The Zurvanite Myth
The myth is preserved in a number of Christian sources which differ but little among themselves, and the purport of it is roughly as follows:
When nothing existed at all, neither heaven nor earth, the great god Zurvan alone existed, whose name means 'fate' or 'fortune'. He offered sacrifice for a thousand years that perchance he might have a son who should be called Ohrmazd and who would create heaven and earth. At the end of this period of a thousand years he began to ponder and said to himself: 'What use is this sacrifice that I am offering, and will I really have a son called Ohrmazd, or am I taking all this trouble in vain?' And no sooner had this thought occured to him then both Ohrmazd and Ahriman were conceived -Ohrmazd because of the sacrifice he had offered, and Ahriman because of his doubt. When he realized that there were two sons in the womb, he made a vow saying: 'Whichever of the two shall come to me first, him will I make king.' Ohrmazd was apprised of his father's thought and revealed it to Ahriman. When Ahriman heard this, he ripped the womb open, emerged, and advanced towards his father. Zurvan, seeing him, asked him: 'Who art thou?' And he replied: 'I am thy son, Ohrmazd.' And Zurvan said: 'My son is light and fragrant, but thou art dark and stinking.' And he wept most bitterly. And as they were talking together, Ohrmazd was born in his turn, light and fragrant; and Zurvan, seeing him, knew that it was his son Ohrmazd for whom he had offered sacrifice. Talking the barsom twigs he held in his hands with which he had been sacrificing, he gave them to Ohrmazd and said: 'Up till now it is I who have offered thee sacrifice; from now on shalt thou sacrifice to me.' But even as Zurvan handed the sacrificial twigs to Ohrmazd, Ahriman drew near and said to him :'Didst thou not vow that whichever of the sons should come to thee first, to him wouldst thou give the kingdom?' And Zurvan said to him: 'O false and wicked one, the kingdom shall be granted thee for nine thousand years, but Ohrmazd have I made a king above thee, and after nine thousand years he will reign and will do everything according to his good pleasure.' And Ohrmazd created the heavens and the earth and all things that are beautifull and good; but Ahriman created the demons and all that is evil and perverse. Ohrmazd created riches, Ahriman poverty.
This is the Zurvanite myth in its crudest form, and it is strange that this myth, which was regarded by both Christian and Manichees as being typical of the Zoroastrian religion, is mentioned only once in the whole of the Pahlavi books. This one mention occurs in a passage in the Denkart which purports to be a commentary on Yasna 30.3, the very passage in which the Prophet speaks of the Holy and Destructive Spirits as twins. Even the Sassanian theologians, ignorant though they were of the sacred tongue in which the Avesta was written, must have known that this was the only possible interpretation of the Stanza in question, for it is quite one of the clearest in the Gathas. Their resolution of the dilemma was ingenious, if disingenuous. It so happens that the Avestan word eresh occurs in this stanza; and though they knew that this word meant 'rightly' and usually so translate it, they preferred on this occasion to feign ignorance and translated it with the Pahlavi word arish, which is one of the names of the demon of envy; and so it was possible for the author of the Denkart to represent the offensive doctrine as being the invention of the demons! The whole thing is passed off as being 'a proclamation of the Demon of Envy to mankind that Ohrmazd and Ahriman were to brothers in one womb'. So was the Zurvanite heresy dismissed as being the invention of devilry.
What is rather strange, however, is that though we know of the sruggle waged by Karter against the Zandiks and of Aturpat's vindication of his own orthodoxy as against the fatalists, we have no direct reference in the Pahlavi books or elsewhere to any official condemnation of mythological Zurvanism as such. This would lead us Menok i Khrat and in Zatsparam we do still find references to Zurvan which seem to presuppose at least his co-eternity with Ohrmazd and Ahriman. Thus in the former we read that Ohrmazd fashioned his creation from his own light 'with the blessing of the Infinite Zurvan, for the Infinite Zurvan is unageing and deathless; he knows neither pain nor decay nor corruption; he has no rival, nor can he ever be put aside or deprived of his sovereignty in his proper sphere'. And again it is by the agency of Infinite Time that Ohrmazd and Ahriman enter into a solemn pact by which they limit the time in which they will do battle together for nine thousand years, this nine thousand years of warfare corresponding to the nine thousand years of earthly sovereignty allotted to Ahriman by Zurvan in the fully Zurvanite version of the myth.
Zurvan and the Pact between Ohrmazd and Ahriman
This pact is also mentioned by Zatsparam; and his introduction of the figure of Zurvan into the cosmic drama is even odder. Zatsparam starts with the classical dualist account of the creation -Ohrmazd is above in the light, and Ahriman below in the darkness, and between them is the Void. Yet when Ohrmazd begins to fashion forth his creation, he has to beg Time to aid him, for all things have need of Time; and once he has completed his creation, he is quite unable to set it in motion, for Time alone has the power to do this; and it is Zurvan-Time again who settles the terms of the pact between the two Spirits.
'Pondering on the end, [Zurvan] delivered to Ahriman an implement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal(?), black and ashen. And as he handed it to him he said: "By means of these weapons, Az (Concupiscence) will devour that which is thine, and she herself shall starve, if at the end of nine thousand years thou hast not accomplished that which thou didst threaten- to demolish the pact, to demolish Time."'
