The Zurvanite and the Manichaean Az
Az is the principle of disorder that has invaded the natural order: she is excess and deficiency as opposed to the Mean. But she would seem to be very much more than this; for basically she is desire-hunger and thirst on the one hand and sexual desire on the other. As such she is the very precondition of physical life as well as of physical death; and in this she closely resembles her Manichaean namesake, for in the Manichaean texts Az is the Persian word used to translate the Greek hyle, 'matter'.
Zoroastrianism, however, even its Zurvanite manifestation, is very different from Manichaeism. For the Manichees 'matter' and 'concupiscence' are interchangeable terms: they are both the 'disorderly motion that is in every existent thing' and, as such, the principle that militates against eternal life. But in Zoroastrianism, whether Zurvanite or orthodox, matter and concupiscence are not by any means identical. On the contrary, matter itself is the vehicle of eternal life, and concupiscence is like an infection that attacks it from outside. Originally man was created without needs; he did not need to eat or drink, and in the last days he will return to his blessed independence and thereby break the power of Az. This means that the material world will partake of spirit without for that reason ceasing to be material; and those who are born in the last days will be 'sweet-smelling, with but little darkness in them, spiritual in nature, without offspring, for they will not eat'; and Nature itself 'will be clad in spirit and intelligence will be more clearly grasped'. This will mean the final annihilation of Az who as universal greed devours creation ever anew and who as sexuality recreates her portion for the morrow. Once men cease to eat and are 'clad in spirit', Az has no power over them, and 'since she will derive no power from the creatures of Ohrmazd, she will chide Ahriman who had appointed her captain of his commanders [saying] in her greed to the judge of creatures: "Satisfy me, satiate me, for I derive nor food nor strength from the creatures of Ohrmazd."' Then at the command of Ahriman she dovours all the demons except only Ahriman himself. This is the final crisis: Ahriman is now left alone and finds himself pitted not only against his eternal adversary, Ohrmazd, but also against the very weapon he had chosen when it was offered to him by his father, Zurvan. This weapon now turns on him fury and threaten to devour him, for there is nothing else left for her to devour. Ahriman, at bay, rather than submit to this final horror, turns in desperation to his ancient enemy, Ohrmazd, and makes his first and last appeal to his goodness to save him. Ohrmazd, rather than see him succumb to her 'who comprises [all] evil', himself administers the coup de grace, while Sraosha is left to finish off Az. In what appears to be the true Zurvanite account, however, the destruction of Az falls not to Sraosha, but to the infinite Zurvan himself accompanied by the Genius of the Law and Fate. This is only as it should be, for it appears the final conquest of Zurvan's original doubt. By doubting he was himself responsible for originating the principle of darkness and evil, and by offering Ahriman that 'implement [fashioned] from the very substance of darkness, mingled with the power of Zurvan, as it were a treaty, resembling coal(?), black and ashen', he divests himself of the 'concupiscence' that is still within him, and thereby assures the ultimate annihilation of his unwanted son through the instrumentality of the weapon he had himself chosen.
All this is, indeed, a long way removed from Manichaeanism, but there are, as in Manichaeanism, distinctly Buddhistic overtones, for not only are the spiritual worlds of Ohrmazd and Ahriman at war with each other, but the temporal and eternal orders also seem to be mutually contrasted and opposed. Ohrmazd's original creation was wholly static, 'without thought, without movement, intangible', and it is only the disorderly movement (oshtap) that is Az that sets the temporal process going. The temporal process is the Buddhist samsara, the ebb and flow of physical life regarded by the Buddhists as being evil simply because it is impermanent and therefore void of lasting value. In Zurvanism, Infinite Time represents eternal and timeless existence and this is the realm of Ohrmazd; finite Time is temporal existence as lived on earth, subject to birth and death, coming to be and passing away, and it is not only the kingdom of Ahriman, but also the very food on which the demon Az thrives. Yet finite Time is not evil of itself; it is the locus of evil and the food by which it lives. When it 'dies' by being reabsorbed into the Infinite, evil, like a cancer whose life is sustained by the thing it kills, must itself perish with it. The world-process, then, is God's struggle to rescue temporal, conditioned existence from the very powers which seem to make its continuance possible -hunger and thirst and sexual desire. The result, however, is not the escape of the individual or of the universe into a featureless and timeless Nirvana, but the subsuming of the material world into spirit in which time merges back into the timeless; but the timeless is now no longer the simple, undifferentiated One from which all existent things originally issued forth, but a timeless world in which all created things share in the plenitude of their khwarr, their consummated personality finally delivered from the toils of concupiscence. Ahriman had foolishly threatened to 'demolish the pact, to demolish time', and by this he meant that he would put an end to eternal existence as such and drag all creation down to a purely temporal and therefore mortal level, thereby depriving men for ever of any hope of immortal life; but in the end he himself is vanquished by Az, the seed of corruption he was fool enough to choose as his weapon against the radiant creation of Ohrmazd. Ohrmazd, on the other hand, once his enemies are annihilated, elevates the whole material creation into the spiritual order, and there the perfection that each created thing has as it issues from the hand of God is restored to it at the final Rehabilitation, the Frashkart or 'Making Excellent' when everything that was excellent in time will be excellent in eternity.
Az -a Borrowing from Buddhism?
