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On Mysticism and Esotericism among the Zoroastrians·
The idea of Zoroastrian mysticism might at first glance seem a contradiction in terms, The Good Religion, after all, is cimir, "rational," above all else:
Zoroaster elegantly solved the most intractable mystery of all faiths, theodicy, by the revelation of cosmic dualism.' The mere assertion that there are esoteric doctrines within Zoroastrianism has been criticized.I This criticism springs in part from a flawed perception of mysticism itself, which, as it will be argued, is not an independent entity. everywhere the same. Rather. each religion has a mysticism of its own. often irreconcilable in some of its features with the mainstream, and, in the case of Zoroastrianism, with some of the religion's plain logic. Also, the existence of mysticism within a religious tradition does not imply its centrality to that tradition. Mysticism exists in Christianity, but could scarcely be called essential to it, considering the claim, elaborated as the Christian church rose to universal prominence, to the radically overt and suffi
--rhe research for this essay was carried out with the generous support of a Lady Davis Fellowship at the Hebrew University. I thank the Trust and my colleagues in Israel, whose helpful comments and learned company were of great benefit. I am solely responsible for the audacity to approach this topic, and they share no responsibility for the many inadequacies readers will, undoubtedly, discover.
1. One might contrast to Zoroaster's clear vision of the beginning of all things and of their true nature in his hymns the theophany in Job. "All categories in which meaning can be identified are wiped out and the only voice Job can hear is that of the archaic thunder God, EI or Ba'I, who speaks in enigmas of an ultimate premoral mystery" (Amos N. Wilder, ''The Rhetoric of Ancient and Modem Apocalyptic," Interpretation 25, no. 4 [October 1971]: 444, commenting on Frank M. Cross, "New Directions in the Study of Apocalyptic," Apocalypticism [JThCh 6] [New York, 1969]: 161-5). I am indebted for this reference to my colleague, Professor Michael Stone.
2. In his Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-CentlU'J Books, 2d ed. (Oxford Univ. Press, 1971), xxix, Sir Harold W. Bailey wrote that Shaul Shaked, in his "Esoteric Trends in Zoroastrianism," Proceedings of thi! Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 3 (1969): 175-222, had "tried, by surveying the use of riiz, to discover some mysticism in Zoroastrian orthodox tradition where 1. de Menasce had found none. It is evident for whatever reason that Zoroastrian commentators avoid stressing such an aspect. It was therefore left to European scholars, whose mental basis has been saturated for 2,000 years with Hellenistic fantasy, to ignore the constant appeal to the . . . rationality of [Zoroastrian] tradition." This criticism appears to have been based on a misunderstanding. Shaked never meant, in fact, to suggest that the Zoroastrians promulgated mystical doctrines or practices, only that they restricted access to religious learning which might be misused by the ignorant, by foreign enemies of the Iranian faith. or by heretics within. One may compare this with the Mishnaic injunction to build a fence round the Torah. Professor Shaked would have been fully justi
cient truth of the Gospel. In the case of the religion of Israel, for example, Kabbalah and related systems have existed, overtly and in abundance, for many centuries without ever usurping or significantly transforming the normative Judaism of halakhah. An adequate history of Jewish faith and worship could be written without considering the Kabbalah as a major trend. But such a history, however reasonable in correctly identifying the ideological mainstream that defined the Jewish people, would still be incomplete.
A kindred assertion can be ventured with respect to the religion of Iran. From the earliest times Zoroastrians believed that special knowledge about the end of the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the means to bring about the victory of Ahura Mazda-to make the worldfrasa-, "wonderful"-in addition to the revelation on these matters already provided in the Gathas, might be acquired by spiritually advanced believers employing mystical techniques. Apparently these involved induction of a state of joyous ecstasy and profound insight, sometimes through intoxication with wine> or the use of psychotropic drugs," as well as by mantric recitations (Avestan manthra-) or silent meditation (cf. Av. tusna.maitis, "silently thinking"). These practices, of course, have their analogue-even cognate-in the developed traditions of Indian mysticism.' One manthra in particu-
fied in speaking of Zoroastrian mysticism or esotericism in its fullest sense, had he chosen to approach the topic.
3. Zoroastrians are associated in New Persian literature, from its very beginnings to the present time, with mystical practices and religious intoxication. Thus, we find an early New Persian poem in the Tiirikh-e Sistan dedicated to the sacred fire of Karkoy in Sistan, cited from the earlier Ketab-e Garshdsp of Abu'l-Mu'ayyad Balkhi. The fire temple in that work is itself reputed to have been built by two Iranian epic heroes, Kaykhosrow and Rostam (see, most recently, C. E. Bosworth, "The Coming of Islam to Afghanistan." in Y. Friedman, ed., Islam in Asia. Vol. I: South Asia (Jerusalem:
Magnes Press, Hebrew Univ., 1984), 4. In that poem. the has, "consciousness" of Korssaspa (an Avestan hero discussed below) is supposed to reside, and the worshipper is invited to niish' kon may nush/dust bar aghush, "Imbibe ambrosial wine.ZIhe loved one in (thine) embrace." This may be a cliche; if not, it has the typical ambiguity of a Sufi poem linking wine and love to the mystical state of nearness to God.
4. As one might expect, arguments about hallucinogens in Zoroastrianism have involved very deep-seated cultural prejudices. The nature of haoma is still disputed, but its function of inducing ecstasy is not. Certainly, the literature of the Iranian faith is replete with allusions to mystical journeys assisted by the consumption of psychoactive substances, and. as seen above, this carries over into the image of the Good Religion in Persian Muslim sources. In the Persian Zardosht-name, Zoroaster is supposed to have given Vishtaspa a draught of wine which enabled him to see the next world (see discussion by M. Boyce. "On the Antiquity of Zoroastrian Apocalyptic," BSOAS 47, no. 1 : 60-61). One may suppose that in some literary sources, if not, perhaps, in actual practice, the distinction between a psychedelic drug that released the soul from everyday reality and the poison that separated it from the body forever might have been somewhat blurred. The pseudo-Democritean Physica et Myslica. perhaps garbling an Iranian source, claims that the legendary Persian sage Ostanes "died ... having used poison to release the soul from the body" (cited by G. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes [Cambridge, 1986], 90, n. 66).
5. The Avestan word appears in Yasna 43:15, as an attribute of Ahura Mazda. The Scholiast to the Platonic Alcibiades, 211 E, asserts that Zoroaster fell silent at the
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 75 lar, the great Ahuna Vairya prayer by which the Universe itself was created and the Evil Spirit smitten-according to the Zoroastrian account of Creation in the Bundahisn=ceiets to the creation of the primal order of the world; the ethical duties (Av. syaotbana-) of mankind in the period when the powers of good and evil are at war; and the third cosmic age when salvation comes, whether through Zoroaster himself or by the hand of his descendant, the Saosyant ("Savior"). As will be seen, cosmology was a central feature of Zoroastrian esoteric doctrine, and knowledgeable recitation of the Ahuna Yairya. which was believed to be a living being in and of itself with a spirit of its own, provided insight into the very nature of Time.6 The categories sufficient to a characterization of a mystical system in the Zoroastrian tradition might, then, be summarized as follows: 1) provision of an experience transcending, or differing from, the normal and ordinary, whether through spirit travel or intense apperception of divinity, brought about by defined practices; 2) acquisition of special knowledge, mostly cosmological and eschatological, as a result of these practices; and 3) emotional fulfillment, whether through closeness to God or the conviction that one's personality has been clarified or transformed.
Allied to these practices were moderate physical austerities, such as the maintenance of a vegetarian diet.? The primeval linkage of eschatology to mysticism
age of seven, to resume speech only at age thirty, when he began to instruct the king Vishtaspa (Hystaspes). and adds that Zoroastrians greatly revere Mithra and connect him with the number seven. According to the traditional Zoroastrian hagiography, the prophet left home at twenty, received his revelation at thirty, and began to convert the court of Vishtaspa thirteen years later. There is no indication he was silent during his ten years' wandering, during which he was accompanied by his wife, fathered a son, and performed rituals which must have required the recitation of manthras.