It is true neither text even hints that Zurvan is the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, or that the two Spirits are twins (Zatsparam even going so far as to affirm his belief in the two Principles through the lips of Zurvan!), yet it is Zurvan to whom Ohrmazd has to appeal for help, it is he who settles the terms of the combat, and he again who arms Ahriman with the one weapons which is certain to destroy him. No Pahlavi text, indeed, ever speaks of Zurvan's paternity of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, but they all agree that Zurvan-Time is co-eternal with them. Zurvanism, indeed, appears to have started simply as an attempt to make sense of Yasna 30.3 in which the two Spirits appear as twins, and to provide them with a father. Under Shapur I the situation is complicated by the fact that the Zandiks -Zurvanite materialists- jettisoned the whole of the ancient tradition and thought to explain the universe as emerging from an undifferentiated One -Infinite Time, which is at the same time Infinite Space and undifferentiated matter. Both doctrines were finally rejected by the orthodox, but orthodoxy itself remained unaffected by neither, and the efforts that it made to assimilate what was assimilable in these two strands of Zurvanism will be occupying our attention in the following chapters.
Zurvan, the One and the Many
'I do not think that any sensible person will give credence to this idiotic doctrine, or look [favourably] on this feeble and idle religion. Yet perhaps it is a mustery of what is figured in the mind. But whoso knows the Lord Most High in his glory and majesty will not assent to such nonsense, nor lend his ears to these absurdities.'
So does the Muhammadan heresiographer, Shahristani, dismiss the Zurvanite myth, a version of which he has just retailed. Certainly as an explanation of the origin of the universe it is childish, and it is for this reason, presumably, that it is always this myth that the Christian apologists seize upon when they are attacking the Zoroastrians. 'Yet,' as Shahristani says, 'perhaps it is a mystery of what is figured in the mind.' A mystery it certainly is -the perennial mystery with which all religions are at some stage confronted- the relationship between the infinite and the finite, the unchanging, impassive One, and the ever-changing, striving, and active many. For the religion of the Hindus this is the only worthwhile religious quest -how to arrive at the One behind the manifold; and it is quite probable that Zurvanite speculation owes a great deal to India here. Zoroaster was a prophet and, as such, concerned with life as lived in this world; his God was a living god who spoke to him face to face, an active god and the creator of all things. His heaven, too, was no condition of timeless bliss, but an endless prolongation of life as lived on this earth, though purified of all taint of sin and all trace of sorrow. He was vitally concerned with the fact of evil, but did not seek to explain its origin. His followers, however, drifted into a fully dualist position which inevitably limited their God and made him less than infinite and less than omnipotent. Zurvanism, even in its crudest form, is an attempt to arrive at a principle which is an all-inclusive One, changeless in essence, yet the source of all change. The Muhammadan poet, Jalal al-Din Rumi, has some beautiful lines on the mystery of creation:
David said: 'O King, since thou hadst no need of us,
Say, then, what wisdom was there in creating the two worlds?'
God said to him: 'O temporal man, I was a hidden treasure,
And desired that that treasure of loving-kindness and bounty should be revealed.'
This two was the dilemma of the infinite Zurvan. Zurvan-Time alone stands in need of nothing, yet all else needs him. The very 'being of all things has need of Time. Without Time one can do nothing that is or was or shall be. Time has need of none of these for anything.' So even Ohrmazd, God, the Creator, must ask Time's aid when he contemplates the act of creation, for he too needs Time, since without time action of any kind is impossible: were there no time, there would be no creation.
In purely mythological passages the archaic word Zurvanis usually used to represent the god, rather than the ordinary Persian word for 'time', zaman. The term Zurvan, however, is also used to mean the 'Infinite' or 'unqualifiable Absolute' as such. The mythological god, then, must be seen as the centre of the 'mystery' through which the unqualifiable One originates multiplicity. In the Zurvanite myth, Zurvan, like Rumi's God, desires 'that that treasure of loving-kindness and bounty should be revealed'. The latent and potential wishes to become manifest and actual: he wishes to have 'a son whose name should be Ohrmazd and who would create heaven and earth and all that in them is'. Zurvan, however, does not create out of any super-fluity of being, for at the core of his being there is a latent defect of which he knows nothing. In the myth this is symbolized by his doubt: he sacrifices for a thousand years, and then doubts whether his sacrifice will have any effect. The sacrifice, as in Indian mythology, is also creative and results in the birth of Ohrmazd who is also the 'Bounteous Spirit' or, more literally, the 'Spirit who brings increase', while the doubt, the Absolute's failure of nerve at the very moment when the creator is about to issue forth from him, produces the principle of evil. The 'Fall' in Zurvanism does not originate with man, it results from an imperfection, an unsureness of self, in the very heart of God. The 'One' has given birth to the 'Two', and 'in duality is evil'. The whole purpose of the cosmic drama which is about to unfold is to restore the shattered unity, but this cannot be done by trying to re-integrate the Devil into the Absolute: it can only be done by eliminating him imperfection, his failure of nerve; and if God is ever to become perfect, he must become fully identified with Ohrmazd who personifies his essential wisdom, goodness, and light. God qua the Infinite is the source of good and evil; but God qua creator of heaven and earth proceeds from the Infinite and is absolutely good. The Godhead is divided and can only be restored by the total destruction of evil, when, with the abolition of finite Time, the Infinite and the Good will for the first time be wholly one.
