The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 2. How Persia Created Judaism
Zoroastrian Influences on Judaism and Christianity (Part II)
The tenth century Muslim historian, Masudi, says Zoroaster invented the writing of religion, his work, the Nards, being a book in 21 parts consisting of 2 million verses requiring 21,000 cow hides, more evidence perhaps that Zoroaster represented a prophetic tradition rather than just one person. The Nards were split into three categories of seven, one each for science, devotion and history. The science section was largely astronomical and astrological.
Avestan was the language of Iranian tribes to the east of Iran but west of the Indian frontier states. It was similar to the language spoken in Chorasmia until the 2nd century AD. The Gathas are judged to be about 200 years older than any other part of the Avesta, but both are entirely eastern with no allusians to western peoples like the Persians and Medes, or western customs or cities. If the Medes were introduced to Zoroastrianism by the merchants of Rhages in about 700 BC, then the ancient religious works were already fixed, so that the meeting with the great western tribes of Iranians did not impact on them. Zoroaster therefore lived no later than 900 BC.
The Avesta is all that remains of the 21 Nards, and these were only part of an even larger collection of works that existed before Alexander destroyed the sacred texts of the Persians, as Diodorus, the historian, relates. The Zoroastrian bible was probably complete by about 400 BC. The Persian archives were held at Persepolis yet Alexander uncharacteristically burnt the city and murdered many of Persia’s leading scholars, though they had willingly surrendered exoecting mercy. The Dinkard, a ninth century Persian work says there were only ever two copies of Zoroaster’s monumental work, one of which was burned and the other was confiscated by the Greeks.
Alexander was not normally disposed to offending the people he conquered. He had just captured Babylon where the priests of Marduk welcomed him, and he had showed respect to them, consulting them on the proper way to worship the Babylonian god, Marduk, taking him by the hand, and offering animal sacrifices to him. He ordered Marduk’s statues and temples to be restored. Earlier he had honoured the Jewish god, and the God, Amun, in Egypt. Perhaps Alexander was merciful to those who surrendered without trouble but, after the battle of Issus, Darius was practically offering surrender to Alexander, so the brutality must have been in revenge for the Greek war with Xerxes.
The priests collected what remained of the burnt fragments, together with portions that had been copied for special devotional purposes and whatever could otherwise be remembered and, in the second century BC, Volosges (Valkash), one of the Arsacid kings, had the fragments preserved and sought to reconstruct the holy works. Evidently it was a long slow process because it was not finished until the Sassanids ruled in the third or fourth century AD. This also was savaged a few centuries later by the Moslems and the Tartars, so the Avesta is only scraps of a vast collection of Zoroastrian sacred work.
The only complete Nard extant is the Vendidad, one of the parts of the Avesta. The other books of the Avesta are either fragments of the lost Nards or precompiled extracts of them that survived the destruction. Fortunately Zoroaster’s Gathas, being particularly sacred, seem to have existed in enough copies to have survived essentially unaltered.
The books of the Avesta are the Yasna, Vispered, Vendidad, Yashts and Little Avesta. The Gathas are universally considered to be the work of Zoroaster and are part of the Yasna. The relative age of the books is estimated by the purity of the grammar, the correct books—the Gathas and the poetic Yashts—being considered original. The language of the Gathas is archaic, though seven verses of them are in prose and are obviously not as old as the rest and must have been inserted at an early stage of editing. Their style and doctrine are later than the others. Ahuramazda is still the most high god, but the old nature deities have returned and prayers are offered to the Amesha Spentas, just as Christians, supposedly monotheistic as they claim, offer prayers to saints.
The Yashts are old hymns describing Persian sacred mythology. Possibly Vedic verses akin to the Gathas were in use by the Indo-European tribes that entered Iran in the first millennium and Zoroaster revized them about the time that the tribes settled, around the 9th or 8th century BC. Mary Boyce declares:
The fluidity of the oral tradition by which almost all Avestan hymns have been transmitted makes it impossible to date their subject matter at all clearly.
Yet, I Gershevitch from the Avestan Hymns to Mithras, considered among the most ancient in style of the Avestan hymns, thinks the conditions described in them are those of the mid-sixth century, the time of the rise of the Achaemenid kings.
The Vendidad is an account of the Zoroastrian dualist philosophy explaining the law and rituals needed to defeat Ahriman (Satan) and his demons in their plans. It is in the form of Ahuramazda’s answers to the prophet’s questions. It covers the rules of cleanliness in detail, explaining the puzzles of the Jewish impurity laws, though the striking difference is the honour awarded the dog, quite unlike the Jewish law. The Vendidad is plainly developed from the original teaching of the Gathas and Ahriman is the equal to all intents and purposes of Ahuramazda. Whatever Ahuramazda creates, Ahriman creates the negation of it.
James Darmesteter, who translated the Zend-Avesta says Persian religion has two ideas:
The law in nature makes Ahuramazda the Wise Lord. The war in nature happens because Ahriman intrudes into the creation of Ahura with his wicked creations meant to oppose all that Ahuramazda does.
The Aryan folk religion was polytheistic. In Hittite inscriptions Mitra, Varuna, and Indra, among others—are mentioned as gods of the Iranian Mitannians at the beginning of the fourteenth century BC. Zoroaster taught a new religion, but it was rooted in the old Iranian or Aryan religion. He transformed Aryan folk belief to a consistent theory of the universe and a logical dualistic moral principle, but this dualism is a temporally limited dualism—an episode in the world—and is destined to end in the victory of Good over Evil. Zoroaster´s teachings are of a high moral level. They were a great advance in civilization. Ethically, too, the new doctrine is on a higher plane.
The existence of evil in the world is presupposed. Zoroaster created a supreme god of good, whom he called Ahura Mazda (Ahuramazda, Ormudz), in his exalted majesty the figure of an ideal Oriental king, and a supreme god of evil, whom he called Angra Mainyu (Ahriman). Angra Mainyu is entirely Zoroaster’s invention, and he made all the Vedic daevas into devils, the creations and servants of his one supreme god of evil. Ahura Mazda, in one reading of the Gathas, is the primeval spiritual being, the All-father, who existed before the world began, who made it, and who guides it with his power of forethought. His guidance is given by the Holy or Good Spirit, which is opposed by its twin. In the beginning, only these two great spirits existed, but they were antagonists from the first, each striving his utmost to destroy the other and all of the other’s works. Each spirit created for himself subordinate generals and legions of supernatural troops to fight for him in the Cosmic War. Either of the two gods would be omnipotent if the other were conquered, and they and their vast armies are now locked in a desperate struggle for supremacy and mastery of the whole universe, a perpetual war between pure Good and pure Evil. But the Good Spirit soon had an encouraging partial victory, banishing the Evil Spirit (Yasna 45:2) to the Abyss where he is confined to organize his opposition as the principle of ill—the arch-devil—the equivalent of Satan.
