MITRA

Real Name: Mitra

Identity/Class: Hyborian Era God

Occupation: God of Light

Group Membership: Possibly one of the Primal Gods

Affiliations: Various saints and angels;
    worked with
Erlik on at least one occasion
    Worshipped by various peoples and clergy members (Arus, Dexitheus, Epimetrius the Sage, Pelijah Lon, Ninus, Tamara, Vitellus, etc.) of the Hyborian Era;
    Conan (unwitting pawn in Mitra's war against Set),
    Red Sonja (created under his loose direction);

Enemies: Set, Serpent Men, Khorus, Molub, Thoth-Amon, C'Harona, Thugra Khotan, Xotli, Yog and his priestess

Known Relatives: Shamahs (son)
may include the following:
    Gaea ("mother"),
    Varuna (brother)
    Ymir,
Crom, Lir (Leir) ("half-brothers"),
   
Borri, Manannan ("nephews"),
    Morrigan, Atali ("nieces")

Aliases: Mithra, Mithras; Lord of Light

Base of Operations: Elysium (his own "Heaven" dimension)

First Appearance:
    (real world): no frickin' idea
    (referenced):
    (manifestation): Weird Tales Volume 21, Number 6, Black Colossus (June, 1933)
        (Marvel Universe): Savage Sword of Conan#2 (October, 1974)

Powers: Mitra presumably has the powers common to a Terran deity, including superhuman strength + durability, immunity to aging and conventional disease, and manipulation of energies. As a god of light, he presumably could generate some degree of light and heat.
Mitra once manifested a large ball of energy, which was powerful enough to slay the powerful demon Xotli.
The Oracle of Mitra demonstrated telepathic abilities and prophecy as well. The Oracle appeared to be a statue which represented the spirit of Mitra himself.

Mitra's rites were, as far as we know, unique in that they alone in the Hyborian era included no blood sacrifices of any kind--either animal or human. The majestic images of the god were also unique in that era, since they were idols; that is, the images themselves were not actually worshipped or considered to be the peculiar dwelling places of the god. Mitra, it was believed, was omnipresent and his true appearance unknowable. The statues erected to him were regarded only as attempts to make visible the idea of Mitra by portraying him "in idealized human form, as near perfection as the human mind can conceive."
--adapted from Robert L. Yaple's essay on the Hyborian God, in Savage Sword of Conan#7.

History: Mitra's origins are uncertain (see comments).

(Savage Sword of Conan#7: Gods of the Hyborian Era) - The name was recognized by Xaltotun, an Acheronian who lived around the time of his culture's destruction, @ 13000 BC. Mitraism's real ascendancy probably began about 1400 years after Acheron's fall, when the Hyborian lands were once again menaced by the shadow of Set, and were largely saved through the efforts of the Mitraic prophet-hero Epemetrius the Sage. One of the earlier nations to embrace Mitra was Koth, @ 11000 BC.

(Savage Sword of Conan#221 (fb) - BTS) - At some point, Mitra cursed a decadent city. In time, this city became a home for many supernatural monsters. A Mitran solar rune was placed on a rock to control the monsters, but it was later corrupted. This was the story of the Sea of Gray Despair in west-central Corinthia.

(Savage Sword of Conan#185 (fb) - BTS) - At some point, Mitra banished the demon Molub, who had ruled a domain on Earth, to the netherworld. However, a cursed ring could return Molub to Earth, to slay whoever was given the ring. Many people over the years had the ring unknowingly passed to them by their enemies.

(Conan the Barbarian: The Skull of Set (fb) - BTS) - In the city of Eidoran, then a mighty but decadent place, Set worshippers summoned forth demons such as Khorus from an infernal dimension. The first followers of Mitra hired their own sorcerer-who used a crystal skull to focus his powers and bind the demons in stone. After this, the ruins of Eidoran were guarded by the Mitran clergy.

