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Mitra And His Worship


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#1 Taranaich

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 06:16 PM

"Before you can speak, Mitra knows the contents of your mind - " began Vateesa. Then both girls started violently as a voice began in the air above them. The deep, calm, bell-like tones emanated no more from the image than from anywhere else in the chamber. Again Yasmela trembled before a bodiless voice speaking to her, but this time it was not from horror or repulsion.

"Speak not, my daughter, for I know your need," came the intonations like deep musical waves beating rhythmically along a golden beach. "In one manner may you save your kingdom, and saving it, save all the world from the fangs of the serpent which has crawled up out of the darkness of the ages. Go forth upon the streets alone, and place your kingdom in the hands of the first man you meet there."

The unechoing tones ceased, and the girls stared at each other. Then, rising, they stole forth, nor did they speak until they stood once more in Yasmela's chamber. The princess stared out of the gold-barred windows. The moon had set. It was long past midnight. Sounds of revelry had died away in the gardens and on the roofs of the city. Khoraja slumbered beneath the stars, which seemed to be reflected in the cressets that twinkled among the gardens and along the streets and on the flat roofs of houses where folk slept.

"What will you do?" whispered Vateesa, all a-tremble.

"Give me my cloak," answered Yasmela, setting her teeth.

"But alone, in the streets, at this hour!" expostulated Vateesa.

"Mitra has spoken," replied the princess. "It might have been the voice of the god, or a trick of a priest. No matter. I will go!"


And so we see one of the most baffling (to me) mysteries of the Conan stories: just what was going on in the Temple of Mitra in Khoraja that night?

The actuality of Mitra as a deity is generally viewed by most as unsubstantiated: in Howard's universe, there are no gods, and any beings that could be called such are monstrous amoral devils beyond our ken. The quote at the end - "It might have been the voice of a god, or the trick of a priest" seems to be taken as the logical explanation, but this leads to more problems. Indeed, the whole episode is baffling and mysterious, with no resolution or explanation ever offered in the tale.

So let's look at some explanations for Mitra's annunciation to Yasmela:

1. It was a priest using acoustics and trickery to imitate the voice of Mitra. This is unsatisfactory because it assumes that a priest would actively want Yasmela to put the entire kingdom in the hands of some stranger on the street: why on earth would he do such a thing? Was it an attempt to punish the Khorajans for abandoning Mitra by directing them to doom, in which case it backfired spectacularly? Or did the priests know, even arrange, for Conan to be that man? Again, why would they put Khoraja in control of an unproven mercenary captain as opposed to, say, Thespides or Amalric?

2. It was Mitra himself. On the face of it, the only reason I can see that it would not be Mitra is because it doesn't "jive" with Howard's mythos. Having a benevolent deity manifest in such a manner seems somewhat un-Howardian, but since we've seen benevolent supernatural forces in Epemitreus and the priests of Asura, it might not be as outlandish as one would think. There may be forces for good helping mankind out, but that doesn't mean that good would always triumph, or even strike a balance: they may be as outnumbered and hopeless as mankind itself.

3. It was Epemitreus. There seems to be a possibility that Epemitreus is an "avatar" of Mitra based on his possible name meanings (Sword of Mitra, or Coming of Mitra). Epemitreus has helped out enemies of Set before in The Phoenix on the Sword, but these were Aquilonians: why would he help out a kingdom out of his jurisdiction like Khoraja? As well as that, it has unfortunate connotations of "destiny" for Conan, where even early in his career Epemitreus has been "watching" Conan and knew his potential.

None of these are really satisfactory to me, but it's been bothering me for ages.

Anyone have anything to contribute/refute/discuss?

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#2 timeless

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 06:24 PM

It was Mitra, and this would go hand in hand with the god sending his avatar to Conan in 'Phoenix.'


or...


B) (I know this is way out on a limb, but...) It was Crom, seeking to give his favored son some leadership experience.

Edited by timeless, 11 February 2008 - 06:25 PM.