Ohrmazd and Ahriman in Mythological Zurvanism
All this is to be found in the Denkart. It represents an assimilation by orthodoxy of certain Zurvanite ideas. There are, however, features in Zurvanism which are wholly incompatible with the orthodoxy of Sassanian times. The Ohrmazd of the Pahlavi books is omnipotent in the sense that he can do anything that is possible. 'His power,' indeed, 'in so far as it is confined to the possible, is limited, but in the sphere of the infinite (abrin) it is limitless. This means that in so far as he is identical with the Infinite, every potentiality is latent within him, but in so far as he acts in time, he can only do what is possible. He cannot, for instance, change the evil nature of Ahriman into good, for Ahriman, according to the orthodox, is an evil substance, and a substance is, by definition, something that can never change. In the Zurvanism presented to us by the non-Zoroastrian sources, however, Ohrmazd is neither omnipotent nor omniscient: he is not even capable of looking after his own interests. Thus he gratuitously reveals to Ahriman the secret that whichever of the twins will first present himself to their father, Zurvan, will receive the kingdom. Again, after creating heaven and earth, he can think of no way of illuminating them and has to be instructed on how to do this by a demon who is a renegade from Ahriman's camp. Similarly, Ahriman who is an evil substance for the orthodox, is, for the Zurvanites, evil by choice. He chooses the sinister weapon offered to him by Zurvan, 'like unto fire, blazing, harassing all creatures, that hath the very substance of concupiscence (Az)', and himself boasts that' "it is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And that he might give effect to his words, he created the peacock.' This is a genuine, and a fundamental, difference between Zurvanism and orthodoxy, and a Christian convert from Zoroastrianism can thus taunt his inquisitors with these words: 'Should we, then, try to please Ahriman who, according to what you yourselves say, appears wise, knowing, and mighty from his works, just as Ohrmazd appears weak and stupid, for he could create nothing till he had learnt from the disciples of Ahriman.'
In asserting that the twin Spirits were good and evil by choice the Zurvanites were nearer Zoroaster's own views than were the latter-day orthodox, but in attributing less than omnipotence and omniscience to Ohrmazd they stray very far indeed from the path that he had traced. Moreover, in the Zurvanite mythology Ahriman is granted far more power to do harm in this world than the orthodox would concede. Zurvan had promised to make the first of the twins which came before him king, and, because his essential nature is rectitude, he cannot go back on his word. Ahriman, then, becomes Prince of this World for nine thousand years, whereas Ohrmazd reigns only in heaven above him. The orthodox are more optimistic, for during the nine thousand years in which good and evil are mingled together and strive with each other in this world 'three thousand years will pass entirely according to the will of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman and [Ohrmazd] himself will save creation from aggression.'
Main Differences between Zurvanism and Orthodoxy
Thus, apart from the all-important question of origins, orthodoxy and Zurvanism differ in three main respects. In Zurvanism, first, the twin Spirits are good and evil by choice rather than in substance. Secondly, Ohrmazd is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, whereas for orthodoxy he is both, limited though he is by the opposite principle. Thirdly, in Zurvanism Ahriman not only displays the signs of a lively intelligence, but also enjoys the undisputed sovereignty of this world for nine thousand years, whereas for orthodoxy it is his slowness is knowledge and wrong-mindedness, his sheer stupidity, that, despite his aggressive power and lust for destruction, finally brings about his ruin.
The question of origins divides the two parties less sharply, for while the orthodox flatly deny that 'Ohrmazd and Ahriman were two brothers in one womb', they would perhaps not have objected to some such formula as this: Ohrmazd and Ahriman co-exist from all eternity in Infinite Time, but their respective good and evil natures become manifested and actualized only when Infinite Time which knows neither past, present, nor future, passes into finite time; at the end, finite time will be reabsorbed into the Infinite, and with the cessation of finite time Ahriman will be finally and totally incapacitated, whereas Ohrmazd and all his creation will pass again into a state of pure timeless which is eternal rest and eternal bliss.
Aberrant Versions of the Zurvanite Myth
Before we pass on to this philosophical synthesis, however, we must say something of some variant forms of Zurvanism which have left traces in the Pahlavi books and are also attested in non-Zoroastrian writers. The starting point of the Zurvanite cosmology is closely akin to that of the cosmologies we find in the Upanishads in India. In the beginning is the undifferentiable One from which all duality and all pairs of opposites proceed. From it proceed not only light and darkness, good and evil, hot and cold, moist and dry, but also that most basic of all polarities -the polarity of male and female. Zurvan himself was originally bisexual; and his full name may well have been Zurvan i Khwashkhwarrik, 'Zurvan whose Khwarenah or fortune is fair'; for a person of the name of Khwashkhwarrik is once said to be the mother of Ohrmazd and Ahriman. This, however, denotes no absolute differentiation of sex, for even those sources which speak of a mother's womb in which the twins are contained later speak of Zurvan as father and mother: as Zurvan he is father, as Khwashkhwarrik he is mother.
