If it wasn’t for the strategic nature of early Christian leaders the Christian world might be celebrating Natalis Solis Invicti, Birthday of the Invincible Sun God, on December 25th and not Christmas. This is the birthday of Mithras, the bull slayer and the preeminent rival of Jesus in the fourth century.
The actual birth date of Jesus is unknown. Arguments have been made for various dates for various reasons. Mithraism was the state religion of Rome as decreed by Emperor Aurelian around the turn of the fourth century and was extremely popular with the Roman soldiers and the population at large. Decreeing the birth of the Christ to coincide with the birth festival of the popular Mithras god was a studied political maneuver in an effort to gain ground in establishing Christianity with the masses. Logic such as this quote from a theologian in 320AD attempts to promote the supremacy of Jesus over Mithras, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”
Christians have the cross as a symbol. The core icon for Mithraism is the tauroctony which is comprised of the central figure of Mithras killing a bull accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven and a scorpion emerging from a cave. David Ulansey puts forth a convincing thesis on the interpretation of this icon in his book, Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries.
He asserts that the tauroctony is an astrological calendar tracking the sun through the zodiac. “During the ‘Age of Taurus’, lasting from around 4,000 to 2,000 B.C., the celestial equator passed through the constellations of Taurus the Bull (the spring equinox of that epoch), Canis Minor the Dog, Hydra the Snake, Corvus the Raven, and Scorpio the Scorpion (the autumn equinox).” Cosmology during this era viewed the earth as the center of the universe and the heavens including the sun revolving around it.
We know today that the earth wobbles on its axis so that the course of the heavens appears to shift about every 2000 years as a phenomenon referred to as the precession of the equinoxes. This means that during the fourth century the sun moved backwards through the constellation of Aires during the spring equinox and not Taurus. Therefore, the bull was slain.
Who was this new god that had the power to move the universe, control the sun and all the now lesser gods embodied in the stars and planets? Mithras the bull slayer, the sun god.
For more info: Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, Christmas