Mazdian Cosmology


Iraj Bashiri


Copyright © Iraj Bashiri, 2003




     In an article on the religion of the Achaemenians, Yahya Zuka' suggests that the Achaemenians were not Zoroastrians because, rather than in a single, omnipotent deity, they believed in a triad, or possibly even a multiplicity, of gods.[1] In order to prove this hypothesis, Zuka' chooses a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, he enumerates aspects of Achaemenian life that would have been frowned upon by Zoroaster and his followers. On the other hand, he presents a detailed analysis of the many motifs used by the Achaemenian artists in decorating the palaces and apadanas of Persepolis. Paying particular attention to one figure, the "Faruhar," he concludes that the Achaemenians did not believe in either one or a multiplicity of gods; rather, he says, they believed in a triad of gods in which Ahura Mazda held an exulted position while Mithra and Anahita occupied the lower ranks.

     It is the contention of this essay that the Achaemenians were Zoroastrian, albeit they may have practiced a form of the faith that was closer to Mazdaism than to the Zoroastrian practices of the Sassanians. Zoroastrianism was, at the time of the Achaemenians, an eastern Iranian faith. Its practitioners might have had little contact with the Achaemenians. Centuries later, of course, it flourished in western Iranian lands and became a bulwark against Hellennism, protecting the empires of the last Parthian and, eventually, of the Sassanian monarchs.[2] It is further suggested that the Achaemenians were guided not only by a triad of gods but also by the Mazdian Lords who had brought about, and who controlled, their kingdom. The Achaemenians thought their king had a mandate (farr) from Ahura Mazda to expand their good kingdom.[3] Finally, this essay suggests that since the inception of the Mazdian world, a process of concretization of thought has been in progress. The kingdom of Zoroaster, with its rigid Ahuric Order, stylized Spentas, Yazatas, and Farahvashis is a prime example of the earlier development of this process. In more recent times, mostly as a result of a rapidly developing technology, the process of concretization has been sped up many-fold, steadily distancing the individual from Asha Vahishta and Spenta Armaiti, sources of appropriate thought and sound judgment. These forces were originally appointed by Vohu Manah to safeguard humanity's well-being and prosperity. (See further below for discussion.)


Zuka's View of the Religion of the Achaemenians

     In his article entitled "Partovi Novin bar Din-i Hakhamaneshian" ("A New Light on the Religion of the Achaemenians"), Yahya Zuka' contends that the Achaemenians were not Zoroastrians because rather than believing in one god--Ahura Mazda--they believed in three gods: Ahura Mazda, Mithra, and Anahita. He further explains that even when earlier monarchs like Darius (B.C. 522-486) emphasized the role of Ahura Mazda, they always mentioned the "other gods," or the "Royal High Magi."[4] During the reigns of Artaxerxes II (B.C. 404-359) and Artaxerxes III (B.C. 359-338), when all three deities were worshiped, he says, the true nature of the religion of the realm became manifest.[5]

     In order to prove that the Achaemenians did not follow the Zoroastrian creed, Zuka' refers to a lack of mention of the prophet of the faith, Zoroaster, in the Greek and Achaemenian sources. Neither is there a mention of the holy book of the faith, the Avesta, or of the celebrated Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals). If the Achaemenians were Zoroastrian, Zuka' contends, rather than receiving our information on the prophet, his scripture, and the Holy Immortals of the faith from Pahlavi and post-Sassanian sources such as the Shahname of Firdowsi, we would receive it from the Achaemenian sources.[6] In addition, Zuka' mentions three practices prevalent among the Achaemenians, animal sacrifice, burial of the dead, and a consumption of the intoxicating haoma juice.[7] These practices, he says, were vehemently frowned upon by Zoroaster.[8]

     There are, Zuka' agrees, a number of points where the religion of the Achaemenians and Zoroastrianism are in partial accord. The most important of these is in the worship of the great god Ahura Mazda. But, as is predictable, Zuka' argues that the Achaemenians' devotion to Ahura Mazda was not total. They regarded Ahura Mazda to be a member of either a pantheon or a triad of gods. The next point of partial agreement concerns the sharing of veneration for the sacred fire. On this, too, Zuka' does not place much weight. The worship of fire, he argues, is not so much a Zoroastrian practice as it is an Aryan rite. Similarly, he states that it is true that both religions recognized Mithra and Anahita, but that their recognition was not the same. The Zoroastrians recognized Mithra and Anahita to be angels, while the Achaemenian revered them as gods.[9]

         Zuka' concludes his discussion by introducing his most recent find: a detailed analysis of the motifs used by the Achaemenian artists who decorated the palaces and apadanas of Persepolis. These motifs, Zuka' believes, showcased the religious beliefs of the Achaemenian kings who ordered the building of the palaces and the apadanas in the first place. In support of his discussion, he produces an elaborate chart that, due to its importance, I have summarized below (see Figure 1). It should be mentioned in passing that the chart not only contains a wealth of new information about Persepolis, but is also indicative of many years of exhaustive study and deliberation.[10]