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#3 Kortoso

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 07:03 PM

I'd put in for Mitra in His guise as deus ex machina. REH has shown that it is the story that matters, and this story device certainly got it moving.

Surely there are countless other stories that could have inspired this. It's possible that he had the priest in mind, but deleted it as an anticlimax.

#4 deuce

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 02:56 AM

The actuality of Mitra as a deity is generally viewed by most as unsubstantiated: in Howard's universe, there are no gods, and any beings that could be called such are monstrous amoral devils beyond our ken. The quote at the end - "It might have been the voice of a god, or the trick of a priest" seems to be taken as the logical explanation, but this leads to more problems. Indeed, the whole episode is baffling and mysterious, with no resolution or explanation ever offered in the tale.


Hey Taranaich! Actually, I was just getting ready to type up a new thread for the February "Story of the Month" (Marchers of Valhalla). However, I couldn't pass THIS up. Way back when "BC" was the "Conan SotM", I went through all of this in my usual "notation" form, which I found difficult to do. I did pull it off, but, as I was finishing the second chapter (where Conan shows up) I accidentally erased my post. :huh: :angry: :( :rolleyes: When I went back to it, I just didn't have the energy to do it again. You, Taranaich, have now provided an elegant solution to my problem by starting this thread.

1. It was a priest using acoustics and trickery to imitate the voice of Mitra. This is unsatisfactory because it assumes that a priest would actively want Yasmela to put the entire kingdom in the hands of some stranger on the street: why on earth would he do such a thing? Was it an attempt to punish the Khorajans for abandoning Mitra by directing them to doom, in which case it backfired spectacularly? Or did the priests know, even arrange, for Conan to be that man? Again, why would they put Khoraja in control of an unproven mercenary captain as opposed to, say, Thespides or Amalric?


I'm in a bit of a hurry, so I won't use page references or even consult the story. If I misquote, feel free to smack me down. The "Khoraja Conspiracy" theory has far fewer "smoking guns" than the JFK assassination, maybe even than Roswell. As some people might point out, a big thing to keep in mind during this discussion is "CONTEXT". The only Mitran priest in Khoraja was Vateesa's father. He doesn't seem to have made fanatical waves when he came from Ophir. He never appears in the story. How could he engineer this "scam"? Vateesa definitely wasn't in on it. In the underground "Mitraeum", REH describes her as being genuinely worried/afraid/awestruck. Vateesa then tries to dissuade Yasmeela from acting on the supposedly "faked" annunciation of Mitra. Wouldn't this be totally botching her father's "scam"? Yasmeela's boudoir is on the second or third story. Check out the long, complicated (though direct) route she and Vateesa take to the subterranean shrine. Was Vateesa's father (after somehow manipulating his daughter) watching from some vantage point and then scurrying ahead to a supposed "hidden alcove" to declaim his utterly true "prophecy/annunciation"? WHY would a Hyborian priest of Mitra with a nefarious agenda pick a Cimmerian, Crom-worshipping nobody over the Hyborian Mitraist Amalric? Or at least, the Hyborian-descended Thespides? Who else was in on "the plot"? They were true bumblers, I'll say that. Finally, is there ANY evidence that Conan himself was manipulated?

2. It was Mitra himself. On the face of it, the only reason I can see that it would not be Mitra is because it doesn't "jive" with Howard's mythos. Having a benevolent deity manifest in such a manner seems somewhat un-Howardian, but since we've seen benevolent supernatural forces in Epemitreus and the priests of Asura, it might not be as outlandish as one would think. There may be forces for good helping mankind out, but that doesn't mean that good would always triumph, or even strike a balance: they may be as outnumbered and hopeless as mankind itself.