(Official Handbook of the Conan Universe#1) In the Hyborian era, the deity Mitra emerged as one of the most popular gods, receiving worship from peoples in the kingdoms of Aquilonia, Argos, Corinthia, Nemedia, Ophir, and Zingara; in fact south of Nordheim and Cimmeria, Mitra worship was almost universal. It was rivaled here and there only by little cults of such as that of Asura, Ibis, Ishtar, and even, to some degree, Set. That last deity was also Mitra's sworn enemy, as Mitra intervened in human affairs often to protect his own worshippers and humanity in general from Set's foul designs.

Some Mitraists were unique in having an unflinchingly monotheistic devotion to Mitra. While most people in the Hyborian era followed a type of henotheism, in which they acknowledged the existence of gods that they chose not to worship, some Mitraists held Mitra as the only god in existence.  Not unexpectedly, this exclusivist view of Mitra produced hardcore intolerance of other religions at times.
In Mitraism, while there were saint and a heavenly host, there was no pantheon, no divine colleagues, and not even a consort.

Ostensibly Mitra was a gentle god in contrast to Northern warrior gods such as Crom, Borri, Ymir et al. and supposedly taught mercy over vengeance. However, despite this, Mitra did banish people to a hell dimension for punishment, for as mankind's eternal judge, Mitra decided final assignment of souls to either there or a heaven world as a reward. Mitraic  sorteriology preached salvation based on works, i.e. a person's life on Earth was judged based on his deeds in his or her life. Mitra, known to be attended to by a host of saints and angels, presumably dwelled in this heaven dimension.

Blood sacrifice was explicitly excluded from the Mitraic  religion, the rituals of which had much simplicity, dignity, and beauty. As opposed to the case of the idols of non-Mitraic  religions, the statues of Mitra served only as emblems intended to represent the god in idealized form and not to be worshipped themselves.

Koth, which at one time knelt to Mitra, afterwards fell under the influence of Shem and Stygia and abandoned the god for the more sensual rites of Ishtar, as did Khoraja and Khauran.

(Savage Sword of Conan#29/4 (fb) - BTS) - From Elysium then, Mitra peered, with mournful eye, into the primordial mist. He spoke:
'Forge me an instrument of retribution. I wish to prophesy thru the rage of the naked sword.'
A solitary voice answered. It was the throaty retort of Erlik, the Dark God, the Fallen One. He said, "Twill be done!'

Thus did Erlik, via the hand of the living Tarim, manipulate events to forge the woman warrior known as Red Sonja.

(Conan the Barbarian#147 - BTS) - Set managed to recruit a turncoat Mitraic  priestess named C'Harona with promises of power. Set instructed her to free his "most hideous demons" from "the center of the Earth". To that end, C'Harona mesmerized the popular Mitraic  priestess Pelijah Lon and had her persuade the people of D'eim to build a tower to Mitra. In fact, C'Harona used the tower to hide a drill that was being used to burrow into the Earth to free rat-like demons serving Set. C'Harona intended to use these demons to help destroy the Mitraic  religion in D'eim.

Conan received an image of Pelijah asking for help. Going to D'eim, he investigated and found the truth. Eventually, C'Harona, as promised, was transformed by Set into a powerful "hideous shrieking harpie" (sic), but Conan and Pelijah Lon managed to destroy C'Harona, and the rat-like demons were destroyed when the tower was demolished.

(Savage Sword of Conan#169/2 - BTS) - The Endless Stair appeared, a manifestation that accompanied an event when Ahriman and Mitra would trade souls. An angel attempted to use this event to take a human lover in Red Sonja, but did not.

(Savage Sword of Conan#188/2 - BTS) - On the borderline of Aquilonia, Conan saw one of Mitra's angels-the angel who usually appeared to those about to die. Later, Conan met a priestess of the demon-god Yog. This priestess had gained vast power which she intended to use to conquer the world for her master. The angel of Mitra appeared again to Conan and granted him Mitra's power. Both Conan and the priestess of Yog grew to a gigantic height and faced each other in an ethereal realm in the sky. The angels of Mitra and the demons of Yog looked on as the two fought. Conan killed the priestess and saw her blood fall to Earth. The blood cursed the land upon which it fell, making that land a place of war and disorder. This land would eventually become known as Palestine.

