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Persian Myths

"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 and
Angra Mainyu

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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.

Angra Mainyu lives in darkness in the north, the home of all demons, and he is capable of changing his appearance to that of a lizard, a snake or a youth. So disguised, he fights all that is good and attempts to lure all, even Zoroaster himself, into his world of darkness, deceit and lies.
In his continuous battle against good, including the creations of Ahura Mazda, he is assisted by a number of other demons. The most important of these are Aeshma, the demon of fury and outrage, and Azhi Dahaka, the monster with three heads, six eyes and three jaws, whose body is full of lizards and scorpions.

According to Zoroastrian texts, Angra Mainyu will be defeated at the end of the world.

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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.
Among his many other qualities is his sense of justice: he protects the faithful and punishes the unfaithful. In this connection he is associated with warriors, and is described as riding on a chariot pulled by white horses. He carries a silver spear, wears a golden cuirass, and is further armed with golden-shafted arrows, axes, maces and daggers.
The mace or club of Mithra is a powerful weapon not only against untruthful humans but also against the Evil Spirit, Angra Mainyu.
To this day, new Zoroastrian priests receive the mace of Mithra to help them combat evil. The festival of Mithra, the Mithrakana (modern Mihrigan) was the celebration of the autumn equinox. The present month of Mihr (October) is named after the god Mithra.
One of Mithra's most important duties is to protect the Kingly Fortune or Divine Glory (khvarnab orfarr). Only the legitimate rulers of the Iranians were privileged to possess the Divine Glory, which would abandon a king if he strayed from the righteous path.

Ardvi Sura Anahita

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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.
In a vivid description, Ardvi Sura Anahita is compared to a fair maid with a strong body, tall, pure and nobly born of a glorious race, wearing: a mantle fully embroidered with gold, golden earrings and necklace; ever holding the baresma (barsom — bundle of consecrated twigs).

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.


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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:
... O Atar, son of Ahura Mazda! Thou art worthy of sacrifice and invocation; mayest thou receive the sacrifice and the invocation in the houses of men.

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 chariot.
To this day, fire has continued to play a prominent part in Zoroastrian religion and is still worshipped in fire-temples. Fire is a symbol of Zoroastrianism. In Sassanian times there were three famous eternal fires, each representing one of the three classes of society: the Farnabag fire (priests), the Gushnasp fire (warriors) and the Burzin Mihr fire (workers). The Gushnasp fire was probably burning at Takht-i Sulaiman in north-western Iran. To this day the Bahrain fire, the most sacred of all fires, is necessary to fight the forces of darkness and evil and is regarded as the symbol of truth.

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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.
Verethragna is also reported to carry the chariots of the lords ... the chariots of the sovereigns.
In a description of the god Mithra, Verethragna is mentioned as the one who
... made by Ahura, runs opposing the foes in the shape of a boar, a sharp-toothed he-boar, a sharp-jawed boar, that kills at one stroke, pursuing, wrathful, with a dripping face; strong, with iron feet, iron fore-paws, iron weapons, an iron tail, and iron jaws.

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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.

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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.

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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