The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
The Religion of Zurvan, the God of Infinite Time and Space
By: R.C. Zaehner
In Zoroastrianism, as the most religions, variations in theology and heresies are common. The most important of these is the Zurvanite/Zurvânism, a heresy which was developed in the late Achaemenian period.
During this period of time (6th to 4th centuries BCE), Zoroastrian had became the main religion, in Iran which was followed and promoted by the Achaemenian Emperors.
The basic heresy is the creation of the god Zurvan (Eternal Time) who begets his sons Ohrmazd and Ahriman. As Boyce (1979: 69) notes, "by declaring that Ohrmazd and Ahriman are brothers, the Zurvanites betrayed Zoroaster's fundamental doctrine that good and evil are utterly separate and distinct by origin and nature."
The name Zurvan means Time, and our knowledge of the heresy comes only from non-Zoroastrian sources. The heresy developed from the argument that if there were primal twins, then there must also have been a creator father and the only possible father was Zurvan.
Boyce argues that Zurvanism was a deeply entrenched heresy which was to later weaken Zoroastrianism in its struggles with Christianity and Islam, (Boyce, 1979, p. 69). It is also accepted that the heresy enjoyed Sasanian royal patronage, a fact which would help to explain its influence on many Gnostic faiths. The Zurvanite heresy disappeared some centuries after the invasion of Iran by Arab forces and arrival of Islam in Iran in the mid 7th century CE.
The cult of Zurvan appears to have had few rituals, as Zurvan was believed to have been a remote being, entrusting power in the world to Ohrmazd. The Zurvanite belief system produced no change in existing Zoroastrian worship.
THE VARIETIES OF ZURVANISM
The pahlavi words for 'spiritual' and 'material' are, in this context, menok and geteh, and they derive from the Avestan words mainyu and gaethya. Mainyu derives from the same root as Latin mens and our own mind: it is what thinks, chooses, and wills-what distinguishes the purely spiritual gods as well as man from all the rest of creation. Gaethya derives from a root gay-, jay-, meaning 'to live'; it means anything that is possessed of physical life, and since all material things were regarded by the Zoroastrians of the 'catholic' period as being in some sense alive, gaethya came to mean 'material'. The two words, then, corresponded exactly to what is called 'spiritual' and 'material' in other Near Eastern religions.
With the introduction of Aristotelian terminology, however, these simple religious concepts became confused. 'Matter', for Aristotle, was of itself so nebulous a concept that it could hardly be said to exist at all until it received 'form'. Thus the classic pair of opposites is, for him, not matter and spirit, but matter and form. It is true that the Iranians found suitable words other than menok and geteh to express these ideas, but they re-deifined menok and geteh in accordance with Aristotelian principles. Because the menok or spiritual side of man which included mind, will, and consciousness, was regarded as being immaterial, the word was re-defined as meaning a single, uncompounded substance without parts, invisible and intangible; and because Aristotle's 'matter' was also invisible and intangible, 'matter' in its primary unformed state was also described as menok. Thus there are three forms of menok existence, the two menoks or 'spirit' of orthodox theology, neither of which is the material cause of the material and physical world, and a third menok, which is the totally unformed primal matter of Aristotelian philosophy, the unseen source of all material things. The Armenian historian, Eznik of Kolb, noticed this discrepancy and pointed out that the Zoroastrians were divided into sects, and that among them there were some who admitted two principles only while others accepted three. In fact, even the fully orthodox account of the creation admits the existence of a third entity between Ohrmazd who dwells on high in the light and Ahriman who prowls below in the darkness: this entity is the Void, otherwise called Vay; and 'Vay' is simply the Pahlavi form of the ancient god Vayu used now to mean the 'atmosphere' that separates the heavenly lights above from the infernal darkness below. To this mythological account of the creation we shall have to return once we have considered the various philosophical interpretations of creation preserved in the Denkart. Some of these come perilously near to the position of the Zandiks or materialist Zurvanites.
Menok, we learn, used in the quite new sense of invisible and intangible primal matter, is uncompounded, and devoid of parts; it is called ras, the 'wheel'. The 'wheel' seems rather an odd name to apply to what Aristotle would have called 'primal matter' and calls for some explanation. It is, however, the word used elsewhere for the 'wheel' of heaven, the heavenly sphere in which the whole material creation is contained. This 'heavenly sphere' or firmament is thought of as comprising the whole material creation; it is the macrocosm in the image of which man, the microcosm, is made; it is the universe as it is when fully formed, the 'world' or geteh.
Matter, however, can neither be created nor destroyed; hence, primal matter, which is one, devoid of parts, and lacking all form, is also called ras, the 'wheel'. Itself eternal, it is the source of all becoming. It is infinite Time-Space, the Zurvan Akarana mentioned in the Avesta. Space is the pre-condition of matter, and Time is its eternity, and without infinite Time-Space there could have been no creation. The word 'creation', of course, implies a creator and in most of the cosmological passages in the Denkart Ohrmazd appear as the creator who fashions forth his creation from primal matter; he gives form to the formless Time-Space continuum. There are, however, two passages in which no reference at all is made to a creator; the whole process of creation is represented as an authomatic process of 'becoming' from a unitary, infinite and eternal Time-Space. Time-Space is the primal 'matter' from which all 'becoming' proceeds. 'Becoming' is perhaps not the best translation of the word bavishn which seems to stand for a state of indeterminate being from which the whole evolutionary process starts, for it is also called the 'seed' and the 'seed of seeds'. Even so it is posterior to Time-Space and originates from it. The whole process of evolution from primal matter (Time-Space) to the fully developed universe is seen as taking place in four stages. These are called 'becoming', the 'process of becoming', the 'stabilization of becoming', and finally the 'world', geteh. This scheme of things, which makes no mention of a creator God is, of course, wholly un-Zoroastrian; it is a purely materialistic and mechanistic interpretation of the universe, yet it lays claim to scriptural authority, for it uses phrase 'as is said in the Religion'. This 'Religion' is obviously not the Avesta as we know it; it can only refer to the Graeco-Indian writings imported into the Sassanian Avestan by Shapur.
This fourfold scheme of evolution, however, whatever its source, is repeated again and again in the Denkart, and efforts are made to fit it into a strictly dualist framework. The three stages that precede the emergence of the fully differentiated cosmos-becoming, the process of becoming, and the stabilization of becoming-are elsewhere equated respectively with two of the four 'natural properties', the hot and the moist; with the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth); and with organic life as manifested in animals and men. Again, 'becoming', that is, the hot and the moist, is called 'primal matter', 'unformed and the origin of all material forms'; the 'process of becoming', that is, the four elements, is 'mediary matter' or 'potential form', while the 'stabilization of becoming', defined as 'form detached from matter', is 'ultimate matter'.
To make confusion worse confounded the 'process of becoming' is also called the 'first form' and the 'stabilization of becoming' the 'second form', while living creatures are termed the 'third form'. 'Matter' and 'form' are, of course, basic to Aristotle's philosophy, but in the Denkart the author rarely seems to understand what the terms mean and uses them in an exceedingly arbitary way. The terminology is Aristotelian, but the evolutionary cosmogony we meet with seems to be peculiar to the Denkart. In substance it would seem to be nearer to Indian thought and particularly to the Maitri Upanishad, which also distinguishes three stages in the evolutionary process, than it is to Aristotle.
The two passages from the Denkart from which we have drawn these curious evolutionary ideas are thus almost indistinguishable from the mechanistic materialism of the Zandiks, for they are concerned exclusively with the development of the material world, and say nothing at all about spirit. Only in the last sentence of each is any reference made to good and evil. 'From the world (geteh),' we read, '[proceed] specific things and persons together with their respective operations, or, as the Religion says: "From the world proceeded that which grew together within both the two Spirits -righteousness and unrighteousness-"'. This, presumably, is a concession to traditional orthodoxy, but it is a strange one; for, though it mentions the 'two Spirits', that is, Ohrmazd and Ahriman (though not a word was said of them in what went before), it implies that good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, too, proceed naturally from the now fully differentiated and individuated material 'world'. We are moving in a circle of ideas in which Ohrmazd and Ahriman find no natural place.