First things first. While evidence of "good force(s)" is scarce in Howard's weird/fantasy yarns, it isn't non-existent. "Phoenix" is one example. The Cairn on the Headland is definitely another. The "pedigree" for that yarn can be traced back through Turlogh O'Brien to Bran Mak Morn to the dim eons of the past. James O'Brien blasts Odin/(Ymir?) with "a single shaft of white light" derived from "all the awesome forces of Light", which "powers" were "opposed forever against the fiends of darkness". MY personal opinion is that there IS some sort of "power" or "powers" that is "opposed" to "darkness" in Howard's universe. If I had to guess, I'd say it is simply a psychic "manifestation" or "sum" of, as Howard would say, "the divine spark", or, to quote another, "What is GOOD in mankind". The kicker here is that it is MANKIND that is giving the "spark" to "GOD". This would make such a "God/'Power' " quite weak compared to the cosmic forces arrayed against it. As Mark Finn might say, such a "deity" would be "outnumbered and alone", combating the Outer Dark with cunning and a will to survive. A very Howardian situation. REH was familiar with HPL's entity, Nodens, who seems somewhat analogous. BTW, scholars seem to agree that Mitra/Mithras was originally cognate with Nuada/Nodens/(Crom?), as well as Tyr/Tiwaz.

I was barely a teenager when I first read Black Colossus. I had already devoured The Cairn on the Headland. Perhaps it was a combination of previous "indoctrination" and my youthful innocence (what was left of it, even then), but I always bought the "Mitraeum scene" precisely as it was presented. Robert E. Howard delivers the whole description of that tableaux with great conviction, IMO. One could almost call it a "paean to Mitra". Yasmeela had just experienced the latest of several spectral visitations by Thugra Khotan. She knew what "the supernatural" felt like. Yasmeela seems to have had little doubt that it was the Word of Mitra that she had heard. NOT some duplicitous Ophirean ex-pat. IMO, her "some priest" quote was put in there simply to show that she was capable of reasonable doubt. There is another REH yarn that I can't place at the moment where someone makes a similar comment. It turns out that what was questioned was real. The proof is in the puddin', as my grandma (RIP) used to say. What was said to Yasmeela in the "Mitraeum" came to pass. Not only that, her nocturnal "booty calls" from Natohk stopped ASAP. Mitra, apparently, "unlisted" her "number". One word: "CONTEXT".

3. It was Epemitreus. There seems to be a possibility that Epemitreus is an "avatar" of Mitra based on his possible name meanings (Sword of Mitra, or Coming of Mitra). Epemitreus has helped out enemies of Set before in The Phoenix on the Sword, but these were Aquilonians: why would he help out a kingdom out of his jurisdiction like Khoraja? As well as that, it has unfortunate connotations of "destiny" for Conan, where even early in his career Epemitreus has been "watching" Conan and knew his potential.


I find the "avatar of Mitra" idea particularly galling, for some reason. As the last sentence demonstrates, Taranaich, it involves giving "god-like" powers to a "non-god" for the express purpose of explaining away the actual presence of a "god". Since Occam's Razor is running wild on this forum now, I say that it was a "god" that Yasmeela heard in the "Mitraeum".

From his letters, REH doesn't appear to have been any sort of "Grecian scholar". He'd read the mythology, but it doesn't appear that he was constructing names using a Classical Greek/English dictionary. Patrice Louinet and LSdC both seem to think that "Epemitreus" was derived from the name of Prometheus' brother. It appears that it was only late into the final writing of "Phoenix" that REH thought to put a "Mitran" gloss on the name. IMO, deep, etymological "explanations" of the name seem unnecessary. However, don't get me wrong, I think ol' Epi deserves a thread of his own.

Well, on to mod "duties". Thanks, Taranaich, for letting me vent. ;)

BTW, The Cairn on the Headland (along with Spears of Clontarf) will be the "bonus" APRIL "SotM".

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#5 Ironhand

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 09:49 AM

Just as sort of an aside, when "original text" Conan stories first became available, I checked out BC as soon as it was published. I had been harboring an idea that the Mitraic "direct intervention" was an invention of LSdC, because he had invented other divine interventions in some of his pastiches. I was actually quite surprised when I found that the scene in the Mitraeum was straight from REH!
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#6 Axerules

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 06:45 PM

Taranaich, this is an interesting question ! I'm fond of those cosmology issues.

