Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, (insert Solar Diety here)!

"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day."
- -Bishop Bar-Salibi, 1150's

I promised a post about Dies Natalis Solis Invicti so here it is!

This is a cult from the later days of the Roman Empire. There are arguments about which deities from which regions were conflated into the figure of Sol, including Helios, Apollo, Mithras, El-Gabal and Jupiter.  Jesus was even given the title "Sun of Justice" in the early days. Sol Invictus was paired with a Eagle who acted as a psychopomp to unite souls with Sol. Not surprising as the eagle is associated with several father figure deities.

Constantine, allegedly the first emperor to convert to Christianity, was of the cult of Sol Invictus. They are pictured on coins together, he had his triumphal arch built to align with the massive statue of Sol.  Constantine also declared Sunday as a Roman day of rest. He ordered all businesses to close but exempted farmers in case a Sunday was the best day to work the land.

What I find interesting about Constantine and Sol Invictus is that, combined with the cult of Mithras, we have almost the whole of modern Christianity. I suggest at least perusing The Cult of Sol Invictus by Gaston Halsberghe and The mysteries of Mithras: the Pagan belief that shaped the Christian world  by Payam Nabarz.

In the later book, the author describes the two cults as inexorably linked, with Sol as either the father of Mithras, or bowing to Mithras, with the lather placing the Phrygian cap on his head. Many of the customs and traditions, and even philosophies of the cult of Mithras can also be found in the cult of Christ.

As much upheaval as there was when Christianity became the dominant religion, the idea of a single deity with an avatar (son) on earth was very familiar. I've talked about how there was nothing new in christianity and I've found the exception that proves the rule: While the cult of Mithras and the cult of Sol Invictus were not only accepted but quite popular, they did not try to suppress the other cults. They did not try to obliterate the other deities. That was something new christianity brought to the table. Yes, Rome suppressed cults and killed magnetic cult leaders, but that was to quash political uprisings, not because they particularly cared what people worshiped. There is evidence in Libya that while Rome brought their holy triad to the land after conquering it, the local deities were never suppressed and in fact pictured along with the triad in reliefs. If anything, examples such as moving the bones of Orestes and bringing the cult of Diana from Aricia to Rome show that while they wanted Rome to be the center of power, they did it in a way which didn't try to change the beliefs of the people, just the way they tithed. The rituals of the state were transferred to Rome, but relatively unchanged. The rituals of the home remained untouched because they didn't effect public life. Something to chew on for a while.

There is a nifty theory on the symbolism of Mithras and the Bull and the precession of the equinoxes and the Ages. When Taurus was on the horizon at the Spring equinox, it was the Age of the Bull. Does Mithras killing the bull imply he ended the Taurean age and began the Age of Ares? The Age of the Ram? The symbolism of the fish may be tied to earlier Goddess imagery, but it could be as simple as representing the Age of Pisces. Info on the Age of Ares from the holy wiki:

Aries represents a Fire symbol as well as bold actions, a lot of these behaviors can be seen during any age. However, the themes emphasised during this age relate to courage, initiative, war & adventure. Nations during this age such as the expanding empires of China, Persia, Greece and Rome, are often cited as examples of the archetypes of Aries in action.
Aries is associated with the metal iron, and iron ore was for the first time smelted and worked into iron swords in Anatolia during the early phase of this era, replacing the heavier, softer-metalled, duller-edged bronze swords of the previous Taurus Age.

Let's conclude tonight with one of my favorite hymns to Apollo (or to your solar deity of choice!) on the occasion of his (re)birth. Sing along with me!

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing. 

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

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