Museum Weisbaden

Twelve signs of the zodiac form an arch above the tauroctony—the scene of Mithras slaying the bull—in this elaborately carved relief from Heddernheim, Germany. The raven, dog, scorpion, snake and bull also appear. In addition, beneath the bull we see a cup and a lion. In the panel of trees and figures above the arched zodiac, at the right, the sun god kneels before Mithras; this dramatic gesture of submission demonstrates Mithras’s enormous power, superior to that of the sun.

Who was this mighty god who was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire? Thanks to the secretiveness of its initiates and the arcane nature of its astrological symbolism, Mithraism has been little understood by scholars. In the accompanying article, David Ulansey unlocks Mithraism’s symbolic code and explains how the slaying of the bull stands for the dawning of a new astrological age.