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.Iranian Religions & Cosmology: Manichaeism



By: Mansour Shaki



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  Sacred meal of the elect at a festival of thanksgiving for Mani (Click to enlarge)


Elements reflect the creed's strictly dualistic and incoherently eclectic doctrines. The elements are divided in two sets of antagonistic pentads, whimsically contrived; they are those of the universe of light (al-kawn al-nayyer) and those of the kingdom of darkness (al-kawn al-mozlam) The realm or paradise of light (janân al-nûr), uncreated and eternal, is composed of five light elements: ether (or zephyr, Mid. Pers. frâwahr, Parth. ardâw frawardîn, Ar. nasîm); wind (Mid. Pers. and Parth. wâd, Ar. rîh); light (Mid. Pers. and Parth. rôšn, Ar. nûr); water (Mid. Pers. and Parth. âb, Ar. mâ`); and fire (Mid. Pers. and Parth. âdur, Ar. nâr). These elements are the dwellings of the Good God, the Father of Greatness (Zurwân) and the five Manichaean Amahraspands (Parth. panj rošn). The sons or armor of the primordial Man, Ohrmazd, also dwell in the elements. Ohrmazd uses the sons to engage the prince of darkness, Ahriman (q.v.), and to fight his fateful, losing battle.


The hell of darkness ruled by the demon is also composed of five kingdoms. Each is made of one of the dark elements. They are identified as either the dark counterparts of the light elements, e.g., dark ether, wind, etc. or as foul elements such as, in descending order: smoke (or mist, Ar. zabâb), conflagration (Ar. harîq), simoom (Ar. samûm), poison (Ar. samm), darkness (Ar. zolma) (Ebn al-Nadîm, 393; Afšâr, p. 151).


The paradise of light is surrounded by an ether of light (Ar. jaww) constituting the five powers of the mind: reason (Gr. nous, Syr. haunâ, Parth. bâm), mind (Gr. e‚nnoia, Syr. madde´â, Parth. manohmêd), intelligence (Gr. phro‚nêsis, Syr. re´yânâ, Parth. ), thought (Gr. enthu‚mêsis, Syr. mahšabtâ, Parth. andêšišn), cognition (Gr. logismo‚s, Syr. tar´îtâ, Parth. parmânag). These powers also constitute the very being of the Father of Greatness, the substance of the soul, and the limbs of the divinity Great Nous. As the designations of these terms in different languages do not quite tally with one another, scholars are divided in their interpretations of them.


According to the Manichaean myth of creation, the Living Spirit (Mihr Yazd) rescued the First Man, Ohrmizdbay, from the abyss of darkness. The Living Spirit then attacks and defeats the powers of darkness, fashioning the material world from the corpses of the demons he has killed and making eight earths from their bodies and ten skies from their skins. He makes the Sun and Moon from the undefiled light, and the stars from the partially polluted light. Thus Matter (hu‚lê), which is equivalent to darkness and evil, and forms the essence of the material world, is absurdly enough used by a divinity of the realm of Light (Living Spirit, Mihr Yazd) to create the evil material world. The mundane spheres are material in this cosmogonical concept, yet water and air are immaterial.


Contrary to Zoroastrianism, the elements in Manichaeism are not emanations of the divine essence. Rather, they are uncreated and eternal principles of light and darkness. They do not conform to the cosmogonical principles of the religions which inspired Manichaeism.



A. Afšâr Šîrâzî, ed., Mânî wa dîn-e û, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956 (a complete reproduction of the Arabic and Persian sources, including two articles by S. H Taqîzâda). 

J. P. Asmussen, Xúâstvânîft: Studies in Manichaeism, Copenhagen, 1965. 

M. Boyce, Reader, pp. 4-10 (a concise account of Mânî's teachings). 

H. Jonas, Gnosis und spätantiker Geist, Göttingen, 1964. 

Ebn al-Nadîm, ed. Tajaddod, pp. 392-99. 

A. V. Williams Jackson, Researches in Manichaeism, New York, 1932. 

O. Klíma, Manis Zeit und Leben, Prague, 1962, pp. 203-16. 

H.-C. Puech, Le Maniche‚isme: Son fondateur, sa doctrine, Paris, 1949. 

G. Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, 1965. 

Idem, "Manichaeism and its Iranian Background," in Camb. Hist. Iran III/2, pp. 965-90.




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Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica


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