Now, in Greek physics the four primary properties are the hot, the cold, the moist, and the dry; yet the stage called 'becoming' in our texts is equated with the hot and the moist only. Why, one wonders, should this be? The reason can only be that, in the Iranian tradition, Ohrmazd was identified with the hot and the moist, Ahriman with the cold and the dry, for 'the substance of Ohrmazd is hot and moist, bright, sweet-smelling, and light', while that of Ahriman is 'cold and dry, heavy, dark, and stinking'. So, when orthodoxy attempted to adapt the purely physical account of the evolution of the universe which they imported from Byzantium or India to their own way of thinking, they excised the cold and the dry from the group of the natural properties because they were considered to constitute the substance of Ahriman -and the material world is created by Ohrmazd, not by Ahriman. Further, of the four elements it is the air which is hot and moist according to Aristotle, and the air or wind is identical with the ancient god Vayu who, in the orthodox cosmology, has become the Void which separates the kingdom of light from the kingdom of darkness; and this Void is the raw material from which Ohrmazd forms the material universe.
The Denkart is by no means a consistent whole; least of all is it so in its description of the origins of the universe. Because this is so, we are able to register the modifications that a purely mechanistic and atheistic doctrine which was incongruously grafted on to the Avesta, underwent at the hands of the orthodox. The fourfold evolutionary scheme is accepted, but it is no longer an authomatic process. It is controlled and directed by Ohrmazd. The re-definition of menok as meaning not only the traditional 'spirit', intellect, and will', but also all that is beyond the physical senses, that is, primal matter as understood by Aristotle, is accepted; but the world no longer proceeds automatically from this primal matter which is the Time-Space continuum, but is formed by Ohrmazd in the same way that a diadem is fashioned out of gold by a goldsmith, or a spade out of iron by an iron-founder. Ras, that is, primal matter and the embodiment of Time-Space, now appears as the 'implement' which Ohrmazd wields against his eternal enemy. The material world was drawn forth from the unseen 'to strive against the author of disorderly movement (oshtapak), that is, to repel the Adversary of creation; and this has as its corollary an eternal increase in well-being. This is what it was created for.... No action undertaken by any material creature exists which is not aimed at the repulse of the author of disorderly movement. Creation, then, is God's reasoned reaction against the attack he foresees must come from the opposing side. The evolutionary process is now no longer a purely automatic process of development inherent in the very nature of matter. The 'seed' or first origin of the material world is now not from the ras or Time-Space continuum: it results 'from the creative activity of the Creator through the instrumentality of the power of Time-Space'. Time-Space is thus the instrument which God uses to bring his enemy into the open. What is more, eternal Time-Space is now identified not simply with primal matter but with the Endless Light which is Ohrmazd's eternal habitat; and creation, in its various stages, is thus seen as an ever-diminishing reflection of the divine light.
Similar ideas are developed on more strictly dualist lines in another passage in the Denkart. Here the menok or invisible world in general is described as being single and uncompounded; but within this unity, it appears, the basic polarity of light and darkness is latently present, and this polarity also includes the polarity of life and death. Through God's creative activity, creation emerges from its pristine unity into a multiplicity of compound beings, 'visible and tangible', and these again will return to their source. The original unity, however, becomes differentiated into the four natural properties of hot, moist, cold, and dry-the hot and the moist being the principle of life, and the cold and the dry being the principle of death; and it is the mere fact that the hot and the moist are naturally alive that enables them to develop in material form. The cold and the dry are sterile by nature and cannot develop any living organism. What appear to be physical manifestations of evil and were traditionally so in earlier Zoroastrianism -wolves, serpents, and heretics, for example -are rather physical manifestations of the original light possessed by an evil spirit: they are the garments put on by the demons. Now, this would appear to be almost exactly the theory of creation which Eudemus of Rhodes attributed to the Magi; for, according to him, the Magi called the whole intelligible universe (which is a unity) Space or Time, and from this unity either a good god and evil demon proceeded, or light and darkness before these. Similarly, in our Denkart passage the menok, defined as 'uncompounded' (a-ham-but), 'single' (evtak), 'invisible and intangible', divides into the menok of light and that of darkness, the first being the principle of life and the second of death. Light, life, hot and moist we know to be of the substance of Ohrmazd, and darkness, death, cold and dry are no less of the substance of Ahriman. Both, then, according to this account, proceed from the single, undifferentiated menok which we have encountered elsewhere as the ras, primal matter or Space-Time. The dualism between the two opposing Spirits is there all right, but it is a dualism that proceeds from the primal unity. This is the Zurvanite heresy in philosophical disguise.
We have seen that three types of Zurvanism were combated in Sassanian times. First there were the Zandiks, Zurvanite materialists who derived all creation from infinite Space-Time, who denied heaven and hell, did not believe in rewards and punishments, and did not admit the existence of the spiritual world. With these we are now familiar. Secondly there were the straight fatalists, and lastly the Zurvanites proper who regarded Infinite Time, in its personification as the god Zurvan, as being the father of the twin Spirits of good and evil, Ohrmazd and Ahriman.
Both the orthodox and the Zurvanite heretics regarded creation as being a limitation of infinite space and infinite time. Primal matter is reduced to an orderly cosmos, and this is the embodiment of limited time and space. Thus the cosmos is a living organism bounded by the heavenly sphere which, being itself limited time-space, controls all that is within it, for it is the soul of the world. All that takes place in the twelve thousand years which is the life-span allotted to this material creation, is, then, controlled by the sphere, and by the twelve constellations and the seven planets that inhabit it. Human destiny, then, must be in the hands of these astral powers. This was the second Zurvanite heresy -astrological fatalism- and it, too, ran directly counter to the Prophet's clear affirmation of the absolute freedom of the human will. Like all things, however, in this state of mixture of good and evil, the luminaries are divided between the good god and his enemy: the constellations or Signs of the Zodiac are on the side of Ohrmazd, whereas the planets are literally the spawn of Satan. Whatever good Ohrmazd transmits to his creatures through the constellations risks being interpreted by the malevolence of the planets and being redistributed unjustly.
'The twelve Signs of the Zodiac... are the twelve commanders on the side of Ohrmazd, and the seven planets are said to be the seven commanders on the side of Ahriman. And the seven planets oppress all creation and deliver it over to death and all manner of evil: for the twelve Signs of the Zodiac and the seven planets rule the fate of the world and direct it'.
Of the Pahlavi books that have come down to us it is the Menok i Khrat that shows the most pronounced fatalist tendencies. The orthodox themselves did not deny that one's earthly condition was ruled by fate; what they did deny was that fate could affect moral action on which man's ultimate salvation or damnation depended; these rested squarely in man's own hands. In places the Menok i Khrat comes perilously near to denying this. Fate not only determines one's earthly lot, but also one's character.
'Though [one be armed] with the valour and strength of wisdom and knowledge, yet it is not possible to strive against fate. For once a thing is fated and comes true, whether for good or the reverse, the wise man goes astray in his work, and the man of wrong knowledge becomes clever at his work; the coward becomes brave, and the brave man becomes cowardly; the energetic man becomes a sluggard, and the sluggard energetic: for, for everything that has been fated, a fit occasion arises which sweeps away all other things. [So too] when fate helps a slothful, wrong-minded, and evil man, his sloth becomes like energy, and his wrong-mindedness like wisdom, and his evil like good: and when fate opposes a wise, decent, and good man, his wisdom is turned to unwisdom and foolishness, his decency to wrong-mindedness; and his knowledge, manliness, and decency appear of no account.'
Such were the views of the Zurvanite fatalists against which the High Priest Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, struggled during the reign of Shapur II; but though he won his battle and saved the doctrine of free will for Zoroastrianism, fatalism, in the long run, triumphed over its rival; for, with the coming of Islam to Iran, it found a ready really ally, and Firdausi himself, who did more than any other man to revive the glories of their Zoroastrian past in the minds of his fellow-countrymen, paints a picture of Zoroastrianism that in no way reflects the spirit of hopeful free enterprise that is characteristic of all phases of that religion; rather he shows us a universe inexorably ruled by an ineluctable fate, subject to the revolving heavens and a pitiless Time in which all man's striving and all his heroism crumble away to dust.
