Three friends of forty years standing get together about twice every decade. This has been my experience. We met in our teens—boarding school and first year of college—and are now squarely in middle age.
Boarding school is either a benign or toxic form of neglect, but neglect in any case. This has little to do with Mithraism. Please observe in these pictures the signs and symbols of ancient times, unconsciously expressed perhaps, but vivid nonetheless.
First, we have wine. The origin of ritual and celebratory wine is sacrificial animal blood—mostly from cattle and sheep. The bull formed the basis of the Mithraic cult, which blended later with Greek religion and heretical Judaism to form Christianity. During the late Roman Empire the entire Mediterranean was awash with cults. The enormous population of slaves from every corner of the world—largely the vanquished of the Greco-Roman empires—mixed with dispossessed soldiers, stuck far from home awaiting pay that never comes. As a “home-like”, Messianic, universal religion, Christianity supplanted Mithraism after a couple of centuries—a long time then as now.
The two figures on the top of the magnificent headpiece represent the primal “pair” or “twin”, as everpresent in consciousness as it is in physics. In this case (1st century A.D.), it represents Castor and Pollux, also known as the Gemini or celestial twins. They had a great influence with the Roman soldier adherents since, in my speculation, they corresponded in the minds of the soldiers to Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. Like Castor and Pollux, they were conceived by a deity.
The four mace heads—two on each side—that complete her crown were also familiar to soldier and slave alike, and exuded power. She is an Aphrodite Mithraic goddess composite, since her necklaces are Greek, her headpiece Roman (Aphrodite’s counterpoint was Venus), and her face—specifically the eyes—Egyptian in style. Mighty Egypt!
Many soldiers—families of them in some cases—from the Greek and Roman empires found themselves in Egypt for generations. If they had no money nor anyone to return to, they’d try to find a home. Those that didn’t die from loneliness or disease either found a local woman or joined a cult.
Believe me, boarding school may not be ancient Sparta, but in the 1960s it was highly disorienting to be set adrift and far from home at 13. We may not have joined cults, but we formed friendships that have the strength of those among freed slaves. In an odd way, my home is like a recreation of boarding school. Even the gardens and nursery surrounding it are similar: always growing.
Note the wine. As I say, it corresponds to the bull’s blood. You may know that there is an excellent beet grown exclusively for its deliciously bitter red leaves called ‘Bull’s Blood’ that is leafing right now. Cool nights and warm days create a uniquely tangy flavor.
There are many other leaf crops that echo the red of blood. The sweet blood of the sacred bulls was no less important than the cow’s milk. The part of our galaxy called “The Milky Way” refers to the milk left behind by a departing herd of sacred cows. They are gone; their milk remains.
Swiss Chard ‘Red Magic’
Lettuce ‘Baby Leaf Diveria’
Bolting lettuce plants look like a row of people.
The wines are various Spanish riojas, made and marketed much as the French do Beaujolais. However, these are fruitier. We devoured numerous bottles that evening and the next, since we had so much talking to do. “In vino veritas”.
Smoke is also an age-old ritual device, used to intoxicate the mind, relax the muscles, soften the atmosphere and pleasantly scent foul dwellings. I am a smoker of the ceremonial dried leaf known as cigar tobacco. Nicotine lights up the brain like few other stimulants. I do not inhale; therefore, if it gets me, it will be from bladder cancer.
However, I smoke very seldom, and drink wine the same. Celebrations only, or when I have to write a book or a long report.
Tobacco is very effective for enhancing intellectual creativity. I believe the proliferation of both prescription and illegal drug use is related to the justifiable avoidance of tobacco.
Often I have wondered if the recently rampant drug use among youth and emerging adults is caused by the disuse of natural talents such as music and painting. I paint very little, but I play the guitar each day, like praying. These are made by Bil Mitchell and are among the finest flat-top guitars in the world. Cheap too. Since he cuts, carves and makes them alone by hand, and patiently corrects the tone with each phase of assembly, he creates a literally perfect instrument.
There is a great bull across the street at the agricultural college. He’s huge: about 30-40% larger than a cow with a head even larger still—maybe 50%. I have no camera—don’t have the aptitude for them—so we shall have to wait for Nick to return. Sometime sooner than the next decade, I hope.
Note the large helmet size to hold her long hair. Note her extraordinary profile—she is a leader. It is hard to make out, but there is a wolf’s head holding her breast plates together. His jaw is open, teeth bared. Her mission was to terrify the enemy into submission, then kill almost all who resisted; a few of the bravest enemy would be used to reproduce her tribe. The terrified and submissive were enslaved.
Many myths surround the Amazons. The wolf always suggests Northern Europe as their birthplace. Personally, I believe Central Europe was the original site. The tallest, strongest and toughest women I’ve ever seen are in Hungary.
The Amazons’ meaning is also obscure. I like simple explanations, and the best I have heard is that they were inspired by angry widows. An example is Boedicea or Boduca, as some spell it. An English legendary figure, her husband was killed, daughters raped, village burned. She and her daughters escaped Roman captivity and fled to the woods. She organized and led surrounding villagers in a massive and bloody resistance. She consulted druids for spiritual strength. She probably loved dogs and used them as well against the Romans. She killed thousands of soldiers. “Waded into them”, as Patton said.
This is an early 19th century French bronze. The love and adoration of powerful and brave women is a great feature of French civilization. France and Britain are closer than people think. They both love and hate each other. Their women particularly share many natural affinities—the suspicion of siblings, so to speak. Both the French and English people are extremely gifted at language, for example. And the Irish take it to the level of a fine art. The portrait of a Polish lady is by Ari Scheffer, a French painter who worked all over Europe in the mid 19th century.
Mary’s picture of me with ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (2011 Internet only), the best Aster in our Happiness Garden. Suit by Brooks Brothers.
Back to work!