6. The prayer reads: Yathii ahu vairyo alha ratui asatcit hacal VanghiJl1s dazda manangho syaolhananam anghdUS Mazdiiit XsathriJmca Ahurai a yim driJgl1byo dad at vastariJm. One reasonable rendering might be: "As the Lord he is desired; so is he as Judge, according to truth./He establishes the ways of action of the Good Mind in life for Mazda:/And the Kingdom belongs to Ahura, who has made him Pastor of the Poor." The ahii and ratu seem to be Vishtaspa and Zarathustra, the exemplars of righteous temporal and spiritual authority. The second verse belongs to the sphere of ethics: the ways of action of the Faith are established through Zoroaster's revelation, which the Good Mind, Vohu Manah, enables his intelligence to receive and to shape into a way of life in this mixed state of good and evil which we now inhabit. The last line is probably eschatological, and has to do with Kingdom Come. The Pastor is Zarathustra or his remote progeny, the Soosy ant ; and the Poor (Av. driJgu-. from which derives ultimately N. Per. darvishy are the faithful, who stand in need of Godspiritual poverty (the PhI. texts distinguish between this state and material destitution, the latter seen as evil}--and who will inherit the Earth. See Yasna chs. 19, 62; and, e.g., B. N. Dhabhar, tr., The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz (Bombay, 1932), 2-15 et seq.
7. F. D. Goodman, in Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences (Bloomington. Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press, 1990), has connected varieties of ecstatic experience to particular postures assumed by diviners and shamans. It is noteworthy that the strange epithet xumbya, "(sitting in a) jar" (Yasht 13: 138) is applied to the Avestan Fradhakhshti (cf, N. Per. khom, Gujarati matlu). 1.
amongst Iranians has persisted through the ages. whilst Zoroastrians have on occasion borrowed practices and beliefs from the mystical traditions of other faiths with which they have come into contact Some features of Zoroastrian mystical doctrine or practice will. then. be familiar. but others spring uniquely from the Iranian faith and may not be immediately recognizable as mysticismif this term is accepted only on the basis of its recognized characteristics in other religious systems which are non-dualistic or intrinsically other-worldly in their ultimate aims. One should recall the caution. voiced by Gershom Scholem, that there is no mysticism as such. but only that of a particular religious system. It has already been noted how Muslim poets attributing mystical practices to Zoroastrians associate with these. invariably. merriment, usually in deliberate contrast to the grimly ascetic aspects of their own tradition. Pliny repeated the evidently well-known legend that Zoroaster was born laughing. One should contrast to this the Christian mystics' practice of spiritual focus through tears, attested from earliest times; Jesus Christ never laughed. The Shamij' el-e Terme1i informs us that Muhammad laughed only once in his life: at the news of the death of an enemy whose eye popped out when he was shot and who fell backwards from his mount. revealing his naked buttocks. So even this laughter must be seen as scornful and derisive, not joyous in any real sense.! Where one does encounter joy as a salient feature of mysticism in Iran. it may well have a Zoroastrian hallmark, even in its later, Sufi manifestations.
Whilst in other religions the central aim of mysticism has been closeness to a transcendent God or annihilation of the self in Him, it appears that for the Zoroastrian the emotional equivalent of this experience is fullness of vision of the purposes and strategies of the God whose very name is Wisdom, and who, far from being ineffable or remote, is palpably good. actively involved with this world. and manifest in it through the holy creations in which His seven emanations, the Am_ Spantu. are visibly and intelligibly incarnate. It may be suggested that the process of Zoroastrian mysticism involves profound apperception of the immanence of God. rather than departure into another form of beingenstasy rather than exstasy. It is also evident that Zoroaster and his followers believed themselves to belong to a distinct and privileged group sharing a special
J. Modi, Oriental Conference Papers (p. 294 and n. 7), noted that there is such a meditational posture in yoga. The precise intent of the epithet, however, remains unclear. The Sammohatantra lists among the countries possessing tantric practices Bactria (Btihlika) and Persia (Ptirasika~ong the others are Greece, Nepal, Gandhara, Tibet, and China (see S. C. Banerji. A Brief History of Tanira Literature [Calcutta, 1988). 71). Apart from the references, this source is unreliable. The list is very broad, and most likely post-Islamic, so tantra might here refer only to Sufism.
8. Cited by H. Weiner, 9112 Mystics: The Kabbala Today (New York, 1969), 57-8. For the mystic. Scholem continues, 'The substance of canonical texts, like that of all other religious values, is melted down and given another form as it passes through the fiery stream of the mystical consciousness ... hard as the mystic may try to remain within the confmements of his religion. he often consciously or unconsciously approaches or even transgresses its limits, becoming then an either recognized or unrecognized heretic." In the Zoroastrian case, the mystical yeaming for a primal unity as the object of devotion verges upon heresy against the primary tenet of dualism,
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 77 and transformative spiritual gift. So rites of initiation, with their psychological features of passage, surprise, and transformation, can also be examined in the context of a Zoroastrian mysticism. Zoroaster's own encounters with Ahura Mazda-whom he addresses familiarly as a beloved friends-=involve a vision of the beginning of the world which itself can certainly be classified as mystical (Yasna 30).
Well-established mystical traditions, such as the Sufi orders in Islam, preserve secretive rites of initiation. In general, such mystical sub-groups find toleration when it is plain that their purpose is not to usurp the confessional loyalties of an individual but to enhance his devotion within the faith to which he already adheres. There is some evidence of such a sub-group in Zoroastrian Iran and also in pre-Christian Armenia, a land itself steeped in Iranian religion and culture with which Greeks and Romans were in contact of old. This is, of course, the forerunner of Roman Mithraism.'? The origins, teachings, and symbolism of this secret society are all disputed, but certain reasonable theories can be advanced about them. I I "Pirates" (as the Romans termed them) operating off the southern coast of Anatolia around the time of Christ worshipped Mithra on a mountaintop. This is not unusual, for Mithra is said to have a mountain palace, as might befit a yazata associated with the lofty Sun god (Yasht 10:50).12 Pirates these men might have appeared to the Romans, but to their own people, and to the theophorically-named Mithradates of Pontus, they were fighters for freedom against an alien enemy. In their inexorable progression of aggressive conquests, the Roman legions came to this region and to inland Annenia-where, indeed, a late and corrupt tradition located the birthplace of Zoroaster himself and where the worship of Mithra was prominent. By Roman times the generic word for temple had become mehean, literally, "place of Mihr (Mithra)." To this day the national epic Sasna clef describes how a hero named Little Mher (Mithra) is led to a cave by a raven. He now sits confined there, the wheel of fate in his hands, awaiting the end of time.':' All these features of the epic are significant individ-
and thereby shares aspects of the philosophical school which elevated Zurvan-infinite time-above both Ohrmazd and Ahriman.
9. Avestan frya-. One may compare this with the manner whereby the Sufi addresses Allah as yar or dust. The Zoroastrian mystical path completely lacks the sense of numinous terror that is so integral to other mysticisms.
10. See J. R. Russell. "On the Arrneno-Iranian Roots of Mithraism," in J. R. Hinneils, ed., Studies on Mithraism (Rome: Bretschneider, 1992).
11. Mithraism should not be regarded as a distinct religion in its own right, but rather as a secret society within the larger framework of Iranian religion, conferring rites of initiation. On the justifications for such a classification, see 1. R. Russell, "Mithraisrn and the Craft Reconsidered," in Transactions of the American Lodge of Research (Masonic) (in press).
12. The Sun shines out of the 360 windows of Mt. Terag. The Sros YaSt Vadi borrows at various points from the Mihr Yasht; and in Yasna 57:21, Sraosha has a mountain palace as well. See also R. C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, Ill.
13. The cave seems to be, in diverse cultures, the symbol of time suspended. One might compare with this the uncanonical Jewish tradition of Abraham's concealment in a cave during the tyranny of Nimrod, whence he emerged speaking liHon ha-
ual aspects of Roman Mithraism, though only in Armenia are they linked in a surviving, coherent narrative. It seems the Romans adopted the worship of Mithra in Armenia or elsewhere in Iranized Asia Minor where the identical cult existed, for we do not find attested elsewhere in the Iranian world-or, more to the point, in areas the Romans conquered-meetings held in caves, the use of the raven as a degree and symbol or astrological symbolism such as the wheel of fate.
