Dualism Inspired Mystery Cults

plaque known as the Ninnion Tablet discovered in the sanctuary at Eleusis in southern Greece
A plaque known as the Ninnion Tablet discovered in the sanctuary at Eleusis in southern Greece (mid-4th century BC). This shows a night procession of people at moonrise holding torches. The corners of the scene show crescent and full moon images. The people are wearing laurel wreaths representing wind power. All these correspondences show they are inserting the powers of motion into a life ritual about bringing the back the growth of life in the spring.
(from wikipedia commons at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NAMA_Myst%C3%A8res_d%27Eleusis.jpg


(July 9, 2022) The mystery cults found in Greece and Rome arose in a response to dualism. An inherently corrupt material world implies an eternal and perfect divine world which can be reached with the right magic.  The mystery cults came in two forms:

Seeking Resurrection after Death by Acquiring the Power of Vegetation Renewal in the Spring in Various Ways

 Seeking the Preservation of Life by Defeating Chaos

Mithraeum at the Circus Maximus in Rome
Original 1931 photograph of the lavish Mithraeum at the Circus Maximus in Rome. It was discovered in 1931 when a wing of the Palazzo dei Musei di Roma was rebuilt into a warehouse for the Teatro dell'Opera. During construction a Roman public building was discovered which contained this Mithraeum. It dates to the end of the 200's CE.
The pit in the photograph contained a round amphora containing two tusks of a boar. Behind it towards the alter was  a round white alabaster circle surrounded by square black stone.
Photo from http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/mithras/display.php?page=cimrm434
Bas relief of Mithras killing the bull of chaos in the Mithraeum at the Circus Maximus in Rome
On either side of the main room are two small raised rooms. The left room contained this marble relief and it had stairs leading up to it. The relief faced the right room which likely had seated observers. The walls of the right room were decorated with twelve red circles total with a few red and grey lines. In the alcove at the back is a stand for some sort of statue. Its arched roof was made from black pumice. This alcove could also be entered from the room behind it.
Photo from: http://www.mithraeum.eu/monumenta/tauroctonia_circo_massimo


(July 9, 2022) No ancient texts describing Mithraism have ever been found. What is known is guess work based upon interpreting the extensive remains of its caves known as Mithraeum. Caves were the home of animal and human spirits since Mesolithic times and so represented the motion class of powers.

In 68 BCE Plutarch (45-120 CE) mentions that Mithraism was being practiced as a religion in his own day in Rome. Mithra or Mitra was the Indo-European god of the visible sun and analogous to the Alphabetic Akkadian Hu. Consequently, he represented the power of order. This is in contrast to the sun's hidden or chaotic form represented by the bull. Chaotic rain storms brought rain.

The Mithraeum near the Circus Maximus in Rome had a detailed white marble relief showing the bull of chaos getting killed. In this image (bottom left), Mithra in a wind swept cloak is slaying the bull. Mithra is wearing a Phrygian cap having a star at its peak. Four more stars are visible to the right of the god's head. 

A lion cub and the serpent are licking the blood from the wound of the bull. A scorpion grasps the testicles. On each side of the bull is a torch-bearer: Cautes (left) with a torch pointed up and Cautopates (right) with his torch pointed down. The two Corinthian columns beside them are pointed in the same directions are their torches. These likely represent the seasons with Cautes representing summer and Cautopates representing winter. Mithra is looking towards the sun side which is the side of life and growth.

 Behind the main scene on the left is an idealized temple of Mithra on which a raven is perched. The raven grasps with its break a part of Mithras' cloak. A lizard is visible creeping out of its hole. Before the entrance to the temple is a mini Mithra carrying a mini bull; before the bull's forelegs a serpent which represents the power of life and death.

The upper left corner has an image of the sun with a crown of seven rays, and of Luna (moon) with a crescent behind the shoulders. She is looking downwards.

 On the upper border above Mithras' head runs a inscription which says: "Deo Soli Invicto Mithrae Ti(tus) Cl(audio) Hermes ob votum dei typum d(onum) d(edit)" which means "Invincible sun deity Mithra. Titus Claudio Hermes voted for the type of gift given."


 Pietrangeli, Mitreo Pal., 1ff (reprint from BCR 1940 (1941)

Dionysiac Frieze, Villa of Mysteries, Pompeii

Oct 15, 2012 • Dionysian Cult Cycle (?), Villa of Mysteries, before 79 C.E., fresco, Pompeii, Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.


Orpheus was an enchanting musician whose music allowed the resurrection of his wife. That promised eternal life to his followers.