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Mandaean Beliefs

Life Recognition of the existence of one God, whom Nasurai call "Hayyi" which in
Aramaic means "the Living" or life itself. The Great Life (or Supreme Deity) is a personification of the creative and sustaining force of the universe, and is spoken of always in the impersonal plural, it remains mystery and abstraction. The modern Jewish practice of saying "To Life! and of wearing the Chai (Life) letters as pendants may be related to this Mandaean reverence for Life. The symbol of the Great Life is flowing 'living' water or yardna. Because of this, flowing water holds a central place in all Nasurai rituals, hence the necessity of living near rivers.

Light The second vivifying power is light, which is represented by a

personification of light, Melka d Nhura (the King of Light) and the light spirits, who bestow health, strength, virtue and justice . In the ethical system of the Mandaeans, as in that of the Zoroastrians, cleanliness, health of body and ritual obedience must be accompanied by purity of mind, health of conscience and obedience to moral laws. A phrase in the Manual of Discipline reads: that they may behold the Light of Life.

Immortality The third important rite of the religion is the belief in the
immortality of the soul, and its close relationship with the souls of its ancestors, immediate and divine. The fate of the soul is a chief concern, while the body is treated with disdain. Belief in the existence of the next life, in which there will be reward and punishment. The sinner will be punished in al-Matarathi and then enter Paradise. There is no eternal punishment because God is merciful and forgiving.


PRAYER: Mandaeans must face the North (Pole) Star during prayers. This mis-conception of star worship comes from the fact that although the Mandaean are monotheists, they pay adoration to the angels and the good and free spirits which they believe reside in the stars and from which they govern the world under the Supreme Deity. Kneeling and prostration during prayer is unknown, neither is the covering of the face with the hands at any time. The head is held erect, and the hands are not used. Priests are required to pray a different set prayer each day of the week. Prayer hours are dawn, noon and dusk. ASCETICISM: Asceticism, self-denial and simplicity as religious attitudes. There should be no sale of foodstuffs as these should be offered to the needy. There should be no embellishment of graves nor visiting them. A good deed should be done in secret and not for show. NO CIRCUMCISION: One of their inviolable beliefs was the integrity of the physical body. No part of it should be cut off, for just as God created the person sound and complete so should this trust be returned to him. Circumcision is included in this prohibition. RESPECT FOR RIVERS: Respect for and sanctification of rivers is such that Mandaeans always try to live near their banks. A major sin as mentioned in the Holy Books is that a person should urinate in a river. However, it is recommended to throw left-over food in water, especially the food remaining from ceremonies remembering a deceased person which will be eaten by the river fish. This is because the river or Yardna represents Life and Light from which everything was formed and so will return to it. - It involves communion with the Light World and the long departed Souls.

BAPTISM: The central rite of the Mandaean cult is immersion in water, which is regarded not only as a symbol of Life, but to a certain degree as life itself . The chief purpose and significance of baptism is first that the neophyte, by immersion in the yardna, enters into close communion with the World of Light receiving physical well being, protection against the powers of death and promise of ever lasting life to the Soul. The second quality is purificatory, just as it washes away filth, infections and impurity from the body, it washes away transgressions and sins from the Soul. The greater the number of ablutions performed or received the better, for without baptism no Mandaean (or his Soul) may pass onto the next world. Baptism was at one time so essential such that unbaptised children were not considered to belong to the community.