Yet different though the goals of Buddhism and the Zurvanism deducible from the Pahlavi books may be, the demon Az is a Buddhist rather than a Zoroastrian idea; there is no trace of it in the Avesta. In Buddhism, on the other hand, the root cause of the chain of conditioned existence is avidya, 'ignorance', and its principal manifestation is trshna, 'thirst', which means the desire for continued existence in time -intellectual error, then, manifesting itself in concupiscence. The Zoroastrian Az, too, is both 'ignorance' and 'thirst', both 'wrong-mindedness' and concupiscence; she attacks man both in his body and in his mind. To the body she ultimately brings death, and, in the sphere of responsible human activity, she seeks to drive a wedge between intellect and will. In this she is identical with Akoman, the Evil Mind.
God's weapon is the embodied Zurvan, finite time operating in finite space, the khwarr of the whole world; Ahriman's is Az and Az thus attacks both the macrocosm, the embodied Zurvan, and the microcosm, man; she is the arch-enemy of both nature and reason. 'During the period of the Aggressor's operation in this world man is tained with concupiscence whose object is to destroy his khwarr,' that is, to divert him from the end for which he was created. Reason, on the other hand, 'was created by the Creator to protect his khwarr from concupiscence. Concupiscence is the vice most akin to desire, and a limit [must be set] to desire. Once desire for wealth and power is gratified, concupiscence will be greatly strengthened and reason gravely impaired in [its function of] protecting the khwarr from concupiscecnce.' Concupiscence, then, tries to divorce man's natural desires from the control of reason: as such it is 'self-will', 'wrong-mindedness', and 'heresy'; it leads astray, unsettles, and deceives. In short it is 'ignorance' of the right order of things on the intellectual plane, gluttony, lust, and avarice on the material. It is the transposition of the Buddhist avidya and trshna into a Zoroastrian scheme of things. But the Zoroastrian version of what constitutes 'ignorance' is very different from the Buddhist; it is no sense a cosmic principle inherent in the vary nature of the transitory world, it is simply the failure to recognize the right order of things; it is a deviation from the Aristotelian Mean which the Zoroastrians interpreted as meaning the orderly arrangement of a cosmos created by God. If the idea is originally Buddhistic, the working out of it is thoroughly Zoroastrian.
Essential 'Zoroastrianism' of classical Zurvanism
What remains of Zurvanism in the Pahlavi books is orthodox to this extent, that the goal of creation remains the same as for the orthodox dualists; it is the final expulsion of evil, that is, disorder in all its forms, from the universe, and the transfiguration of the material creation into a 'spiritual' form of existence in which neither death nor wrong thinking will have any place. In the terminology of the Zurvanite myth it means that Zurvan whose doubt engendered Ahriman will, by himself taking on material form, in the end be freed from doubt and all imperfection for ever and ever. Zatsparam, too, in his apocalyptic vision of the end, says: 'There will be seen by night in the atmosphere a form of fire in the shape of a man, conceived by the spiritual powers, riding as it were a fiery horse, and fearful [to behold]: and all will be freed from doubt.'
Perhaps the fiery horseman is nothing less than that original 'form of fire, bright, white, round, and manifest afar', with which, in the beginning, Zurvan armed his beloved son, Ohrmazd. Perhaps it is the finite Zurvan himself, the totality of created being; riding back, purified from all doubt and unlawful desire, into the Infinite from which he originally proceeded.
The Gender and Sex of Az
In its teleology Zurvanism does not seem to differ appreciably from orthodoxy, but there was nonetheless an un-Iranian and Gnostic current within Zurvanism which sought to identify the typically Zoroastrian polarity of good and evil with the more basic polarity of male and female.
Throughout this chapter we have spoken of the demon Az as 'she'. Middle Persian, however, has no means of distinguishing gender, and there is nothing in the Pahlavi texts themselves to show to what gender this particular demon belongs. In the Avesta, it is true, there is a demon Azi of masculine gender who extinguishes the fire at night, who is the opponent of the sacrificial milk and fat and of the khwarenah; his stock epithet is daevo-data, 'created by the demons' or 'following the law of the demons'. It is also true that the Az of the Pahlavi books has the same stock epithet and that is also assails the khwarenah or khwarr. But here the resemblance ends, for nowhere does it appear that the Azi of the Avesta is specifically the demon of greed, and this is the basic characteristic of the later Az.
The demon Az, however, as it appears in Zatsparam, is closely akin to the Manichaean demon of the same name. In the Persian Manichaean texts, as we have seen, Az corresponds to the hyle of the Greeks -matter not at all in the Aristotelian sense, but in the typically Manichaean sense of 'disorderly motion'. Fot the Manichees, indeed, 'disorderly motion' was inseparable from everything that exists in space and time, whereas, for the Zoroastrians, it was something imported from outside. The Manichees, however, in attaching Zoroastrian names to their own concepts, did try to make the correspondence as exact as possible. Thus it is not surprising that they should have chosen Az to represent the totality of the realm of matter which is, for them, through and through evil since, in Manichaean eyes, matter and concupiscence are interchangeable terms.
The Manichaean Az, however, is feminine: she is the 'mother of all the demons'. It is, then, reasonable to suppose that the Zoroastrian demon was also feminine as the Manichees would scarcely choose a male Zoroastrian demon to fulfill the role of the 'mother of the demons'. Moreover, were it not for the fact that they needed a female entity to represent the totality of evil, they could scarcely have failed to pick on Ahriman for this part.
