On Spenta Mainyu's Role in the Zoroastrian Cosmogony


One of the most spectacular developments in the ancient history of the Eastern Iranian area was undoubtedly the transition from a pre-Zoroastrian faith to Zoroastrianism. In a series of earlier articles the present writer has argued that the Zoroastrian myth of the Cosmogony as we know it from the Pahlavi books represents a radical reinterpretation of an older, traditional myth.' Most of the fundamental elements of this myth can still be found in the Veda, and traces of it are preserved in the extant Avesta. Moreover, the influence of the myth can be detected in Roman Mithraism, a cult which must have been inspired at least partly by an Iranian faith, and in the cosmogonies of the Yezidis and the Ahl-e Haqq. In view of Professor A. D. H. Bivar's long interest in these matters, it seems appropriate to offer him in this Festschrift some new thoughts on the development of the Zoroastrian cosmogony, based on a wider and more detailed examination of the Avestan evidence. As is well known, the Zoroastrian myth of the creation, as set out in the Greater Bundahiiin' and in the Selections of Ziidsparam,' states that, in the Beginning, Ohrmazd dwelt on high, in pure light. Ahreman was in the depths, in darkness. Ohrmazd was aware of the antagonism of Ahreman. To prepare himself for battle, he first created his Creations in a non-material state, in which they remained for three thousand years. At the same time Ahrernan created his demonic creations out of darkness. Ahreman then made an attack on the creations of Ohrmazd. Eventually, the two Spirits made a Pact to wage war in the world for a limited period of time. The three stages of the ensuing cosmic drama are: I) Creation, 2) Mixture, 3) Separation [i.e., of Evil from Good). 97

The three thousand years of the Creation began when, after making the Pact, Ohrmazd recited the Ahunawar prayer. This caused Ahreman to fall back into the darkness, in a stupor which lasted until the end of the stage of Creation. During that time Ohrmazd fashioned his creations in material form and celebrated a "spiritual Yasna" together with the Amesa Spentas. First he created the Sky [originally held to be made of stone), and then Water, Earth, a single Plant or Tree, the Uniquely-created Bull, and the First Man. In some accounts the seventh creation, pervading the others, is said to be Fire (GBd l.a.4; IILS); other passages do not mention fire in this connection (GBd 1.54; l.a.13). During the period of the Creation, the creations were motionless and light, with the sun standing still in the middle of the sky. At the beginning of the second stage, that of Mixture, Ahreman made a renewed attack on the world. He penetrated the Sky, polluted the Waters, made a hole in the Earth, caused the Plant to wither, killed the Bull and the Man, and tainted Fire with smoke. Initially, it seems, Ahreman was victorious: the world was dark (GBd IV.22; Zadsp II.ll,18f.; III.!; Diidestiin I Denig XXXV1.34).' Then movement entered the world, the good creations began to fight back, and the world became as we know it. After three thousand years of Mixture, the Renovation will take place, i.e., the beginning of the state of Separation, when the powers of Evil will have been defeated. The Pahlavi Books, in other words, state that the material world was originally created perfect, motionless, and light. The second stage of the history of the universe, brought about by the incursion of the Evil Spirit and the reaction of