DISCIPLINES: The human spirit has two levels, the higher/divine level (nashimta) which comes from God and the lower spirit (ruha). The ruha is the lower spirit connected with life and desires and this is the spirit which induces evil. The higher spirit (nashimta) which is the spirit received from God bears the refined influences. These two forces contend within the human being and a person can strengthen the higher spirit (nashimta) at the expense of the lower spirit (ruha) through spiritual exercises and avoiding evil ways. Such persons are considered to be elevated to the rank of the spiritually evolved. A person can strengthen the Nishimtha over the Ruha by Knowledge, purity and cleanliness (physical & spiritual) avoiding evil and performing good deeds and prayers. also by doing BOTH ceremonial & spiritual exercises or rituals in the correct Mandaic way --- those who achieve this state are termed Nasurai. ABSOLUTIONS: Ablutions (rishama) are performed before the prayers, and this means washing the face and the rest of the limbs while reciting certain prayers. DIET & PURITY: Food is also ritually cleansed, such as fruits and vegetables before consumption. Other items like the rasta (robes) and kitchen utensils such as pots and pans undergo frequent ritual purifications. Salt is the only exception. Ganzivri (Bishops) and priests must only eat of the food they prepare themselves and their bread may not be baked with that of lay persons. For Ganzivri (Bishops) wine, coffee and tobacco are forbidden to them and they must avoid eating hot or cooked food. All their fruits and vegetables must be eaten raw. Water is the only beverage of a priest and this must be taken directly from the river or spring. The Mandaeans also use other terms to differentiate amongst themselves on basis of ritual cleanliness, Suwadi is used for laymen, Hallali is applied to ritually pure men, who of their own will follow a high religious standard, and of course Nasurai used for priests. Only that grows from a seed is lawful for food (hence a mushroom is forbidden). In practice little meat is eaten, and the attitude towards slaughter is always apologetic, perhaps because all original Nasurai were vegetarians and meat eating only crept in after a departure from their original faith. All killing and blood letting is supposedly sinful and it is forbidden to kill female beasts. Flies, scorpions and all harmful stinging things may be slain without sin. Under Mandaean customs every mother must suckle her own child, it is forbidden to act as a foster mother for hire. The child's education and upbringing is the duty of the father, until the child reaches the age of 15 (or 20 according to others, which was the age of adulthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pythagorean tradition). RISHAMA BAPTISM: The first of the miqvah purifications performed is the rishama (signing), the priests presence is not required, such that each man is his own priest. This should be performed daily, and with covered head, just before sunrise after the evacuation of the bowels and before all religious

ceremonies. The Clementine Homilies tell us that Peter always washed, often in the sea, before dawn which was no doubt a custom of all Nazarenes of his time. This practice received great attention by early historical writers on the Essenes. Qumran is certainly filled with ritual bathing pools and one quite large community Miqvah has been uncovered outside of the Essene Synagogue / Temple site in the Essene quarter of Jerusalem.

TAMASHA BAPTISM: The second, the tamasha, is a simple triple immersion in the river, again this is performed without the aid of the priest or priestess. It must be performed by women after menstruation and after childbirth. Both man and woman must perform this ablution immediately after sexual intercourse, it must be performed after touching a dead body, after nocturnal pollution or any serious defilement or contact with a defiled person, as impurity is contagious - a person touching an unclean person, himself becomes unclean. These practices are related to the ritual purity laws of the Jews and were no doubt taught and practiced to some degree, and after their own fashion, by early Nazarenes (See Clementine Homiless). In the Qumran Temple Scroll, the first of the regulations concerning people who were excluded from the holy temple precincts concerned a man who had a nocturnal emission. He was not permitted to re-enter until three days have passed. He shall wash his garments and bathe on the first day, and on the third day he shall wash his garments and bathe, and after sunset he shall enter the sanctuary. MASBUTA BAPTISM: The third ablution, or 'full baptism', encompasses all aspects of baptism and must be performed by a priest or priestess. This ablution is known as masbuta (maswetta) includes the sacraments of oil, bread (known as pihtha) and water (from the river only, known as mambuha), the kushta (the hand grasp and kiss) and the final blessing by laying the right hand of the priest on the head of the baptized person. The masbuta should take place on Sunday, after major defilement's (i.e.. childbirth, marriage, illness and even after a journey) and especially for those who have lied or who have had violent quarrels, indeed after any action which is ashamed of. Major sins such as theft, murder, and adultery require more than one baptism. CLOTHING: The rasta or ritual dress, also called the ustlia` in Mandaean texts, must be worn on all religious occasions such as baptism, marriage and death (in particular). It is a white dress, symbolic of the dress of light in which the pure soul is clad. All Mandaeans, laymen and priests, must posses one. The rasta consists of seven items for laymen and nine items for priests. though ritually clean, the rasta, except when new, is seldom white, it may not be washed with soap but may be washed in the river. It is the greatest misfortune for a person to die in his lay clothes, for his soul cannot reach Abathur. At one time the Mandaeans continually wore the rasta as it was a sin to wear a color. Wear white only, no colors are permitted regardless if

