HE TRANSITION from Devil-worship to God-worship marks the origin of civilisation; and among the nations of antiquity the Persians seem to have been the first who took this step with conscious deliberation, for they most earnestly insisted upon the contrast that obtains between good and evil, so much so that their religion is even to-day regarded as the most consistent form of dualism.
The founder of Persian dualism was Zarathustra, or, as the Greeks called him, "Zoroaster"--a name which in its literal translation means "golden splendor."
Zoroaster, the great prophet of Mazdaism (the belief in Mazda, the Omniscient One), it is rightly assumed, was not so much the founder of a new era as the concluding link in a long chain of aspiring prophets before him. The field was ripe for the harvest when he appeared, and others must have prepared the way for his movement.
Zoroaster is in all later writings represented as a demigod, a fact which suggested to Professor Darmesteter the idea that he was a mythical figure. Nevertheless, and although we know little of Zoroaster's life, we
have the documentary evidence in the "Gathas" that he was a real historical personality.
Prof. A. V. Williams Jackson in an essay "On the Date of Zoroaster" 1 arrives at the conclusion that he lived between the latter half of the seventh and the middle of the sixth century, and Dr. E. W. West 2 points out that the calendar reform, in which the old Persian names of the months were supplanted by Zoroastrian names, was introduced in the year 505 B. C. This proves that the kings of the Achæmenian dynasty were Zoroastrians. 3 Professor Jackson says:
"The kingdom of Bactria was the scene of Zoroaster's zealous ministry, as I presume. Born, as I believe, in Atropatene, to the west of Media, this prophet without honor in his own country met with a congenial soil for the seeds of his teaching in eastern Iran His ringing voice of reform and of a nobler faith found an answering echo in the heart of the Bactrian king Vishtaspa, whose strong arm gave necessary support to the crusade that spread the new faith west and east throughout the land of Iran. Allusions to this crusade are not uncommon in Zoroastrian literature. Its advance must have been rapid. A fierce religious war, which in a way was fatal to Bactria, seems to have ensued with Turan. This was that same savage race in history at whose door the death of victorious Cyrus is laid. Although tradition tells us the sad story that the fire of the sacred altar was quenched in the blood of the priests when Turan stormed Balkh, this momentary defeat was but the gathering
force of victory; triumph was at hand. The spiritual spark of regeneration lingered among the embers and was destined soon to burst into the flame of Persian power that swept over decaying Media and formed the beacon-torch that lighted up the land of Iran in early history."
The Gathas are hymns; they are a product of the fifth and sixth centuries before Christ, the authenticity of which is sufficiently proved not only by the later Persian literature, the Pahlavi books, but also by Greek authors, especially by passages quoted in Plutarch and Diogenes Laertes from Theopompus, who wrote at the end of the fourth century before Christ. The Gathas profess to be written by Zoroaster who appears in them not as a demigod but as a struggling and suffering man, sometimes elated by the grandeur of his aspirations, firmly convinced of his prophetic mission, and then again dejected and full of doubt as to the final success of the movement to which he devoted all his energies. Says Prof. L. H. Mill, the translator of the Gathas:
"Their doctrines and exhortations concern an actual religious movement taking place contemporaneously with their composition; and that movement was exceptionally pure and most earnest.
"That any forgery is present in the Gathas, any desire to palm off doctrines upon the sacred community in the name of the great prophet, as in the Vendidad and later Yasna, is quite out of the question. The Gathas are genuine in their mass."
There were two religious parties in the days of Zoroaster: the worshippers of the daêvas or nature-gods, and the worshippers of Ahura, the Lord. Zoroaster appears in the Gathas as a priest of the highest rank who became the leader of the Ahura party. Zoroaster not only degraded the old nature-gods, the daêvas, into demons,
but also regarded them as representatives of a fiendish power which he called Angrô Mainyush, or Ahriman, which means "the evil spirit," and Druj, 1 i. e., falsehood.
The Scythians in the plains of Northern Asia, the most dangerous neighbors of Persia, worshipped their highest deity under the symbol of a serpent, and it was natural that the snake Afrasiâb, 2 the god of the enemy, became identified with the archfiend Ahriman.