Ahura Mazda








the planet Jupiter


water, snow, rain, hail, dew


wind, air


rivers and seas

the earth

the sky


bull, ram, animals w. horn

lion, horse

birds, esp. eagles


tall, slim, beautiful lady resemblin­g a queen; wears a diadem

youth resembling a crown prince, bow, 3 arrows

perfect man with a long, trimmed beard, looks like ancient kings


lotus blossom

palm tree, lotus blossom, sunflower

cypress tree, lotus flower



red, yellow, orange, gold, purple

azure, turquoise blue

sky (light) blue, green




turquoise, lapis lazuli, emerald















Figure 1. Symbolic representations of the gods of the Achaemenians


     As can be seen, in Zuka's chart, each god has a number of aspects that range from the astrological, elemental, locational, animal, human, plant, and gender to each deity's desired colors, jewels, temper, and seasons. From among those symbols, Zuka' chooses the astrological and the animal symbols to show the Achaemenians' devotion to Ahura Mazda, Mithra, and Anahita, which he contends differs greatly in scope from the Zoroastrian’s devotion. The essential animal parts that combine in symbolic terms to confirm the non-Zoroastrian nature of the faith are summarized in the following plate.[11]


Figure 2. Assorted animal parts representing the

gods of the Achaemenians

     The depictions on the first plate (see Figure 2) begin with two circles. The one to the left is a symbolic representation of power and order in the universe. The one to the right, which resembles a wheel, represents the firmament, although Zuka' would rather call it a symbol of Asha (the god of truth). Often a likeness of Ahura Mazda appears within the circle, he says. Below the circles, the wings and tail of an eagle are presented. The eagle, needless to say, is the symbol of the chief god Ahura Mazda.

     Below the tail of the eagle there are two sets of horns that belong either to a bull or a ewe. One set adorns the head of a lion while the other set is detached. There are also two representations of the tail of a lion. One is attached to a lion's hind leg that itself ends in an eagle's claw. The other is a stylized tail, curled up as lion tails usually appear. We know from the chart that horned animals are symbols of Anahita and that the lion symbolizes Mithra. The fact that the artists could combine the symbolic features--the horns of a bull on the head of a lion and the claws of an eagle replacing the paws of a lion--points to the fluidity of expression that was afforded the artists and the faithful alike.[12]

     Actually, this plate serves Zuka' in three ways. First, it introduces the motifs that symbolize the three Achaemenian deities. Second, the fact that only these three sets of symbols exist and that they are repeated in various combinations indicates that there were no other gods, Zuka' decided, that were worth mentioning. And third, Zuka' uses the components of this chart as a foundation for the explanation of the more enigmatic Faruhar figure mentioned earlier.

     In the bas-relief of the Achaemenian era, the Faruhar is depicted as a winged being that hovers over the person of the king.[13] As Zuka' cleverly illustrates, the possibility for creating Faruhars is great. The symbols enumerated under each aspect can be variously combined to represent different manifestations of the deity. The one that resembles a winged being (see Figure 3, bottom) is the one used most often and, of course, is the one that is controversial.[14]

     Western scholars generally refer to the depiction of Faruhar simply as "the Great God Ahura Mazda."[15] Zoroastrians consider it a depiction of their only deity, Ahura Mazda (the Lord of Wisdom). Zoroastrian publishers, perhaps imitating the books published by the theological centers of other religions, use this emblem as the invocation attributed to the deity of the faith. This practice, however, goes back only as far as the middle of the 19th century. Zuka' interprets the Faruhar as a most subtle form of advertisement used by Achaemenian kings to communicate their devotion to their gods. The fact that this type of symbolism was prevalent in the Near East at the time, he believes, caused their message to be taken even farther afield than those monarchs could have imagined.[16]


Figure 3. Various representations of the Faruhar figure

     The first two depictions on the second plate are stylized Faruhars composed of the astrological, rather than the animal symbols, representing the deities. Both are quite rare but expressive renditions. They consist of a likeness of Ahura Mazda (one more stylized than the other) within a full circle or sun disk (symbol of Mithra) and enhanced by the crescent moon (symbol of Anahita).

     The next depiction, too, is rare. It includes the actual horns representing Anahita rather than horns depicted artistically by curling up the wings of the eagle, for instance. The wings and tail represent Ahura Mazda and the lion's tail represents Mithra. The next depiction shows the three deities as three small circles held by an eagle. Here, the imaginary triangle formed by the three circles actually represents the triad held together by the eagle (Ahura Mazda).

     Finally, the most common Faruhar shows the chief god Ahura Mazda keeping the firmament (the circle he holds) in order. His presence is enhanced by the wings and tail of the eagle. Mithra's presence is represented by the symmetric lion tails that issue from the sides of the eagle. The body of Ahura Mazda covers the small horns that would otherwise be visible over the wings to indicate the presence of Anahita. The most prevalent Zoroastrian Faruhar is an amalgam of symbols representing the Achaemenian triad.



What is the Religion of the Achaemenians?

     Zuka's answer to this question raises a number of questions of its own. How should we determine the nature of the religious belief of a culture? Do considerations of the contents of ancient, medieval, and contemporary reports form a sufficient basis for making a decision? Is singling out certain customary rituals, like burial of the dead, drinking of the haoma juice, and performance of ritual sacrifice, a sufficient measure for gauging the faith of the practitioners of a religion? Should we analyze the iconography and assess which motifs hang together most logically?