In the 'Ulama-yi Islam, Zurvan does not give birth to Ohrmazd and Ahriman directly. He first 'created fire and water, and when he had brought them together, Ohrmazd came into existence'. Thus the first duality to emerge from the One was tha of a male element, fire, and a female element, water; for fire is the male principle, water the female, and they are brother and sister, husband and wife. Of the origin of Ahriman no more is said than that he was created by Zurvan. The duality of good and evil is, then, secondary to the duality of sex. The same scheme of things appears in the account of Zoroastrianism attributed to Eudemus of Rhodes, in which Space or Time produces light and darkness first, Ohrmazd and Ahriman second; whereas Hyppolytus tells us that according to Zoroaster there are two first principles, a male and a female. The male is light, the female dark, and the 'parts' of light are hot, dry, light, and swift, while the parts of darkness are cold, moist, heavy, and slow. 'The whole universe consists of these, the female and the male.' So, too, the Denkart tells us that 'all material becoming, ripening, and order proceed from the coming together in due proportion of water, the female, and fire, the male'. Hippolytus also tells us that Zoroaster considered that the universe had originated from two demons, the one celestial and the other terrestrial. The latter is water and has its source in the earth, while the former is fire mixed with air.
Water is the moist element par excellence, fire the hot, the quality of cold being subsidiary in the case of water, that of dryness in that of fire. Ohrmazd, who is described as being 'hot and moist', derives, then, from the primary qualities of the sacred elements, Ahriman, moreover, cannot create any material thing because cold and dryness are the qualities of death. Ohrmazd, on the other hand, can do so because his qualities are the qualities of life. So we find in the Denkart that the menok or invisible and intangible principle of light and the menok of darkness emerge from a single, uncompounded menok elsewhere identified with ras, the 'Wheel', itself identical with primal matter or infinite Space-Time. 'The menok of light, because it has the properties of the hot and the moist, that is, the very nature of life, can evolve from a state of uncompounded menok existence (bavishn) to a state of compounded existence which is material (geteh)...while the menok of darkness, because it is cold and dry, the [very] substance of death and meet for damnation, cannot develop into compounded existence or take on material form.' This is pure Zurvanism in philosophical rather than mythological form. Ohrmazd and Ahriman, the Spirit of light and the Spirit of darkness, emerge from the simple, uncompounded One, the one taking on the qualities of heat and moisture which are the positive side of the elements, fire and water, and the source of life, the other receiving only the negative, cold and dryness, the ingredients of death. Seen in this light Ahriman is not only the source of death: he is the very substance of death -and what is dead cannot be said to be. Hence it is possible to say that sub specie aeternitatis 'Ahriman is not': 'he was not eternally nor will he be'.
This would appear to be a far cry from orthodoxy which maintained that both Ohrmazd and Ahriman are substances that exist from the beginning. Philosophically, however, it can be justified in this way: Ohrmazd is eternal being and therefore must exist in actu, not merely potentially. Ahriman, on the other hand, can only attain the semblance of being in finite time since in eternity he is not. His actualization depends on the nature of eternal being itself. This being is the simple, uncompounded One, in other words, Zurvan, who, as infinite Space-Time, contains all potentialities within him. Zurvan's doubt in the myth is the mythological representation of an etential flaw in the godhead: the birth of Ahriman represents the actualization of that flaw, and with the actualization of Ahriman, Time and Space too assume a finite form, for finite space and time are in a sense a lapse from the perfect state of infinitude; and it is therefore logical that Ahriman should be lord of the temporal world for as long as it lasts, and it is logical it is logical that Ohrmazd who, as eternal Being, is one with Zurvan, but who is greater than he in that he is also eternal Wisdom, should be separated out from him as soon as Zurvan's inherent defect makes itself manifest. This gives new meaning to the myth of Zurvan and also explains how two versions of it persisted side by side. For beside the myth of Zurvan and the twin Spirits that proceed from him we have that other story in which it is Ohrmazd, in this context, simply called Yazdan, 'God', who has an evil thought, that it is to say, he considers the possibility of what it would be like to have an adversary, and from this unworthy thought Ahriman, the Adversary, is actualized.
The Sect of Gayomart
It is interesting to note that this sect should call itself the 'sect of Gayomart', thereby claiming for itself an immemorial antiquity, for Gayomart is the first man among the Zoroastrians. This, they claimed, was the original doctrine to which the Magi adhered before the coming of Zoroaster. They differ from the Zurvanites in this, that they wholly eliminate Zurvan-Time and have no preoccupations about the infinite. By claiming a revelation older than Zoroaster's they thereby dissociated themselves from the Prophet, and in this they may or may not have done rightly; for though we know that both the orthodox and that wing of the Zurvanites which considered itself to be orthodox, held the absolute goodness of Ohrmazd, the God they worshipped, to be fundamental to their faith, we do not know how far the Prophet would have gone with either party. It is not impossible that the 'sect of Gayomart' more nearly represented the Prophet's own views, though he would have been shocked at the crude manner of their expression.