The Persians are often erroneously called fire worshippers, but it goes without saying that as the sun is not a god and cannot, according to Zoroaster, in and for itself receive divine honor or be worshipped, so the flame which is lit in praise of Ahura Mazda is a symbol only of him who is the light of the soul and the principle of all goodness.
Zoroaster taught that Ahriman was not created by Ahura, but that he was possessed of independent existence. The evil spirit, to be sure, was not equal to the Lord in dignity, nor even in power; nevertheless, both were creative, and both were original in being themselves uncreated. They were the representatives of contradictory principles. And this doctrine constitutes the dualism of the Persian religion, which is most unmistakably expressed in the words of the thirtieth Yasna. 3
"Well known are the two primeval spirits correlated but independent; one is the better and the other is the worse as to thought, as to word, as to deed, and between these two let the wise choose aright."
Ahura Mazda, the Omniscient Lord, reveals himself through "the excellent, the pure and stirring word." 1 On the rock inscription of Elvend, which had been made by the order of king Darius, we read these lines 2:
"There is one God, omnipotent Ahura Mazda,
It is He who has created the earth here;
It is He who has created the heaven there;
It is He who has created mortal man."
The noble spirit of Zoroaster's religion appears from the following formula, which was in common use among the Persians and served as an introduction to every liturgic worship: 3
"May Ahura be rejoiced! May Angrô be destroyed by those who do truly what is God's all-important will.
"I praise well-considered thoughts, well-spoken words, and well-done deeds. I embrace all good thoughts, good words, and good deeds; I reject all evil thoughts, evil words, and evil deeds.
"I give sacrifice and prayer unto you, O Ameshâ-Spentâ! 4 even with the fulness of my thoughts, of my words, of my deeds, and of my heart: I give unto you even my own life.
"I recite the, 'Praise of Holiness,' the Ashem Vohu: 1
"'Holiness is the best of all good. Well is it for it, well is it for that holiness which is perfection of holiness!
"'I confess myself a worshipper of Mazda, a follower of Zarathustra, one who hates the daêvas (devils) and obeys the laws of Ahura.'"
Lenormant characterises the God of Zoroaster as follows:
"Ahura Mazda has created asha, purity, or rather the cosmic order; he has created both the moral and material world constitution; he has made the universe; he has made the law; he is, in a word, creator (datar), sovereign (ahura), omniscient (mazdâo), the god of order (ashavan). He corresponds exactly to Varuna, the highest god of Vedism.
"This spiritual conception of the Supreme Being is absolutely pure in the Avesta, and the expressions that Ormuzd has the sun for his eye, the heaven for his garment, the lightning for his sons, the waters for his spouses, are unequivocally allegorical. Creator of all things, Ormuzd is himself uncreated and eternal. He had no beginning and will have no end. He has accomplished his creation work by pronouncing the Word,' the 'Ahuna-Vairyo, Honover,' i. e., 'the Word that existed before everything else,' reminding us of the eternal Word, the Divine Logos of the Gospel." Histoire Ancienne de l'Orient, V., p. 388.
Concerning Ahriman, Lenormant says:
"The creation came forth from the hands of Ormuzd, pure and perfect like himself. It was Ahriman who perverted it by his infamous influence, and labored continually to destroy and overthrow it, for he is the destroyer (paurou marka) as well as the spirit of evil. The struggle between these two principles, of good and of evil, constitutes the world's history. In Ahriman we find again the old wrathful serpent of the Indo-Iranian period, who is the personification of evil and who in Vedism, under the name of Ahi, is regarded as an individual being. The myth of the serpent and the legends of the Avesta are mingled in Ahriman under the name of Aji Dahâka, who is said to have attacked Atar, Traêtaona, and Yima, but is himself dethroned. It is the source of the Greek myth that Apollo slays the dragon Python. The Indo-Iranian religion knows only the struggle that was carried on in the atmosphere between the fire-god and the serpent-demon Afrasiâb. And it was, according to Professor Darmesteter, the doctrine of this struggle, which, when generalised and applied to all things in the world, finally led to the establishment of dualism."
Says James Darmesteter, the translator of the Zend-Avesta:
"There were two general ideas at the bottom of the Indo-Iranian religion; first, that there is a law in nature, and secondly, that there is a war in nature (Sacred Books of the East, IV., p. lvii),
The law in nature: proves the wisdom of Ahura, who is therefore called Mazda, the Wise. The war in nature is due to the intrusion of Ahriman into the creation of Ahura.
