Here is another section from my book, and this one could really use some crowd-sourcing. My purpose here is not to write any particular commentary on Mithras, but actually to boil the liturgy down for its formula, and to ask the important question of what it is trying to do and how. If I succeed in doing this, I should be able to write a comparable meditation or journey for any deity.
As an aside, I am going absolutely bonkers looking for a copy of the Greek Magical Papyri NOT in translation, or even just an untranslated print of Papyrus 574. If anyone has a lead on that, I would so much prefer to not have to rely entirely on someone else’s translation.
The Mithras Liturgy, Simplified
The Mithras Liturgy is available to anyone who wishes to read it. It can be found in the Greek Magicial Papyri: PGM IV 475-829. Here, I am providing the text with most of the barbarous names removed, so that the reader can get a clear sense of the narrative of the magical working in question, and perhaps appreciate some of the poetry of this piece, even in translation.
I will be punctuating the text with commentary which might be helpful to you in understanding this text with relation to the work of apotheosis.
Be gracious to me, O Providence and Psyche, as I write these mysteries handed down, not for gain but for instruction; and for an only child I request immortality, O initiates of this, our power (furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take the juices of herbs and spices, which will [be made known] to you at the end of my holy treatise), which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer and behold the universe.
In abstract: A father, who is initiate of these mysteries, is writing down instructions for his daughter. As many Hellenic writers call to the Muses for inspiration, the writer is invoking, as he is writing, the spirits of the other initiates. Based on the context, I do not think we need to assume that the initiates he invokes are dead.
The text of the instructions set down here include spoken invocation, physical action, and a particular tincture of herbs and spices. If we define “initiation” as simply receiving the mysteries, then the father is initiating his daughter. If, however, we define initiation as the transformative ritual actions which put the initiate into contact with the powers, this is very much a self initiation.
This is the invocation of the spell:
“First origin of my origin, AEHIOUW
First beginning of my beginning,
Spirit of spirit, the first of the spirit in me,
Fire given by God to my mixture of the mixtures in me,
The first of the fire in me,
Water of water, the first of the water in me,
Earthy material, the first of the earthy material in me,
My complete body, I, NN whose mother is NN,
Which was formed by a noble arm and an incorruptible right hand
In a world without light and yet radiant
Without soul and yet alive with soul,
Here, the invocation begins by stating how the aspirant came into being in the womb. The pattern being evoked in this part of the liturgy is one of somethingness coalescing out of nothingness, moving from the subtlest of elements to the most manifest elements. Thus, in the first line, the Greek vowels, often a tool for referencing a certain directionality, are presumably intoned. Alpha and Omega are meaningfully the beginning and the end, birth and death, conception and fruition, the beginning of pregnancy and its end. They reference, here as well as in the deification of the Hawk, the process of something coming into being. Two births will be referenced throughout the liturgy: the mortal birth, and the immortal birth.
The Mithras liturgy is extremely elemental, but in order to understand the meaning of the elements here, one needs, inherently, to set aside the meanings of the elements as they are understood in Wicca, Thelema, and related traditions.
The elements here, while they are being understood in a mystical sense, conform to their natures as expressed in Aristotle’s _On Generation and Corruption_, Book II, and in Plato’s “Timaeus”. I will give you an abstract.
Air: It’s qualities are active and moist. It is the most subtle, or least dense, of the physical elements. It’s opposite is Earth. It is the element which connects the physical and metaphysical universes, in Greek thought. Breath and the soul are not completely distinct concepts. The winds themselves are divine beings. In many cases, it might be unclear whether a Greek text is speaking of Air or Spirit. Thus, “without soul and yet alive with soul” may be referring to the fact that we do not breathe while in the womb, yet are undoubtedly alive.
Fire: It’s qualities are active and dry. It is less dense than water, but more dense than air. It’s opposite is Water.
Water: It’s qualities are passive and wet. It’s density is greater than fire, but less than Earth. It’s opposite is Fire.
Earth: It’s qualities are passive and dry. It is the densest of the elements. It’s opposite is Air. This, of course, is the physical body.