Mithraic acolytes underwent seven grades of initiation, each characterized by some symbolic object or act. The writer Iamblikhos, a Syrian sophist fluent in Aramaic who lived in Armenia, inserts a curious romance into his book, Babyloniaka (ca. A.D. 170), written in the reign of Sohaemus. Two young lovers, Rhodanes and Sinonis, flee the latter's wicked father Garrnos, encountering bizarre obstacles and ordeals which resemble in several instances the Mithraic grades of initiation. Garrnos seems to be a Hellenization of Middle Iranian kerm, "worm, dragon"-that is, the Avestan "man-dragon" Azhi Dahaka. Sinonis corresponds to the latter's daughter, Sanghavachi. And Rhodanes is but the Hellenized form, again, of Armenian or Northwestern Middle Iranian Hruden, i.e., Faridun (Av. Thraetaona)-literally, "third (son)"-the hero who freed the dragon's daughter and imprisoned her father in Damavand, where he waits until the end of time.!" It appears that Iamblikhos based his romance on a protoMithraic cult in Armenia which was itself firmly rooted in traditional A vestan lore. Rites of this kind have survived longer in Armenia and Kurdistan than in other regions of Iran where the centralized orthodoxy sanctioned by temporal
qodes-Hebrew. There is in this legend the clear sense of transformation and epiphany, and Abraham's life is said to have been a "third creation," the original Creation of BiJresith and the preservation of Noah and his progeny through the Flood having been the first two. The Zoroastrian cosmology, as already noted in the discussion above of the Ahuna Vairya prayer, postulates three World Ages: Bundahisn (Creation), Gumezisn (Mixture [of good and evil]), and Wizarisn (Separation [of good from evil]). In a sense there are three Creations also: the essentially static creations of the spiritual beings (menogan) and earthly creatures (getigan); the slaying of Gayomard, the replication of earthly beings, and the introduction of sin-exemplified in the human world by the division of Man into Man and Woman (Masya and Masyanag), with their frailties and carnivorousness (see below); and the advent of Zoroaster, parallel to Abraham. The Prophet prefigures the perfection of the world, since the Savior, S6syans, will come of his seed; and with him, in a sense, is the inception of Wizarisn.
14. See discussion by R. Merkelbach, Mithras (Koenigstein-in-Taunus: Hain, 1984), supp. "Armenische Erzaehlungen," 253-8. Romantic tales set in faraway Persia, both modern and ancient (the legend of Zariadris and Odatis in the Deipnosophistai of Athenaeus, for example), became popular in the eighteenth century. See O. H. Bonnerot, La Perse dans la litterature et la pensee francaises au XVllle siecle: De l' image au my the (Paris, 1988), wherein the author stresses the popularity of Zoroaster. The men of the Erklaerung were convinced that their initiatory mysteries had roots in the ancient East which conferred upon them a venerable legitimacy superseding that of the Christian faith, against whose dominion many struggled. Thus, Mozart uses a crypto-Persian frame story in Die Zauberfloete with many parallels to the narrative of Rhodanes and Sinonis.
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 79 rulers could be enforced.P Thus the Babakiya flourished in the region. G. Widengren has reasonably linked one of their rites, a ritual bull-slaying followed by a communal meal, to the well-known practice of the earlier Mithraists.!" The Ahl-i Haqq of the same region have conventicles, oaths, and the ritual feast. Ivanow believed this to be, again, a survival of Mithraic rites. Such secretive martial orders served, obviously, as an effective unifying force for political resistance to domination by outsiders.!?
Mithra is the ideal yazata to be the focus of such an order. He is a young, handsome Sun-god, a champion of the manly virtues of keeping one's word as one's bond, and of fighting evil and tyranny. IS He was present when Ahura Mazda and
15. In Christendom Armenia was a stronghold of heresy from the Paulicians to the Tondrakites, who seem to have flourished down to the 19th century (see, most recently, J. R. Russell, "The Mother of All Heresies: A Late Mediaeval Armenian Text on the Yuskaparik," REArm [in publication]). The non-Christian sect of the Arewordik', "Children of the Sun," survived there down to the 1915 Genocide (see J. R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Harvard Iranian Series 5 [Cambridge, Mass .. 1987], ch. 16). In northwestern Iran, the Mazdakite heresy of Zoroastrianism persisted for centuries in the vicinity of Alamut fortress after its suppression elsewhere in Iran. Indeed, Hasan Sabbah encountered Mazdakites there. It is no coincidence that the Ghulat extremists within Shi'ism retain features of ancient Iranian religion. 16. See G. Widengren, "Babakiyah and the Mithraic Mysteries" in U. Bianchi, ed., Mysteria Mithrae (EPRO vol. 80) (Leiden, 1979), 676. He points out that the sect believed in metempsychosis-as do Khshnumist Zoroastrians, some Sufi Muslims, and some Jewish Kabbalists, though the orthodox of all three faiths reject such a doctrine. A recent writer rejects any substantially Iranian origin for Mithraism, arguing that Mithra is not involved in any Iranian sacrifice of bulls (D. Ulansey, The Origin of the Mithraic Mysteries [Oxford, 1989]). But Professor Mary Boyce showed the sacrifice of a sheep by traditional Zoroastrians as an essential part of the worship of Mithra on the festival devoted to him ("Mihragan among the Irani Zoroastrians," in J. R. Hinnells, ed., Mithraic Studies, vol. 1 [Manchester, 1975], 106-18). In the Manichaean MS T.M. 180r published by A. von le Coq, "Tuerkische Manichaica aus Chotscho, II," APA W 3 (1919): 5, Maitreya, the son of God (mitrii burkhan tangrii oghli i), is destined to come, but he is opposed by the demon-son, the "false Maitreya" (igid mitrii) whose mount is a bull. If there is a connection between Mithra and Maitreya, then the bull might be borrowed from Iranian iconography of the yazata.
17. The Spartacists' avowal of the Dionysian cult is the classic example of religion in ancient society as the unifying force for political action by the oppressed. Josephus' "Fourth Philosophy" of the Zealots who opposed Roman and plutocratic rule in Palestine is another case in point. The Ghost Dance rebellion of the Native American Indians, with its tenet asserting that White European rule actually made the land impure, presents a paradigmatic parallel to the case of the Zealots.
18. The pact, which Mithra personifies, is to be kept even with an enemy, as the Mihr Yasht cautions. In Plutarch's De [side et Osiride, Mithras is the intermediary between Oromazes and Areimanios-the witness to their agreement that the cosmic battle will have a limited term. Amongst the "Aves tan" people, as in primitive societies of the present day, what would seem to us an inordinate amount of time was spent visiting and offering hospitality, even in wartime, to maintain bonds of relationship. It is natural that this be the context for observance of a covenant=-one visits unarmed. Zoroaster uses the word mithra- (thus, as a common noun meaning "covenant") only
Angra Mainyu agreed on the terms of the cosmic battle, which makes him privy to cosmological mysteries. In a passage of the Ayadgar I Jiimaspig cited by Shaked in his "Esoteric Trends in Zoroastrianism," it is Mithra who will tell "many hidden secrets" (PhI. was riiz I nihan) at the end of days to a man on the shore of the sea at Padashkh=argar, that is, on the northern side of the Alborz range facing the Caspian, probably at Damavand. These "secrets" probably involve the strategy of the impending final battle against evil.l? The latter will culminate in the sacrificial offering of the bull Hudayosh, whose flesh will confer immortality upon resurrected mankind. This is reminiscent of the Mithraic cult scene of the tauroctony, but the objection is often raised that Mithra does not sacrifice a bull himself. Also, the dying bull of the tauroctony scene is assaulted by various noxious creatures-scarcely what one would expect to see at the moment of the purification and renovation of the universe. It can be proposed that the tauroctony telescopes into one scene both primal and final events-something an icon can do better than a text-suggesting that, just as the serial immortality of the world's creatures began with Ahriman's murder of the primeval Uniquely-Created Bull, which released the cornucopia of life into the invaded universe, so, symmetrically, will the last, great, sacrifice, during the last battle in which Mithra plays an important role usher in an eternity of individual immortality. 20
Moreover, it is near Damavand that Mithra stands. This is the mountain where Faridun imprisoned Azhi Dahaka, who will emerge in the last days to be slain by Karesaspa, who sleeps beneath the earth in Pishin. This serpent-man tyrant
once in the Gathas: Y. 46.5, where the righteous man, who receives a follower of the Lie in consequence of a covenant between them, is allowed to warn his family of their guest's deceitful character, but is bound to receive him nonetheless. This seems a mitigating commentary on a central and rigid aspect of the yazata's function, exalted at the outset of this Avestan hymn and reflected, at least a millennium later, by Plutarch.
