Mitra, God of Sun, Friendship and Energy
Both Vedic Mitra and Avestan Mithra derive from an Indo-Iranian common noun *mitra-, generally reconstructed to have meant “covenant, treaty, agreement, promise.” This meaning is preserved in Avestan miθra “covenant.” In Sanskrit and modern Indo-Aryan languages, mitra means “friend,” one of the aspects of bonding and alliance.

One of the oldest civilizations in the world Persia or today’s Iran, whose age is estimated according to archaeological locality to over 7000 years, had a very strong influence both on the Illyrians i.e. Bosnian people. Traces of that influence have their continuity and are evident in various segments from the linguistic, because of numerous Persian words in the Bosnian language, all the way up to folklore and mythology. Because of all that it is necessary to further investigate the connection of Bosnia and Iran through historical events and migration and genetic analysis in order to get a complete image of the connection between Illyrians and the Persians and if there is a possibility that the Illyrians came to the Balkans from today’s Iran ?!

It looks like everything start with the military campaign of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE, Mithra became the “favorite deity” of Asia Minor. Christian writers Dr. Samuel Jackson and George W. Gilmore, editors of The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (VII, 420), remark:

It was probably at this period, 250-100 b.c., that the Mithraic system of ritual and doctrine took the form which it afterward retained. Here it came into contact with the mysteries, of which there were many varieties, among which the most notable were those of Cybele.

According to the Roman historian Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD/CE), Mithraism began to be absorbed by the Romans during Pompey’s military campaign against Cilician pirates around 70 BCE. The religion eventually migrated from Asia Minor through the soldiers, many of whom had been citizens of the region, into Rome and the far reaches of the Empire. Syrian merchants brought Mithraism to the major cities, such as Alexandria, Rome and Carthage, while captives carried it to the countryside. By the third century AD/CE Mithraism and its mysteries permeated the Roman Empire and extended from India to Scotland, with abundant monuments in numerous countries amounting to over 420 Mithraic sites so far discovered.

From a number of discoveries, including pottery, inscriptions and temples, we know that Roman Mithraism gained a significant boost and much of its shape between 80 and 120 AD/CE, when the first artifacts of this particular cults begin to be found at Rome. It reached a peak during the second and third centuries, before largely expiring at the end of the fourth/beginning of fifth centuries. Among its members during this period were emperors, politicians and businessmen. Indeed, before its usurpation by Christianity Mithraism enjoyed the patronage of some of the most important individuals in the Roman Empire. In the fifth century, the emperor Julian, having rejected his birth-religion of Christianity, adopted Mithraism and “introduced the practice of the worship at Constantinople.” (Schaff-Herzog, VII, 423)

We know that Illyrians became a Romans citizens after 9 AD/CE…

Two sided fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Konjic
Two sided fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Konjic

Temple of god Mitra in Jajce and near Konjic

The temple of the Indo-Iranian god of sun and light Mitra (mitreum) was found in Jajce in 1931 when a foundation for a house was dug. On the initiative of curator of the National museum in Sarajevo professor Sergejevski, it was reconstructed in 1937. The cult of invincible god of sun – Mitra was widespread across all provinces of the Roman empire, including the province of Dalmatia in whose boundaries was a large part of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. Members of Mithraism sought to place their cult places in caves, but they also built small one cell temples – spelaea, and if the terrain allowed, they were wrapped in dirt. An example of such a temple – spelaea carved into the rock, is located in Jajce and represents a unique and rare example. There is no direct data on the exact time the temple of Mitra in Jajce was built. It is assumed, according to when the coins were found, types of lamps and fibula that it was built at the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century BCE.

Ritual in the honour of Mitra

I try to describe connection of folk customs of lighting fire at dawn on May 6th (Jurjevo or Hidirlez) as a sign of welcome and celebrating sun, since the beginning of May according to Bosnian folk calendar the beginning of summer i.e. light part of the year. And that we are talking about the solar cult of our Illyrian forefathers is proved by another practice which was preserved by Bosnian traditional culture.
We are talking about instruments so called trubaljka dedicated to god Mitra, played by men on small and large Jurjevo i.e. April 23rd and May 6th.

As per Wikipedia Ђурђевдан/Đurđevdan is a Slavic religious holiday, the feast of Saint George celebrated on 23 April by the Julian calendar (6 May by the Gregorian calendar). In Croatia and Slovenia, the Roman Catholic version of St. George’s day, Jurjevo is celebrated on 23 April by the Gregorian calendar.
Saint George is one of the most important saints in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. He is the patron military saint …
( Military saint… kill a dragon … something wrong with me ?)
in Slavic, Georgian and Circassian, Cossack, Chetnik military tradition. Christian synaxaria hold that St. George was a martyr who died for his faith. On icons, he is usually depicted as a man riding a horse and killing a dragon.
Beyond Orthodox Christian tradition proper, Đurđevdan is also more generically a spring festival in the Balkans.

Then we find a lot of evidence points to these motifs and elements being adopted into Christianity…

The following list represents not a solidified mythos or narrative of one particular Mitra or form of the god as developed in one particular culture and era but, rather, a combination of them all for ease of reference as to any possible influences upon Christianity under the name of Mitra/Mithra/Mithras.

