The World of the Carpathian Interlude – Part VII : Ancient Demons – The Battle between Light and Dark

Welcome to the seventh and final part of this blog series on The World of The Carpathian Interlude.

In this post, we’re going to explore the some aspects of Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest ‘revealed’ religions in the world (though this is debated) and from which sprang the mystery religion of Mithraism that so captivated the men of Rome’s legions.

The battle between the Light and the Dark is at the heart of the ancient Zoroastrian religion, just as it is in most religions. One could say it is a part of our own souls, our various beliefs as human beings, no matter our cultural background.

It’s also at the very core of the story of The Carpathian Interlude and the characters who inhabit that world.

Ahura Mazda – from the ruins of Persepolis

…May Right be embodied full of life and strength! May Piety abide in the Dominion bright as the sun! May Good Thought give destiny to men according to their works! (Ushtavaiti Gatha, 43.16)

In Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia which is still practiced in parts of modern Iran, Ahura Mazda is the supreme deity. It is he who created Mithras, a lord of Light and the all-seeing Protector of Truth, and Guardian of Cattle, the Harvest, and other divine aspects.

For more on Mithras himself, you can read the first part of this blog series.

According to the ancient scriptures, Ahura Mazda and Mithras are Yazads (or yazata), good divinities who are immortal in essence and inseparable from their bodies.

The oldest texts of Zoroastrianism, the Yasna Haptanghaiti (written in prose) and the Gathas (hymns written in verse) are attributed to Zoroaster himself, who is believed to have lived sometime around 1200 B.C. These texts were written in the language of Old Avestan, the language of Zoroastrian scripture, which has its roots in the Indo-European language group.

The hymns, which to me feel similar in nature to the ancient Greek Homeric Hymns, are believed not to teach people, but to invoke and glorify Ahura Mazda. They are not systematized and dogmatic. Their main messages are of the struggle between Good and Evil, of truth, friendship and benevolence versus greed, arrogance and non-truth.

Light versus Dark.

Zoroastrian Fire Temple

As the holy one I recognized thee, Mazda Ahura, when Good Thought came to me, when first by your words I was instructed. Shall it bring me sorrow among men, my devotion, in doing that which ye tell me is the best. (Ushtavaiti Gatha, 43.11)

When writing The Carpathian Interlude, I wanted Mithras and his Roman miles, those on the side of Light and Truth to be facing a very ancient evil, an antagonist that was much older than Rome itself.

I turned to the ancient texts of Zoroastrianism and there found the evil I had been looking for, the Darkness.

If Ahura Mazda and Mithras, the divine Yazads, were Goodness and Light, then it was the Daevas, wicked and uncaring gods, who embodied Evil and Darkness. These evil gods were something akin to demons.

ye Daevas all, and he that highly honors you, are the seed of Bad Thought — yes, and of the Lie and of Arrogance, likewise your deeds, whereby ye have long been known in the seventh region of the earth.

For ye have brought it to pass that men who do the worst things shall be called beloved of the Daevas, separating themselves from Good Thought, departing from the will of Mazda Ahura and from Right.

Thereby ye defrauded mankind of happy life and immortality, by the deed which he and the Bad Spirit together with Bad Thought and Bad Word taught you, ye Daevas and the Liars, so as to ruin (mankind). (Ahunavaiti Gatha, 32.3,4,5)

Ancient Persian manuscript showing a Daeva

The Daevas were the enemies of the Yazads, but they were still divinities. Then I read about another group known as the Usij.

The Usij were the false priests of the Daevas, those who worshiped them, the beloved of the Daevas. It is the Usij, or rather one in particular, who is the ultimate antagonist in The Carpathian Interlude. As a man, the Usij is mortal, immortal in essence but separable from the body. He is everything that is bad about men, and seeks to tear down the gods in any way he can.

Have the Daevas ever exercised good dominion? And I ask of those who see how for the Daevas’ sake the Karapan and the Usij give cattle to violence, and how the Kavi made them continually to mourn, instead of taking care that they make the pastures prosper through Right. (Ushtavaiti Gatha, 44.20)

Artist impression of Zoroaster

Parts of the Yasna text suggest that Zoroaster himself often debated with the Daeva-worshipping priests who were devoid of goodness of mind and heart, and full of arrogance.

