The Teachings of the Magi
The subject-matter of these pages is the Zoroastrinism of the later Sassanian period as it has come down to us in the so-called Pahlavi books. These books, written in a language arbitrarily called Pahlavi, that is Parthian, but which is in sober fact a dialect of Middle Persian, were, in all cases in which a date is definitely assignable, written after the Muhammadan conquest of Persian in the middle of the seventh century. In matter, however, they almost go back to the reign of Khusraw I (A.D. 531-578), and the orthodoxy re-established during that reign in turn goes back to the reign of Shapur II.
- 1) A Catechism
As our first text we reproduce a short treatise entitled 'Selected Counsels of
the Ancient Sages,' also know as 'The Book of Counsel of Zartusht.' Though the
date is uncertain it seems likely that it was written after the fall of the
Sassanian Empire, for the pessimistic utterances of §54 would seem to be a
direct reflexion of the decline of the Zoroastrian 'Church', that followed the
terrible blow of the Muhammadan conquest.
The text sums up succintly the whole of Zoroastrian doctrine: it is what every boy and girl of fifteen must know before he or she is invested with the sacred girdle, a ceremony which, coinciding with the age of puberty, may be compared with the Christian rite of Confirmation. It is, in fact, the Zoroastrian's catechism.
All religions necessarily start with man and his relationship to the world. So the first questions the catechumen asks are, 'Who am I? To whom do I belong? From whence have I come?' and 'Whither do I return?' The answers given in the rest of the text set out to situate man in his relationship to this world and the next, to God (Ohrmazd) and the Devil (Ahriman).
Man is, by origin, a spiritual being, and his soul, in the shape of what the Zoroastrians call his Fravashi or Fravahr pre-exist his body. Both body and soul, however, are creatures of Ohrmazd, and the soul is not eternally pre-existent as in many Eastern religions. Man, then, belongs to God and to God is his return.
Over against God stands the Devil, Ahriman. He, like God, is a pure spirit: he and Ohrmazd are eternal antagonists and sooner or later a struggle between them becomes inevitable. God (Ohrmazd) is all goodness and light, Ahriman all wickedness and death, darkness and deceit. We shall see later how god is forced to create the universe as a weapon with which to defeat Ahriman. Creation is for him a necessity in his fight with the Fiend, and man is in the forefront of the fray, -not that he is driven to it by God, but because he freely accepts this role when it is offered to him. On earth each individual is free to choose good or evil, and if he chooses
evil, he is acting unnaturally because his 'father' is Ohrmazd; he is a son of God by nature being begotten of Ohrmazd and born of Spandarmat, the Earth.
Thus for the Zoroastrians neither evil nor creation is a mystery. There is no problem of evil because it is a separate principle and substance standing over against the good God and threatening to destroy him. There is, then, nothing mysterious about creation, for God needs Man's help in his battle with the 'Lie' as the principle of evil is frequently called in our texts. Being God's creation Man belongs to him, but God none-the-less depends on Man's help in order to defeat his eternal Adversary.
Evil is not by any means identified with matter as was the case with the Manichees. On the other hand, the material world is the handiwork of God, a weapon fashioned by the Deity with which to smite the Evil One. It is the trap God sets for the Devil, -a trap in which the latter is enmeshed and which so weakens him that in the end Ohrmazd is enabled to deal him the death-blow.
God is eternal, for 'Ohrmazd and the Space, Religion, and Time of Ohrmazd were and are and evermore shall be. Ahriman, on the other hand, has no beginning but has an end: 'he was and is, yet shall not be': 'he will be forever powerless and, as it were, slain, and henceforth neither the Destructive Spirit nor his creation will exist.'
Both Ohrmazd and Ahriman are accompanied by subsidiary created spirits. Ohrmazd is helped by the six Amahraspands or Bounteous Immortals and by the Yazatan or gods, both of which roughly correspond to what we would call angels. Ahriman, on his side, is served by a host of demons, most of which are personified vices like concupiscence, anger, sloth, and heresy. The battlefield is this material universe created by Ohrmazd as a lure for Ahriman and in which Ahriman and his demons struggle for victory.
As this little text shows Man's role in this world is to co-operate with nature on the natural plane and to lead a virtuous life of 'good thoughts, good words, and good deeds' on the moral plane. Thus no religion has been as strongly opposed to all forms of asceticism and monasticism as was Zoroastrianism. It is man's bounden duty to take to himself a wife and to rear up for himself sons and daughters for the very simple reason that human life on earth is a sheer necessity if Ahriman is to be finally defeated. Similarly, no other religion makes a positive virtue of agriculture, making the earth fruitful, strong, and abundant in order to resist the
onslaught of the Enemy who is the author of disease and death.