. Many of the Vedic Indra's functions appear to have been borrowed from Mitra. seem to mirror the beneficent role of the human priest during the Yasna ritual' Some passages of the Avesta. and the single prototypes of plants. auualzhe lluuQIzheca asno vidi('ara apasca zl1masca uluuaraiiasca yat spi1IJt6 mainiius vtoaraiia. Indo-Iranian version of the cosmogony which shows a direct parallelism between the divine act that brought about the second stage of creation and the Indo-Iranian ritual of the sacrifice. Spenta Mainyu came to be identified almost completely with Ahura Mazda' and lost his earlier independent functions--a development which ultimately led to the Zoroastrian Cosmogony as described in the Pahlavi Books. at birth. 29 we find: td mazdd zbaiiat. animal. the plants.13.1ti5 diitilt vIoiitao! viidhuua uruuat. has always been typically celebrated with animal sacrifice. This caused the sun to come up in a raised sky. depicted as evil deeds and attributed to Ahreman.e. the act of slaying in order to bring about the second stage of creation). This original myth probably knew an initial stage of the Creation in which a dark and narrow stone sky. Apparent inconsistencies in this and other texts suggest. for the support (l)' of yon heaven and of the water(s) and of the earth and of the plants so that Spenta Mainyu might support the heaven. in Iran. that in the course of time.. giving light and energy to the earth-which was extended to three times its original size-and it enabled the waters to flow and vegetable. In Yt. uruuerern vat baneristIuo pUOl~ viIJiiraiia! paiti. has close links with fire and ritual. makes it seem possible that the growing prominence of a cult of Indra among his own people filled the conservative priest Zarathustra with horror. Mehragtln.e.. and helped to inspire his concept of the Evil Spirit (Av.K REV E N B ROE K: Spenta Mainyu the creatures of Righteousness to this. moreover. plays a creative role not mentioned in the later accounts. so that he might maintain the sons conceived in the mothers (so that) they not die. where the second act of creation is usually ascribed to Indra. asmanam yat iipJrn yat zgm yat ggm va. This general hypothesis was formulated partly on the basis of the evidence of Yt. dynamic condition of the world is still described as being preferable to the static. the Bounteous Spirit.' and where Spenta Mainyu. The fact that Indar 98 is known in Zoroastrianism as one of the chief demons.. constitutes a lapse from this state of perfection. A comparison between the Avestan passages and the Vedic texts allows one to postulate an older. however. vnst» apata.. and whose great feast. was regarded as the result of a positive act of deliverance by a divine being.13 reflect an intermediary stage in the transition from the postulated Indo-Iranian myth to that of the Bundabisn=e stage in which the current.caiill! ti astica gaonaca dI>pdaca uruOpQSca paitJiidsca [muunxsasca. A curious feature of the Bundohisn myth is that the killing of the Bull and the pounding of the Plant.tD mainiius tuiinisc){jo . the animals. while the final stage will see its return in an even more complete manner.itiO[Jl.13_ A more detailed scrutiny of that text in conjunction with other Young Avestan passages. and men. the water(s). as in several other cultures. and that the Vedic Indra shares an important function with the Zoroastrian Ahreman (viz. containing within itself both sun and fire-just as flint "contains" the sparks which light a fire-enclosed the motionless waters. yd amauuaintis Mazda called upon them [i.. he . the Pravasis] for help. This has a direct counterpart in the Vedas. show that at one time a different account of the First Things existed. Indo-Iranian demiurge was Mit(h)ra. allows one to go further and to suggest that parts of Yt. vllUiraiia! SPi11J. until the appointed time. the differentiated dynamic stage in which we now live). There arc many grounds for the assumption that the original. and it seems likely that a cult of this war-like god eclipsed that of the more priestly divinities Varuna and Mitra in the religious life of the proto-Indian tribes at some stage during the migrations. Mitlhlra is a priestly god who. animals. in which the second stage of the creation [i. allta mainiitu PhI. and human life to grow and multiply. It can thus be assumed that. a small prototypal earth. the earth. the ritual sacrifice had come to be understood as a repetition of an act which brought the world into being. motionless one that preceded it.28. however. A primeval sacrifice then followed. Ahreman).

