posted on Jul, 23 2009 @ 01:40 AM
After much pondering and reading, these are my thoughts.
Let's roll back the clock to the ancient days of Persian Zoroastrianism. This was a sharply dualistic religion, postulating a pure battle between
good and evil for all eternity, in a kind of dynamic flux/balance.
The Persians conquered the Babylonians and over time their cultures mixed to some extent. The Babylonians had many gods, as well as deep
astronomical/astrological knowledge and theology. One result of the mixing of Persian and Babylonian ideas was Zurvanism, a "heretical" form of
Zoroastrianism that postulated a higher god over the realms of good and evil. In this view, good and evil were not the supreme forces but rather
"brothers" spawned by a higher god, Time itself. These people also had and protected very advanced ideas about astronomy and astrology, much of
which was encoded in myth as allegories and mynomics.
This offshoot of more orthodox Zoroastrianism eventually spread west in a kind of corrupted form through trade and the general drift of time, as well
as more direct contact through various wars and so on. This resulted in the Roman "mystery religion" of Mithraim. This is not a pure form of
Zurvanism but rather involves Zurvanite elements fused with other esoteric ideas floating around at the time. In Mithraism, the central image is a man
killing a bull. There is an ancient Zoroastrian belief about the evil god killing a bull, but he was "inverted" into a heroic figure through
Mithraism, perhaps representing the way Zoroastrian ideas of "pure evil" were transcended by a "higher" zurvanite God. The idea of the death of
the bull also had a more esoteric astrological meaning: the change from the astrological age of Taurus the Bull to the age of Aries the Ram. Other
astrological imagery surrounds Mithraic art...too complex to go into here, but full of images of the night sky in the form of beasts like snakes
(constellation draco), scorpions (scorpio) and so on. Mithraism also took some ideas from early Jewish mysticism, like Merkabah mysticism where one
ascended through various "halls" or levels to become purified.
Mithraism was a very popular cult in the late Roman Empire and one of the main competitors of early Christianity. The ultimate dominance of
Christianity prtetty much destroyed Mithraism, while in the east, Islam overran the final scraps of Zurvanite thought. Both these religions seemed to
disappear from the earth, but actually Mithraic ideas and imagery remaind strong in the west, in the form of Astrology and other esoteric arts
(alchemy, "high magic," etc.)
So that's how it all breaks down, IMHO. You can probably draw all sorts of side influences on things from here and there (Egyptian ideas played a big
role, for example), but I think the basic progression outlined above is the "backbone" of Western esoteric ideas. Later developments like the Kabala
and the Tarot, etc. also had an effect, but these came later in time.