The Wickedness of the Female
The equation of light with the male principle and of darkness with the female corps up all over the world and has been made much of by C.G. Jung in his psychology of the archetype. It is, however, a thoroughly un-Iranian idea, yet we do find it cropping up both in the Christian account of Zurvanism and in the Pahlavi texts themselves. Hippolytus, as we have seen, said of Zoroaster that he believed the whole universe to have developed from a primal father and mother, the first of whom was light and the second darkness. Similarly we saw that in the Pahlavi texts fire and water were spoken of as male and female, brother and sister, husband and wife, and that from their union proceeded 'all becoming, ripening, and order'. The same is true of the Zurvanite treatise, the Ulama-yi Islam. Water, moreover, is the dark element, and what is dark is generally evil. Water, however, had from the days of the Gatha of the Seven Chapters been regarded as holy and was venerated as such throughout the whole chequered history of Zoroastrianism. Zurvanism, however, is not fully explicable as a purely Iranian phenomenon, and it should not surprise us to find what seem to be un-Iranian ideas in it. Thus a Christian convert from Zoroastrianism tells us that water, though created by Ohrmazd, deserted him for Ahriman. These Zurvanites were not prepared to go so far as to say that water was evil in itself; it only chose evil just as Ahriman himself had done.
The Defection of Woman to Ahriman
On the origins of woman the Pahlavi books are extraordinarily reticent. The Bounteous Immortals who have become fully personalized in the Pahlavi books are all male except Armaiti, Right-mindedness, who is identified with Mother Earth. On Ahriman's side there is a mysterious figure Jeh, the Whore. Both the Bundahishn and the Christian Syriac writer, Theodore bar Konai, give accounts of the activities of this lady, but whereas the Bundahishn speaks of her as the 'whore', Theodore speaks of her as simply 'woman'. She too, like water, deserts her creator, Ohrmazd, for his enemy, Ahriman. Theodore describes the behaviour of the first women in these words:
'After Ohrmazd had given women to righteous men, they fled and went over a Satan; and when Ohrmazd provided righteous men with peace and happiness, Satan provided women too with happiness. As Satan had allowed the women to ask for anything they wanted, Ohrmazd feared that they might ask to have intercourse with the righteous men and that these might suffer damage thereby. Seeking to avoid this, he created the god Narseh [a youth] of fifteen years of age. And he put him, naked as he was, behind Satan so that the women should see him, desire him, and ask Satan for him. The women lifted their hands up towards Satan and said: "Satan, our father, give us the god Narseh as a gift."'
The Bundahishn account differs from Theodore's in some respects. There is one Righteous Man only, Gayomart, the progenitor of the human race; and there is one woman only, Jeh, the whore, whose origins are left wholly unexplained. Moreover, Theodore seems to have imported the god Narseh from a similar Manichaean myth, for he is wholly absent from the Bundahishn account.
In Zoroastrianism man is God's supreme creation, designed to play the foremost part in the destruction of Ahriman and the Lie. So holy was he that the mere sight of him caused Ahriman to faint, so hopeless did he now consider the struggle to be.
'When the Destructive Spirit saw that he himself and the demons were powerless on account of the Righteous Man, he swooned away. For three thousand years he lay in a swoon. And as he lay thus unconscious, the demons with monstrous heads cried out one by one [saying] :"Arise, O our father, for we would join a battle from which Ohrmazd and the Bounteous Immortals will suffer straitness and misery." And one by one they minutely related their own evil deeds. But the accursed Destructive Spirit was not comforted, nor he did arise out of his swoon for fear of the Righteous Man; till the accursed Whore came after the three thousand years had run their course, and she cried out [saying]: "Arise, O our father, for in the battle [to come] I shall let loose so much affliction on the Righteous Man and the toiling Bull that, because of my deeds, they will no be fit to live. I shall take away their dignity (khwarr): I shall afflict the water, I shall afflict the earth, I shall afflict the fire, I shall afflict the plants, I shall afflict all the creation which Ohrmazd has created." And she related her evil deeds so minutely that the Destructive Spirit was comforted, leapt up out of his swoon, and kissed the head of the Whore; and that pollution called menstruation appeared on the Whore. And the Destructive Spirit cried out to the demon Whore: "Whatsoever is thy desire, that do thou ask, that I may give it thee." Then Ohrmazd in his omniscience knew that at that time the Destructive Spirit could give whatever the demon Whore asked and that there would be great profit to him thereby. (The appearance of the body of the Destructive Spirit was in the form of a frog.) And [Ohrmazd] showed one like unto a young man of fifteen years of age to the demon Whore; and the demon Whore fastened her thoughts on him. And the demon Whore cried out to the Destructive Spirit [saying]: "Give me desire for man that I may seat him in the house as my lord." But the Destructive Spirit cried out unto her [saying]: "I do not bid thee ask for anything, for thou knowest [only] to ask for what is profitless and bad." But the time had passed when he could have refused to give what she asked.'
Now the Pahlavi word for 'whore' means etymologically no more than 'one who bears children' and must originally have meant simply a 'woman', and this presumably is what she originally was in mythology too. There is, moreover, another curious resemblance to Theodore bar Konai's account. Unlike the other demons the Whore does not seem to have been with Ahriman from the beginning: she came to him 'after three thousand years'. So it would seem that in this very unorthodox account of the creation Ohrmazd provided Gayomart with a consort and that the pair of them existed side by side for three thousand years without making contact of any kind; and it was only after the full three thousand years had run their course that the woman, understandably bored, decided to seek adventure elsewhere. Undeterred by the unpleasing from Ahriman had elected to assume just then, she attached herself to him, and by submitting to his kiss became irremediably defiled. As if this were not enough, she then proceeded to 'join herself [to the Destructive Spirit]. For the defilement of females she joined herself to him, that she might defile females; and the females, because they were defiled, might defile the males, and [the males] would turn aside from their proper work.'