Zoroaster does not explain in the Gathas the origin of two antagonists, but his reference to them as twins (Y 30:3) suggests that he thought of both as existing from the beginning of time, or as having been created together. Some read in the Gathas, that the Good Spirit of Mazda and the Evil Spirit, the two great opposing forces in the world, are both subject to a certain extent to Ahuramazda, so one explanation, also early, is that Ahuramazda, the Good God, inadvertently created the Evil God by having a moment of doubt.
The later Zurvanites represented the Holy Spirit as being identical with Ahuramazda. So, in the beginning, either the two spirits of good and evil (Y 30:3) already existed, or Ormazd and Ahriman are twin sons proceeding from the more fundamental principle, Zurvana Akarana (Limitless Time). Zurvana Akarana gave birth to the past, the evil spirit, and the future, the good spirit, whence the slogan, “Here Ormazd, there Ahriman”. This might have been Zoroaster’s original belief. Difficulties in translation and interpretation of a partly forgotten language might lead us to misread the Gathas.
Both spirits had power—the evil spirit had the power to corrode, corrupt and destroy, the good spirit had the power to generate, procreate and create. Ahuramazda is light and life, and creates all that is pure and good in the ethical world of law, order and truth. His antithesis is darkness, filth, death, and produces all that is evil in the world. Until then the two spirits had counterbalanced one another. As soon as the two separate spirits encounter one another, their creative activity and at the same time their permanent conflict begin. The history of this conflict is the history of the world—all creation divides itself into that which is Ahura’s and that which is Ahriman’s—though they leave it to be fought out by their respective creations and creatures which they sent into the field, including humanity.
Ahura Mazda is Zoroaster’s invention, or the name is at least, though he was probably Varuna, embellished with the traits of other gods that Zoroaster thought were desirable ones. The oldest hymns in the Rig-Veda are the earliest expression of the primitive Indo-European religion, and are earlier than Zoroaster. In one hymn of the Rig-Veda (4:42), Varuna and Indra define their respective spheres of authority, and the former represents himself as the deity of law and order, of what is morally right, and so resembles Ahura Mazda, while Indra, a god whom Zoroaster denounced by name, says he is the patron of the aristocracy and delights in war and poetry. Nevertheless, the two gods are friendly and not rivals. Atharvaveda 4:16, credits Varuna with knowing every man’s inmost thoughts and with maintaining an army of invisible spirits who report on all the actions of men. In Rig-Veda 5:85, a worshipper begs Varuna to forgive his sins, if ever he sinned against someone he loved or wronged a brother, friend, comrade, neighbour, or even stranger. Varuna does boast that he is the greatest of the “asuras” and his will (law and order) is obeyed by other gods.
So, Varuna is one of the few gods who have the title “asura” in the Vedas, and he is a god of order. “Asura” is most frequently applied to three gods in the old Vedic hymns, Dyaus, Varuna, and Mitra. Dyaus is the Greek Zeus but fades out of the Indian pantheon in later times. Mitra likewise fades out, but appears in the later Zoroastrian cult as Mithras. Varuna continues to be worshipped in India as one of the Thirty-Three Gods and is assigned jurisdiction over the ocean, as the Hindu equivalent of Neptune, and is the Regent of the West, one of the four gods who preside over the four cardinal points of the compass and the foreign lands that lie on that bearing.
The most striking difference between Zoroaster´s doctrine of God and the old religion of India lies in that, while in the Avesta the evil spirits are called “daeva”, the Aryans of India, in common with the European branches of the Aryans, gave the name of “daeva” to their good spirits, the spirits of light. Another name of gods in the Rig-Veda is “asura”. “Asura/daeva” were two races of gods, like the Scandinavian Aser and Vaner. “Asura” inspired reverence and awe, while “daeva” inspired a more vulgar, more sensuous, more anthropomorphic, more friendly thought of the familiar gods of light. In the later hymns of the Rig-Veda and the later Indian religion, the “asuras” are evil spirits, while in Iran the corresponding word “ahura” is the title of God as Lord. In India, the thought of “asura” had degenerated to that of the dreadful and the feared, but Zoroaster, while keeping a sense of transcendent awe, also kept the idea of goodness and truth. The daevas, however, he declared as malicious spirits and devils. Thus “ahura/daeva”, “daeva/asura” in Zoroastrian and in later Brahman theology are opposite in their meanings.
So, Zoroaster damns all the “daevas”, but makes an exception for the gods who are called “asuras” in the Vedas, since he calls his own god an “asura”. “Asura” means “lord”. One asura—originally Varuna in the Aryan pantheon—Zoroaster made the supreme god, conferring upon it the title of “the wise or illustrious” (mazda), and so, he called his good god Ahura Mazda, “Illustrious Lord”, suggesting a sun god. In post-Vedic Sanskrit the word “asura” becomes the generic name of a race of supernatural beings who are the enemies of the Indian gods, although the gods who are called “asura” in the early Vedas never appear among the “asuras” of the later myths.
The daevas, still in the Gathas the gods of old popular belief, are the corrupted agents of Ahriman, causing all that is evil in the world—the idols of the people—the true enemies of mankind whose priests and votaries are to Zoroaster idolaters and heretics. Later, these become a multitude of harmful devils. The daevas are foes to cattle and to cattlebreeding, and friends to those who work ill to the cow. Idolaters slay the ox for sacrifice. To Zoroaster, this is an abomination, for the cow is a sacred animal, the gift of Ahuramazda to man, and to be protected. In an old confession of faith, the convert is pledged to abjure the theft and robbery of cattle and the ravaging of villages inhabited by worshippers of Mazda (Y 12:2). Here is a religion of the settled cowherd. The daeva-cult is the religion of uncivilized maurauding tribes.
Some daevas, though, retained a good role as an intermediary between the earthly and heavenly planes. Among them was the god of fire, deliberately kept by Zoroaster, and another power of light, Mitra, the god of day (Iranian, Mithra), who survived in popular belief to be reabsorbed into Zoroastrian religion as a yazata, angel. The Gathas excluded any cult of Mithra and had no use for the Haoma. Beside the Lord and his Fire, the Gathas only accepted archangels and some ministers of Ahuramazda, as aspects of the supreme Lord, who are personifications of abstract ideas. The essence of Ahuramazda is Truth and Law (asha, arta = Vedic, rita). Ahuramazda is the embodiment of these abstractions, much as the Christian God is seen as the personification of Love. The essence of the wicked spirit is falsehood, and falsehood, as the embodiment of the evil principle, is much more frequently mentioned in the Gathas than Ahriman himself.