(Black Colossus/Savage Sword of Conan#2/Conan the Barbarian#249) - Yasmela, princess of Khoraja, sought aid from the Oracle of Mitra, in regards to visions of attacks by Natohk, an alias for Thugra Khotan. The Oracle spoke to Yasmela and, after revealing a thorough understanding of her plight--and a nice plot synopsis for the reader, advised her: Go forth alone upon the streets of your capital...and place your kingdom in the hands of the first man you meet there!

The man she met, of course, was Conan, who led Khoraja to victory over the forces of Thugra Khotan.

(Savage Sword of Conan#40 - BTS) - Princess Chabela of Zingara, deeply worried about the court intrigue at work in her country, sought guidance at a Mitraic  house of worship. Seeking guidance, she took out divining straws, and threw them at random on the floor. The divining straws landed on the floor, spelling out Tovarro. Chabela immediately secretly set sail for that place.

Mitra sent Chabela that message as part of a complicated plan to thwart the designs of Set (see comments). Mitra intended to undo the plans of Duke Villagro, a Zingaran noble who intended to marry Chabela and become king. To that end, Villagro had made a deal with the Setian priest Menkara. Part of the terms of the deal included that Villagro would replace the prevalent Mitraic  religion in Zingara with Set worship. Desiring to prevent this Mitra instructed Chabela to flee, and in fact did bring about a chain of events that thwarted Villagro, Menkara, and also Thoth-Amon.

(Conan of the Isles/Conan Annual#7) - The people of Ptahuacan, the last surviving city of the Atlanteans on Earth, began to magically abduct people from the nearby continent, to serve as sacrifice to their god, Xotli. When people of the kingdom of Aquilonia began to disappear, the spirit of Epimetrius appeared before Aquilonia's king, Conan (now well into his seventh decade). Epimetrius directed Conan to Ptahuacan and gave him an amulet, telling him he'd know how to use it when the time was right.
After much struggle, Conan was confronted by the demonic Xotli in its temple in Ptahuacan. Shattering the amulet, Conan released "the pure force of Mitra, Lord of Light." The energy sphere engaged Xotli, shattering its temple, and eventually banishing the demonic creature as well.

See the comments below for Mitra's history following the Hyborian era.

Comments: Created by Robert E. Howard; adapted by Roy Thomas.

Mitra was also invoked by one of the followers of Andros in Fantastic Four I#407.

If you're the type who is offended by a religious discussion that criticizes (or even pokes fun at) some of the prominent religions of the modern era, you probably should stop here.
DO NOT write to me (Snood) complaining about this discussion.
If you want to discuss it, talk to
John.

Mitra's Acting Behind the Scenes

Admittedly, it is easy to go overboard with designating a story as having a behind-the-scenes-influence by Mitra, as he was one of the most important gods of the Hyborian era. While one would generally wish to admit such stories only if they feature overt supernatural intervention, the Cobra Crown/Chabela story discussed under history has been included because of the fact that, in the partial retelling of the Cobra Crown story in Punisher Annual#2/4, Uatu the Watcher narrated the story. Uatu, who observed Earth during the Hyborian Age, referred to Conan as "the man chosen by the Hyborian Age's gods of light as their champion against the forces of Set!". Since Uatu the Watcher is privy to many cosmic secrets and phenomenon withheld from mortal man, I will presume that he was able to detect Mitra's aura or what-have-you at work in the defeat of Thoth-Amon.

(SSoC#112/2) - A Mitraic priest from Aquilonia tried to bring about peace by teaching the way of Mitra to the Picts. He taught a tribe led by Shooz Dinj about how a Mitraic priest was once captured and tortured by Turanian nomads, who flayed his skin an inch strip at a time. As they had torn the flesh from his body, he blessed them for it, showing wisdom, mercy, and......and Conan leapt in in time to stop one of the Picts hearing the story from braining the priest from behind. Conan slew some of the Picts and others fled. The priest continued to believe in his mission of peace, and when Conan led the group of settlers to flee from another group of Picts, the priest met with Shooz Dinj, who told him he had remembered his lesson. They bound the priest to the ground, and flayed his skin, one strip at a time.