19. An English translation of the passage in the Aylldgiu i Jiimiispig is provided by B. N. Dhabhar, ed. and tr., Jamaspi (Bombay, 1930), 31, para. 18. On PhI. raz, "secret," Arm. eraz, "dream," and related concepts, see 1. R. Russell, "Dreams and Dreaming in Armenian," in 1. Greppin, ed., Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Armenian Linguistics, Cleveland State University, Sept., 1991 (in press). The word is found in Gatha Ha 50.6, where Zoroaster asks in his own name that Ahura Mazda, as creator of counsel, guide through Vohu Manah the secrets of his speech as he recites manthras,
20. With the murder of a bull that sets the living world as we know it in motion, and the corresponding sacrifice at the end of the world which will prolong human life into infinity, we deal with the earliest strata of Indo-Iranian cosmology. See, for example, B. Lincoln, Priests, Warriors, and Cattle (Berkeley, 1981). The Indic purusa-, the primal man whose sacrifice gave life to a previously static universe, is sometimes interpreted as being composed of pu- 'man' and vrsa- 'bull'. The idea that a primal event of tragic character prefigures an eschatological redemptive one is a commonplace of Christian typology. That the end mirrors the beginning is summed up in Christ's assertion that he is the Alpha and Omega. That it will be better than the beginning is an article of faith of the Old Testament prophets carried over to the Qur'an (wa'l-iikhiratu khayrun laka mina'l-awwala, "and the End is better for thee than the Beginning").
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 81 (PhI. Dahag, Modem Persian Zahhak.) is regarded by Zoroastrian esoterics of the present-day as the Pythagorean sum of all possible temporal evils, since his name, following a Pahlavi folk-etymology recognized by the Denkard, means "ten evils.'?' Now the Pahlavi texts tell us Faridun was cautioned to imprison Dahag, not to kill him, lest all manner of noxious creatures swarm from the monster's punctured carcass. Karesaspa seems to have been introduced secondarily, perhaps as a device to allow him atonement for accidentally drenching the sacred fire during his adventure with Azhi Srvara-the slaying of Dahag having originally been the job of Faridun. Though the serpent-tyrant's "ten evils" are most probably modeled after the Decalogue of the Torah, the fact cannot be ignored that Zoroastrians believed in numerology and regarded ten as a "perfect" number-hence the modem Khshnumist interpretation (for a discussion of this sect see below). The Andarz i Osnar i danag, "Counsels of Aoshnara the Wise," groups vices and virtues in successive numbers, though, unfortunately, there is a lacuna after six in the MSS.
In the original form of the Iranian legend, imprisoned heroes and monsters probably were to erupt from the titanic mountains in which they had been confined, in the volcanic cataclysms attending the end of this world. But a learned reason had to be found for Faridun the dragon-slayer not to get on with it and slay his proper dragon. With his anti-cornucopia of evils, Dahag became the Ahrimanic parallel to the Uniquely-Created Bull against a pattern of sacrificer and sacrifice, creation and apocalypse, into which Mithra, Faridun, and Kerasaspa all fit. The A vestan name of the vanquisher of this demonic opposite of the primeval bull, Thraetaona, is cognate with the Vedic traitanaP Thraetaona is more closely identified with bulls than most Avestan heroes, even for the cowboy culture of the early Iranians. He is nurtured by a cow, rides a bull, and, like Mithra, wields a bull-headed mace. Originally he seems to have been the hero of agriculturalists and warriors. Mithra, likewise, is customarily invoked as vouru.gaoyaoiti-, "(lord) of wide cow-pastures." When the sun-like, divinely-bestowed Glory, the xvereneb-, departed from Yima, it divided into three parts, which were acquired by Mithra, Koresaspa, and Thraetaona. In the Manichaean pantheon, Mithra is the Tertius Legatus, perhaps again indicating the perception of kinship to Thraetaona, "the third." It may also be of significance that in Manichaean cosmology it is precisely the divinities of the third creation-to which Mithra here belongs-who intervene in the world, albeit nonviolently, to help mankind. In folktales of many lands, the third of three sons is the one who accomplishes a great deed and gains glory. In Gilgit, Nagyr, and Hunza, on the eastern periphery of the Iranian culture-area, in the Hindu Kush, there is told the tale of Shiri Badat, ruler of Gilgit, who is regarded as either the founder or destroyer of the Rais dynasty (ca. 14th century A.D.). This is the period when the populous,
21. Plainly. Zahhak is the Arabic of Isaac, and the monster's faith was identified by the Pahlavi writers with Judaism, See J. R. Russell, "Our Father Abraham and the Magi," Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 54 (1987): 56-72. Peshyansai, where Karasaspa lies, should be identified with modern Pishin, on the road through the passes of Afghanistan linking Iran and India (see J. R. Russell, "Two Armenian Graffiti from Ziarat, Pakistan," R.E.Arm. 21 [1988-89]: 471-5).
centralized state of the Shin princes was obliterated and Islam was introduced, with a sparser, more fragmented society resulting. Shiri Badat killed the Shin king Shah Rais, who had possessed a Midas-like golden hom. The latter and his state recalled Jamshid, whom Zahhak overthrew. Shirl Badat, indeed, was no man but one of a hostile race of mountain spirits, the yach (cf. Skt. yaksa). Though like Zahhak's his realm flourished, the angels of heaven opposed him because he was a cannibal. having developed this taste through a stratagem of his cook. Again, one might compare this to the Iranian tale in which Iblis, disguised as a cook, introduced Zahhak to cannibalism. At this point, three brothers, all peris, arrive at Danyor, northeast of Gilgit. The youngest, named Jamshid or Azru Shamsher, slays a cow with his bow and arrow and is forced by his brothers to eat the liver and kidneys. These are the sacrificial portions; he can no longer flyaway. Conducted to the palace. he falls in love with Shiri Badal's daughter, whose name is given as either Mijo Chai or Nurbakhsh. They plot their escape. She asks her father where his soul is. It is in the snow, he replies, and only fire can kill him. The people dig a pit outside the palace walls and light torches. He feels the heat, mounts his wonderful horse, and jumps over the wall, only to fall down into the pit. They throw the torches down and level the house with iron spades. (Note that in his campaign against Zahhak Faridun is accompanied by a commoner, a blacksmith named simply Kava ["smith"].). The young people marry, and have a child whose foot is a horse's hoof. Shirl Badat, having burrowed underground, now hides in a glacier; so at the winter Taleni festival, people light torches to prevent his return. It is also said of the yach that they borrow human property for feasts in their hidden palace-halls.P
What are the hidden secrets Mithra is to relate? Why are they hidden? To what secrets does the prophet allude? They seem to have to do with details of eschatology and may be related to the verses of Yasna 48 on the subject:
If after these things he conquers the Lie through Truth Which are the deceitful doctrines of demons and men Moved by violence, then towards immortality
Through acts of salvation he will make your praise great, 0 Ahara.
Tell me, Ahura, the things of which You are the knower, Before the far end of the course draws nigh me.
22. Thus M. Mayrhofer, lranisches Personennamenbuch, I: Die altiranischen Namen, no. 312 (Vienna, 1979), I: 81-2.
23. See J. Biddulph, Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh (1880, repro Lahore, 1971), 133; G. W. Leitner, Dardistan in 1866, 1886, and 1893 (1889, repro Karachi, 1985),9; and K. Jettmar, Religii Gindukusha (rev. Russian tr. from German) (Moscow, 1986), 50, 252-4. It is noteworthy that this reflex of the Iranian legend contains several details found also at the Western periphery of Iran-in Armenia-but not in Iran itself. In Armenia, Artawazd, the deposed king, plunges on horseback into a pit. He is held captive by yaksa-like Je'ajks. who steal from humans just as here. The diffusion. in quite recognizable and detailed form. of this legend of the overthrow of the tyrant by the hero is the most eloquent argument possible for its vast significance as a carrier of the deep religious values of the Iranian peoples.
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 83 How will the righteous man, 0 Mazda, conquer the follower of the Lie?
For such is known to be the good conclusion of existence.
Now, to the one who knows is given the best of the doctrines Which Ahura teaches. intelligent, the holy and wise one,
Which He teaches through Truth: these are the profound doctrines themselves:
By the counsel of the Good Mind, 0 Mazda, he becomes like You.24
Thus the mysteries of the faith-the "profound doctrines"-involve knowledge about how to defeat the forces of evil before the end of the course of time. In Middle Iranian tradition, as we have seen, it is likely that it is these that are to be told on the shore of the sea at Padashkhvargar, The only mountain near the sea with any legendary connection to apocalyptic events is Damavand in the Alborz range (thus named after the Avestan Hara Barazaiti), which would certainly have been known to the Sasanian compiler of the Ayiidgiir i Jiimaspig as the place where Dahag is confined. One also recalls that in Armenian tradition Mithra himself dwells (or is confined) in a rock-cave until the end of time.