The Four Elements and their Prototypes
We have seen that Ohrmazd is identified with the hot and the moist in the natural order, Ahriman with the cold and the dry. Between them, then, they share the four natural properties recognized by Aristotle. The simple, undifferentiated One, then, from whom they proceed, must possess all four potentia. Theodore bar Konai, a Christian writer of the seventh century, tells us that Zoroaster recognized four principles which resembled the four elements and whose names were Ashoqar, Frashoqar, Zaroqar, and Zurvan. If this account is to be brought into relation with the semi-Zurvanite fragments preserved in the Denkart, then we would expect these four 'principles' to correspond to the four natural properties from which the elements proceed. The words Ashoqar, Frashoqar and Zaroqar mean 'he who makes virile', 'he who makes excellent', and 'he who makes old', whereas the word Zurvan had in popular parlance come to mean 'old age'. Ashoqar and Frashoqar, then, would represent the polarity of life, Zaroqar and Zurvan the polarity of death. In the Infinite they are no more than potentialities: in finite time they will be actualized as the hot and the moist, the Spirit of life, and the cold and the dry, the Spirit of death.
All that has occured so far in the cosmic drama belongs to the order of nature (Chihr). Sassanian Zoroastrianism, however, distinguishes two orders, the order of nature and the order of intellect and will (akhw): these correspond more or less exactly to the Avestan mainyu and gaethya. Time and space, whether infinite or finite, are of the order of nature and therefore unconcerned with human virtue and human wickedness. Ohrmazd, however, is not only eternal and infinite in time; he is also possessed of perfect wisdom. The Godhead, in its totally, is then infinite in time, infinite in space, and infinite in wisdom. We have seen how the Spirit of light and the Spirit of darkness proceed from the undifferentiated One, and how the first is life and the second death -life and death, of course, belonging to the order of nature, not to that of will. How, then, did the intellect develop out of the One?
Infinite and Finite
Before we attempt to answer this question, however, we must consider briefly the relationship between the infinite and the finite as this was understood by the Zoroastrians. The majority were content to say that the one developed out of the other or that Ohrmazd 'fashioned forth' finite Time from Infinite Time. Mardan-Farrukh, however, thought differently, for he was an extreme dualist and goes far beyond the Denkart in his eagerness to eliminate all trace of Zurvanism from the Zoroastrian faith. He admits, indeed, that there is such a thing as the infinite: both space and time are infinite, and nothing else. The infinite, moreover, is without parts, and it cannot, then, be the source of composite beings: there is no possible link between them. No finite thing, then, can have an infinite dimension, it can have no part in what he calls the Zurvanic substance. Moreover, the infinite is by definition incomprehensible, ans so it cannot be comprehended even by God for 'if he were infinite, he would be unaware of it'. Both God and the Devil, Ohrmazd and Ahriman, then are finite, for only so can God be said to understand and know his own being. All that can be said of the infinite is that it is 'that without which nothing from the first is. Nothing can exist without it or separate from it. But in so far as it is infinite, it cannot be understood.' Infinite Time-Space is an incomprehensible and uncomprehending mystery. To speculate on just how the finite proceeds from it (which Mardan-Farrukh denies anyhow) is a pure waste of time.
'So what, pray,' he goes on to say, 'is the point of stupidly discussing something one does not know, of disputing and bandying words, and so deceiving the immature and those of immature intelligence? If one fatuously asserts that its essence is infinite and that its knowledge is infinite, and that with its infinite knowledge it knows that it is infinite, that is false and doubly false.... Knowledge can only be predicated of a thing that is within the scope of, and comprehensible to, the intellect,'
and the infinite is therefore incomprehensible simply by the fact of its being infinite.
The radical treatment of the relationship of finite to infinite and the round assertion that Ohrmazd himself is finite, is peculiar to Mardan-Farrukh, and in this respect he deviates from the orthodox norm. The orthodox view of the limitation of space and time is that they are hewn out of a pre-existing infinite substance by God. For the Denkart the process is sometimes automatic, sometimes pat datar abhurishn, 'through the fashioning of the Creator'. The world is formed by God rather as a diadem is fashioned by a goldsmith out of gold. Time-Space is thereby actualized as the universe of nature, while the actualization of the intellect, the faculty of knowing, develops simultaneously along parallel lines.
Emergence of the Finite from the Infinite
Time and Space 'on which the material world is [founded]' are the indispensible prerequisites for the existence of the material universe. 'Knowledge' is an equally indispensable prerequisite for the existence both of the intelligent subject and an intelligible universe. We have seen how the material world in all its variety developed from the undifferentiated One or infinite Space. Such a development, however, presupposes the existence of finite time, and this too comes into being and progresses on similar lines. Finite time, moreover, is the prerequisite of action of any kind, whether 'natural' or 'voluntary'. 'Infinite Time', that is, timeless, can be considered as action in potentia: and 'action in potentia' is also 'the original seed the Avestan name of which is arshnotachin ('the seminal flow'); from this:
'through the Creator's fashioning it forth, [results] the [actual] performance of action with which coincides the entry of Time into action. From the performance of action [arises] the completion of action with which coincides the limit of finite time. The limit of finite time merges into Infinite Time the essence of which is eternity; and [this means that] at the Final Body what is associated with it cannot pass away.'