It’s important to note that “breath” and “soul” are not entirely distinct concepts in ancient Greek thought. Here, the word used for “spirit” is Pneuma, which the linguist might recognize as being a related word to Pneumonia or Pneumatic, and is regarded to be a reference to Air, one of the four elements.
The liturgy, after referencing Air, references Fire, then Water, and lastly Earth. This whole first section, on a symbolic level, moves from the subtle to the gross, the unmanifest to the manifest.
There are two possibilities for why this might be. Firstly, not all ancient cultures in the Mediterranean thought of the spiritual world as existing in the “up” direction. In the Hebrew tradition, the powerful trance-working known as the Merkavah, wherein the mystic entered the Palaces of Heaven, the mystic was described a “descending to the Merkavah.” It might be that, even as the body is buried in death, that the mystic had to descend to the Earth before ascending to the heavens.
The other possibility is that, in preparation for intense trance work, the mystic is nailing down the path home. I favor this interpretation because, as we will see, the entire process of the liturgy seems to be trying to ascend to the realm of gods and godhood while not losing the connection to humanness and the physical world. The overall objective is to ascend, gain an oracle, and return that oracle to the living world.
Now, if it be your will, give me over to immortal birth and, following that,
To my underlying nature,
Here, after describing the state of the mortal womb, the aspirant speaks of “immortal birth,” which may actually be a euphemism for death. From this point forward, the liturgy attempts to maintain two simultaneous existences — that as a mortal, and that as an immortal. It will do this by playing very specific guided visualization against actions which activate the breath and the senses, reconnecting the practitioner to life and physicality. It is this liminal state which enables them to ascend, experience knowledge that gods experience, and carry it back to their existence as a mortal.
So that, after the present need which is pressing me exceedingly,
I may gaze upon the immortal
Beginning with the immortal spirit,
With the immortal water,
With the most steadfast air,
That; I may be born again in thought,
The pattern suggested here is Air, Water, Air. This is reminiscent both of deification by drowning, and the Mikveh/Baptism rituals seen in Judaism and Christianity. This text, being relatively late, would not only have access to myths about Achilles being dipped in the river Styx to make him immortal or invulnerable, but also to the purification customs of these Abrahamic traditions, and their symbolic connection to creating a new spiritual nature within a person.
In Jewish thought, womb, grave and mikveh are all tightly related concepts, and full-body immersion is a type of symbolic rebirth used to purify utensils, converts, and women who are renewing themselves through their moon cycle.
Even within the Greek Magical Papyri, immersion or drowning is connected with deification. This can be seen in the Deification of a Hawk (PGM I,1-42) (See also: F. L. Griffith, “Herodotus 11.90: Apotheosis by Drowning,” 46, 1909) where an animal draws its last breath in the world of mortals before being immersed fully in milk, and then drawing it’s next breath as an immortal daemon and spirit companion for the magician.
This declaration of intention is, in essence, trying to harness the symbolic power of drowning or full-body immersion without the physical action taking place. The liturgy substitutes the literary or poetic drowning of the practitioner for a literal, physical one.
And the sacred spirit may breathe in me,
So that I may wonder at the sacred fire,
That I may gaze upon the unfathomable, awesome water of the dawn,
And the vivifying and encircling aether may hear me,
That second Air, the least dense of the elements, is followed with Fire, Water and Aether — the suggestion seems to be that, in this recreation of the practitioner, Aether takes the place of Earth. They are creating an Aetheric body.
For today I am about to behold, with immortal eyes
— I, born mortal from mortal womb,
but transformed by tremendous power and an incorruptible right hand
and with immortal spirit,
the immortal Aion and master of the fiery diadems
— I, sanctified through holy consecrations while there subsists within me,
Holy, for a short time, my human soul-might,
which I will again receive after the present bitter and relentless necessity which is pressing down upon me
— I, NN, whose mother is NN, according to the immutable decree of god,
Since it is impossible for me,
to rise with the golden brightnesses of the immortal brilliance,
Stand, O perishable nature of mortals,
and at once receive me safe and sound
After the inexorable and pressing need.
