by Revilo P. Oliver
Professor of the Classics, Retired; University of Illinois, Urbana
ZOROASTER’S RELIGION, often called Mazdaism, is the greatest religion ever created by one man. It is the religion that had the greatest influence on our race, although most of that influence was exerted through its derivatives. And its invention was one of the crucial events in the history of the world.
It does not greatly matter whether Zoroaster was deranged and suffered from continual hallucinations or consciously manufactured his doctrine for some altruistic or egotistic purpose of his own. He so altered the subsequent course of civilization on this planet that we become dazed when we try to conjecture what we would be today, had Zoroastrianism never been invented. We cannot name another man whose effect on human history was as profound and as permanent as Zoroaster’s. And it would be a mere quibble to argue that if he had not lived, some other revolutionary would have done as much.
Zoroastrianism was a spiritual catastrophe. It was the archetype of all the "universal religions," of which only Toynbee seems to have perceived the crucial importance as forces that constrict and deform a people’s native culture and mentality. Toynbee, however, did not see, or thought it expedient not to notice, how lethal are religions that induce delusions about "all mankind" and propagate the idiotic notion that "all men are created equal." Zoroaster’s doctrine of Salvation introduced some very peculiar and epochal superstitions that have been profoundly deleterious to all the races influenced by them, perhaps including even the Jews, although they profited most by exploiting them.
Zoroaster created a supreme god of good, whom he called Ahura Mazda, and a supreme god of evil, whom he called Angra Mainyu.1 In the beginning, only these two great gods existed,2 but they were antagonists from the first, each striving to his utmost to destroy the other and all of the other’s works. Each created for himself subordinate generals and legions of supernatural troops to fight for him in the Cosmic War. Either of the two gods would be omnipotent if the other were conquered; and they and their vast armies are now locked in a desperate struggle for supremacy and mastery of the whole universe, a perpetual war between pure Good and pure Evil. Since it posits the existence of two great and hostile gods, neither of whom can now overcome the other, Zoroastrianism is obviously a ditheism, a religious dualism. And so, of course, is the Christian rifacimento of it. It must be remembered that the word ‘monotheism’ is a neologism formed from Greek roots and introduced into English around the middle of the Seventeenth Century; and it can mean only one thing: belief in the existence of only one supreme god. Such a god, by definition, must have a power that is not limited by the power of any other supernatural being. Now it is true that during the past three centuries an increasing number of Christian theologians have wanted to make their religion a monotheism, but they can do this only by junking their Bible, and that would leave them without any basis for a belief in the existence of Jesus & Co. Their "New Testament" explicitly states that Satan is the mighty "prince of this world" and had such power that he was able to kidnap one-third of their God, carry him off to a mountain top, and there offer him wealth and dominion that Jesus was obviously unable to obtain for himself; and the gospels in the collection are full of stories about activities of Satan and his lieutenants that God was obviously unable to prevent. It is clear, therefore, that the Christian god’s power is limited by the power of a rival god, who is as strong and sometimes even stronger than he, and that the earth must be regarded as a kind of No Man’s Land between two opposing armies. That is precisely the Zoroastrian doctrine.
Some Christians try to twist their way out of the dilemma by claiming that their god is the only one that True Believers should worship, but that is simply monolatry, a phenomenon which, as we have already said, appears in many polytheistic religions. Another favorite evasion is resort to the Zoroastrian prediction that the good god will at some time in the future conquer the bad god, but that ploy will not work in talking about the present: If there is a war going on, it is necessarily a combat between two opposing forces, and it would be lunacy to pretend that there is only one force, and therefore no war, because one will in the end be victorious over the other. Modern theologians cannot improve on the old sophistry that Satan is not a god, although a god is, by definition, a powerful supernatural being, and Satan’s right to that title is obvious from almost every page of the Christians’ holy book. This device is one of the most ingenious tricks of early Christian propaganda.
In all of our languages, the word ‘god’ (qeÐj, deus, goð) is a common noun designating a class of beings, specifically powerful supernatural beings, just as ‘woman’ is a common noun designating a class of human beings, and the individuals in a class must be identified by a personal name, such as Zeus or Helen. Now the early Christians took to calling their god deus (we can distinguish by writing Deus, but, of course, that use of capital letters is a modern innovation, unknown in Antiquity), and by baptizing their god God they could claim that all other supernatural powers were non-gods, just as you could baptize your daughter Woman and thus claim that all other females are non-women. A very few among the early Christians, especially Lactantius (Institutiones, II.9.13) 3 were honest enough to call Satan an antitheus,3 but the purloining of the common noun deus was commonly covered by imitating Zoroaster and inverting the meaning of another common noun, daemon, which designated a larger class of supernatural beings that included not only gods but less powerful spirits. The Christians called all the other gods (in whose existence, of course, orthodox Christians must firmly believe) daemones, which was strictly correct, but then they claimed that all daemones were the subordinates of Satan, just as Zoroaster had audaciously claimed that all of the devas were the subordinates of his Angra Mainyu. Thus did Christians create the word ‘demon’ in its current sense of ‘devil.’ Their propaganda was certainly adroit, and we must give them credit for having improved a little on Zoroaster. But the verbal trick should impose on no one.
So much had to be said at this point to make it clear that both Zoroastrianism and its late derivative, Christianity, are equally ditheisms – and that if, by some sophistry, the term ‘monotheism’ is to be perverted and applied to one, the other has an equal title to it. Both posit the existence of only two great gods, each of whom is supreme in his own territory and neither of whom can now overcome the other. And this has the strange consequence that although the good god (Ahura Mazda, Yahweh) had the power to create the whole universe and is now supported by angelic legions commanded by his trusty and doughty, archangels, and the evil god can marshal legions of mighty and valiant devils, including all the gods previously worshipped by men, both antagonists need to recruit reinforcements from the puny race of mortals and strive to enlist every one of the weaklings they can persuade.4 The cosmic conflict between the two gods and their supernatural and human armies is now a desperate one, waged with all their resources and causing infinite devastation and suffering on earth, although, bizarrely enough, the result is a foregone conclusion and everyone knows that the good god will triumph in the end and spend eternity in joyously tormenting his defeated adversary and all of the fallen monarch’s wickedly loyal and luckless followers.
One can only marvel that so preposterous a fiction could have imposed on Aryan minds. It is not only illogical, but one of its basic premises is alien to our racial mentality. The Aryans’ gods are never evil. They may, of course, punish mortals who have insolently offended them, and they may act, as do all the forces of nature, with complete disregard of the convenience or safety of individuals or nations, but they are never malevolent. Pan (the model for Satan in Christian iconography) does indeed excite panics, but every man who has found himself utterly alone in a desert, pathless mountains, or a great forest has experienced the god’s power. You and I know, of course, that the reaction of our nerves, the subconscious fear of helplessness that it requires an effort of reason to overcome, is atavistic and represents a flaw that lies deep in the human psyche, but it can be thought of as some power that abides in the place, a numen that is hostile in the sense in which other great forces of nature, such as a hurricane or an angry ocean (note the pathetic fallacy), are hostile because they reck nothing of us; but they are not malevolent, they do not have a conscious purpose to destroy us. The Great God Pan is the spirit of the wild, of the nature on which we can intrude only at our own peril.5 He does not really differ from, say, Poseidon or Aphrodite, gods who also have purposes that are not ours.
The Norse religion is likewise true to nature. There are beings that are hostile to gods and men in the sense that they injure and destroy, but they are essentially natural powers and without malevolence. Fenrir is not malicious: he is a celestial wolf, the counterpart of terrestrial wolves, who pursue and pull down deer because it is their nature to do so, not because they wish to inflict pain on their victims. Nigg gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasill as cut-worms destroy plants by feeding on their roots. The relation between the Norse gods and the Giants is a general hostility moderated by visits and occasional alliances that seem odd and even perplexing to modern readers until they understand that a Jötunn is not a devil in the Christian sense but a supernatural being of a race that is fundamentally incompatible with the race of the Esir and Vannir. The relationship is analogous to that between the aborigines and our race when we invaded North America: the two races were necessarily enemies and each had to try to destroy the other, but in the meantime, some individuals of different race could meet and associate on terms of neutrality or temporary friendship.
Loki often appears evil to minds that have been imbued with Christian notions, and even scholars, who should know better, try to decide whether he is a ‘good’ god or an ‘evil’ one. The answer is that he is simply a supernatural human being. He exhibits the feckless mischievousness that is natural in children and accounts for their more vexing pranks on Guy Fawkes Day or Hallowe’en, and is often found in adults who humorously perpetrate "practical jokes" or "initiations" into "fraternal societies" that sometimes result in the unintended death of one or more victims. At the worst, he is like so many of our contemporary "intellectuals," who take a perverse pleasure in siding with our enemies, but, if put to the test, would not murder us in cold blood. Loki exists as a supernatural being like the gods, but no one worships him, because it would be folly to expect help from so irresponsible an individual. The Aryan mind instinctively rejects the notion of divine malevolence. When forced to accept the unpalatable notion by an alien religion, however, the racial mind can interpret it in terms of our feeling for the dramatic and heroic.6
And the idea does acquire some plausibility because we always imagine our gods as anthropomorphic and malevolence is an exclusively human trait. Whereas all other mammals kill only because they are hungry or have to defend themselves, and never inflict pain for the satisfaction of seeing suffering, the several species called human kill and torture for the sheer joy of inflicting death and pain and take an even more disgusting pleasure in watching others inflict agony and death, especially when the victims have offended them in some way or merely refused to listen to them, as did the persons whom Jesus wanted to have murdered where he could enjoy the spectacle of their death-agonies.7 Sadism and kindred passions are exclusively human, and when we call the more repulsive human beings, savages or the degenerates of our species, brutal and bestial, we are traducing the innumerable species of morally superior animals.
It is an identifiable characteristic of our race, which distinguishes it from all others, that while we, if we have not become effete, kill with exemplary efficiency the enemies who are a danger to us, we are averse from inflicting unnecessary suffering even on them and, what is more, if they are enemies whom we can respect in terms of our standards, even feel compassion and regret that we must slay them.8 Unlike all other races, we find the gratuitous infliction of pain on any mammal repulsive and disgusting. And when members of our race violate our racial instinct, we consider them degenerate or insane, except in the rare instances when an individual has himself suffered, in his own person or in that of persons dear to him, such enormous outrage that a frenzied passion to inflict the utmost retribution is understandable, though scarcely laudable.
