This work provides the reader with a brief introduction, Greek text, and English translation of the fascinating though difficult document known as the Mithras Liturgy.
I initially prepared an introduction and translation of the Mithras Liturgy for a seminar on the Hellenistic mystery religions; the seminar was convened by Dr. Hans Dieter Betz during the fall semester of 1975 at Claremont Graduate School. My thanks to the participants in the seminar for their helpful comments.
'In particular I thank Dr. Edward O'Neil of the University of Southern California for his perceptive suggestions.
Marvin W. Meyer
The so-called Mithras Liturgy is included in this series of texts and translations for several reasons. The Liturgy is frequently mentioned in secondary literature, and has been partially translated into English upon several occasions, but it has not previously been available in its entirety in English translation. Furthermore, the Mithras Liturgy deserves the attention of students of early Christian literature and the history of religions, particularly Graeco-Roman religion: the Liturgy reflects an important religious tendency of its day, a syncretistic piety utilizing astrology and magic and emphasizing the ecstatic ascent of the individual soul. Of additional interest is the relationship of the Mithras Liturgy to the previously known Hermetic literature and the recently discovered tractates from Nag Hammadi (cf., for example, page 3, note b , below).
The Mithras Liturgy is part of the great magical codex of Paris (Papyrus 574 of the Bibliotheque Nationale). Presumably compiled in the early fourth century C.E., this codex contains a variety of tractates, hymns, recipes, and prescriptions, which were apparently collected for use in the working library of an Egyptian magician. Lines 475- 834 of this codex constitute the Mithras Liturgy; these boundaries for the Liturgy are suggested by the continuity of thought within the Liturgy, by the punctuation utilized by the scribe, and by the apparent transition to a different section (lines 835-849: astrological calculations). Interestingly, lines 467-474 parallel lines 821-823 and 830-834: thus the Mithras Liturgy is placed between two closely related versions of spells utilizing lines from Homer.
The Mithras Liturgy received its name and fame from. A. Dieterich. in 1903 Dieterich published his valuable book, Eine MithrasLiturgie, in which he proposed that the text in question contains an official liturgy of the Mithras cult, a Mithraic ritual for the ascent and immortalization of the soul. Although the Mithras Liturgy had been later adopted and somewhat adapted by Egyptian magicians, Dieterich concluded, the text still preserves the highest sacrament in which the blithraic initiate could participate. However, since the publication of Dieterich's book, F. Cumont, R. Reitzenstein, and others have expressed skepticism concerning the Mithraic origin of the Liturgy. Thus, such scholars have suggested that more significant parallels to the Liturgy can be found in the hermetic writings, or in individualistic and private mysteries, or in Graeco-Egyptian syncretism, magic, and solar piety. Yet the evidence amassed by Dieterich cannot be easily dismissed, for he highlights important echoes of Mithraism in the Mithras Liturgy: particularly striking are the mention of "the great god Helios Mithras" (line 482), the invocation of the elements (lines 487-537), the description of the fire-breathing god Aion (lines 587- 616), and the portraits of Helios (lines 635-637) and the highest God (lines 693-704). Furthermore, the accounts of Celsus (in Origen, Contra Celsum, 6. 21-22) and Porphyry (De antro nympharum, 5-6 etc.) on Mithraism verify the fact that such a liturgy for the soul's ascent as the Mithras Liturgy could be quite compatible with at least some expressions of Mithraism.
Consequently, it is advisable to conclude that the Mithras Liturgy may indeed represent some variety of Mithraism--though not, to be sure, Mithraism as it is usually presented. If there is Mithraism in this papyrus, it is a Mithraism on the fringe, a Mithraism preoccupied with individualism, syncretism, and magic. The Mithras Liturgy may thus illustrate a direction taken by those carrying on the Mithras tradition in Egypt.