Any Iranian gods that Zoroaster may have exempted from his general damnation of all other gods must have been created by Ahura Mazda or the archangels as spirits (yazatas) subordinate to the six and therefore subordinate to the supreme god. Ahuramazda was the power that transcended the heavens and regulated their motions, so that Mithras, a solar deity, is necessarily his son, and, as the sun moves between the earth and the vault of the sky, so was he the intermediary between mortals and his inaccessible Father. He had been born fully mature on earth with a miraculous nativity first witnessed by the shepherds who reappear in the Christian legend, and the Christians eventually selected the birthday of Mithras as the birthday of Jesus, the Semitic Mithras. As in Christianity, the Son replaced his aloof Father in practice producing the late derivative of Zoroastrianism that long competed with Christianity in the dying Roman Empire—Mithraism.
Ahuramazda is, according to the Gathas, the creator of heaven and earth, the material and spiritual worlds. He is the source of the alternation of light and darkness, the Lord of Light, and the very centre of nature, as well as the sovereign lawgiver, the originator of the moral order and judge of the entire world.
Ahura Mazda created six or seven (depending on whether the Holy Spirit is counted or not) archangels to help him in the war against Angra Mainya. They were personifications of abstract qualities that the later Avesta calls Amesha Spentas, “glorious immortals”. The idea of gods coming in sevens is ancient. In Canaan, there were seven storm gods called Baalim. An Akkadian text has seven Adads and so does an Assyrian text from Assur. In the Sumerian “Hymn to Iskur”, Enlil gives seven storm winds to Iskur.
Since Mazda was Varuna or Zeus, a sky god, Zoroaster is surely here personifying the colours of the rainbow, variously seen as six or seven. The names of the Amesha Spentas frequently recur throughout the Gathas and characterize Zoroaster’s thought and his concept of god. The six Amesha Spendas are:
Other angelic spirits in Mazdaism include:
For Zoroaster, spirits and mankind are to obey the same laws. The good qualities could be had by the followers of Ahuramazda by their adherence to his commands. Holding up the Truth, Zoroaster thought the Lie would perish.
Persian kings considered they ruled by the favour of Ahuramazda, whose commands the king fulfilled, but he was not their only god. Herodotus says the Persians worship the sun (Mithras), moon (Mah), earth (Zam), fire (Atar), water (Apam Napat) and wind (Vahu), though the inscriptions of early Persian kings mention none of these other gods by name. Note that the last four Persian “gods” are the traditional elements of the Greek philosophers of the fifth century BC, when Herodotus wrote his histories. Did the Greek philosophers get these ideas from Persian religion? From the time of Artaxerxes II the gods Mithras and Anahita are mentioned on inscriptions.
Mithras which means “covenant” is the Vedic Mitra, a sun god who has little place in Zoroaster’s original scheme to judge from the Gathas, but evidently was restored under Artaxerxes. He was probably tolerated by Zoroaster as a good angel, having the qualities of Asha—Truth, Justice and Righteousness—but was later identified with Ahuramazda (the tenth Yasht says Ahuramazda and Mithras are gods of like power) and effectively replaced him in some cults, one of which emerged in the Roman sphere. Xenophon says Persian soldiers pitched their tents to face the morning sun so that, on waking, they could automatically follow Zoroastrian practice of praying first thing to the rising sun. The magi then offered sacrifices. Whether the Persians can be regarded as proper Zoroastrians is a moot point, but no one denies that they retained a great reverence for Truth and the quality of uncorruptible honesty transferred to Mithras and thence to the figure, also called Mithras, that became popular in the Roman empire. In view of the importance of Easter to Christians, it is curious that the days of the equinoxes were especially sacred to Mithras, Jesus taking one and the angel Michael the other.
The Goddess (Anahita; Aphrodite) is thought not to have had any place in the religious scheme of Zoroaster, because she does not appear in the Gathas, but was supposedly introduced later as one of the trinity of Ahuramazda, Mithras and Anahita���the inscriptions of Artaxerxes II having prayers to this trinity. Xenophon says that Cyrus the Younger led his processions with three empty chariots for the gods, the second specifically for the sun and the third dressed in red finery. They seem to have been for Ahuramazda, Mithras and Anahita respectively, red being a warrior colour for the war goddess. Artaxerxes II actually calls upon all three of these gods in his inscriptions.
In the Vedas, Aryaman is the aspect of the sun responsible for sacrifices. Varuna and Mithras are responsible for universal order (Vedic, Rita; cf Arta or Asha) with Mithras the sun of the daytime, and Varuna the sun of the night (and therefore the moon), but both having ethical responsibilities too. They form a trinity whose mother is Aditi, a sun or sky goddess, but considered by most to be a later invention, although the name has echoes of Anahita.
Was the Amesha Spenta, Aramaiti, as Mother earth, the original third member of the trinity? Was she reduced to an angelic quality, as was Mithras, by Zoroaster, then restored, along with Mithras, but as Anahita? Anahita is recognized as partly non-Iranian, and was perhaps introduced to fill a gap. Herodotus thought she came from Assyria or Arabia, but he thought her name was Mithras, an odd mistake unless the Persians so closely identified them as to make them twins. Achaemenian insciptions do associate the two closely, and another link was that she had a bull sacrificed in her honour (suggesting she became Cybele), and Mithras is traditionally depicted in the Roman mithraea as slaughtering a bull.
In the reign of Darius II, two temples to Anahita already existed, one according to Plutarch probably citing Ctesias, at Pasargardae, and one, according to Tacitus, set up in Asia Minor (Hierocaesarea) by Cyrus. No sign of a temple to Anahita has been found at Pasagardae but the source could have meant Babylon, Darius’s practical capital city. The other will have been set up by Cyrus the Younger, a son of Darius, not Cyrus the Great, in about 405 BC. So, Darius, a Babylonian accustomed to the veneration of the goddess Ishtar, seems to have stimulated a growth of interest in the Persian Ishtar, Anahita.
The Persian cults of Anahita identified her with Venus, the morning star, and the Greeks therefore called her Aphrodite, but also saw her as Athene, a warrior goddess. Persians sculpt her as a beautiful young woman wearing a fine cloak and sandals and a jewelled coronet. She carries twigs of a sacred bush. She is so important in the later cult that the Aban Yasht describes Ahuramazda himself as offering libations to her for the moral protection of Zoroaster. Pliny and Strabo both attest to her popularity—her cult spreading to Armenia, Cappadocia, Pontus and Cilicia. Independent proof comes from Lydia where there are inscriptions to her as a goddess of waters, fertility and procreation, like Ishtar and Nin-Ella.