First, I do not doubt a single second that the oracle was genuine. I don't think solution 1) could be correct. Deuce already talked about the context. What wild coincidence would it have been if the trick of a priest had led the Princess to find the sole guy able to protect her and the kingdom ? Wouldn't the whole scene be ridiculous ?


I'd put in for Mitra in His guise as deus ex machina. REH has shown that it is the story that matters, and this story device certainly got it moving.

Surely there are countless other stories that could have inspired this. It's possible that he had the priest in mind, but deleted it as an anticlimax.

In the BC synopsis published in The Coming of Conan, Del Rey, p 403, the princess "sought an ancient oracle", "a strange voice whispered out of the air". And at the end "Conan and his men were triumphant, by the intercession of an old, old Kothian god" (p 404). REH wasn't above using deus-ex machina. BUT here he made the choice to not have Natohk defeated by a god (I'm glad he did, perhaps would it have been a little bit too much) and to use this device with a somewhat mysterious approach, only once in the beginning of the story and not twice. In the published version the Cimmerian wins the day by his own strength and wits. More power to the human, less to the divine.

IMO it is interesting to notice that Epimetreus interfered in the first published Conan story, Ymir in a story (TFGD) written early too. "Divine" interventions in Conan stories written later were more mysterious and indirect.

Taranaich talked of THotD: Asura didn't interfered directly. The High-Priest, with "secret means of knowledge", came to help king Conan. The closest thing to a divine interference in the novel was Zelata who talked in the name of the gods and had visions during her sleeps. Mysterious, indirect, when the first yarns had slightly more direct and active divine deeds.


Just as sort of an aside, when "original text" Conan stories first became available, I checked out BC as soon as it was published. I had been harboring an idea that the Mitraic "direct intervention" was an invention of LSdC, because he had invented other divine interventions in some of his pastiches. I was actually quite surprised when I found that the scene in the Mitraeum was straight from REH!

Hey Ironhand, I had EXACTLY the same thoughts when I did read Don Herron's Conan vs Conantics essay in 1999 (or was it 2000 ?). I had only translations of "corrupted" texts back then. I thought that the Mitra shrine incident AND Epemitreus as well as the Mitran priest speech about the "powers of Light" fighting against powers of Darkness at the end of Phoenix could all be pastichers doings. I've also read somewhere (can't remember where now) that the glowy things in the skies from the completed Hand of Nergal and a lot of the "divine pastiches interferences" were done by Lin Carter more than LSDC. Even if LSDC (with B. Nyberg) was responsible for an horrible "Crom rescues his fave son" ending in The Avenger.


Now, Mitra or Epi ?
REH talked of "Saints" of Mitra and of his "Heavenly Host". IMO, Epi is one of them. A prophet, for sure. Why make him more than what he his ?
There's no "avatar" of Mitra mentioned by REH, AFAIK. So, I vote for 2).


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#7 Kortoso

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:55 PM

IMO it is interesting to notice that Epimetreus interfered in the first published Conan story, Ymir in a story (TFGD) written early too. "Divine" interventions in Conan stories written later were more mysterious and indirect.

Where is that? I don't see Epi or Mitra in that story.

#8 Pictish Scout

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 11:47 PM

In my opinion this episode in the Mitra's temple is a very classic oracle moment. A Queen asking for help to an oracular statue and, off course the statue answers. So, it seams Mitra is an oracular god too. But where is the intermediary?

It seams kings doesn?t need intermediaries to talk with gods or their ?angels?. But it is possible, in my opinion, that the shrine had an interpreter of the god?s will. The shrine is still used by ?a faithful few? and ?royal visitors to Khoraja?s court, mainly for whose benefit the fane was maintained.? That?s interesting. So there is still some activity there. The place isn?t really an abandoned old shrine.

