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Mandaeans

Cosmogony, Astrology, and Holy-Days

In the Ginza there are no less than seven accounts of the Creation, viz. in Fragments 1, 2, 3, 10, 13, 15, and 18, and these are far from agreeing. The Supreme Being is named variously Malka d Nhura (King of Light), Mara d Rabutha (Lord of Greatness), Mana Rba (The Great Soul) from whom the First Life and then the Second Life proceed-in the fifteenth fragment the Great Life seems to procede the Mana, Pira Rba (The Great Fruit), &c. Whether these are epithets or separate conceptions is open to debate. In the fifteenth fragment the Life is shown in the World of Light and produces, first Water; from Water, Radiance (Ziwa); from Radiance, Light; and from Light, 'uthri, the spirits whose function it is to govern natural phenomena.

Similarly, there are assistants or agents in the work of Creation, Hibil Ziwa, Abathur, and Ptahil. Their roles and characters vary. In Fragment 1 Gabriel is the sole agent. In 2, Hibil Ziwa forms the World of Light but Ptahil does the actual work of creating the physical universe. In 3 Ptahil is identified with Gabriel and makes the world with the help of the planets but cannot furnish man with a soul. Adakas Ziwa, or Adam Kaisa, or Manda d Hiia provide a soul for Adam. In 10 Ptahil is again the actual creator (here he is called 'son of Manda d Hiia'), and Abathur fetches the soul (mana kasia) for Adam because Ptahil's creature cannot stand upright. In 13 (as in the Diwan Abathur, which also has a creation story) Abathur orders Ptahil to create the world, but when the latter is unsuccessful, an appeal to Hibil Ziwa completes the task. Here Abathur and Hibil Ziwa are treated as separate beings. In Fragment 15 none of these personages appear (see above).

What modern Mandaeans make of this confusion will be seen in the Legends, pp. 251 ff. Present idea will be seen to be equally confused, especially about Adam and his relations with his light-double, Adam Kaisa.

Mandaean estimates as to the age of the world and world-periods are also contradictory. According to one account, the melki measured the existence of the world into epochs, or ages. 'From Adam to the end of the world is 480,000 years.' Each of these epochs is governed by a sign of the Zodiac. To Umbara, a period of twelve thousand years was assigned; to Taura, eleven thousand; to Selmi (Silmia), ten thousand, and so on.

The sign of the Zodiac and their numerical values are as follows:

1. Umbara (New Year), Lamb or Ram
2. Taura, Bull
3. Silmia, Scales (Gemini)
4. Sartana, Crab
5. Aria, Lion
6. Shumbulta, Ear of Corn
7. Qaina, Reed
8. Arqba (pron. Arqwa), Scorpion
9. Hatia, Mare
10. Gadia, Kid or Goat
11. Daula, Camel (or bucket?)
12. Nuna, Fish

Each day is governed by a planet. The day is divided into two parts of twelve, twelve day-hours and twelve night-hours. Certain melki also govern the days, and hence have a planetary character, for instance, Sunday, which is governed by Shamish, is also associated with the personified Habshaba, First-Day-of-the-Week, a malka who is sometimes identified with other saviour-spirits. He 'takes purified souls in his ship to Awathur and to the World of Light. The gate of the World of Light is ajar on this day and Hoshaba (Habshaba) takes the souls by means of electricity into the midst of the world of light.'

I was told that 'Hoshaba' descends into Mataratha (Purgatories) on Sunday, returning with seven Mandaean souls to the world of light.

'The revolving wheels of light whirl more swiftly on this day, thus assisting the souls in their ascent.'

The story is based on the prayer for Sunday, uqarqil shibgh, &c., the qarqil taken as meaning revolution of a wheel.

Writings preserved by the priests enumerate the planetary aspects not only day by day but hour by hour, so that life may be conducted successfully. To quote from one:
'The Day of Habshaba. The First Hour is of Shamish. Favourable (shapir) for building a new house, going on the road, putting on a new garment, eating bread, approaching kings and governors, drinking wine, and buying and selling. The Second Hour is of Libat (Venus). Sit in thy own city. Favourable for being with thy wife, eating new bread, riding horses, visiting physicians,' &c.

Not every hour of Sunday is good, for instance, on the sixth hour of Sunday night a traveller is likely to fall amongst thieves; for Nirigh (Mars) governs this hour, although the general aspect of the day is sunny.

Monday (Trin Habshaba) is governed by Sin; Tuesday (Thlatha Habshaba) by Nirigh; Wednesday (Arba Habshaba) by 'Nbu; and Thursday (Hamsha Habshaba) by Bil (Bel), also by Melka Ziwa 'from the morning of Thursday till Friday noon, when Liwet has power'. Friday (Yuma d Rahatia) is the day of Libat, and Yuma d Shafta or Saturday is the day of Kiwan. Friday afternoon and night are supposed to be unlucky and under the general influence of the King of Darkness.

Although, throughout the Ginza Rba, the planets are represented as being harmful to mankind, modern Mandaean conception and magic use attribute beneficence to some and maleficence to others.