Anahita was identified with the mythical Persian river Harahvaiti, an accepted yazata, rersponsible for fertility and procreation, and source of all the water in the world. As a yazata, Harahvaiti was commonly addressed by her titles and epithets rather than her name, and among them was “anahita” meaning “pure”. The divinity was properly “Anahiti”, meaning the “Pure One”, so the two originally separate entities could easily have been identified. The older goddess, represented by Venus, had no association with water, and nor did Ishtar and Inanna, the Babylonian goddesses, yet Anahita became known as a water goddess, though retaining the war-goddess aspect of the planetary deity. She became in Sassanian times almost to be an Iranian Kali, and warriors placed the skulls of defeated enemies in her shrine at Istakhr.
Tiri, who is Nabu, was absorbed into Zoroastrianism at this time too, by association with the yazata, Tishrya, Sirius. It must have been a clever Mage to equate Mercury with Sirius, but it was done. The Babylonians regarded Sirius and Spica to be aspects of a single goddess, a manifestation of Ishtar—presumably the constellation of the Virgin. The sixth month was presided over by Ishtar, and Spica was its star.
Once instituted, the cult of Anahita seems to have become popular, because it became rich. In 209 BC, Antiochus III, the Greek king of Seleucia, stripped the temple of Anahita (Aine) at Egbatana (Hamadan). It incorporated gold and silver bricks, gold plated columns and silver roof tiles, a tribute to generosity in poverty, ignorance and superstitious fear. The priestesses of Aine of Egbatana seem to have remained chaste, like nuns. Artaxerxes also seems to have invested special public fire temples where a sacred flame burned perpetually in a sacred enclosure that could only be entered by people who were ritually pure to pray.
Ahuramazda was light and life and created all that was good and pure—truth, law and social order. He was “Lord”, “The Wise Lord”, the “All Father”, as creator, “The First and the Last” and “The Father of the Good Thought”:
I conceived of thee, O Mazda, in my thought that thou, the first art the last—that thou art Father of Good Thought, for thus I apprehended thee with mine eye—that thou didst truly create Right, and art the Lord to judge the actions of life. (Yt 31:8)
The Zoroastrians believed that the world as created by Ahuramazda was perfect, with no evil. Ahuramazda was the Lord of Wisdom that the priests considered filled them with Holy Sprit, Spenta Mainyu, if they were worthy. There is one primeval plant, animal and man from which all others are made. The first man Gayo Maretan had no illness, no hunger and no thirst. The sun was fixed in the sky at noon, so there was no time.
Nature was the good creation of the god, Ahuramazda. The English word “paradise” is from the Avestan “Pairidaize” and it is worth noting that the Garden of Eden of Genesis in the Septuagint is called “paradise” in its sinless condition before the fall. Indeed, “Garden” is perhaps from the Avestan “Garod-man” meaning house of songs—the ancient Aryan name of heaven. Is it also just a strange “coincidence” that Ahuramazda, like Yehouah, created the world in six stages (days?) covering the sky, water, earth, plants, animals, and mankind?
Zoroaster saw two primeval spirits as twins in opposition. Ahuramazda was Spenta Mainyu and the other spirit was Angra Mainyu, who is the original Satan and the reason why righteous people suffered. But Spenta Mainyu elsewhere seems to exist independently. The Holy Spirit of the Jewish god is just the same, and then the Christians extended the concept to the Son, who is the Father, but acts independently. The son of Ahuramazda was Mithras!
Western scholars in the nineteenth century thought Ahuramazda was the father of both spirits and the Parsees of India, influenced by then by Christian missionaries were glad to agree. They argued the Evil Spirit is actually one of the two aspects of Ahuramazda himself—he calls them, in the Gathas, “my spirits”—the other being the Holy Spirit, which initiated Righteous Creation by “speaking it!” Identification of the Holy Spirit with Ahuramazda himself is a misinterpretation of the prophet who calls Ahuramazda the Holiest Spirit so that it was not difficult for people to think he meant the Holy Spirit. In the passage in which he makes this reference to Mazda as the holiest spirit he also declares him to be a god beyond the universe—a transcendental god:
The Holiest Spirit chooses Right, he that clothes himself with the massy heavens as a garment. (Y 30:5)
The implication is that Ahuramazda is beyond the heavens which are merely his outer manifestation, his clothing or girdle. Interestingly, the planets were considered chained demons but the constellations, being aspects of the sun, were helpful entities. In the later development of the religion, Ahriman is identified with the Evil Spirit, and Ahuramazda himself with the Holy Spirit. The advantage Ahuramazda had over Ahriman was that he only of the two could see the future and therefore have confidence in his ultimate victory. Ahriman was banished to hell from where he continued to foment trouble for the world through his armies of demons.
However, contrary to this view that Ahura mazda had two sides to his character, the scholarship of Professor Boyce, who has spent her adult life studying Zoroasatrianism and is adamant that the original concept was entirely dualistic, must be upheld. The fact that an attempt was made later to explain why there were two equal twins by inventing Zurvanism tends to back her up. If they are already aspects of Ahuramazda there is no need for it.
This admission of an independent evil god is abhored by Christians, but it means that the Zoroastrian god is entirely good, a claim that cannot be made about the Jewish god, whatever the Clappies might think (Isa 45:7). Evil is alien to Ahuramazda and he has to defeat it. In Judaeao-Christian mythology, god somehow lets evil into the world as a by-product of free-will, then has to sacrifice himself to be rid of it, though as yet there is no sign of it going! Zoroaster seemed to know that in practice the dual principle was a question of human choice, and he poses it as exactly that, but those who chose right had to be rewarded and the ones who chose evil punished, so he invented the cosmic battle in which we all participate throughout history until the Good are rewarded in eternity, but not the Evildoers.
Zoroastrianism presumes the existence of the two opposing principles, but they live in the Spirit World where they cannot interact with each other. Ahuramazda created the tangible, material world as a good world—the material world is good, having been created by the Holy Spirit. The Evil Spirit then contends with the Good Creation within it! It does not make an entirely separate Evil Creation of its own, its aim is precisely to spoil the Creation of the Holy Spirit. This is the opposite of Orphic, Gnostic, Christian and Manichaean ideas that make the world utterly evil and corrupt, and suitable only for cosmic destruction.
Boyce is emphatic that Ahuramazda did not stand above the Holy and Evil Spirits. Nowhere, she insists, in the original Zoroastrian tradition is Ahuramazda anything other than equal to the Holy spirit, and the Evil Spirit is his adversary, equal too in all but one respect to do with time. Ahuramazda had foresight, but Angra Mainyu had none.
The Evil Spirit can only react whereas the Good Spirit has foresight, the only advantage it has over its twin. Ahuramazda exists before the Evil Spirit is aware of him. Ahuramazda, with his foresight now sees what is happening and what the outcome will be. He offers the Evil Spirit a truce, but is refused. Ahuramazda creates his spiritual world and then Ahriman catches on and creates his own spirits, taking a fixed time of 3000 years. The Slavonic Enoch expresses perfect Zoroastrianism:
Before anything was, before all creation came to pass, the Lord established the Aion of Creation. Thereafter he created all His Creation, the visible and the invisible.