On the natural plane, then, virtue is synonymous with fruitfulness, vice with sterility: celibacy, therefore, is both unnatural and wicked. On the moral plane all the emphasis is on righteousness or truth,- for evil is personified as the 'Lie,'- and the doing of good works in which Ohrmazd himself 'has his dwelling,' -for, as the author of our little text sensibly remarks, deeds are the criterion by which alone a man can be judged.
Such, then, is Man's place in the universal order and such are the duties he has
to perform. Our text then goes on to summarize as briefly as possible the
Zoroastrian doctrine of the future life. This is strikingly similar to Christian
teaching, and it has been maintained, with some reason, that Christianity is
here indepted to the 'Good Religion', as the Zoroastrians habitually call their
faith. At death the departed soul is judged by the gods: this is the 'three
nights judgement' mentioned in §16. We shall have more to say about this in
At the end of Time men's bodies will be resurrected again and will participate in what is called the 'Final Body,' the restored macrocosmos from which all evil will have been expelled. The transformation is brought about by the 'Soshyans' or Saviour who appears at the end of time to initiate the reign of eternal beatitude after there has been a final purification of all souls, whether just or sinful, and when the denizens of Hell, having suffered the temporal punishment due to their sins, emerge again to partake in everlasting life and everlasting bliss.
With these few introductory remarks the text is best left to speak for itself.
- Select counsels of the ancient Sages
'(1) In conformity with the revelation of the Religion the ancient sages, in their primeval wisdom, have said that on reaching the age of fifteen every man and woman must know the answer to these questions: "Who am I? To whom do I belong? From whence have I come? and whither do I return? From what stock and lineage am I? What is my function and duty on earth? and what is my reward in the world to come? Did I come forth from the unseen world? or was I (always) of this world? Do I belong to Ohrmazd or to Ahriman? Do I belong to the gods or to the demons? Do I belong to the good or to the wicked? Am I a man or a demon? How many paths are there (to salvation)?
What is my religion? Where does my profit lie, and where my loss? Who is my friend, and who is my enemy? Is there one first principle oe are there two? From whom is goodness, and from whom evil? From whom is light, and from whom darkness? From whom is fragrance, and from whom stench? From whom is order, and from whom disorder? From whom is mercy, and from whom pitilessness?"
(2) it is faith that searches out causes, palpable and as they are, and then, acting as mediator by means of reason (passes them on).
So this must one know without venturing to doubt: "I have come from the unseen world, nor was I (always) of this world. I was created and have not (always) been. I belong to Ohrmazd, not to Ahriman. I belong to the gods, not to the demons, to the good, not to the wicked. I am a man, not a demon, a creature of Ohrmazd, not of Ahriman. My stock and lineage is from Gayomart. My mother is Spandarmat, (the Earth), and my father is Ohrmazd. My humanity is from Mahre and Mahrane who were the first seed and offspring of Gayomart.
(3) To perform my function and to do my duty means that I should believe that Ohrmazd is, was, and evermore shall be, that his Kingdom is undying, and that he is infinite and pure; and that Ahriman is not, and is destructible; that I myself belong to Ohrmazd and his Bounteous Immortals, and that I have no connexion with Ahriman, the demons, and their associates.
(4) My first (duty) on earth is to confess the Religion, to practise it, and to take part in its worship and to be steadfast in it, to keep the Faith in the Good Religion of the worshippers of Ohrmazd ever in my mind, and to distinguish profit from loss, sin from good works, goodness from evil, light from darkness, and the worship of Ohrmazd from the worship of the demons. (5) My second (duty) is to take a wife and to procreate earthly offspring, and to be strenuous and steadfast in this. (6) My third (duty) is to cultivate and till the soil; (7) my fourth to treat all livestock justly; (8) my fifth to spend a third of my days and nights in attending the
seminary and consulting the wisdom of holy men, to spend a third of my days and nights in tilling the soil and in making it fruitful, and to spend (the remaining) third of my days and nights in eating, rest, and enjoyment.