Amongst modem Zoroastrians there is a school of theosophical esotericists, organized in the 20th century but incorporating various older traditions, called 'elm-e khshnuml> They maintain there is a place within Damavand with the Perso-Arabic name Firdaws. In this concentric paradisiacal city of immortality and joy dwell the religious masters, the' iibeds.26 The teacher of the Khshnumists, Behramshah Shroff, a young Parsi of Surat in Gujarat, India, was induced
24. Y .. zi adiiis asii drujim v .. ngbaiti hyat ansasata yii daibitana [raoxta am .. r .. uite daevaisca masyaisci: at toi savais vahm .. m vaxsat AhurallVaocii moi yii tv .. m vidhvii Ahurii para hyat mii yii m .. ng p .. r .. tbajimaiti kat asavii Mazd« v .. nghat dr .. gventom ha zi angh .. iis vanguhi vista ahr .. tisllAt vaed .. mnai vahistii sasnanam yam huda sasti asii Ahuro sp"'nto vidhva yaecit guzrii s .. ngbangho thwavas Mazda vangb .. iis xrathwii manangho, In Yasna 31: 14, also, Zoroaster implores God: tii thwa p .. r .. sa Ahurii ya zi ait] j .. nghatica. "These things I ask Thee, 0 Ahura, which are impending, which will come." I have here translated Asa as "Truth" and Vohu Manah as "the Good Mind," though they are as much entities as qualities.
25. The writings of this group are in English and Gujarati. A historical overview, selection of texts illustrative of their main doctrines, and explanation of the name are provided by Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Manchester Univ. Press, 1984).
26. The belief in such a place seems to be derived from the legend, in the ninth book of the Denkard, about the seven palaces of diverse precious stones and metals belonging to Kavi Usan (PhI. Kay Us). Those who succeed in reaching the place, which is in the Alborz range, are rewarded with rejuvenation. The construction of another such place, KNKRT in Muslim writings, is attributed to him. Probably the latter is to be read as a Middle Iranian toponym, *Kang-kirt, i.e., the City of Kangha. This is the miraculous fortress of immortality (Persian Kang Dez), which Siyavosh built near Samarkand in Sogd. Kavi Haosravah (Persian Kaykhosrow) lives here, awaiting the battle at the end of time. The place seems to have been identified in the Middle Ages with the City of Brass of the Thousand and One Nights (see J. R. Russell, "The Tale of the City of Bronze in Armenian," in T. Samuelian and M. Stone, eds., Medieval
early in this century to go there by a mysterious sheikh he met encamped outside Peshawar. There he spent a number of years studying esoteric lore and returned to Surat, sworn to silence for many moreP Among his teachers was none other than Azar Kayvan, the Persian Zoroastrian Eshraqi mystic of the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Eventually Shroff taught his doctrines to a dentist named Chiniwala, who published them in the form of a voluminous commentary on the Gathas in Gujarati. Iranian Zoroastrians of the Sasanian period further identified the Caspian Sea with the Avestan Chaechasta (PhI. Cecast), and it is a Khshnumist belief that yet another secret community of initiates very much larger than the one in Firdaws dwells beneath its waters.28 Once a year, Damavand and Chaechasta open and their respective denizens behold each other. This has a parallel in the Armenian belief that the cave of Mher-Mithra, which overlooks Lake Van, opens once a year on the eve of Ascension Day. But it will open permanently-and Mithra will emerge-only at the end of time.
At a certain point, then, the battle is joined: Mithra is witness to the pact on when that will be, when the period of gumetisn will have run its course. When is this? Ahriman invaded the world when the Sun was in Aries, i.e., on the day of Ohrmazd of the month Fravardin, the first day of Spring in the 6,OOOth year since the Creation. When he is expelled, eternity will resume at the same point where it was interrupted-when the Sun is in Aries in the year 12,000. In the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca is the famous hexameter, Primus et hic aries restrictius ordine currit, "Here also the Ram runs straighter in line, the first." The seasons of the time of Mixture exist because of the angle of the plane of the ecliptic, which intersects the celestial equator only at the two equinoxes. In Plato's Timaeus the two are shaken from a straight line at the cataclysmic moment of creation-a theory most likely derived ultimately from the Zoroastrian cosmogonic myth of Ahriman's incursion, when the earth rocked violently and the mountains sprang up to stabilize it. When Spring is unbroken, as at the first, Aries will run straight again, as at the first, This astrological explanation on the basis of Iranian cosmology explains when the apocalyptic battle will be. It may
Armenian Culture. Univ. of Pennsylvania Armenian Texts and Studies 6 [Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983], 250-61).
27. The legend of Behramshah Shroff's sojourn in Damavand corresponds to narratives of spirit-travel described in terms of visits to magic mountains; cf. the trip of a 16th-century Italian accused of witchcraft to the mountain of Venus where Donna Herodias-the goddess of witches-dwelt (see C. Ginzburg,_Ecslasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath [New York: Pantheon, 19911, 108-9).
28. The various legends of the Ten Lost Tribes are the prototype of such apocalyptic hopes, nurtured by small. persecuted peoples. of a hidden remnant. grown vast. which will emerge for the great redemptive war at the end of time-whether from the caverns beneath the Caspian, or over the perilous, rock-hurling river Sambatyon. An instructive example of how such myths can be re-used is the belief of 19th-century Mormons-a Christian sect persecuted in the United States-that the American Indians themselves were the Ten Lost Tribes, and that many of them, frozen in ice in the far North, would be defrosted, as it were (presumably in the great Fire), and arrive at the end of time in their teeming multitudes (see Weston La Barre, The Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1970]. 228).
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 85 be part of Mithra's riiz i nihan-the rest, one imagines, having to do with the battle itself and how it will be fought.I?
Zoroastrian esotericism centers around a martial event involving. notably, the yazata Mithra; so it is scarcely surprising that the exemplar of piety and virtue in much Iranian and Parsi tradition, including mysticism, is the Saka hero of the Shah-name, Rostam, who, rather than any king, is in many respects the real hero of the "Book of KingS."30 The elevation of an epic-and secular-hero to such a position of great spiritual importance is characteristic of Iranian culture, and it is an aspect noted with particular hostility by Muslims alien to that tradition.I' But Rostam is not only a beloved hero embraced by the mystics; he seems to have prior affinities to other heroes of Indo-Iranian lore of great spiritual stature. In a review of previous studies of Rostam, Leonardo Alishan reports that Markwart believed the mighty Saka to have been a transformed Kerasaspa. Herzfeld saw in him the Vindafarnah (Gondophares) of Kuh-e Khvaja. H. Davidson connected him to Apam Napat on the strength of the etymology of his name, "Strong as a river" (which is, in fact, quite a normal sort of Saka namej." Mole pointed out the similarity of Rostam to the Indian Rama: only Rama can slay the Rakshasa demons, and only Rostam can defend Iran against Afrasiyab, the king of Turan. Both possess the weapons of Krsasva/Kilrasaspa-a figure, as we have seen, with close connections to Mithra and an eschatological role.l! One might add that both Rama and Rostam must sacrifice that which they hold most dear, and is most innocent, for the sake of their honor as heroes (Rama's ksatrtyadharmay: Rostam fights and kills his son, Sohrab, rather than disobey his sovereign; and Rama sends away Sita, rather than compromise his reputation. The importance of the sacrifice has already been noted in the context of cosmology and eschatology, and of course the significance of sacrifice and of readiness and ability to perform it could scarcely be
29. It is such details, and not the apocalyptic scheme itself, which were seen, presumably, as secret. As M. Boyce has observed (£Ir: APOCALYPTIC), Zoroastrian apocalyptic is already plain in the Gathas and is not in itself a secret revelation subsequent to other doctrines, as is the case in some other faiths.
30. Mahmud of Ghazna is said to have complained that the whole epic was about Rostam, to which the poet retorted that God had created no other creature like Rostam.
31. S. Shaked, The Wisdom of the Sasanian Sages: Denkar d VI, Persian Heritage Series (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979), xxix, observes that it is common in Persian wisdom literature to endow traditional themes with an allegorical religious sense. But Abu Salik Gorgani, ca. A.D. 900, would have none of it. He wrote, Bot parastidan beh az mardom parast, "Idolatry is better than the worship of men," with the Persian hero-cult in mind (cit. by G. Lazard, Les premiers poetes per sans [Tehran/Paris, 1964], 11:25, noted by G. E. von Grunebaum, "The Hero in Medieval Arabic Prose," in N. T. Burns and C. 1. Reagan, Concepts of the Hero in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance [Albany: SUNY Press, 1975], 87).