The fire sacrifice was accompanied by partaking of the haoma drink, a ceremony which reminds us on the one hand of the soma sacrifice of the Vedic age in India and on the other hand of the Lord's Supper of the Christians.
We know through the sacred scriptures of the Persians that little cakes (the draona) covered with small pieces of holy meat (the myazda) were consecrated in the name of a spiritual being, a god or angel, or of some great deceased personality, and then distributed among all the worshippers that were present. But more sacred still than the draona with the myazda is the haoma drink which was prepared from the white haoma plant, also called gaokerena. Says Professor Darmesteter: "It is by the drinking of gaokerena that men, on the day of the resurrection, will become immortal."
The way in which the Persian sacrament of drinking the gaokerena was still celebrated in the times of early Christianity, must have been very similar to the Christian communion, for Justinus, when speaking of the Lord's Supper among the Christians, adds "that this very solemnity, too, the evil spirits have introduced in the mysteries of Mithra."
After death, according to the Zoroastrian doctrine, the soul must pass over cinvato pertush, that is, the "accountant's bridge," where its future fate is decided. This bridge stretches over the yawning abyss of hell, from the peak of Judgment to the divine Mount Alborz, and becomes, according to the most common statements of the doctrine, broad to the good, a pathway of nine javelins in breadth, while to the wicked it is like the edge of a razor. Evil doers fall into the power of Ahriman and are doomed to hell; the good enter garô demâna, the life of bliss; while those in whom good and evil are equal, remain in an intermediate state, the Hamêstakâns of the Pahlavi books, until the great judgment-day (called âka).
The most characteristic features of the Persian 'religion after the lifetime of Zoroaster consist in the teaching that a great crisis is near at hand, which will lead to the renovation of the world called frashôkereti in the Avesta, and frashakart in Pahlavi. Saviours will come, born of the seed of Zoroaster, and in the end the great Saviour who will bring about the resurrection of the dead. He will be the "son of a virgin" and the "All-conquering." His name shall be the Victorious (verethrajan), Righteousness-incarnate (astvat-ereta), and the Saviour (saoshyant). Then the living shall become immortal, yet their bodies will be transfigured so that they will cast no shadows, and the dead shall rise, "within their lifeless bodies incorporate life shall be restored." (Fr. 4. 3.) 1 The Persian belief in the advent of a saviour who will make mankind immortal seems to reappear in an intenser form in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, who preached that the kingdom of heaven is near at hand. St. Paul still believed that the second advent of Christ would take place during his own life-time. The dead who sleep in the Lord be resurrected, and the bodies of those that are still in the flesh will be transfigured and become immortal.
The influence of Zoroaster's religion upon Judaism and early Christianity cannot be doubted. Not only does the original text of the book of Ezra directly declare that "Cyrus, the King, built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, where they worship him with the eternal fire"
[paragraph continues] (διὰ πυρὸσ ἐνδελεχοῦς), but there are many Jewish ceremonies preserved to the present day, which bear a close resemblance to the ritual of ancient Mazdaism. In addition there is a documentary evidence preserved in "The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy" (Chapter 7), that the Magi came from the Fast to Jerusalem according to a prophecy of Zoroaster.
The Persian world-conception, like the religion of the Jews, was too abstract to favor any artistic development. 1 Therefore we do not possess representations of
Lajard, Culte de Mithra, pl. xxx., No. 7.
(Lenormant, V., p. 248.)
either good or evil spirits which are exclusively and peculiarly Persian. Even the picture of Ahura Mazda (as we find it on various bas-reliefs) is not based upon a conception that could be said to be regarded as original. The figure from which the bust of the god of light and goodness rises can be traced to Assyrian emblems, and may, for all we know, be of Accadian origin. There is, for instance, an Assyrian cylinder which represents a
worshipper standing before the idol of a god. Behind him is the tree of life and a priest carrying in his left hand a rosary, while the deity hovers above them in a similar shape to the Ahura-Mazda pictures of the Persians.