(the one that) comes into existence and (the one that) will come into existence. the good. created their creations.9: Ira. The sequence of events of the" Avestan" stage of the myth. for they [i.'azdai.K R EYE N B ROE K: Spenta Mainyu puts together the bones and hair and muscles and intestines and 'sinews and 'nails." The latter verses-juxtaposed to a passage reflecting an earlier state of affairs. below). the Pravasis] are the bravest of the creation of both Spirits.ltarlJ ta Z1 haIJ.S7. and in v. most Bounteous Spirit" (ahuta mazda mainiio sp'· nista).maniuu!i.w Although the parallel places cited earlier suggest that the words "the more Bounteous of the two Spirits" here originally referred to Spenta 99 . However. Spenta Mainyu no longer seems to playa role in the rest of the passage. Spenta Mainyu maintains (the Pravasis] who are powerful. righteous Zarathustra. the one which the Bounteous Spirit (Spenta Mainyu) created and the one which the Evil Spirit (Angra Mainyu) created.auiuiitsm vohuca mano husxvala yat tnainiiii damQn datsium yasca sp'1)ta mainiius yasea aIlIa atarsca td he tatuuuaiiatsm lbaeild anrahe mainii. incremental Faravasis of the Righteous.IS.4S.. Y.19 reflects a stage in the development of Zoroastrianism where Spenta Mainyu had to all intents and purposes come to be identified with Ahura Mazda. so that he could not stay the waters in (their) courses. who rose up (to help) then when the two Spirits. which in the Cathas are said to have been spoken by Spenta Mainyu (d.ti yiiskarastem6 *auuaiid mainiuud I am indeed Vayu by name. vaiiuil ba nQma ahmi yat.~jiaoOanQm allhau§ .76-78: vaiiemi yasea dasa.. ruling creator Ahura Mazda flowed forth and the plants grew" forth.17: ya nait pascaeta paiii. In v. strong. the lying Evil Spirit. Vohu Manah!' and Fire rushed in between.76) attributes creative functions to both Spirits.~aono stim haitimca bauuaiI)timca busiie. can be deduced from Yt.' Y. bakat. a. fundamental act of Creation was always attributed solely to Ahura Mazda. abide in silence . Sp31)ta mainiius yasca da9al aIlra tnainiius damon y!i. siitahe da9uso xsaiiato ahurahe mazdd jtatacia iipo s3uuistd uzuxsiionca uruuari1.~auu(!m vaIlvhls sfird SP31)t!i. aIlra mainiius dahlm a~ahe vallhaus Ql. 3 commonplace occurrence in [Sraosa].13. auuat.43: vaiiuil ba nQma ahmi asaum zarasuitra. most of Y.19. I am indeed Vayu by name because I chase both creations. nail apa takai' staiiat nail uruuard uruOmaZ. Irauua~aiia yd taiJa ar3iJpd hist31)ta ya. counteracting the effects of the activities of his opponent Angra Mainyu.I Ahura Mazda is addressed as "Ahura Mazda.ttIitiia a. maiuiifi damon daioitsm yasea SP'1)tQmainiius yasea aIlra yat titatat. the Bounteous Spirit and the Evil one.2. uua dqma Mainyu. although the combined evidence of the Old and Young Avesta leaves no doubt that the primary. This passage by itself could be taken to indicate no more than that Spenta Mainyu looks after the creations.IS it is implied that Angra Mainyu was rendered powerless because Ahura Mazda pronounced the words of the latter part of Y. several texts show clearly that both Spirits were at one time believed to have creative functions: Yt. and its development. all at once the strongest waters of the strong.e.us druuata va. nor the plants in (their) growths.. When the Evil Spirit stormed the creation of Good ASa. vauuaca vispqm intImca iiiaoOno.iia.me spanii!i. These two overcame the hostilities of him." While the first of these verses (v. which describes the ensuing battle between the forces of good and evil. The more Bounteous of the two Spirits has evoked (for me) the whole existence of the righteous. both the Bounteous and the Evil. through the phrase containing (the word) ~iia08ana: [iiaooanom allbiJus mazdai. (the one that) exists. who has not slept since the two Spirits created the creations.