The Defilement of Man by Woman
Apart from the three passages we have quoted we know nothing more of the 'Whore', and we are never told the end of the story. Since, however, the Whore is the 'most grievous adversary of the Righteous Man', and since, merely by recounting the harm she can do to him, she could arouse Ahriman from the stupor into which the mere sight of the Righteous Man had cast him, and since her aim is to defile the male through the already defiled female, the end of the affair can scarcely be in doubt: she forced the Righteous Man into union with her. Only so can it be explained how Ohrmazd 'knew that at that time the Destructive Spirit could give whatever the demon Whore asked and that there would be great profit to him (Ohrmazd) thereby'. It was his intention all along that, despite the woman's perverse behaviour, the two sexes should be united so that the human race could increase and multiply. With this end in mind he exhibited to her a 'young man of fifteen years of age'. The stratagem worked, for the woman immediately demanded of Ahriman that he give her the 'desire for man', which, it would appear, Ohrmazd had not himself been able to supply. The balance of advantage was now with Ohrmazd. It is true that Ahriman had succeeded in defiling woman and that she in her turn would defile man, but, in compensation for this, it was now assured that woman would be subjected to man for ever and that -what was much more important- she would enable the Righteous Man to propagate his race.
We have seen that one of the characteristics of Zurvanism is that it does, on occasion, represent Ohrmazd as being rather less than all-wise and all-powerful. It is therefore somewhat surprising to read in an otherwise orthodox book little the Bundahishn that he himself confesses that, think as he might, he could find no other way of ensuring the survival of the human male except by creating 'woman whose adversary is the whore species'. And so he laments:
'I created thee, O thou whose adversary is the whore species, and thou wast created with a mouth close to the buttocks, and coition seems to thee even as the taste of the sweetest food to the mouth; and thou art a helper to me, for from thee is man born; but thou dost grieve me who am Ohrmazd. But had I found another vessel from which to make man, never would I have created thee, whose adversary is the whore species. But I sought in the waters and in the earth, in plants and cattle, in the highest mountains and deep valleys, but I did not find a vessel from which righteous man might proceed except woman whose adversary is the whore.'
This, again, has a zurvanite flavour about it, for Ohrmazd, the all-mighty and all-wise, confesses that he is neither. In order to multiply the males of the human race who fight his battle against Ahriman, he can think of nothing better to do than to create woman, despite the fact that she causes him pain. This attribution of a certain naivete to Ohrmazd combined with an almost horrified aversion to all that is female seems to be typical of Zurvanism. The female is represented as having a fatal propensity to evil, for both water and woman hereself, though created by Ohrmazd, desert him and take the Devil's part.
This Gnostic element in Zurvanism, however, which equates the female with evil, is peripheral, but it is nonetheless there; and it is this, no doubt, that induced the High Priest Manushchihr to say that his brother, Zatsparam, would find few to gainsay him among the Manichees. Zatsparam, indeed, stands nearest to the Zurvanites of all our extant Pahlavi sources, and it is he, more than anyone else, who raises Az-concupiscence to an almost Manichaean eminence in the hierarchy of evil. For him, at least, we cannot help feeling, Az was, as she was for the Manichees, not just one female among many, but the 'mother of all the demons'.
Zurvanism proper differs from orthodoxy in that it posits a principle prior two the Spirits of light and darkness, good and evil -the principle of Infinite Time. There is no evidence that it made any difference to the cult or that any particular reverence was paid to Zurvan as a god. Indeed, there would be singularly little point in doing so, for as the Infinite he is incomprehensible, and as finite Time he is a Fate that cannot be deflected, a law that cannot be altered. Before we leave him to study a little more closely the theology of the orthodox, let us try to see just what kind of god he was.
The Sevenfold Zurvan
'Zurvan has even faces, and on each face three eyes,' we read. He is a sevenfold god, and each of seven aspects of his complex nature has three facets. As Infinite Time his three aspects are infinite space, infinite wisdom, and infinite power, that is, an infinite potentiality of initiating contingent beings, whether good or evil. He is passionless and indifferent, '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.' He has neither 'pleasure nor pain from the evil of Ahriman or the goodness of Ohrmazd'.
As finite Time he is primarily 'he who makes virile, he who makes excellent, and he who makes old'. Alternatively, the order of the attributes is altered and he becomes 'he who makes virile, he who makes old, and he who makes excellent'. As such he is the god of life and death, presiding over the birth, maturity, and death of the body. As Frashokar, 'he who makes excellent,' he is both the god who brings creatures to maturity and the author of the Frashkart, the 'Making Excellent' or final Rehabilitation at the end of time. When he is thought of in this role, the epithet frashokar, 'he who makes excellent' appears at the end of series.