For I am the son, PSYCHON DEMOU PROCHO PROA
I am MACHARPHON MOU PROPSYCHON PROE”
Greek Language Notes: The first string of names here means roughly: Of the souls, of the community, by means of the pouring vessel (?), *untranslatable*. The second is “My *untranslatable*,” of the fore-spirits, *untranslatable*. The last word in each string suggests something about going out or going first, or being in front, or beforehand. The context suggests an indeclinable phrase serving as a single name.
Sometimes, what appears to be a declined form of a noun is sometimes a proper noun in itself. If you knew that there were Hermai, but didn’t know that Hermes existed, you might encounter his name and read it as “Of the Herm.” Even though “the god of the Herm” is not a completely inaccurate reading, “Hermes” is still the nominative case. Psychon and Propsychon might be viewed similarly — Of the Psyche and Of the Fore-Psyche respectively. Figuring out how to parse Macharphon was beyond me.
Regarding the mythic identity of the aspirant: Here, the mysteries are being given to “an only daughter” and yet we can see that she is proclaiming herself “the son.” Rather than coming to embody her own divinity, she is being advised to don a divine mantle not inherently hers.
I infer from this that all initiates of these mysteries are donning the same divine mantle — a divine office created for initiates, and shared between them for working purposes. Yet, despite being occupied by initiates of these mysteries, the name seems to have recognition among the divine beings being spoken to.
In otherwords, rather than building their own mythic persona, earning fame for it, and creating a following for themselves, they have agreed to borrow a mythic persona. If I had to make a stab at how this works, I’d suggest that the secret deity that the initiates all become is also worshipped by the initiates.
For those who may have observed the phenomenon of “deity shards” in the community, or multiple people claiming to be incarnations of the same deity, I’d like to put forward that it’s not entirely different from what we see going on in this text, or from what we see in the deification of Egyptian Pharaohs, who become, in essence, Re.
If, rather than understanding themselves as being shards of a deity, they understood themselves as stepping into the role of the deity, the modern practitioners who see themselves as having deity-shards could, presumably, use the formula presented in the Mithras Liturgy to ascend the to world of that pantheon for the purpose of obtaining oracles or moving the world in the way that deities do.
Draw in breath from the rays, drawing up 3 times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted up and ascending to the heights, so that you seem to be in midair.
You will hear nothing either of man or of any other living thing, nor in that hour will you see anything of mortal airs on earth, but rather you will see all immortal things.
For in that day and hour you will see the divine order of the skies: the presiding gods rising into heaven, and others setting. Now the course of the visible gods will appear through the disk of god, my father; and in similar fashion the so-called pipe, the origin of the ministering wind. For you will see it hanging from the sun’s disk like a pipe. You will see the outflow of this object toward the regions westward, boundless as an cast wind, if it be assigned to the regions of the cast-and the other (viz., the west wind), similarly: toward its regions.
After much buildup, the soul of the aspirant has, at this juncture, attained separation. Now, as all souls attempting to attain godhood, she must undergo adversity at the hands of the deities.
Rather than enduring whatever trials deities might throw at her, based on her own unique spiritual characteristics or failings, she is going to give them an enter-sign and a passphrase, notifying them that she is an initiate of these particular mysteries. Then, she’s going to wake her body up a bit so that she doesn’t lose track of it by making a hissing sound — that is, a very loud sound of mortal life and breath.
And you will see the gods staring intently at you and rushing at you.
So at once put your right finger on your mouth and say:
“Silence! Silence! Silence!
Symbol of the living, incorruptible god!
Guard me, Silence!”
Then make a long hissing sound, next make a popping sound, and say:
“[A long string of barbarous names]”
In response to the sign and phrase (“Silence! Silence! …”), most of the deities seem to back down. There are still more orders or layers of divinities to pass through, but the answer in all of these scenarios remains much the same.
