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Supplemental Essay: Mithraism as an Example of Nature Worship


This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

In the main essay I said: Jung suggests that early religions are similarly a form of projection of one's internal thoughts out into the world. He suggests that one of the earliest forms of religion is animism. As Neumann describes it, animism "endows trees with indwelling spirits, idols with divinity, holy places with wonder-working powers, or human beings with magical gifts." 

Mithraism and nature worship

In his book Symbols of Transformation, Jung says that Greek myth-making was pervasive and vital: Everything had its spirit, god, or demon that had to be placated. The world was full of whimsy and anthropomorphism. He quotes a passage from The Mysteries of Mithra by Franz Cumont concerning the beliefs of Mithraism, which coexisted with Christianity and embraced a kind of nature-worship: "The gods were everywhere, and they mingled in all the events of daily life. The fire that cooked the food and warmed the bodies of the faithful, the water that allayed their thirst and cleansed them, the very air they breathed, and the light that shone for them, all were objects of their adoration. [...] When the initiate betook himself in the evening to the sacred grotto concealed in the solitude of the forest, at every step new sensations awakened in his heart some mystical emotion. The stars that shone in the sky, the wind that whispered in the foliage, the spring or brook that hastened murmuring to the valley, even the earth which he trod under his feet, were in his eyes divine, and all surrounding nature evoked in him a worshipful fear of the infinite forces that swayed the universe."

In similar fashion, Jung quotes Seneca: "When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly intertwining branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this domed cavern then strike you as with the presence of a deity? Or when you see a cave penetrating into the rock at the foot of an overhanging mountain, not made by human hands, but hollowed out to a great depth by nature, is not your soul suffused with a religious fear? We worship the sources of great rivers, we erect altars at the place where a sudden rush of water bursts from the bowels of the earth, warm springs we adore, and certain pools we hold sacred on account of their sombre darkness or their immense depths." [1]

And this was happening despite the fact that, in Jung's words, "everyone who has his eyes and wits about him can see that the world is dead, cold, and unending. Never yet has he beheld a God, or been compelled to require the existence of such a God from the evidence of his senses." [2] So Jung says that we are driven by a strong inner compulsion to engage in myth-making, very much as the child is compelled to engage in make-believe. [3]

Link: Return to Intuition (N)

~Posted October 19, 2023


[1] C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 5), trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton University Press, 1956), pp. 73-4, pars. 109-110.

[2] Ibid., p. 25, par. 30

[3] Ibid., p. 21, par. 24

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