32. L. Alishan, "Rostamica I" (unpublished). I thank my friend Narto for his valuable study.
33. See M. Mole, "Deux notes sur le Ramayana," Collection Latomus 45 (Hommages a Georges Dumezil), 1960, I: "L'initiation guerriere de Rama et celle de Rustam." This linkage of the hero and savior by the weapon they bear is of Avestan antiquity:
overestimated in the Indo-Iranian religious traditions. In India, Ram is a name of God; to the Parsis, Rostam is an exemplar of the Zoroastrian virtues. In the Pahlavi Paymdn i kadag xwadayih, the marriage contract and blessing, the groom is enjoined to be a bringer of sacrifices izohr-iiword) like Rostam, the bride as fertile as Spandarmad. Zoroastrians believe the latter is our mother and Ohnnazd our father, so Rostam is here in very exalted company. Mobad Hoshiyar of Surat traced his own descent to Rostam-that exemplar of priestly piety. In a Parsi wedding song in Gujarati based partly on the Pahlavi benediction cited, the groom is to be like Rostam, a hero in valor (himmat rna pehelvdny; the bride is to be like Gusesp (Goshasp), the daughter of Rostam's son, Faramarz, and herself a champion.>'
There is in the Mandaean literature a text entitled ''The Simurgh: The True History of Rustam and His Son," in which it is written, "Now Rustam had knowledge of the Sun, whom they named Yazdan Pak, or Khur, and he was the Lord whom they worshipped. Rustam had much secret knowledge, and in our histories it is written that whatever strength Rustam asked from the Sun, he received . . . , The Pehlawan were masters of knowledge, for if they prayed, no one was able to vanquish them because of the power given to them by Yazdan Pak. "35 The Persian divine names here mean "Pure God(s)" and "Sun"; so it is plain that Rostam is seen in the hybrid tradition of the Mandaeans as having been a Zoroastrian mystic. In fact, it is suggested that the entire calling of the hero was intrinsically mystical.36 The Mandaean legend serves as perhaps the best example of how the religious elements inherent in the image of Rostam were subsequently elaborated and strengthened.
One might link Rostam's granddaughter, mentioned above, to subsequent developments in Iranian mysticism. Her name, Goshasp, derives from Goshnasp, the iitai bahram in Azarbaijan which every Sasanian king visited on pilgrimage. As mentioned earlier, there were Zoroastrian mystics who followed the Eshraqi
in Yasht 19. the Saosyant will bear the same mace heroes had used of old to smite villains.
34. On the wedding song, see J. R. Russell, "Some Parsi Zoroastrian garba« and monajats," l.R.A.S. 1 (1989):.51-63, esp. 60. For a discussion of Rostam's descendants in epic, including Goshasp, see M. Mole, "L'epopee iranienne apres Firdosi," La Nouvelle Clio 5 (1953): 377-93.
35. Translated by E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Oxford, 1937),372 f.; cited also by H. Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (London, 1960), 202, n.69. The mention of Yazdan here may be of significance, even though the word is a common one for God in New Persian. Perhaps the Mandaean legend, then, preserves traditions of the Sasanian period adapted from Zoroastrianism and introduced into Mesopotamia.
36. One has not yet mentioned the most celebrated of Mithraic caves: the one on Ithaka discussed by Porphyry in his De antra nympharum. It has not, to my knowledge, been suggested heretofore that Mithraists might have chosen the cave of Odysseus as one prototype for their spelaea (the other being the one in which Zoroaster himself was supposed to have lived in quiet contemplation) because the Achaean was a hero and also an intimate of Athena. Within Iran, of course, the cou-
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 87
(Illuminist) school of Shaykh Shehab al-Din Sohravardi (d. A.D. 1191), the Iranian Muslim mystic who claimed to belong to a chain of philosophers going back to Zoroaster and Jamaspa (the courtier of king Vishtaspaj.t? These were disciples of Azar Kayvan, the mobad from Fars who emigrated to India in the reign of Akbar. The emperor's "Divine Faith" (din-e eiahl) was intended to unite the higher doctrines of several religions, including Zoroastrianism. The great dastiir Meherji Rana represented the Good Religion at court. The Dasatir alludes to this school as Partoviyiin (from Persian porto, "ray of light") or Gasiisbiyan.38 The Kayvani mystics came from various backgrounds and walks of life, but they adhered to Azar Kayvan's teachings, which were essentially Sufi Muslim with a strong emphasis on light and on Iranian cultural values.
What has been seen of Zoroastrian mysticism has to do with heroic and pious devotion to duty in a battle which will end when the secret fastnesses of the world release their warrior inhabitants and Aries runs straight again; and the mysteries of the Iranian world consist in a martial kind of initiation, after which one becomes privy to cosmic secrets and eschatological strategies.'? All this is well and good. Yet one would also typically associate with mysticism, regardless of the religion from which it may spring, a certain striving to transcend normal consciousness and the barriers of space and time, through an ascetic exercise or other departure from normal kinds of activity. Thus, the behavior and experience of a prophet and those of a mystic might converge at some points. Though the Zoroastrian texts do not provide many details of such practices, there is ample evidence for a spiritual elite amongst the Magi to which they might have been connected. The Magi, particularly in the Sasanian period, were ever alive to the danger of the zandig, the heretical misinterpreter of the holy word. Shaked has discussed in detail the manner by which the Pahlavi texts divide the Zoroastrian community into three groups: Diidig, Hadamansrig, and Gahanig: "belonging to the Law," "belonging to that which accompanies the Holy Word," and "belonging to the Gathas." The latter is the highest, wisest grade. In the final part of his De Abstinentia, the fourth-century Phoenician Neoplatonist Porphyry adduces examples from various Oriental cultures of the practice of vegetarianism
piing of religious and martial values is exemplified by the 'ayyaran of medieval literature.
37. See L. Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallaj, tr. H. Mason (Princeton, 1982), 1:48.
38. The Dasiuir is dismissed by many as a forgery, but many of the texts cited by the author of the Zohar to prove the antiquity and authenticity of his views were nonexistent as well.
39. The Qumranic text, The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. describes the apocalyptic battle with great precision in terms of Hellenistic military strategy. The dualistic character of the whole is obvious. Given the primeval antiquity of Zoroastrian apocalyptic and the eschatological and military character of its secret doctrines, it is reasonable to suggest that the text of the Essenes of the Dead Sea region. so striking in its departure from the styles and concerns of the rest of Jewish literature of the age. is nothing other than a copy of Iranian models. For a reasoned treatment of such influence. see: S. Shaked, "Qumran and Iran: Further Considerations," Israel Oriental Studies 2 (1972): 433--46; pace Hanson. cited by M.
by wise men.40 In Persia, he says (citing Eubulus, who was an expert on Mithraism), there are three grades of Magi. Those of the highest grade abstain from all meat. The second grade eat only game, that is, the flesh of wild beasts, and will not consume the flesh of the kindly, domestic animals like the cow and the sheep, who serve us by providing their milk and wool. The third grade, believing in metempsychosis, eat only certain animals, lest their souls be punished in their next incarnation. Diogenes Laertius states that the highest Magi ate only vegetables, cheese, and plain bread.41 Although most Parsis are confirmed carnivores and abstain from meat only on the four days of the month consecrated to the divine protectors of the animal kingdom and for a few days following the death of a member of the family, the Pahlavi texts speak approvingly of Zoroastrianism-in the dual context, again, of cosmogony and apocalypse. Thus, the Bundahi§n teaches that, towards the end of time, men will gradually give up all food, starting with meat: Mashya and Mashyane, the parents of the human race, had begun eating meat because Ahriman had deceived them.42 The 17th-century Persian treatise Dabestan-e mataheb, which describes the Zoroastrian Eshraqiyan and anticipates many of the doctrines espoused by the modem Khshnumists, cautions against eating the flesh of animals which are zendebar, "lifebearing," i.e., domesticated and useful to the livelihood of men, like the cow or the horse. It seems most unlikely that the author knew the De Abstinentia, so this detail may be independent conftrmation of an authentic practice of Zoroastrian esotericists which survived in some form down the centuries in Iran. Eating wild, hunted animals but not domestic ones is a practice which would. in some respects, accord with traditional Zoroastrian and Iranian values. One has noted the particular-and enduring-prestige and reverence attaching to the hunt in Iran and its linguistic echo in the eschatological literature of Qumran. For a Zoroastrian inclined towards asceticism, the meat of a hunted animal might well be more acceptable than that of a domestic one. One senses also in the Zoroastrian tradition a certain hesitation to kill and eat domestic animals. In Yasna 29 the cosmic drama of the Gathas shifts to earth with the cry of the Cow for help; and in the third book of the Denkard, the slaughter of young animals by the Jews is regarded with such extreme repugnance-Zoroastrians sacriftcing only a mature animal, never a ftrStiing-that it merits a place among the ten evil com-
Stone, "Apocalyptic Literature" in his Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 386, n. 14.