Zurvanism proper, it would appear, did not receive official sanction until the reign of Yazdgird II, although it must have existed as early as the fourth century BC as the testimony of Eudemus shows. It was a heresy which, unlike the Zurvanite materialism we have discussed, originally owed nothing to the foreign accretions introduced by Shapur I. It was genuinely Iranian and Zoroastrian in that it sought to clarify the enigma of the twin Spirits which Zoroaster had left unresolved. If the Holy and Destructive Spirits, or Ohrmazd and Ahriman, as they had now become, were indeed twins, then they must have had a father; and this father, according to the Zurvanites, was Zurvan, the Zurvan Akarana of the Avesta, Infinite Time personified.
The myth of the two primeval twins who are born of Infinite Time is only attested in non-Zoroastrian and Anti-Zoroastrian sources: only the late 'Ulama-yi Islam among the Zoroastrian sources preserves it in a modified form. Among the Pahlavi books Zurvan appears as a god, and not a simply as the principle of Infinite Time, in both Zatsparam and the Menok i Khrat; he is also given a brief notice in the Bundahishn catalogue of deities. In the Denkart he never appears under his own name, but is simply referred to as 'infinite time' (zaman i akanarak).
The myth is preserved in a number of Christian sources which differ but little among themselves, and the purport of it is roughly as follows:
This is the Zurvanite myth in its crudest form, and it is strange that this myth, which was regarded by both Christian and Manichees as being typical of the Zoroastrian religion, is mentioned only once in the whole of the Pahlavi books. This one mention occurs in a passage in the Denkart which purports to be a commentary on Yasna 30.3, the very passage in which the Prophet speaks of the Holy and Destructive Spirits as twins. Even the Sassanian theologians, ignorant though they were of the sacred tongue in which the Avesta was written, must have known that this was the only possible interpretation of the Stanza in question, for it is quite one of the clearest in the Gathas. Their resolution of the dilemma was ingenious, if disingenuous. It so happens that the Avestan word eresh occurs in this stanza; and though they knew that this word meant 'rightly' and usually so translate it, they preferred on this occasion to feign ignorance and translated it with the Pahlavi word arish, which is one of the names of the demon of envy; and so it was possible for the author of the Denkart to represent the offensive doctrine as being the invention of the demons! The whole thing is passed off as being 'a proclamation of the Demon of Envy to mankind that Ohrmazd and Ahriman were to brothers in one womb'. So was the Zurvanite heresy dismissed as being the invention of devilry.
What is rather strange, however, is that though we know of the sruggle waged by Karter against the Zandiks and of Aturpat's vindication of his own orthodoxy as against the fatalists, we have no direct reference in the Pahlavi books or elsewhere to any official condemnation of mythological Zurvanism as such. This would lead us Menok i Khrat and in Zatsparam we do still find references to Zurvan which seem to presuppose at least his co-eternity with Ohrmazd and Ahriman. Thus in the former we read that Ohrmazd
fashioned his creation from his own light 'with the blessing of the Infinite Zurvan, for the Infinite Zurvan is unageing and deathless; he knows neither pain nor decay nor corruption; he has no rival, nor can he ever be put aside or deprived of his sovereignty in his proper sphere'. And again it is by the agency of Infinite Time that Ohrmazd and Ahriman enter into a solemn pact by which they limit the time in which they will do battle together for nine thousand years, this nine thousand years of warfare corresponding to the nine thousand years of earthly sovereignty
allotted to Ahriman by Zurvan in the fully Zurvanite version of the myth.
This pact is also mentioned by Zatsparam; and his introduction of the figure of Zurvan into the cosmic drama is even odder. Zatsparam starts with the classical dualist account of the creation -Ohrmazd is above in the light, and Ahriman below in the darkness, and between them is the Void. Yet when Ohrmazd begins to fashion forth his creation, he has to beg Time to aid him, for all things have need of Time; and once he has completed his creation, he is quite unable to set it in motion, for Time alone has the power to do this; and it is Zurvan-Time again who settles the terms of the pact between the two Spirits.
'Pondering on the end, [Zurvan] delivered to Ahriman an implement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal(?), black and ashen. And as he handed it to him he said: "By means of these weapons, Az (Concupiscence) will devour that which is thine, and she herself shall starve, if at the end of nine thousand years thou hast not accomplished that which thou didst threaten- to demolish the pact, to demolish Time."'
It is true neither text even hints that Zurvan is the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, or that the two Spirits are twins (Zatsparam even going so far as to affirm his belief in the two Principles through the lips of Zurvan!), yet it is Zurvan to whom Ohrmazd has to appeal for help, it is he who settles the terms of the combat, and he again who arms Ahriman with the one weapons which is certain to destroy him. No Pahlavi text, indeed, ever speaks of Zurvan's paternity of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, but they all agree that Zurvan-Time is co-eternal with them. Zurvanism, indeed, appears to have started simply as an attempt to make sense of Yasna 30.3 in which the two Spirits appear as twins, and to provide them with a father. Under Shapur I the situation is complicated by the fact that the Zandiks -Zurvanite materialists- jettisoned the whole of the ancient tradition and thought to explain the universe as emerging from an undifferentiated One -Infinite Time, which is at the same time Infinite Space and undifferentiated matter. Both doctrines were finally rejected by the orthodox, but orthodoxy itself remained unaffected by neither, and the efforts that it made to assimilate what was assimilable in these two strands of Zurvanism will be occupying our attention in the following chapters.
'I do not think that any sensible person will give credence to this idiotic doctrine, or look [favourably] on this feeble and idle religion. Yet perhaps it is a mustery of what is figured in the mind. But whoso knows the Lord Most High in his glory and majesty will not assent to such nonsense, nor lend his ears to these absurdities.'
So does the Muhammadan heresiographer, Shahristani, dismiss the Zurvanite myth, a version of which he has just retailed. Certainly as an explanation of the origin of the universe it is childish, and it is for this reason, presumably, that it is always this myth that the Christian apologists seize upon when they are attacking the Zoroastrians. 'Yet,' as Shahristani says, 'perhaps it is a mystery of what is figured in the mind.' A mystery it certainly is -the perennial mystery with which all religions are at some stage
confronted- the relationship between the infinite and the finite, the unchanging, impassive One, and the ever-changing, striving, and active many. For the religion of the Hindus this is the only worthwhile religious quest -how to arrive at the One behind the manifold; and it is quite probable that Zurvanite speculation owes a great deal to India here. Zoroaster was a prophet and, as such, concerned with life as lived in this world; his God was a living god who spoke to him face to face, an active god and the creator of all things. His heaven, too, was no condition
of timeless bliss, but an endless prolongation of life as lived on this earth, though purified of all taint of sin and all trace of sorrow. He was vitally concerned with the fact of evil, but did not seek to explain its origin. His followers, however, drifted into a fully dualist position which inevitably limited their God and made him less than infinite and less than omnipotent. Zurvanism, even in its crudest form, is an attempt to arrive at a principle which is an all-inclusive One, changeless in essence, yet the source of all change. The Muhammadan poet, Jalal
al-Din Rumi, has some beautiful lines on the mystery of creation:
This two was the dilemma of the infinite Zurvan. Zurvan-Time alone stands in need of nothing, yet all else needs him. The very 'being of all things has need of Time. Without Time one can do nothing that is or was or shall be. Time has need of none of these for anything.' So even Ohrmazd, God, the Creator, must ask Time's aid when he contemplates the act of creation, for he too needs Time, since without time action of any kind is impossible: were there no time, there would be no creation.
In purely mythological passages the archaic word Zurvanis usually used to represent the god, rather than the ordinary Persian word for 'time', zaman. The term Zurvan, however, is also used to mean the 'Infinite' or 'unqualifiable Absolute' as such. The mythological god, then, must be seen as the centre of the 'mystery' through which the unqualifiable One originates multiplicity. In the Zurvanite myth, Zurvan, like Rumi's God, desires 'that that treasure of loving-kindness and bounty should be
revealed'. The latent and potential wishes to become manifest and actual: he wishes to have 'a son whose name should be Ohrmazd and who would create heaven and earth and all that in them is'. Zurvan, however, does not create out of any super-fluity of being, for at the core of his being there is a latent defect of which he knows nothing. In the myth this is symbolized by his doubt: he sacrifices for a thousand years, and then doubts whether his sacrifice will have any effect. The sacrifice, as in Indian mythology, is also creative and results in the birth of Ohrmazd
who is also the 'Bounteous Spirit' or, more literally, the 'Spirit who brings increase', while the doubt, the Absolute's failure of nerve at the very moment when the creator is about to issue forth from him, produces the principle of evil. The 'Fall' in Zurvanism does not originate with man, it results from an imperfection, an unsureness of self, in the very heart of God. The 'One' has given birth to the 'Two', and 'in duality is evil'. The whole purpose of the cosmic drama which is about to unfold is to restore the shattered unity, but this cannot be done by trying
to re-integrate the Devil into the Absolute: it can only be done by eliminating him imperfection, his failure of nerve; and if God is ever to become perfect, he must become fully identified with Ohrmazd who personifies his essential wisdom, goodness, and light. God qua the Infinite is the source of good and evil; but God qua creator of heaven and earth proceeds from the Infinite and is absolutely good. The Godhead is divided and can only be restored by the total destruction of evil, when, with the abolition of finite Time, the Infinite and the Good
will for the first time be wholly one.