Malevolence is human. That is why it is so commonly attributed to the spirits of the dead, who, in the popular superstitions of many races, are supposed to be invidious and to envy the living and therefore seek to harm them. A striking example is the Ciupipiltin of the Aztecs: the ghosts of women who died in childbirth hover about the living and strive incessantly to injure women who have been more fortunate than they and especially to cripple those women’s children. Our race is more apt to attribute malignity to the ghosts of the wicked or, sometimes, to mindless entities that lurk in the corruption of the grave.9 From this it is a small step to belief in demons – but let us always remember that, as we have already remarked, the Christian word is a typical perversion of the Classical daemon, which designated a supernatural being that was often benevolent and, at worst, uninterested in human beings who do not offend it.10 Zoroaster’s great invention was his dichotomy of the whole world, natural and supernatural, by a moral division between perfect goodness and perfect evil. Each of these fictions logically implied its antithesis, and and they may have been simply the spontaneous product of his imagination. If, however, we seek a source for the un-Aryan notion of an evil god, we may find it in the Semitic religions, of which Zoroaster is likely to have had some knowledge. As is generally known, the predominantly Semitic Babylonians11 thought themselves encompassed by swarms of maleficent demons who, inspired by an abiding malignity, ceaselessly strove to injure men by every means, from diseases to hurricanes, under the command of the Seven Evil Gods, Namtaru, Rabisu, Pazuzu, et al. These demons would destroy mankind but for the precarious protection that might be won from the more placable gods, especially Marduk, the solar deity, and his purifying agent, fire, which significantly reappears in Zoroastrianism as the power that wards off evil.
The Evil Gods hated mankind and their devices were subtle and endlessly varied. In one of the tales about Naram-Sin (grandson of Sargon of Agade), which probably grew from a germ of fact, we are told that his realm was invaded by an enormous horde of beings who had the faces, and apparently also the bodies, of ravens. The urgent question whether they were demons or mortals was settled by the discovery that they bled when wounded, but nevertheless they, zealously assisted by the Evil Gods, brought manifold disasters upon the kingdom until the god Enlil was persuaded to take some action against them that was described on a missing part of the clay tablet. Enlil was a deity taken over from the Sumerians and eventually supplanted by Marduk, the ‘Son of the Sun,’ who was thoroughly Semitized.
Although his influence on Zoroaster is more problematical, we should mention another contemporary god of evil. In the overgrown and incoherent theology of the Egyptians,13 Set (Seth) was originally a companion of the beneficent Horus, but later regarded less favorably, and after 1570 B.C. he was execrated as the very incarnation of evil and the enemy of mankind for two reasons between which the connection is not entirely clear.
(1) Osiris was the Egyptian version of the god whose death and resurrection made it possible for righteous men to attain immortality. According to an account that seems relatively early, while Osiris was on earth, he was murdered by Set, who first concealed the body and later dismembered it, scattering its various organs throughout Egypt to prevent the Resurrection, which was eventually brought about through the devotion of Isis, sister and wife of Osiris. Set was therefore the implacable enemy of the beneficent gods and consequently of mortals, and his malignant hatred was manifested, even after the Resurrection, in many ways, including, for example, an attempted homosexual rape of the divine child, son of Isis and Osiris.
(2) Egypt long suffered from a steady infiltration of Semites, a continuous trickle of covertly enemy aliens across the Sinai peninsula, who, after they became sufficiently numerous, gnawed away the foundations of Egyptian society by the usual techniques of political subversion, inflicted on the nation all the horrors of a proletarian revolution, and finally took it over, ruling it, with the aid of native traitors, from about 1780 B.C. until they were finally expelled by an Egyptian revolt in 1570BC. The Semites had a tribal god, comparable to the Jews’ Yahweh, whom they identified with Set and whose worship they tried, whenever it was not politically inexpedient, to impose on all the Egyptians. The insidious aliens were cordially hated by the Egyptians (including, no doubt, the opportunists who served the enemy as front men and collaborators), and after the expulsion of the Semites, their god, Set, was abominated as the patron of the foul race that had brought on Egypt innumerable disasters and two centuries of ill-disguised servitude.
Both of these considerations made Set an analogue of the Christian Satan, an anti-god whom the Egyptians execrated – most of the time, for we cannot expect logical consistency from their religiously muddled minds.14
It is possible, though not demonstrable, that Zoroaster was influenced by what he had heard of the Babylonian and perhaps Egyptian polytheisms when he formulated his revolutionary dualism.
***1. My account of the Zoroastrian religion conforms to what would have been found in standard reference works (e.g., the Eleventh and Twelfth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) in the first third of this century and no further comment would have been needed. Subsequent research and study has produced no fact which would call for a significant modification in the essentials (with which we are alone concerned here), but it has produced a great proliferation of theoretical reconstructions of what Zoroaster supposedly believed but never said. This has caused a great deal of confusion, and I feel obliged to consider summarily in Appendix I below the cardinal point in all such reconstructions, although I consider it too nebulous and hypothetical to be of practical (historical) value.2. Zoroaster is not sufficiently explicit in the gathas to enable us to be certain how he explained the origin of two antagonists, but his reference to them as "twins" suggests that he thought of both as existing from the very beginning of time. The alternative explanation, which is quite early, is that the Good God inadvertently created the Evil God by having a moment of doubt, i.e., stopping to think, which, as any theologian will tell you, is very bad business indeed.
3. Readers of Homer will not need to be told that the word is here used in a sense that has nothing to do with the familiar Homeric epithet. In Lactantius who died around 320, the word has come to mean ‘anti-god’, i.e. a god who is the adversary of another god or gods, as the Titans were of the Olympians in the well-known myth. Lactantius, of course, says that Satan is a pravus antitheus, but in this passage, at least, he shows him a decent respect.
4. If we use the Zoroastrianism of Artaxerxes II for comparison, the congruency will be perfect, since the good gods of the two religions will also have the support of their mighty sons (Jesus, Mithra).
5. Since verbal misunderstandings play a large part in the evolution of religious beliefs, I note that Pan is a pastoral deity whose name, of uncertain derivation (one possibility is that it comes from the Indo-European root represented by the Sanskrit verb pus ‘to nourish, to cause to grow’), has nothing whatsoever to do with another word of identical spelling and almost identical pronunciation in Greek, pan, which is the neuter of the adjective meaning ‘all,’ so that the god’s name could be, and was, misunderstood to mean ‘everything,’ i.e., the whole universe. The mistake was compounded by the tendency of pious persons enthusiastically to exaggerate the attributes and powers of a god to whom they are particularly devoted (cf. supra, p. 30). Since no one seems to have noticed it before, I recommend to students of religion a doxology that they can also enjoy as poetry, unless their canons of Latinity are so strict that they cannot appreciate the Pervigilium Veneris, which comes from about the same time. I refer to a hymn to Priapus ("pater rerum" and so identified with the universal Pan) that will be found in the Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum, XIV. 3565. The author of these genial stanzas (they are stanzas, with a refrain) is unknown; it is most unlikely that they were composed by the freedman who had them engraved on the marble base of the statue that he, at the behest of his god, commissioned and had set up at Tibur, where I was told by a local antiquary that the beautiful statue was destroyed by Christian fanatics around the end of the Eighteenth Century, a late, though not impossible, date.
6. It is instructive to compare Tolkien’s three romances. Some of the praeternatural beings we encounter in The Hobbit are noxious (Goblins, Trolls, Dragons), but that is because it is their nature to prey on us: they are like cannibals and dinosaurs, creatures that we would exterminate in any region we inhabit. That is one of the several reasons why the book is an entertaining and absorbing tale, but not one that moves us deeply. The Lord of the Rings, however, takes up the Zoroastrian idea and is dominated by the equivalent of Angra Mainyu, a mighty supernatural being who is supernaturally malevolent and exerts all of his vast powers to inflict degradation and suffering on our race and its allies; and that is one of the factors that make the book a story of high emprise and heroism that often rises to the level of epic poetry, and assure it of a place among the great literature of our race. The Silmarillion is, so to speak, a new Bible, a combination of cosmological and pseudo-historical myth that is free from the gross immorality, disgusting vulgarity, and patent absurdities of that holy book and vastly superior from every standpoint, but it inevitably fails to give a convincing account of the origin of supernatural evil and resembles a panoramic painting of the Dutch school that depends for its total effect on our observation of a large number of small figures crowded, with distracting detail, into every square inch of the large canvas. Hence the disappointment of many readers; poetic suspension of doubt has its limits and cannot approximate a religious faith.
7. Our holy men try to ignore the significant pronouncement at Luke 19.27, although it is an essential part of their creed.
8. The reader may be interested in an example from a source from which he would scarcely expect it, one which will incidentally show that although India became a multi-racial jungle, something of the Aryan mentality survived as late as the Seventh Century. Many years ago l essayed a verse version of a stanza by Mayura that is preserved in the Saduktikanamrta (I.xv.3). It is based on the story that the Asuras had three great cities, of silver, gold, and steel respectively, and made war upon the old Aryan gods. The Thirty-three Gods were unable to resist the Asuras, and so appealed to the great Trinity. In answer to their prayer, Siva, the dread and ruthless god of destruction, destroyed the three cities of the Asuras with his arrows of unquenchable fire.
I sing the god of world-destroying might,
Siva, who smote with bolts of quenchless flame
The triple city of the anti-gods:
For when he saw the molten walls decay
And fall, the thund’ring bow fell from his hands
And his immortal eyes were touched with tears.
In inner rooms the demon-women stood;
He saw the fire cut away the hems
Of their embroidered robes and lave their hair.
He saw the flame upon their bodiced gowns
He saw its fingers stroke their girdled loins
And pluck the silver apples of their breasts.
Siva felt compassionate admiration for the noble enemies whom he had to destroy. That is what it means to be an Aryan. When Philip of Macedon, in all the pride of his great victory, saw the men of the Hieros Lochos of Thebes, who lay dead in their ranks on the field at Chaeronea, he wept. A Jew would have spat and urinated on them.
