When it comes to criticizing religion, creatives are treading in difficult territory and likely to offend a lot of people. One way to reduce this problem would be to use a fictional religion, but an interesting alternative could be to use a real, but ancient, belief system. Ridley Scott’s HBO series combines elements of both of these tropes in its depiction of religion and religious conflict.
Raised by wolves is a complex work of science fiction that deals with many complex issues. While much of it explores questions about the humanity of artificially intelligent beings, its human characters remain embroiled in a seemingly eternal religious war. It was this conflict that rendered planet Earth uninhabitable and drove what remains of humanity to Kepler-22b, kicking off the series. Yet even on this distant planet, the conflict remains.
The History of Mithraism
In the real world
Mithraism is, or was, a true religion that emerged throughout Rome from the 1st to 4th centuries AD. The religion, like all indigenous belief systems of the time, was considered an enemy of Christianity and was violently persecuted by the church, leaving no trace by the end of the 4th century. It featured a tiered initiation system and a variety of grand celebratory ceremonies. Devotees gathered in underground temples called Mithraeum, where they praised an Iranian sun deity called Mithra, who was honored as the patron deity of the Roman Emperor. Mithraism existed before Zoroastrianism, blending Iranian and Mediterranean groups into a common faith. There are over 1,000 plays from antiquity depicting the iconic scenes of Mithras that remain present, but there is not a single piece of theology written for the sect available today. This makes divining much of their cult difficult, but fortunately, Raised by wolves chose to take little aside from the name.
In Raised by Wolves
Most of what is known about Mithraic’s history from the series comes before the series and is depicted in flashbacks. Since the show takes place after the events of the war, leaving only a small detachment of Mithraic, the major events need to be remembered. Currently, viewers know that Mithraism rose to prominence in the 22nd century, becoming something of the largest and most powerful religious group on Earth. The series doesn’t go into great detail about how Mithraism overthrew the world’s other major religions, including the one that snuffed it out 1800 years earlier. The Mithraics waged war against the atheists and won an undisputed victory – but which came at such a price that the victory was in vain. The Mithraic’s greatest weapon were the Necromancers, indestructible murderous androids with the power of flight and the ability to instantly vaporize all natural life. After successfully defeating the atheists, they quickly discovered that they had wiped out their home planet in the process. The Mithraic responded by charging the Ark of Heaven to flee to Kepler-22b.
Once there, the Ark found their new farm occupied by a pair of androids and their small family. The remaining Mithraics were suddenly and disastrously introduced to the power of their own weapons as Mother, a reprogrammed necromancer, single-handedly destroys the ship and slaughters its crew. During the remainder of the show, religious conflict continues on a relatively minute scale between the remaining Mithraic soldiers and the atheist collective on the other side of the planet.
By season two, the Mithraics are almost entirely represented by converted trickster Marcus Drusus and his vengeful former ally Lucius. The handful of remaining Mithraics swoon in faith, as the characters steadily abandon or rejoin their belief in their god.
The Mithraic in Raised by wolves worshiping Sol, another sun god who is a combination of Mithras and Sol Invictus. Their belief system is extremist and eliminationist: those who believe that everyone who is not a member of the faith is deviant and must be purged. Marcus and company preach on “light” and against “darkness”; everything is centered on the sun and its deified power. Much of their belief system is built around prophecy, most worshipers constantly interpret one event or another as a sign. The main proclamation states that an orphan will wield a sword, lead others to eat from a tree, and then forge a city of peace. Viewers may have already seen the Tree of Knowledge, in all its extremely obnoxious glory, in the final episodes of Season 2. Kepler 22-b continues to reveal new Mithraic artifacts, which both advance the prophecy and continue to introduce new ideas to the small sect.
While the Mithraics are technologically advanced and committed to their faith, the series continued to hint that Sol may be more than a deity. The characters have repeatedly referenced a signal from an unknown being, possibly an alien somehow interacting with the minds of humans. The series keeps a lot of secrets, but everything that happens is interpreted by the devout Mithraic as Sol’s influence. The second season ends with a whole new development for this idea. Raised by wolves features a religious group with classic traits and a very interesting mystery beneath the surface – maybe in Season 3 viewers will get a clearer picture.
MORE: Raised By Wolves’ second season improves on the first
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