     The fact is that we need all of the above and more to gain even a modest understanding of a culture. The question, however, remains: Would an awareness of those factors alone be sufficient grounds for determining the nature of a culture's faith? The answer is: Not at all. Many aspects of faith--dualism, free will, belief in angels, belief in a Resurrection Day, and belief in everlasting damnation--are transmitted as principle beliefs or as wisdom and guidance, with little observable ritual attached. Where do, for instance, the shared Achaemenian and Zoroastrian beliefs in "good thought," "good words," and good deeds" fit in the scheme of the religious belief of the Achaemenians? And, it should be added that, as we shall see, this triad holds a most prominent position in Mazdian cosmology, on which Zoroaster drew heavily. After all, is the function of religion in society to determine what god or gods to worship, or is it to venerate what a particular deity, or a pantheon of deities, stands for?

     Furthermore, the question of the existence of a triad, or a pantheon of gods in the case of the Achaemenians, is irrelevant. Greeks, Indians, and Iranians all inherited the same Indo-European pantheon of gods. The fact that each group, in the course of their long history, reshaped that pantheon to meet its own needs does not affect the earlier developments when commonalties lingered. The Indians, for instance, retained a rather large pantheon, while the Romans replaced it with the tenets of Christianity.[17] As for the Iranians, they created a most elaborate hierarchy that begins with the deity and, through a network of beings, reaches the faithful. It is not surprising, therefore, to find remnants of a pantheon of three or more gods in the belief system of the Achaemenians.

     With regard to whether certain practices would disqualify the Achaemenians from being practitioners of Zoroastrianism, Zaehner provides an answer:


In its bare essentials, then, the religion of Darius is very closely akin to that of Zoroaster. The supreme God is the same and has the same name, there is the same insistence on Truth and Righteousness, and the same diagnosis of evil as being the manifestation of the Lie. [...] The dualism between Truth and the Lie is as sharply etched in Darius's inscriptions as it is in the Gathas of Zoroaster. [...] The fact that he [Darius] neither mentions the Destructive Spirit nor any of the Bounteous Immortals by name and that his terminology is not that of the Gathas and that there is no reference to Zoroaster himself, can scarcely be advanced as a serious argument that he was ignorant of the Zoroastrian reform.[18]


     In addition, Zuka' himself mentions that the Achaemenians recognized Gushtaspa.[19] Is not Gushtaspa the king who welcomed Zoroaster to his court and accepted his religion? And were not the Achaemenians a ruling family of Iran, like Gushtaspa's family, only at a later date and, for that time, at a distance from the center of the Zoroastrian practice? If we agree that Darius was instrumental in planting the seed of the new faith in western Iranian lands, it should follow that Xerxes and his successors would strive to promote it either for its own sake or as leverage against the powerful Magi. The Macedonian interlude, between the rule of the last Achaemenians and the latter Parthians, makes judgment on the issue somewhat difficult.[20]

     In order to understand the religion of the Achaemenians, I believe, we need to ascertain whether they had faith in the fundamentals of the religion of Zoroaster. And what are the fundamentals of Zoroastrianism if not the principles that were thought into existence by the Mazdian Lord Vohu Manah.

     In what follows, it will be shown that Sassanian Zoroastrianism, which Zuka' accepts as standard Zoroastrianism, is a concretized continuation of Mazdaism. In it, the Mazdian Lord Vohu Manah is replaced by Ahura Mazda, both in name and in function. Within the Iranian religious continuum, however, the religion of the Achaemenians could be a fraction closer to Mazdaism or slightly more distant from Zoroastrianism. Neither position disqualifies its practitioners from being adherents of the only major Iranian faith that ever existed.



Mazdian Cosmology

     I would like to begin the discussion of Mazdian cosmology with a quotation from the works of Henry Corbin:


"This dual structure establishes a personal relation­ship that parallels that other basic relationship expressed in Mazdean cosmology by the distinction between the menok state and the getik state of beings. This distinction is not exactly between the intelligible and the sensory, nor simply between the incorporeal and the corporeal, [...] the distinction is rather a matter of the relationship between the invisible and the visible, the subtle and the dense, the heavenly and the earthly, provided it is clearly understood that the getik state (earthly, material) in itself by no means implies a degeneration of being, but that it was itself, before the Ahriman invasion, as it will be thereafter, a glorious state of light, peace, and incor­ruptibil­ity. Every being can be thought of in its menok state, as well as in its getik state..."[21]


     Corbin regards the Mazdian and the Zoroastrian cosmologies as the two sides of the same coin. For him the Mazdian/Zoroastrian cosmology made a distinction between thought and matter. More imprtantly, he believes that the ancients recognized an angelic form for every material form that existed. This statement, however, may hold true for explaining certain Zoroastrian views of the cosmos, but it is hardly sufficient for fathoming either the structure or the underlying philosophy of Mazdian cosmology. For that we need to understand the role that two basic Indo-Arayan concepts play in the further development of Iranian religious thought after it separated from Indian religious thought. Those concepts are primacy of thought and desirability of immortality. Did the Iranians discard these principles or enhanced them with the importance of Truth and the inevitability of conflict between Truth and the Lie?

     Suppose we place a number of texts on transparent media and that we place those media one above the other. If we look at the stack from the bottom, we will be able to see only portions of the texts showing through with the writing on the bottom level being the clearest text. At the same time, portions of the upper-level texts get mixed in with the text of the lower levels, creating a convoluted final view of the texts. A good portion of the texts will be unintelligible. Yet this is how Corbin and DeMenasce view Mazdaism, through the well-established and detailed exegesis prepared for Zoroastrianism over the centuries.[22]

     In the formulation of the Neo-Mazdian pantheon that gave rise to Zorastrianism, Mazdaism is a developmental stage (i.e., one of the levels near the top of the imaginary stack suggested above). It is more akin to the thought and faith structure of the Hindus than to the later stages of Zoroastrian thought. After all, Zoroastrianism is the name of a religion only in the sense of Bahaism or Lutheranism (cf., Muhammadanism). The religion that the prophet Zoroaster brought is a reformed form of ancient Mazdaism. The question, therefore is: What were the major building blocks of the original religion and how were they reorganized into the reformed structure?