The text of the Mithras Liturgy is composed of two main parts: a liturgical mystery of ascent (lines 475-750), and a set of instructions (lines 750-834) for the use of the mystery. After the brief introduction (lines 475- 485), the mystery of ascent presents the seven liturgical stages for the soul's ecstatic journey: the soul thus encounters the four elements (lines 485-537), in their generative and regenerative aspects; the lower powers of the air (lines 537-585), including the winds, bolts of thunder and lightning, and meteors; Aion and the Aionic powers (lines 585-628) , as planetary guardians of the heavenly doors; Helios (lines 628-657), young and fiery; the seven Fates (lines 657-672) and, next, the seven Pole-Lords (lines 673-692), both groups from the region of the fixed stars, and both depicted in Egyptian fashion; and finally the highest God (lines 692-724), portrayed like Mithras himself. After the conclusion (lines 724-750) to the mystery of ascent, the instructions for the use of the mystery present a scarab ceremony of the sun (lines 750-798) provide instructions for the obtaining of the kentritis herb and the fashioning of amulets (lines 798-830) and append two additional spells (lines 831-834) The predominant place of magic within the Mithras Liturgy deserves special mention. The entire text of the Liturgy is permeated with magic, including breathing techniques (cf. lines 537-538: drawing in breath from the rays) , special recipes (cf. lines 750-755: preparing the cake for the scarab), magical rituals (cf. lines 767-769: burying the scarab) amulets (cf. lines 659-660: kissing the amulets), and magical formulae. The magical formulae themselves are diverse in character: some seem onomatopoetic (cf. line 488, PPP: making a popping sound, possibly like thunder), symbolic (cf. line 487, AEEIOYO: using the seven vowels in a series), or perhaps glossolalic (cf. line 492, EY EIA EE); some seem derived from or imitative of Greek (cf. line 562, PROPROPHEGGE: Primal Brightener?) Egyptian (cf. line 672, ARARRACHES: Horus of the two horizons; and line 717, PHRE: Re, the Sun) , or Semitic words (cf. line 591, SEMESILAM: Eternal sun; and line 593, IAO: Yahweh).
The Greek text which follows is that of K. Preisendanz, though a few minor
changes have been made (e.g., the paragraphing) . Regrettably, only a few notes
can be provided here; for additional information the reader is re ferred to the
following selected bibliography:
Dieterich, Albrecht. Eine MithrasLiturgie
(19031. 19102 edited by Richard WUnsch. 19233, edited by Otto Weinreich, reprinted Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1966).
For the reactions by other scholars to Dieterich, see the "Nachtrage" (19233)
Hopfner, Theodor. Griechisch-agyptischer Offenbarungszauber (Studien zur Palaeographie und Papyruskunde, 21, 23. Leipzig: Haessel, 1921, 1924; republished Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1974-).
Nilsson, Martin P. Geschichte der griechischen Religion (2. Aufl. Miinchen: Beck, 1961)i vol. 2, 670, 686ff.
Nock, Arthur D. "Greek Magical Papyri," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 15 (1929) 219-235. Reprinted in Nock, Essays on Religion and the Ancient World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), vol.1, 176-194, especially 192ff.
Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die griechischen Zauberpapyri. Edited and translated by Karl Preisendanz. 2 Aufl. edited by Albert Henrichs (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1973), vol. 1, 88-101.
Smith, Morton. "Observations on Hekhalot Rabbati," in Biblical and Other Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), 142-160, especially 158ff.
Wessely, Carl, editor. Griechische Zauberpapyrus von Paris und London (Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, philosophisch-historische Classe, 36. Wien: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1888).