40. IV.16: text in J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Us Mages Hellenises (Paris, 1938), 1:26- 8. An antiquated but convenient translation of the whole work by T. Taylor, 0 n Abstinence from Animal Food, was reprinted at London in 1965 (see esp. p. 167). The Greek sources are aware of divisions within Zoroastrianism. perhaps the same that the Pahlavi books separately affmn. though the former refer these to the class of the Magi and call them three "philosophies" (Sehol. Ale. 1:122a, 8, in BidezCumont, Mages Hellenises U:23). As to the distinction between the Magi and the community as a whole, it is perhaps fitting to note that in Aramaic, and subsequently in Arabic, the Zoroastrians as a whole were referred to as "Magians."
41. Bidez-Cumont, Mage Hellenises U:67.
42. Greater BundahiJn 220.15-221.11 and 102.9-103.1 (transcribed Pahlavi text with English translation in B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Akasih: Iranian or Greater BundahiJn [Bombay. 1956), 283-4, 131).
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 89 mandments of Zahhak promulgated in opposition to the ten noble ones of Jamshid."
The sixth book of the Denkard contains an anecdote describing two aged mobadan who live in seclusion and simplicity-much as Zoroaster is alleged in Greek tradition to have lived-chanting the A vesta and eating only vegetable food. But before withdrawing to a pious vita contemplativa, these two had fulfilled all the obligations of earthly work and procreation incumbent upon every Zoroastrian. In this one might perceive the adaptation of the ways common among mystics to the Zoroastrian ethic of the mean. Perhaps in response to the extreme asceticism of some Indian religious practices, the Denkard warns that refusing all food is as much a sin against Khordad and Amordad (the divinities of the waters and plants) as gluttony. People die when Az, the demoness of lust, conquers their nature and it refuses nourishment. The mystics in the Zoroastrian community can scarcely have been very different in outward appearance or practice from the rest of their co-religionists-except, perhaps, for the very learned or sagacious-in leading the vigorous, ethical life of earthly pleasure and uncompromising struggle against evil. Their spiritual striving found its symbolism in the martial heroism of Rostam, Faridun, and the god Mithra; and the secrets towards which their practices guided them involved, in large part, the apocalyptic conclusion of the war against Ahriman which every Zoroastrian wages in every ritual and with every uttered manthra or act of charity. In all these things, one imagines, they found an intensified sense of nearness to a God already known and manifest in His world.
Modern Khshnumists counsel silence on one particular subject: that of the purpose of evil in the world. But they will discuss its origins. According to their cosmology, time is not linear but cyclical: every 81,000 years the world is annihilated and a new one comes into being. The source of creation is the unmanifest and transcendent being called Ahu, who generates a series of emanations. Out of the soul (ruwan) of the sacred Gathas, the Staota Yesnya ("Liturgy of Praise"), comes an egg (anhumti) which is called Mazda Ahura. The cosmic egg then divides into Perception (baod) and Soul. In the Khshnumist view these are the Twins (yams) to which Yasna 30 alludes. One-fourth of the Soul becomes Angra Mainyu, the Destructive Spirit, apparently by reason of a fleeting moment of envy or doubt, whilst out of Perception emerges the Soul of the Sacred Word (manthra spanta), and Ahura Mazda is emanated from thence. The Khshnumist justification for the origin of evil in this cosmology lies in a reading of the Srosh Yasht Hadhokht (Yasht 11), 1:3: Manthro spento meiayevim drujam niibairiSto, "The Sacred Word brings down most the spiritual Lie. "44 In his study of the texts on Sraosha, Professor Philip Kreyenbroek translated niibeiriste- correctly as "that which best removes," which gives the
43. Dk.M. 299:16-20; Dk.S. vol. 7, para. 288, text p. 332. See 1. de Menasce, Le Troisieme Livre du Denkart (Paris, 1973),285 and 1. R. Russell, "Our Father Abraham and the Magi," i.cot. 54 (1987): 61.
44. I am indebted for much information on 'elm-e khshnum to Mrs. SiUoo Mehta of Bombay, India, and her family. On the source of the evil spirit, her explanation is in
text, of course, a meaning diametrically opposite the one imputed to it by the Khshnumist reading. Indeed, it is very much the function of a Zoroastrian manthra to destroy lies.
This cosmology displays aspects of Hinduism. The cosmic egg, for example, resembles the brahmiinda, which Dara Shikoh rendered into Persian as barhmand and explained as the Arabic kull, "the AlI."45 Cyclical time, though an extremely ancient concept, seems wholly at variance with the clear Zoroastrian exposition of the linear drama of the universe and would, indeed, set the meaning of all human striving and virtue at naught. One is reduced to silence, not only about the purpose of evil (as though there were one), but also about the purpose of good. The doubt or envy which creates Ahriman and enables him to emerge from the egg/womb earlier than Ohrmazd must be seen as a restatement, with theosophical and Indian elaborations, of the ancient theories of Zurvanism. The idea that Zurvan-Infinite Time-was the common origin, the mother and father of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman, was so influential in Sasanian Iran that the fifth-century Armenian theologian Eznik Kolbac'i and the historian Elishe, at least a century after him, both represented it simply as the Persian religion itself. Post-Sasanian condemnation of the dahrig heresy in a standard Zoroastrian abjuration, which is still commonly recited, may refer to fatalism in general, though the word is simply a Pahlavicized form of the Arabic for "Zurvanite. "46 It is also striking that Zurvanism does not seem to have been prominent in other countries where Zoroastrianism existed, such as Armenia, Parthia, and Sogd. The magousaioi of fourth-century Cappadocia who espoused it were probably the descendants of Persian colonists." The Good Religion lays primary emphasis on a man's deeds, not his beliefs, for deeds are the truest expression of his affirmation of Ahura Mazda and of his participation in the dualistic, cosmic struggle. There is no evidence to suggest that the Zurvanites deviated in the slightest degree from the requirements of Zoroastrian orthopraxy. Indeed, the present-day Khshnumists are frequently the most pious members of their communities in
accord with that of Tavaria's printed exposition (pp. 18-20), cited also by Boyce. Textual Sources.
45. The translator of the Upanisads, Yoga Vasistha, and Bhagavad Gila, Dara Shikoh was also a patron of Eshraqi mystics such as the Iranian Jew Sarmad. He was killed by his brother Aurangzeb in 1660. Prince Dara is known also for his work Majma' albahrayn, "Confluence of the two Seas," these being Indian and Muslim wisdom (cf. the Perso-Muslim syncretism of the Sufi poets noted above). Hinduism looms fairly large in Khshnumist explanations of the Avesta. Thus, the sin of Karasaspa was explained to me as his awakening Azhi (Dahaka)-who is the serpent-power of yoga and tantra, kundalini!
46. Cf. also the statement in the Zoroastrian polemic, 'Olama-ye Eslam (Dhabhar, Persian Rivayats, 445): "The sect which opposes our Good Religion contradicts our propositions and says that good and evil are from God, but Zartost Asfantaman has not ascribed falsehood, perfidy, ignorance, oppression, and deceit to the nature of God."
47. Our information on the magousaion ethnos in Cappadocia comes from a letter of A.D. 377 of St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, who alludes to their Zurvanism in a rather garbled form: " ... they claim a certain Zarnouas as the founder of their race" (see M.
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 91 India and the West. Terms such as orthodoxy and heresy, therefore, are inadequate to describe the religious situation where Zurvanite ideas are concerned, either in Sasanian Iran or in the modem world.