In terms of time and action the evolution of the cosmos is thus seen to go through four phases:
(1)Action in potentia..............................Infinite Time
(3)The completion of action................The limit of finite time
(4)Return to the state of rest................Infinite Time
The Emergence of Consciousness and the Genesis of Evil
So much, then, for the evolution of the world of nature -the material cosmos- from infinite Time-Space into a finite mode of exisyence, its passage from potency into act. What of the order of intellect and will? How does consciousness arise? The Denkart gives the answer, and it is so interesting that we must quote it in full:
Of knowledge (lit. 'the condition of being a knower') thus is it taught. By the Creator's marvellous power, in infinite Time and by its power knowledge came to know (the immutability of Ohrmazd's essence depends of Infinite Time). From this [act of knowing] resulted the rising up of the Aggressor, unwilled [by Ohrmazd], to destroy the essence [of Ohrmazd] (i.e. his immutability) and his attributes, by means of false speech. The immediate result of this was that [Ohrmazd]'s essence and attributes turned back [into themselves] in order to [come to] know their own ground. So much knowing was necessary for the Creator [himself] to rise up for the creative act. The first effect of this rising up was the Endless Light. From the Endless Light is the Spirit of Truth which derives from Wisdom (knowledge) because it has the potentiality of growing into the knowledge of all things. By knowing all things he has power to do all he wills. Thence creation and the Aggressor's deafeat thereby, the return of creation to its proper sphere of action, and the eternal rule of Ohrmazd in the perfect joy; for it is he who is the origin of good things, the source of good, the seed and potentiality (or power) of all that is good. All good creatures are from him as a first effect by creation or by emanation, as sheen is from shining, shining from brilliance and brilliance from light.'
Ohrmazd, in this passage, is conceived of primarily as 'Wisdom', that is, the faculty of knowing. He is also immutable being in virtue of the fact that his habitat is Infinite Time, the Absolute. As Wisdom and the knowing faculty he is latent and potential only: he is not yet actualized. This groping awareness seeks an object outside itself, and, finding none, an object generates itself without God willing it, and this self-generated object is none other than Ahriman, the Aggressor, whose object now is to destroy God's essence which is his immutable being. He seeks to imprison the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the temporal, God in the world. His aim is nothing less than to do away with unconditioned being. Thus Ahriman originates in Ohrmazd's accession to consciousness: in Jungian terminology, the dim dawn of consciousness from the unconscious engendered the 'shadow' or dark side of the divine personality. The awakening of the divine consciousness in Ohrmazd is the equivalent of Zurvan's doubt in the Zurvanite myth, and this initial failure to reach full self-consciousness puts Ohrmazd into mortal peril; he risks the loss of his very essence, eternal being which he now sees to be identical with eternal knowing or eternal Wisdom. Hence he makes an effort of total introspection -his 'essence and attributes turned back [into themselves] in order to [come to] know their own ground'. In order to eliminate the destructive element engendered by incomplete knowledge Ohrmazd must first know himself as he is: he must do what Mardan-Farrukh said no one, not even God, could do-he must know himself as infinite and as possessed of infinite knowledge, and this self-knowledge alone will enable him to 'rise up for the creative act'. This saving knowledge engenders endless light, for light, as always, is the symbol of spiritual illumination or insight. This is the light of Wisdom which is proper to the nature of Ohrmazd, that same Wisdom which 'descends from the light on to the earth and by which [men] see and think well', and this Wisdom is identical with the Good Religion. From this Light of Wisdom proceeds the Spirit of Truth which enables Ohrmazd to know all things as they are. By knowing himself and knowing his Adversary too he knows he must create or emanate the universe, if his Adversary is to be defeated; but he also creates because he knows himself as good, and the 'definition of goodness is that which of itself develops'; so God himself must develop and 'grow into the knowledge of all things'.
The whole of this remarkable passage is Zurvanite rather than Mazdean, first because the 'Endless Light' is here originated, not eternal as it is in all the strictly orthodox texts, and secondly because the divine personality is composed not of God, Time, Wisdom, and Light (=Ohrmazd), but of God, Time, potential Wisdom, and Space, from which alone the Endless Light can originate; and all this adds up not to Ohrmazd, but to Zurvan.