Then before anything else happens, Ahuramazda suggests to the Evil Spirit that they battle for similar fixed times and, lacking foresight, Ahriman agrees. Mithras, who has already been created as the God of Covenants, watches over the agreement. Ahuramazda creates the physical world in six steps, and the fravashis, taking another 3000 years. The Evil Creation takes another 3000 years. This is the first part of the era of battle between good and evil.
When plants appeared in the Aryan Creation, they first appeared as an unusual tree that had all the other plants within it. The Evil Spirit poisoned it but Ameretet caught it as it withered and made the seeds of all plants from it. This suggests a memory of tree worship. Xerxes, according to Herodotus, decorated a magnificent plane tree on his way to war with the Greeks, and Xenophon says a gold and jewelled sculpture of a plane tree was venerated at the Achaemenian court (possibly an image of the Primeval Tree). Several Zoroastrian sacred sites in Persia consisted of a sacred tree by a sacred spring. Tree cults were popular in India, so this looks to be the living residue of ancient Aryan tree worship. European Indo-Eupopeans such as the Scandinavians and Saxons worshipped trees, as did the Celtic Druids. Decorating our own familiar Christmas tree could hardly be a more ancient Pagan practice. The decorations are supposed to remind the tree of how it is in full fruit, and prepare it for awakening again for a new season in spring. It comes from Germany but Luther is said to have revived the custom from what he had read about Zoroastrianism.
The fifth creation was that of animals beginning with a primeval bull that was slain. It is a memory of ancient bull sacrifice to fertilize the ground. The seed of the slain primeval bull, taken and purified by the moon eventually provides a rebirth for all the animals, but also all the plants again! The Ox-soul was the soul of the original bull from which the seed of all animals came and to which their souls return in unity at the end. It seems that in Zoroastrianism, the bull was still sacrificed at the autumn festival of Mithras, a re-enactment of the primeval sacrifice, replenishing the earth for the following spring. The Evil Spirit killed the bull, apparently an evil deed, but, in the Zoroastrian myth, Ahuramazda turned evil into good, in generating the variety of life from the evil act. So re-enacting the evil deed invites the good deed of fecundity to follow.
On the opposite bank of a primeval river, in the legend, lived Gayo Maretan, the primeval man. He is not really a man, judging from his description, but a notional seed of man, and his name means “Mortal Life”. His fate is also to be poisoned by the Evil Spirit only to yield up the whole variety of mankind from his spores purified by the sun and then released by a rhubarb plant. So, mankind was the sixth Creation.
This Great River, and a Great Sea that appears in Aryan myth cannot be certainly identified now, but seem likely to be the Volga and the Caspian Sea or the Don and the Black Sea. The Airyanem Vaija (Aryan Expanse) will be the Eurasian Steppes.
Ahuramazda creates things by thinking them. The concept of God’s Logos is more than his Word because it implies reason or thought, thus approaching the Iranian idea. Yasht 44:7 (cf Isa 44:5) speaks of the Creator of all things through “Bounteous Spirit”. The word “Bounteous” is a deliberate choice by the translators to maintain the Jewish scriptures as unique. “Spenta” is better translated as “Holy” as Boyce admits rather than “Bounteous”. All of the Good Creation of Ahuramazda is “Holy”, an idea that was disastrously lost in Christianity, which rather sees the material world as evil, as the Gnostics did. “Amesha” literally means immortal, being exactly the same word, and so the Ameshas were immortals or gods. Yasht 31:8 refers to Ahuramazda as the “beginning and the end”.
So, discovering the perfect creation of Ahuramazda via his Good Spirit, the Evil Spirit attacked the world and caused evil to appear, disease and illness and old age, and plants, animals and the first man started to die, night began to fall, the evil brood of animals appeared, snakes, insects and cats. The material Creation was static consisting of only the primeval creatures, but it was then attacked by the Evil Spirit who killed the primeval man, bull and plant thus introducing death into the world. But the death of the primeval ones only provided the seed for the creation of the plants, animals and humanity. The sacrifice of life brought forth more life, and the fact that the Evil Spirit had inadvertantly sacrificed was a result of his great lack—foresight. The world was now mortal and therefore changing through death and re-birth, and devout sacrifice helped keep life going for the Good Creation. Zoroastrianism does not see the world as the domain of the Evil God—it was created and remains the Good Creation of Ahuramazda.
C S Lewis in his fantasies shows the world as being assailed by evil from outside. That is like the Zoroastrian idea. In Zoroastrianism, the cosmic battle cannot be fought on the cosmic level, so it is fought on the material plane. This battleground exists only for the period of limited time, called the “Time of Long Dominion”. In this time, which is really the history of the material world, the spiritual creation occurs, then the corporeal one, and the battle ensues. The ice age broke on the ancient Aryan home and the onrush of winter, sent by the Evil One caused the great migration to the south, to Iran and India, and the southwest, to Greece and the countries of Europe, beginning human history—it did too!
The Evil Spirit created death when Ahuramazda created life and went on to create all that is evil as the opposites of good things, like darkness, filth, sin, sodomy, menstruation, pests and vermin like ants, flies, locusts, rats and mice, serpents—everything that plagued people and stop earth from being Paradise. Satan was the Lord of Darkness and hell, and of all the evil spirits that lived everywhere, the spiritual equivalent of earthly flies and rats, pestering, annoying and tempting people to commit crime and sin. So it will continue, the battle progressing until the end of history. Then the world will be returned to its original perfect state, endless time begins and everything remains perfect for eternity. This is the “Third Time”.
Death and filth were both the work of the Evil Spirit, so Persians considered dead bodies as unclean. Uncleanliness was subject to penalties under Persian law, so a crime as dastardly as defiling the king’s throne by sitting on it, even accidentally, was death. Persians took this uncleanness so far they were concerned not to defile the elements—earth, water, wind and fire, which they revered—with dead bodies so did not bury, burn or immerse them. The dead were exposed on a mountain side to be eaten by wolves and vultures, then special silent towers were built for the same purpose. The bones were later collected and placed in ossuaries in rock tombs.
The religion they introduced to Jerusalem had the same obsessions with cleanliness but seems to have forgotten the reason—the association of the devil with filth. The Rabbis today say cleanliness laws are for hygienic reasons. The clear advantage in those days of having a fear of filth was that it kept people inclined to be healthy and free of diseases, and the Persians were, but these people, Jews or Zoroastrians, knew little of hygiene.
Zoroaster was sent by Ahuramazda to reaffirm the ancient faith that was known to Yima Khshaeta and before him, the first man Gayo Maretan, and to unveil new revelations. Zoroaster is born at 9000 years to give his revelations to strengthen the forces of the Good Creation in Humanity. He was the first prophet and would be followed by three saviours.