9. In modern literatures, the ghost of a murdered man may justly seek vengeance on his murderer, but the ghosts of murderers are sometimes thought of as lamenting or expiating their crimes, and sometimes as bent on multiplying from beyond the tomb the crimes they committed while alive. There is, of course, a large Christian element in these superstitions. Literary critics have often remarked that Classical ghost stories are comparatively tame; Sherwin-White, for example, thinks that is because Graeco-Roman society did not have Mediaeval castles or isolated manor houses for ghosts to haunt, but that is to miss the point. In the Classical tales, such as the well-known ghost story told by the younger Pliny (VII.27) or the yarns collected by Lucian in his Philopseudes, the ghost clanks chains or makes terrifying gestures, but all that he wants is decent burial for his corpse or bones. What is lacking is the element of actual or potential malevolence that spices so many of our tales of the supernatural.
10. Daemon is a word of very wide meaning and also serves in Classical psychology to explain the operations of the subconscious mind, including instincts and intuition, which we ourselves do not fully understand and commonly regard as separable from conscious personality, for we generally attribute the excellence of a poet, musician, or other artist to his genius rather than to the man himself, and we do so correctly, for he usually explains his achievement as the result of inspiration rather than conscious thought; and we commonly understand and accept such explanations of peculiar conduct as "something made me do it." Every man has his genius or daemon that accounts for the intuitive and sub-rational part of his personality, which often determines his success or failure in a given undertaking or in his life as a whole. One thinks of the daemon of Socrates, for example, and I note that William G. Simpson, in his admirable book, Which Way, Western Man?, posits a virtually identical force in the human mind. I emphasize the psychological application of the word in ancient literature because I have noticed a deplorable blunder in our standard Greek-English lexicon (Liddell-Scott-Jones), in which the Greek kakodaimon is defined as "possession by an evil genius" and kakodaimonao is actually defined as "to be possessed by an evil spirit," definitions which will certainly mislead persons who have not read much Greek and may imagine some connection with Christian notions about persons "possessed of the devil," etc. Nothing could be more erroneous. There is no idea whatsoever of a malevolent spirit. A man is kakodaimon because his own character (or sometimes, chance) has made him, unfortunate; he is "cross-grained" or "a blunderer" or "unlucky," and his conduct is of the kind that we often describe by saying "he won’t listen to reason" or "he has an unattractive personality" or "his instincts are all wrong" or "he is his own worst enemy." A misunderstanding of the Greek words is a measure of the extent to which our Aryan mentality has been distorted by Semitic ideas.
11. The Babylonians were the dominant power at the time Zoroaster began to preach his gospel, and he may have been influenced by their culture and religion. Most scholars agree that the Assyrian-Babylonian demonology had no precedent in the religion of the Sumerians, from whom the Semites derived the greater part of their culture. In the time of Zoroaster, the Babylonians were predominantly Semitic, but it is a mistake to infer from their language that the population belonged entirely to that race. There was a large admixture of other races, almost certainly including descendants (perhaps more or less mongrelized) of the Cassites, who conquered Babylonia near the end of the seventeenth century B.C. and ruled it for about five centuries. The Cassites spoke an Indo-European language and seem to have been Aryans, although they, like the Mitanni, who conquered Assyria in that period, may have been a nation composed of an Aryan aristocracy and subject masses belonging to one or more other races. In Zoroaster’s time, the Jews were well established in Babylon, which they would betray to Cyrus the Great in return for rights of occupation in Palestine, to which they despatched a contingent from their wealthy colony in Babylon. It is not remarkable that most of their mythology is Babylonian in origin.
12. Naram-Sin, like his grandfather, was the hero of a cycle of tales composed many centuries after his death. This tale probably represents a folk-memory of events of which we know from Sumerian historical sources, an invasion by the Gutians, a wild and barbarous people (who may have had Armenoid features that suggested birds’ beaks), and other disasters that ended the empire of Agade soon after Naram-Sin was succeeded by his ill-fated son. There followed a period of anarchy which the Sumerian king list neatly summarizes in the words, "Who was king? Who was not king?" A Sumerian religious text informs us that the invasions and disasters fell upon Naram-Sin because his troops had looted the temple of Enlil in Nippur. In requital of that outrage, a curse was put upon Naram-Sin’s capital, Agade. The curse served as a model for the cursing attributed to Isaiah (13.19-22) in the "Old-Testament," with the difference that Agade was totally destroyed, whereas the city of Babylon (and its wealthy Jewish parasites) flourished for centuries after the futile raving in that chapter, which was probably composed as propaganda to demoralize the Babylonians at the time of the Persian invasion of their territory in 540.
13. E. A. Wallis Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, available in Dover reprint (2 vols., New.York, 1969 = 1904), is the most convenient survey of Egyptian theology, although three-quarters of a century of intensive archaeological exploration and scholarship have naturally produced many additions and corrections, of which only one is really crucial. Egypt was a union of many regions that were strung out along the Nile from its mouths to the First Cataract, and its religion was necessarily a theocracy, which was never made coherent. Our minds boggle, for example, when we discover that Horus was the brother of his father and the son of his aunt, and that he mourned at his father’s bier although he was not conceived until after his father rose from the dead. Confronted by this fatras of absurdities, Sir Wallis, who was impressed by the fact that Christians could believe a Trinitarian doctrine, which made an "only begotten son" as old as the father who begat him, tried to read a monotheistic basis into the incoherent polytheism, as though the many gods had been aspects of a single divinity. This view, set forth in his short introductory volume, Egyptian Religion (New York, 1959 = 1900), only slightly contaminated the major work I cited above. Egyptologists now emphatically reject a notion for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
14. Set was loathed as the god of all evil, but, incredible as it seems to us, he was at times simultaneously worshipped as a benefactor and shown special honor by the kings of the Nineteenth Dynasty (1320-1200), two of whom even took the name Seti (Sethos) to identify themselves as his special protégés. That is as though some kings of Christian Europe consecrated cathedrals to Judas and Satan! Racial decay probably set in fairly early in Egyptian history, but as late as the Twelfth Dynasty we find an intelligent understanding of racial differences; under the rule of the Hyksos, the country was rather thoroughly mongrelized and its religion became a chaos of confused superstitions. So far as I know, there is no evidence that would authorize a conjecture that the Setis’ worship of Set had racial implications, nor need there have been in a religion in which a goddess can become the mother of her father. Egyptian religion is a case of national schizophrenia.
THE GREAT ÜBERWERTUNG, PSYCHIC MAGIC, GOD’S HOUSE, BUDDHISM, AND TAPAS
THE GREAT ÜBERWERTUNG
He invented a perfectly good god, Ahura Mazda, whom he identified as the Creator and unique source of all moral probity; and since it is hard to imagine a hermit god, he had his god create for himself a court of divine satraps, so to speak, the six Amesa Spentas, who are simply personified abstractions. They are Volu Manah ("Good Will"), Asa Vahista ("Truth" = What is Right, both physically and morally), Xsathra Vairya ("Righteous Goverment"), Spenta Armaiti ("Piety"), Haurvatat ("Perfection" = Health of all parts), and Ameretat ("Immortality"). These celestial noblemen naturally have their retinues of angelic servants and warriors, but obviously our devotion must be to the one good god. To be saved, we must enlist in his army.
As the antithesis of his good god, Zoroaster invented a god of pure evil, Angra Mainyu, the unique author of all sin and wickedness and of all the suffering of all human beings. This implacable enemy of the good god created his legions of devils to seduce and afflict mankind, and these malignant spirits are simply all the gods of all the peoples on earth who haven’t been taught to worship Ahura Mazda. And the votaries of those gods are therefore the mortal soldiers of the immortal enemy of Righteousness.
It follows, therefore, that it is the duty of all who have been Saved by Zoroaster’s Revelation to "convert" or annihilate all the peoples of the earth who worship other gods and thus serve Angra Mainyu in his Cosmic War against the Good.
Zoroaster would doubtless have been distressed had he been able to foresee that no lieutenant of Angra Mainyu could have done a better job than he, for his Revelation brought upon mankind the calamitous epidemic of religious mania that characterizes all "revealed" religions, the anaeretic fanaticism that dares confidently to say "Gott mit uns!" The more rational polytheism of the Aryans and of other races prevented men from taking leave of their senses in that way. You could never be sure of the favor of any god or of the limits of his power. The Athenians honored Poseidon, but that did not avert the squall that spoiled their naval victory at Arginusae. Athena was doubtless pleased by her temple on the Acropolis, but she was not able to save the city that had taken her as patroness, or even her own temple, from Xerxes. And if some gods favored you, you could be sure that the enemy also had gods on his side. In the Trojan war, some of the Olympian gods favored the Greeks and some favored the Trojans, but the most that a god could do was give a little help to his favorites in a struggle that was decided by human courage and strategy and by the impersonal power of the Destiny that is greater than the gods. A polytheist might venerate his chosen gods, but he knew that he would nevertheless have to reckon with reality. But a man who has been Saved by a glorious Revelation, achieving solidarity with an omnipotent (well, almost omnipotent god), can run berserk with Righteousness.
By inverting the Aryan religion and turning its gods into demons, Zoroaster invented the arrogant zealotry that reappeared so often and so terribly in all of subsequent history. Thence came, for example, the poisonous fanaticism of the Christians, who never doubted the existence or even the power of Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Apollo, and the other gods of the Classical world, but regarded those august, handsome, and often gracious beings as foul fiends,1 who could not be slaughtered themselves, but whose beautiful temples could be defiled and destroyed, whose votaries could be terrorized or butchered while their elegant homes were profitably looted, and whose supposed patronage of the arts and sciences gave a welcome pretext for sanctifying ignorance, boorishness, and misology. And when the Christians began at last to doubt the existence of the "pagan" gods, we see an ominous fissure in the wall of their Faith.2
Zoroaster and his spiritual descendants, Jesus, Mahomet, and many less successful Saviours, made of the world a vast battleground on which Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu (under these or other names) are waging a perpetual war for dominion, over the whole world, and since the two almost omnipotent deities somehow need men to fight for them, every human being must necessarily take part in the desperate war for the world, and if he does not fight for the good god, he is serving the evil one.
It becomes the duty of every "righteous" man to preach the new gospel to all the world, as was done by Zoroaster and his disciples, but when the evil god’s troops are so perversely obdurate to rhetoric that they will not desert their commander, they must be destroyed. Zoroaster, in other words, invented the jihad, the Holy War, and his invention must be regarded as one of the greatest calamities that had fallen upon our race and even upon mankind. When the Zoroastrian cult is described by scholars who have retained the lees of Christianity in their minds, they expatiate unctuously about "spiritual values" and "lofty morality," but they never think of counting the corpses.
