Jailed For Helping Underprivileged Children

Haleh Rouhi, Sasan Taqva and Raha Sabet, taken into custody on 19 November 2007. They are beginning the final year of a four-year sentence, handed down for their participation in an education program for underprivileged children in and around the city of Shiraz.

Despite compelling evidence that they never committed a crime, three Iranian Baha’is today begin their fourth year in captivity.The two women, Haleh Rouhi and Raha Sabet – and Mr. Sasan Taqva – were arrested in May 2006, along with some 51 other Baha’is and a number of Muslim friends, for their participation in an education program for underprivileged children in and around the city of Shiraz. While their 10 Muslim co-workers and one Baha’i with learning difficulties were released immediately, the remaining Baha’is were convicted of “indirect teaching of the Baha’i Faith.” Ms. Rouhi, Ms. Sabet and Mr. Taqva received four year jail terms. The other 50 were given one year sentences, suspended pending their attendance at mandatory Islamic classes. It is believed that today, after three years, they continue to be held under the harshest of conditions in a temporary detention center.

Source: BWNS

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‘The Green And Goodly Tree’

The tree of life is a recurring motif in many traditions.  For example in Norse mythology, the universe-spanning tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.

‘Three roots there are | that three ways run

‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;

‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants,

‘Neath the last are the lands of men’.

Source: The Ballad Of Grimnir

The Book of Genesis refers to a tree planted by God in the Garden of Eden the fruit of which confers immortality. Along with the tree of life grows the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

Genesis 2:8-17 New International Version (NIV)

‘Trees of Life’ are also important symbols in modern paganism-

‘The trees are cosmic maps of the Otherworlds our ancestors recognised. They are also called Trees of Life – all life, not just human. The more familiar “wheel of the year” showing the elements and compass points is a flat diagram of earth. World trees must be thought of in 3-D. The tree is a living cosmic axis with its roots in the Underworld, linking with the trunk on the soil of our Earth and its branches in the air of the Otherworld of spirit’.

Source: http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/ygg.htm

I am personally struck by the amount of tree imagery in the writings of Baha’u’llah.  Some examples of this imagery include the appearance of the tree as symbols of spiritual renewal, wisdom, the unity of mankind and the relationship of God and his Manifestation. For example-

‘Cast into the fire the tree that hath rot and dried up, and abide under the shadow of the green and goodly Tree, and partake of the fruit thereof.’

‘When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude. Therein he will discern the wonders of His ancient Wisdom, and will perceive all the hidden teachings from the rustling leaves of the Tree that flourisheth in that City’.

‘Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship’.

‘All comparisons and likenesses fail to do justice to the Tree of Thy Revelation, and every way is barred to the comprehension of the Manifestation of Thy Self and the Day Spring of Thy Beauty.… these Birds of the celestial Throne are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness’.

Source: Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah



Recent Discoveries In Mithraic Archaeology

Some time ago I posted about the ancient Romano-Persian religion of Mithraism which is undergoing a modern revival. Over the last decade or so many ancient ‘Mithraea’ or temples of Mithra have been excavated- in places as far apart as Iraq and Hungary. Most of these temples were built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. which is considered the golden age of Mithraism in the Roman Empire.  A chronology of excavations at these sites is listed below-

April 2010: After decades of controversy, a long-closed sanctuary of Mithras was finally reopened. This Mithraeum is located in the Rhodope Mountains in the town of Thermes on the border between Greece and Bulgaria. Because of the tensions between Communist Bulgaria and Greece in the 20th century, the site’s excavator, Bulgarian archaeologist–and eventual prime minister–Bogdan Filov, conducted no further enquiries into the site after his initial foray in 1915. So far, the findings merely consist of a sacred spring and a sculptured relief. Bulgarian officials have called for increased Greek involvement in a further investigation, which will lead to a planned tourist venture in the area. Interestingly, Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov identified the veneration of rocks as a cultic ritual that was part of this Mithraic complex, resonating with the story of Mithras’s rock birth.

