Sunday, November 13, 2011

On tea and the decline of Mithraism

It is not widely known, but my father was a Freemason. He left eventually due in part to creeping atheism, but during my childhood he was pretty into it and belonged to two lodges, the Royal Arch (to which his father had also belonged) and the Cake Lodge.

i particularly liked the Cake Lodge. It was as member of the Cake Lodge that my father had attained the exalted position of Steward. For this position he underwent arcane trials of which i will forever be ignorant. For the Steward performed the precise and courteous art of making the tea and serving the cakes. And the Steward was also empowered to take home the leftovers. The morning after Cake Lodge, i would awake to find a cake on my bedside cabinet - a traditional Kiwi treat, such as a Lamington or a Neenish Tart.

Even as a child i wondered about the gender aspects of this. For my mother made the tea and even baked the damn cakes and her social position never advanced one whit. It was just part of her job as wife and mother. She required no arcane training unless you count what she learned at her step mother's knee, and she received no extraordinarly thanks. It seemed that men required to be given status for what was for women quotidian, even menial.

i guess this leads to the now common and someowhat charicatured meme of men being inordinately praised for doing anything domestic. Honey, i baked a pie! Wow, well done, except that of course you used every dish in the place and spent half our week's budget - but, what the hell, it's a great pie, let's encourage him.

And this leads me quite sensibly to the decline of Mithraism. i read a book about Mithraism, which was a popular religion throughout the Roman Empire and was the main contender apart from Christianity to win citizens away from the old pagan gods. It was a men only, highly dualistic, monotheistic affair that practised social equality and was very popular among the Roman army, through which it spread. Lots of good academic words are used to ponder its decline, and the reasons Christianity replaced it. Perhaps it was too martial and strident in its strict views of good and evil. Perhaps as the Empire struggled, the army influence declined. At the margines of the Empire, other options presented themselves and Mithraism lost its impetus. Perhaps the citizenry were not ready for a classless religion where senators sat with janitors.

Well i could have told them. Mithraism died out because there was no one to make the damn tea. It was a men only religion and as i have explained above men won't make the tea unless they are given high status disproportionate to the actual task. Not only was there no one to make the tea, there was no one to organise the cleaning the blood from the temple where bulls had been sacrificed, and no one to run the children's classes and arrange the flowers and all that other stuff that women tradionally do that makes life easy and gives it a bit of class. Without those things, all there is is quaffing and lolling about.

Perhaps Freemasonry lasted so long because it recognised two things - the need for ritual and, well, bombast, and the need to get shit done. Traditionally the men did the bombast and the women did the shit. With a really hierarchical arrangement you can have both, and thus rid yourselves of the need for women. The higher up you go, the more bombast you absorb, the more you get to do shit. Like run the economy and land on the Moon. And make the tea. And then one day you get to be like some kind of 33 degree Grand Master dude, and you get to clean the dunny.

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