According to the Zoroastrian tradition – and it does not really matter whether that tradition records actual events or holds up an ideal for True Believers – when Zoroaster succeeded at last in bringing the Gospel and Salvation to a king, Vistaspa, that monarch naturally wanted to save the souls of his subjects and he piously gave them the option of being Saved or having their throats cut. Having thus consolidated the Church Militant (with the aid of his courtiers and officers, who, of course, had immediately perceived the Truth of the new religion on the "conversion" of the king, who was the fount from whom all revenues flowed), he was ready to turn his pious thoughts to the neighboring nations, and we are treated to a long chronicle of extremely sanguinary conquests, which are actually called the "Wars of Religion" in the Pahlavi annals. The wars and battles are described in considerable detail. In the first great battle, for example, Vistaspa lost 38 of his sons, 1163 noblemen, and 30,000 common soldiers, but the wicked "pagans" lost more than 100,000 men. The result is an armistice, but the war is renewed and, after many peripeties and vicissitudes, the True Faith triumphs and the righteous have learned to grant no quarter and to spare the lives of no "infidels." Glorious are the heroes who are the Sword of God and do what they can to expunge sin with blood!3
When we turn from legend to history, the monarchs of the Persian Empire were, as we have seen, pious Zoroastrians and attributed their power to the supposed benefactions of Ahura Mazda, but such religious zeal as they may have felt was more or less moderated by political prudence until we come to Xerxes. He has left us proof of his fanaticism in the inscription in which he proudly records his devastation of the Athenian Acropolis: "there was a place in which devils (daiva) were formerly worshipped. There, by the help of Ahura Mazda, I demolished that lair of the devils and I issued an edict, ‘You shall not worship devils.’ And in the very place in which devils had once been worshipped, I piously and with Righteousness worshipped Ahura Mazda."
At Salamis and Plataea the Greeks saved Europe (for a few centuries) from a spiritual pestilence.
1.Orthodox Christian doctrine is stated concisely by Augustine, De civitate Dei, IV.I: "The false gods, whom they (the ‘pagans’) once worshipped openly and even now worship secretly, are the most filthy spirits and devils, so extremely malignant and deceitful that they rejoice in whatever crimes are, whether truly or falsely, imputed to them ... so that human weakness ... may not be restrained from the perpetration of damnable deeds."2. Few have perpended the profound significance of the revival of Classical mythology in the Renaissqnce. The Humanists, who responded to the true beauty of the ancient myths and the noble literature that enshrined them, were able to claim that those gods were only lovely fictions and did not, in fact, exist. That was a drastic weakening of Christian orthodoxy, as was justly perceived by some contemporary Christian misologists, e.g., Giovanni da Sanminiato, whose uncouth Lucula noctis was first edited and published by Edmund Hunt (University of Notre Dame, 1950). Coluccio Salutati ridiculed his Latinity, which, while not so painfully barbarous as much Mediaeval stuff, was syntactically and lexically defective. In an age of reviving learning, that was enough to shut up the holy man.
3. For an attempt to extract some history from the tales, see Professor A. V. William Jackson’s Zoroaster (New York, 1901). There have been later speculations, of course, but when we go beyond the probability that there was a king of Bactria who believed Zoroaster we are lost in a fog, without a single item of historical evidence to guide us.
The Turanians were transmuted into more than Aryans. By believing Zoroaster, they enlisted in the army of the good God, and they thus became vastly superior to all the Aryans who refused Salvation at the hands of God’s salesman. They acquired a right, nay, a duty to help smite all those Aryans, whom they must regard as agents of the evil god and therefore their deadly enemies. And the Aryans who took to the new religion must accept the equally sanctified aliens as their brothers-in-arms, while the other Aryans, including perhaps those who were a man’s nearest and dearest, have become their enemies, evil beings who, if they do not yield to exhortation and harassment, must be destroyed to help make a Better World. Zoroaster could have exulted, as did Jesus much later, that he had "come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and ... a man’s foes shall be they of his own household." Religion has become a corrosive acid that dissolves all the natural bonds of society, kinship, family, social status, race, and even government, and replaces them with the factitious and unnatural bond of unanimity in superstition.
A recent writer does not greatly exaggerate when, thinking to praise Zoroastrianism, he describes it as "a universalist religion, advocating spiritual equality between all races, nations, and classes, even between man and woman ... The state was not considered to be the supreme reality... It was to constitute an atmosphere [!] wherein all individuals, irrespective of their sex, or class, or race could achieve perfection [!]."3
The Zoroastrian cult and all the cults derived from it can be summarized in one sentence. They replace race with a church. They are a deadly racial poison. They are a bubonic plague of the mind and spirit, which has sapped the vitality of our race for centuries and has now brought it to the point of death.
It is true that we have little information about the racial application of the religion in its early stages. Zoroaster tells us that he hated everyone who did not accept his "revelation," and a probably authentic tradition adds that Ahura Mazda commanded him to curse all who did not embrace the Gospel and that Zoroaster commanded that in every land persons who reject Salvation must be slain at once. Obviously, there was no thought of sparing Aryans. And on the other hand, Zoroaster rejoices over Turko-Mongolian converts and sends his missionaries into "far lands," presumably regardless of the race inhabiting them. The sense of racial integrity was not quickly destroyed, however, for when Darius boasts that he is "an Aryan of the Aryans," he is obviously speaking of race, and, no doubt, he understood in the same way the Zoroastrian dogma, which probably dates from his time, that only Aryans should rule. What is odd, however is that the only early term for the adherents of the new religion seems to have been Airyavo danghavo, which identifies them as the "Aryan people," but must include converts of other races to the "universal" religion. And there are instances in which the meaning of the noun is ambiguous before we come to the late writings in Pahlavi in which ‘Aryan’ (Eran) and ‘non-Aryan’ (Aneran) simply mean ‘Zoroastrian’ and ‘infidel.’ As I indicated in an early section of this booklet, I suspect, but cannot prove, that the Magi resorted to a verbal trick, more theologorum. The word arya means ‘noble, honorable,’ and since the people of the good god must be excellent people and superior to the wicked, they could be described as aryas, ‘respectable persons, the better folk’, even if they were not Aryan by race. The studied ambiguity would then be comparable to the verbal tricks employed by the early Christian Fathers.
Unfortunately, we do not know just how the replacement of race by church was treated theologically, or even politically, in the Persian Empire, and we must, as always, lament the destruction of virtually all of the copious writings of the Magi when Persia was conquered by the Moslems in the Seventh Century, and, of course, the earlier loss of the extensive translations of the principal Zoroastrian Scriptures and theological works into Greek, which had been made to satisfy the enlightened curiosity of Alexandrian scholars in the time of the Ptolemies and certainly did not survive the final destruction of the great library at Alexandria by mobs of ignorant and viciously misologic Christians in 389.5 We are thus reduced to surmises, but we may at least legitimately infer that the "Aryan" religion exerted a great attraction on the other races in the vast and multi-racial Persian Empire, and that the more intelligent and ambitious members of those races adopted the official religion as a means of identifying themselves with the dominant culture, much as in recent times Chinese, Hindu, and other Orientals adopted Christianity to facilitate their relations with us. On the other hand, we can assume that the Persians, who formed the ruling aristocracy and enjoyed certain privileges (e.g., exemption from most taxation) that were not extended to other Aryans, wisely favored politically a religion that provided some bond of unity between the widely different peoples under their rule and encouraged loyalty to their empire. The Persians, like the British in India, admitted natives to fairly high administrative offices in the various provinces; it would have been only reasonable for them to favor, perhaps exclusively, natives who had adopted the religion of their conquerors and thus shown a possibly sincere desire to be assimilated into their culture.
We must also take into account the moral appeal of Zoroaster’s religious confection. He had made Ahura Mazda command conduct that was of the highest social utility, and, especially in its emphasis on manly courage and speaking the truth, corresponded to the code of honor for which the Persian aristocracy was famous.6 And prudent governors, whatever their personal opinions, would naturally encourage the practice of a system of psychic magic by which the lower races could be converted to a spontaneous obedience to the laws that sustain the order and domestic peace of a civilized society. There is an obvious analogy to the belief, long cherished in the modern world, that Christianity could abate and control the racial proclivities of negroes and other savages.
The creation of equality among human beings by religious magic has another aspect, social rather than specifically racial. It obviously carries with it an implication of the "classless society" that so fascinates the votaries of the atheistic derivatives of Christianity today, exciting their Schadenfreude, which they call "social justice." This aspect of the religion must have appealed strongly to the "weak and downtrodden,"7the proletariat, the very dregs of every society. Although, as we all know, the complexity of human genetics and the vicissitudes of human fortune not infrequently produce men of talent and merit from among the poor (and likewise produce biped pests from among the wealthy), it is a simple and obvious fact that the dregs of a population naturally sink to the bottom in every orderly society, and that disaster can be the only result of the modern mania for perpetually stirring up an "open society" so that the dregs on the bottom will become the scum on the top.
It is particularly regrettable that we have no means of knowing when the egalitarian fallacy, which is certainly present in Zoroaster’s own gathas, was first logically extended to a practical application to social organization, but we may be sure, I think, that the revolutionary potential of the superstition was perceived long before our earliest record of it. Under the early Sassanids, the Mazdakites, a numerous and popular sect, preached the "social gospel," reasoning, like many Christian sects and their ostensibly secular derivatives (e.g., Marxists), that since all men have been created equal, they must be made equal in income, social status, and perquisites (e.g., access to the more desirable females). They anticipated modern "Liberals" and other communists by specifically advocating taxation as the means of making every one equal. This pious idea appealed strongly to Kavades, who found his treasury almost empty and, like modern governments, found the "underprivileged" an admirable excuse for robbing his subjects. His successor, the great Chosroës, finding himself well-established in power with a loyal army, decided that the Mazdakites were not orthodox Zoroastrians, and proved his point by having all of them hanged (he was averse from shedding blood unnecessarily), unless other methods of practical theology were more convenient. Mazdakites who escaped the extermination in 529,doubtless became discreet, for we hear no more of them, but communism was as inherent in Zoroastrianism as it is in Christianity and it reappears in the Ninth Century in the sect ("brotherhood") of the Khorrami, who flourished in old Atropatene and Media, the regions wherein Zoroastrianism was always strongest, and who represented the last stand of their religion against the Moslems, who finally suppressed them.