     Furthermore, Mazdaism was a faith based on unadultrated thought. It was during the latter part of the Mazdian era that Iranian society became conscious of the role of religion in the resolution of social, economical, and ideological problems of the community. It was also at this time that the community realized the necessity for a super force to oversee its affairs. Gradually, a form of reformed Mazdaism comes into existence which, in time, and with the assistance of hero saints like Kaykhusrau and Vishtaspa, becomes a new din (dispensation). The Orthodox Zoroastrianism of the Sassanians, this author believes, is the final developmental stage of this long history. [23]

     Ancient Iranians had a definite, albeit much less concrete, view of the cosmos than either their Achaemenian inheritors or the Parthians and Sassanians who followed the Achaemenians. To the Mazdian mind, existence on the earth plane was the result of a series of generative thought cycles that had started at the beginning of time and that would continue until Haurvatat (perfection) is achieved. The transformations that come with perfection lead to immortality (cf., Nirvana). Within these cycles, it was believed that thought (Vohu) was qualified and transformed into expression (Khshathra Vairya) and action (Haurvatat).

     I just mentioned that the ancient mind understood the world in less concrete, albeit specific, terms. I shall elaborate on the first part of that statement later. As for ‘specific,’ the ancients postulated that existence on the earth plane would last 12,000 cosmic years. We don't know how long a cosmic year is, or how long 12,000 cosmic years would be in real world terms.

     In any event, the 12,000 years was divided into four equal periods. At the beginning of the first three thousand years stood a Void, and at the end of the last three thousand years was Immortality. The time spans can be outlined as follows:


0-3000          Void in which Manah blossoms and where the battle between Vohu Manah and Ako Manah occurs


3000-6000     Ascendancy of Vohu Manah and achieve­ment of Khshathra Vairya through the intermediacy of Asha Vahishta and Spenta Armaiti


6000-9000     Khshathra Vairya to Haurvatat in which mythi­cal monarchs guided by Vohu Manah rule


9000-12000    The final battle during Haurvatat when demons are destroyed and Ameretat is achieved


History as we know it, plays itself out as part of the last phase only in the real-world that is created by Ahura Mazda (see below). During that phase, mythic saints struggle with demons and exterminate them. Similarly, deputies of Ahura Mazda on earth lead the battle between good and evil with the aim of returning the cosmos to its original equilibrium. Ahura Mazda's world, however, as far as the Mazdian cosmos is concerned, belongs to the future.


The Role of Manah

     With the brief overview of the Mazdian cosmos outlined above, let us examine the Mazdian creation cycle and briefly discuss its components. Recall that the Mazdian world started in a Void comprised of a Neutral Base susceptible to thought, expression, and action. The Neutral Base remained unchanged within the Void for the better part of the first 3,000 cosmic years. Before that period ended, however, Manah (thought) blossomed in the Void from a primordial thought seed. Like its parent Void, Manah was neutral. A particular vibrancy, however, distinguished it from the Void. The same force eventually split Manah into two easily distinguishable, but conflicting, parts. We know the twins as Ako (bad, evil) and Vohu (good, benevolent). Both faces of Manah sought immortality, but only one had the potential to achieve it. The conflict continued.[24]

     The words Mazda and Mazdian are derived from the Indo-European *mns- (mnah in Iranian). Both words refer to thought and mind. Mazdian cosmology, therefore, is a cosmology of the mind or a cosmology of what can be materialized through thought. In this cosmology, therefore, things are thought into existence (cf., for instance, the role of Brahman in Indian cosmology).[25] In order to make their respective kingdoms progress, both Ako and Vohu create helpers with specific functions.


The Role of Vohu Manah

     Even though the conflict between Vohu Manah and Ako Manah lasted for a long time, eventually it ended in favor of Vohu Manah. Ako Manah was forced to retreat into the depths of the Void. Not much was heard from him for the rest of this initial period.

     Victorious Vohu Manah is thought incarnate. He charted a creation plan that would culminate in the achievement of Khshathra Vairya or the Holy Dominion, a firm first step for the realization of Ameretat (immortality). His projected kingdom had the potential of depriving Ako Manah from having any role at all in the cosmos.

     The importance of Vohu Manah to the Mazdian cosmos (indeed, to the existence of the world as we know it) cannot be over-emphasized. Every good action begins with a good word and every good word is preceded by a good thought. Since Vohu Manah expected his Khshathra Vairya to serve as the model of good action, action that would lead to perfection and immortality, he had no option but to safeguard the path of good thought through expression to action.

     Summarizing the role of the Mazdian Vohu Manah, therefore, it can be said that Vohu Manah is the seed of good reason and grasp. Without his knowledge, no word is expressed and no action is taken. If speech and action do happen without Vohu Manah, then they are the words and deeds of Ako Manah.


