mithras Mysteries we can only conjecture, but that is also good as it opens up a whole new vista of looking at some astrological themes – in this case the Nodes.

    I have come across one reference, from a Roman/Greek manuscript, the was more or less used as a vocabulary for foreign ideas and there Mithras is associated with Prometheus, which is a very intriguing thought.


  4. Hello Andrew,

    I was hoping you would bring these very informative quotes. It is actually our discussion of the exaltations that brought me to consider looking at this particular relief from the standpoint of the nodes.

    I had another thought this morning, which though far-fetched might be interesting to pursue.

    The Cave, in which the rites of Mithras were celebrated signified the Microcosm. The roof of the cave, the sky. Many polemicists took this to mean that these were dark mysteries and hence reprehensible. But considering our discussion of the mundus imaginalis the imagry of the night sky is not so far off. We have to imagine the initiates of Mithras seeing through the roof of the Cave into the greater sky above, that is the sky in its spiritual aspect. Perhaps this theme has to be pursued a bit further…

  5. Hi Thomas … yes I agree, particularly with your observation about “the sky in its spiritual aspect.” I think this might relate to your remarks on the spiritual astrology of Ibn Arabi, in the sense that the material sky we seem to see with our physical senses is not necessarily the subtle sky we need to see with our spiritual senses. In other words … the constellations are not the signs but simply signs of the signs, like fingers pointing toward the Moon.

    P. D. Ouspensky writes that on the noumenal plane (the multi-dimensional plane of Reality) Time exists spatially, and temporal events exist rather than happen. “Effects” co-exist with their “causes,” and moments of different epochs exist simultaneously and contiguously. Points that seem far apart in multi-dimensional Space can touch one another; proximity and separation become affinity and repulsion, sympathy and antipathy. There is neither matter nor movement. Nothing is dead, nothing is unconscious.

  6. Hello Andrew!
    I have tried to develop this theme a little further in the newest article, A Matter of Perception? It is not possible to go into great detail, as a weblog article should be kept as concise as possible, but there is still much to be explored. The history of Light and its connection to Astrology is one huge field for itself!

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