(9) I must have no doubt but that profit arises from good works, and loss from sin, that my friend is Ohrmazd and my enemy Ahriman, and that there is only one religious way. (10) (This) one way (is that) of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, (the way of) Heaven, of light of purity, of the Infinite Creator, Ohrmazd, who was always and will ever be. (11) (There is also) the other way of evil thoughts, evil words, and evil deeds, (the way of) darkness, and of the finiteness, utter misery, death, and wickedness which belong to the accursed Destructive Spirit (Ahriman) who once was not in this creation, and again will not be in the creation of Ohrmazd,
and who in the end will be destroyed.
(12) I must have no doubt but that there are two first principles, one the Creator and the other Destroyer. (13) The Creator is Ohrmazd who is all goodness and all light: (14) and the Destroyer is the accursed Destructive Spirit who is all wickedness and full of death, a liar and a deceiver. (15) Equally I must have no doubt that all men are mortal except only Soshyans and the seven kings (who help him).
(16) I must have no doubt but that the soul (jan) will be served (from the body) and that the body (itself) will be dissolved. (Nor may I doubt) the three nights judgement (of the soul at death), [the raising of the dead and the final Body] the crossing of the Requiter, the coming of the Soshyans, the raising of the dead and the Final Body. (17) I must (further) observe the law of chivalry (erih) and the Religion of the Ancients, and (I must) preserve my thoughts in righteousness, my tongue in truth, and my hands in doing what is good.
(18) With all good men I must observe the law of chivalry, (19) peace and concord in all good deeds I do. (20) In my dealing with the good (I must) always behave according to justice and the dictates of the Good Religion. (21) With whomsoever it may be, in past, present, and future time, I must act in a common virtue and in a common righteousness (ham-dastan). (22) Good deeds performed for the sake of the Law are of a higher value than those performed for one's own sake, and by them is salvation most assured.
(23) I declare than I have received the Good Religion of the worshippers of Ohrmazd and have no doubts concerning it not for any bodily or spiritual comfort (that it may bring), not for a pleasant life or for a long life, nor yet because (I know that) my consciousness must needs part company with my body. I shall never apostatize from the Good Religion of the worshippers of Ohrmazd, and I have no doubts concerning it. I neither approve of nor respect other religious, nor do I lend them credence. (24) For it is plain that of thoughts, words, and deeds it is deeds (only) that are the creation: (25) for the will is unstable, thought is impalpable, but deeds
are palpable indeed, (26) and by the deeds that men do [are they made known].
In Man's body three roads have been laid out. (27) On these three roads three gods (menok) have their dwelling, and three demons (druj) seek to waylay. In thought Vahuman, (the Good Mind), has his dwelling, and Wrath seeks to waylay; in words Wisdom has its dwelling, and Heresy (varan) seeks to waylay; but in deeds the Bounteous Spirit (Ohrmazd) has his dwelling, and the destructive Spirit (Ahriman) seeks to waylay. (28) On these three roads Man must stand firm, nor may he give up his heavenly (menok) reward for the sake of worldly goods, wealth, or earthly desire. (29) For the man who does [not] guard these three bastions within
his body which I have mentioned, -his thoughts proceed from evil thought, his words from evil speech, and his deeds from evil deeds.
(30) Next must I be thankful; and by thankfulness (I mean gratitude) for that it is within my power that my soul (ruvan) may not go to Hell. (31) For when a man passes from the loins of his father into the womb of his mother, then does Astvihat, ('the Dissolver of Bones' and demon of death), secretly (menokiha) cast a halter round his neck which for his whole life's span cannot be shaken off, not through the power of a good spirit and not through the power of an evil spirit; (32) but after he has passed away, that halter falls from off the neck of the man who is saved through the good deeds that he has done, but the man who is damned is dragged
to Hell by that very halter."
(33) Whosoever is in the world must perform the office a certain number of times and must know what sins (he is liable to commit) with hand or foot, -unless he be deaf or dumb: in that case he cannot be accounted guilty. Should (a deaf or dumb man) perform (a religious office), then it should be the erpatastan, and he should know the commentary on it.
(34) Fathers and mothers must teach their children this much concerning good works before they reach their fifteenth year. If they have taught them this much concerning good works, the parents may claim credit(?) for any good deed the child does; but if the child has not been (properly) instructed, then the parents are responsible for any sin it may commit on attaining majority.
(35) Be agreeble to good works and do not have any part in sin. Be grateful for good things, contented in adversity, long-suffering in affliction (astanak) , zealous in the performance of your duty. (36) Repent of all your sins, and do not allow any sin that brings punishment with it to remain (unconfessed) for even a moment. (37) Overcome doubts (varan) and unrighteous desires with reason (khrat). (38) Overcome concupiscence (az) with contentment, anger with serenity (srosh), envy with benevolence (huchashmih), want with vigilance, strife (anashtih) with peace, falsehood with truth.