So a wise man, a priest of Mitra, could have dwelt in the temple and speak the words of god, after casting seashells, smoking some herbs, whatever, and knowing and interpreting the future. It doesn?t have to be a conspiracy or a trick, just an ordinary oracle doing his job: predicting the future.

Also Mitra doesn?t need a shrine to talk with people. He can use oracular dreams, as Conan?s in tFotS. Also a very classical/biblical moment. Mitra or any of his ?heralds? were in position to help Yasmela from her dreams. But in the end she had to go consult the 'oracle'.

Yasmela then say that this could have been a priest?s trick, showing that she can rationalize OR that she knows a lot about religion and 'oracles'. But, with nothing to lose, she goes outside the same.

So, at least I think there is a possibility of a human behind the god?s statue. Howard uses that in The Jewels of Gwalur. And I don?t think it was the first time he thought about putting a human behind a god?

But I don?t think ?divine intervention? is unHoward. So it could also be simply the voice of Mitra, the one and only. Maybe this is what Howard wanted, to make as think about it: is it really the god talking? or a priest? But in the end Conan had the final word.

#9 Kortoso

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 06:13 PM

As we have observed so often, Howard is interested in streamlined writing. If he can "go direct" with Mitra talking to Vateesa without an intermediary, so much the better for the story's flow. Probably he thought that introducing a priest would slow things down.

And remember, for Weird Tales he was pretty much required to have a supernatural element.



#10 Axerules

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Posted 14 February 2008 - 09:46 PM

IMO it is interesting to notice that Epimetreus interfered in the first published Conan story, Ymir in a story (TFGD) written early too. "Divine" interventions in Conan stories written later were more mysterious and indirect.

Where is that? I don't see Epi or Mitra in that story.

I was talking of The Phoenix on the Sword.
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#11 Ironhand

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Posted 15 February 2008 - 12:43 PM

The idea of a monarch or ruler being told a key piece of information by an oracle is such a classic element in stories, that to my mind it doesn't count as a deus ex machina, but is simply a standard plot element.
"Did you deem yourself strong, because you were able to twist the heads off civilized folk, poor weaklings with muscles like rotten string? Hell! Break the neck of a wild Cimmerian bull before you call yourself strong. I did that, before I was a full-grown man...!" - Conan, in "Shadows in Zamboula", by Robert E. Howard
"... you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"
"I was," grunted [Conan]. "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the hills. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires." - "Beyond the Black River", by Robert E. Howard

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#12 Kortoso

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Posted 15 February 2008 - 06:03 PM

IMO it is interesting to notice that Epimetreus interfered in the first published Conan story, Ymir in a story (TFGD) written early too. "Divine" interventions in Conan stories written later were more mysterious and indirect.

Where is that? I don't see Epi or Mitra in that story.

I was talking of The Phoenix on the Sword.

Ah, got it. :)

#13 Taranaich

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Posted 15 February 2008 - 06:42 PM

Great responses folks! I guess the reason this particular thing was frustrating me was the fact that pretty much the entire story was based on such a mysterious and convenient incident it was kind of annoying that there wasn't more to it.

The idea of good powers being a manifestation of mankind is intriguing, especially given the Cairn on the Headland example. Could the white shaft of light which struck Xaltotun be of the same force, using the otherwise evil Heart as a conduit or focuser of "good" energy?

I felt the need to add the Epimitreus=avatar and the possible construction just because it was intriguing and deserved a mention. I don't think it would've been difficult for Howard to construct a name from Greek though: indeed, knowing of Epimitheus in itself would indicate Howard was aware of the meanings of Prometheus and Epimitheus' names. Taking the name of a Greek mythological figure whose mythology practically revolves around their names and their meaning could indicate Howard intended some parallel to be made.