Seen simply as Infinite Time, his aspects are finite Time, the course of fate, and the year. As Order, his aspects are the god Mithra, the Spirit of Right Order (datastan), and Fate; and as Fate itself he is also the actual decree or moment of destiny, the decisive moment at which what is fated comes to pass, and the fixed decision. On the earth he represents the social order, and he is therefore the three great social orders of priests, warriors, and husbandmen. He is also the author of good and evil: he is the Cherisher, the Adversary, and he who has command of both. Thus he sevenfold Zurvan's functions can be tabulated thus:
Macrocosm and Microcosm
As finite space as well as finite Time Zurvan is embodied in the macrocosm, and man, the microcosm, is made in his image, the parts of man corresponding in every respect to the parts of the universe in toto. Thus, the seven constituents of the material world which themselves correspond to the seven Bounteous Immortals -fire, water, earth, metals, plants, and man- correspond to the morrow, blood, veins, sinews, bones, flesh, and hair of man. The four elements in the macrocosm correspond to the breath, blood, bile, and phlegm in man; and just as the world is controlled and kept in working order by the elements of fire and air, so is man's body controlled and directed by his Fravashi or external soul working in close co-operation with his vital spirit. In the world this vital spirit which maintains the macrocosm as a living unit is Vay(u), the atmospheric wind, in exactly the same way as breath keeps the human body alive. In man it is the soul (ruvan) which guides the body and gives it consciousness; so too is the world guided by the world-soul, which is nothing less than the heavenly sphere. The heavenly sphere, then, is not only the body of Zurvan, but also his soul. And Zurvan is sick in soul.
Zurvan, the God of Fate
He is sick in soul because he doubted; and this sickness reflects itself in the heavenly sphere, for it contains not only the twelve Signs of the Zodiac which pour out abundance on to the earth, but also the seven planets which intercept the good gifts of the Zodiac and divert them to people and purposes for which they were never intended. Thus, the embodied Zurvan is the god of fate, and because he himself must work out his own salvation in finite time and gradually wear away the residue of his sin which is still very much with him, he is willy-nilly the dispenser of good and bad fortune alike. As macrocosm he is subject, like the microcosm, man, to the depredations of Ahriman; and as man is afflicted by disease and sin, so is the poise of the macrocosm upset by the disorderly motion of the planets; and this disorderly motion accounts for the evil lot on earth that man is sometimes fated to endure.
'All the welfare and adversity that come to man and other creatures come through the Seven and the Twelve. The twelve Signs of the Zodiac... are the twelve commanders on the side of Ohrmazd; and the seven planets are said to be the seven commanders on the side of Ahriman. And the seven planets oppress all creation and deliver it over to death and all manner of evil: for the twelve Signs of the Zodiac and the seven planets rule the fate of the world and direct it'.
The orderly functioning of the universe is the responsibility of the Zodiac just as man's ordered moral activity is directed by the Good Mind indwelling him. The planets, on the other hand, originated by Ahriman are likened to the Evil Mind in man; and just as the Evil Mind seeks to drive a wedge between man's intellect and will, so do the planets seek to bring about disarray in the heavenly sphere, the soul of the world.
The Zoroastrian turned the planets into demons because their irregular motion could not be explained. When, however, they came into contact with the Babylonians, they learnt the 'science' of astrology, and this attributed different influences to the different planets. Some, like Saturn and Mars, were inauspicious; others, like Jupiter and Venus, auspicious. How was this to be explained? In the Zoroastrian scheme of things the planets who accompany Ahriman in his invasion of the material world, each choose a specific constellation as their opponent. Thus Jupiter is matched against the Great Bear, Venus against Scorpio. In their case their opponents prove more than a match for them and force them to do whatever they wish. The reverse, however, is true of Saturn and Mars, who, proving stronger than their chosen opponents, are free to do more or less what they like.
The God of Death
Zurvan, as finite Time and Fate, is neither good nor evil: he is 'dyed' with both. Being the embodied universe he is the locus of good and evil, just as man's body is the locus of sin as well as of virtue. As a deity, rather than as an abstract concept, Zurvan, being also fate, is primarily thought of as the god of death, and as such he is:
'mightier than both creations -the creation of Ohrmazd and that of the Destructive Spirit. Time understands action and other. Time understands more than those who understand. Time is better informed than the well-informed; for through Time must the decision be made. By Time are houses overturned -doom is through Time -and things graven shattered. From him to single mortal man escapes, not though he fly above, not though he dig a pit below and settle therein, not though he hide beneath a well of cold waters.'
Time is synonymous with death; and even in the Avesta the paths of Time are the paths the soul must traverse on its way from death to the Judgement.
The inevitability of death and man's helplessness before it is a constant undercurrent of much that is greatest in Persian poetry, and this thoroughly pessimistic and almost morbid strand in the Persian national tradition must ultimately go back to that Zurvanite fatalism over which Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, gained his all too ephermal victory. Typical of this dreary preoccupation with a banal subject is this: 'As to him whose eye Time has sewn up, his back is seized upon and will never rise again; pain comes upon his heart so that it beats no more; his hand is broken so that it grows no more; and his foot is broken so that it walks no more. The stars come upon him, and he goes not out another time; fate comes upon him and he cannot drive it off.'
The God of the Resurrection
Death is the lot of all men, and in this respect the fate of the macrocosm is no different from that of the microcosm. The world is born, grows old, and dies; but the death of the world is only the prelude to its transfiguration at the Frashkart, the 'Making Excellent' of existence when finite Time rejoins the Infinite, and when the Final Body, which is the material creation renewed, sets in. Zurvanism, so long as it remains within its Zoroastrian context, is no more pessimistic than is orthodoxy, for Zurvan is not only Zaroqar, 'he who brings old age', but also Frashoqar, 'he who brings about the Frashkart' itself. The 'fatalists', then, against whom Aturpat strove, were not the same as the 'classical' Zurvanites who saw in Zurvan the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman.