makes it seem likely that the "truces and treaties" between the Spirits were concluded at the beginning of the state of Mixture. you establish the distribution to both factions at the good (timel. Y. is said to have taken place before the first stage of the material creation began. in other words. auuiiin am'$d spsnta aoi hapto. refers to the "truces and treaties" between the two Spirits. very great god who in the morning brings into evidence the many shapes. the original divine sacriflcer who brought this world into being and is active 100 yo paoirii vaeiiJis siir. so that he could hardly have played an independent role in the events of the Creation.m fraMiti spsntabe mainiisus diim~n huiJiito tnazisto yazato [Mithra].S7. 20 The Old Avestan texts indicate that. In Yt..4S. You are indeed the fire of Lord Wisdom.47.. Ahura Mazda was above the opposition between good and evil.22 The link is stressed more clearly in a passage of the Yasna Haptanbniti.2: at frauuaxsiiii aIlh. that a contemporary rivalry between the cults of Mithra and Indra may have helped to inspire the Prophet's vision of the two Spirits. through Fire. This raises the question whether the concept of Mithra. In the Ciithiis this connection is suggested in Y.6: ta dd sp'IJ. above].10. the creatures of the Bounteous Spirit ." Spenta Mainyu has close links with Fire. Lord Wisdom. and seems to imply that it was not until such a treaty had been concluded that the Amesa Spentas could come down to earth or.ll. It seems possible.!' may in some way have influenced the Prophet's vision and understanding of Spenta Mainyu. who watches over the truces and treaties between the Evil One and the most Bounteous Spirit. and that such mental associations gave rise to pronouncements found in the Ciithiis and elsewhere in the Zoroastrian tradition. the Amesa Spentas came down to the earth of seven continents .ktlIsuuairim zam in it. Mithra is said to bring forth the creations of Spenta Mainyu every morning. mainiius voi ahiia sp.." It is not intended to suggest that traces of such a link would indicate that Spenta Mainyu could be said to be in any sense identical with Mithra.!4. and even less that. Another passage. The passage is of course reminiscent of the Bundahisn account of the Treaty between Ohrmazd and Ahreman. however. You are indeed his most Bounteous Spirit. in the later tradition both Angra Mainyu/ Ahreman and =lndra/lndar live on as evil beings. however..142. like Mithra. in Zarathustra's view. the well-created.36.!7 (d. Yt..us mainiiii paouxuiie yaiid spaniiJ iiiti mrauuat yam aIlram Now I shall proclaim the two Spirits [presentl-s in the beginning of existence of whom the more bounteous one spoke thus to the evil one ." and perhaps hinting at a link between the creative activities of the two divinities: [Sraosa]. that the present state of the world was reached when the two Spirits concluded a pact: yo iixStisca uruuaitlsca druio spasiio spgnistabe.!' A similar version of the cosmogony may underlie the well-known Cathie passage Y. It was suggested earlier that Zarathustra's anger at the growing prominence of a cult of Indra helped to inspire his vision of the Evil Spirit.. .nisto obi.K R EYE N BRa E K: Spenta Mainyu orally transmitted texts-probably represent a stage in the development of the myth where Spenta Mainyu was believed to be identical with Ahura Mazda.3: iitarS voi mazdd aburabiin ahi. The latter. suggesting that the renewed visibility of the world in the morning was likened to the creation of the variegated world out of a dark and oppressive state..tiimainiiii mazdii ahurii ii8riivaIlhiiu vidiiitim riinoibiiii Through that Bounteous Spirit. whereas the reference to the "earth of seven continents" and the link with Y.

I. with the appearance of a bright 'crystal glimmering over the thirds. although polluted by the activities of the Evil Spirit at a later stage. xraozdistsng assno vaste Of these two Spirits. as Spenta Mainyu lost his individuality and came to be identified with Ahura Mazda. spiritually established.. Iranians brought up in the ancient tradition would have been familiar with the notions of a Primeval Creator. the most Bounteous Spirit.!m riiniio. where Spenta Mainyu is described as being "clad in hardest stone.'" It seems clear that. spiritually fashioned. below. oh Zarathushtra.. 23 In view of the above. it was no longer a primeval sacrifice alone that set things going.skaraitIm h'm. The main structural differencebetween the Indo-Iranianand the early Zoroastrian cosmogony appears to have been that in the latter." as deriving from the links between the two: aHa mainiutd v<1razii6 a~am mainiitis varatii ya draguud acistd sp'niSto y.however. he also disappeared as an active agent from accounts of the cosmogony. as it 101 original concept of Spenta Mainyu and that of Mithra did indeed exist. implied that the latter created the world twice.Moreover. Rasnu and Armaiti. chooses righteousness. a version of the Cosmogony eventually emerged where Angra Mainyu was declared to have been coexistent with Ahura Mazda from the beginning..2. Combining the data discussed above we can see the development of the