All this is to be found in the Denkart. It represent an assimilation by orthodoxy of certain Zurvanite ideas. There are, however, features in Zurvanism which are wholly incompatible with the orthodoxy of Sassanian times. The Ohrmazd of the Pahlavi books is omnipotent in the sense that he can do anything that is possible. 'His power,' indeed, 'in so far as it is confined to the possible, is limited, but in the sphere of the infinite (abrin) it is limitless. This means that in so far as he is identical with the Infinite, every potentiality is latent within him, but in so far as he acts in time, he can only do what is possible. He cannot, for instance, change the evil nature of Ahriman into good, for Ahriman, according to the orthodox, is an evil substance, and a substance is, by definition, something that can never change. In the Zurvanism presented to us by the non-Zoroastrian sources, however, Ohrmazd is neither omnipotent nor omniscient: he is not even capable of looking after his own interests. Thus he gratuitously reveals to Ahriman the secret that whichever of the twins will first present himself to their father, Zurvan, will receive the kingdom. Again, after creating heaven and earth, he can think of no way of illuminating them and has to be instructed on how to do this by a demon who is a renegade from Ahriman's camp. Similarly, Ahriman who is an evil substance for the orthodox, is, for the Zurvanites, evil by choice. He chooses the sinister weapon offered to him by Zurvan, 'like unto fire, blazing, harassing all creatures, that hath the very substance of concupiscence (Az)', and himself boasts that' "it is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And that he might give effect to his words, he created the peacock.' This is a genuine, and a fundamental, difference between Zurvanism and orthodoxy, and a Christian convert from Zoroastrianism can thus taunt his inquisitors with these words: 'Should we, then, try to please Ahriman who, according to what you yourselves say, appears wise, knowing, and mighty from his works, just as Ohrmazd appears weak and stupid, for he could create nothing till he had learnt from the disciples of Ahriman.'
In asserting that the twin Spirits were good and evil by choice the Zurvanites were nearer Zoroaster's own views than were the latter-day orthodox, but in attributing less than omnipotence and omniscience to Ohrmazd they stray very far indeed from the path that he had traced. Moreover, in the Zurvanite mythology Ahriman is granted far more power to do harm in this world than the orthodox would concede. Zurvan had promised to make the first of the twins which came before him king, and, because his essential nature is
rectitude, he cannot go back on his word. Ahriman, then, becomes Prince of this World for nine thousand years, whereas Ohrmazd reigns only in heaven above him. The orthodox are more optimistic, for during the nine thousand years in which good and evil are mingled together and strive with each other in this world 'three thousand years will pass entirely according to the will of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman and [Ohrmazd] himself will save creation from aggression.'
Thus, apart from the all-important question of origins, orthodoxy and Zurvanism differ in three main respects. In Zurvanism, first, the twin Spirits are good and evil by choice rather than in substance. Secondly, Ohrmazd is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, whereas for orthodoxy he is both, limited though he is by the opposite principle. Thirdly, in Zurvanism Ahriman not only displays the signs of a lively intelligence, but also enjoys the undisputed sovereignty of this world for nine thousand years, whereas for orthodoxy it is his slowness is knowledge and wrong-mindedness, his sheer stupidity, that, despite his aggressive power and lust for destruction, finally brings about his ruin.
The question of origins divides the two parties less sharply, for while the orthodox flatly deny that 'Ohrmazd and Ahriman were two brothers in one womb', they would perhaps not have objected to some such formula as this: Ohrmazd and Ahriman co-exist from all eternity in Infinite Time, but their respective good and evil natures become manifested and actualized only when Infinite Time which knows neither past, present, nor future, passes into finite time; at the end, finite time will be reabsorbed into the Infinite, and with the cessation of finite time Ahriman will be finally and totally incapacitated, whereas Ohrmazd and all his creation will pass again into a state of pure timeless which is eternal rest and eternal bliss.
Before we pass on to this philosophical synthesis, however, we must say something of some variant forms of Zurvanism which have left traces in the Pahlavi books and are also attested in non-Zoroastrian writers. The starting point of the Zurvanite cosmology is closely akin to that of the cosmologies we find in the Upanishads in India. In the beginning is the undifferentiable One from which all duality and all pairs of opposites proceed. From it proceed not only light and darkness, good and evil, hot and cold, moist and dry, but also that most basic of all polarities -the polarity of male and female. Zurvan himself was originally bisexual; and his full name may well have been Zurvan i Khwashkhwarrik, 'Zurvan whose Khwarenah or fortune is fair'; for a person of the name of Khwashkhwarrik is once said to be the mother of Ohrmazd and Ahriman. This, however, denotes no absolute differentiation of sex, for even those sources which speak of a mother's womb in which the twins are contained later speak of Zurvan as father and mother: as Zurvan he is father, as Khwashkhwarrik he is mother.
In the 'Ulama-yi Islam, Zurvan does not give birth to Ohrmazd and Ahriman directly. He first 'created fire and water, and when he had brought them together, Ohrmazd came into existence'. Thus the first duality to emerge from the One was tha of a male element, fire, and a female element, water; for fire is the male principle, water the female, and they are brother and sister, husband and wife. Of the origin of Ahriman no more is said than that he was created by Zurvan. The duality of good and evil is, then, secondary to the duality of sex. The same scheme of things appears in the account of Zoroastrianism attributed to Eudemus of Rhodes, in which Space or Time produces light and darkness first, Ohrmazd and Ahriman second; whereas Hyppolytus tells us that according to Zoroaster there are two first principles, a male and a female. The male is light, the female dark, and the 'parts' of light are hot, dry, light, and swift, while the parts of darkness are cold, moist, heavy, and slow. 'The whole universe consists of these, the female and the male.' So, too, the Denkart tells us that 'all material becoming, ripening, and order proceed from the coming together in due proportion of water, the female, and fire, the male'. Hippolytus also tells us that Zoroaster considered that the universe had originated from two demons, the one celestial and the other terrestrial. The latter is water and has its source in the earth, while the former is fire mixed with air.
Water is the moist element par excellence, fire the hot, the quality of cold being subsidiary in the case of water, that of dryness in that of fire. Ohrmazd, who is described as being 'hot and moist', derives, then, from the primary qualities of the sacred elements, Ahriman, moreover, cannot create any material thing because cold and dryness are the qualities of death. Ohrmazd, on the other hand, can do so because his qualities are the qualities of life. So we find in the Denkart that the menok or invisible and intangible principle of light and the menok of darkness emerge from a single, uncompounded menok elsewhere identified with ras, the 'Wheel', itself identical with primal matter or infinite Space-Time. 'The menok of light, because it has the properties of the hot and the moist, that is, the very nature of life, can evolve from a state of uncompounded menok existence (bavishn) to a state of compounded existence which is material (geteh)...while the menok of darkness, because it is cold and dry, the [very] substance of death and meet for damnation, cannot develop into compounded existence or take on material form.' This is pure Zurvanism in philosophical rather than mythological form. Ohrmazd and Ahriman, the Spirit of light and the Spirit of darkness, emerge from the simple, uncompounded One, the one taking on the qualities of heat and moisture which are the positive side of the elements, fire and water, and the source of life, the other receiving only the negative, cold and dryness, the ingredients of death. Seen in this light Ahriman is not only the source of death: he is the very substance of death -and what is dead cannot be said to be. Hence it is possible to say that sub specie aeternitatis 'Ahriman is not': 'he was not eternally nor will he be'.