It has been theorized that the defining religious theme of Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Darkness, may have originated in ancient Zoroastrianism (which still has a minority of followers today in Iran) and then been absorbed by other religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

So…

How do the Yazads, Daevas, and Usij fit into the world of The Carpathian Interlude?

You need to read the book to find out. However, as is illustrated in the ancient Gathas and Yasna of Zoroaster, where there is Good there too is Evil. Where there is Light, there is also Darkness.

These ideas are as old as the world itself, and they are at the very foundations of storytelling.

In The Carpathian Interlude, I’ve tried to explore the theme of Light and Dark in what I hope is a unique, thought-provoking, and entertaining way. If you read this story, I hope that you enjoy it, that it provokes some thought about this eternal struggle, and that you are inspired by it.

Thank you for reading.

Only when fear is at its most intense can true heroism come into the light.

For ages, an ancient evil has been harboured in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, an enemy of the god Mithras, Lord of Light.

In A.D. 9, when three of the Emperor Augustus’ legions are slaughtered in the forests of Germania, it becomes evident to a small group of experienced veterans that something more sinister than the rebellious German tribes is responsible for the massacre.

It falls to Gaius Justus Vitalis and a few warriors favoured by Mithras to hunt down and destroy the forces of undead spurred on by this ancient evil. Summoning all of their courage, they must wade through horror and rivers of blood to bring Mithras’ light into the darkness, or else see the destruction of Rome, the Empire, and all they hold dear.

The adventure begins with the appearance of a young refugee beneath the walls of a distant legionary base…

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The World of the Carpathian Interlude – Part I : Mithras, Lord of Light

“Hear us great Father of Light! Receive our thanks for delivering us from the dark.”

(Gaius Justus Vitalis; IMMORTUI)

Mithras

In the ancient world most people believed in the gods, believed that the gods played a role in all aspects of life. Whether it was a major battle to decide who would rule the known world, or something as simple and mundane as keeping a person safe on a journey to the next town. People, one could say, held their gods close on a daily basis. Not just once a week or at the holidays.

For the men serving in Rome’s legions there was one god to which many turned when they faced death on an almost daily basis: Mithras.

For Gaius Justus Vitalis and the other soldiers who inhabit the world of The Carpathian Interlude, Mithras is the light with which to combat the dark on the edge of empire.

But who was this strange god who was relatively new to the Roman Pantheon?

Ahura Mazda – from the ruins of Persepolis

Mithras originated as an ancient Persian god of Truth and Light whose cult was an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion, which recognized Ahura Mazda as sole creator of the universe. In mythology, Mithras supported Ahura Mazda in a struggle against the evil Ahriman. This struggle of Good/Light vs. Evil/Darkness is at the heart of Mithraism.

Mithras was sent by Ahura Mazda to hunt and kill the ‘divine bull’ and from the bull’s blood, all life sprang. This is the creation myth of Zoroastrianism and the ‘Tauroctony’, the slaying of the bull, is the central image, the greatest rite, of Mithraism.

When Mithras captured the bull, he is said to have taken it to a cave and there, slain it. That is why most Temples to Mithras (known as a Mithraeum) were in caves (speleum), or dark rooms made to look like caves. Over time, because of his identification with the Light, Mithras also became identified with the sun, and altars to Sol Invictus, the ‘unconquered sun’, were associated with his worship.

The cult of Mithras seems to have come to Rome in the second half of the first century B.C., likely encountered by Roman soldiers who had been campaigning in the East with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Mark Antony against the Parthians.

Mithraeum – San Clemente, Rome

Mithraism was one of the ancient ‘mystery religions’. These were religious cults in which initiates swore a solemn oath not to reveal the rites and activities involved. As a result, very little is actually known. Other mystery religions of the ancient world included the Elefsinian Mysteries (dedicated to Demeter and Persephone), the cult of Isis (the Egyptian goddess worshipped as mother/wife, patroness of nature and magic, and friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden), and the cult of Serapis (Hellenistic god intended to merge the Greek and Egyptian religions).

