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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 5. The Process of Syncretism.

In the great polytheistic era, however, the habit of personifying all the forces of nature led first to a universal recognition of the

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actual existence of the deities of foreign peoples, and later on to the idea that all the deities of the nations are but names of phases of one central and omnipotent power. Even among the philosophers and theologians, of course, this conception never really destroyed the habit of thinking of the alleged phases or manifestations of the deity as being really minor deities; 1 and much more a matter of course was it that among the multitude the deity or deities should, always be conceived in a quite concrete form. But the synthesizing tendency early resulted in this, that different cults were combined; different God-names identified as pointing to the same God; and different Gods combined into unities of two, three, four, or more members. Egypt is the great theological factory for such combinations; but the law necessarily operated elsewhere. The conception of a Divine Trinity is of unknown antiquity: it flourished in Mesopotamia, in Hindostan, in the Platonic philosophy, in Egypt, long before Christianity. 2 But the combining process, among other variations, had to take account of the worship of Goddesses as well as of Gods; and in regions where Goddess-worship was deeply rooted it was inevitable that there should occur combinations of sex. This actually took place in the worship of Mithra. From Herodotus, 3 writing in the fifth century B.C., we learn that in some way the God Mithra was identified with a Goddess. The whole passage, though familiar to students, is worth quoting here:—

"The Persians, according to my own knowledge, observe the following customs. It is not their practice to erect statues, or temples, or altars, but they charge those with folly who do so; because, as I conjecture, they do not think the Gods have human forms, as the Greeks do. They are accustomed to ascend the highest parts of the mountains, and offer sacrifice to Zeus, and they call the whole circle of the heavens by the name of Zeus. They sacrifice to the sun and moon, to the earth, fire, water, and the winds. To these alone they have sacrificed from the earliest times; but they have since learnt from the Arabians and Assyrians to sacrifice to (Aphroditê) Urania, whom the Assyrians call Mylitta, the Arabians Alitta, and the Persians Mitra."

This is one of the seemingly improbable statements in Herodotus

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which research has partly confirmed. 1 He is accused, indeed, of blundering 2 in combining Mithra with Mylitta, it being shown from monuments that the Goddess identified with Mithra was Anaitis or Tanat. 3 But that the Armenian Anaitis and Mylitta were regarded as the same deity seems clear, 4 and there are other clues.

It has not been commonly observed that Strabo twice explicitly brackets Anaitis with a Persian God Omanus as being worshipped at a common altar. He saw the statue of Omanus carried in procession. 5 There is reason to suppose that Omanus (or the Persian form of the word) was a name of Mithra, and that it is an adaptation of Vohumano (Bahman)=Good Mind, a divine name with a very fluctuating connotation. In one passage of the Zendavesta, 6 Vohumano figures as the doorkeeper of heaven; but he was also first of the Ameshaspentas or Amshaspands, of whom Mithra too (making seven) was chief; and he ranks further in the Avesta with Ahura-Mazda as judge of the dead; and again as the first-born son of Ahura-Mazda, as was Mithra later. Yet again, he is identified with the creative power; 7 and it seems impossible that the conception of the "Good Mind" should have been prevented from coalescing either with that of Ahura-Mazda, who was not represented by a statue, or with that of Mithra, so making him "the Word." In any case, the fact of the combination of Mithra in a double personality with that of a Goddess is made clear, not only by the statement of the Christian controversialist Julius Firmicus, in the fourth century, and later writers, that the Persians make Mithras both two-sexed and threefold or three-formed, 8 but by innumerable Mithraic monuments

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on which appear the symbols of two deities, male and female, the sun and the moon, or, it may be, male and female principles of the sun or of the earth. And this epicene or double-sexed character is singularly preserved to us in that Mithraic monument of the Græco-Roman period which we possess in our own British Museum, in which the divine slayer of the bull presents a face of perfect and sexless beauty, feminine in its delicate loveliness of feature, masculine in its association with the male form.

In such a combination there is reason to see a direct influence of the old Akkado-Babylonian system on the later Mazdean. From the old Akkadians the Semites received the conception of a trinity, the "divine father and mother by the side of their son the Sun-God." 1 But their own ruling tendency was to give every God, up to the highest, a "colourless double or wife"; 2 and in the final blending of these in a double-sexed deity we have the consummation of the idea. It was not special to Asia; for the Egyptians gave a double sex alike to moon, earth, air, fire, and water, making the earth male as rock, female as arable soil; fire masculine as heat, female as light, and so on; 3 and the Greeks and Romans accepted the notion; 4 but it was probably from Chaldæa that it reached the Mithraists. Bel had been represented as both father and mother of Enlil, and Belti as both father and mother of Ninlil; and there are yet other instances of the Babylonian vogue of the idea of a God combining the two sexes. 5

There is a further presumption that it was either from Babylonia or through Mithraism as modified after the Persian conquest of Babylon that the idea of a double-sexed deity reached the Greeks. In the Orphic hymns, which probably represent the theosophy of several centuries before our era, it is predicated of four deities, of whom two, the Moon and Nature (Selenê and Physeos), are normally female, and two (Adonis and Dionysos) normally male. 6 Selenê is

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further identified with Mên, the Moon-God, who, as being double-sexed like Mithra, was finally identified with him in worship and on coins. 1 As Dionysos and Adonis, originally Vegetation Gods, have at this stage become identified with the Sun, there arises a presumption that a solar cult has been imitated; though at the same time the solar cult may have adopted features from the others. The likelihood is that the notion of a double-sexed deity was the outcome on the one hand of the concrete practice of bracketing a male and a female deity together, and on the other hand of speculation on the essence of "divinity." But the concrete process probably came first, and the conjunction of the symbols or heads of a male and female deity in one monument or sculpture would give the lead to a mystical theory of a twy-sexed being.