(475) Be gracious to me, 0 Providence and Psyche, as I write these mysteries
This is the invocation of the ceremony:1
"First -origin of my origin, AEEIOYO, first beginning of my beginning,2 PPP SSS PHR spirit3 of spirit, the first of the spirit (490) in me, MMM, fire given by god to my mixture of the mixtures in me, the first of the fire in me, EY EIA EE, water of water, the first of the water in me, OOO AAA EEE, earthy substance, the first of the earthy substance in me, (495) YE YOE, my complete body (I,_______whose mother is _______4), which was formed by a noble arm and an incorruptible right hand in a world without light and yet radiant, without soul and yet alive with soul, YEI AYI EYOIE: now if it be your will, METERTA (500) PHOTH (METHARTHA PHERIE, in another place)5 YEREZATH, give me over to immortal birth and, following that, to my underlying nature, so that,6 after the present need which is pressing me exceedingly, I may gaze upon the immortal (505) beginning with the immortal spirit, ANCHREPHRENESOYPHIRIGCH, with the immortal water, ERONOYI PARAKOYNETH, with the most steadfast air, EIOAE PSENABOTH; that I may be born again in thought, KRAOCHRAX R OIM ENARCHOMAI,7 (510) and the sacred spirit may breathe in me, NECHTHEN APOTOY NECHTHIN ARPI ETH; so that I may wonder at the sacred fire, KYPHE; that I may gaze upon the unfathomable, awesome water of the dawn, NYO THESO ECHO OYCHIECHOA, and the vivifying (515),and encircling aether may hear me, ARNOMETHPH; for today I am about to behold, with immortal eyes -- I, born mortal from mortal womb, but transformed by tremendous power and an incorruptible right hand (520)! -- and with immortal spirit, the immortal Aion and and master of the fiery diadems--
I, sanctified through holy consecrations!-- while there subsists within me, holy, for a short time, my human soul-might, which I will again (525) receive after the present bitter and relentless necessity which is pressing down upon me--
I, _______ whose mother is _______ according to the immutable decree of god, EYE YIA EEI AO EIAY IYA IEO! Since it is impossible for me, born (530) mortal, to rise with the golden brightnesses of the immortal brilliance, OEY AEO EYA EOE YAE 5IAE, stand, O perishable nature of mortals, and at once
Draw in breath from the rays, drawing up three times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted up and (540) ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in mid-air. You will hear nothing either of man or of any other living thing, nor in that hour will you see anything of mortal affairs on earth, but rather you will see all immortal things. For in that day (545) and hour you will see the divine order of the skies: the presiding gods8 rising into heaven, and others setting. Now the course of the visible gods will appear through the disk of god, my father; and in similar fashion the so-called "pipe" (550), the origin of the ministering wind. For you will see it hanging from the sun's disk like a pipe. You will see the outflow of this object toward the regions westward, boundless as an east wind, if it be assigned to the regions of the East--and the other (viz. the west wind), similarly, toward its own (555) regions.9 And you will see the gods staring intently at you and rushing at you. So at once put your right finger on your mouth and say:
"Silence! Silence! Silence! Symbol of the living, incorruptible god! (560) Guard me, Silence, NECHTHEIR THANMELOY!" Then make a long hissing sound, next make a popping sound, and say: "PROPROPHEGGE MORIOS PROPHYR PROPHEGGE NEMETHIRE ARPSENTEN PTTETMI MEOY ENARTH PHYRKECHO PSYRIDARIO (565) TYRE PHILBA." Then you will see the gods looking graciously upon you and no longer rushing at you, but rather going about in their own order of affairs. So when you see that the world above is clear (570) and circling, and that none of the gods or angels is threatening you, expect to hear a great crash of thunder, so as to shock you. Then say again: "Silence! Silence! (the prayer) I am a star, wandering about with you, and shining forth out of (575) the deep, OXY10 O XERTHEYTH." Immediately after you have said these things the sun's disk will be expanded. And after you have said the second prayer, where there is "Silence! Silence!" and the accompanying words, make a hissing sound twice and a popping sound twice, and immediately you will see (580) many five- pronged stars coming forth from the disk and filling all the air. Then say again: "Silence! Silence!"