The Role of Asha Vahishta

     The kingdom that Vohu Manah had projected was to be populated by thought beings who, by nature, were susceptible to influence by good as well as by evil thought. Ako Manah was in retreat at the present, but he could not be kept away from the dominion for ever. For this reason, Vohu Manah had to devise a way by which the individual could achieve a sound understanding of order. Vohu Manah thus thought Asha Vahishta into existence expressly to protect his future beings from being influenced by the Lie.

     As we shall see, the creation of Asha Vahishta is one of Vohu Manah's most fundamental steps toward the realization of his projected kingdom. Without order in his universe, the Lie would promote chaos and with chaos around, there would be no hope for the achievement of Haurvatat (perfection), the prerequisite for the achievement of Ameretat (immortality).


The Role of Spenta Armaiti

     Are the goodness that comes from Vohu Manah and the order and truth that are contributed by Asha Vahishta sufficient for the future prosperity of the beings who would populate Vohu Manah's kingdom? Would they become pious and benevolent by dint of being created? Definitely not. Goodness and Truth without a catalyst to relate one to the other are two isolated, barren cosmic functions. Asha Vahishta, therefore, thought Spenta Armaiti into existence in order to fill this very vacuum. Spenta Armaiti inspires good thought and sustains the truth that is ushered in by Asha Vahishta.

     Before continuing on building Vohu Manah's Khshathra Vairya, let us summarize what is already achieved.


·A Neutral Thought seed (Manah) blossomed in the Void. Subsequently it split into two, creating Ako and Vohu.

·Ako lost the battle between good and evil. Vohu became the sole Creator.

·Vohu Manah set himself the task of creating Khshathra Vairya, the Holy Dominion. To do that, he thought Asha Vahishta into existence to protect his creation against any assault from the direction of Ako Manah, and Asha Vahishta thought Spenta Armaiti into existence to inspire good thought and sustain the truth until Khshathra Vairya is achieved.



The Role of Khshathra Vairya

     In the Mazdian cosmology, Khshathra Vairya is the expression of Vohu Manah's will in the form of a kingdom – a world in which Vohu Manah's thought-beings, protected by Asha Vahishta and guided by Spenta Armaiti, would live harmoniously. Their kingdom, if it were fully protected from Ako Manah, would enjoy perpetual bliss.

     Thought out by the master of the good mind, and the ulti­mate creator of not only order but of the inspiration to seek or­der, eventually Vohu Manah's Khshathra Vairya came into exis­tence. The creation process followed the same generative path that creation of Asha Vahishta and Spenta Armaiti had taken, i.e., each creation is born from the previous creation under the supervision of Vohu Manah and each creation is endowed with the capabilities of the creations that had preceded it.

In order for the kingdom of the good mind to be permanently separate from the world of the dormant Ako Manah, a metallic barrier (sky) was formed between the two kingdoms. From the substance of this first creation, the sky, water was created. Water subsequently brought forth land that brought forth plants. Plants in time gave rise to animals. At the end, Gayomart, the agent who would move the kingdom to Haurvatat came into existence. Khshathra Vairya did not include a place for Ako the Lie.

As the exact opposite of Vohu Manah who created, Ako Manah was bent on destruction. In fact, the moment he recovered from his initial setback and saw a Khshathra Vairya destined for perfection, he broke through the sky and entered Khshathra Vairya. There he polluted the water, defiled the earth, poisoned the plants, and killed the first sacred animal. He also killed Gayomart, the first cosmic man.

When he felt his destruction was total, Ako Manah decided to leave Khshathra Vairya, but he could not find his way. Actually, he was held back by Asha Vahishta, Vohu Manah's protection against the Lie. Asha Vahishta had patched up the sky. With his fate sealed, Ako Manah became a prisoner in Khshathra Vairya.

Ako Manah's intrusion into Khshathra Vairya changed the whole scheme of things. The blissful world that Vohu Manah had foreseen was no longer attainable, since Khshathra Vairya included Ako Manah.


The Roles of Haurvatat and Ameretat

The conflict between Ako Manah and Vohu Manah began in the Void. It was disrupted while Vohu Manah was building his Khshathra Vairya. A new battle begins within the new kingdom between the creatures of Vohu Manah and those that Ako Manah brings forth. Whichever side wins and achieves perfection, i.e., whichever side destroys the other side utterly, achieves perfection. The reward for this perfection is the achievement of Ameretat.

     Before leaving the discussion of Mazdian cosmology, it is important to emphasize that the world of Vohu Manah, from its inception in the Void to its materialization as Khshathra Vairya and its final struggle for perfection and immortality, is a thought world. Khshathra Vairya, therefore, is a cosmic prototype for the world to come, the world of Ahura Mazda that would be ruled by divinely ordained mythical monarchs until the appearance of the prophet Zoroaster.



Zoroastrian Cosmology


Material Creation

     Ahura Mazda (see below) created the material universe in seven steps. He created the sky out of shining metal. It looked like an egg, with its top reaching the endless light. He accommodated the rest of his creation within the sky. Out of the substance of the sky, he created the waters and assigned wind, rain, mist, storm, and snow as its helpmate. Out of the substance of the waters, he created the round earth, with far flung passage-ways, hills and dales. On the middle of the earth, he created plants which grew to the height of one foot with water and fire assigned as their helpmates. He also fashioned his fifth creation, the sacred white bull, in the middle of the earth. So that the bull might gain strength and thrive, Ahura Mazda assigned the waters and plants as his helpmates.