Like all "revealed" religions, Zoroaster’s invention blighted the minds of all who succumbed to its meretricious and vulgar attraction. It substituted faith, an emotional and irrational conviction, for intelligent observation and reason. It was a baneful deterioration from the relatively reasonable polytheisms it replaced, which did not really fetter and paralyse the brain. In the Graco-Roman world, for example, the Aryan mind perceived that the human species had to be the product of some kind of evolution. As every reader of Lucretius’s magnificent poem well knows, the basic principle that determines the survival or extinction of animal species was well known, and the evolution of civilized man from lower, less human stock was recognized, as was the determining factor, the ability and will to civilize themselves. With just a little imagination and journalistic exaggeration, one could see in a passage from a play by Moschion (probably fourth century B.C.) an adumbration of the evolution of our species from the anthropophagous Australopitheci to Greek civilization.8 Even before Democritus, intelligent men saw that the notion of a special creation of human beings by some clumsy god was nonsense, and thinking men tried to account for the existence of our peculiar form of animal life by reasoning logically from such data as were available to them, reaching, in the fifth century B.C., hypotheses more rational than anything known in Christianized Europe before the Nineteenth Century.
For the exercise of intelligence, Zoroaster’s "spiritual" confection and all the "revelations" that have been modelled on it substitute an inherently preposterous story on the supposed authority of a Big Daddy who knows everything, since he created it, and tells us, so that the poor in spirit will never have to distress themselves by trying to stimulate as much of a cerebral neo-cortex as they may have in their skulls. So we have the silly story about the twins, Masi and Masani, which is, however, more plausible than the idiotic Jewish story about Adam and his spare rib, which, incredible as it seems a priori, the Christians tried to make themselves believe and seem for centuries to have succeeded in attaining the necessary degree of imbecility. And even today we are afflicted with the chatter of pip-squeaks who, having received some technical training in colleges, have the effrontery to call themselves "scientists" and demand to peddle the mouldy old hokum in the schools as "creationism," an antidote to reason. And I sadly observe in passing that they do not have even the good taste to pick out the most reasonable creation myth of which I know: the first human beings were fashioned from clay by the divine sculptor, Prometheus, who, however, did much of his work by night, after he returned from a drinking party with the other gods on Olympus, with the result that his bleary mind and unsteady hand produced the woefully botched work that we are.9From the activity of these nuisances one can estimate the devastating effect of Zoroaster’s hallucinations or cunning on our race; "the curse remains" and "deep is its desolation."
In the sixth century B.C., Xenophanes of Colophon, whom we mentioned early in this booklet, fully understood that if men wish to improve their lot in life, they can depend only on themselves, not on supernatural beings they imagine in moments of idle fancy. And that realistic understanding of our position in the world was held by good minds so long as the Graeco-Roman world remained Aryan, disappearing only when the Roman Empire had been so polluted by the influx of Orientals and the degrading myths dear to their irrational mentalities that the great edifice of civilization inevitably crumbled down into the barbarism of the Dark Ages. The debasing and emasculating superstition concocted by Zoroaster made men dependent on remote gods or the angels and devils that were perpetually swarming about them, and such vestiges of intelligence as men retained had to be devoted to manoeuvring among the invisible and impalpable spooks or to theological logomachies about figments of the imagination.
The whole world went mad, and men wasted and ruined their lives and the lives of innumerable contemporaries in a phrenetic attempt to reserve for their suppositious ghosts a suitable abode in a dream-world, "out of space and out of time."
Civilization is more of hope and striving than of attainment, and the best that we can achieve is fragile and at the mercy of unforeseen catastrophies and, no doubt, the deplorable vagaries of our own species; it is, at best, a small clearing in an encompassing and constantly encroaching jungle; it may be that it could not long endure under any circumstances, but one thing is quite certain: it is incompatible with "revealed" religions and their howling dervishes.
1. There is an even stranger tradition (not supported by the gathas) that the very first person whom Zoroaster tried to "convert" after his conference with Ahura Mazda was not an Aryan! He was a Turanian named Urvaitadeng, a just and honorable man, who would have accepted the Gospel, had he not drawn the line at the theological doctrine of xvaetvadatha, which recommends as especially pious and meritorious sexual unions between mother and son and between brother and sister (see note 11, p. 84 supra). That idea shocked the Turko-Mongolian, so he rejected Salvation and he and his progeny were damned forever and forever. Let that be a lesson to all doubters, who let their own feeble minds interfere with obedience to the Will of God, which is a mystery beyond all human understanding!2. Miss Boyce believes that in the time of Zoroaster the Turanians (Tuirya) were one of five related tribes of the same race; that when they are described as the foes of the Aryans (Airya), the reference is not to the race but to one of the five tribes; and that the name ‘Turanian’ was transferred to the Turko-Mongolians when they displaced the Aryan tribe and occupied the territory we know they held in the time of the Persian Empire. This, which seems unlikely in itself, depends on the very early date she assigns to Zoroaster and on her claim that he had no association at all with Medes, Persians, and Magi, so that the traditions about his parentage, travels, ministry, and enlistment of the Magi are all late and baseless inventions. If that is true, we must resign ourselves to knowing nothing about Zoroaster, and it becomes likely that the gathas, which purport to record his pronouncements, are only very clever forgeries, and that the religion was concocted ab ovo by the Magi. This seems to me extremely improbable in the light of what we know about the genesis of "revealed" religions and the tenor of the gathas (cf. supra, p. 71).
3. Ruhi Afnan, op. cit., p. 30.
4. We must not exaggerate. Miscegenation long antedates Zoroaster, and the religions merely sanctified an inveterate vice and eroded an already feeble racial consciousness. Wherever our race has established itself, our men have been unable to keep their hands off the women of other races. Viking expeditions were necessarily small bands of warriors, and when they occupied territory far from home, as in the Western Hemisphere, miscegenation was inevitable, though deplorable, especially in its effect on the resulting mongrels. (Cf. supra, p. 46.) In tribal migrations, such as that of the Aryans into India, there was no valid reason for such feckless indulgence in lust, which can be excused only by their ignorance of genetics. The crucial importance of racial heredity, indeed, is a recent discovery, abhorred, of course, by our enemies and by all of our people who profit from ignorance and superstition. It is true that until our race finally succumbed to the "one world" poisons and became crazed with a suicidal mania, we did try to keep our women uncontaminated and there were, from time to time, in various societies some efforts to restrict legal marriages to women of our race, leaving the males free to engender mongrel bastards who could not inherit property or citizenship. Such prudent regulations, however, were not long maintained in practice, even when they were not destroyed by the egalitarian religions, which nevertheless must be recognized as the strongest of all dysgenic forces.
5. The Christian rabble, led by an especially disgusting theologian, Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, destroyed the Serapeum, in which the central part of the great Library had always been located, and which appears to have escaped serious damage in the earlier riots and insurrections that so frequently occurred in the city, most commonly incited by the huge colony of Jews. The date for the act of atrocious vandalism is also given as 391 in some sources. After the Christians, there was probably nothing left for the Moslems to destroy when Amr took the city in 640; the famous and oft-repeated story of the Arab commander’s destruction of the Library seems to have been invented by Bar-Hebraeus, a Jew and Christian bishop, around 1270. We may especially regret the loss of the writings, whether genuine or spurious, that were probably attributed to Saena, a successor of Zoroaster who is mentioned in the Avesta and is said to have trained a hundred disciples, and of the works of the evidently eminent theologian Ostanes, who is said to have been a favorite of Xerxes and is credited with a work entitled Oktateuchos in its Greek translation. Ostanes, by the way, is cited with approbation by one of the earliest Christian writers, Minucius Felix (26.11). Next to Zoroaster, he was the most celebrated Zoroastrian sage, and the numerous references to him in the Greek and Latin writers are collected by Bidez and Cumont in Les Mages hellénisés.
6. The ethics of the old Persian nobility, and particularly their insistence on always speaking the truth, greatly impressed the Greeks – so much so that Xenophon made Cyrus the hero of his didactic novel, although he himself had narrowly escaped death at the hand of Tissaphernes, a Persian of noble ancestry and a model of treachery and perfidy. To be sure, Xenophon concludes the Cyropaedia with a chapter on the corruption and degeneracy of the Persian aristocracy in his time, when, he says, no one would trust them. Religion, as usual, seems to have done little good to their morals.
7. The phrase is taken from the modern Parsee whom I cited above, p. 77, who notes that Zoroastrianism had the same appeal as the later Christianity. He, however, confuses two quite different things, the religion’s appeal to social dregs (such as the Jewish rabble who supply the apostles, etc., in the "New Testament") and its appeal to women, who are not necessarily weak or of low social strata. He could have drawn a contrast between Zoroaster’s religion, which did give females equality (in theory, at least) and Christianity, which, in the cult that finally attained power, regarded them as inferior and potentially dangerous creatures, and some of the Fathers speak of the "imperfect animal" in terms that suggest a wish to anticipate the Moslem doctrine that women, being without souls, would not survive to plague men in Heaven (where Allah would provide much superior replacements, the houris, a happy idea that did not occur to the Fathers, who saw no use for females outside Hell). But perhaps Anatole France was right when he remarked that women were properly grateful to Christianity: it made them a sin.
8. The text may be found in Snell’s Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta and in the Oxford Book of Greek Verse; there is an English translation in Volume III of W. C. G. Guthrie’s History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge University, 1969).
9. This creation myth is in Phaedrus (IV.15 & 16); it could be original with him. Another explanation of one of Prometheus’s blunders is in a well-known Aesopic fable, No. 240 in B. E. Perry’s Aesopica (University of Illinois, 1952). Our polytheistic religions had many creation myths, of course, but everyone was sensible enough to know that they were only myths, and anyone was free to invent a new one. Incidentally, the yarn about Eve and the loquacious snake may well have been suggested by a common motif in ancient genre-sculpture: a girl looks longingly at a delicious apple hanging on the bough of a tree about which a snake is coiled. The point of the charming composition is obvious, but a Jew would not have understood it. For one such work of sculpture, dating from the third century B.C., see the American Journal of Archaeology, XLIX (1945), pp. 430 ff.