And when the disk is open, you will see the fireless circle, and the fiery doors shut tight (585). At once close your eyes and recite the following prayer. The third prayer:
"Give ear to me, hearken to me, _______ whose mother is _______, O Lord, you who have bound together with your breath the fiery bars of the fourfold (590) root, O Fire-Walker, PENTITEROYNI, Light-Maker (others: Encloser), SEMESILAM, Fire-Breather, PSYRINPHEY, Fire-Feeler, IAO, Light-Breather, OAI,11 Fire-Delighter, ELOYRE, Beautiful Light, AZAI, Aion, ACHBA, (595) Light-Master, PEPPER PREPEMPIPI, Fire-Body, PHNOYENIOCH, Light-Giver, Fire-Sower, AREI EIKITA, Fire-Driver, GALLABALBA, Light-Forcer, AIO, Fire-Whirler, PYRICHIBOOSEIA, Light-Mover, SANCHEROB, Thunder-Shaker (600), IE OE IOEIO, Glory-Light, BEEGENETEE Light-Increaser, SOYSINEPHIEN, Fire-Light-Maintainer, SOYSINEPHI ARENBARAZEI MARMARENTEY, Star-Tamer: open for me, PROPROPHEGGE EMETHEIRE MORIOMOTYREPHILBA, because, (605) on account of the pressing and bitter and inexorable necessity, I invoke the immortal names, living and honored, which never pass into mortal nature and are not declared in articulate speech by human tongue or mortal speech (610) or mortal sound: EEO OEEO IOO OE EEO EEO OE EO IOO OEEE OEE OOE IE EO OO OE IEO OE OOE IEO OE IEEO EE IO OE IOE OEO EOE OEO OIE OIE EO OI III EOE OYE EOOEE EO EIA AEA EEA (615) EEEE EEE EEE IEO EEO OEEEOE EEO EYO OE EIO EO OE OE EE OOO YIOE."
Say all these things with fire and spirit, until completing the first utterance; then, similarly, begin the second, until you complete the (620) seven immortal gods of the world. When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm; and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: "Silence!" (the prayer) Then open your eyes and you will see the doors (625) open and the world of the gods which is within the doors, so that from the pleasure and joy of the sight your spirit runs ahead and ascends. So stand still and at once draw breath from the divine into yourself, while you look intently. Then when (630) your soul is restored, say: "Come, Lord, ARCHANDARA PHOTAZA PYRIPHOTA ZABYTHIX ETIMENMERO PHORATHEN ERIE PROTHRI PHORATHI."
When you have said this, the rays will turn toward you; look at the center of them. For when (635) you have done this, you will see a youthful god, beautiful in appearance, with fiery hair, and in a white tunic and a scarlet cloak, and wearing a fiery crown. At once greet him with the fire-greeting:
"Hail, O Lord, Great Power, Great Might, (640) King, Greatest of gods,
Helios, the Lord of heaven and earth, God of gods: mighty is your breath; mighty
is your strength, O Lord. If it be your will, announce me to the supreme god,
the one who has begotten and made you: that a man --
I, _______ whose mother is _______ (645) who was born from the mortal womb of _______ and from the fluid of semen, and who, since he has been born again from you today, has become immortal out of so many myriads in this hour according to the wish of god the exceedingly good-- resolves to worship (650) you, and prays with all his human power (that you may take along with you the horoscope of the day and hour today, which has the name THRAPSIARI MORIROK, that he may appear and give revelation during the good hours, EORO RORE ORRI ORlOR ROR ROI (655) OR REORORI EOR EOR EOR EORE!)."
After you have said these things, he will come to the celestial pole, and you will see him walking as if on a road. Look intently and make a long bellowing sound, like a horn, releasing all your breath and straining your sides; and kiss (660) the amulets and say, first toward the right: "Protect me, PROSYMERI!" After saying this, you will see the doors thrown open, and seven virgins coming from deep within, dressed in linen garments, and with the faces of asps. They are called the Fates (665) of heaven, and wield golden wands. When you see them, greet them in this manner:
"Hail, O seven Fates of heaven, O noble and good virgins, O sacred ones and companions of MINIMIRROPHOR, O most holy guardians of the four pillars!12
(670) Hail to you, the first, CHREPSENTHAES!
Hail to you, the second, MENESCHEES!
Hail to you, the third, MECHRAN!
Hail to you, the fourth, ARARMACHES!
Hail to you, the fifth, ECHOMMIE!
Hail to you, the sixth, TICHNONDAES!
Hail to you, the seventh, EROY ROMBRIES!
There also come forth another seven gods, who have the faces of black bulls, in linen (675) loin-cloths, and in possession of seven golden diadems. They are the so-called Pole-Lords of heaven, whom you must greet in the same manner, each of them with his own name: "Hail, O guardians of the pivot, O sacred and brave youths, who turn (680) at one command the revolving axis of the vault of heaven, who send out thunder and lightning and jolts of earthquakes and thunderbolts against the nations of impious people, but to me, who am pious and god-fearing, you send health and soundness of body (685), and acuteness of hearing and seeing, and calmness in the present good hours of this day, O my Lords and powerfully ruling Gods!
