At some point in your history classes, you probably heard that the most effective form of conquest was adoption. Essentially, you assimilate some cultural aspects of those you are conquering to make their transition smoother and make them less likely to rebel and slit your throat in the middle of the night.
No one has done this better than the Roman Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, many of our modern day Christian holidays have their roots in other religions: Halloween, Easter, Christmas… But since we are about to celebrate Christmas, let us look at the Festival of Mithras.
Mithra is a Zoroastrian god. Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion on the planet still actively practiced. It appeared in Persia during the 3rd or 4th century BCE and was headquartered in what is modern day Iran. It predates Islam and Christianity. However, both religions incorporated some Zoroastrian teachings.
Mithra was a member of the divinity, but he was not a deity, he answered to the one True God, the Creator Ahura Mazda. He was sort of like an angel, but not. Which doesn’t make sense yet, but will. Ahura Mazda bade Mithra’s mother to become pregnant, he did not father the child himself like Zeus or Jupiter was said to do. Ahura Mazda simply decided it should be and as such, it was. Mithra’s mother was a virgin when she became pregnant and remained that way until after the birth of Mithra.
Upon his birth, three wise men traveled from kingdoms in the East to give rare and expensive gifts to Mithra’s mother. They were shown the way by a star. Little is known of Mithra’s life again until he became an adult, at which time Ahura Mazda visited him one night and told him he would be murdered and he should not fight back for great gifts awaited him in death.
And because Ahura Mazda decided it should be, it was. After he was murdered, Mithra became part of the Ahuric Triad which consists of Ahura Mazda and Ahura Berezaiti. Mithra was also given a place amongst the Great Judges; he, Sraosha, and Rashnu sit in judgment of the souls of the dead. Mithra was given the position because he could not be deceived, he knew what was in the hearts of man even when they did not. Rashnu was the personification of Justice, Sraosha represented Obedience and after judgment was responsible for delivering the soul to either heaven or Hell, as Zoroastrian is a religion of dualities; namely good and evil.
Mithra’s festival day is in December and corresponds with the celebration of Christmas. Mithra is actually part of the reason why there are such huge differences between Islam and Christianity. Islam rejected the idea of Jesus Christ being the son of God because his story lines up a little too neatly with that of Mithra’s life. And so, Jesus Christ is relegated to the roll of prophet in Islamic tradition, far removed from his exalted spot in Christianity.
Now, go forth and continue preparations for the Festival of Mithras, if you participate in the celebration and if not, maybe it’s time to reconsider since the Festival of Mithras would not be a “Christian” holiday, but a Zoroastrian one.