The Fatalism of Firdausi's Epic
Firdausi, in his great epic, has little to tell us about Zoroastrianism proper. His whole poem, however, is pervaded with an atmosphere of fatalistic gloom which he may well have inherited from the 'fatalists' of the Sassanian period. These may either have been genuine Zoroastrians who merely extended the sphere of fate from man's purely material lot to his moral action, men like the author of the Menok i Khrat whose pessimism we have had occasion to note above; or they may have been, like the Zandiks or Dahris, men who derived all things from Infinite Time and who took no cognizance of either Ohrmazd or Ahriman. That such a sect existed can be inferred from a passage in Firdausi which contains what looks very like a Magian catechism. Zal, the father of the great Iranian hero Rustam, is summoned by the king to appear before the Magian hierarchy, and he is required to answer a whole series of riddles: he is being submitted to an examination in religious knowledge. The first question they put to him is this: 'what are those twelve noble cypresses which grow majestic and luxuriant and each one shoots forth thirty boughs which neither wax nor wane?'
These, Zal replies, are twelve new moons that occur in every year, and their branches are the days of the month, for 'such is the revolution of Time'.
The second Magus now puts his question: 'Two horses, precious and fleet of foot, are galloping, the one [black] as a lake of pitch and the other lustrous as white crystal. On they hasten, but never do they catch each other up.' 'Both,' says Zal, 'the white and the black are Time, and they are hot on each other's heels. These are night and day, ever passing on, which count every moment of the heavenly sphere above us. They do not catch each other up as they gallop on, running like the quarry before the hounds.'
Next he is questioned about 'those thirty horsemen passing in review before the king -one was lost; but if thou lookest aright all thirty are back again when thou dost number them.' These, Zal sees, must again represent the numbering of the new moons, and the one that appears to be missing is the day on which the moon wholly disappears. Next comes a question concerning a 'meadow full of greenery and streams. A man with a great sharp scythe strides insolently towards the meadow. Moist and dry he mows down, and if thou make supplication he will not hear thee.' Zal has no difficulty in finding the answer to this one, for:
'this is the woodcutter Time, and we are like the grass. All one to him are grandson and grandsire, he takes account of neither old nor young. He hunts whatever prey comes his way. Such is the nature and composition of the world that saves for death no mother bore a son. We enter in at one door and pass out of another: Time counts our every breath.'
Next he is again questioned about 'two lofty cypresses [shaken] like reeds in a stormy sea. On these a bird has made its home: at dusk it perches on the one, at dawn on the other. When it flies from the one, its foliage withers, and when it alights on the other, it gives out a scent of musk. Of these two one is ever fresh, but the leaves and fruit of the other are all withered up.'
These, Zal sees, are the 'two arms of the lofty sphere through which we rejoice and through which we are grieved.... The flying bird is the sun from which the world has hope and of which it is afraid'.
The last question has a more sombre note:
'In a mountainous country I came upon a massive fortress. Wise men left that citadel and settled on the plain in a thorny place. They built buildings reaching high up to the moon: some became menials, others men of high estate. Suddenly an earthquake arose and all their lands and habitations clean disappeared. Necessity brought them [back] to the citadel and brought them long forebodings. These words hide a mystery. Seek, and speak up plainly before the lords.'
Zal is not confounded and answers:
'The citadel in a mountainous country is the House of Eternity and the Place of Reckoning. The thorny place is this transitory abode which is at once pleasure and treasure and grief and pain. It counts the breath you breathe; it gives increase and carries it away. Wind and earthquake arise and bring grief and lamentation on the world. [The fruits of] all our toiling must be left behind in this thorny place and we must pass on to the citadel. Another will taste of [the fruit of] our toil, but he [again] must leave them and pass on. So has it ever been from the beginning, so it is, and so will it ever be. If our provision is a fair repute, our soul will be honoured on the other side; but if we practise wantonness (az) and twist and turn, [all] will become manifest when we pass beyond life. Though our palace outstrip Saturn, nothing but a winding-sheet will be our portion. When brick and earth are heaped upon us, then will there be every reason for fear and care and anguish.'
The whole tone of this passage is totally unlike anything we have yet come across in Zoroastrianism. The buoyant optimism of that religion has given way to the total scepticism of despair, yet the terminology used shows that Firdausi is drawing on a genuine Iranian tradition. The House of Eternity (saray-i dirang) is plainly the realm of Infinite Time whose essence is 'eternal duration (drang) undivided into past and future'. Similarly the 'two arms of the lofty sphere through which we rejoice and through which we are grieved' correspond to that same sphere which is the body of Zurvan and which contains both the Signs of the Zodiac -the source of well-being- and the planets -the oppressors of man- the good sphere 'which gives [good things] in abundance', and the evil sphere 'which gives them sparingly'. Further, the two horses, the black and the white, which are night and day, remind us of the light and the darkness from which, according to Eudemus of Rhodes, the twin Spirits proceeded and which were themselves the first emanation of the ultimate Unity called alternatively 'Time' or 'Space'.
Again, the preoccupation with the days, the months, and the years displayed by Firdausi's Magi takes us right back to the Avesta with its curious veneration of the divisions of time. Firdausi, then, is drawing on genuine Iranian material, but he suppresses the Zoroastrian message of hope which proclaims that though this world is transitory and subject to decay and though its balance has been upset by the disorderly motion brought into it by Ahriman and the demons, this will in the end all be made right; the whole will be redeemed and 'made excellent' in eternity. Of this there is no hint in Firdausi. The House of Eternity is the kind of place you leave to try your fortune in a world you know to be full of thorns, and it is the kind of place that only an earthquake will make you return to and then only with 'long foreboding'. It is implied that virtue will be rewarded and wantonness exposed, but there is no hint of what the reward will be. The House of Eternity is devoid of joy; it is a 'massive fortress' more like a beleaguered city than the traditional 'garden' of paradise. It is the very symbol of hopelessness. Such may well have been the gloomy vision not only of the fatalists but of the Zandiks too, who believed in neither heaven nor hell, God nor the Devil, but only in an impersonal and inscrutable Infinite Time from which a senseless and uncomprehending world proceeds and into which it is reabsorbed.