Then you will see the gods looking graciously upon you and no longer rushing at you, but rather going about in their own order of affairs. So when you see that the world above is clear and circling, and that none of the gods or angels is threatening you, expect to hear a great crash of thunder, so as to shock you.
Then say again:
“Silence! Silence! (the prayer)
I am a star, wandering about with you,
and shining forth out of the deep, [divine name]”
Immediately after you have said these things the sun’s disk will be expanded. And after you have said the second prayer, where there is “Silence! Silence!” and the accompanying words, make a hissing sound twice and a popping sound twice, and immediately you will see many five-pronged stars coming forth from the disk and filling all the air.
Then say again: “Silence! Silence!”
Each of these layers.
- The Gods
- The Loud-Thundering One
- The Stars
And when the disk is open, you will see the fireless circle, and the fiery doors shut tight.
At once close your eyes and recite the following prayer.
The third prayer:
“Give ear to me, hearken to me, NN, whose mother is NN, O lord, you who have bound together with your breath the fiery bars of the fourfold root,
The prayer begins by invocation through epithets and titles. I favor invocations which reference a deity’s familial or historical connections, since it cuts down on the likelihood of a similar, but not identical entity answering. In this case, this has been achieved by visually placing the divinity being invoked in the context of a very intricate cosmology, and a very specific location within that cosmology.
Open for me, because, on account of the pressing and bitter and inexorable necessity, I invoke the immortal names, living and honored, which never pass into mortal nature and are not declared in articulate speech by human tongue or mortal speech or mortal sound: [words of power]”
Also important to a successful invocation is to declare your intention for interacting with the deity. Here, too, we see the supplicant giving a reason that the deity should answer.
Say all these things with fire and spirit, until completing the first utterance; then, similarly, begin the second, until you complete the 7 immortal gods of the world. When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm; and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: “Silence!” (the prayer). Then open your eyes, and you will see the doors open and the world of the gods which is within the doors, so that from the pleasure and joy of the sight your spirit runs ahead and ascends.
The implication seems to be that the presence of the aspirant, who is mortal-immortal, is causing upset in the higher realms. Bear in mind that we have entered the world of heavenly bodies. Gods may be swayed from their course by offerings or blasphemies, but the Heavens — at least as this era of humans viewed it — are unchanging. It is for this reason that the aspirant must consistently identify themselves as initiate. Without these signs, the holy powers have no way of knowing that the trespasser knows how not to muck up the orderly universe.
Amazingly, even as the aspirant is facing more trials, the invocation of Helios is not yet complete. Indeed, the visualizations, the encounters, the passwords, the hissing and popping, the bobbing in and out of living consciousness, is all a part of a larger invocation.
So stand still and at once draw breath from the divine into yourself, while you look intently.Then when your soul is restored, say:
“Come, lord, [name]“
When you have said this, the rays will turn toward you; look at the center of them. For when you have done this, you will see a youthful god, beautiful in appearance, with fiery hair, and in a white tunic and a scarlet cloak and wearing a fiery crown.
At once, greet him with the fire greeting:
“Hail, O Lord,
Greatest of gods,
Helios, the Lord of heaven and earth,
God of gods: mighty is your breath;
Mighty is your strength, O lord.
If it be your will, announce me to the supreme god, the one who -has begotten and made you: that a human – I, (name) whose mother is (name), who was born from the mortal womb of (mother) and from the fluid of semen, and who, since he has been born again from you today has become immortal out of so many myriads in this hour according to the wish of god the exceedingly good resolves to worship you, and prays with all his human power, that you may take along with you the horoscope of the day and hour today, which has the name [words of power], that he may appear and give revelation during the good hours, [words of power].”
Once again, the aspirant references the process of mortal birth and ties it to immortal birth. Yet, even while referencing the recent apotheosis, “prays with all his human power.”
Despite the fact that an initiate wrote this entire liturgy out by hand for an only daughter, nonetheless, the entire liturgy has the aspirant referencing herself as male, again suggesting that they are essentially riding a communally shared deific form.