The foregoing description, condensed and summary as it was, will have sufficed to show that the Christians today are living in Zoroaster’s old house. It has been remodelled here and there, but the fabric remains as it was built, twenty-six centuries ago.
The essentials of the newer cult are all in Zoroaster’s invention: the Good God and the Bad God; their armies of angels and devils; the contested partition of the universe between Good and Evil; the Holy War for One World of Righteousness; Heaven and Hell and even Purgatory (Misvan Gatu); and the apocalyptic vision of cosmic strife that will end only in a decisive last battle between the hosts of the Lord and the hosts of Satan, which will be followed by the Last Judgement and the end of Time, after which nothing can ever change again. All human beings sprang from a divinely-created original pair, whose descendants, equal in ancestry are made equal by Faith in the Good God, who fathered and sent into the world a Virgin-born Saviour to reveal his will to mortals, whose sins and merits are accurately recorded by the celestial bookkeeping system in preparation for the Last Judgement, when, incredible as it seems, they will be resurrected, so that, so to speak, they can enjoy the life everlasting in their own persons. The Zoroastrians, by the way, explain that when the time comes, Ahura Mazda’s zealous agents will find and reassemble every particle of the man’s flesh, which was eaten and digested by birds of prey centuries or millennia before; Christians attempt no explanation, but in most churches they still recite the Apostles’ Creed (forged at the end of the Fourth Century and subsequently revised), affirming that they believe in "the Resurrection of the Flesh," but they probably never think of what they are saying.
We could add numerous details of Christian doctrine that were devised by the Magi in the various Zoroastrian sects: confession of sins (paitita), penance and absolution (barasnom), ceremonial Last Suppers of bread and wine, observance of the twenty-fifth of December as a divine birthday, and many others, including even terminology, such as use of the title ‘Father’ to designate a priest.1
Zoroastrianism and Christianity, however, are not identical, with only a change of names and a few minor details. The remodelling has introduced two really striking differences. When Zoroaster emerged from the Virgin’s womb, he laughed to signify that life is good and should be enjoyed, and although the Magi, with the normal concern of holy men for their professional emoluments, devised all sorts of sacraments, rites, ceremonies, and religious obligations to keep their customers at work for them, the religion never lost a decent respect for human nature. The first woman had been the twin sister of the first man, and no Zoroastrian ever thought of a woman as an "imperfect animal" with an insatiable lust for sexual intercourse, "an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors.’2 No Zoroastrian ever had the Christians’ morbid obsession with sex or thought he or she would conciliate a ferocious god by thwarting and perverting their own nature and natural instincts or, for that matter, by inflicting discomfort and pain on themselves in an orgy of masochism. No Zoroastrian ever thought that it would be holy to stop the reproduction of our species and leave the world uninhabited. No Zoroastrian was ever infected with the insanity that, for example, made Jerome run out into a desert so that he wouldn’t see any of the "evils of nature," and made Origen castrate himself to appease a god’s hatred of mankind. No Zoroastrian’s mind was ever haunted and distracted by an incubus of imaginary guilt, an Original Sin inherited from a man and woman who had discovered that their creator had equipped them with sexual organs he forbade them to use.3 No Zoroastrian intelligence was ever so perverted that he felt guilty for living, maddened by morbid obsessions that are sexual in origin, but, by an even fouler perversion, may be diverted into a maudlin guilt because he does not share the squalor of the lowest strata of society or does not sufficiently degrade himself to satisfy the enemies of his race and of his own progeny.
Equally startling is the Christian remodelling of the Good God. Ahura Mazda is a strictly just, honest, and impartial deity: he has ordained certain rules of righteousness for all mankind, and his servants keep a strict account of each individuals obedience or disobedience. Yahweh, on the other hand, is a god who early conceived an inexplicable partiality for a miserable tribe of swindlers and robbers, who pleased him by observing strange taboos, sexually mutilating their male children, and defecating and urinating in the ways he likes to watch. Having created the world, he spent the greater part of its existence in abetting his barbarous pets as they preyed on more civilized people, and he was their confederate as they swindled and robbed their victims or stole a country they wanted by massacring all the men, women, and children, and even their domestic animals. He even tampered with the minds of kings so that he would have an excuse for inflicting on their subjects every sadistic torture he could devise for the delectation of his favorites. And having been the accomplice of the world’s parasites for centuries, he unaccountably changed his mind and sent them his only begotten son so that they would kill him and thus give him an excuse for breaking his bargain with them. It is no wonder that Christians so constantly talk of their "fear of God" who wouldn’t fear a deity so capricious, ruthless, and unscrupulous?
No unprejudiced observer could fail to conclude that Zoroastrianism was not changed for the better when it was remodelled by its new owners.
It remains for us to account for the spiritual deterioration in the subsequent chapters of this booklet.
A judicious reader may inquire why the Zoroastrian religion, if so markedly superior to its successor, so declined that it now engages the faith of only a small colony of about 120,000 Parsees whose ancestors found in India a refuge from Islam. That is one of the historical questions that can be answered without qualification or uncertainty. The primary cause is obvious: in heaven, as on earth, nothing succeeds like success, and failure is the cause of failure.
Although Zoroaster’s invention was a "universal" religion and sent out missionaries to preach its gospel to all the world, it became the official religion of the vast and mighty Persian Empire and Ahura Mazda’s fate became inextricably entwined with the fate of the Persian King of Kings. Had Xerxes’ huge navy and army been victorious at Salamis and Plataea, the True Faith would have followed the Persian warriors over Europe, much as Christianity later followed the British regiments throughout the world. It is even possible, I suppose, that we should be Zoroastrians today, worshipping a god represented by an eternal flame on the altar of each community, and pestered by "creation scientists," who would try to prove to us that Darwin was wicked to doubt that Ahura Mazda created Gayamart so that he could engender Masi and Masanl, the ancestors of all mankind. But I doubt it: gods, like men, become senescent, and even if they are immortal, if they are too busy or slothful to answer their votaries’ prayers and supplications for a few centuries, they have only themselves to blame when they are supplanted by younger and yet untried immortals.
The spectacular defeat of Xerxes must have shocked the True Believers: Ahura Mazda had failed to keep a promise made through his consecrated Magi, so there were only the painful alternatives: either holy men can be mistaken, or Angra Mainyu was more powerful than his great and good adversary had anticipated. The crisis did not come, however, until 334-330, when Alexander the Great, who worshipped the foul fiends, overran the whole Persian Empire, the Holy Land that was dedicated to the service of Ahura Mazda, who had been either unwilling or unable to defend his own righteous nation. Zoroastrianism became the religion of peasants, barbarians beyond the borders, and old fogies, who clung to the discredited god and traditions that had suddenly become obsolete.4
If Alexander had lived to turn his attention and his Macedonian phalanges to Europe, or if the Greeks,who built their cities throughout the former Persian Empire and overawed their new subjects as much by their incontestable cultural superiority as by their invincible arms, had not had our race’s fatal lack of racial consciousness and had not steadily weakened themselves by miscegenation, excessive tolerance, and interminable civil wars, it is possible, I suppose, that the irrational faith and fanaticism of a "revealed" religion would have been permanently discredited – but I doubt it. As it was, the Greek nations of Asia so declined that they, one by one, fell under the rule of virile barbarians from Scythia, the Parthians, and Ahura Mazda had another chance. Since the Romans, also afflicted with the Aryans’ folly, preferred to fight each other rather than extend their empire far into Asia, Zoroastrianism, in various more or less diluted forms, recovered its prestige, and under the Sassanids, the great Chosroës, whose theology was guaranteed by his loyal army, restored the Zoroastrian orthodoxy by forcing the Magi to codify their Scriptures and creed, while his hangmen convinced heretics of their doctrinal errors. But alas, when the hordes of Islam, virile Arabs exalted by faith in their new deity and by the rich plunder he bestowed on them, attacked Persia, Ahura Mazda remained idle and once again proved himself an empyreal roi fainéant. He had muffed his last chance to be a great god, and he had to be content thereafter with the impoverished veneration of a few incorrigibly obstinate votaries.
1. Many of these details Christianity took from the Mithraic cult, of which I give a brief account in Appendix II.2. The quotation is taken from Reverend Mr. Montague Summers’ translation of the famous Malleus maleficarum (London, 1928; Dover reprint, 1971), one of the most impressive monuments of Christian theology. There were many editions of the original in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries and a copy of one or another is likely to be found in any good library, but the Latin is even more painful than the English version.
3. The Semites’ disgusting and obsessive hatred of sex is so repugnant to healthy Aryans that even fear of the terrible god could drive them only to a grudging attempt to obey him, and many must have privately thought what the author of Aucassin et Nicolette dared say: that he would rather go to Hell with fair ladies and cultivated men than to a Heaven infested with fat monks and uncouth saints. An occasional gleam of humanity appears even in the most orthodox Scholastics. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologiae went so far as to decide sexual intercourse must have been exquisitely delightful for Adam and Eve in Eden, where she was yet uncursed with menstruation and the threat of pregnancy, and I should not be surprised if the "Angelic Doctor," who presumably looked forward bliss after his Resurrection, had not in his own mind held the heretical hope that True Believers, having been definitively Saved, could brighten up eternity by enjoying the delights of a new Eden.
4. See Appendix II below.
In an age of lost illusions, when the old beliefs of Aryan man were crumbling under the impact of more exact knowledge and rational criticism, and in an age of political frustration, when many Aryans must have felt themselves mired in the ordure of a multi-racial society, Gautama’s counsel of despair must have appealed to many thoughtful men, but it could never have charmed the masses. It had a social value that must have been recognized by many rulers and administrators, who must have been pleased to see thus checked the impudent pretenses and parasitism of the holy men, and who must have welcomed an ethical system which, by deprecating all human desires and ambitions, cancelled the motives of every form of violence and crime.