Zurvanism, then, would seem to have sheltered two quite distinct aberrations within its fold, the one equating the female principle with evil, the other assigning all power to fate and thereby making all action and all resolve futile. Fatalism was perhaps the gravest threat against which Zoroastrianism had to fight, for it sought to undermine the rock of the unfettered freedom of the human will on which the Iranian Prophet's religion was founded. It is now time to consider what the orthodox had to say on this thorny question of fate and free will.
The Orthodox Attitude to Fate
Fatalism in its extreme form, of which the passage we have just cited from Firdausi is a good example, probably entered into Zoroastrianism from Babylonian astrology. It was challenged and overcome by Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, during the reign of Shapur II. His views on this subject may then be taken as authoritative.
'It is said that Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, divided the things of this world into twenty-five parts: five [he assigned] to fate, five to [human] action, five to nature, five to character, and five to heredity. Life, wife, children, sovereignty, and property are chiefly through fate. Salvation and damnation, and the qualities that make a [good] priest, warrior, or husbandman are chiefly through action. Eating, walking, going in to one's wife, sleeping, and satisfying the needs of nature are chiefly through nature. Worthiness, friendship, goodness, generosity, and rectitude are chiefly through character. Intelligence, understanding, body, stature, and appearance are chiefly through heredity.'
Thus the operation of fate is restricted to a bare minimum; it contrls only the material side of life, your family life, the social position you occupy, and your income. The major virtues are 'through character', and that means, presumably, that there are natural tendencies towards virtue and its opposite in each man, and that his natural endowment of virtue is therefore variable. This will mean that the quest for salvation will be easier for some than it is for others, and that men, in this respect, are not born equal. Yet the chance of salvation is there for all to take, and no man is damned through anyone's fault but his own. Salvation and damnation result from our actions and the free will that initiates them. The semi-Zurvanite Menok i Khrat, as we have seen, had allotted to fate a sinister power to change a man's character; it could make the wise foolish, the brave cowardly, and the energetic sluggish; but this is untypical, for we read elsewhere that 'sloth is to be attributed to action, not to fate'; and even the Menok i Khrat nowhere suggests that the future destiny of the soul can be conditioned by fate. True, one man's material lot on earth may be very different from another's, and this may affect his conduct, but in the long run this cannot influence his final spiritual state.
'In his kindly care for his creatures Ohrmazd the Lord distributes all good things to good and bad alike; but when they do not arrive equally, it is due to the violence of Ahriman and the demons and to the theft of them by the seven planets. The soul in the spiritual world is made to receive its deserts in accordance with its deeds because each man is damned [only] on account of the deeds which he himself has done.'
Fate and effort on man's part each had its proper part to play in the general scheme of things. Contentment with one's lot is a cardinal Zoroastrian virtue, but being content with one's lot is very different from attributing one's moral shortcomings to a blind and pitiless fate as Firdausi so often does in his epic. As so often, Zoroastrian orthodoxy comes down on the side of sanity. Misfortune must be cheerfully borne as a temporary affliction inflicted by the demons; it cannot last for ever because the demons who are the authors of it are themselves doomed to destruction.
What is fated, is fated in the beginning, and cannot normally be changed. Even so the powers of good can initiate special dispensations in favour of the just, but only on a spiritual, not on a material plane 'because the accursed Ahriman makes this a pretext to rob the good and worthy of wealth and all other material prosperity through the power of the seven planets, and to bestow it chiefly on the evil and unworthy'.
This is in the nature of things in this world so long as it exists in a mixed state, and human action is powerless to ward off the blows of fortune, but efforts exerted in a good cause bear their fruit in the next world. 'One cannot appropriate by effort such good things as have not been fated; but such as have been fated always come when an effort is made. But effort, if it is not favoured by Time, is fruitless on earth, but later, in the spiritual world, it comes to our aid and increases in the balance.'
Misfortune, then, though initiated by the malice of the seven planets, indirectly stimulates man to further effort, or at least it should do so, for 'fate and action are like body and vital spirit. The body without the vital spirit is a useless care case, and the vital spirit without the body is an impalpable wind. But when they are fused together, they are powerful and exceedingly beneficial.'
Man's Response to Fate
The right attitude towards fate and human endeavour is even better formulated in the so-called Epistle of Tansar which was probably written in the reign of Khusraw I.
'Know for certain that whoso neglects to make efforts and puts his trust in fate and destiny, makes himself contemptible, and whosoever continually exerts himself and makes efforts but denies fate and destiny, is a fool and puffed up with pride. The wise man must find the mean between effort and fate, and not be content with [only] one of them. Fate and effort are like two bales of a traveller's baggage on the back of a mule. If one of them is heavier and the other lighter, the load will fall to the ground, and the back of the mule will be broken, and the traveller will suffer embarrassment, and will not reach his destination. But if both bales are equal, the traveller will not need to worry, the mule will be comfortable, and both will arrive at their destination.'
Orthodoxy, then, does not deny fate but restricts the field over which it has control. It cannot affect man's ultimate destiny nor can it cheat him of his salvation; it is rather a testing of a man's character, and the right attitude towards it is one of philosophic acceptance. The manner of this acceptance is again referred to by Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, in a saying that was reputedly among his last words. He bids his hearers to be contented in adversity and patient in disaster. They should not put their trust in the life of this world, but rather in good works, for 'the good man's works are his advocate and an evil man's [works] are his accuser'. Moreover, there are six good reasons for accepting misfortune with a good grace.