After you have said these things. he will come to the celestial pole, and you will see him walking as if on a road. Look intently, and make a long bellowing sound, like a horn, releasing all your breath and straining your sides; and kiss I the phylacteries and say, first toward the right: “Protect me, PROSYMERI!”
After saying this, you will see the doors thrown open, and seven virgins coming from deep within, dressed in linen garments, and with the faces of asps. They are called the Fates of heaven and wield golden wands. When you see them, greet them in this manner:
“Hail, O seven Fates of heaven, O noble and good virgins, O sacred ones and companions of [barbarous name], most holy guardians of the four pillars
Hail to you, the first, [name] Hail to you, the second, [name] Hail to you, the third, [name] Hail to you, the fourth, [name]. Hail to you, the fifth, [name]! Hail to you, the sixth, [name]! Hail to you, the seventh, [name]!”
There also come forth another seven gods: who have the faces of black bulls, in linen loincloths, and in possession of seven golden diadems. They are the so-called Pole Lords of heaven, whom you must greet in the same manner, catch of them with his own name:
“Hail, O guardians of the pivot, 0 sacred and brave youths, who turn at one command the revolving axis of the vault of heaven, who send out thunder and lightning and jolts of earthquakes and thunderbolts against the nations of impious people, but to me, who am pious and god-fearing, you send health and soundness of body and acuteness of hearing and seeing, and calmness in the present good hours of this day, O my lords and powerfully ruling gods! Hail to you, the first, [name]! Hail to you, the second, [name]! Hail to you, the third, [name]! Hail to you, the fourth, [name]! Hail to you, the fifth, [name]! Hail to you, the sixth, [name]! Hail to you, the seventh, [name]!”
Now when they take their place, here and there, in order, look in the air and you will see lightning bolts going down, and lights flashing, and the earth shaking and a god descending, a god immensely great, having a bright appearance, youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic and a golden crown and trousers, and holding in his right hand a golden shoulder of a young bull: this is the Bear which moves and turns heaven around, moving upward and downward in accordance with the hour. Then you will see lightning bolts leaping from his eyes and stars from his body.
The sight of this must be rather overwhelming. Owing to the intensity of the experience, the aspirant once again strongly invokes their mortal nature through what appear to be external, physical actions which awaken the five senses.
The life force is then invoked, and this permits the aspirant to continue on the journey without dying. Then and only then can the deity be greeted.
And at once make a long bellowing sound, straining your belly: that you may excite the five senses; bellow long until out of breath, and again kiss the phylacteries, and say:
“[Divine Name], life of me, NN: stay! Dwell in my soul!’ Do not abandon me, for [Divine Name] commands you.”
And gaze upon the god while bellowing long; and greet him in this manner:
“Hail, O Lord,
O Master of the water!
Hail, O Founder of the earth!
Hail, O Ruler of the wind!
O Bright Lightener
[String of divine names]
Give revelation, 0 lord, concerning the NN matter. O lord, while being born again, I am passing away; while growing and having grown, I am dying; while being born from a life-generating birth, I am passing on, released to death-as you have founded, as you have decreed, and have established the mystery. I am PHEKOURA MIOURI.”
Based on everything up until this point, it might be extremely tempting to interpret this text in the context of other mysteries, such as the Orphic Mysteries or the Eleusinian ones, which give teachings about how to successfully pass the trials imposed upon a soul while the body is dying. However, all of the sound and fury has not simply been for the sake of embracing nothingness. Rather, the aspirant has come here for an oracle, and will, at a later time, remember it, and presumably relate it to others.
After you have said these things, he will immediately respond with a revelation.
Now you will grow weak in soul and will not be in yourself, when he answers you. He speaks the oracle to you in verse, and after speaking he will depart. But you remain silent, since you will be able to comprehend all these matters by yourself; for at a later time you will remember infallibly the things spoken by the great god, even if the oracle contained myriads of verses.
The instructions end here. No particular directions for safely returning, or coming down from the experience. Maybe the initiate who “feels weak in soul” is meant to sleep it off.