Each millennium thereafter a saviour is born until history ends at 12,000 years. Because evil was falsely introduced into Ahuramazdas’s perfection, when the final saviour comes, the world will be purged of it by fire, a feature also of old German mythology. There is some hint of a cosmic battle at the end when the armies of Good and Evil meet, but the main battleground is the material world, and nothing suggests otherwise. Paradise will be established on earth, in the form of the kingdom of Ahuramazda—the kingdom of God. The mightiest words in the religion are in the Ahunavar which ends:
God’s kingdom will come.
The call for a saviour appears as “may righteousness be embodied” (Yt 43:16) and “one greater than good” (Yt 43:3) was to follow him. He was to be a descendant of Zoroaster, just as the Jewish Saviour was to be of the seed of David, so not divine but fully human, again like the Jewish messiah, but not like the Christian one. Nevertheless, he was to be miraculously conceived, from the preserved seed of Zoroaster, by a virgin who bathes in the holy lake where the seed is kept. He therefore continues the role given in the Zoroastrian scheme of salvation to humanity itself as opposed to gods. The saviours would be men, even if rather unusual ones.
Zoroastrianism attributes to man a distinguished part in the great cosmic struggle. It is above all a soteriological part, because it is man who has to win the battle and eliminate evil.
The division of world history into twelve periods in Jewish apocalyptic is another reflexion of its Zoroastrian roots. Though this full scheme is from late Zoroastrian books, it is confirmed in outline by the Gathas.
The implication of the Gathas is that this time will be “soon” as it is for Christians, and Zoroaster seemed to think he would be the Saoshyant. The word is also used in the past tense and in the plural implying that there had been or would be others besides himself, showing either that Zoroaster thought the previous Saoshyants had already been, or that it was also used of a good man—a saint. Later, it became an aim for Righteous men to be known as a Saoshyant through devotion and good praxis.
The Fate of the Soul
For Zoroaster, Ahura Mazda had revealed a message that was a matter of “life and death”—the fate of the soul after death. It depended on its earthly existence. A person’s every act, word and thought affects the judgement of their soul after death. The sum total of anyone’s thoughts, words and deeds determine the fate of their soul in the other world.
Everyone’s life falls into two parts—its earthly portion and that which is lived after death. At the “Last Judgement”, the record of people in life is judged, but meanwhile many people will have died. This is where the idea of heaven comes in, as a place for the Righteous to tarry until the end of “Time of Long Dominion”. This is the proper belief of Christianity, but they have abandoned it for a spiritualism, so simplistic and popular that ministers and priests dare not correct it. The lot assigned to anyone after death is the result and consequence of their life upon earth. Works on earth are strictly reckoned in heaven by Mithra, assisted by the spirit of justice. All the thoughts, words and deeds of each are entered in the book of life as credits—all the evil thoughts, words and deeds, as debts. After death the soul arrives at the Cinvato peretu, or accountant’s bridge, over which lies the way to heaven. Here the statement of his life account is made out. The souls of people were judged on their deeds in life and divided into three categories. If they has a balance of good works in their favour, they were righteous and passed forthwith into paradise and the blessed life. If their evil works outweighed their good, they have chosen the Lie and were cast into the Abyss of torment and woe, falling under the power of Evil, where “the pains of hell are his portion for ever”. Should the evil and the good be equally balanced, the soul passed into an intermediary stage of existence, a type of pugatory, and its final lot is not decided until the last judgement.
The course of inexorable law cannot be turned aside by any sacrifice or offering, nor yet even by the free grace of God. Ahuramazda had appointed these rules out of his grace to humankind but he was not subject to whims and fancies so would not bend to entreaties of any kind. Zoroaster made no allowance for repentance and remission of sins, though Zoroasatrian churches now do, perhaps influenced by Christianity. An evil deed could never be struck out by any means, repentence, indulgences, prayer or god’s fancy. Wicked actions cannot be undone, but an evil deed in the heavenly account can be atoned for by a surplus of good deeds. Once evil was done, it was entered into the Book of Life and the best that the evildoer could then do in life was to try to balance it out with sufficient good work to merit a favourable judgement.
In several places in the Avesta but notably Vendidad 19:27ff, Ahura Mazda answers Zarathustra’s question about the fate of the soul after death. While the demons responsible for putrefaction attack the dead body, for three days and nights the soul lingers, one each for Good Deeds, Good Words and Good Thoughts, and on the dawn of the fourth day, when Mithras appears on the mountains as the sun rises, it departs.
Zoroastrians had no reactionary idea of original sin. The Wise Lord would reward the good act, speech and thought, and punish the bad—people were judged in heaven for their works on earth. Mithras was the heavenly judge, a role that later Christ assumed. Everyone’s works and deeds were entered in a Book of Life as a balance sheet of credits and debits upon which the judge would pass his judgement.
The dead soul journeyed to the bridge to heaven where the book was opened. The honest and the deceitful have both to be assessed at the account-keeper’s bridge where their deeds are measured. Each person meets his actions in life (Daena) in the form of a fifteen year old girl who is more beautiful or ugly depending on the balance of the person’s good and bad deeds, though this girl is merely an illumination in Vendidad 19:27. The girl is likely to be the origin of the houris of the Moslem paradise.
The account-keeper’s bridge has many paths across, some being broad and some as narrow as a razor’s edge. The truthful souls take the broad routes and the lying souls have to try to balance their way across on the narrow routes. The truthful are therefore able to cross into heaven easily but the false find it impossible to cross and fall into the Abyss. The concept of the bridge will be based on the rainbow, seen as a bridge to heaven, and appears in Islam as the Arch of Al-Sirat.
The souls of ones with a positive balance walked across into paradise, first the heaven of good thoughts, good words and good deeds and then to the final destiny, the House of Songs, the home of Ahura Mazda—paradise. Those with a negative balance fell into the chasm or Abyss to suffer the pains of hell—not eternal torture in flames but, in the later tradition, 9000 years of intense loneliness in the frozen northern wastes. The mistaken idea of eternal burning comes from the fate of the wicked world at the End of Time when the Last Judgement occurred.
No bad thoughts, words, and deeds, are ever forgiven. Everyone is free to choose between Truth and Lies, between Good and Bad, but the choice has grave consequences. There is no relief from this by intercession, prayer, incantations, magic formulae, belief in any favoured doctrine or being born into any particular ethnic grouping. God has laid out His rules and they shall apply to all dead souls without favour.
Humanity does not have this knowlege and is too easily ensnared by the evil powers. People cannot distinguish between truth and lies, and so Ahuramazda in his grace sent a prophet to lead them by the right way, the way of salvation. Zoroaster was fit for the mission, and felt within him, the call of Ahuramazda. In calling him, Ahuramazda was making a last appeal to humanity before The End. Like John the Baptist, Jesus and his apostles, Zoroaster thought the fulness of time was near, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He often spoke directly with God and His archangels. Zoroaster called himself a prophet (manthran), a priest, and a saviour (saoshyant, the helper of those come to be judged by their deeds).