myth in fig. which is hidden in stone.S. ahmtii gl." similar imagery is used of Ahura Mazda." and of the wellknown theme of Mithra's birth from a rock in Mithraic iconography.13. and where Ahura Mazda was indeed held to be the auctor of two creations. and of a Demiurge closely linked with him.rasnucau dtmaitica spsutaiia Through their insight and glory I support. clash and pact of the two Spirits-which in an earlier version ushered in the second stage of creation-back into a remote past and associating these with the non-material world.tastsm hacimno *mi(Jrii. Y. which is all round this earth. tasa! You are the bounteous Father of this Spirit who fashioned for him the joy-providing Cow . "of wide cattle pastures": ahiiii mainiisus tuusm ab: tii spaIJ. clad in hardest stone. yonder heaven. yim mazdd vaste vanbansm stsbrpaesanbsm mainiiu. which presumably needed to be explained. firmly fixed. a non-material and a material one. reflecting Ahura Mazda's supreme creative powers. The identification of Spenta Mainyu with Ahura Mazda. above. perhaps reminiscent of Mithra's links with the (bull) sacrifice and his standard epithet vouxu. in company with Mithra and Rasnu and Bounteous Armaiti . when the world passed from the embryonic to the developedstage." which Mazda wears as a mantle decorated with stars. shining and clear. directly connected with Mithra..K R EYE N B ROE K: Spenta Mainyu were like a bird (all around) an egg. it seems plausible to explain the imagery of Y. . but the dynamism deriving from the opposition between the Spirits of good and evil.30. at some stage the question must have arisen as to who was responsible for the existence of the Evil Spirit. Given that the sky was held to be made of stone. which abides.gaoiiaoiti-.3: iirzhQm taiia xvaranarzhaca vtssxaera zarasustra aom asmamm yo usca xaoxsns tradarasro yo imqtn ziJm iica pairica buuauua mqtiaiisti abe ya8a vIS aem yo histaite maniio. with distant limits.3 implies a close link between Spenta Mainyu and the Cow. who caused the world to expand to its full potential.to y. It seems likely then that some links between the This was achieved by projecting the creative activities.. of Mithra's links with fire. Probably as a result of such perplexities. in Yt.stato handraxto diiraekarano aiiarzho kebrpa xVaenahe raocahiniJ aoi Orisuua. while the material world is most often represented as being originally good.4 7. the Evil one chooses the worst things.

Hionells [Rome. 8. defeated fundamental components of the world hidden. the moon and Infinite Lights which previously stood still long. better than first 1 SpentaM. light. Ahr. Gignoux. ed. Vichitakiha-i Zatspararn [Bombay. which also mentions the Creator Ahura Mazda. lights fundamental creation by AhuraMazda fundamental creation by AhuraMazda transition Mit(hJra comes into world. 3.44I. because of the deceptions of the Daevas" Idaeuuan(. later 1 Pahlavi Books Ohr. E. &.. Notes 1. bring forth creations. Ph. dark. stopped by Yazatas dynamic. diss.. 18-21. because of the hostility of the Daevas. in Studies on Mithraism.. Translation and Commentary. 1971. Die Religion Zarathustras [Hildesheim. Calif. "Mithra and Ahreman. better than dominion of AngraM. cahier 11 [Paris. D. worse than first stage Ahr. hereafter Zadsp. A more substantial publication is in preparation. For an excellent account of this process see H. static Ahr. hereafter GBd.tamainiiu. Yt. n. pp. dark. Instead of Malandra's "Incrementa] Spirit" for sp~:r). W. primeval sacrifice dynamic. Malandea.13. 102 . Yarshater (Costa Mesa." in Ell. pt. Idem. static Indra kills Ahi. pp. 1. ed. R. static Veda Avesta. etc. 1992). Text.13 are taken from W. T. The reference to the creative functions of both Spirits is repeated in this verse and again in the next {v. defeated 2d stage dynamic. Pennsylvania." Ph. ed.K R EYE N B ROE K: Spenta Mainyu Indo-Iranian Before material creation Material creation 1st stage embryonic world. clash Pact material creation by Ohrmazd. J.57: "who . in "Cosmogony and Cosmology in Zoroastrianism/Mazdaism. light. Anklesaria. showed the path to the stars. better than dominion of AngraM. Cf. ideal. 1 [Bombay. AngraM. S. 1. in the same place without moving forward. 57-79. 2. 1993). StIr. confined. &. 1971). pp. Pact dynamic..). AngraM. Unless otherwise stated. confined. See T. waters. ed.. translations of passages of Yt. defeated AngraM. the divinity's Avestan name is either retained or rendered as "Bounteous Spirit. comes into world kills bull.. "The Fravasi Yast: Introduction. 1964). Binyamln and Malak Tawus: Traces of an Ancient Myth in the Cosmogonies of Two Modern Sects. daeuuanQm parD draomohu).d." in Recurrent Patterns in Iranian Religions: From Mazdaism to Sufism." 9. For details see the articles cited in n. clash. Ahklesaria. II 6. AngraM. better than first 1 3d stage Fig. 303-7i "Mithra and Ahreman in Iranian Cosmogonies.Jm parD tbaesoll11at. Zand-Akaslh: Iranian or Greater Bundobiin (Bombay. early 1 Avesta. seeks to harm good creations. light. 7.: non-material creation. Lommel. briefly victorious dynamic. To wit. forthcoming].. finds Cows. See B. 1956).D. The Ddtistdn-I Diuik. ed. 4.