If you also wish to use a fellow initiate, so that he alone may hear with you the things spoken, let him remain pure with you for [seven] days, and abstain from meat and the bath. And even if you are alone, and you undertake the things communicated by the god, you speak as if prophesying in ecstasy.
The intention here appears to be that you can do this intense trance work alone. If you wish to have another in the room, the two of you need to prepare in a similar fashion. What seems suggested here is that one of the two will trance, the other is meant to record. The other individual must be a fellow initiate, of course, since the entire process is externally quite noisy, and many secrets would otherwise be revealed.
The preparation, with the exception of abstaining from bath, seems extremely doable and, at least in comparison to the profound anxiety that often surrounds oracular work in the modern day, fairly minimal. There are no questions raised about whether the experiences of the initiate are legitimate, or if someone might be impersonating any of the deities present, or if the individual might have filter. There are no extensive rituals for recovering from this process, no concern about spiritual pollution as a result of the working.
And if you also wish to show him, then judge whether he is completely worthy as a man: treat him just as if in his place you were being judged in the matter of immortalization, and whisper to him the first prayer, of which the beginning is “First origin of my origin, AEHIOUW.” And say the successive things as an initiate, over his I head, in a soft voice, so that he may not hear, as you are anointing his face with the mystery. This immortalization takes place three times a year. And if anyone, O child, after the teaching, wishes to disobey, then for him it will no longer be in effect.
It is tempting to look to all of the highly trying and sometimes lethal methods by which our four examples of apotheosis, Ariadne, Psyche, Herkles and Asklepios, became immortal, and suggest that apotheosis means to die and to overcome death — that is, to transcend the physical and to become a being of pure spirit. However, to recap a previous argument, Demeter had every expectation of being able to make Demophon physically immortal while he was growing up, and nearly succeeded.
Throughout this liturgy, birth as a mortal and birth as an immortal are referenced together. The process uses trance methodology (journeying) punctuated by hissing and popping sounds, which I suspect are intended to help the person periodically re-connect to the body.
We can see from this that, while immortality has been achieved, humanity has been preserved. It is through this delicate balancing act of occupying the space of human and deity, mortal and immortal, self and other, life and death, that the aspirant can ascend to the heights of heaven, receive their oracle and return.
One phenomenon in the Polytheist community which finds resonance with what is going on in this liturgy is the phenomenon of deity shards. Certain individuals have mystical or mythic experiences of being a certain deity. There might be several such individuals for any given deity.
Presumably, the mysteries, as written, are the same for the “only daughter” to whom they are given as they are for every initiate. Initiates are claiming to be some specific figure in their own mythos. It is possible that this is an ongoing practice, done by the living, which causes the initiates to become a part of this particular deity in death, much as Pharaohs would have become part of the Sun god, Re, upon their death. If so, this casts very interesting light on the phenomenon of “deity shards,” where a person, through revelation or practice, discovers that they are a part of a deity, or becomes a part of a deity.
Unlike the apotheosis of Psyche, Ariadne, Asklepios, Semele or Herakles, this type of apotheosis is not about becoming more of what a person already is, or about developing any persona at all, but about adding one’s own uniqueness to the mythic persona of the deity, and letting the mythic persona of that deity replace one’s own potential mythic persona.
If you have already begun on this path and you are now thinking that it isn’t what you want, the good news is that this type of apotheosis is temporary, and if you should wander away from it, for you, “it will no longer be in effect.”
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that this entire liturgy and all the attendant mysteries lead to two aims:
- More accurate oracles
The two aims are related.
While some will advocate complete surrender of will and erasure of self to get out of the way of accurate oracles, here, in the Mithras liturgy, an opposite approach is being suggested: a highly developed mythic self, linked to a physical self, is what gives you the complete body — eyes, ears, and skin — to perceive completely the world of the gods. Great pains are taken throughout this work to not lose the self.
Just as building ourselves in the world of the gods gives us permanence there and permits us to exist there beyond our deaths, it also makes us better at hearing them while we live, provided that we don’t lose our connection to the physical self in the process.