they are natural or dyed. Of the fabrics, natural silk is most preferred and recommended, wool can only be used if shorn from a live animal, those

that are fleeced after they die cannot be used to make clothing. No synthetic fiber's allowed i.e., nylon, rayon polyester etc.The Rule of the Garden of Peace mandates that all residents where natural white clothing, just like the Mandaeans, ancient Essenes and ancient Pythagoreans.

STAFF & TALISMANS: When officiating a priest must always carry a staff of olivewood (willow in the case of necessity), known as margna, which is associated with water, and is often spoken of as the 'staff of living water'. At the priests death, his margna, Shom Yawar and skandola are buried with him. (See the priest holding a Margna in the illustration at the top of the page) The Shom Yawar is a gold ring bearing the inscription Shum Yawar Ziwa and is worn on the little finger of the right hand. The skandola is made of iron and has recently become part of the religious dress. This is a talismanic seal ring and bears representations of a lion, scorpion, bee (or wasp) and serpent. The latter head to tail encircles the others, it is attached by an iron chain to a haftless iron knife. It is worn during exorcisms, and by those isolated for uncleanliness (e.g.. childbirth or marriage). It is also used to seal newborns navels and to seal the tomb at the funeral. It is interesting that the Seer Cayce told one woman she once was an Essene who placed the royal seal on Christ's dead body, consisting of pear, call and pomegranates. The Mandaean Skandola is shown below.

BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD: As death approaches the dying person is bathed, water is brought in from the river, the dying person is undressed and then washed with a threefold sprinkling from head to feet. He/she is then lifted and placed on clean bedding facing the North Star and is then dressed in a new rasta, with gold or gold threads sown on the right side of the stole and silver or silver threads sown on the left side. Weeping is forbidden. (To die at the sacred season of Panja means that the soul of the deceased will fly quickly to the worlds of light and escape the tortures and dangers of the purgatories. ) The dead person is interned facing north and the tomb goes unmarked - .. the body is dirt and rubbish, once the Soul has left it is a Mandaean saying. At the moment the body is being lowered into the tomb the lofani (ritual meal) is begun . A Zidqa Brikha, prayers and baptisms are also performed. TEMPLE HUT: The mandi, Manda or mashkhana is a simple and unimposing building. It can be or is made from reeds and bricks and is always built on the right bank of the river facing the north with the

lustration pool to the south of it. The construction, proportions, materials and shape are prescribed by written and oral traditions (believed by the Mandaeans to date back to the time of Adam). It is usually built as a rectangle about 12' by 16'. (This is a similar size, but different shape, than the hexagon shaped Beth hut used by some modern Essenes at the Garden of Peace.) The water shall be perpetually flowing and the pool holds 'living' and not stagnant or cut-off water. The mandi is oblong in shape, the north and south walls being the longer walls and is built so that a person entering the opening in the middle of the south wall will enter facing north i.e.. glance or gaze at the North Star, which is also the point of gaze during prayers. The hut must be reconsecrated yearly after the pollution caused by the five days preceding Panja. This yearly rebuilding, or reconsecration, seems reminiscent of the Sukhot huts built at the time of the Jewish New year.