This would appear to be a far cry from orthodoxy which maintained that both Ohrmazd and Ahriman are substances that exist from the beginning. Philosophically, however, it can be justified in this way: Ohrmazd is eternal being and therefore must exist in actu, not merely potentially. Ahriman, on the other hand, can only attain the semblance of being in finite time since in eternity he is not. His actualization depends on the nature of eternal being itself. This being is the simple, uncompounded One, in other words, Zurvan, who, as infinite Space-Time, contains all potentialities within him. Zurvan's doubt in the myth is the mythological representation of an etential flaw in the godhead: the birth of Ahriman represents the actualization of that flaw, and with the actualization of Ahriman, Time and Space too assume a finite form, for finite space and time are in a sense a lapse from the perfect state of infinitude; and it is therefore logical that Ahriman should be lord of the temporal world for as long as it lasts, and it is logical it is logical that Ohrmazd who, as eternal Being, is one with Zurvan, but who is greater than he in that he is also eternal Wisdom, should be separated out from him as soon as Zurvan's inherent defect makes itself manifest. This gives new meaning to the myth of Zurvan and also explains how two versions of it persisted side by side. For beside the myth of Zurvan and the twin Spirits that proceed from him we have that other story in which it is Ohrmazd, in this context, simply called Yazdan, 'God', who has an evil thought, that it is to say, he considers the possibility of what it would be like to have an adversary, and from this unworthy thought Ahriman, the Adversary, is actualized.
It is interesting to note that this sect should call itself the 'sect of Gayomart', thereby claiming for itself an immemorial antiquity, for Gayomart is the first man among the Zoroastrians. This, they claimed, was the original doctrine to which the Magi adhered before the coming of Zoroaster. They differ from the Zurvanites in this, that they wholly eliminate Zurvan-Time and have no preoccupations about the infinite. By claiming a revelation older than Zoroaster's they thereby dissociated themselves from the Prophet, and in this they may or may not have done rightly; for though we know that both the orthodox and that wing of the Zurvanites which considered itself to be orthodox, held the absolute goodness of Ohrmazd, the God they worshipped, to be fundamental to their faith, we do not know how far the Prophet would have gone with either party. It is not impossible that the 'sect of Gayomart' more nearly represented the Prophet's own views, though he would have been shocked at the crude manner of their expression.
We have seen that Ohrmazd is identified with the hot and the moist in the natural order, Ahriman with the cold and the dry. Between them, then, they share the four natural properties recognized by Aristotle. The simple, undifferentiated One, then, from whom they proceed, must possess all four potentia. Theodore bar Konai, a Christian writer of the seventh century, tells us that Zoroaster recognized four principles which resembled the four elements and whose names were Ashoqar, Frashoqar, Zaroqar, and Zurvan. If this account is to be brought into relation with the semi-Zurvanite fragments preserved in the Denkart, then we would expect these four 'principles' to correspond to the four natural properties from which the elements proceed. The words Ashoqar, Frashoqar and Zaroqar mean 'he who makes virile', 'he who makes excellent', and 'he who makes old', whereas the word Zurvan had in popular parlance come to mean 'old age'. Ashoqar and Frashoqar, then, would represent the polarity of life, Zaroqar and Zurvan the polarity of death. In the Infinite they are no more than potentialities: in finite time they will be actualized as the hot and the moist, the Spirit of life, and the cold and the dry, the Spirit of death.
All that has occured so far in the cosmic drama belongs to the order of nature (Chihr). Sassanian Zoroastrianism, however, distinguishes two orders, the order of nature and the order of intellect and will (akhw): these correspond more or less exactly to the Avestan mainyu and gaethya. Time and space, whether infinite or finite, are of the order of nature and therefore unconcerned with human virtue and human wickedness. Ohrmazd, however, is not only eternal and infinite in time, he is also possessed of perfect wisdom. The Godhead, in its totally, is then infinite in time, infinite in space, and infinite in wisdom. We have seen how the Spirit of light and the Spirit of darkness proceed from the undifferentiated One, and how the first is life and the second death -life and death, of course, belonging to the order of nature, not to that of will. How, then, did the intellect develop out of the One?
Before we attempt to answer this question, however, we must consider briefly the relationship between the infinite and the finite as this was understood by the Zoroastrians. The majority were content to say that the one developed out of the other or that Ohrmazd 'fashioned forth' finite Time from Infinite Time. Mardan-Farrukh, however, thought differently, for he was an extreme dualist and goes far beyond the Denkart in his eagerness to eliminate all trace of Zurvanism from the Zoroastrian faith. He admits, indeed, that there is such a thing as the infinite: both space and time are infinite, and nothing else. The infinite, moreover, is without parts, and it cannot, then, be the source of composite beings: there is no possible link between them. No finite thing, then, can have an infinite dimension, it can have no part in what he calls the Zurvanic substance. Moreover, the infinite is by definition incomprehensible, ans so it cannot be comprehended even by God for 'if he were infinite, he would be unaware of it'. Both God and the Devil, Ohrmazd and Ahriman, then are finite, for only so can God be said to understand and know his own being. All that can be said of the infinite is that it is 'that without which nothing from the first is. Nothing can exist without it or separate from it. But in so far as it is infinite, it cannot be understood.' Infinite Time-Space is an incomprehensible and uncomprehending mystery. To speculate on just how the finite proceeds from it (which Mardan-Farrukh denies anyhow) is a pure waste of time.
'So what, pray,' he goes on to say, 'is the point of stupidly discussing something one does not know, of disputing and bandying words, and so deceiving the immature and those of immature intelligence? If one fatuously asserts that its essence is infinite and that its knowledge is infinite, and that with its infinite knowledge it knows that it is infinite, that is false and doubly false.... Knowledge can only be predicated of a thing that is within the scope of, and comprehensible to, the intellect,'
The radical treatment of the relationship of finite to infinite and the round assertion that Ohrmazd himself is finite, is peculiar to Mardan-Farrukh, and in this respect he deviates from the orthodox norm. The orthodox view of the limitation of space and time is that they are hewn out of a pre-existing infinite substance by God. For the Denkart the process is sometimes automatic, sometimes pat datar abhurishn, 'through the fashioning of the Creator'. The world is formed by God rather as a diadem is fashioned by a goldsmith out of gold. Time-Space is thereby actualized as the universe of nature, while the actualization of the intellect, the faculty of knowing, develops simultaneously along parallel lines.
Time and Space 'on which the material world is [founded]' are the indispensible prerequisites for the existence of the material universe. 'Knowledge' is an equally indispensable prerequisite for the existence both of the intelligent subject and an intelligible universe. We have seen how the material world in all its variety developed from the undifferentiated One or infinite Space. Such a development, however, presupposes the existence of finite time, and this too comes into being and progresses on similar lines. Finite time, moreover, is the
prerequisite of action of any kind, whether 'natural' or 'voluntary'. 'Infinite Time', that is, timeless, can be considered as action in potentia: and 'action in potentia' is also 'the original seed the Avestan name of which is arshnotachin ('the seminal flow'); from this:
So much, then, for the evolution of the world of nature -the material cosmos- from infinite Time-Space into a finite mode of exisyence, its passage from potency into act. What of the order of intellect and will? How does consciousness arise? The Denkart gives the answer, and it is so interesting that we must quote it in full:
Of knowledge (lit. 'the condition of being a knower') thus is it taught. By the Creator's marvellous power, in infinite Time and by its power knowledge came to know (the immutability of Ohrmazd's essence depends of Infinite Time). From this [act of knowing] resulted the rising up of the Aggressor, unwilled [by Ohrmazd], to destroy the essence [of Ohrmazd] (i.e. his immutability) and his attributes, by means of false speech. The immediate result of this was that [Ohrmazd]'s essence and attributes turned back [into themselves] in order to [come to] know their own ground. So much knowing was necessary for the Creator [himself] to rise up for the creative act. The first effect of this rising up was the Endless Light. From the Endless Light is the Spirit of Truth which derives from Wisdom (knowledge) because it has the potentiality of growing into the knowledge of all things. By knowing all things he has power to do all he wills. Thence creation and the Aggressor's deafeat thereby, the return of creation to its proper sphere of action, and the eternal rule of Ohrmazd in the perfect joy; for it is he who is the origin of good things, the source of good, the seed and potentiality (or power) of all that is good. All good creatures are from him as a first effect by creation or by emanation, as sheen is from shining, shining from brilliance, brilliance from light.'