MSS: mi8ro . 19911.103. 1I0f the earth. Cf. Boyce." pp." The Avestan Hymn to Mithra [Cambridge. Yt. 164. Gtltntls. which implies shall not destroy existence for a second time" Inoit daibititn dus." 24. On the links between the sky. 18. stone. the primordial rockcave). Lord of Fire." Yt. Gershevitch translates "Incremental" where the present version has "bounteous.d: lithe one of evil doctrine mi1IQsiiatJ. 158-59. 26. Indra is said to have produced fire from stones during the second act of creation. Zotoastriaa Problems in Books [Oxford.pp.l." 13. Indo-Iranian myth. Such ideas may of course have played the divinity "thanks to whom the water l= rain) falls. 1943. "The Fravasi Yast. repro 19711. 19751. Le. So H. II I! the Ninth-Century Varuna could be invoked 103 . So Humbach." 25.45. Bailey." ActIr 4lTehran. p. 17. I. liThe Pravasi Yast.. vol. 27.1O. which postulates a time before that of the material Creation. Ibid. vol. W.54. For a discussion of the Vedic evidence. A History of Zoroastrianism. 19851. 12.. cf. p. see H. 1 [Leiden. "bounteous" is used here for Av. how easy the transition must have been to the final version of the myth.43. 15. In the Veda.. I." and "you" instead of "thou.. ZoroastrianismfMazdaism. 16.. Malandra.sastts ahiim that the present state of the world is due in part to the activities of the forces of evil in the [remote) past. 19751. Translation Gershevitch..instead of Humbach's "prosperous. durch die der Weise Herr tatig ist.99. See latterly M. 0 men." It would hardly be fanciful to suggest that such ideas may have come naturally to a priest brought up in a tradition in which the names of the creative divinities Mitra and as a dvandva. Rigveda 2. and my "Cosmogony and Cosmology in pp. thanks to whom the plants grow. 20..10. 19671. "grow. and who may have been trained to regard Mithra as the divinity 21.3: "Who having slain the serpent released the seven streams. Gershevitch. Humbach. 158. is Indra.. vol. the development of the original.61 Mithra is referred to as 1I who brought larly in charge of it.e. "The FravaSi Ya~t": "Good Truth. teilweisc aber is die Wirksamkeit des Geistes eine selbstandige. I. p. 19-22." see 1. the last line of Y.g. victor in battles: he. on which see G. 23. 14. 120ff. For the emendation see Malandra. crystal and metal. pp 70-76. Such ambiguities show. who between two stones has produced fire."lord of countries. "On Mithra. dann abel im Grunde dieselbe wie die von Gott selbst. The Cathas of Zarathushtra and the Other Old Avestan Texts [Heidelberg. Boyce. 174. 132-33. p. Note that in Yt. e. Siaosa in the Zoroastrian Tradition [Leiden. See. Avestan Hymn to Mithra. Malandra. Kreyenbroek.12. 145.. 22. Lommel IDie Religion Zarathustrasl: "In den Gathas is der Kluge Geist teilweise die Kraft. 11.e. 28. where Mithra is described as the guardian and overseer of all creations. and his epithet datibupaiti. see my "Mithra and Ahreman in Iranian Cosmogonies.12. for the sake of consistency. also the Giithic passage Y. 19. For this d.1O." p. M. pp.K R EYE N B ROE K: Spenta Mainyu this world into being and was particua role in 10. who drove out the cows by the unclosing of the vala [i. Good Mind. incidentally. Cf. sp:il~ta. part of the Abunawar prayer." d.

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