The Changelessness of Created Being
From the One, then, finite time and finite space, which together add up to the material world, are actualized in the order of nature, consciousness, thought, and a sense of purpose in the order of intellect and will. The conditions of creation are now fulfilled, and Ohrmazd creates heaven and earth as his first line of defence against the Aggressor. Finite time is destined to last twelve thousand years, at the end of which it merges again into its source which is the Infinite, and action merges into rest from which it sprang. But the universe created by Ohrmazd in all its infinite variety does not revert to its own source which is the undifferentiated One or primal matter. All creation is dependent on Infinite Time, and as such it must partake of eternity. So it can be confidently stated that 'those things which Ohrmazd created at the original creation do not change'. For Ohrmazd, in creating finite beings to do battle with Ahriman, who can only exist and operate on the finite level, gives them an infinite dimension; and just as Time, Space, Wisdom, and Ohrmazd himself are eternal and immutable, so is all that he creates out of them. All the good creation, then, has an eternal substrate which will be realized at the end of time as eternal well-being and bliss. This constitutes the 'Final Body'- the body of a universe renewed and perfected because finally purged of the malice and corruption of the Aggressor. This 'body' continues to exist in all its variety, and within it exist in harmony the resurrected bodies, now once again united to their souls, of all men reconstituted and transfigured. It is true that every material thing was elicited from the potentiality of matter and every spiritual thing from the potentiality of spirit, but in the end 'possessed of image and body (adhvenakomand ut karpomand) they will be reunited to their souls, all undefiled, and together with their souls they will be made immortal, reconstituted as eternal beings in perfect bliss'. The end of the cosmic drama, then, is not just a return to the status quo ante, a reversion to a state of pure undifferentiated being, it means rather that every separate creature has grown and developed to its highest capacity, it has become its final cause, the sum-total of all its good thoughts, words, and deeds, what the Iranian call its Khwarenah, or Khwarr as it is now called in Pahlavi. This glorious state it achieves on its own account certainly, but also in full union and harmony with the whole human race which itself is transfigured in the beatific vision of God. Life in Infinite Time is thus a life of union and communion both with God and with the whole of his creation now finally released from all the torments inflicted on it by the Fiend. He and his entire creation will be utterly destroyed. This constitutes the purpose of life for the Zoroastrian, whether he be, in his mythology and philosophy, an orthodox dualist or a Zurvanite.
We have seen how the Denkart tries to achieve a philosophical synthesis between orthodox dualism and Zurvanism, and how it seeks to identify Ohrmazd with Infinite Time, Ahriman with finite Time. Mythologically, however, the two wings of Zoroastrianism are not so easily reconciled.
Az, the Weapon of Concupiscence
In Zatsparam there is a very strange myth concerning Zurvan which we have already quoted, but which must be quoted again in our present context.
'Pondering on the end [Zurvan] delivered to Ahriman an impiement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal (?), black and ashen. And as he handed it to him, he said: "By means of these weapons, Az (concupiscence) will devour that which is thine, and she herself shall starve, if at the end of nine thousand years thou hast not accomplished that which thou didst threaten, to demolish the pact, to demolish Time."'
Or in slightly deifferent words we read:
'When first creation began to move, and Zurvan for the sake of movement brought that form, the black and ashen garment, to Ahriman, he made a treaty in this wise: "This is that implement like unto fire, blazing, harassing all creatures, that hath the very substance of Az (Concupiscence). When the period of nine thousand years comes to an end, if thou hast not perfectly fulfilled that which thou didst threaten in the beginning, that thou wouldst bring all material existence to hate Ohrmazd and to love thee -and verily this is the belief in one Principle [only], that the Increaser and the Destroyer are the same -then by means of these weapons Az will devour that which is thine, thy creation; and she herself will starve; for she will no longer obtain food from the creatures of Ohrmazd -like a frog that liveth in the water; so long as it defileth the water, it liveth by it, but when the water is with-drawn from it, it dieth, parched."'
This obviously forms part of the original Zurvanite myth and is preserved only by Zatsparam who, as we have seen, had Zurvanite tendencies. Even he, however, will not go so far as to say that Zurvan was the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman; he simply allows him to appear on the scene unexplained. It is, however, Zurvan who offers Ahriman the 'weapon of Concupiscence' by which he and his creation will be ultimately destroyed, and Ahriman chooses it of his own free will 'as his very essence'. It would, then, be reasonable to suppose that Zurvan armed Ohrmazd with a similar weapon -a weapon that would ensure his victory over his enemy. Such a weapon we do find again and again mentioned in the Pahlavi texts, but in no case does Zurvan give it to Ohrmazd. The reason is, no doubt, that the authors of the Pahlavi books were unwilling to represent Ohrmazd as being in any way dependent on, or inferior to, Zurvan. So we find that the Denkart speaks of Ahriman's weapon being bestowed on him 'through Time from its decisive dispension that orders aright', but in the case of Ohrmazd his weapon or robe was 'bestowed on him by his own dispension through finite Time'. It would, then, seem to be abundantly clear that in the original legend both weapon or robes must have been in the gift of Zurvan-Time. In the Bundahishn an attempt is made to fit this episode into an orthodox dualist scheme of things. Thus, in the case of Ahriman, too, the sinister weapon which Ahriman chooses is no longer proffered to him by Zurvan: rather, 'from the material darkness which is his own essence the Destructive Spirit fashioned forth the body of his creation in the form of coal(?), black and ashen, worthy of the darkness, damned as the most sinful noxious beast.' So too we learn of Ohrmazd that 'from his own essence which is material light he fashioned forth the form of his creatures -a form of fire- bright, white, round, and manifest afar.' This is the dualist account of the affair. In the true Zurvanite version, however, it must have been Zurvan-Time who armed his two sons with their respective weapons, robes, or forms, which they, in their turn, chose of their own free will. This doctrine of the choice granted to the Spirits the orthodox regarded as being heretical, and their own term for this type of Zurvanism appears to have been Zoishik, 'belief in the free choice [of Ohrmazd and Ahriman]'.