Ohrmazd, in this passage, is conceived of primilarily as 'Wisdom', that is, the faculty of knowing. He is also immutable being in virtue of the fact that his habitat is Infinite Time, the Absolute. As Wisdom and the knowing faculty he is latent and potential only: he is not yet actualized. This groping awareness seeks an object outside itself, and, finding none, an object generates itself without God willing it, and this self-generated object is none other than Ahriman, the Aggressor, whose object now is to destroy God's essence which is his immutable being. He seeks to imprison the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the temporal, God in the world. His aim is nothing less than to do away with unconditioned being. Thus Ahriman originates in Ohrmazd's accession to consciousness: in Jungian terminology, the dim dawn of consciousness from the unconscious engendered the 'shadow' or dark side of the divine personality. The awakening of the divine consciousness in Ohrmazd is the equivalent of Zurvan's doubt in the Zurvanite myth, and this initial failure to reach full self-consciousness puts Ohrmazd into mortal peril; he risks the loss of his very essence, eternal being which he now sees to be identical with eternal knowing or eternal Wisdom. Hence he makes an effort of total introspection -his 'essence and attributes turned back [into themselves] in order to [come to] know their own ground'. In order to eliminate the destructive element engendered by incomplete knowledge Ohrmazd must first know himself as he is: he must do what Mardan-Farrukh said no one, not even God, could do-he must know himself as infinite and as possessed of infinite knowledge, and this self-knowledge alone will enable him to 'rise up for the creative act'. This saving knowledge engenders endless light, for light, as always, is the symbol of spiritual illumination or insight. This is the light of Wisdom which is proper to the nature of Ohrmazd, that same Wisdom which 'descends from the light on to the earth and by which [men] see and think well', and this Wisdom is identical with the Good Religion. From this Light of Wisdom proceeds the Spirit of Truth which enables Ohrmazd to know all things as they are. By knowing himself and knowing his Adversary too he knows he must create or emanate the universe, if his Adversary is to be defeated; but he also creates because he knows himself as good, and the 'definition of goodness is that which of itself develops'; so God himself must develop and 'grow into the knowledge of all things'.
The whole of this remarkable passage is Zurvanite rather than Mazdean, first because the 'Endless Light' is here originated, not eternal as it is in all the strictly orthodox texts, and secondly because the divine personality is composed not of God, Time, Wisdom, and Light (=Ohrmazd), but of God, Time, potential Wisdom, and Space, from which alone the Endless Light can originate; and all this adds up not to Ohrmazd, but to Zurvan.
From the One, then, finite time and finite space, which together add up to the material world, are actualized in the order of nature, consciousness, thought, and a sense of purpose in the order of intellect and will. The conditions of creation are now fulfilled, and Ohrmazd creates heaven and earth as his first line of defence against the Aggressor. Finite time is destined to last twelve thousand years, at the end of which it merges again into its source which is the Infinite, and action merges into rest from which it sprang. But the universe created by Ohrmazd in all its infinite variety does not revert to its own source which is the undifferentiated One or primal matter. All creation is dependent on Infinite Time, and as such it must partake of eternity. So it can be confidently stated that 'those things which Ohrmazd created at the original creation do not change'. For Ohrmazd, in creating finite beings to do battle with Ahriman, who can only exist and operate on the finite level, gives them an infinite dimension; and just as Time, Space, Wisdom, and Ohrmazd himself are eternal and immutable, so is all that he creates out of them. All the good creation, then, has an eternal substrate which will be realized at the end of time as eternal well-being and bliss. This constitutes the 'Final Body'- the body of a universe renewed and perfected because finally purged of the malice and corruption of the Aggressor. This 'body' continues to exist in all its variety, and within it exist in harmony the resurrected bodies, now once again united to their souls, of all men reconstituted and transfigured. It is true that every material thing was elicited from the potentiality of matter and every spiritual thing from the potentiality of spirit, but in the end 'possessed of image and body (adhvenakomand ut karpomand) they will be reunited to their souls, all undefiled, and together with their souls they will be made immortal, reconstituted as eternal beings in perfect bliss'. The end of the cosmic drama, then, is not just a return to the status quo ante, a reversion to a state of pure undifferentiated being, it means rather that every separate creature has grown and developed to its highest capacity, it has become its final cause, the sum-total of all its good thoughts, words, and deeds, what the Iranian call its Khwarenah, or Khwarr as it is now called in Pahlavi. This glorious state it achieves on its own account certainly, but also in full union and harmony with the whole human race which itself is transfigured in the beatific vision of God. Life in Infinite Time is thus a life of union and communion both with God and with the whole of his creation now finally released from all the torments inflicted on it by the Fiend. He and his entire creation will be utterly destroyed. This constitutes the purpose of life for the Zoroastrian, whether he be, in his mythology and philosophy, an orthodox dualist or a Zurvanite.
We have seen how the Denkart tries to achieve a philosophical synthesis between orthodox dualism and Zurvanism, and how it seeks to identify Ohrmazd with Infinite Time, Ahriman with finite Time. Mythologically, however, the two wings of Zoroastrianism are not so easily reconciled.
In Zatsparam there is a very strange myth concerning Zurvan which we have already quoted, but which must be quoted again in our present context.
'Pondering on the end [Zurvan] delivered to Ahriman an impiement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal (?), black and ashen. And as he handed it to him, he said: "By means of these weapons, Az (concupiscence) will devour that which is thine, and she herself shall starve, if at the end of nine thousand years thou hast not accomplished that which thou didst threaten, to demolish the pact, to demolish Time."'
Or in slightly deifferent words we read:
This obviously forms part of the original Zurvanite myth and is preserved only by Zatsparam who, as we have seen, had Zurvanite tendencies. Even he, however, will not go so far as to say that Zurvan was the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman; he simply allows him to appear on the scene unexplained. It is, however, Zurvan who offers Ahriman the 'weapon of Concupiscence' by which he and his creation will be ultimately destroyed, and Ahriman chooses it of his own free will 'as his very essence'. It would, then, be reasonable to suppose that Zurvan armed Ohrmazd with a similar weapon -a weapon that would ensure his victory over his enemy. Such a weapon we do find again and again mentioned in the Pahlavi texts, but in no case does Zurvan give it to Ohrmazd. The reason is, no doubt, that the authors of the Pahlavi books were unwilling to represent Ohrmazd as being in any way dependent on, or inferior to, Zurvan. So we find that the Denkart speaks of Ahriman's weapon being bestowed on him 'through Time from its decisive dispension that orders aright', but in the case of Ohrmazd his weapon or robe was 'bestowed on him by his own dispension through finite Time'. It would, then, seem to be abundantly clear that in the original legend both weapon or robes must have been in the gift of Zurvan-Time. In the Bundahishn an attempt is made to fit this episode into an orthodox dualist scheme of things. Thus, in the case of Ahriman, too, the sinister weapon which Ahriman chooses is no longer proffered to him by Zurvan: rather, 'from the material darkness which is his own essence the Destructive Spirit fashioned forth the body of his creation in the form of coal(?), black and ashen, worthy of the darkness, damned as the most sinful noxious beast.' So too we learn of Ohrmazd that 'from his own essence which is material light he fashioned forth the form of his creatures -a form of fire- bright, white, round, and manifest afar.' This is the dualist account of the affair. In the true Zurvanite version, however, it must have been Zurvan-Time who armed his two sons with their respective weapons, robes, or forms, which they, in their turn, chose of their own free will. This doctrine of the choice granted to the Spirits the orthodox regarded as being heretical, and their own term for this type of Zurvanism appears to have been Zoishik, 'belief in the free choice [of Ohrmazd and Ahriman]'.
Zurvan-Time, then, in the Zurvanite account, will himself have armed the two Spirits with their respective weapons, and we shall now have to consider a little more carefully what these weapons were. We have seen that in the Denkart Ahriman is regarded as being an entirely spiritual being and that the matter with which evil spirits are clothed is borrowed from another source, and that this derives ultimately from infinite Space-Time, mythologically represented by Zurvan. The 'power of Zurvan', then, which the baleful weapon handed to Ahriman contains, is probably no more than materially -in the case of Ahriman material darkness, in the case of Ohrmazd material light; these are the two physical weapons with which the two Spirits will fight.