'There is no misfortune that has befallen me, Aturpat, son of Mahraspand, from which I have [not] derived six kinds of comfort. First, when a misfortune [befall me], I was thankful that it was no worse. Secondly, when a misfortune fell not upon my soul but upon my body, [I was thankful,] for it seemed to me better that it should befall the body rather than the soul. Thirdly, [I was thankful] that of all the misfortunes that are due to me one [at least] had passed. Fourthly, I was thankful that I was so good a man that the accursed and damnable Ahriman and the demons should bring misfortune on my body on account of my goodness. Fifthly, [I was thankful] that since whoever commits an evil deed will be made to suffer for it either in his own person or in that of his children, it was I myself who paid the price, not my children. Sixthly, I was thankful that since all the harm that the accursed Ahriman and his demons can do to the creatures of Ohrmazd is limited, any misfortune that befalls me will be a loss to his treasury, and he will not be able to inflict it a second time on some other good man.'
In this saying of Aturpat's we meet with a principle that seems to be held in common by both orthodoxy and 'classical' Zurvanism, namely, that the evil that Ahriman does must ultimately turn out to the advantage of Ohrmazd and his creation. And just as in this passage Ahriman is the ultimate loser, so too, in the Zurvanite account of woman's defection from Ohrmazd to Ahriman, the net result is good, for she is definitely subjected to man and an unfailing supply of male progeny is assured. In both wings of Zoroastrianism, despite the occasional insights the Zurvanites ascribed to him, Ahriman is in the long run defeated by his own stupidity.
The reformed Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian period was the result of a conscious attempt of the secular and religious authorities to find a religion that was at once national and rational and which would be able to weld the Iranian nation into a unity. This unity was constantly threatened by the recrudescence of Zurvanism in one of its three forms. It would, however, be wrong to suppose that reformed Zoroastrianism was entirely a matter of political expediency, for at the time when the Sassanians ousted the Arsacids as the ruling house of Iran, Zoroastrianism was still a living faith. It is true that it had been dealt a shattering blow by Alexander and that its organization had been disrupted, but there must have remained a substantial remnant that had preserved the basic teachings of Zoroaster. This remnant called itself the Poryutkeshan, 'followers of the ancient faith', and the Zurvanites in their various forms must therefore have been regarded as innovators.
Orthodoxy's Reaction to the Three Types of Zurvanism
We have attempted to distinguish between three distinct sects which considered Time to be the source of all things -the Zurvanite materialists or Zandiks, the fatalists, and the 'classical' Zurvanites who elevated Zurvan to a supreme ontological position as being the father of Ohrmazd and Ahriman. It should not, however, be supposed that the three sects did not overlap. Even so, classical Zurvanism must be distinguished from Zurvanite materialism in that it not only admits the existence of Ohrmazd and Ahriman, but also lays very nearly as much stress on the duality of good and evil as does orthodoxy; and in this it remains true to the spirit of the Prophet's teaching and to his whole attitude to religion. Zurvanite materialism, on the other hand, which almost certainly derived from India or Greece, jettisoned everything that had for centuries been characteristic of Zoroastrianism -free will, rewards and punishments, heaven and hell, Ohrmazd and Ahriman themselves. It was thoroughly un-Zoroastrian in that it no longer thought in ethical terms; it was quite literally the dialectical materialism of its day. Fatalism was its natural offshoot; but whereas an unethical materialism was never likely to find acceptance within the Zoroastrian fold -although there is at least one passage in the Denkart which seems to be purely materialist -fatalism could be combined either with classical Zurvanism or with orthodoxy. From the point of view of orthodoxy, then, it was a more subtle poison; for whereas the question of whether God and the Devil were independent substances or had proceeded from the womb of a morally neutral Time might be a most serious theological issue, it need not necessarily run counter to the essential Zoroastrian dogmas of free will, rewards and punishments and so on. By identifying Time with fate, however, and making all human and divine activity dependent on it, the fatalists divested not only Ahriman but also Ohrmazd of all effective power. In Zal's reply to the Magi, which is nothing if not fatalist, there is a faint reference to rewards and punishments, but that is all that survives of the old religion. Otherwise Time, both in the 'House of Eternity' and in this 'transitory abode', is in complete and awful control of the human situation. This kind of fatalism and Zoroastrian orthodoxy stand poles apart: the assumptions from which they start are totally different. So it was that Zurvanite materialism and fatalism were both officially condemned. Classical Zurvanism was in a different case. The myth of the genesis of Ohrmazd and Ahriman from Time could be incorporated into orthodoxy in philosophical if not in mythological terms. This done, there remained very little of real importance that separated the two parties. Even the question of the origin and nature of women does not seem to have stirred up any partisan feeling, for the myth of the Primal Whore occurs both in a Zurvanite context and in the Pahlavi books. The only difference is that whereas in the Zurvanite account it is woman as such who deserts Ohrmazd for Ahriman, in the Bundahishn she is disguished as the 'whore'. Moreover, once mentioned she is promptly forgotten; and the human race is represented as arising not from her union with the Righteous Man, but from the emission of the latter's seed into Mother Earth out of which he had himself been formed. From the earth, too, the first human couple would also arise who, through their offspring, would carry Ohrmazd's fight against Ahriman and the Lie to a victorious conclusion.