The CBd
Bonner, SMA, 33.

to the adept through power given by “the great god Helios Mithras.”50 But the liturgy has undoubtedly been Egyptianized to some extent, and opinions differ as to the amount of genuine Mithraic matter that the document contains. It is safe to say that some scholars have exaggerated the influence exerted by Persian religious concepts, modified by transmission through Babylon, upon the mystery religions of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. For the study of magical amulets discussion of the problem is scarcely profitable, for contrary to the claims made by some earlier students of “Gnostic” amulets, few of these objects show anything that is even reminiscent of Mithraism; yet that is the principal channel through which Persian religious ideas made any impression upon the west until the system of Mani established itself in various parts of the empire.

The conditions under which Mithraic elements are found can best be illustrated by some of the objects believed to exhibit them. A black stone (jasper or perhaps obsidian) in the British Museum,51 bearing no figure design, has an inscription in which the name Mithra is inserted into a formula of voces magicae which is found many times, but never, so far as I have observed, associated with a Mithraic design, σαλαμαζαξα μειθρας βαμαιαζα; the common form is σαλαμαξα βαμαιαζα.52 Here, μειθρας is simply inserted as par inter paria in a group of magical words.53 The tendency to use the name so would be all the stronger because it had been observed that, when spelled with the diphthong ει, it is isopsephic with Abrasax (=365).54

A different situation presents itself in a stone axe (a celt or thunderstone) in the National Museum at Athens, which is inscribed with the scene of Mithra sacrificing the bull; the design conforms fairly closely to the normal type, but is encircled by an inscription consisting only of unintelligible words. Below the scene of the sacrifice there is a group that has not been satisfactorily interpreted. Some important details are reported differently by different persons who have examined the stone, and since I have not done so, I can only describe cautiously what is visible in the best available illustration, namely, that given by A. B. Cook.55 In the middle on the base line there is an indistinct representation of a being with serpent legs, and apparently a human head — not therefore the anguipede as commonly represented with the head of a cock, but something more like the snake-legged giants of the Pergamene altar. On either side, in much greater dimensions,

50 A. Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie 3, 1923. The controversy about the book is summarized in a supplementary note added by Weinreich, the last editor, pp. 234–240.

52 For other examples of these words see Mouterde, “Le Glaive de Dardanos,” pp. 64–66.

53 If Μειθρας was understood as the name of a god, as it evidently was in PGM V, 4 f. (where it stands with Zeus, Helios, Sarapis), one may argue that σαλαμαξα and the accompanying words are also cryptic names of deities.

54 Hier. Comm. ad Amos 3 (PL 25, 1018 D).

55 Zeus, II, 512, fig. 390; at left, a cut from a good impression, at right, a drawing from the stone itself. The inventory number is 10082. There are less satisfactory illustrations in Musée Belge, 18 (1914), 6, and in J. Harrison, Themis, p. 57. Miss Harrison thought that the lower scene represented the ceremony of making a candidate an “eagle” in the Mithraic ranks.

Last modified: 2013-07-19 14:26:52