A brief description of Mithra, Mehr, Mehregan and Yalda
By: Dr. Esmail Nooriala
Delivered to a gathering in Denver
On the occasion of Yalda
If mythology is the way a coherent community looks at its surrounding world, life and death, we can surely say that the changing of seasons is the main stage where the theatre of Gods is played.
Look around yourself in Denver. We are celebrating Halloween. By looking deeply into its meaning and rituals, one can immediately detect that they are the reminiscence of old agricultural beliefs and ceremonies. The same is true about Christmas and the beginning of the New Year. Sometimes it is impossible to trace the origins of such festivities, and, on the other hand, at many times, such as the case of Christmas, we have ample documents to search for its origin. These documents show that the last week of December is not the real birth time of Jesus Christ and it actually is related to the mythological birth of an Arian God whose name is Mehr.
Ancient Aryans, the fathers of ancient Iranians, as well as their modern descendants even here in Denver, celebrate the birth of this God at a night called Yalda in Persian. This is the longest night of the year, from whose morrow the nights begin to become shorter and days longer.
At the same time, and due to a series of suspicious reasons which I shall try to explain a few of them, this God's birthday is not considered as the beginning of the New Persian Year. Our present New Year commences three months later, on the 21st of March, which is the beginning of the spring.
It is important to note that the notion of having 4 seasons is not an old one. In our ancient conception of the passing time, we had only two seasons: summer and winter. And the beginning of winter (which is equal to the beginning of modern autumn) was considered to be the beginning of the New Year.
So, tonight, we are celebrating our real New Year which is relevant to the God Mehr. Mehr, a derivant of the Aryan word Mei, means relationship. Mehr is the God of relationships, in the forms of friendship, love, and any other mutual exchange. He supervises these relationships and punishes those who break their woes. To fulfil this function of supervision, he was situated in the sky, with the Sun and stars being his watchful eyes. He was the God of thousand eyes and ears. He was the God of relationship and Sun. Consequently, he was the God of purifying fire in front of which people settled their contracts and nations set up their boundaries.
Mehr is a relatively new pronunciation of the name of this omnipotent and omnipresent God. Aryan tribes, who lived in Central Asia some 8000 years ago, used to call him Mithre and, when they began to sweep down from the steppes some 4000 years ago, they brought their gods with them. Some time between 2000 and 1500 BC, these tribes entered India and Iran, bringing with them one particular deity whom they called respectively Mitra, or Mithra. Thus, his worship has lasted over 4000 years and continues to this day. It has spread out from Iran and India and has even reached British Isles through the Roman conquest of Britain.
Before the adaptation of Christianity as the official religion of Roman, Mithraism was flourishing all through this vast Empire. It was actually the official religion of Roman aristocracy and army. As Renan, the famous historian, asserts: "If the growth of Christianity had been halted by some mortal illness, the world would have become Mitraic."
The worship of Mithra was evolved into Zoroastrianism in Iran, Brahmmaism in India and Christianity in Roman Empire. But the way the new religions dealt with Mithra was different. Indians and Iranians kept their esteem for this ancient God but demoted him to the rank of lesser Gods. In Zoroastrianism a new omnipotent God was emerged whose name was Ahura Mazda. This new God was flanked by a number of lesser Gods, or Izads, among whom Mithra was the greatest. Zoroathustra, the new Iranian Prophet, was the initiator of a novice interpretation of the universe and life which is mostly based on Mithraism. As Jason Cooper, the American writer and historian, writes: "He is the most important person in the recorded history of religion, bar none. The first man to promulgate a divinely revealed religion, he influenced the religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and etc." On behalf of his new God, Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, he declared Mithra as worthy of worship as he himself.
This was not true with Christianity. Cooper writes: "When Christians gained ascendancy… they attacked Mithras's temples with axes. They smashed the sacred statuary. They burned his books and attacked his followers. They dumped rubbish and refuse of graveyards in his temples to desecrate them, and built their own churches on the ruins of Mithras temples."
But, Christianity was destined to benefit from the heritage of Mithra. Cooper, confirming that Christianity has a sacrament which is strongly borrowed from the Mithraism, writes: " Mithraic rites included wine as a symbol of sacrificial blood and used bread in wafers or small loaves marked with a cross to symbolize flesh. Mithra’s followers called each other ‘brother’ and were led by a priest call ‘father’ whose symbols were his staff and ring, his hat, and a crooked sword. Christianity adopted the cook and staff as the shepherd’s crook and the hat became stiffened and was called a Miter (from the name of god, Mithras). Thus was derived the symbolic heraldry of the bishop. Similarly, Mithraic priests were ruled by a ‘father of fathers’, who lived in Rome. And he, like Pope, was elected by a council of priests."
As I already have told you, the birthday of Christ was also moved to December to substitute the birthday of Mithras.
Mehrgan is the celebration of the ancient Iranian idea of a God in whose presence light, love, friendship and faithfulness become united in one word, which is Mehr. As our great poet of 12th century, Hafiz, says: "Sun is nothing but a blaze of that fire which burns in my chest." And our contemporary poet, Akhavan Saales laments that: "We have surpassed the orbit of the moon, but we are yet far far from the domain of Mehr" Does he mean the domain of the planet Sun or the realm of Love? I like the obvious and go for Love.