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Persian Myths

"Legendary Creatures"
( Good & Evil )



The traditional tales and stories of ancient Persia describe confrontations between good and evil, the victories of the gods, and the exploits of heroes and fabulous supernatural creatures. The Avesta 1 is one of the primary sources for these stories. It describes the mother of all trees, the Saena, which stood within the Vourukasha sea. In the Saena tree's branches lived a great falcon, the so called great Saena bird (Pahlavi Senmurv). It sat on top of the tree and when it beat its wings it scattered the seeds, which were then carried away by the wind and the rain and distributed all over the earth. Another important plant growing nearby was the mighty Gaokerena, which had healing properties when eaten and gave immortality to the resurrected bodies of the dead.

Evil naturally tried to destroy this life-giving tree and formed a lizard or frog to attack it, but it was protected by the Kara fish, which swam ceaselessly round it in such a way as to keep all harmful creatures away.

Another fabulous creature, the righteous ass, also protected the tree. This white bodied creature had a golden horn on its head, tree legs, six eyes and nine mouths. It too stood in the middle of the Vourukasha sea and destroyed all harmful creatures. Its origins are uncertain, but one scholar has suggested that it was originally part of a meteorological myth, since it is said to have shaken the waters of the cosmic ocean; others believe that it was originally a foreign god incorporated into Persian belief. Whatever its origin, this ass was as big as a mountain with each foot covering as much ground as a thousand sheep.

The first animal in the world was the uniquely created bull, white in colour and as bright as the moon. According to Zoroastrian tradition it was killed by Angra Mainyu, the evil spirit, and its seed was carried up to the moon. Once purified, this seed produced many species of animal. It also sprouted into plants when part of it fell to the ground.

Gayomartan, whose name means "Mortal Life", was the first mythical man. Described as "bright as the sun", he was a large and impressive figure who was created out of earth. Gayomartan was slain by Angra Mainyu but his seed was purified by the sun after his death. Forty years after being returned to the earth, his sees became a rhubarb plant, which developed into the first mortal man and woman.

One of the opponents of the divs 2 and pairaka 3 was the god Mithra. As a god he controlled cosmic order and watched over men and their deeds. He was associated with warriors and rode a chariot pulled by white horses. He carried a silver spear, wore a golden cuirass, and was further armed with golden shafted arrows, axes, maces and daggers. The mace or club was a powerful weapon against the evil spirit Angra Mainyu.

Demons were a constant threat to mankind, animals, plants and crops. The most important of these was the Azhi Dahaka (modern Persian Azhdaha), the monster with three heads who ate humans. The same three-headed, man-devouring monster appear as Zahhak in Firdowsi's Shahnameh. In the Avesta, the Azhi Dahaka is described as:

... the three-mouthed, the three headed, the six-eyed, who has a thousand senses, the most powerful, fiendish drug 4, that demon, baleful to the world, the strongest Drug that Angra Mainyu created against the material world, to destroy the world of the good principle.

(Yasht 9, 14)

Among these unpopular creatures were the fabulous monsters, which usually took the form of serpents or dragons (azhi) such as the horned, yellow-green Azhi Sruvara, which devoured horses and men; or the golden-heeled Gandareva, which terrorised the Vourukasha sea.

All eventually fell victim to the warriors and heroes in these tales of the eternal struggle of good over evil, a struggle central to mankind.

1. Avesta - A holy book of the Zoroastrians.

2. div - Demons were called divs, a term which had its origin in the ancient word daeva, meaning god or false god.

3. pairaka - A group of female evils who were most active during the night and had a witch like personality.

4. drug - In modern Persian, durugh means lie.


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Copyright © 2005 K. Kianush, Art Arena