Mitra has the following in common with the Jesus character:
Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by   shepherds.
He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.

He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
He performed miracles.
As the “great bull of the Sun” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
He ascended to heaven.
Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”

He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
His religion had a Eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
Mitraism emphasized baptism.


Mitra ascending to the heaven in his solar cart, with sun symbol

The same may be said as concerns another Persian or Zoroastrian winter celebration called “Yalda,” which is the festival of the Longest Night of the Year, taking place on December 20th or the day before the solstice:
Yalda has a history as long as the Mitraism religion. The Mitraists believed that
this night is the night of the birth of Mitra, Persian god of light and truth. At the morning of the longest night of the year the Mitra is born from a virgin mother….
In Zoroastrian tradition, the winter solstice with the longest night of the year was an auspicious day, and included customs intended to protect people from misfortune…. The Eve of the Yalda has great significance in the Iranian calendar. It is the eve of the birth of Mitra, the Sun God, who symbolized light, goodness and strength on earth. Shab-e Yalda is a time of joy.
Yalda is a Syriac word meaning birth. Mitra-worshipers used the term “yalda” specifically with reference to the birth of Mitra. As the longest night of the year, the Eve of Yalda (Shab-e Yalda) is also a turning point, after which the days grow longer. In ancient times it symbolized the triumph of the Sun God over the powers of darkness. (“Yalda,” Wikipedia)
It is likely that this festival does indeed derive from remote antiquity, and it is evident that the ancient Persians were well aware of the winter solstice and its meaning as found in numerous other cultures: To wit, the annual “rebirth,” “renewal” or “resurrection” of the sun.

In the ethnological records under the name “Peculiar customs of Muslim villagers close to the place Prozor” it is described that Bosnians in Prozor, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, met at sunset at a location,
which they would pick by themselves, and they would hold the ritual called Trubaljke.
Every one of them would for that occasion carry in his hand an instrument, so called trubaljka made out of skinned bark of willow, for the ritual on the eve of small Jurjevo (April 23rd), or made out of the bark of hazel (hazelnut) if they would play on the holiday large Jurjevo (May 6th).

That’s why trubaljka was an instrument without holes.

“That company was mostly made out of young men, and often times among them there were older men i.e. bearded men. From every household there needs to be at least one member, and there can be more. The participants choose one among themselves which will be the leader, and he has to have the largest instrument (trubaljka). From that place, where they met, the leader goes first and the others follow, sometimes one after the other and sometimes in a crowd. The leader blows his long instrument and then all others in one voice. It is very interesting to listen to that type of music created by numerous instruments. That sound spreads across the entire place where the ritual is being held. They are followed by a crowd of children who goad them on with their thin voice. There is no singing with the instruments as far as I managed to find out, one can only hear various sounds of their instruments and thin children’s voices. There are 80 to 100 people in the parade. The leader is always at the top of the file. They visit every yard and stay there for a few minutes blowing their horns. When they arrive in front of a house, all members of that household exit and observe their procession. They go from house to house, and if they think a witch lives in a house they visit her yard first and then continue on.
When they go round the entire village, then they go back to the place from which they started, blowing the horns the entire way. Then the following ritual takes place: an entire group gathers around the leader in a circle (geometrical representation of the sun), holding their instruments in their hands, in a fighting stance. The leader swings his instrument first so hard that it splits into numerous pieces which fall around the gathered men (ritual blessing, imitating the sun’s rays). As soon as he does it, it represents a sign for the others, who laughing and shouting, hit each other with the instruments until they are completely destroyed. Then they return to their homes.
The Bosnians practiced this ritual from ancient times, in the eve of both Jurjeva, in order to neutralize all negative effects of witches, who according to folk belief, were particularly active on these two identical holidays. With that ritual one would ensure protection of humans and domestic animals until next year.”

Here the connection between Persians and Bosnians doesn’t stop. Namely, the Slavic name for God – Bog is a name that stems from the Persian name
Baga which was used for Ahura Mazda. In the same manner, the Slavic name for our planet – Zemlja, has its root in the name of the Persian goddess of earth Zam.
What is more important is the tradition of respecting old deities which existed among Bosnian Muslims in parallel with Islam, i.e. it was incorporated in it. Of course, we are talking about the so called “folk Islam”, not the official one. Namely, there are written and published records in the book “Annexes for oriental philology” published in 1980, where it is mentioned that in Sarajevo before WWII there were men who directed their prayer (duas) not only to Allah but also to some non-Islamic deities. For this text the most interesting deity is Tir, Persian god of rain and fertility. Tir or Tistriya lead an army of Ahura Mazda in the battle against evil forces. Every 13th of each month was dedicated to him. Probably because of this deity the rituals for rain and fertility were upheld the longest among the Bosnian people, tradition practiced by the Illyrians and continued by the Bogomils and later Islamic Bosnians, nowadays named as Bosniacs.

Two sided fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Konjic
Fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Jajce
Fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Cavtat near Dubrovnik
Fragment from the temple of god Mitra Rozanac, Slovenia
Fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Jurandvor
Fragment from the temple of god Mitra, Močići

571 replies on “Persian religion in the tradition of the Bosnian people

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