Gautama’s philosophy, perhaps inevitably, fell into the hands of votaries, whose minds were more emotional than logical; of professors, who began to quibble about details and argue about definitions and interpretations, making what had been logically simple and lucid obscure and complex; of popularizers, who in turn began to simplify and distort to gain the assent of the commonalty; and of social reformers, who recognized an avenue to influence and emoluments. Buddhism was finally ruined by its success. The great Emperor Asoka, after brilliant conquests, became a pacifist and a Buddhist around 260 B.C., and although he regarded the philosophy as an ethical doctrine, he made it the official religion, using the resources of his vast empire for works of charity, endowing schools, hospitals, monasteries, and hospices for the convenience of travellers, and erecting stupas to mark the sites made holy by some legendary association with Gautama or his early disciples. He sent out missionaries to preach the new Salvation to all the world, including, according to his inscriptions, the lands around the eastern Mediterranean, which were all ruled by Greek dynasties.
The atheistic philosophy was converted into a religion, and it is a nice irony that Asoka, before his death, had to convene a Council of Buddhist luminaries in the vain hope of reconciling doctrinal differences. Gautama was converted into a Saviour, complete, of course, with an immaculate conception and virgin birth,3 and tales of how he had resisted the temptations of an evil god, who had vainly tried to avert the salvation of mankind. What had been a philosophical principle that we must divest ourselves of all property to free ourselves from the illusion that life is worthwhile became a doctrine of salubrious poverty that spawned hordes of monks, assembled in huge monasteries, and of itinerant mendicants whom we may call friars by a valid analogy. What had been an attempt to establish truths by logic became a system of unreasoning Faith (bhakti) and the spring of orgiastic emotions. The religion was equipped with all the grotesque paraphernalia of superstition, including immortal souls, gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prayers and other magic spells, relics, and hierarchies of priests absorbed in the business of vending holiness to suckers who craved absolution from the sins they confessed – which were many, since some professionals had classified sins under 250 rubrics! And, naturally, the religion became a chaos of competing sects, each vending the only True Gospel, and collectively providing a spectrum of human folly, a wilderness in which one may find almost any variety of bizarre, belief.4 For example, although Buddhism in general admits women and has nuns as well as monks, and some of the sects even recognize a number of female Saviours, the religion, like Christianity, regards women with suspicion as potential dangers. That, however, is not true of the Tantric sects, in which some of our addle-pated contemporaries want to see "the highest expressions of Indian mysticism." These sects hold that males and females are equal, except that women are more equal than men, who must seek sanctity in gynaeolatry carried to what some may think extreme lengths. One of their gospels, the Candamaharosana, for example, informs us that "Buddhahood resides in vulva."
We may be certain that if poor Gautama had indeed had powers of prophetic foresight, he would have sworn himself to perpetual silence and kept secret the conclusions to which he had come. He cannot be blamed for the religion that was perpetrated in his name5 – much less for its pervasive influence on others.
There was a certain Aryan strength in Gautama’s cosmic negation.6 It requires fortitude to reject life and to believe that all the things that we instinctively prize and desire, such as health, bodily vigor, sexual love, beauty, culture, wealth, learning, intelligence, and even our own individuality are all empty illusions, and that the greatest good is annihilation. It requires even greater fortitude to accept that belief together with its obscure and dubious corollary, which denies us the immediate release of suicide and imposes on us the painful necessity of dragging out an existence in which we reject everything that healthy men desire and for which they live. That is to endure a death in life. Whether there is truth in that cosmic negation is a problem that each man must solve by his own powers of reason, and a problem that only men of great courage will consider at all.
The rejection of life, however, becomes a cowardly evasion when a perverse superstition enjoins it as a means of appeasing or pleasing a god whom we must believe, by an act of faith, to have promised that if we frustrate every instinct of healthy men and women, he will reward us after death with a blissful life of eternal idleness, which, by an even greater miracle, he will somehow prevent from becoming an infinity of boredom. If we abstain from sexual intercourse to avoid inflicting on others the curse of life and all its miseries, we are behaving rationally and even nobly, if the premise is correct; but if we frustrate our normal desires to please the caprice of a god who presumably endowed us with our instincts to inflict on us the pain of frustrating them to avoid being tortured by him eternally – a god, moreover, who is not even generous enough to help mankind to a speedy extinction, but wants it to reproduce itself and to preserve even its tares and monsters to provide his consecrated dervishes with plenty of business – we have become the cringing slaves of a mad master. If we declare that the manifest differences between races and between the individuals of every race become, for all practical purposes, infinitesimal in comparison with the vast futility of all human life, we are affirming a hope for the annihilation of all species of anthropoids capable of suffering or even of all species of animals that have sentient life; but if we believe that equality is enjoined by a god who so desires a mindless faith that he cherishes idiots and wants us to destroy every form of superiority except clerical wiles, we are simply contriving suicide for our race and a living hell for our descendants.
The Buddhist religion consummated the ruin of India by abrogating the caste system so long as it was dominant, but we are here concerned only with the aspects of the superstition that were contributed to Christianity.
Gautama’s philosophical argument for not reproducing our species was debased into a notion that complete celibacy and total abstention from sexual intercourse was in itself righteous and meritorious, generating the "spiritual values" that are part of all holy men’s stock in trade. His depreciation of all forms of property as representing and stimulating the will to live that must be stifled before it creates more misery was parodied in a notion that poverty was in itself a proof of spiritual superiority. The union of the two notions naturally spawned a horde of religious mendicants, whose supposed sanctity entitled them to live at the expense of their spiritual inferiors, who were so gross that they earned their own living and engendered children to support the next generation of pious beggars.
Originally, the Buddhist bhiksu was a man who, having "slain the five senses" and destroyed in himself "the illusion of individuality," divested himself of all property except a distinctive mantle of coarse cloth dyed to a dark Turkey red (kasaya, later changed to show sectarian differences), a bowl in which to collect the food he begged, and a staff, and then, having shaved all hair from his body, he began a perpetually itinerant life (pravrajya). The mendicant friars found or were given for shelter at night in huts (viharas), which, however, eventually became monasteries endowed by the pious, elaborate and wealthy establishments that provided such ease and comfort that their bhiksus forgot to continue their peregrinations and can more properly be described as monks, although Buddhism did not make the Christians’ sharp distinction between mendicant friars and cloistered monks.
Buddhism was already waning in India when Hsüan Tsang made his pilgrimage to the land in which his religion had been born, but he found 10,000 viharas in Bengal alone; some of these were, no doubt, fairly small and simple buildings, but some were huge edifices that each accommodated more than a thousand ascetics.
The Buddhist ascetic, having "slain his five senses" had to keep them dead, and for that reason he was forbidden to touch a human being, least of all a woman. In one of the finest of the Sanskrit dramas, a Buddhist friar comes upon a woman who has been strangled and left for dead. He can, of course, pour water on her and fan her to revive her, but when he assists her to arise, she must grasp a vine that he holds out to her.
While it flourished in India, Buddhism was not fanatical, and its monasticism was therefore more humane (and perhaps less corrupt) than the Christian version, for the bhiksu was never bound by irrevocable vows. I cannot forbear to mention Bhartrihari, one of the most charming (and least translatable) of the lyric poets in Sanskrit. As his verses show, he was an elegant and polished gentleman who indulged with refinement in all sensual pleasures until satiety brought a craving for tranquillity and leisure for meditation. He is said to have oscillated between the royal court and a Buddhist monastery, and finally to have become so aware of his own fickleness that when he renounced the world once more and entered a monastery, he ordered his coachman to wait outside. His conduct was doubtless thought bizarre, but it illustrates the humanity that Buddhism never lost in India. There could have been there no parallel to the tragedy of Martha Dickinson’s "Father Amatus, cloistered young." As the Buddhist institution was carried westward and imitated by Semites, it naturally acquired a savage fanaticism that was transmitted to Christianity.
Ayrans (and some other races, notably the American Indians) instinctively admired the spiritual strength and fortitude of men wh can bear intense physical pain without flinching and without yielding to the normal physical reactions. The ability stoically to endure pain always arouses admiration, but it can usually be exhibited only in some worthwhile undertaking, such as war or comparable situations, as, for example, by the justly famous and honored C. Mucius Scaevola. In post-Vedic India, however, admiration for such fortitude was distorted into the doctrine of tapas, the belief that by simply enduring pain inflicted upon himself a man automatically acquired a spiritual (i.e., supernatural) power. We should particularly note that tapas produces such power by a kind of natural law, which operates independently of the wishes of the gods and is not in any way affected by the motives of the man who practices the austerities.
The power of tapas is illustrated by the story that is exquisitely retold by Lafcadio Hearn in his Stray Leaves: Two evil princes, determined to obtain ascendancy over even the Thirty-three Gods, practice austerities on a mountain top, remaining absolutely motionless, standing on their great toes only, and keeping their eyes fixed upon the sun. After many years their self-mortification gave them such divine power that the weight of their thoughts shook the lands, as by an earthquake, and the mountain smoked with their holiness. They were thus able to destroy cities and make deserts of populous lands. (The world and the gods were saved only by the creation of Tilottama, the most beautiful of all women.)