April 2010: Archaeologists discovered the remains of a Mithraeum in Angers, northwestern France. First constructed in the 3rd century A.D., the temple is located inside a domus, or Roman house. The temple was probably destroyed in the 4th century, as evidenced by shattered statues and signs of burning. It contains remains of a relief depicting Mithras with torchbearers and of a worn head of the god, distinguished by his Phrygian cap. The offerings included about 200 coins. Other artifacts found include Nubian terracotta figurines, a brooch, and a deer-shaped pouring device with three holes in its throat, perhaps used in an unknown rite. Unfortunately, because the area is due to be razed for housing, archaeologists may not have much more time to excavate.

2009: A Mithraeum was found in Iraq in the northern province of Dohuk. The prayer space in this Mithraeum faces the sun, says Hassan Ahmed Qassim, Dohuk’s director of antiquities. Such a location seems apt, considering Mithras was a solar deity. Qassim says that the Mithraeum’s discovery is important in understanding the historical transformation of the region. While this area was never under official Roman rule, Dohuk may have come under its influence.

2009: An Italian farmer outside Rome discovered a giant marble relief of Mithras on his property. Dating from the 2nd century, the relief had been excavated illegally. Made of Tuscan marble, it originated in the Etruscan city of Veio, about 12.4 miles from Rome. At the time, Italian police believed thieves planned to smuggle it to Japan or China through the United Arab Emirates. Weighing more than 3,000 pounds, the relief was to be sold for 500,000 euros.

2008: A Mithraeum was discovered under a modern shopping mall in Szombathely in northwestern Hungary by archaeologist Peter Kiss. This temple is the first example for Mithraism in Szombathely, though evidence for the cult has appeared elsewhere in Hungary. Thus far, the excavated area consists of an outer room and an entranceway. The temple burned down in the 4th century, as evidenced by pieces of ceiling and wall paintings found on the floor. Currently, an artistic restorer is working to recreate the shattered paintings, which used expensive pigments in their construction.

003: A Mithraeum was discovered in Lugo, called “Lucus Augusti” in Roman times, in northwestern Spain. While examining a manor house, or pazo, in an area under consideration for building expansion, workers found the Mithraeum. As it turned out, the pazo was on top of an old Roman residence. Historian Jaime Alvar theorized that the temple’s cult niche was destroyed during the Mithraeum’s construction. The temple was most active in the 3rd and 4th centuries. A granite altar found was dedicated by one C. Victorius Victorinus, who calls himself a “centurion of the Seventh Legion” in the inscription. The inscription dubs Mithras “invictus,” or “unconquered,” allying him with Sol Invictus.

2000: Daniele Manacorda of Roma Tre University found another Mithraeum in Rome, located in the Crypta Balbi at the southern end of the Campus Martius. This Mithraeum was built in the early 3rd century and used until the late 4th century. The temple has the typical Mithraic structure, though the cult niche has not yet been found. A fragment of a third-century tauroctony was discovered.

1998: Archaeologists excavated a Mithraeum at Hawarti in Syria; initial forays were made into the building the 1970s, but not completed until the ’90s. Underneath what was a Christian basilica in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., the Mithraeum was revealed when the basilica floors collapsed. By dating date of coins, pottery, and lamps to the mid-4th century A.D., archaeologists have proposed that this Mithraeum is the latest constructed of those yet found. Roger Beck characterizes the iconography of the Hawarti wall paintings as “all over the place.” He adds, “There are these strange, strange figure[s] of Mithras holding…naked, black demonic figures by chains.” He suggests that this scene represents evil overcome by good, personified by Mithras.

1993: Construction workers were clearing an area in Martigny, southern Switzerland, for apartment buildings, when, to their surprise, they found a Mithraeum built between A.D. 150 and 200. A long room with benches on either side, this Mithraeum has a podium at the end for a tauroctony and other votive objects. Dedicatory offerings here ranged from coins to an earthenware vase bearing a Greek inscription from one Theodoros to the Greek sun god Helios. This offering reinforces the notions of Mithras’s worship under various epithets.

Source: Archaeology