Ahura Mazda

     In Zoroastrian cosmology, which follows and uses some of the major functions created first by Vohu Manah for Mazdian cosmology, Ahura Mazda is distinguished as the embodiment of the spiritual and the material existence of the cosmos. He rules his kingdom through six manifestations, known as the Amesha Spentas. Each spenta takes care of a certain number of human needs. The spentas communicate with the faithful through the Ahuric Order which comprises the following hierarchy. The Amesha Spentas form a pantheon directly below Ahura Mazda, their chief. Below them are the Yazatas (archangels) and below them are the Farahvashis (guardian angels). The human beings (cf., thought beings in Mazdian cosmology) ruled by Ahura Mazda are placed below their king, at the bottom of the hierarchy. According to this system, when an individual prays, the prayer is picked up by his or her Farahvashi who communicates it to an appropriate Yazata. The Yazata takes the prayer up to an appropriate Spenta. Through the intermediacy of that Spenta, Ahura Mazda hears the individual's prayer in his soul and reacts to it. The number of Amesha Spentas is six, that of the Yazatas is finite but unknown, and the number of the Farahvashis is the same as the number of the faithful inhabiting the globe at a given time. There are both male and female Amesha Spentas and Yazatas.


The Amesha Spentas

     The Bundahishn (Book of Creation) describes the creation of the Amesha Spentas in great detail.[26] Here, for the sake of brevity, we shall look at the background of each spenta and outline his or her function.

1) Vohuman (also referred to as Vohu Manah, not to be confused with the Mazdian creator god Vohu Manah) is one of the lower deities in the Zoroastrian pantheon of gods. Vohuman essentially combines innate intellectual capacity with learning capability. He offers his acquired wisdom to mankind for the improvement of his soul and mind. Vohuman is represented by the animal kingdom in this world. He is an angel who, as the embodiment of wisdom, calms anger. Zoroastrian astrology, medicine, as well as the sanity of the community depended on the actions of this angel.[27]

     As can be seen, Vohu Manah and Vohuman are two different beings, belonging to two different eras in the development of the Mazdian cosmos. This distinction holds true for the other pairs of Mazdian and Zoroastrian namesakes. The Zoroastrian spentas are concerned with real-world problems as well.

2) The Pahlavi texts identify Asha Vahishta with Artavahisht (not to be confused with his Mazdian counterpart Asha Vahishta). Artavahisht is one of the six Holy Immortals assisting Ahura Mazda. He symbolizes truth and righteousness, as well as embraces the unchanging aim of creation. Artavahisht guides the world away from evil and directs it towards the truth. He is the guardian of the fires and the mountains.[28]

3) The Pahlavi word for Khshathra Vairya is Shatravar. One of the Holy Immortals of Zoroastrianism, Shatravar influences the outcome of the cosmic battle between good and evil. He benefits the entire Ahuric creation. Shatravar is the angel in charge of metals.

4) Spenta Armaiti is known in the Pahlavi texts as Spandarmat. The lower goddess Spandarmat embodies the divine qualities of love and devotion, as well as the social welfare of humanity, animals, and plants. The planet earth represents Spandarmat in this world.

5) The goddess Haurvatat reflects the mental and physical well-being of the individual. Water represents Haurvatat in this world.

6) The goddess Ameretat personifies the destination of those who have vanquished evil. Plants represent Ameretat in this world.[29]


The Yazatas and the Farahvashis

    The Yazata system is complex and cannot be adequately addressed here. There are celestial as well as terrestrial Yazatas. There are also both male and female Yazatas. As mentioned, the Yazatas are ordered hierarchically below the Spentas. Mithra and some others belong to an earlier age, while Ardvi-Sura-Anahita and many others belong to a later stage of the development of the faith. From among them, Mithra personifies the sunlight while Ardvi-Sura-Anahita personifies the waters. The Yazatas are assigned to appropriate Spentas to assist the devout.[30]

    The Farahvashis, as mentioned, are at the bottom of the celestial hierarchy. They are responsible for communicating the prayers and wishes of the faithful to the appropriate Yazatas.


Creation of Man

     Recall that in the Mazdian creation cycle, Gayomart, the cosmic man who inhabited Khshathra Vairya, was killed by Ako Manah; Ako Manah was trapped in the kingdom and became a permanent prisoner. In Zoroastrian cosmology we learn that the seed of Gayomart traveled to the moon. There it was purified by the sun and returned to earth. Using this seed, Ahura Mazda fashioned a real-world first man and, alongside him, a first woman. The two sprang from the earth in the form of a rhubarb plant with two joined stems. Those stems then formed Mashiya (the first man) and Mashiyana (the first woman) who would battle Ahriman (Mazdian Ako Manah) in this world.[31]


Legions of Ahriman

     Ahriman (evil), who is merciless and destructive, has his own legion of demons. With their help, he prevents the faithful from good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. He is set to destroy anything that belongs to the creation of Ahura Mazda. Ahriman's henchmen are Akoman (evil mind) that creates vile thoughts and promotes discord among people; Indar prevents virtuous thoughts from materializing; Savul creates anarchy and drunkenness; Nanghaiti creates discontent; Tarich frustrates people; and Zarich is the demon that makes poisons. There are also a host of other demons such as Eshm (wrath) and Az (greed), that need not be enumerated here.