(SSoC#15-17, The Hyborian Era) - @ 9500 BC, approximately 500 years after the rule of Conan, Arus, a Nemedian priest of Mitra, sought to bring religion to the heathen Picts. Arus taught Gorm, the leader of one of the Pict clans about the success and splendor of the Hyborian Kingdoms as proof of the power of Mitra. Impressed, Gorm and his allies began to make voyages to all of Aquilonia, under Arus' permission. However, Gorm remained a barbarian to the core, and had no interest in Mitra, but rather in the wealth of Aquilonia. From his visits, he took back the skills to forge chain mail armor and iron weapons, with which he began a series of wars which, with the aid of a few other complicating factors, brought about the fall of Aquilonia over the next 75 years. When the wars started, Arus sought to turn Gorm from the path of violence. For his efforts, he received a stone mace in the back of his head--and likely his head on a pike afterwards.

Mitra's Relatives/Post-Hyborian Fate

    As occurred with Crom, I have deduced from Gaea's serving as the maternal ancestor of the Earth's gods that she should be listed as Mitra's "mother". I have listed Varuna as his brother based on information from the authentic Vedic account of Mitra.

Mitra had a son named Shamahs according to Conan the Adventurer#1.

    As to what became of Mitra after the Hyborian era, one is free to speculate. It could be possible that he was either the same as or reincarnated as the Mitra/Mithra of post-Hyborian myth. In which case, his later fate is detailed below.

    As to what happened to Mitra's hell dimension, many hell-realms have been seen in modern times. Whether a demon later usurped Mitra's hell-dimension and became its ruler could be possible. It is interesting to note, by the way, that although Set was Mitra's main enemy, it does not seem that he would receive the souls that Mitra judged as worthy of damnation, since generally in the Marvel Universe, gods only receive the souls of those that worshipped them, not the souls of sinful worshippers of other gods. Set's own pocket dimension (seen as recently as Thor Annual#14) does not seem to have any souls of the dead resident there, and the limbo realm seen in Marvel Team-Up I#111 is only for the souls of deceased Serpent Men.

However, as covered under the profile for Ishiti, the daughter of Set apparently ruled the otherdimensional Isle of the Living Dead. In Conan the Barbarian I#147, it was said that C'Harona had been "promised a place in his nether world" by Set for her aid in opposing the Mitraic  religion. So, it could be possible that Set controls a land of the dead, but that sinful Mitraists went there remains uncertain.

Mitra In Vedic Times

As discussed under the entry for Shiva, Mitra in historical mythology was a god of the Vedas (early Indo-European religious documents), at a time when both the Persian and Indian peoples worshipped the same gods, following similar religions. At this early stage, Mitra was a very prominent god. Varuna and Mitra were the older, biological brothers to Indra and Vishnu. Mitra was also called Surya. Varuna, Mitra, and Indra presided as the ruling trinity of the Vedic gods.

However, in both India and Persia, Mitra fell from prominence. In India, when Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva ascended to heaven, they replaced Varuna, Mitra and Rudra in their respective places in the ruling trinity.

In Persia, Mitra was also subsumed, but here matters took a very different turn. Here, no later than 600 BC, a new religious teacher rejected the worship of the established trinity of Varuna, Mithra and Indra. He emphasized the eternal struggle between a force of good (Ahura Mazda) and a force of evil (Ahriman). This teacher was named Zoroaster or Zarathustra.

However, at some point after the reform of the Persian religion by Zoroaster, some Persians began to revive the worship of Mitra as a savior god who was the Way, the Truth, and the Light. He died for our sins. In time, the veneration of Mitra spread to many foreign lands, including in Europe.

Mithraism and Christianity

Mithraism competed with early Christianity in the later days of the Roman Empire. It soon became apparent that Mithraism and Christianity were very similar, and in several cases, it was obvious that Christians had plagiarized Mithraist practices:

Early Christian writers attempted to address the issue of the similarity between Mithraism and Christianity by stating that the Mithraists had stolen their rituals from Christianity. However, it became apparent that this was not a feasible explanation, since Mithraism was older than Christianity! The Mithraists had been performing their rituals long before the birth of Jesus Christ would have taken place.