295:1 Compare the Gâthas, passim. Mr. Mills (introd. p. xxiv) makes too much of "the wonderful idea that God's attributes are his messengers." The messengers, as he admits, are conceived as Gods or angels. They simply bear the names of attributes, on the analogy of the titles of a king's functionaries. Thus arose the idea of the Logos or Divine Word (Yasna, xxix, 7).

295:2 See, in the Gâthas, Yasna xxx, 7, and Mr. Mills’ comments, pp. 14-15, etc., for traces of an early Zoroastrian trinity.

295:3 B. i, c. 131.

296:1 Lenormant admits as to the alleged blunder: "Perhaps it was not after all an error, and the divine couple may have been sometimes designated as a double Mithra" (Chaldean Magic, p. 236).

296:2 Rawlinson's Herodotus, i, 257, 416. Cp. Lenormant, Manual of Anc. Hist. Eng. trans. ii, 46; and Chaldean Magic, as quoted.

296:3 Cumont, Textes et Monuments, i, 5; ii, 87-88. On the names of this Goddess, see G. Diercks, Entwickelungsgeschichte des Geistes der Menschheit, Berlin, 1881, i, 242. She is held to have been the Goddess of the Oxus. Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, i, 542. Cp. Tiele, Outlines, pp. 170-1, where she is derived from the Semites, who in turn took her from the Akkadians. See also Tiele's Egyptian Religion, Eng. tr. p. 135; and Justi, Gesch. des alten. Persiens, pp. 93-5.

296:4 Creuzer-Guigniaut, Religions de l’Antiquité, t. ii, ptie. i, pp. 76-82 (1829); Bahr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus, ii, 243.

296:5 B. xi, c. 8, § 4; B. xv, c. 3, § 15.

296:6 Vendidâd, Farg. 31 (102).

296:7 See Max Müller, Psychological Religion, 1893, pp. 184, 186, 203; and the Avesta, Yasna, xxx; and compare Darmesteter's Introd. 2nd ed. p. lvi, as to Vohumano being the Logos. M. Darmesteter thinks the idea came through the Greeks, but does not face the problem as to whence they derived it. In the Bundahish, Vohumano is the first thing created by God—exactly as is the Logos for Philo—and from him then proceeds "the light of the world" (ii, 23, 25). Cp. the Pahlavi Yasna, xxxi, 8 (a). There is considerable obscurity as to the original character of Vohumano. Cp. Müller, as cited, pp. 54, 56, 57; Haug, Essays on the Parsis, 3rd ed. p. 350; and Spiegel, Avesta (1852), i, 247-8 (Fargard xix of Vendidâd). Tiele identifies Vohumano with Sraosha, who in turn, however, was joined with Mithra. Outlines, pp. 171, 172, 176; Haug, pp. 307-8. Below, § 10. Winckler (Altorient. Forschungen, xvi (1901), p. 4) identifies the Omanus of Strabo with Haman; but the existence of a deity so named is far from certain.

296:8 De Errore Profanarum Religionum, v. Compare Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite, Foist. vii ad Polycarp., cited in Selden, De Diis Syris, Proleg. c. 3; and in Cudworth, p. 297 Intellectual System, Harrison's ed. i. 482. In a passage in the Yasna there is mention of "the two divine Mithras" (Lenormant, as quoted, citing Burnout). But cp. Mills' rendering of Yasna, i, 11, which appears to be the passage in view.

297:1 Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 193.

297:2 Id. p. 215. Cp. Genesis, i, 27; Donaldson, Theatre of the Greeks, 7th ed. p. 21; and Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, pp. 129-130. In all likelihood, the Hebrew "Holy Spirit" was originally held to be feminine. Cp. Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. c. 64.

297:3 Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, c. 43; Seneca, Quaest. Nat. iii, 14.

297:4 See Servius on the Æneid, ii, 632. Cp. Donaldson, as last cited. It was in this way that Apollo and Dionysos came to be at times represented in feminine robes; while Aphroditê was sometimes (as in Sparta) bearded. Cp. Macrobius. Saturnalia, iii, 8, as to the double sex of Venus, which is abundantly illustrated by Preller, Römische Mythologie, 2nd ed. p. 389, and Griechische Mythologie, 2nd ed. i, 268. On other developments of the Principle cp. Selden, De Diis Syris, Syntag. ii, c. 2; and Spencer, De legibus Hebræorum, lib. ii, c. xvii, § 12. It has been discussed with much suggestiveness, if with some fantasy of speculation, by Mr. Gerald Massey in his Natural Genesis, 1883, i, 510-518.

297:5 Anz, Zur Frage nach dem Ursprung des Gnosticismus, 1897, p. 105, following Jensen, Kosmologie der Babylonier, pp. 142 sq., 272 sq.

297:6 Orphica, ix, 2, 3; x, 18; xliii, 4; lvi, 4.

298:1 Cumont, ii, 189-190; i, 235, and notes. As we saw, Mithra was also identified with Shamas, the Babylonian Sun-God. Id. i, 231.

Next: § 6. Symbols of Mithra