Mithraism was different from the other mystery religions in that it was for men only. During the Roman Empire its appeal had grown so much that Mithraea (dimly lit temple-caves or rooms) could be found outside of Roman forts across the whole of the empire. Why was this, a foreign religion, so intensely popular among the eagles of Rome?

Some believe that Mithraism may have appealed more because of its stronger promise of an afterlife and more personal relationship with the god. Understandable when one is facing death regularly. Also central to the religion were the attributes of Strength, Courage and Endurance which would have been highly valued by the soldier-adherents.

Mithras as Sol Invictus

In The Carpathian Interlude, Gaius Justus Vitalis is referred to as the Heliodromus or ‘Sun Runner’ which is his grade or rank in the cult. In Mithraism there were in fact seven grades of initiation each associated with a deity. These were (from lowest to highest): Corax (Mercury), Nymphus (Venus), Miles (Mars), Leo (Jupiter), Perses (Luna), Heliodromus (Sol), and Pater (Saturn).

Each of these grades was also associated with a particular symbol such as a torch for the Heliodromus, or a mitre for the Pater. Did the rites involve the use in some way of these symbols for each of the initiates? Perhaps. There is no way to know for certain. What is known is that these symbols appear on many of the elaborate carvings that have been found. They are full of symbolism, as is much of ancient and medieval art.

Mithraism was, however, not just a religion, it was a very close-knit society, a sort of club. Much as members of the Masonic Order, initiates of the Mithraic mysteries likely helped their brothers to advance, and provided aid in times of need. There would have been an understanding among them that they were not alone, that each was there for the other. It was a strong network across the empire.

Mithraic symbols and the Tauroctony

It has been hypothesized that Mithraism was the precursor of Christianity, not only because of its monotheistic nature and the battle between Light and Dark (which is universal) but also for the inclusion of such rites as baptism and a ritual meal. The date associated with the birth of Mithras is also December 25. It’s a very interesting idea and may, partially, explain the widespread integration of Christianity in the later empire.

In The Carpathian Interlude, Gaius Justus Vitalis and his men find rejuvenation in the Mithraic rites. They know that as they head into the darkness of the Carpathian mountains to face the terror of an unknown enemy, they will not be alone. The Light will guide them and, if they are to die, there is something bright, beyond the black river, that awaits them.

Mithraeum – Carrawburgh along Hadrian’s Wall

Stay tuned next week for Part II in this blog series on the world of The Carpathian Interlude.

Thank you for reading.

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The Cult of Mithras

Tauroctony (Wikimedia Commons)

Tauroctony (Wikimedia Commons)

Hello everyone,

I’d like to thank all of you for your patience and kind words over the last few weeks. It has indeed been a difficult time with the sudden loss of my father.

I’m soldiering on with my writing. The first draft of Thanatos (final part in The Carpathian Interlude series) is finished and promises to be a wild ride into darkness – something to match my mood of late.

I’m also thinking of trying out some new things involving video, so look for that in the coming weeks.

Today, I wanted to draw your attention to a guest post of mine on the English Historical Fiction Authors website (EHFA).

If you haven’t seen this site, you should check it out and sign-up for their e-mail updates. If you like history, you will get a daily dose of fascinating blog posts on a wide range of topics.

screen-shot-2012-08-04-at-7-55-48-am

When the kind folks at EHFA contacted me to ask if I would be able to post on the site several weeks ago, I of course said yes!

With the subsequent loss of my father, however, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. But, writing is therapeutic for me, and so I put together a post called The Cult of Mithras – the British Connection in which I look at Mithraism and The Carpathian Interlude series and how the cult of Mithras was present in Britannia.

If you like ancient mystery religions, or The Carpathian Interlude series, I think you’ll enjoy reading this post.

I’ve also thrown myself into research for another Eagles and Dragons series novel and, as ever, history has been a wonderful distraction from the strange days in which I find myself.