In regards to BC, however, I do think the "voice of god" explanation is the most reasonable and logical of the answers. Indeed, the synopsis line "by the intercession of an old, old Kothian god" is technically still appropriate to the story: Mitra was an old god to the Kothians, and his intercession set everything in motion for Conan to slay Thugra Khotan. I guess Howard decided to make it less overtly Deus ex Machina than having some gigantic deity manifest on the battlefield like in certain pastiches which will remain nameless... :P

Taranaich talked of THotD: Asura didn't interfered directly. The High-Priest, with "secret means of knowledge", came to help king Conan. The closest thing to a divine interference in the novel was Zelata who talked in the name of the gods and had visions during her sleeps. Mysterious, indirect, when the first yarns had slightly more direct and active divine deeds.


My apologies, I had meant that the priests of Asura themselves were "good": indeed, we don't see anything of Asura per se. Of course, the Priests of Mitra are presumably "good" too, though like all organizations there were those out for themselves.

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#14 Axerules

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Posted 16 February 2008 - 12:36 AM

I felt the need to add the Epimitreus=avatar and the possible construction just because it was intriguing and deserved a mention. I don't think it would've been difficult for Howard to construct a name from Greek though: indeed, knowing of Epimitheus in itself would indicate Howard was aware of the meanings of Prometheus and Epimitheus' names. Taking the name of a Greek mythological figure whose mythology practically revolves around their names and their meaning could indicate Howard intended some parallel to be made.

According to Patrice Louinet (Hyborian Genesis) he borrowed the name from T. Bulfinch's The Outline of Mythology. Who knows ? Did he just liked the name ?

In regards to BC, however, I do think the "voice of god" explanation is the most reasonable and logical of the answers. Indeed, the synopsis line "by the intercession of an old, old Kothian god" is technically still appropriate to the story: Mitra was an old god to the Kothians, and his intercession set everything in motion for Conan to slay Thugra Khotan. I guess Howard decided to make it less overtly Deus ex Machina than having some gigantic deity manifest on the battlefield like in certain pastiches which will remain nameless... :P

I like how Conan took care of Natohk's army only with his men.
I do agree with you 100%, T. Mitra was an old god for the Kothians. I already posted elsewhere about Mitra being worshipped before the fall of Acheron. We also have the Tombalku draft: Lissa said that Mitra was the god of the Kothians ancestors'.

But I think REH toyied with another idea than having Mitra appearing to defeat Natohk. REH said in the synopsis that Yasmela intended to sacrifice her servant: "She stripped her most beautiful maid and stretched her whimpering on the altar, but did not have courage or cruelty to sacrifice her." It was definitively NOT a Mitran practice, Mitra was already defined as a mostly "good" god in TPotS. In the published BC text, before they go down, Vateesa said to her mistress ?Mitra would have folks stand upright before him ? not crawling on their bellies like worms, or spilling blood of animals all over his altars.?, Mitra doesn't want animal sacrifices: humans would be even more abhorrent. In the synopsis it isn't specified if the subterranean chamber was a temple devoted to Mitra, only that she searched an oracle. I think REH already had a clear vision of Mitra and Mitraic practices, Set and several others, but he probably hadn't decided how much gods would be part of Conan's world cosmology when he was writing BC. Perhaps was his first intent to use another god in this yarn, one with darker overtones.

Just my opinion.


And sorry, pastiches aren't nameless in this thread. Please forgive me Taranaich, but I already sinned in post #6. ;)

Edited by Axerules, 16 February 2008 - 04:26 AM.

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#15 Kortoso

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 06:11 PM

Would Mitra's birthday have been celebrated in the spring or winter?

I know it's tempting to link the Hyborian Mitra to the Mithras of the Roman mystery cult, which appeared to have marked Mithras' birthday on December 25 or thereabout. But authors such as Ulansey and Nabarz seem to think that the Roman cult was unconnected to the earlier Mitra except in name. The earlier Mitra/Mithra is well-known through Zoroastrian texts (in which he is demoted to an angel) and the ancient Rig-Veda.

Northern people, for whom the winter is one in which all growth is frozen and covered in snow, tend to celebrate the spring equinox as the new year. This is because you don't have any good news until the snow thaws. A hunter-gatherer culture would of course, gather the fresh new green plant growth in the spring. Wild eggs would appear at this time, as would the young of many wild animals. For an agrarian people, they would begin their planting, using up the last of their seed stock.