Ahura Mazda is pictured as a winged disc without any head, in the style of Chaldean sun-pictures, in a cameo representing him as worshipped by two sphinxes, between whom the sacred haoma plant is seen (see p. 59). In another cameo (see p. 59) he appears as a human
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SCULPTURES ON A ROYAL TOMB.
(Coste et Flandin, Perse Ancienne, at Persepolis, pl. 164. Lenormant, V., p. 23.)
figure without wings, rising from a crescent that hovers above the sacrificial fire. Above him is a picture of the sun, and before him stands a priest or a king in an attitude of adoration.
There are some magnificent representations of Ahura-Mazda on ancient Persian monuments, which claim our special attention. There is a loftiness and majesty about
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BAS-RELIEF OF PERSEPOLIS.
(After Coste et Flandin, Perse Ancienne, Pl. 156 . From Lenormant, V., p. 485.)
his appearance, which lifts his picture above the Assyrian conception of deities. In his hands he holds either a ring or the short royal staff of rulers, appearing at the top like a lotus flower.
Prof. A. V. Williams Jackson explains the ring in the hands of Ahura Mazda as "the Circle of Sovereignty," 1 and interprets the loop with streamers in which the figure floats as a variation of the same idea, for in some of the pictures it appears as a chaplet, or waist-garland with ribbons. 2
It is not possible that the loop with streamers is originally a disc representing the disc of the sun after the fashion of Egyptian temple decorations. At any rate, there are a great number of Assyrian sculptures of the same type which are unequivocally representations of the sun. A cylinder (published in Lajard's Culte de Mithra, plate XLIX., No. 2) illustrating the myth of god Isdubar's descent to Hasisatra, shows the two scorpion-genii of the horizon watching the rise and the setting of the sun. Here the sun appears, like the figure from which Ahura Mazda rises, as a winged disc with feather-tail and streamers. In addition, we find the same picture in the deity that protects the tree of life, which can only signify the benign influence of the sun on plants (see p. 36); and the old Babylonian cylinder representing Merodach's fight with the evil spirit that darkens
the moon (see p. 37), shows the feathered dial in this same conventional shape covered with clouds. 1
A representation of Ahriman has not yet been discovered among the Persian antiquities. There is, however, a bas-relief in Persepolis which depicts the king in the act of slaying a unicorn. The monster is very similar to the Assyrian Tiamat (see p. 41), and we cannot doubt that the Persian sculptor imitated the style of his Assyrian predecessors.
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THE KING SLAYING A UNICORN.
(Bas-relief of Persepolis.)
We have little information concerning the origin of Zoroaster's dualism, but we can nevertheless reconstruct it at least in rough outlines. For there are witnesses left, even to-day, of the historical past of the old Persian religion. A sect called the Izedis are the fossil representatives of the Devil-worship that preceded the purer notions of the Zoroastrian worship prevailing in the Zend-Avesta. Following the authority of a German traveller, Tylor says (Primitive Culture, Vol. II., p. 329):
"The Izedis or Yezidis, the so-called Devil-worshippers, still remain a numerous though oppressed people in Mesopotamia and adjacent countries. Their adoration of the sun and horror of defiling fire accord with the idea of a Persian origin of their religion (Persian "ized" = God), an origin underlying more superficial admixture
of Christian and Moslem elements. This remarkable sect is distinguished by a special form of dualism. While recognising the existence of a Supreme Being, their peculiar reverence is given to Satan, chief of the angelic host, who now has the means of doing evil to mankind, and in his restoration will have the power of rewarding them. 'Will not Satan then reward the poor Izedis, who alone have never spoken ill of him, and have suffered so much for him?' Martyrdom for the rights of Satan! exclaims the German traveller, to whom an old white-bearded Devil-worshipper thus set forth the hopes of his religion."
This peculiar creed of the Izedis is similar to the religion of Devil-worshipping savages in so far as the recognition of the good powers is not entirely lacking, but it is, as it were, a merely negative element; the positive importance of goodness is not yet recognised. It is probable that the Persians in prehistoric times were as much Devil-worshippers as are the Izedis. The daêvas, the deities of the irresistible forces of nature, were pacified by sacrifices. A recognition of the power of moral endeavor as represented in the personified virtues, the Ameshâ Spentâ, was the product of a slow development. Thus in Persia the Devil-worship of the daêvas yielded to the higher religion of God-worship; and this change marks a decided step in advance, resulting soon afterwards in the Persians' becoming one of the leading nations of the world.