So, many early Christian writers came up with a solution that ranks with the most extreme paranoid delusions. They explained the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity by saying that Satan knew Jesus was coming, and so to throw people off, Satan created Mithraism (and other similar religions) in the centuries before Jesus' birth. Satan hoped that the existence of religions that had many similarities to Christianity which preceded the life of Jesus would cause people to not believe in Jesus when he showed up!

This theory has been called "diabolical mimicry". Whew, that Satan; he must be so busy, what with him also creating fossils for people to find all over the world in order to get people to believe in evolution and the Earth being millions of years old instead of people accepting the Hebrew Bible story of Adam and Eve with the world being less than seven thousand years old!

As discussed under the entries for both the Serpent Men of Stakesboro and the Serpent Men who are the original spawn of Set, Mithraism used a t-shaped symbol to represent their god as the rays of the sun, which directly inspired the Christian use of the cross, as the historical Jesus Christ would have actually been crucified on a single pole. I have extrapolated that Setian use of the inverted cross on Earth-616 mocks Mitra, not Jesus. (Incidentally, someone watching the Conan the Adventurer animated series of the early 1990's once said it would be fun if Jesus showed up to banish the Serpent Men! Well, the Hyborian Age did not have Jesus, but they did have Mitra to stop the Serpent Men......)

Christianity eventually won out over Mithraism by gaining the favor of the Roman Emperor. Specifically, the Emperor Constantine, who actually for most of his life was a member of Mithraism and other cults, had murdered his son, and sought to cleanse himself of the sense of guilt he felt about doing this. He was informed by the Mithraist priests and scholars that they could not cleanse him of the taint of what he had done. However, Christian priests informed him that Christian baptism erased all sins committed before the baptism. So not only would it forgive Constantine's murder of his son, if Constantine put off his baptism until just before he died, during his life he could commit all the sins that he wanted to, and his baptism would save him from any punishment in the afterlife for his accumulated sins! In fact, the Emperor Constantine chose this route. (So, you can do a last-minute conversion!)

Upon the ascension of the Roman Catholic Church, Mithraism was wiped out upon the passage of the Codex Theodosius, the series of laws which banned all religions in the Roman Empire except for Roman Catholic Christianity and Judaism. These laws came out in 341, 345, 356, 381, 383, 386, and 391 AD. Mithraists had their civil rights taken away. For a witty discussion of the existence of Mithraism in the Roman Empire by the great anti-clerical writer Joseph McCabe, click here.

Within centuries, any Mithraists in Persia soon also lost their civil rights due to pro-Jesus intolerance; circa the year 650 AD, Arabs who were Muslims (and thus believed in the Koranic account of the virgin birth of Jesus) invaded Persia. As a result, Persia became Muslim. The old Vedic-connected religions such as Zoroastorianism and Mithraism were wiped out. Today in Persia, now called Iran, anyone who follows these religions faces the death penalty or other harassment.

Mitra and the use of the word Pagan/Other Hyborian Religions

Curiously, in several places in the discussion of the Hyborian era religions, such as in The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe#1, non-Mitraic  religions are referred to as "pagan". This presents an odd employment of the term, since the word pagan in its most scholarly use refers to someone who follows a religion other than Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

In the Hyborian era, no one followed an these religions. Even the ancestors of the Jews and Arabs, the people of Shem, held polytheistic beliefs in Ashtoreth, Derketo, Ishtar, Pteor, Adonis, and Bel of Shumir.
The word pagan actually denotes either: (1) a follower of a polytheistic religion, or (2) one who has little or no religion. It does carry the connotation of referring to non-Judeo-Christian religions, but that is not its true meaning. Thus since Mitraism in the Hyborian era was a monotheistic religion, Mitraists wouldn't be pagans, but, at least to them, everyone else would--Snood.

