Mithraism -- Another Roman Mystery: This season may be an appropriate time to reflect on the ideals of humility and brotherly love, baptism, the rite of communion, the use of holy water, the adoration of the shepherds, a star in the east, the sanctity of Sundays and of December 25 (birthday of the redeemer), and the belief in the immortality of the soul, the last judgment, and the resurrection. All of these were aspects of Mithraism, which was the second most popular religion in the late Roman Empire. Worship of the old Roman gods had faded into mere public ceremony without any particular religious significance, and Christianity, with these obvious similarities to Mithraism, was the most popular cult. (The pejorative usage of the word "cult" is a modern media phenomenon -- it's really just the word theologians use to describe a system of religious beliefs.) Constantine's accession to Christianity spelled the end of Mithraism. If Maxentius had won the battle at the Milvian Bridge, we might all of us (or at least the men) be feasting on the carcass of a Mithraic sacrificial bull instead of the Christmas goose. For information about Mithraism go to:, or to For some fascinating speculation about what might have been if Maxentius won, go to**.html and scroll down to "conclusions".

P.S. -- Most modern historians doubt the sincerity of Constantine's conversion to Christianity, and they have even more serious doubts about his miraculous vision on the Milvian battlefield. From historical descriptions of meteorological conditions on the day of the battle, some meteorologists believe that Constantine and his troops (and presumably Maxentius and his guys, too) saw "sun dogs". The scientific name is parhelia, which means "beside the sun" in Greek. These are bright spots that appear in the sky on frosty mornings when there are high cirriform clouds. Constantine's army, assembled in Spain, was mostly Christian so they could be rallied by a cross-shaped image. Maxentius' army came from Syria and Asia Minor and they were mostly Mithraists. For an explanation of sun dogs, go to For an illustration of what they look like, go to