So, thank you again for all your wishes, and I look forward to talking more history with all of you.

Oh, and by the way, from February 18th-22, Chariot of the Son is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from Amazon, so be sure to go and get your copy.

As ever, thank you for reading…

Greece 2006 076

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LYKOI Unleashed!

Lykoi Cover

Today is Launch Day!

That’s right, LYKOI – Carpathian Interlude Part II is now available from Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes.

For just a few days, Eagles and Dragons Publishing is offering LYKOI for a special launch price of $.99 cents before it goes up.

So, if any of you have friends and family who like ancient history and historical fantasy/horror, please do spread the word!

haunted forest

I’ve really enjoyed writing this book and interlacing the supernatural themes and beliefs of LYKOI with the historical events of the Varus disaster. Also, getting deeper into the minds of the scarred characters has truly been a fascinating and melancholy experience.

I’m currently writing Carpathian Interlude Part III, the working title of which is ‘THANATOS’.

This story is going to get even darker and delve into some very ancient myths around Zoroastrianism and the origins of Mithras. We will also find out who this Carpathian Lord actually is – and you won’t expect it!

Most importantly, I’d like to thank many of you for your support, encouragement and comments, the many personal e-mails, and your help in spreading the word about the series across social media. It all means a great deal, and the series’ success would not be possible without you.

So, thank you once more, and Happy Reading!

howling wolf 2

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Historical Horror – The Carpathian Interlude Series

dead tree

Summer is dead, it’s golden sun-splashed days relegated to the realm of distant memory.

I’ve been writing a lot, focussing on Eagles and Dragons Book III – Warriors of Epona. The first draft of that book is finished and, like idyllic, warm summer hours, it will now be set aside for a while.

October has arrived and, as is usual, my thoughts have turned dark. What else can you expect from the month in which the trees shed shrivelled leaves, the month in which our ancestors believed the dead walk among us?

It should come as no surprise then that I am now drawn back into the Carpathian Interlude.

Part II of the series is called LYKOI (pronounced ‘LEE-kee’), and it will soon be ready for release. LYKOI promises to take the reader to a dark, horror-filled place that would fill any Roman legionary with fear.

In the ancient world, men of war could be especially superstitious. When major disasters or defeats would occur, many would seek explanations that our modern minds might see as supernatural.

Fear of foreign gods and darker powers beyond the realm of their knowledge was not uncommon. When you control the greatest army the world has ever seen, and you experience a crushing defeat, you naturally look for an explanation.

distraught legionary

It is precisely this fear and superstition that inspired me to write the Carpathian Interlude series which, from the larger perspective of the Empire, revolves around one particular event – the Varus Disaster. I’ll talk about that event next week.

Writing historical horror has allowed me to do something different with historical fantasy. It has allowed me to experiment a little, to explore different types of character trauma and beliefs. It’s a nice change of pace and an opportunity for me, as a writer, to dip into some darker themes.

In IMMORTUI, the first part of the Carpathian Interlude, Gaius Justus Vitalis and his men head into the Carpathian Mountains in search of their comrades who were on a patrol north of the Danube frontier. There they meet an enemy unlike any other they’ve ever met – Zombies.

In LYKOI, Gaius Justus Vitalis and his group of ‘broken’ warriors are ordered to investigate the massacre of thousands of Romans in Germania. But this time, it’s not the undead that Gaius and his men must face.

If you like Werewolves, this is a story you won’t want to miss.

So, when will LYKOI be released?

October 25th, 2014 is the official launch day for this book – something new to add to the Halloween reading list!

For now, I’m very pleased to unveil the cover for LYKOI – Carpathian Interlude Part II…

Lykoi Cover

Many thanks once again to Laura at LLPIX Photography for putting together a suitably-dark cover.

I hope you like it.

For my Newsletter subscribers, stay tuned for a separate e-mail soon with a special offer just for you. Thank you to all of you for your interest and support. You make the Eagles and Dragons Legion strong!

So, off we go on another journey into the past. Be sure to keep your faith and your gladius close, my friends. You’re going to need them.

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