Hail to you, the first, AIERONTHI!
Hail to you, the second, MERCHEIMEROS!
Hail to you, the third, ACHRICHIOYR!
(690) Hail to you, the fourth, MESARGILTO!
Hail to you, the fifth, CHICHROALITHO!
Hail to you, the sixth, ERMICHTHATHOPS!
Hail to you, the seventh, EORASICHE!"
Now when they take their place, here and there, in order, look in the air and you will see lightning-bolts going down, and lights flashing (695), and the earth shaking, and a god descending, a god immensely great, having a bright appearance youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic and a golden crown and trousers,13 and holding in his right hand a golden (700) shoulder of a young bull: this is the Bear14 which moves and turns heaven around, moving upward and downward in accordance with the hour. Then you will see lightning-bolts leaping from his eyes and stars from his body. And at once (705) produce a long bellowing sound, straining your belly, that you may excite the five senses: bellow long until the conclusion, and again kiss the amulets, and say: "MOKRIMO PHERIMOPHERERI, life of me, _______" stay!
Dwell in (710) my soul! Do not abandon me, for one entreats you, ENTHO PHENEN THROPIOTH."
And gaze upon the god while bellowing long; and greet him in this manner:
"Hail, O Lord, O Master of the water!
Hail, O Founder of the earth!
Hail, O Ruler of the wind!
O Bright Lightener (715) , PROPROPHEGGE EMETHIRI ARTENTEPI THETH MIMEO YENARO PHYRCHECHO PSERI DARIO PHRE PHRELBA!
Give revelation 0 Lord, concerning the matter of _______.
O Lord, while being born again, I am passing away; while growing and having
grown, (720) I am dying; while being born from a life-generating birth, I am
passing on, released to death-- as you have founded, as you have decreed, and
have established the mystery.15
I am PHEROYRA MIOYRI."
After you have said these things, he will immediately respond with a
revelation (725). Now you will grow weak in soul and will not be in yourself,
when he answers you. He speaks the oracle to you in verse, and after speaking he
will depart. But you remain silent, since you will be able to comprehend all
these matters by yourself; for at a later time (730) you will remember
infallibly the things spoken by the great god, even if the oracle contained
myriads of verses. If you also wish to use a fellow-initiate, so that he alone
may hear with you the things spoken, let him remain pure together With you for
Take a sun-scarab which has twelve rays,16 and make it fall into a deep, turquoise cup, at the time when the moon is invisible;17 put in together with it the seed of the lotometra, (755) and honey; and, after grinding it, prepare a cake. And at once you will see it (viz. the scarab) moving forward and eating; and when it has consumed it, it immediately dies. Pick it up and throw it into a glass vessel of excellent rose oil, as much as you wish; and (760) spreading sacred sand in a pure manner, set the vessel on it, and say the formula over the vessel for seven days, while the sun is in mid-heaven:
"I have consecrated you, that your essence may be useful to me, to _______ alone, IE IA E EE OY EIA, that you may prove useful to me (765) alone. For I am PHOR PHORA PHOS PHOTIZAAS (others: PHOR PHOR OPHOTHEI XAAS)."
On the seventh day pick up the scarab, and bury it with Myrrh and wine from Mendes and fine linen; and put it away in a flourishing bean-field. (770) Then, after you have entertained and feasted together, put away, in a pure manner, the ointment for the immortalization. If you want to show this to someone else, take the juice of the herb called "kentritis," and smear it, along with rose oil, over the eyes of the one you wish; (775) and he will see so clearly that he will amaze you. I have not found a greater spell than this in the world. Ask the god for what you want, and he will give to you.18
Now presentation19 before the great god is like this: obtaining the above-mentioned herb (780) kentritis, at the conjunction (viz. of the sun and the moon)20 occurring in the Lion, take the juice and, after mixing it with honey and myrrh, write on a leaf of the persea tree the eight-letter formula, as is mentioned below. And keeping yourself pure for three days before, set out early in the morning toward the East, (785) lick off the leaf while you show it to the Sun, and then he (viz. the sun god) will listen to you attentively. Begin to consecrate this at the divine new moon,21 in the Lion. Now this is the formula:
"I EE 00 IAI."