In the north, the beginning of winter is a grim holiday. Any game found would be in the process of fattening itself up for the winter, and would have been a welcome harvest, especially if the meat could be preserved for the lean months. An agrarian culture would also cull the herd for this purpose. A bonfire at this festival would serve to raise spirits, warm toes, and draw a crowd.

In the south, the spring would be near the end of the winter rains. For an agrarian people (such as those on the Nile delta), their grain crop would be ready for harvest. The winter solstice, by contrast, is normally a time of celebration, since the first rains bring the end of drought and the beginning of new growth.

In this light, if the northern Hyborians brought the worship of Mitra with them (did they?), wouldn't they have celebrated his birthday in the spring, since this was the time of renewal among Northern peoples?

#16 crossplain pilgrim

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 02:05 AM

Hey, Kortoso! Fascinating post! Yes, it seems reasonable to suppose the Hyboreans would have celebrated a Spring "Festivus(?)" I know some of the more learned members on the forum, like yourself, have written on the role of religion in the Hyborian Age, so I am a little out of my depth here (have to dig out my old textbook from my "Comparative Religions" course in college). I've always assumed REH fashioned Mitra as a relatively benign God because in Roman times the worship of Mithras appealed to lower-ranking soldiers and common people. Howard was always a populist at heart.
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#17 Gozer

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 10:55 PM

In this light, if the northern Hyborians brought the worship of Mitra with them (did they?), wouldn't they have celebrated his birthday in the spring, since this was the time of renewal among Northern peoples?


I don't think the Hyborians introduced the worship of Mitra. The Hyborians originally worshipped Bori, but I don't know when the southern Hyborians switched to Mitra. I've always assumed that Bori was the indigenous Hyborian god, while Mitra was introduced to Hyborians in the south. Sort of like how the Germanic tribes originally worshipped Woden and what-not, but as many of them moved south they adopted Christianity (Arian, then Catholic), but the Judeo-Christian god certainly ain't Northern European in origin! So maybe the southern Hyborians adopted Mitraism after they began to establish their kingdoms, perhaps as a method to combat the Acheronians? In "The Phoenix on the Sword", Epimetreus seems like a holy man, maybe he was the one that introduced Mitra to the Aquilonians, and it just sort of spread?

#18 Kortoso

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 10:58 PM

Glancing over the usual sources, I don't see where the origin of Mitra is mentioned. Anyone know? :)

#19 deuce

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Posted 01 January 2009 - 01:53 AM

[quote name='Gozer' post='110132' date='Dec 31 2008, 11:55 PM'][quote name='Kortoso' post='109774' date='Dec 26 2008, 12:11 PM']In this light, if the northern Hyborians brought the worship of Mitra with them (did they?), wouldn't they have celebrated his birthday in the spring, since this was the time of renewal among Northern peoples?[/quote]

I don't think the Hyborians introduced the worship of Mitra.[/quote]

Hey Gozer! From all indications in the writings of Howard, the Hyborians did introduce the worship of Mitra to the rest of the Hyborian Age world.

[quote]The Hyborians originally worshipped Bori, but I don't know when the southern Hyborians switched to Mitra. I've always assumed that Bori was the indigenous Hyborian god, while Mitra was introduced to Hyborians in the south.[/quote]

The ancient Hyborians all seem to have held Bori as their patron deity. The "switch" appears to have started right before the fall of Acheron, 3000yrs before Conan. The Gundermen seem to have been the final holdouts, who then converted when Gunderland was absorbed by Aquilonia.