BANNERS: During the immersion ceremonies, a white silk banner, the dravsha, is erected on the bank of the pool to the south-east and right of the hut. The banner is purely a light symbol and the Mandaeans imagine the light of the sun, moon and stars as streaming from such banners. The silk is looped up so as not to touch the ground and then thrown around the peak, the end is fringed. A myrtle wreath is slipped over the peak of the banner, and, just beneath the cross (hidden from sight) a piece of gold wire called the aran dravshi, twisted into a 'letter' secures seven twigs of myrtle in place. The use of this cross emblem has confused many as to the Mandaean's relationship with Christianity. It is possible that it is pre-christian and may be an alternative source for the Christian use of the cross. It seems natural that something to hang one's clothing or prayer shawl on during Miqvah immersions would exist in a culture of daily immersers. The Seer Cayce told one women that she helped prepare paintings for the walls, and drawings that could be carried about, and were used as banners. (The Mandeaens do not presently carry their dravsha banner in procession.) PRIESTHOOD: Priesthood is allowable to both males and females within the Mandaean culture, and historically there have been female priests, or priestesses, although there are none known of at present. Priestly training begins in a boys early years, he puts on his rasta and acts as his fathers Shganda . He begins to learn his letters when he is 3 or 4 years old, when he is literate he is called a Yalufa. He begins to commit prayers and rituals to memory as soon as he can speak. A child destined for priesthood must not cut his hair or shave his beard. He must be without any physical blemish. He must be of pure Mandaean blood, his family must be physically and ritually immaculate for several generations back on both sides of the family. If any of his female ancestors within three generations were married when widows or non-virgins, then the would-be priest cannot be consecrated. When a boy has memorized enough of the rituals and prayers, acted in the proper manner of the Shganda under the guidance and instruction of the priest or Ganzivra, he

becomes ready to receive initiation into the first degree of priesthood, becoming a Tarmida.

PRIESTHOOD 1ST STAGE: The Shwalia (as the would be priest is termed) recites from memory the whole of the Sidra d Nishmatha. PRIESTHOOD 2ND STAGE: During the next stage, the would-be priest must remain isolated (with exception of the presence of the Ganzivra) in a newly built reed hut on the Mandi grounds and must remain awake for this period, which lasts for seven days (i.e.. Sunday to Sunday). On the following Sunday morning (i.e.. on the 7th day) the Shwalia baptizes the Ganzivra and thus ends the first stage of consecration . He now begins the sixty days of purity, in which he must live isolated from his family and if married must not cohabit. Once the sixty days are over, the Shwalia reads his first Masiqta (Mass) and consequently becomes a Tarmida. PRIESTHOOD GANZIVRA STAGE: Consecration to the Ganzivrite, or Bishop, can only take place when some pious aged person in the community is near death, since the Ganzivite must perform a funeral service as part of their initiation. this person must be ritually pure and of priestly stock, he/she must also have been married and not childless. The purpose of this dying person is to be a Message Bearer, he/she will be purified from all past transgressions and pass to the Worlds of Light unhindered. At the end of the three day period, the Ganzivra-elect officiates at a lofani in the dead persons name. He then returns to his own home where he must live a cut-off existence for 45 days (the period assigned for the passage of the soul through the purgatories). This is very similar to practices outlined by Padmasambhava in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He must remain in seclusion, and may not cohabit with his wife, if he becomes polluted then the period is re-begun. At the end of this period the (now) Ganzivra must perform a marriage ceremony for a priest. If no such marriage opportunity arises then the Ganzivra remains in his state of isolation until his death. This is rarely the case since polygamy is acceptable, especially amongst priests, and a fellow priest is willing to marry for the sake of his colleague. This stage of Priesthood is allowed only a raw food diet, with the possible exception of cooked bread. PRIESTHOOD HEAD: The last and highest degree of the priesthood is that of Rish'uma, or Head of The People, this seat has been vacant for over two centuries. A Ganzivra acquires this rank automatically when he has consecrated five priests. Among Essenes this office was entitled Moreh HaZedec - the Teacher of Righteousness. NEW NAME: Every Mandaean has two names, that of his earthly name (laqab) and the religiously important Malwasha (zodiacal name). The latter is his real name and is used on all religious occasions, this name is linked and derived from the mother and not the father.

