Roughly 14x28 oil on panel. Painted from some rubbings I made from a Mithraic temple in Rome
A search for self
My intrigue with Mithras began with a visit in 1995 to the Basilica San Clemente in Rome, which is built above a fourth century Mithraea. While there the ancient stone carvings struck me. Their Latin text interspersed with symbols looked to me like a sun, a leaf, and a bull-head. I spent 6 weeks creating a book that captured the visual quality of these symbols and letterforms and the texture, color, and depth of the ancient city of Rome. It was only after I returned that I began to research, trying to satisfy a curiosity of what those symbols could mean.
I found a good explanation in an article written by Alison B. Griffith, which explained the basic concept of the Roman mystery cult of Mithras:
• originated in Persia and the Hindu religion
• widespread in the Roman empire, flourishing from the first to fourth centuries AD.
• a secret cult open only to men.
• bull sacrificing was central to worship
• bull's blood gave fertility to the earth
The circle & primal animal archetypes
From research into the cult of Mithras, I concluded that the sun symbol represented the sun-god Sol, the bull was a direct reference to the sacrificial animal, and the leaf probably represented the growth resulting from the fertility of the bull's blood. That's all well enough,... but these symbols provoked such a primitive response in me that I decided to dig a little deeper. I turned to Jungian psychology to help in further interpretation. In Man and His Symbols, Jung discusses the archetype of the circle (p.266): "...a symbol of the self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all it's aspects including the relationship between man and nature." To me the sun-wheel is a good representation of what Jung describes as being used in primitive sun worship. The bull-head symbol represents the primal animal archetype, which Jung talks specifically about on p. 264: "A large number of myths are concerned with a primal animal, which must be sacrificed in the cause of fertility, or even creation. One example of this sacrifice is the sacrifice of a bull by the Persian sun god Mithras, from which sprang the earth with all wealth and fruitfulness."
History, Wholeness & Self
"This immensely old psyche forms the basis of our mind, just as much as the structure of our body is based on the general anatomical pattern of the mammal." – C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols.
Researching the cult of Mithras from a Jungian psychological perspective gave me an understanding of why the 2000 year-old symbols I encountered in 1995 had such a profound effect on me and my art. Primitive archetypal symbols can powerfully affect people, attracting them for reasons they often don't understand. My goal as an artist is to take this knowledge and capture it in a visual way that draws out the power of a symbol and strikes the viewer on a very deep, primal and instinctual level.
I often paint the sun-wheel circular shape within a square, giving it more power as it takes on the resemblance of a mandala. I choose colors that are rich, saturated, and vibrant because color in itself is a powerful way to strike emotion. I add texture and ancient letter forms to add a sense of mystery and disassociate the forms from a modern society saturated with powerful visual symbols. Continuous experiments with these elements will help me get closer to my artistic goal.