     In the battle that ensues Vohuman would defeat Akoman; Artavahisht would defeat Indar; Shatravar would defeat Savul; Spandarmat would defeat Nanghaiti; Haurvatat would defeat Tarich; and Ameretat would defeat Zarich. Similarly, Sorush, the intermediary between the earth plane and the abode of gods, would defeat Eshm and Ahura Mazda would destroy Ahriman and Az.[32]


Mazdian and Zoroastrian Cosmologies Compared

     As can easily be seen, Zoroastrian cosmology uses the Mazdian model but introduces many fundamental modifications and changes of its own. The distinction between thought and matter leads the way.

     The Mazdian Lord Vohu Manah thought Asha Vahishta and Asha Vahishta thought Spenta Armaiti into existence expressly to assure the direction and maintenance of the building blocks of a desired Khshathra Vairya. In other words, unadulterated good thought formed the cornerstone of Vohu Manah's creation, the Khshathra Vairya. After Khshathra Vairya was achieved, Vohu Manah's world entered Haurvatat. This was a world in which good and evil vied for the perfection of their respective worlds. A world like the one we live in today passed through Haurvatat and the actions like the ones we take today were instrumental in deciding whether Ameretat would ever become a reality.

     In sum, the reality of Mazdian cosmology is based on thought, both good and evil. Mazdian cosmology rises and falls on that basis. Three basic concepts move the Mazdian world: thought, expression, and action. Vohu Manah and Ako Manah strive to achieve their Haurvatat and Ameretat out of the battle of the minds that they wage.

     Zoroaster, on the other hand, appeared at a time when the Mazdian wisdom of the ancients was no longer capable of solving the problems of the time. What Zoroaster does, in essence, is take away the diverse creative functions of the Mazdian gods and place them in the person of one chief god: Ahura Mazda. He then assigns the Mazdian beings, including Vohu Manah, real-world tasks. In other words, he allows the phenomenal world and human virtues a role in the affairs of the world. Human affairs and cosmic concerns become the basis of theological problem solving.[33] Rather than continue to evolve from a thought seed, it seems, the world stops its evolution. It becomes a kingdom divided among six governors under the auspices of a chief governor.

     Another major difference is in the area of accountability. Vohu Manah thought Asha Vahishta into existence to create order. Asha Vahishta held Spenta Armaiti responsible for sustaining truth through piety. Khshathra Vairya, having become the battle ground between good and evil, must move the kingdom to Haurvatat, and Haurvatat must cleanse all so that Ameretat becomes possible.

     In this system, each god is responsible to himself, to the god who created him, and to Lord Vohu Manah. Their relationship can be outlined as follows:


     The Zoroastrian deities act more as administrators than as creators. They are responsible to the creative deity, Ahura Mazda, who manages the affairs of the world with the assistance of an earth-plane deputy, who executes the Ahuric Order.


Figure 5. Configuration of the Zoroastrian deities



     I have referred to the assignment of real-life tasks to originally abstract beings as a process of concretization. The process is significant by itself as it touches the core values of a culture. The value of Vohuman, the good shepherd who brings the flock home safe and sound, is quite different from the value of Vohu Manah who thinks Asha Vahishta into existence to safeguard good thought against evil.

     As I have outlined, both Mazdian and Zoroastrian cosmologies are complex. They defy simple comparison. Their essence, however, is succinct. Mazdian cosmology is summarized in three steps: blossoming of a thought and its being directed towards the good; expression of that good thought in a form useful to future beings; and freedom of action by the individual to determine the outcome of the battle between good and evil. All along, truth, piety, and holy dominion move the faithful towards perfection and immortality.

     In the Zoroastrian system, the three functions are retained not as cosmic movers of destinies, but as sound rules of conduct. Affairs of the world are affected less by abstractions than by a concrete Ahuric Order dictated by Ahura Mazda to his deputy on earth. All creation must recognize the significance of hierarchy, immobility in rank, and obedience to the ruler.


     Having briefly discussed the developments in the religion of the Iranian peoples during the less historic times, let us return to Yahya Zuka's discussion of the religion of the Achaemenians, especially his analysis of the Faruhar triad. Can the triad of symbols be an expression of the three levels of development outlined for the Mazdian cosmos? Vohu Manah shares the epithet "good thought" with Ahura Mazda; Mithra, the god of contracts, is also the god of "good words"; and Anahita oversees the waters, the source of all "good deeds." In other words, the Faruhar, in any combination one imagines it, is loftier than what Zuka' suggests. It could be a summation of man's existence, a symbol of the beginning and of the end.

     The same triad was known to the Zoroastrians as humat (good thought), hukht (good word), and huvarsht (good deed). They, too, regarded this triad as a summation of all creation and used it in the sense of "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate." Interestingly, both their cosmos and their paradise had three levels. In the spectrum of concretization, the Achaemenians’ religion lies somewhere between the Mazdian and the Zoroastrian concepts.




It is suggested in this paper that the religion of the Achaemenians was a faith with foundational elements somewhere between those found in Mazdaism and those of the Zoroastrians. The Great God Ahura Mazda had been accepted along with the generative cycles that had created their blessed Iran, not in its stead. Thought, Expression, and Action were the substantive forces in their lives.

     As far as symbols are concerned, it is shown that symbols by themselves, especially symbols that over the centuries have acquired profound meanings, cannot be used as determining factors for the nature and content of either a culture or a belief system. They are, of course, instrumental in revealing hidden aspects of the culture.[34]

     Finally, it is suggested that, over the centuries, human thought has undergone a process of concretization, especially with regard to spiritual matters. Totems have turned into gods and gods have turned into authors of scriptures. The frightening notion following this generative cycle is when humans take upon themselves the authorship of new scriptures. Rapid progress in technology is making this frightening thought a reality sooner than expected.