[quote]Sort of like how the Germanic tribes originally worshipped Woden and what-not, but as many of them moved south they adopted Christianity (Arian, then Catholic), but the Judeo-Christian god certainly ain't Northern European in origin![/quote]

Well, I'll agree that REH seems to have been shooting for a "Christ analogue" when he had the majority of his Hyborian kingdoms worship Mitra. However, we know that REH was a HUGE fan of Jack London and his novel, The Star-Rover. In The Star-Rover, London depicts Mitra as a primal "Aryan" god. Howard seems to have gotten "Il-Marinen" from the same source. London's "Aryans" are blonde, nomadic bad-a$$es, very similar to Howard's AEsir. The majority of comparative mythologists I've read seem to feel that the Indo-Iranian Mitra/Mithras is directly cognate with Tyr/Tiw/Tiwaz and Nuada/Nodens/Nudd; in other words, a war-god of oath-fastness and fair-dealing. So, in that sense (since both London and REH saw the Indo-Europeans/"Aryans" as arising "near the Pole"), Mitra is "Northern" in origin.

[quote]So maybe the southern Hyborians adopted Mitraism after they began to establish their kingdoms, perhaps as a method to combat the Acheronians?[/quote]

According to the facts presented in The Hour of the Dragon, the barbaric Hyborians did adopt Mitra as their god right before Acheron fell. The transcendent conversion of an "Aquilonian" shaman-priest to the worship of Mitra seems to have been the key to the Hyborians' triumph over the Acheronians. There doesn't appear (during Conan's era) to have been any division between "southern" or northern Hyborians in regards to Mitraism. Basically (with the exception of Koth, Khoraja and Khauran, which were ONCE Mitraist), ALL of the nations that REH designates as "Hyborian" were Mitraist at the time of Conan. Conan says as much at least once. Of course, that leaves out "Eastern Hyborian" kingdoms such as Iranistan, which might have been Mitraist as well.

[quote]In "The Phoenix on the Sword", Epimetreus seems like a holy man, maybe he was the one that introduced Mitra to the Aquilonians, and it just sort of spread?[/quote]

Ol' Epi was definitely a "holy man" of Mitra. He might have been one of the "saints" referred to in The Hour of the Dragon. However, Epemitreus (by all accounts) seems to have flourished about 1500yrs before Conan. The unnamed holy man who first brought the good news of Mitra to the Hyborians fighting Acheron lived 3000yrs before Conan. Personally, I see Epemitreus battling a resurgent "Setite" movement.
Hope that helps. :)

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#20 Kortoso

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Posted 01 January 2009 - 07:45 PM

Well, I'll agree that REH seems to have been shooting for a "Christ analogue" when he had the majority of his Hyborian kingdoms worship Mitra. However, we know that REH was a HUGE fan of Jack London and his novel, The Star-Rover. In The Star-Rover, London depicts Mitra as a primal "Aryan" god. Howard seems to have gotten "Il-Marinen" from the same source. London's "Aryans" are blonde, nomadic bad-a$es, very similar to Howard's AEsir. The majority of comparative mythologists I've read seem to feel that the Indo-Iranian Mitra/Mithras is directly cognate with Tyr/Tiw/Tiwaz and Nuada/Nodens/Nudd; in other words, a war-god of oath-fastness and fair-dealing. So, in that sense (since both London and REH saw the Indo-Europeans/"Aryans" as arising "near the Pole"), Mitra is "Northern" in origin.

Thanks, Deuce, I'll look at the London tale.

The sources I have read thus far (Ulansey, Nabarz) tend to separate Mithras (of the Roman mystery cult) from the earlier Vedic and Avestan Mithra/Mitra. There is evidence to suggest that the Roman deity was copied from a Persian cult of Perseus and that the naming may have been mostly a whim of circumstance, rather than a continuation of an earlier tradition.

The original "Mitra" traces back to an Indo-Iranian word meaning "covenant, treaty, agreement, promise". I don't know of a Mitra "war-god" in history, but of course, in the Hyborian world, everyone is assumed to be a warrior. ;)

The original Hyborian Mitra may have been a legendary king who helped defeat the Acheronians? A northern culture, anyway.

At any rate, we can pretend/assume that the eariest historical Mitra was the remnant of an earlier Hyborian deity.