The Gathas say little regarding ritual practices of Zoroastrian doctrine. The Gathas are essentially eschatological—revelations concerning the last things, future lot whether bliss or woe, concerning human souls, promises for true believers, threats for misbelievers, and confidence that the future will be triumph of the good.
Almost every passage of the Gathas refers to eschatology. Nothing in Akkadian religions suggests the world would end. That was Zoroaster’s innovation. But, Ahuramazda was sure to triumph and restore the world to his perfect creation—the kingdom of God.
Zoroaster, like Jesus, thought Eunomia—the kingdom, the power and the glory of God—was at hand when he wrote the Gathas, as they make plain. The Wise Lord, together with the Amesha Spentas, would finally vanquish the spirit of evil, ending cosmic and ethical dualism. Zoroaster’s mission was a final appeal to humanity before it all happened. He thought he would see the end of the world himself and the dawn of the kingdom of Ahuramazda when Ahuramazda, his angels and righteous believers would decisively defeat the evil spirit and his demons. The final epoch would end with a Last Judgment and the utter destruction of the Devil and all his forces of evil. So, he announced an end to the visible world, “the last turn of creation”. The world would then be restored only for the good, who would live forever in joy in God’s desirable domain. Since the world was to be restored, a resurrection of the dead was necessarily implied, and is found in some of the Gathas.
The failure of it to happen forced a theological revision, just as it did for the Christians. The later idea was that advent of Zoroaster began a final epoch of three thousand years by which time Ahuramazda’s message would have been spread throughout the world. The End would come when Ahriman and his angels rose out of the Abyss to attack the Good spirit and the Angels of Light. Neither good nor evil would be victorious but eventually Ahriman would be defeated by a Deliverer sent by god, the Saoshyant. The Saoshyant, of the line of Zoroaster or perhaps the prophet himself reincarnated, would herald the beginning of a new age. Ahuramazda promised eternal life to good people:
In eternity shall the souls of the righteous be joyful.
The “Millennium” was the resurrection of the Righteous to live forever in Ahuramazda’s perfect Creation, unplagued by death, corruption, disease, flies and all the rest of the Evil Creation. Hardship on earth is done away with and so all hills are flattened so that no one has to exert themselves walking up a hill—the earth would be levelled into a great plain just as it is in Isaiah 40. but the great variety of life remains—there is no return to the primeval beings. In the Slavonic Enoch:
When all the Creation that was created by the Lord will come to an end, and every man will go to the Great Judgement of the Lord, then the times will perish, there will not be any more years, or months or days, the hours will not be counted any more, but the Aion will be one. And all the Righteous that will escape the Great Judgement of the Lord will join the Great Aion, and at the same time the Aion will join the Righteous, and they will be eternal, and there will not be in them any more labour or suffering or sadness or the expectation of violence.
The “Day of the Lord” is a trial by ordeal of mankind, when the earth would be bathed with molten metal, which burns up the wicked but allows the righteous to bathe in it as in warm milk. When the Righteous emerge unscathed they are united with their souls in their uncorruptible resurrected bodies—bodies in the primeval state of perfection. This trial by ordeal echoes an ancient practice of the Iranians and other people.
It is the fire referred to by John the Baptist in Matthew:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Mt 3:11)
Paul makes the parallels even clearer, especially as the passage has been clumsily amended to suit the idea that the believer will be saved irrespective of his sins:
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Cor 3:13-15)
Finally, Ahriman would be cast back into the Abyss and all resurrected righteous souls would live in a cleansed world, the good kingdom or simply the kingdom—Ahuramazda’s kingdom, an undivided heaven and earth, free of decay, old age and death—where they lived as immortals alongside the angels in the realm of light, in the eternal fellowship of Ahuramazda. A “future body” in a future resurrection was among the magian beliefs recorded by Theopompos in the fourth century BC. As for the wicked, they were incinerated once and for all in the molten flame never to plague the world again. The molten metal will apparently even purify Hell and kill the evil demons. The molten metal is, of course, from heaven, itself considered made of metal (as a form of stone).
So, in the final days of the world, all will be judged and all the dead will be resurrected in their bodies once again. The rebirth occurs at the rebirth, “No Roz”, ceremony when the priest faces west instead of east as usual because the cycle of time will cease and the sun will be set at noon forever. The Saoshyant will prepare Haoma in this final holy ceremony or act of worship and give it to humanity so as to make the bodies shining, ageless and immortal. The white Haoma juice prepared by him will be an elixir of immortality that will banish death forever from the world. Death, the instrument of the evil one will no longer prey upon the good creation of Ahuramazda. The Righteous become like the Holy Immortals just as Jesus says in the New Testament, accepting that they are angels, immortal inhabitants of heaven.
Suffering, in this material earth and time, is the price of ultimately defeating evil, so it is necessary and commendable, serving a real purpose in helping to defeat the Evil Spirit rather than succumbing to him. Since the Jewish and Christian God is all powerful, there is no explanation in these religions for suffering—an all-powerful god could end it immediately. Ahuramazda is not all-pwerful until the end of history, so is excused. The whole blame is with the Devil. Humanity therefore provide Ahuramazda’s foot soldiers in the war with his implacable enemy. Human beings individually chose the side they are on, and are ultimately rewarded or punished. Salvation therefore depends upon humanity—upon human choice—not upon God, who expects humans as part of his Good Creation to chose Good and reject Evil. He does not stick his finger in human history and stir it up like the Jewish God, and expects his human army to remain loyal and fight their battles against Evil confident that by making the right choice, the battle will be won and they will be rewarded. Should anyone despair in the face of adversity, the Amesha Spentas were ready to offer their qualities in support.
Yasht 34:10-11 say that Health and Life are the rewards of Ahuramazda’s “Desirable Kingdom”—desirable for the Righteous People on earth. It is, of course, the victory of the Good Creation and so in the Judaeao-Christian myth, a return to the unspoilt “Garden of Eden”. While the Evil Spirit was active in the world spoiling the Good Creation with his Evil deeds, the holy kingdom could not be in earth, but at the end of “Time of Long Dominion”, the desirable kingdom began, because the Evil Spirit was confined. Christian concepts are close indeed to this outlook.
Doctrine of Humanity
In his doctrine of humanity, Zoroaster began with the freedom of everyone to choose their ethical course in life. Ahuramazda created humans with free will to think, say and do as they choose, and so people can be tempted by the evil powers. Zoroaster had a doctrine of free will and individual responsibility for all actions, writing:
Whoso worketh ill for the Liar by word or thought or hands, or converts his dependents to the Good, such men meet the will of Ahuramazda to his satisfaction.