The Sun, Shamish, who, like other planetary spirits, rides across the firmament in his boat is friendly. That he is regarded as a power for good rather than evil is often apparent in Mandaean writings. Moreover, the Mandaeans have a solar year, solar numbers are sacred, and the sun disk is employed in the alphabet. He seems to equate with Yawar Ziwa, prayers to whom have a very solar character. Tradition assigns him a crew of ten light-'uthri, though in the Diwan Abathur picture there are only four figures beside Shamish in the sun-boat. The names of the crew are differently given by Mandaeans, and I suspect that they were originally twelve and represented the twelve light-hours. A priest told me they were 'Zuhair and Zahrun, Buhair and Bahrun, Tar and Tarwan, Ar and Sivyan, Riwia and Talia'. A ganzibra was doubtful, but his list was, 'Sam Ziwa, Adonai bar Shamish, Liwet (Libat) whose other names are Simat Hiia, Kanat Izlat, Anhar, Samra d Izpar, and Gimra Bellur Dakia; Ruha and Samandri'il. Below, I quote a yalufa of learned priestly family. The light of Shamish's banner, he said, came from the four 'uthri of the Polar star:

'From these four come the strength and light of Shamish. Thus the sun gets its light and strength from Melka Ziwa. Just as a mirror reflects a face, it reflects Melka Ziwa. Shamish is lord of all the melki of the material world. The pure soul can hear the prayer of Shamish. He prays thrice a day, 300 butha in all, whilst the northern stars pray 12 butha and the other stars seven daily.

'Shamish has with him ten spirits ('uthri) of power and brightness. These ten 'uthri see what everyone in the world is about-nothing is hid from them. With Shamish in his boat are three others, one of the principle of darkness and two light melki, Sam Mana and Ismira (Smira). Were one to see clearly-and the Nasorai are able to see thus sometimes-one would behold in the sun-boat the flaming dravsha (drabsha, banner), upon which are, as it were, three responsible for the evil sometimes done by the sun's rays. He is called Adonai. From his eyes dart rays which sear and burn, and his gaze causes 'cupboards of air' (i.e. whirlwinds).

'But the flaming standard of Shamish, his dravsha, throws out beneficent rays and gives forth light and life and electricity. The melka of darkness sometimes succeeds in bringing something before the dravsha, so causing an eclipse. Sam Mana and Ismira counteract the evil effects of the efforts of the Darkness.

The Sun-Ship
Fig.1 The Sun-Ship (with Libat(Venus)above to lef)

'The ten 'uthri who are with the sun are called Zuhair, Zahrun, Buhair, Bahrun, Sar, Sarwan, Tar and Tarwan, Rabia and Talia. These ten do not work only with Shamish but they come to Sin. On the 14th night of the moon they are all with Sin. The light they give is the radiancy of Melka d Anhura, not of Melka Ziwa, whose light is like that of the sun above the horizon-the noonday. They come to him (Sin) gradually and leave him gradually, and when he is without them, Melka d Hushka (King of Darkness) and the shiviahi have power to work them mischief.'

'uthri Light Symbol Dravsha
A.The crew of ten 'uthri in the sun-boat B.Light symbol in the dravsha C.Dravsha (drabsha) of Shamish

left-hand top: the arc or boat of Shamish, with the ten 'uthris. Shamish hold the mast, or dravsha pole. Upon this banner, Hirmiz says, 'wheels of light appear'. See B. C represents the dravsha itself. Drabsha (plu. drabshia) means 'ray, beam', (something which streams forth?) and the Persian drafsha (a 'flag' or 'standard') may have become associated with the word by the Mandaeans.
Shaikh Dukhayil, describing the sun-boat, said that the dravsha was 'flaming like letrik wires'. He continued 'the light of the sun comes from the drafsha and is of Alm d Anhura. At the end of the world, the planet will be burnt up with the rest of the material world. The heat and cold(!) of the sun are of the Darkness. The sun lights four of the seven worlds, the other three being illuminated by the world of light.'

'Shamish has a female aspect, not a spouse, but a dmutha (complement, likeness). She is the mother of all the melki, is in likeness female rather than male, and, in my thought, the sun is in this form (i.e. female form) of Malka Ziwa's power, and the universe proceeds from her. Her name is Simat Hiia (pronounced Haiy or Hei), Treasure of Life.'

The moon (Sin) appears to be regarded as a sinister influence. The informant quoted above says:

'The face of Sin, the Moon, is like a cat, animal-like and black, whilst the face of Shamish is like a wheel of light' (he drew a swastika). 'With Sin in the moon-ship is the King of Darkness also. He (Melka d Hshukha) pulls men towards the earthly and gross, towards the dark and evil. He does this because he must, though he was created by and serves God, for there must be darkness and light and day and night. He is ordered to this by the Lord of Greatness, who has a myriad names and created all beings, visible and invisible, of the created worlds.

The light-melki in the moon prevent Sin and the King of Darkness from bemusing the children of men. Under the influence of those two, men do deeds of madness and shame that they would not wish to perform by day; and without the counteracting influence of the ten, men's moral sense would disappear. But Melka d Hshukha cannot harm a man who rules himself and has a firm faith. A man must not doubt: his faith and his purity must be strong, for then he sees melki and can communicate with Shamish. He must not say 'I fear there are not', he must say, 'There are!'. If a man says, 'There is no God, no spirits', he is entirely in the power of the King of Darkness and it is harmful even to sit with such a one.'

The Moon-Ship
Fig. 3. The Moon-Ship
The distorted figure on the right of the mast is Sin

Abstracted from : Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, E.S. Drower, Leiden, 1962

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