Lick this up, so that you may be protected; and rolling up the leaf (790) ,
throw it into the rose oil. Many times have I used the spell, and have wondered
greatly. But the god said to me: "Use the ointment no longer, but, after casting
it into the river,
it is of a single stem, and reddish down to the root; and the leaves are rather crinkled and have fruit (810) like the tip of wild asparagus. It is similar to the so-called talapes, like the wild beet. Now the amulets require this procedure: copy the right one onto the skin (815) of a black sheep, with myrrh-ink, and after tying it with sinews of the same ani- mal, put it on; and copy the left one onto the skin of a white sheep, and use the same procedure. The left one is very full of "PROSTHYMERI" (820), and has this text: "So speaking, he drove through the trench the single-hoofed horses." (Il. X. 564) "And men gasping among grievous slaughters." (Il. X. 521) "And they washed off their profuse sweat in the sea." (Il. X. 572) "You will dare to lift up your mighty spear against Zeus." (IL. VIII.424) (825) Zeus went up the mountain with a golden bullock and a silver dagger. Upon all he bestowed a share, only to Amara did he not give, but he said: "Let go of what you have, and then you will receive, PSINOTHER NOPSITHER THERNOPSI" (and so on, as you like). (830) "So Ares suffered, when Otos and mighty Epialtes23 ... him. (Il. V. 385) spell for restraining anger: "You will dare to lift up your mighty spear against Zeus." (Il. VIII.424) For friends: "Let ... seize ... , lest we become a source of joy for our enemies." (Il. X. 193)
1. Or "spell"; note also, below, the translation of logos [lambda omicron gamma omicron sigma -- RE] with "prayer."
2. Cf. On the Eighth and Ninth (Nag Hammadi Codex VI, tractate 6), page 60, line 20. With regard to the Mithras Liturgy in general, cf. this tractate as well as another Hermetic tractate, Corpus Hermeticum XIII.
3. "Spirit," "breath," "wind": pneuma [pi nu eta upsilon mu alpha -- RE] as one of the four elements.
4. Here the initiate was supposed to introduce his own name and that of his mother. This formula appears several times in the Liturgy.
5. one of the several variant readings suggested by a scribe.
6. Preisendanz takes the ina-clauses [iota nu alpha -- RE] as independent clauses.
7. Apparently used here as part of the magical utterance, enarchomai [eta nu alpha rho chi omicron mu alpha iota -- RE] is Greek for "I begin."
8. Moving, revolving heavenly bodies, which may influence human affairs and preside over the days.
9. or, with slightly different punctuation: "For you will see it hanging like a pipe from the sun's disk, toward the regions westward, boundless as an east wind, if it be assigned to the regions of the East; but if the . other (viz. the west wind) be assigned, similarly to its own (555) regions, you will see the reverse of the sight."
10. Perhaps OXY [omicron xi upsilon -- RE], "brightly."
11. A permutation of the divine name IAO. cf. also AIO (below, line 598).
12. The reference to the four pillars supporting heaven seems Egyptian. On the seven Fates of heaven, cf. [line of text missing in copy -- RE]
13. Eastern [particularly, Persian -- RE] attire.
14. The constellation called the Great Bear was known in Egypt as the Bull, or the Bull's Foreleg. Cf. also, with Dieterich, the place of the bull in Mithraism.
15. According to Dieterich, here ends the Mithras Liturgy per se.
16. The scarab, the Egyptian god Kheper, represented the rising sun.
17. Literally "at the seizure of the moon." This interesting phrase probably designates the new moon.
18. For examples of Jewish and Christian parallels to this familiar statement, cf. Matthew 7:7, and H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Muenchen: Beck, 1926), vol. 1, 450ff.
19. Presentation or introduction to the great god for the sake of attaining friendship and communion with the god.
20. That is, at the new moon.
21. The new moon according to the heavens, made by god, in distinction from the new moon according to the calendar, made by man.
22. This allusion to the birds is somewhat obscure.
23. [Sic; but this giant's name is usually given as Ephialtes. He and his brother Otos imprisoned Ares in a bronze jar. -- RE]