Selected Bibliography

Bashiri, Iraj. "Zoroaster and His Religion," Avesta in the History and Culture of Central Asia, Dushanbe, 2001, pp. 525-537.

_____. "The Role of Farr in Firdowsi's Shahname," Firdowsi's Shahname: 1000 Years After, Dushanbe, 1994, pp. 178-188.

_____. From the Hymns of Zarathustra to the Songs of Borbad, Dushanbe, 2002 (forthcoming).

Corbin, Henry. Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran, Princeton University Press, 1977.

DeMenasce, J. "Persia: Cosmic Dualism," ," Larousse World Mythology (Pierre Grimal, editor), The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1965, pp. 189-207.

Finegan, Jack. The Archeology of World Religions, Princeton University Press, 1952.

Herbert, J. "India: The Eternal Cycle," Larousse World Mythology (Pierre Grimal, editor), The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1965, pp. 207-249.

Karaka, Dosabhai Ftamji. History of the Parsis, Macmillan and Co., 1884.

Kent, Roland G. Old Persian: Grammar, Text, Lexicon, American Oriental Society, 1953.

Muler, F. Max (editor), E. W. West (tr.). The Secret Books of the East, parts I-IV, Delhi, Varanasi, Patna: Motilal Banarsidass, 1880, 1965, 1970.

Organ, Troy Wilson. The Hindu Quest for the Perfection of Man, Ohio University Press, 1970.

Sami, Ali. Paitakhthai Shahanshahani Hakhamaneshi (The Capitals of the Achaemenian Kings), Pahlavi University Press, 1970.

Vahman, Fereydun. "Arda Viraz Namag: The Iranian 'Divina Commedia,' " Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies, No. 63, 1986.

Zaehner, R. C. The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.

Zuka', Yahya. "Partovi Novin bar Din-i Hakhamaneshian" ("A New Light on the Religion of the Achaemenians"), Hunar va Mardum (Art and People), 124-125, 1973, pp. 14-22.

[1] Zuka', 1973.

[2] For a discussion of the life and time of Zoroaster, see Finegan, 1952, p. 85-89; see also Bashiri, 2001, p. 525.

[3] For an explanation of the Farr, see Bashiri, 1994, pp. 178-188.

[4] Zuka'., p. 18.

[5] Cf., Zaehner, 1975, p. 161. Here is the actual text of Artaxerxes II in which the triad is mentioned twice: "...By grace of Ahuramazda, and Anahita, and Mithra, I reconstructed this hall of columns. May Ahuramazda, Anahita, and Mithra protect me from all injury,..." See Finegan, 1952, p. 98, for details.

[6] For lack of reference to Zoroaster, etc., see Zuka', pp. 15-16. For Firdowsi's view of the creation of the world, see Bashiri, 1994, p. 24.

[7] Haoma is the elixir of immortality of the Indo-Iranians. For details see Zaehner, 1975, p. 88ff.

[8] Zuka', ibid., p. 15.

[9] Ibid., p. 16.

[10] Cf., Zuka', p. 17.

[11] Cf., Zuka', p. 19.

[12] See also, Sami, 1970, pp. 87-128.

[13] See, for instance, the Inscription and Sculpture of Darius the Great at Behistan, Kent, 1953.

[14] For a different interpretation of the Faruhar as a deity in charge of fertility and prosperity, as well as a representative of the soul of the departed ancestors, see Vahman, 1986, pp. 245-246. See also Finegan, 1952, pp. 102-104.

[15] See, for instance, Zaehner, 1975, pp. 176-177.

[16] See Zuka', p. 21.

[17] For the Indian pantheon of gods, see Herbert, 1965, p. 209.

[18] Zaehner, 1975, p. 157.

[19] Same as Vishtaspa. For his life and his possible relation to Darius, see Finegan, 1952, pp. 83-85.

[20] For the role of Alexander the Great and of Hellennism in Iran, see Bashiri, 2002 (forthcoming).

[21] For further detail, see Corbin, 1977, p. 10.

[22] For details on DeMenasce's view of Mazdaism, see DeMenasce, 1965, pp. 189-197.

[23] For the roles of Kaykhusrau and Vishtaspa in the introduction and promotion of the religion brought by Zoroaser, see Bashiri, 1994, pp. 119-159.

[24] For the conflict between Vohu Manah and Ako Manah in the Void, see Zaehner, pp. 201-203.

[25] In relation to whether the world is real or unreal, see Organ, 1970, pp. 9, 43, and 103.

[26] See Muller, 1970, p. 130ff.

[27] See Farahvashi, 1968, pp. 447-448. See also Muller, 1970, p. 9.

[28] Ibid., p. 43; see also Muller, 1970, pp. 9-11.

[29] For a dtailed discussin of the Amesha Spentas, see DeMenasce, 1965, pp. 191-194.

[30] For a study of the function of the celestial and terrestrial Yazatas, see Bashiri, 2001, pp. 530-533.

[31] See also Herbert, 1965, p. 209, in relation to the lotus on the water on which Brahman sits.

[32] For further information on Sorush, see DeMenasce, 1965, p. 191.

[33] See Vahman, 1986, pp. 241-242.

[34] See, for instance, Vahman, 1986, p. 234.