The Roman Emperor Aurelian made the cult of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun God, the primary religion of the empire in 274 CE. Sol did not replace the many deities of the Roman pantheon, but served as a single point of devotion for a people that had recently entered the Age of Pisces, and therefore needed a God.

A scholar whose name I do not remember once remarked that the Sun God had for millennia been mankind’s principle alternative to the God of Abraham. I remember opening a copy of the Qur’an to a random page and reading a passage in which Abraham watches the sun set, and Allah tells him that the true God is present with him always, in contrast to the sun, which has now disappeared. But this idea is rather crude when we consider how precisely astronomers charted the position of the sun in the sky for thousands of years. Of course the sun appears to set, one of these ancient scientists might say, rather impatiently. The location of the sun at any hour and day was not known vaguely, but with remarkable exactitude, as we can tell from the way that monuments like Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico were situated in relation to the stars and to the sun at the solstices and equinoxes, and its rising and setting.

In a rather more poetic vein I should add that the daily and yearly drama of the sun’s apparent movement in the sky is one of the things that makes it so inspiring. The most exciting day of all is December 25, which has always been regarded as the birthday of the Sun God. The Romans celebrated the birthdays of Sol Invictus and the closely related Persian deity Mithras on this day. The reason is that the sun reaches its southernmost position in the sky on December 21, the Winter Solstice, but does not appear to move northward again for three days. Astronomers finally detect northward movement on the 25th.

I shall come to the matter of how a rational person can believe that the sun, which we know is a sphere of gas, can be a god---that is to say, how it can be intelligent. Those who worship the Sun have always distinguished between the physical sun and the spiritual presence of a being who makes the gaseous sphere his home in the same way that a lesser god might make a temple his home or an angel might make a church his home. The earthly home of a god or angel is simply its point of contact with the material world. A more complete statement of the theory of the Sun God’s location is that the entire solar system is his physical body; the sun in the center is his heart. In the human being also we find the paradoxical juxtaposition of the physical organ that is the heart with a center of feeling and wisdom---the heart chakra. In the human being the chakras or psychic centers are associated with physical glands or organs; in the solar system the physical sun and planets are the equivalents of those glands and organs.

Finally I would like to consider the manner in which men prayed to Sol, the Sun God, and worshiped him. I recall an altar from the 3rd century on which was inscribed a prayer in Latin so simple that even I could understand it. These are the verses:

Ave Sol Invictus.
Ave Sol sanctus.
Ave Sol sanctissimus.

This prayer, translated into English, reads as follows: “Hail Unconquered Sun, Hail holy Sun, Hail most holy Sun.” The words surprise me because they are an expression of the kind of devotion that I associate with the Roman Catholic Church, its litanies and its rosary. As I mentioned in the first part of this essay, the Roman people had, in the third century CE, entered the Age of Pisces. Although we tend to deprecate the Age of Pisces when speaking about a New Age, the Age of Aquarius, we are not being fair to it. There are many virtues in the character and mentality of the Piscean man or woman. I mentioned the need for a God. The need for one God as opposed to many gods is a need to experience one center of life within, and oneness with the one life of the universe. We find that in the Age of Pisces---in particular the “middle ages”---religions as diverse as Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism developed a form of worship that recognized one God or spiritual Reality in the midst of many lesser beings, saints, angels, gods, or bodhisattvas. When the Emperor Aurelian made Sol Invictus the principle God of ancient Rome he was following the same tendency and expressed the same psychological need. But the attempt was short-lived and Sol was soon supplanted by Christ, who appropriated the solar imagery unto himself.

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Comment by Leslie Fish on July 31, 2019 at 6:43pm

I was introduced to Mithraism more than 20 years ago, in Chicago.  It's been difficult to practice out here -- how many Mithraists are there in central Arizona? -- but at least I always sing the prayer and put out the candles on the solstices.  

Comment by Mithradates on August 1, 2019 at 9:34am

Do you have Meetup in Arizona? If you cannot find a Meetup group for Mithraism you can begin a group. You will undoubtedly find some people to want to join. Go to Meetup.com to find out.

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