A curious observation has to do with What If I#39, in which Thor (of an alternate quantum reality) was cast back in time to the Hyborian epoch. One of the points Thor observed about the gods of the Hyborian era was that they seemed to be inhumane, either aloof in the case of Crom or bloodthirsty in the case of Set. Thor seemed to think that the Hyborian era gods were not at all compassionate.

However, Mitra, as seen in the history detailed above, seemed quite compassionate, as he often interceded in human affairs to protect people from Set. The description of him as preaching mercy above vengeance would also seem to paint him as a compassionate god......if Mitra did not also consign people to a hell dimension for punishment. It always seems strange that gods who banish people to face eternal damnation can be considered "forgiving". However, I suppose it is possible that imprisonment in Mitra's hell was not permanent.
--We can excuse Thor b/c I don't think he encountered Mitra (maybe some invoked him, and he helped Conan rob a Mitran house of worship, but that's it).

Mitran Cross and Vampires

One of the first recorded uses of a cross against a vampire takes place in Savage Sword of Conan#141 when the Mitran priest Vitellus used a Mitran cross against vampires that Ymir had imprisoned ages ago in Vanaheim. In addition, Vitellus noted that the oak and the ash were sacred types of wood and even used holy water from a sacred river under the city of Shadizar.

Mitraic  Monotheism

Some versions of the Mitraic  religion, as discussed in the profile, emerged as one of the few monotheistic religions in the Hyborian Age. However, the Mitraic  belief in Mitra as the only real god has, as noted, been shown to be false.

Mitra on Alternate Earths

Snood's additional comments:

By Per Degaton and Snood

CLARIFICATIONS:
Mitra, should be distinguished from:

Set, the Elder God, father of the Serpent Men, should be distinguished from such impostors as:

Elder Gods

Serpent Men


Appearances:
Savage Sword of Conan#2 (October, 1974) - Roy Thomas (writer/editor), John Buscema (pencils), Alfredo Alcala (inks)
Savage Sword of Conan#7 (August, 1975) - Robert L. Yaple (writer), Mike Vosburg (artist), Roy Thomas (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#15-17 (October, 1976 - February, 1977) - Roy Thomas (writer/editor), John Buscema (pencils), Alfredo Alcala (inks)
Savage Sword of Conan#29 (May, 1978) - Frank Thorne (writer/artist), Roy Thomas (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#40 (May, 1979) - Roy Thomas (writer/editor), John Buscema (pencils), Tony DeZuniga (inks)
Conan Annual#7 (1982) - Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (pencils), Danny Bulanadi, Ricardo Villamonte & Armando Gil (inks)
Conan the Barbarian#147 (June, 1983) - Bruce Jones (writer), John Buscema (pencils), Ernie Chan (inks), Louise Jones (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#112 (May, 1985) - Don Kraar (writer), William Johnson (pencils), Rey Garcia (inks), Larry Hama (editor)
Official Handbook of the Conan Universe#1 (1985)
Conan of the Isles (1988) - Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (pencils), Danny Bulanadi, Ricardo Villamonte & Armando Gil (inks), Craig Anderson (editor)
Conan the Barbarian: The Skull of Set (1989) - Doug Moench (writer), Paul Gulacy (pencils), Gary Martin (inks)
Savage Sword of Conan#169 (January, 1990) - Peter B. Gillis (writer), Steve Carr (pencils), Armando Gil (inks), Craig Anderson (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#185 (May, 1991) - Don Kraar (writer), Dale Eaglesham (pencils), Pat Redding (inks), Mike Rockwitz (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#188 (August, 1991) - S. Plunkett (writer/pencils), Dave Cockrum (artist), Mike Rockwitz (editor)
Conan the Barbarian#249 (October, 1991) - Roy Thomas (writer), Mike Docherty (pencils), Ernie Chan (inks), Mike Rockwitz (editor)
Savage Sword of Conan#221 (May, 1994) - Roy Thomas (writer), Robert Brown (pencils), Rey Garcia (inks), Richard Ashford (editor)


Last updated04/13/04

Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.

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