The priest uses the time of birth, the day, the zodiac sign and astrological chart to determine this name - but the giving of this religious name protects that person from the evil powers of the zodiac sign in which he was born remember that the "12" and "7" are mentioned in the religious books as being evil and represent the zodiac signs and the then known planets, respectively. The purpose of the Malwasha is to protect that person from his star sign, the Malwasha is used in the religious ceremonies and prayers, the other name given by the parents is an earthly name of no significance to the religion.

HIDDEN EDEN: Mandaeans believe that every beast, bird, flower and the whole physical universe has a spiritual counterpart in Mshunia Kushta (the ideal world or paradise of the Mandaeans), although according to Foerster, this idea is seldom mentioned in the older books, yet more frequently in the later books and is situated in the north. The inhabitants of this world who are the descendants of Adam Kasia and Hawa Kasia (the hidden Adam and Eve) are said to marry and have children but without pollution in the process. CELIBACY: Celibacy is regarded as a sin, while the procreation of children is regarded as a religious duty. Women are not forced into marriages, although divorce is not accepted and only separation is sanctioned. Polygamy is not uncommon in the community, although this is a personal matter and is not universal. CALENDAR: The Mandaeans count the twenty four hours of a day and night as beginning at dawn (i.e.. light over dark; good over bad). in contrast to their Arab neighbours, who say the night of Tuesday - referring to the night preceding Tuesday (i.e.. Monday night). The Mandaean year is divided into twelve months of thirty days each (a 360 day year) with five intercalary days named Parwanaia or Panja, which falls between the 30th day of Shmbulta and the 1st day of Qaina. ALPHABET: The alphabet (a total of 24 letters) is called by the Mandaeans the 'abaga' and the spoken language is called the 'ratna'. The Mandaeans look upon their alphabet as being magical and sacred and which are sometimes read out allowed to ward of evil spirits. Each letter represents a power of life and light, the first and last letters, the 'alpha', are the same and represent perfection of light and life. The writing of the holy documents can only be done on paper, papyrus, metal (lead sheets) and stone (or clay) - they can never be written on parchment or animal skin, for it is a sin to slaughter and also because animal skin is unclean. Rolls or books must be wrapped in white cloth or muslin and must not be bound in leather. The ink is hand made and is a priestly recipe, there is no one method or recipe, although it is

always black and shinny. There is a rarity of ancient copies of Mandaean books, some of the oldest writing are on lead sheets and inscriptions on clay bowls.

SCRIPTURES: A. The Ginza Rba (The Great Treasure) or Sidra Rba (The Great Book). This consists of two parts, the right Ginza and the smaller left Ginza which is written upside down. The contents of the right side are mostly cosmogony, accounts of creation, prayers and legends. The second part (the left) deals only with the souls and its 'ascent' (masiqta) to the realm of light, its hymns are chanted during mass for the dead. Ginza Rba Immersion Ceremony: Book of Souls (Baptism Liturgy) (1-31) Ginza Rba Mass: Masiqta: 32-72 Ginza Rba Letter, Hymns, Responses, Prayers: 'ngirta, Hymn, 'niania,Rushma (73-105) Nasurai / Mandaic Glossary: A few Aramaic words encountered in the Ginza Rba. Mandaic Mystical Alphabet

B. Drasha d Yahya (The Book of John, Chapters 1-4, 8-10). This book is a mixed collection of fragments and may be a supplement to the Ginza. This text mentions Mt. Carmel and the Beni-Amin, or B'nai-Amen Temple Order, in chapter 10. C. Sfar Malwasha - this is an astrological codex. D. Sidra d Nishmatha (The Book of Souls). This is a codex about baptismal ritual with that of the baptismal sacraments. In the Qabbalah Neshamah is the name for the highest soul, above the Ruach and Nephesh, both of which are considered evil by Mandeaens. E. Tafsir Paghra - a roll concerning the inner meaning of the ritual meals and the constitution of the Soul. F. Qolasta (Praise). A conical prayer book, contains hymns, songs and prayers together with appropriate directions which are necessary for cultic ceremonies, above all for baptisms and rituals for the dead. G. Alf Trisar Shiala (One Thousand and Twelve Questions). This is supposed to be in five or seven parts and is intended for priests only.