(39) Know that Heaven is the best place, that the kingdom of the Spirit (menok) is the most pleasureable, that the mansions (deh) of the sky are the most luminous, that Paradise (Garodhman) is a shining house, and the doing of good works brings great hope of the Final Body which passes not away.
(40) So far as lies within your power, do not pay respect to evil men, for by commending what is wrong evil enters into your body and good is driven out. (41) Be diligent in the acquisition of learning (frahang), for learning is the seed of knowledge, and its fruit is wisdom, and wisdom rules both worlds. (42) Concerning this it has been said that learning is an adornment in prosperity, a protection in hard times, a ready helper in affliction (astanak), a guide in distress. (43) Do not make mock of anyone at all; for the man who mocks will himself be mocked, will lose his dignity (khwarr) and be execrated; and rarely indeed will he have a decent
or warlike son.
(44) Seek every day the company of good men to ask their advice, for he who makes a habit of seeking the company of good men, will be blessed with a greater share of virtue and holiness. (45) Go three times a day to the Fire Temple and do homage to the Fire; for he who makes a habit of going to the Fire Temple and of doing homage to the Fire, will be blessed with a greater share of both worldly wealth and of holiness. (46) Take great care never to vex your father and mother or your superior lest your body become ill-famed (thereby) and your soul see damnation.
(47) Know that of all the countless adversities that the accursed Destructive Spirit devised these three are the most grievous, -the obstruction of the sight of the eye, deafness of the ear, and thirdly the Lie of discord (anashtih). (48) For it is revealed that for this reason does the Sun issue his command to men on earth three times a day. (49) At dawn he says, "Ohrmazd ever bids you who are men to be diligent in the doing of good works so that I may bestow earthly life upon you." (50) At midday he says, "Be diligent in seeking out a wife, in the procreation of children, and in your other duties, for until the Final Body (comes to pass) the Destructive
Spirit and his abortions will not be separated from this world." (51) At eventide he says, "Repent of the sins you have committed that I may have compassion on you." For it is revealed that just as the light of the Sun comes down to earth, so do his words come to earth.
(52) In this material world do not think, say, or do what is wrong (false) in thought, word, or deed. (53) Through the power of the gods, and by way of wisdom and by consultation with the Religion be vigilant and zealous (for good works), and consider that since the value of good works is so great and limitless, the Destructive Spirit strives his utmost to conceal (this truth) and to cause you misery, and Ohrmazd strives his utmost to reveal (the truth). Whosoever has knowledge of the Religion, let him be diligent in the doing of good works and be forever steadfast therein.
(54) At the end of this millennium when the wickedness of the demons knows no limit and the Religion of Ohrmazd is much reduced and that of the unrighteous is predominant, when discussions concerning the Law and Religion between good and righteous men who know their duty have ceased, when the deeds of Ahriman and the demons are done openly, -and the sign of this will be that there will be a (general) retrogression when creatures will be destroyed, those who break contracts and who have taken the part of the demons and opposed the religion will go free, and when throughout the length and breadth of the lands which acknowledge the Law of Ohrmazd (all) good creatures will
despair on account of wicked tyrants (azhidahakan), -then every man must add to his (inner) peace through (the power of) Vohuman, (the Good Mind), consult with Wisdom through the Religion, search out the way of holiness by wisdom, rejoice his soul by means of generosity, show honour to rank by benevolence, seek a good name by manliness, collect friends by humility, make hope acceptable by long-suffering, store up (for himself) goodness by temperance (khem), and prepare the way to bright heaven by righteousness; for there shall he enjoy the fruits of his good works.
(55) The body is mortal but the soul is immortal. Do good works, for the soul is (real), not the body, the next world is (real), not this world. (56) Do not abandon the care of the soul and forget it for the body's sake. (57) Out of respect for persons (and out of forgetfulness) that all the goods of this world must perish, do not lust after anything that will bring punishment on your body and retribution on your soul. Desire rather those things whose fruit is an everlasting joy.
(58) Doing good is born of zeal, [zeal] of prayers(?), prayer of desire, desire of intellect, intellect of knowledge of the other world; and knowledge (of the other world) is a weapon that was and is and (evermore) shall be. By it He is known Who creates all things anew, Who teaches (all) things, Who ordains all that should be done, Who wills the good (sud) of all in this world and the next.'
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