But is not the Khshnumist rejection of primal dualism and of a linear universe inconsistent with the intense concern amongst Zoroastrian esotericists, including the Khshnumists themselves, about apocalypse? If the world will be remade after it ends, what does it matter when and how the end will happen? This theoretical inconsistency seems to be of a piece with the ethical inconsistency of maintaining Zoroastrian orthopraxy, all of which is stoutly predicated on an absolute dualism, whilst maintaining primal unity, a role for evil, and the infinite repetition of the worlds. Of course, we deal not with logic but with matters of the heart. Although the rituals of purity and the ethical tenets of the Good Religion have undoubted benefits for the practitioner, Zoroaster's bold vision of Ahriman's onslaught may provide little comfort for weaker souls faced with tragedy and loss in a world where Good shows no sign of overcoming Evilwhere the Parousia has not come about. Hence it is hoped that, even in the abyss of infinity, this manifestation of the world will enjoy the arrival of a Savior.48 It is supposed, consolingly, that evil may have some useful, if mysterious, role to play in Creation. In fact, there is some reflection of this attitude in the Pahlavi literature, where the destructive force of Time is allowed the mitigating purpose of bringing about the death of evil beings, who might otherwise exist deathless and unchanging.s? There seems to be some inconsistency in Zoroastrian tradition about the fate of the wicked at the time of the Last Judgment. It is fairly plain from Zoroaster's own words that they are to be consigned utterly to oblivion, burned away by molten iron, but a later Pahlavi doxology states that the wicked-and this includes all non-Zoroastrians, who are agden, "of evil religion"-will be purified, if painfully, and saved. This changed attitude may reflect an obvious historical development: Zoroaster wished to convert all mankind to his faith and found the pagan practices against which he strove wholly repellent and unworthy. The Sasanians found themselves, by contrast, followers of a religion largely limited to those of Iranian origin, with little impulse to proselytize, surrounded by other peoples of high culture and unquestionable morality. One could scarcely shut the doors of salvation through the Good Religion to them and consign them to eternal damnation because those doors were shut. Their relative misfortune had to be viewed as a matter of predetermined fate, a view the Khshnumists maintain. 50 It may be supposed,
Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 3 [Handbuch der Orientalistik 188.8.131.52.2] [Leiden, 1991], 277-8).
48. Mrs. Mehta informed me (written comm. of 12 August 1989), for instance, that the recitation of the prayer Cubrem. buyiid will hasten the coming of Sosyans.
49. See M. Mole, "Une ascetisme moral dans les livres pehlevis?" R.H .R. 155 (1959): 154.
50. The Pahlavi doxology is discussed in 1. R. Russell, "The Doa-ye Narn Stayisn" in R. Emmerick and D. Weber, eds., Corolla Iranica: Festschrift D. N. MacKenzie (Frankfurt, 1991), 127-32. I was informed by Mrs. Mehta in a conversation that the Khshnumists consider people of different faiths as born under the influences of different planets. They should not intermarry, any more than one planet ought to risk
indeed, that in infinite future universes every reincarnated soul will at some point be Zoroastrian, depending on God's dispensation.
Above secret doctrines or ascetic practices or intoxicating substances, the vehicle of the mystic is prayer. The Khshnumists attend to their prayers with particular devotion, invoking as the protector of prayer Shah Lohrasp to guard the worshiper's thoughts against distraction or temptation. It is common to keep a portrait of this Avestan and epic figure at one's customary place of prayer at home. The practice may derive from the venerable legend that the yazata Drvaspa protected the infant Zoroaster against the assaults of Ahriman. A prayer itself is called a mithra, perhaps in part because it is powerful, binding, true, and an intermediary between this world and the spiritual realms. Certain mudras, or positions of the hands, are also employed. In the recitation of the great manthra of Creation, the Ahuna vairya, the left hand is closed in a fist over the thumb, while the tips of the fingers of the right hand meet the tip of the thumb. Perhaps this means that the right receives and the left retains. One is enjoined in Yasna 28:1 to pray orans-Avestan ustiinazasta=-zs Zoroaster himself does." Zoroastrian daily prayers, such as the Sros baj, often require five consecutive recitations of the Ahuna Vairya (there are, of course, five times of prayer daily). The Khshnumists explain this as an injunction to remind oneself of the five inner qualities of the mind (panj zarvekas-e biitini): association, coordination, cognition, recognition, and creativity.
The mystic often describes his devotion in terms of willing slavery to God or passionate self-sacrifice for His sake. Canonical Zoroastrian texts speak of the ultimate devotion of the believer as becoming xwesih i yazdiin "property of the yazatas" In the Patel. or Confessional, of the Sasanian high priest Adurbad i Amahraspandan, we read: Xwesih yazdan dastan e bawed, ku agar tii-s az iin rasad ku en tan ruwan rii be abiiyed diidan, be daham, "To hold oneself as a possession of the yazatas is this. If it comes to the point when this body has to be given up for the soul's sake, (one declares) 'I give it up!" In Yasna 60:12 one finds words expressing not so much self-sacrifice as a passionate longing for closeness to God: Ahura Mazda. Asa Vahista, Asa sraesta, darasama thwd, pairi thwa jamyiima, bam"m thwii haxma, "Ahura Mazda, best Truth, Truth most beautiful! Let us behold Thee, let us come to Thee, let us be in Thy intimate company!" The Khshnumists have perceived these prayerful exaltations in part through the teachings of the Muslim mystics: in the presence of God, the sole Existent being (hasti), the worshiper's separate existence is annihilated. Hence this world's true nature, insofar as it is distinct from God, is nonexistence (nisli). The Kayvanis, and now the Khshnumists, recite the Persian mantra, Nisi hast; be-joz yazdiin, "There is no being but God," which may perhaps be seen as a philosophical extension, and a calque in its phrasing, of the Muslim
collision with another by entering its orbit. This theory corresponds to the ancient Near Eastern belief that each nation is under the influence of a particular sign of the zodiac.
51. This, of course, is the posture of prayer amongst Christians also. The Armenian name of the orans attitude, bazkaiarac ("with arms outstretched"), may be a calque on the A vestan expression.
Mysticism and Esotericism among Zoroastrians 93 credo, La ilaha ilia Allah. "There is no god but God." Like Sufis, Khshnumist devotees are given the approving Perso-Arabic sobriquet salek, "traveler," for they allow themselves attachment to nothing save God.
Azar Kayvan's disciple Khoda Ju'i wrote in his MOJcashe!al-e Kayviini. "When the souls departed from Ahura Mazda on their mission to fight with the evil in this material world, they were much grieved at their separation; but Ahura Mazda consoled them by saying they could talk with Him through prayers and see His resplendent presence in their pure hearts, good words, and good deeds." For a Zoroastrian, then, the mystic tradition is the revelation of the time and character of the end of days, the strategy of the battle, and the sacred geography of the earth. These things are interwoven with his own earthly duties and religious devotions-for prayers possess a power even as deeds do. The devotions of prayer and absorption in the cosmic drama place the Zoroastrian in a heroic role, exemplified by the great warriors of epic, notably Rostam. A Zoroastrian mystic is both humble and exalted, self-sacrificing and great in strength. The ordeals and initiations of the Mithraists and their successors on the Iranian plateau seem to have enabled the candidate to partake of this drama of the universe in several stages, and to have telescoped Creation and the end of days into a single act of sacrifice in which the heroic god Mithra might be contemplated. As with mystics elsewhere, the Zoroastrian might avail himself of prayer, of the joys of wine, and of a mild asceticism in the twilight of an active and virtuous life. Pervading all this was the certainty of the ultimate transcendence, of xwUih i yazdan, which the Bundahisn declared at the beginning of Time and which will still be true at the last.
The Sufi leapt in ecstatic dance, mast-e alast, intoxicated by the great Question "Am I not your Lord?" to which the souls of men answered "We testify to it!" before Creation.52 His wine and his joy, the Question, the Answer, and the stages and mysteries of the Creation that follow, all derive ultimately from the
52. Sura 7:172: "And when your Lord held from the sons of Adam and made them to testify on themselves. Am I not your Lord (alastu. bi-rabbi/Cum)? they said. Yes, we bear witness to it-lest you say on the day of Resurrection. Indeed we were unaware of this." Cf. Greater Bwndahi.fn 3.23~: "In the hour of the noon watch. Ohrmazd with the Amahraspands performed a spiritual yasna ceremony. and during its performance He made all the creatures. He deliberated with the consciousness and spirit (boy ud frawahr) of humanity, and, having granted mankind omniscient wisdom, he asked, Which seems more advantageous to you: that I fashion you in the material world and you contend in bodily form with the Lie and you destroy the Lie, and in the end I restore you healthy and deathless and create you in material form anew, forever undying and unaging, and you will have no more enemy; or should there be made for you eternal protection against the incursion? And the spirits of mankind saw. through that omniscient wisdom. the evil that is from the Lie. Ahriman, which would arrive in the material world on account of him and the final removal of his deleterious opposition; and for the sake of the healthy and immortal return to the material being of the Final Body forever and ever, they consented to go into the material world."
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