This freedom of the will is also clearly expressed in Yasna, 31:11:
Since thou, 0 Mazda, didst at the first create our being and our consciences in accordance with thy mind, and didst create our understanding and our life together with the body, and works and words in which man according to his own will can frame his con-fession, the liar and the truth-speaker alike lay hold of the word, the knowing and the ignorant each after his own heart and understanding. Armaiti searches, following thy spir~t, where errors are found.
People take part in the cosmic conflict through their lives and deeds in the world. By every good thought, word and deed, by continually keeping a pure body and soul, every person impairs the power of evil and strengthens the might of goodness, laying a claim for reward from Ahuramazda. By every evil thought, word and deed, and self-abasement, everyone increases evil and renders service to the Evil One.
Other religious systems have evil spirits, but Zoroaster’s implied division of the world between the powers of Good and of Evil, both evenly balanced until the final conflict, effectively invented our modern concept of the Devil, who manifested himself within people as the the Druj or the Lie:
Let none of you listen to the Liar’s words.
In the battle of Good and Evil, humans had free will to refuse evil—people were free to side with either of the two spirits. It was everyone’s personal choice. Everything that people did in life involved these choices, every bad choice extending Satan’s influence and every good choice helping to keep him chained in hell. By choosing righteousness people were their own saviours.
Bliss shall flee from them that despise Righteousness. In such wise do you destroy for yourselves the spiritual life.
If they became “Followers of the Lie” they could expect the worst but the righteous had naught to fear:
…at the last the Worst Existence shall be the followers of the Lie, but the Best thought to him that follows Right. Of these twain Spirits, he that followed the Lie chose the worst things; the Holiest Spirit chose Right…
Herodotus, writing about the Persians of his day, recorded:
They teach boys, from five years to twenty, three things only—to ride, to shoot and to be truthful…Most disgraceful of all is lying.
Persians were also sexually prudish and forbade masturbation, promiscuity and prostitution, and rape and sodomy were punished by death as it was for the Babylonians. Other capital crimes included treason, cremating or burying the dead, murder, invading the king’s privacy or approaching one of his concubines. Among the ways people were despatched were crucifixion, hanging and stoning.
Persians had a strong sense of correct behaviour and did not eat or drink in the street or spit. Eating only sufficient was a virtue, and Persians only had one meal a day and drank only water. Persians were hospitable, generous, warm hearted, open, and honest.
The summary of the Zoroastrian practical ethic is the short mantra:
Good Thoughts. Good Words. Good Deeds.
The choice made has its effects on the five aspects of the human person:
Besides the possible reference to the Star of Bethelehem as a fravashi, the concept occurs twice more in the Christian New Testament. When Jesus is made to speak of “little ones” in the gospels he is not speaking of babies but of the newly penitent apostate Jews that have joined his Nazarenes.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Mt 18:10)
The penitents have become righteous by repenting and taking baptism, and so their Heavenly Doubles behold the face of God, something possible only for the righteous. Their angels in heaven are fravashis. The same allusion appears in Acts:
A damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. (Acts 12:13-15)
Peter could not have been there, they thought, so the double of him was his fravashi, his heavenly Double or Guardian Angel.
Fravashis or protective spiritual doubles were mainly creatures of the night. The time of night, from sunset to sunrise was dedicated to fravashis. They were venerated at their own festival held at the New Year, or rather on the last night of the old year, in the old calendar being in the autumn, so broadly corresponding with the Christian “All Hallows Eve” (Halloween) and “All Souls Day”, but later, with the change in the calendar, in the month Nisan or roughly March to us—Easter—the Persian festival commemorated in the scriptural Book of Esther! The ritual ended with the lighting of fires before dawn to assist the fravashis to return to their abode before the sun rose. Their association with night, the creation of the Evil Spirit, and the fact that worship otherwise was not to be done at night shows that the fravashis were not thought of a fully benign. They are the relic of the worship of dead spirits, and originally might have been good or bad.
Fravashis came from the old Iranian cult of heroes, whose spirits were venerated and came to be thought of as assigned to each person as a spiritual protector. Fravashis were certainly warlike but were pictured as winged females that lived at first in the air, and later as they were thought of as increasingly benign, in heaven hob-nobbing with the gods. Yasht 23:3 implies the fravashis were not in heaven but on earth, so they indeed lived in the air answering and delivering prayers and responding to calls for help. They were angels. The thirteenth Yasht describes a fravashi as flying like a well winged bird, and the winged figure of Ahuramazda shown on Persian sculptures might be meant to be the fravashi of the High God—all righteous entities having one. Yasht 13:12 describes them as “fravashis of the just” confirming them as spirits of righteous people. Ultimately, dwelling in heaven with the gods gave them the odour of sanctity and they were assigned as assistants to the Holy Spirit at the Creation. So spirits of righteous people were present at the Creation, a concept that emerges in the Scrolls and in the myth of Jesus.
Zoroaster favoured the word “urvan” translated as soul for the after-life spirit, but the fravashis seemed too popular to displace, and in the evolution of Zoroastrianism the two began to overlap, and mingle also with the khvarenah to some degree. Urvan however was the person’s soul that went for judgement. The long hymn to the fravashis shows the mingling of the two ideas (Yt 13). The difference between them is that the fravashis had power and could be prayed to, whereas the soul had none and had to be prayed for.
The soul did not depart from the body immediately on death and it is an ancient belief of the Iranians that it remained for three days before ascending, requiring detailed rituals. Note that the scriptural idea of a general resurrection on the third day in the book of Hosea (Saviour, suggesting the Persian king) and perhaps the messianic feast come from the same source, slightly misunderstood (Hos 6:2), and gave rise to the further misunderstanding that Jesus was predicting his own particular resurrection on the third day, when he meant the general resurrection of Hosea. Jonah, in the belly of the whale, is more precise and is used by a late editor of Matthew to explain the three days. When anyone died, their souls were tormented in hell for three days for whatever sins they had committed in life then, on the fourth day, the soul departed to judgement. On that day special funeral rituals were held and food was offered for the soul and his fravashi in the next world.
That was not the end of it, though, because it then had to be honoured for thirty years! It was time for a whole generation and ensured that the memory of a deceased father was retained for the next generation. For the initial three days, the relatives fast and display their grief. On the third day a full set of clothing is prepared for the dead man and consecrated while three religious offices are said during the day. First in the morning an animal sacrifice is made, the fat being used to feed the flame that carried the soul aloft at sunrise on the fourth day. Further offerings are consecrated daily for 30 days, followed by another sacrifice, then offerings are made at 30 day intervals for the whole year of 360 days. For the next 30 years the offering is made annually on the anniversary of the departure of the soul. These are ancient practices because they are followed by the Brahmans too.
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