Ancient Mithraeum temples were rich in sacred art and imagery. The floors of the Mithraeum were often decorated in mosaic tiles, the side walls of the Mithraeum were painted with scenes from the life of Mithras, the front altar area was where the sacred Bull Slaying image was kept, and the roof of the Mithraeum was painted with an image of the night sky. Altars were carved with inscriptions and art, and there were often a variety of statues present in the temple as well. Even the ritual tools and service wear for the Sacred Meal were decorated with sacred art!
All these things helped to make the Mithraeum a unique sacred atmosphere. Mithraists were constantly reminded about the deity through which they were united. The presence of imagery was strong confirmation that Mithraism was about Mithras - and that focus on him, (rather than say, the participants) was vital.
It is, of course, possible to worship Mithras without sacred images being present. The Roman Legionary in the field, for instance, far from a Mithraeum, would of course be able to commune with Mithras through prayer and offerings at any time. Yet it cannot be denied that sacred art was important to the ancient experience and should not be ignored today.
The modern Mithraist has wonderful tools available for creating Mithraic imagery. The quickest and easiest are the computer printer or a photo copier. A quick web search for "Mithras" in the Images search engine at www.google.com will yield a wide variety of Mithraic images. These can easily be printed for personal use. If a picture from a website is too small, it can usually be enlarged on a photocopier (or color photocopier, depending on the image.)
A usual first-step toward decorating your sacred space with Mithraic art would be to put a picture of the Tauroctony over the Mithraic Altar. The Bull Slaying scene is the central icon of Mithraism, and it would be visible over the main altar in almost any Mithraeum.
Other images are nice, but not as necessary. A solitary practitioner may not have wall space near the altar for putting up other Mithraic images. If you do have the space, there are a few other "common" Mithraic scenes that can be found on the web or copied from any of a variety of books including:
Mithras Born from the Rock - The scene of a young Mithras emerging from solid rock, holding a torch (symbol of Light and spiritual power) and the knife which he will use to slay the bull.
Mithras Hunting - This scene was found most often in Eastern Mithraea. In this scene Mithras is on horseback hunting animals with a bow. Similar scenes were often found in ancient Persian art.
Mithras Obtaining Water from a Rock - This scene shows Mithras shooting an arrow at a rock, and water coming out of the rock where the arrow has hit. This miracle scene may be a reaffirmation of Mithras being able to bring forth Spirit within Matter.
Mithras Wrestling the Bull - Probably the first of the Mithras/Bull images. In this scene Mithras is wrestling the bull to subdue it. (This scene can be seen in a variety of ways - as a symbol of Spirit overcoming Matter, the Mind overcoming base emotions, etc.)
Mithras Dragging the Bull - In this image Mithras has successfully wrestled the bull, and is dragging it into a cave. This scene may represent the fact that Mithras first sought to control the Bull before finally being forced to sacrifice it.
Mithras Subduing the Bull - The first part of the Tauroctony scene. In this image, Mithras has jumped upon the back of the Bull, forced it to the ground, and has raised it's head backward. The knife is poised to strike, but has not struck yet - and Mithras is still looking at the bull.
The Tauroctony - In this scene, Mithras is in the act of sacrificing the Bull. The knife has been plunged into the Bull's shoulder, and Mithras is now looking away from the Bull. A rich bounty, usually in the form of sprouting grain, is coming from the knife wound and the tip of the Bull's tail. At the bottom of the scene a Snake, Scorpion, Raven and Dog are attacking/receiving bounty from the Bull. Often Sol (The Sun) and Luna (The Moon) are shown in the upper corners of the Scene. The image is framed on the left and right by the torchbearers, Cautes and Cautopates.
Mithras Triumphant - In this scene Mithras is shown standing over the dead bull, the knife in one hand, and a globe (symbol of world domination) in the other. Mithras is flanked by Sol and Luna. All three figures seem to be facing in the same direction, as if looking toward the future.
Sol Invictus Kneels Before Mithras - In this scene, Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, kneels in submission to Mithras. In some scenes his hands are held out in supplication, and Mithras is crowing him with a Phrygian Cap. The exact meaning of this scene is unclear, but it may show that Mithras has gained spiritual pre-eminence from successfully completing his Earthly tasks.
Sol and Mithras Feasting - In this scene, the bounty of the Bull is being shared. Mithras and Sol are feasting upon the Bull, and the skin of the bull is stretched out over a table. In some scenes this is done as a Roman feast, with other participants, (such as a Roman soldier) present. It is known that Mithraic rituals included a sacred feast, and this image is likely associated with it.
The Ascension - In this scene Mithras has completed his Earthly duties, and now returns to the heavens with Sol Invictus. In some images they ride together in the Chariot of the Sun, in others Mithras runs beside the chariot.
Ancient Mithraea were decorated with some or all of these scenes, depending on how much the Mithraic group could afford, and what area of the world the Mithraeum was in. Some imagery was different as seen through local tradition and culture. The Mithraea also had a wide variety of other images not mentioned here, such as imagery of other deities, and other less common Mithraic symbols.
Producing Mithraic Art
Ancient Mithraic art was produced in a variety of mediums, most usually involving painting, mosaic and sculpture. Almost any art form can be used to produce original Mithraic art if you have the skills. Art was often dedicated to the Mithraeum as an offering by individual members of the group, and this is a good way to do something on behalf of the God even if you practice alone.
Painting, drawing, sculpture, mosaic, carving, and even etching images are good possibilities for Mithraic art. Reproducing the traditional images of Mithraism can be a way to feel more involved with the spiritual process, and also make your practice more enjoyable.