These weapons, however, also have a spiritual side: they have soul as well as body. Ohrmazd's weapon is called the 'Endless Form', and it is in fact the whole material creation contained within the circle of the sky. It was fashioned from the Endless Light, and it is twofold. On the one hand it contains the spiritual creation, on the other the material creation.
'In the spiritual creation the Spirit of the Power of the Word was contained; and in the material creation the Spirit of the Power of Nature was contained, and it settled [in it]. The instrument which contains the spiritual creation was made perfect, and the spiritual gods of the Word were separated out from it, each for his own function, to perform those activities which were necessary for the creation that was within the instrument. And within the instrument which contains the material creation the marvellous Spirit of the Power of Nature was united to the kingdom of the Spirit of the Power of the Word through the will of the Creator.'
Nature and spirit, that is, matter and spirit are thus united to form the cosmos, and the cosmos is the 'Wheel', the heavenly sphere, the embodiment of the finite Zurvan. As the Infinite, Zurvan is the father of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman; as the finite he is the weapon of the one as well as of the other. Thus the 'weapons' he gives his sons are himself in finite form. All that is good in him he gives to Ohrmazd; what is evil he gives to Ahriman, for Az is not only concupiscence, greed, and lust, it is also Varan, which means not only sexual desire but also religious doubt. Az, then, in this myth, must represent Zurvan's doubt -that essential imperfection which lurked deep down in the godhead and, in the course of what perhaps we should call 'aeveternity', took shape and materialized in the form of Ahriman. Zurvan expiates his original sin by becoming embodied in the cosmos and suffering the evil effects of his sin to work themselves out in his own body. In this he, as macrocosm, prefigures the fate of each individual man; and just as he controls human destinies, so does the collective consciousness of mankind -the union of the Fravashis or external souls -control him.
The macrocosm, Zurvan's body, is ensouled by the Spirit of the Power of the Word which appears to be identical with that Wisdom which fosters and protects it. Finite Space-Time, then, which is Ohrmazd's 'creation' and the weapon he had received from Zurvan, is animated and guided by Wisdom or reason. And just as Ohrmazd received light and Wisdom from Zurvan, so did Ahriman receive Az-Concupiscence; and it is with this weapon that he attacks both the 'natural' or material side of Ohrmazd's creation and the 'spiritual' side, the domain of intellect and will. Az, as we have seen, comprises both natural concupiscence and what the Marxists call 'incorrect thinking'. Zatsparam, however, who alone among our sources preserves the myth, knows nothing of the latter; for him Az is simply the instinctual side of man. Her nature is threefold and consists of eating, sexual desire, 'and yearning for whatever good thing one sees or hears'. The Denkart, however, has a fuller account of the activities of this very considerable demon. Man's 'humanity' is defined as a combination of life which he has from nature and knowledge which is of the intellect and will. He is by nature disposed to nourish his own body and to cultivate the religious knowledge which is ingrained in him and which spurs him on to virtue. Az is the power that perverts both his natural and his voluntary drives. Heresy, then, and sensuality are both manifestations of Az. Nature and will, and will and intellect, should all work together, but Az seeks to drive a wedge between them. Her essential activity is 'disorderly motion' or 'disruption' (oshtap), and the whole purpose of the creation of the world is to eliminate this element of instability with which Ahriman has armed himself. Az is the enemy both of the natural order (chihr) and of reason (khrat). As the enemy of the natural order and of life, she also causes death.
'In the mixed state life as a general rule is maintained in the body by the continuous working of the natural functions in the body; and this continuous working of the natural functions is up against the "natural" Az. Az, faced as she is by the natural functions, seeks to destroy them: she withholds Hurdat and Amurdat, [that is to say,] she cuts of food and drink from the natural functions. Nature is the ally [of the body], Az its enemy. When Hurdat and Amurdat, that is, food and drink, are cut off from the natural functions, the latter, deprived of any ally and being in the grip of Az, are destroyed, and life can no longer be maintained in the body; and since this is so, the body is ripe for death.'
Az, then, the demon of concupiscence, is also the demon of death, and in this she is akin to the finite Zurvan of whose evil side she is indeed the earthly manifestation. For Zurvan, as father Time, is seen as the author of both life and death, and since it is death that invariably and inevitably extinguishes individual life, he is primarily thought of as death. In the Avesta, where he is still a very shadowy figure, he controls the path along which the souls of the dead must travel on their way to the Judgement. '[The souls of] wicked and righteous alike proceed along the paths created by Zurvan to the Bridge of the Requiter created by Mazdah.' In the Gathas it is Ahriman who brings death into the world; in Zurvanism Zurvan arms Ahriman with Az, the principle of death as well as of concupiscence, while he arms Ohrmazd with the material world which is his own body and which is destined for immortality once the course of Az has been expelled.
Az is the principle of disorder that has invaded the natural order: she is excess and deficiency as opposed to the Mean. But she would seem to be very much more than this; for basically she is desire-hunger and thirst on the one hand and sexual desire on the other. As such she is the very precondition of physical life as well as of physical death; and in this she closely resembles her Manichaean namesake, for in the Manichaean texts Az is the Persian word used to translate the Greek hyle, 'matter'.
Zoroastrianism, however, even its Zurvanite manifestation, is very different from Manichaeism. For the Manichees 'matter' and 'concupiscence' are interchangeable terms: they are both the 'disorderly motion that is in every existent thing' and, as such, the principle that militates against eternal life. But in Zoroastrianism, whether Zurvanite or orthodox, matter and concupiscence are not by any means identical. On the contrary, matter itself is the vehicle of eternal life, and concupiscence is like an infection that attacks it from outside. Originally man was created without needs; he did not need to eat or drink, and in the last days he will return to his blessed independence and thereby break the power of Az. This means that the material world will partake of spirit without for that reason ceasing to be material; and those who are born in the last days will be 'sweet-smelling, with but little darkness in them, spiritual in nature, without offspring, for they will not eat'; and Nature itself 'will be clad in spirit and intelligence will be more clearly grasped'. This will mean the final annihilation of Az who as universal greed devours creation ever anew and who as sexuality recreates her portion for the morrow. Once men cease to eat and are 'clad in spirit', Az has no power over them, and 'since she will derive no power from the creatures of Ohrmazd, she will chide Ahriman who had appointed her captain of his commanders [saying] in her greed to the judge of creatures: "Satisfy me, satiate me, for I derive nor food nor strength from the creatures of Ohrmazd."' Then at the command of Ahriman she dovours all the demons except only Ahriman himself. This is the final crisis: Ahriman is now left alone and finds himself pitted not only against his eternal adversary, Ohrmazd, but also against the very weapon he had chosen when it was offered to him by his father, Zurvan. This weapon now turns on him fury and threaten to devour him, for there is nothing else left for her to devour. Ahriman, at bay, rather than submit to this final horror, turns in desperation to his ancient enemy, Ohrmazd, and makes his first and last appeal to his goodness to save him. Ohrmazd, rather than see him succumb to her 'who comprises [all] evil', himself administers the coup de grace, while Sraosha is left to finish off Az. In what appears to be the true Zurvanite account, however, the destruction of Az falls not to Sraosha, but to the infinite Zurvan himself accompanied by the Genius of the Law and Fate. This is only as it should be, for it appears the final conquest of Zurvan's original doubt. By doubting he was himself responsible for originating the principle of darkness and evil, and by offering Ahriman that 'implement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal(?), black and ashen', he divests himself of the 'concupiscence' that is still within him, and thereby assures the ultimate annihilation of his unwanted son through the instrumentality of the weapon he had himself chosen.