51:1 Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. XVII., p. 96.
51:2 In a letter to Professor Jackson alluded to on page 20 of his essay.
51:3 The story that Croesus's life was saved through Zoroastrian influences upon the mind of Cyrus, as told by Nicolaus Damascenus who wrote in the first century B. C., is quite probable. We read (in fragm. 65, Müller, Fragm. Hist. Gr., iii., 409) that religious scruples rose in addition to other considerations, and the words of Zoroaster (Ζωροάστρου λόγια) were called to mind that the fire should not be defiled. Therefore the Persians shouted that the life of Croesus should be spared. Compare Harlez, Avesta traduit, Introd., pp. xliv., lxvii.
53:1 Druj, fiend, is always feminine, while Ahriman is masculine.
53:2 The Turanian form of Afrasiâb, was probably Farrusarrabba.
53:3 Compare Sacred Books of the East, XXXI., p. 29.
54:1 "The creative Word which was in the beginning" (Ahuna-Vairyo, Honover) reminds one not only of the Christian idea of the λόγος ὁς ἦν ἑν ἀρχή, but also of the Brahman Vâch (word, etymologically the same as the Latin vox), which is glorified in the fourth hymn of the Rig Vêda, as "pervading heaven and earth, existing in all the worlds and extending to the heavens."
54:2 Translated from Lenormant's French rendering, 1. c., p. 388.
54:3 Cf. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXIII., p. 22.
54:4 The six Ameshâ-Spentâ (the undying and well-doing ones) are what Christians might call archangels. Originally they had been seven, but the first and greatest among them, Ahura Mazda, came to overshadow the divinity of the other six. They remained powerful gods, but he was regarded as their father arid creator. We read in Yast, XIX., 16, that they have ''one and the same thinking, one and the same speaking, one and the same doing, one and the same father and lord, who is Ahura Mazda."
At first the Ameshâ Spentâ were mere personifications of virtues, but later on they were entrusted with the government of the various domains of the universe. p. 55 Haurvatât and Ameretât (health and immortality) had charge of waters and trees. Khshathrem Vairîm (perfect sovereignty), represented the flash of lightning. His emblem being molten brass, he was revered as the master of metals. Asha Vahita (excellent holiness), the moral world-order as symbolised by sacrifice and burnt-offering, ruled over the fire. Spenta Armaití (divine piety) continued to be regarded as the goddess of the earth, which position, according to old traditions, she had held since the Indo-Iranian era; and Vohu Manô (good thought) superintended the creation of animate life. (See Darmesteter, Ormuzd et Ahriman, Paris: 1877. pp. 55, 202-206. Comp. Encyclopædia Britannica, s. v. "Zoroaster," and Sacred Books of the East, Vol. IV., p. LXXI., et seq.) For an exposition of the modern Parseeism of India see Mr. Dosabhai Framji Karaka's History of the Parsis, London, 1884.
55:1 Says Darmesteter: "The 'Ashem Vohu' is one of the holiest and most frequently recited prayers."
58:1 For a concise statement of the Persian religion, which in many respects foreshadows the Christian doctrines of a Saviour and of the bodily resurrection of the dead, see Prof. A. V. Williams Jackson's excellent article, "The Ancient Persian Doctrine of a Future Life," published in the Biblical World, August, 1896.
59:1 For Persian art see Marcell Dienlafoy's work L'art antique de la Perse, in which for the present purpose the title vignette and the illustrations on page 4 are of interest.
62:1 See his article on "The Circle of Sovereignty," in the American Oriental Society's Proceedings, May, 1889.
62:2 See K. O. Kiash, Ancient Persian Sculptures; and also Rawlinson, J. R. A. S., X.. p. 187. Kossowicz, Inscriptiones Palaeo Persicae Achaemeniodorum, P. 46 et seq.
63:1 There is no need of enumerating other cylinders and bas-reliefs of the same kind, as they are too frequently found in Assyrian archæology. See for instance the illustrations in Lenormant, 1. 1. V., pp. 177, 230, 247, 296, 299, etc.