The Faces of the Moon:

Cosmology, Genesis, and the Mithras Liturgy

The Moon shows different faces in the cosmologies of the Late Antique world, ranging from the most benevolent to the most terrifying. In this essay, I shall locate these different faces of the moon and the cosmology of the Mithras Liturgy within the spectrum of cosmological systems in the first several centuries CE. I argue that the Chaldaean Oracles' caution against the face of the moon and the Mithras Liturgist's avoidance of the moon stem from a particular set of cosmological choices within this spectrum, whereas, for example, Julian's and Plutarch's images of the moon stem from a different set of options. I shall focus on a limited set of elements within these cosmologies to make my comparisons. The first element is the role of the moon in the important divisions made within the cosmos, particularly the contrast between three realms and seven planetary spheres as the significant division of the cosmos. The second element to be considered is the evaluation of the process of genesis, the soul's descent from the higher realms into matter. The final element is the nature of the intermediary powers that govern the boundaries between the divisions of the cosmos, particularly the entity who governs the border between the material and heavenly realms, the mistress of genesis. Different choices for each of these elements produce radically different cosmologies and suggest varying solutions for the problems of living within the cosmos.

The Mithras Liturgy represents one such solution, one way of living in the Late Antique world. In the Mithras Liturgy, there is a tripartite division between earthly, heavenly, and hyperouranian realms, each governed by a luminary, rather than a focus on seven planetary spheres. The magician appeals to the highest powers in the realms beyond the material to bypass the power responsible for genesis instead of calling on her aid. This bypassing suggests that the mistress of genesis is seen as hostile to souls trying to escape from genesis, rather than as a necessary intermediary for ascent. Although the Moon is not depicted in the Mithras Liturgy itself, the depictions of the lunar goddess in other spells within the Great Paris Magical Papyrus indicate that the Moon is a dangerous power, whose terrifying face should be avoided in a spell that seeks to bring the magician beyond her realm.