Mandaean Parallels With Other Traditions

Interesting parallels exist between the traditional Catholic-christian tradition and the Mandaean practices. This is not surprising when one understands that both go back to the same source - Nazarene Essenism. Some parallels suggest that what has traditionally been considered purely Christian, may in fact be pre-christian and traditional to the Nazarene sect of Essenes. The Christian Mass has strong, almost identical, elements in common with the Ginza Rba's outline for ritualistic Pita bread and water / wine consumption.

Mandeaens mingle water with wine and break the host as in the Catholic tradition. Both link the ceremony with forgiveness and communion with the dead and both traditions maintain the same order of Baptism, Anointing and then Eucharistic meal. Both traditions even share the concept of threefold baptism following a consecration of waters and exorcism of demons. (see Hippolytus and Cyril for details of these early Christian practices) The Clementine literature tells us that predawn "miqvah" immersions were in vogue with Peter's habits, even as they are mandated in Qumran and Mandaean writings. Early Christian traditions also stress the use of "living", or flowing, waters in baptismal ceremonies, just like the Mandeaens. Bishops of both Catholic and Mandaean religions use a consecrated staff and ring, and both traditions use metal medals to ward off negative influences. (St. Benedict Medallion for example) Both traditions use a wooden cross upon which is hung holy symbols. The Mandaean doctrine of angels over baptism and the Jordan shows up in some gnostic texts, and both these traditions emphasize the evil influence of the archons and lower heavens. Principles of ritual defilement and purity found in the Ginza and other Mandaean writings also show up in many Essene reports and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Temple Scroll, Damascus Covenant and others. These principles must have been in common usage by early Nazarenes and some form of these ideas were no doubt also practiced by Yeshua and his disciples. (See Clementine Homilies). Reports of Essene all white clothing reminds one of this same requirement among the Mandeaens as well as ancient Pythagoreans. It is reasonable, therefore, to conjecture that all of Christ's disciples also wore only white. The raw food and vegetarian diet mandated for Mandaean Bishops is also reminiscent of raw food doctrines found in the Essene Gospel of Peace brought forth by Szekely in the first part of the 20th century and in reports of ancient Essenes and in their Damascus Document.

The Mandaean traditions and records are a rich gold mine of information on early Nazarene practices. The many overlaps in the early Christian tradition and the modern Mandaean tradition are strongly suggestive of the common origin of each. Because the earliest "Jewish Christian" strata of the tradition was rejected by the prevailing Roman-Greek Christian culture, many original and important elements of the Way of Yeshua was, no doubt, discarded. By prudent analysis of Mandaean tradition it seems possible to recover many of these ancient principles for use by modern Nazarene Essenes. Of particular consideration are the practices of:

Use of the Staff in Baptism and other rites. Utilization of the three forms of ritual immersion. Use of threefold immersions, anointings and imbibings. Laws of purity and defilement and some elements of their dietary practices. Some portions of their clothing and grooming (hair style) laws. Baptism for the Dead, Mass for the dead, the placing of seals upon the body, and 49 day requiem rites (also outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Some elements of their manner of preparing priesthood initiates and manner of conducting rituals. Use of flowing water, huts, vigils, etc. Use of horoscopes to create a spiritual name for initiates. Some of their gnostic concepts and invocations of angels and exorcisms of darkness.

A few Mandaean traditions seem better left alone. Some of these might include: Negative attitude toward Yeshu (Jesus). Allowance of some meat consumption by the lay people. Overly strict Priesthood requirements which severily limit the number of candidates for various offices and the failure to insist on women priestesses as allowed by their tradition. Insistence on the use of the dead language of Mandaic Aramaic in all rituals.

The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel