Mithra and the right handed handshake of the Gods (part 2)


Mithra and the right handed handshake of the Gods (part 2)
by Nabarz

(This is an excerpt from ‘Seething Cauldron: Essays on Zoroastrianism, Sufism, Freemasonry, Wicca, Druidry, and Thelema’. By Nabarz. ISBN: 978-0-9556858-4-2. Available on Amazon and //

The examples in part 1 of this article show how in the ancient Middle Eastern Empires, the shaking of hands with the gods allowed the divine right of Kingship to be bestowed on the Kings by physical contact with a representation of the deity. This is a divine contract being formed when the handshake takes place, be it a peace treaty or the giving of the right to rule. The act transforms the person to stand in line with the Gods.

The divine handshake is taken from the Persian Mithra to the Roman Mithras; however, before examining this there are several other examples of right handed handshakes that need to be examined.

An example kindly provided by Dorjegiza is from the poem of Parmenides (5th century BCE), this is part of an initiate’s journey from darkness to light, while in a chariot, in the company of the daughters of the Sun, he eventually reaches a temple of an unnamed goddess who enters into dialogue with him:

‘(Line 20) sockets fastened with rivets and nails. Straight through them, on the broad way, did the maidens guide the horses and the car, and the goddess greeted me kindly, and took my right hand in hers, and spake to me these words:

Welcome, noble youth, that comest to my abode on the car

that bears thee tended by immortal charioteers!’

-English translation by John Burnet (1892)[1]

Another example kindly provided Capanellius is a portrayal of Isis receiving Io with a right handed handshake (Temple of Isis, Pompeii) 8
‘Having thus settled in Egypt, Io made a statue of Demeter, and this goddess was then called Isis. And after that, the Egyptians also gave Io the name Isis, and Io-Isis, they say, was made a Goddess by Zeus.’ [2]
The handshake links the two Goddesses together, in a way a contract is formed, and they are now Io-Isis.

The paper The Significance of the Handshake Motif in Classical Funerary Art by Glenys Davies (American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 89, No. 4. (Oct., 1985), pp. 627-640) provides further examples: ‘The handshake appears in mythological scenes on a number of vases of the Archaic and Classical period. Many such scenes of the late archaic period involve Herakles: he is shown shaking hands with Athena on both black- and red-figure vases where the scene represents the acceptance of Herakles as an equal by the gods, and, in particular, his comradeship with Athena. Slightly later, as one might expect, the focus switches from Herakles to Theseus. On Early Classical red-figure vases Theseus is represented linking right hands with his father, Poseidon, again presumably to indicate Theseus' exalted status……The handshake also appears in the background of two paintings of the rescue of Andromeda, between Perseus and Andromeda’s father Cepheu… and … There are also sporadic examples of the dextrarum iunctio used to link the deceased with his/her psychopompo as on a wall painting from Iserniag where the deceased is shown shaking hands with Mercury. The idea that the psychopompos leads the dead to a better life with the dextrarum iunctio is more explicitly stated in a painting in the tomb of Vibia on the Via Latinaos: there, a “good angel” leads Vibia by the right hand through an archway to the banquet of the blessed…..When used in a funerary context the handshake seems to have been associated especially with Hercules as a rescuing hero, and, to a lesser extent, with Mercury as psychopompos.’ [3]

To come back to the divine handshake being taken from the Persian Mithra to the Roman Mithras, the Mithraic handshake was part of the initiatory rite, an act that connected the initiates to Mithras as well as fellow initiates.

Figure 16: Bas-relief fragment from Virunum in central Europe. (From The Mysteries of Mithra, by Franz Cumont.) [4]

The Bas-relief fragment from Virunum in central Europe, shows scenes from Mithras’ life, including (from bottom to top): smiting the rock from which the water flowed; holding the leg of the bull in his right hand and placing his left on Sun’s head, the investiture of the Sun with his halo; Mithras and Sun shaking right hands; Mithras and the Sun in the chariot, showing their ascension to the sky.

Figure 17: Grand Mithraic bas-relief of Heddernheim, Germany. (From The Mysteries of Mithra, by Franz Cumont.) The investiture scene towards the top right shows Mithras and the Sun shaking right hands while sun is kneeling.

Mithra is described as the Lord of wide pastures, the lord of truth and contracts. The custom of shaking hands when greeting a friend or after a business deal perhaps originated from the religious mysteries, as a sign of not carrying a weapon, and of trust. The depiction of Mithra shaking hands (right hands) with the Syrian King Antiochus in the first century BCE, is as a sign of the transfer of divine power from God to his earthly representative and sealing the divine ‘contract’. In the Roman cult of Mithras, a number of reliefs show Mithras and Sol shaking their right hands (dexiosis); and Mithraic initiates were termed syndexioi, ‘those who have been united by a handshake’ (with the Father). The handshake is also mentioned in Proficentius’s poem from Rome, on the occasion of building his Mithraeum:

‘This spot is blessed, holy, observant and bounteous:

Mithras marked it, and made known to

Proficentius, Father of the mysteries,

That he should build and dedicate a Cave to him;

And he has accomplished swiftly, tirelessly, this dear task

That under such protection he began, desirous

That the Hand-shaken might make their vows joyfully forever.

These poor lines Proficentius composed,

Most worth Father of Mithras’. [5]

The Christian writer Firmicus Maternus (fourth century CE) referred to a Roman follower of Mithras as mysta booklopies, syndexie patros agauou (initiate of cattle-rustling, companion by handclasp of an illustrious father). -Marvin Meyer, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts [6]

In the Mithras Liturgy we read about Mithras as having ‘a bright appearance, youthful, golden-haired, with a white tunic and a golden crown and trousers, and holding in his right hand a golden shoulder of a young bull: this is the Bear which moves and turns heaven around, moving upward and downward in accordance with the hour.’ [7]

The right hand of Mithras moves the heavens, confers ‘Divine Glory’ to Kings and initiates of his mysteries, and binds them in a divine contract with the gods. The Mithraic handshake was a spiritual seal of agreement and the transfer of an initiatory line. The idea is seen in the Roman cult of Mithras with the same significance and connotations as the Persian Mithra.

We see this act of the divine right handed handshake down the ages, in Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittites, Mitanni, Commagene, Persian, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman religions.

It is worth noting that there are many initiatory systems still in practice today which use the right handed handshake as part of their mysteries. For example, the Freemasons and some Sufis have their own special right-handed handshake as part of their initiation and becoming part of the initiatory line. This of course is the connection with the magical ‘right-hand path’ (the right hand pillar on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the RHP in Hinduism) and its deeper meaning of having shaken the right hand of the gods and becoming connected to the gods. The act of handshaking in business meetings is perhaps the most popular sign of a Mithraic act (lord of the contract) surviving to the modern day.

[1] English translation by John Burnet (1892) //

[2] //

[3] The Significance of the Handshake Motif in Classical Funerary Art by Glenys Davies (American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 89, No. 4. (Oct., 1985), pp. 627-640.

[4] The Mysteries of Mithra, by Franz Cumont. New York: Dover, 1956. [Originally published in 1903 by Open Court Publishing, London.]

[5] Manfred Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries (Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p42.

[6] Marvin Meyer, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), p208.

[7] Marvin Meyer, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), p218.


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