Or not quite.
This past Saturday, A.V. and I visited the
The museum, which boasts "the largest collection of Egyptian-inspired artifacts in the
I must also praise the gift shop – if you have ever yearned for a 5 inch statue of Anubis, or for one of those foot long reproductions of an Egyptian raft on the
The real highlight was the 35-minute planetarium show - “The Mithraic Mysteries.” Anyone who has watched a documentary special on the nativity of Jesus knows that (ahem) December 25th was chosen as the birthday of the Messiah to coincide (ahem) with the celebration for Sol Invictus, a possible title for Mithras, not to be confused with the Persian god Mithra, who also, according to all those documentaries, bears an eerie resemblance to Jesus in his origin, life, and death. Mithraism (surrounding Mithras, who according to most recent scholarship was not directly related to Mithra) was a mystery religion especially popular among Roman soldiers; all that really remains is their iconography. The most famous example, the tauroctony, was the subject of the planetarium show. Derived from David Ulansey’s book, the show explains that the tauroctony may have had astronomical meanings – Mithras is actually Perseus, complete with Phrygian cap, gazing away from the bull (Taurus) that he kills beneath him. The other symbols – the dog (Canis Minor), scorpion (Scorpio), bird (Corvus), and snake (Hydra) likewise have their constellation counterparts. The two boys often featured on the sides, one with torch held up, the other with torch held down, correspond to the crossing of the sun through the celestial equator. Why would they depict the night sky in such a way? According to Ulansey, Mithraism developed in the first century B.C. in Asia Minor, shortly after the discovery by Greek astronomer Hipparchus of precession – the change in direction in the axis of the earth that most obviously causes our “North Star” to change over thousands of years, but also causes the celestial equator to cross the zodiac at a different location during the spring and fall equinoxes every couple thousand years. At the time of his discovery, however, it was believed that the earth was fixed, with various arcs and celestial spheres moving around it. Hipparchus had therefore discovered a new ‘force’ that moved the spheres around the earth, a force that may have been associated with Plato’s 'hypercosmic sun' existing outside the known universe. The tauroctony depicts the constellations that the celestial equator passed through during the Age of Taurus, about 5000 years ago. (The representations in the constellations most likely had additional meanings that played a part in the beliefs about the world and the rituals that believers performed.)
It’s a bit amusing to speculate that the participants in the Mithraic cult were actually worshipping precession, the silly pagans. But it also shows the spread and importance of the Platonic belief that the soul would descend at birth, and ascend at death, through the heavenly spheres to the One that exists outside of creation, and provides clues as to why Christianity may have been seen as especially attractive to converts.
We didn't get into any conversations with Rosicrucians, unfortunately. We did pick up their nice brochure, and peruse the books in the gift shop - nothing quite like books by 20th century mystics about the secret mysteries of Christ! - but the Rosicrucians got to keep their own mysteries.