"The Gods of Ancient Persia"
The religious texts of the Zoroastrians are rich with information on the ancient Persians and their gods. These texts include the Avesta and later sources such as the Bundahishn and Denkard. Within the Avesta, the gods, heroes and fabulous creatures mostly appear in the section known as the Yasht. Here, myths of 'pre-Zoroastrian' origin which reflect a pagan ideology are described in hymns dedicated to various gods.
Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, is the ultimate God of absolute goodness, wisdom and knowledge. He is the creator of the sun, the stars, light and dark, humans and animals and all spiritual and physical activities. He is opposed to all evil and suffering. Zoroaster's teaching says that Ahura Mazda personifies goodness and that all human beings must choose between good and evil.
Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), is the Evil
Spirit, who is constantly attempting to destroy the world of truth and
to harm men and beasts. Thus life in this world is a reflection of the
cosmic struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu.
According to Zoroastrian texts, Angra Mainyu will be defeated at the end of the world.
Mithra is the best-known divinity, partly
due to the spread and popularity of Mithraism in the Roman empire. The
Avestan word mithra means 'pact, contract, covenant'. In Yasht 10, the
Mihr Yasht, Mithra appears watching over men and their deeds, agreements
and contracts. He is the guide towards the right order (asha) and is
also responsible for giving protection against attack. As the god who
controlled the cosmic order - that is, night and day and the change
of seasons - he was associated with fire and the sun, and thus eventually
became known as the sun god in both Iran and India.
Ardvi Sura Anahita is the goddess of
all the waters and the source of the cosmic ocean. She drives a chariot
pulled by four horses: wind, rain, cloud and sleet. She is regarded
as the source of life, purifying the seed of all males and the wombs
of all females, and cleansing the milk in the breasts of all mothers.
Because of her connection with life, warriors in battle prayed to her
for survival and victory.
Anahita is worshipped by heroes and anti-heroes alike in the Avesta, who pray to her and offer sacrifices. The important status of this goddess is best seen in the struggle between good and evil and the confrontation between the kings of Iran and the rulers of Turya (Turan), the area to the north-east of Iran.
Atar (Fire) in Zoroastrianism is regarded
as the son of Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord. Humans were expected to offer
meat as a sacrifice to Atar, at the same time holding a bundle of sacred
twigs (barsom) in the hand. Every house was expected to have a hearth
for making sacrifices, in front of which prayers could be said:
Atar is closely associated with the god
Mithra: for example, together they succeed in rescuing the Divine Glory
from the demon Azhi Dahaka. Atar is described as riding behind Mithra's
Verethragna is the warrior god, the aggressive,
victorious force against evil. In the Bahram Yasht, a hymn dedicated
to him, he takes ten different forms: a strong wind, a bull with yellow
ears and golden horns, a white horse with golden trappings, a burden-bearing
camel, a male boar, a youth at the ideal age of fifteen, a swift bird
(perhaps a raven), a wild ram, a fighting deer, and a man holding a
sword with a golden blade.
Vayu, the god of wind, is also depicted as a warrior god who chases the Evil Spirit with his sharp spear and golden weapons to protect the good creations of Ahura Mazda. He rules between the realms of Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, between light and darkness.
Tishtrya, the god of rains, is personified as the star Sinus or Canis Major. His opponents are the witch Duzhyairya (Bad Harvest) and, worse still, Apaosha (Drought). He is vividly described as the god who rises from the source of all waters, the Vourukasha Sea, and who divides the waters among the countries.
The god of rains succeeds in making water pour down upon the fields, upon the whole world, and vapour rising from the sea moves forward in the form of clouds, pushed by the wind. The fourth month of the Iranian calendar is called Tir after the god Tishtrya, and the festival of Tiragan was celebrated as a rain festival.
Haoma (Vedic Soma) is the god who gives health and strength, and who provides rich harvests and sons. His name is that of a plant with healing potency, believed to be of the genus Ephedra. The juice of the plant gave supernatural powers and had an intoxicating effect. The god was thought to give strength to overcome any enemy. Indeed, when Kavi Haosravah (later Kay Khusrow) defeated the Turanian king Franrasyan (Afrasiyab), he had the physical assistance of Haoma.
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Copyright © 2005 K. Kianush, Art Arena