All this is, indeed, a long way removed from Manichaeanism, but there are, as in Manichaeanism, distinctly Buddhistic overtones, for not only are the spiritual worlds of Ohrmazd and Ahriman at war with each other, but the temporal and eternal orders also seem to be mutually contrasted and opposed. Ohrmazd's original creation was wholly static, 'without thought, without movement, intangible', and it is only the disorderly movement (oshtap) that is Az that sets the temporal process going. The temporal process is the Buddhist samsara, the ebb and flow of physical life regarded by the Buddhists as being evil simply because it is impermanent and therefore void of lasting value. In Zurvanism, Infinite Time represents eternal and timeless existence and this is the realm of Ohrmazd; finite Time is temporal existence as lived on earth, subject to birth and death, coming to be and passing away, and it is not only the kingdom of Ahriman, but also the very food on which the demon Az thrives. Yet finite Time is not evil of itself; it is the locus of evil and the food by which it lives. When it 'dies' by being reabsorbed into the Infinite, evil, like a cancer whose life is sustained by the thing it kills, must itself perish with it. The world-process, then, is God's struggle to rescue temporal, conditioned existence from the very powers which seem to make its continuance possible -hunger and thirst and sexual desire. The result, however, is not the escape of the individual or of the universe into a featureless and timeless Nirvana, but the subsuming of the material world into spirit in which time merges back into the timeless; but the timeless is now no longer the simple, undifferentiated One from which all existent things originally issued forth, but a timeless world in which all created things share in the plenitude of their khwarr, their consummated personality finally delivered from the toils of concupiscence. Ahriman had foolishly threatened to 'demolish the pact, to demolish time', and by this he meant that he would put an end to eternal existence as such and drag all creation down to a purely temporal and therefore mortal level, thereby depriving men for ever of any hope of immortal life; but in the end he himself is vanquished by Az, the seed of corruption he was fool enough to choose as his weapon against the radiant creation of Ohrmazd. Ohrmazd, on the other hand, once his enemies are annihilated, elevates the whole material creation into the spiritual order, and there the perfection that each created thing has as it issues from the hand of God is restored to it at the final Rehabilitation, the Frashkart or 'Making Excellent' when everything that was excellent in time will be excellent in eternity.
Yet different though the goals of Buddhism and the Zurvanism deducible from the Pahlavi books may be, the demon Az is a Buddhist rather than a Zoroastrian idea; there is no trace of it in the Avesta. In Buddhism, on the other hand, the root cause of the chain of conditioned existence is avidya, 'ignorance', and its principal manifestation is trshna, 'thirst', which means the desire for continued existence in time -intellectual error, then, manifesting itself in concupiscence. The Zoroastrian Az, too, is both 'ignorance' and 'thirst', both 'wrong-mindedness' and concupiscence; she attacks man both in his body and in his mind. To the body she ultimately brings death, and, in the sphere of responsible human activity, she seeks to drive a wedge between intellect and will. In this she is identical with Akoman, the Evil Mind.
God's weapon is the embodied Zurvan, finite time operating in finite space, the khwarr of the whole world; Ahriman's is Az and Az thus attacks both the macrocosm, the embodied Zurvan, and the microcosm, man; she is the arch-enemy of both nature and reason. 'During the period of the Aggressor's operation in this world man is tained with concupiscence whose object is to destroy his khwarr,' that is, to divert him from the end for which he was created. Reason, on the other hand, 'was created by the Creator to protect his khwarr
from concupiscence. Concupiscence is the vice most akin to desire, and a limit [must be set] to desire. Once desire for wealth and power is gratified, concupiscence will be greatly strengthened and reason gravely impaired in [its function of] protecting the khwarr from concupiscecnce.' Concupiscence, then, tries to divorce man's natural desires from the control of reason: as such it is 'self-will', 'wrong-mindedness', and 'heresy'; it leads astray, unsettles, and deceives. In short it is 'ignorance' of the right order of things on the intellectual plane,
gluttony, lust, and avarice on the material. It is the transposition of the Buddhist avidya and trshna into a Zoroastrian scheme of things. But the Zoroastrian version of what constitutes 'ignorance' is very different from the Buddhist; it is no sense a cosmic principle inherent in the vary nature of the transitory world, it is simply the failure to recognize the right order of things; it is a deviation from the Aristotelian Mean which the Zoroastrians interpreted as meaning the orderly arrangement of a cosmos created by God. If the idea is originally
Buddhistic, the working out of it is thoroughly Zoroastrian.
Essential 'Zoroastrianism' of classical Zurvanism
What remains of Zurvanism in the Pahlavi books is orthodox to this extent, that the goal of creation remains the same as for the orthodox dualists; it is the final expulsion of evil, that is, disorder in all its forms, from the universe, and the transfiguration of the material creation into a 'spiritual' form of existence in which neither death nor wrong thinking will have any place. In the terminology of the Zurvanite myth it means that Zurvan whose doubt engendered Ahriman will, by himself taking on material form, in the end be freed from doubt and all imperfection for ever and ever. Zatsparam, too, in his apocalyptic vision of the end, says: 'There will be seen by night in the atmosphere a form of fire in the shape of a man, conceived by the spiritual powers, riding as it were a fiery horse, and fearful [to behold]: and all will be freed from doubt.'
Perhaps the fiery horseman is nothing less than that original 'form of fire, bright, white, round, and manifest afar', with which, in the beginning, Zurvan armed his beloved son, Ohrmazd. Perhaps it is the finite Zurvan himself, the totality of created being, riding back, purified from all doubt and unlawful desire, into the Infinite from which he originally proceeded.
The Gender and Sex of Az
In its teleology Zurvanism does not seem to differ appreciably from orthodoxy, but there was nonetheless an un-Iranian and Gnostic current within Zurvanism which sought to identify the typically Zoroastrian polarity of good and evil with the more basic polarity of male and female.
Throughout this chapter we have spoken of the demon Az as 'she'. Middle Persian, however, has no means of distinguishing gender, and there is nothing in the Pahlavi texts themselves to show to what gender this particular demon belongs. In the Avesta, it is true, there is a demon Azi of masculine gender who extinguishes the fire at night, who is the opponent of the sacrifical milk and fat and of the khwarenah; his stock epithet is daevo-data, 'created by the demons' or 'following the law of the demons'. It is also true that the Az of the Pahlavi books has the same stock epithet and that is also assails the khwarenah or khwarr. But here the resemblance ends, for nowhere does it appear that the Azi of the Avesta is specifically the demon of greed, and this is the basic characteristic of the later Az.
The demon Az, however, as it appears in Zatsparam, is closely akin to the Manichaean demon of the same name. In the Persian Manichaean texts, as we have seen, Az corresponds to the hyle of the Greeks -matter not at all in the Aristotelian sense, but in the typically Manichaean sense of 'disorderly motion'. Fot the Manichees, indeed, 'disorderly motion' was inseparable from everything that exists in space and time, whereas, for the Zoroastrians, it was something imported from outside. The Manichees, however, in attaching Zoroastrian names to their own concepts, did try to make the correspondence as exact as possible. Thus it is not surprising that they should have chosen Az to represent the totality of the realm of matter which is, for them, through and through evil since, in Manichaean eyes, matter and concupiscence are interchangeable terms.
The Manichaean Az, however, is feminine: she is the 'mother of all the demons'. It is, then, reasonable to suppose that the Zoroastrian demon was also feminine as the Manichees would scarcely choose a male Zoroastrian demon to fulfil the role of the 'mother of the demons'. Moreover, were it not for the fact that they needed a female entity to represent the totality of evil, they could scarcely have failed to pick on Ahriman for this part.
The Wickedness of the Female
The equation of light with the male principle and of darkness with the female corps up all over the world and has been made much of by C.G. Jung in his psychology of the archetype. It is, however, a thoroughly un-Iranian idea, yet we do find it cropping up both in the Christian account of Zurvanism and in the Pahlavi texts themselves. Hippolytus, as we have seen, said of Zoroaster that he believed the whole universe to have developed from a primal father and mother, the first of whom was light and the second darkness. Similarly we saw that in the Pahlavi texts fire and water were spoken of as male and female, brother and sister, husband and wife, and that from their union proceeded 'all becoming, ripening, and order'. The same is true of the Zurvanite treatise, the Ulama-yi Islam. Water, moreover, is the dark element, and what is dark is generally evil. Water, however, had from the days of the Gatha of the Seven Chapters been regarded as holy and was venerated as such throughout the whole chequered history of Zoroastrianism. Zurvanism, however, is not fully explicable as a purely Iranian phenomenon, and it should not surprise us to find what seem to be un-Iranian ideas in it. Thus a Christian convert from Zoroastrianism tells us that water, though created by Ohrmazd, deserted him for Ahriman. These Zurvanites were not prepared to go so far as to say that water was evil in itself; it only chose evil just as Ahriman himself had done.
The Defection of Woman to Ahriman
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