Zurvan-Time, then, in the Zurvanite account, will himself have armed the two Spirits with their respective weapons, and we shall now have to consider a little more carefully what these weapons were. We have seen that in the Denkart Ahriman is regarded as being an entirely spiritual being and that the matter with which evil spirits are clothed is borrowed from another source, and that this derives ultimately from infinite Space-Time, mythologically represented by Zurvan. The 'power of Zurvan', then, which the baleful weapon handed to Ahriman contains, is probably no more than materially -in the case of Ahriman material darkness, in the case of Ohrmazd material light; these are the two physical weapons with which the two Spirits will fight.
The 'Endless Form' or Macrocosm
These weapons, however, also have a spiritual side: they have soul as well as body. Ohrmazd's weapon is called the 'Endless Form', and it is in fact the whole material creation contained within the circle of the sky. It was fashioned from the Endless Light, and it is twofold. On the one hand it contains the spiritual creation, on the other the material creation.
'In the spiritual creation the Spirit of the Power of the Word was contained; and in the material creation the Spirit of the Power of Nature was contained, and it settled [in it]. The instrument which contains the spiritual creation was made perfect, and the spiritual gods of the Word were separated out from it, each for his own function, to perform those activities which were necessary for the creation that was within the instrument. And within the instrument which contains the material creation the marvellous Spirit of the Power of Nature was united to the kingdom of the Spirit of the Power of the Word through the will of the Creator.'
Nature and spirit, that is, matter and spirit are thus united to form the cosmos, and the cosmos is the 'Wheel', the heavenly sphere, the embodiment of the finite Zurvan. As the Infinite, Zurvan is the father of both Ohrmazd and Ahriman; as the finite he is the weapon of the one as well as of the other. Thus the 'weapons' he gives his sons are himself in finite form. All that is good in him he gives to Ohrmazd; what is evil he gives to Ahriman, for Az is not only concupiscence, greed, and lust, it is also Varan, which means not only sexual desire but also religious doubt. Az, then, in this myth, must represent Zurvan's doubt -that essential imperfection which lurked deep down in the godhead and, in the course of what perhaps we should call 'aeveternity', took shape and materialized in the form of Ahriman. Zurvan expiates his original sin by becoming embodied in the cosmos and suffering the evil effects of his sin to work themselves out in his own body. In this he, as macrocosm, prefigures the fate of each individual man; and just as he controls human destinies, so does the collective consciousness of mankind -the union of the Fravashis or external souls -control him.
The macrocosm, Zurvan's body, is ensouled by the Spirit of the Power of the Word which appears to be identical with that Wisdom which fosters and protects it. Finite Space-Time, then, which is Ohrmazd's 'creation' and the weapon he had received from Zurvan, is animated and guided by Wisdom or reason. And just as Ohrmazd received light and Wisdom from Zurvan, so did Ahriman receive Az-Concupiscence; and it is with this weapon that he attacks both the 'natural' or material side of Ohrmazd's creation and the 'spiritual' side, the domain of intellect and will. Az, as we have seen, comprises both natural concupiscence and what the Marxists call 'incorrect thinking'. Zatsparam, however, who alone among our sources preserves the myth, knows nothing of the latter; for him Az is simply the instinctual side of man. Her nature is threefold and consists of eating, sexual desire, 'and yearning for whatever good thing one sees or hears'. The Denkart, however, has a fuller account of the activities of this very considerable demon. Man's 'humanity' is defined as a combination of life which he has from nature and knowledge which is of the intellect and will. He is by nature disposed to nourish his own body and to cultivate the religious knowledge which is ingrained in him and which spurs him on to virtue. Az is the power that perverts both his natural and his voluntary drives. Heresy, then, and sensuality are both manifestations of Az. Nature and will, and will and intellect, should all work together, but Az seeks to drive a wedge between them. Her essential activity is 'disorderly motion' or 'disruption' (oshtap), and the whole purpose of the creation of the world is to eliminate this element of instability with which Ahriman has armed himself. Az is the enemy both of the natural order (chihr) and of reason (khrat). As the enemy of the natural order and of life, she also causes death.
'In the mixed state life as a general rule is maintained in the body by the continuous working of the natural functions in the body; and this continuous working of the natural functions is up against the "natural" Az. Az, faced as she is by the natural functions, seeks to destroy them: she withholds Hurdat and Amurdat, [that is to say,] she cuts of food and drink from the natural functions. Nature is the ally [of the body], Az its enemy. When Hurdat and Amurdat, that is, food and drink, are cut off from the natural functions, the latter, deprived of any ally and being in the grip of Az, are destroyed, and life can no longer be maintained in the body; and since this is so, the body is ripe for death.'
Az, then, the demon of concupiscence, is also the demon of death, and in this she is akin to the finite Zurvan of whose evil side she is indeed the earthly manifestation. For Zurvan, as father Time, is seen as the author of both life and death, and since it is death that invariably and inevitably extinguishes individual life, he is primarily thought of as death. In the Avesta, where he is still a very shadowy figure, he controls the path along which the souls of the dead must travel on their way to the Judgement. '[The souls of] wicked and righteous alike proceed along the paths created by Zurvan to the Bridge of the Requiter created by Mazdah.' In the Gathas it is Ahriman who brings death into the world; in Zurvanism Zurvan arms Ahriman with Az, the principle of death as well as of concupiscence, while he arms Ohrmazd with the material world which is his own body and which is destined for immortality once the course of Az has been expelled.