6. It is true that the distinctively Aryan spirit is a strong affirmation of life, a determination to live to the utmost, "to live, though in pain," and to be undaunted by suffering and sorrow – to confront tragedy unafraid. It is the high code of aristocratic honor that makes Achilles choose valiant deeds and an early death, that makes the Viking hero go to his doom in this world as unflinchingly as his gods will fight their last battle in the foreordained Götterdammerung. "The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man," said Spengler. And Nietzsche summarized the Aryan code in one sentence: "To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly." For the essence of this code, so much hated by Christians, is the aristocrat’s pride in his own self-mastery and indomitable will: it makes Gunnar defiant to the end, even in the snake-pit, and appears in Byron’s Manfred: "He mastereth himself, and makes / His torture tributary to his will." Note, however, that the aristocrat’s pride is in the integrity of his own personality. If he were convinced by Gautama’s psychology, which so markedly resembles modern theories of a "labile psyche," he would refuse to be only a flux of sensations, and would be numbered among those of whom Glanvill said, "Certainly, could they have been put to their choice whether they would have come into being upon such terms, they would rather have been nothing forever." And, by the way, the state of being nothing, of being like the light of an extinguished lamp, is precisely what Gautama meant by nirvana.1. If we assume that Gautama formulated a logically coherent philosophy, such as the Aryan mentality demands, his doctrine may be reconstructed with some confidence from the Milinda-panha (which purports to be a dialogue between a Buddhist sage and Menander, the Greek King of Bactria and the Punjab, c. 140 B.C.; translated by Rhys Davids in Volumes; XXXV and XXXVI of the well-known series, "Sacred Books of the East," Oxford,1890-94) and the canonical sutras (pronouncements attributed to Gautama) that do not contradict one another. I shall try to state it as concisely as possible.The phenomenal world is a succession of empty phantasmagoria, for nothing in the universe is permanent. P¡nta ¸ei – the world is change, and the discreteness of things and events is an illusory appearance produced in the mind of the spectator. Thus causality is a fiction, for cause and effect are inseparable parts of a continuous mutation. And man himself, for all his vain pride in his own personality, is likewise a mental fiction, for he too is an unremitting mutation: omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. All life, consciousness, experience is pain; this world of ceaselessly changing phenomena is a gloomy labyrinth in whose blind mazes a trapped humanity wanders, to be devoured endlessly, again and again, by the Minotaur of suffering and death. The clue to this labyrinth is knowledge, for humanity, blinded by the evanescent and insubstantial phantasms of pleasure and hope, is the victim, not of circumstances or destiny, but of its own will-to-live, its ignorant desire for life. Since the soul is merely awareness of a flux of phenomena at a given instant, there obviously can be no reincarnation of an individual, but Buddhism assumes, although it nowhere clearly explains, that the will-to-live is an unconscious force which, as in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, may undergo a certain palingenesis and thus engender new being. Suicide, therefore, would be self-defeating, since a desire for death is simply an inversion of a desire for life, and that desire will, paradoxically, by palingenesis give rise to another flux of sensations. It follows that the highest wisdom is to destroy in mankind this dread force, the primordially blind and baleful will that produces life and all its manifold misery. And when the last member of our wretched species dies, then shall mankind cease from troubling; then shall the earth be at peace at last.
Gautama’s psychology and epistemology are certain. There is nothing in the documents that corresponds to my last sentence, which will have reminded the reader of Flammarion’s manly acceptance of an inevitable future in which a frozen and lifeless earth will still circle sluggishly in the gloaming around a dying sun. But that last sentence is surely implied by (a) Gautama’s belief that his doctrine is for all mankind and (b) his insistence on the avoidance of all sexual relations and hence, of course, of reproduction.
What Gautama meant by nirvana has been endlessly debated in India and in our time. The word obviously means what happens to the flame when a lamp is blown out. I think it simply means ‘annihilation,’ as Western scholars once agreed in taking it to mean. The religious sects claimed that it meant only the extinction of desire in our minds, and since the horrendous mass of religious texts in Pali and Sanskrit was, in large part, edited and published, many scholars – doubtless the majority – came to agree with them.
2. We do not know how fully the caste system was developed in Gautama’s time nor can we estimate how strictly it was enforced in the numerous states of India, which doubtless differed greatly among themselves, but it is certain that the Brahmins everywhere asserted their monopoly of religious rites and hence their right to live at the expense of others, as holy men always do, We should not underestimate this aspect of early Buddhism: the doctrine that all human beings were equal in the universal wretchedness of mankind had the deplorable effect of destroying such sense of racial cohesion as the Aryans had left, but that was, so to speak, the price paid for breaking the clergy’s strangle-hold on society.
3. There are a few slight variations in the standard story about virgin births. The Buddha’s mother, Maha Maya ("The Great Illusion"!), a wife who had remained a virgin until she was forty-five, was impregnated by a "reflection" cast on earth by his celestial father, and she bore the divine child by a kind of miraculous Caesarian section, for he burst through the side of her abdomen, which was then instantly healed. The precocious infant at once announced that he had come so save the world from the devils, and he took seven long steps towards each of the four cardinal points to show that he was going to save all mankind. He was an old hand at the salvation-business, for that was his five-hundredth incarnation on earth, and the Buddhists soon started scribbling jatakas as facilely as the Christians later composed tales by martyrs and other wonderments. The jatakas were the true histories of the earlier incarnations of Gautama or other Buddhas. Buddhists, however, as befits Orientals, are more patient than Christians: the final salvation of mankind will be accomplished by a Buddha who will appear, in terms of our calendar, in 5,655,524 A.D.
4. What happened, of course, was that all the superstitions spawned in a multi-racial society were imported into the new religion, with a few clever theological twists and adaptations and some additions. It would be otiose to go into the complex details. One thing is certain, that holy men believe that unemployment in their business would be very bad for society, and they always find means of averting it.
5. I cannot call to mind a volume that covers all the varieties of Buddhism and its very numerous sects, past and present, but an adequate outline of the principal tendencies in the religion may be found concisely in the English version of Maurice Percheron’s Buddha and Buddhism (London, Longmans, Greem, 1957). I have noted that his sympathy with the religion did not prevent him from admitting at one point (p.40) that Gautama’s doctrine was quite different, briar that did not bear the fragrant roses of "spiritual" superstitions.
IN MY highly condensed summary of the Zoroastrian religion, I have assumed that when Zoroaster tells us there is only one supreme god of good, he means what he says, and that when he gave to that god an unprecedented name, Ahura Mazda, he coined that name for his deity to show that his god differed from all gods previously known.
Ahura Mazda therefore, is his invention. It goes without saying that Zoroaster’s theopoeic imagination would have been influenced by what he knew of the gods in vogue in his time, and that if some of those gods had traits which suited his ethical purposes, those particular traits would reappear in the god whom he fashioned, to the exclusion, of course, of traits of which he disapproved. Very limited similarities can therefore be discovered, but Zoroaster refers to his god only by the name Ahura Mazda, and common sense tells us that he devised a new name for his god precisely because he wanted to show that his god was fundamentally different from all others.
My conclusion, however, differs substantially from what you may find in references to Zoroaster that are based on the work of some very recent scholars, who read into what Zoroaster said (so far as this can be determined from the Gathas) elements of the old Iranian religion as they have reconstructed it, largely on the basis of the Sanskrit Vedas, a few references in the Avesta, and the lucubrations of the Pahlavi theologians, of whom the earliest must be many centuries later. I feel obliged, therefore, to defend my position as briefly and perspicuously as I can.
The two major works of modern erudition are:
Marijan Molé, Culte, mythe et cosmologie dans l’Iran ancien: le problème zoroastrien et la tradition mazdéenne (Paris, 1963 = Annales du Musée Guimet, Bibliothèque d’études, t. 69). Dr. Molé is primarily concerned with the late Pahlavi writings, froix.which he quotes copiously and from which he tries to reconstruct, "à la lumière de la phénoménologie religieuse moderne," not the actual creed of Zoroaster so much as "l’image que se font les mazdéens de leur Prophète," using texts of which the earliest cannot be earlier than the Seventh Century (A.D.) This is a very learned and valuable work, but may be misleading, if one does not bear in mind how much time and how many vicissitudes of history intervened between those writings and the presumed date of our text of the Avesta, which itself includes and expounds thegathas, which are very considerably earlier and which are the only texts that can be supposed to report some approximation of what Zoroaster actually said. That the late writings in Pahlavi preserve vestiges of the early theology may be granted, but how far they are separated from Zoroaster and from the time of the Persian Empire may be judged from the fact that the name of Ahura Mazda has been corrupted to Ormazd (Ohrmazd, Ormuzd, Ormizd, etc.) while the name of Angra Mainyu has been corrupted to Ahraman/Ahriman or Enak Me¯nok.
Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I (Leiden, 1975 = Handbuch der Orientalistik, I. Abteilung, VIII. Band, I. Abschnitt, Leiferang 2, Heft 2A). The very learned lady’s work will be completed in four volumes, but only the first, which deals with the time of Zoroaster, need concern us. Her work is the most thorough treatment of the subject known to me, and forms part of what is likely to be the standard reference encyclopaedia for many decades. Some of her interpretations differ widely from those given by Dr. Molé, but fortunately these are matters of detail which we need not discuss here. The crucial questions are (1) the identity of Ahura Mazda, (2) the significance ofahura, and (3) Zoroaster’s conception of certain Indo-Iranian gods.
1. We are told, on the basis of some similarities and much theory, that Zoroaster’s god was really Varima, one of the numerous gods mentioned in the the hymns of the two early Vedas,1 and we are even given a linguistic reconstruction of what Varuna’s name would have been in Avestan, if he had ever been mentioned in the Avesta. The identification is based on two consideratuons: Varuna is one of the several gods who are given the title asura in the Vedas (a point that we shall discuss below), and some aspects of Varuna, as he is depicted in the Vedas, resemble attributes of Zoroaster’s god.
It is true that in one hymn of the Rigveda (4.42), Varuna and Indra define their respective spheres of authority, and the former represents himself as the deity of law and order, of what is morally right, and so resembles Ahura Mazda, while Indra, a god whom Zoroaster particularly reprobated and denounced by name, says that he is the patron of the aristocracy that delights in war and poetry. It must be noted, however, that the two gods appear in the hymn as friendly colleagues in the pantheon, and there is no hint of rivalry between the two, neither showing the slightest disposition to trespass on the other’s divine territory. Varuna does boast that he is the greatest of the asuras (whatever he may mean by that) and his will (i.e., law and order) is obeyed by other gods, which no more proves his supremacy than Zeus’s notoriously numerous affairs with mortal women prove that Aphrodite, who inspires the sexual desires of gods as well as of men, is supreme on Olympus, where Zeus, Poseidon, and all the other gods who indulge in erotic and amatory adventures obviously obey her will when they do so. Varuna says no more than that the gods, who have an orderly society of their own, thus accept the social principle he represents.
Some aspects of Varuna do appeal to the religiosity that was formed by Zoroastrianism and its derivatives. Moderns are apt to be unduly impressed by the "spirituality" of such hymns as Atharvaveda 4.16, in which Varuna is credited with knowing every man’s inmost thoughts and also with maintaining (unnecessarily?) an army of invisible spirits who, like Hesiod’s thirty thousand agents of Zeus, report on all the actions of men; and Rigveda 5.85, in which the worshipper begs Varuna to forgive his sins, if ever he sinned against a "loving man" (i.e., a man’s ’best’ friend, with whom he has an especially close and intimate relationship; there is no implication of homosexuality) or wronged a brother, friend, comrade, neighbor, or even stranger. Christians like to think such ideas were wonderful discoveries made by their deity many centuries later, and are usually perplexed or angry when they find that Jesus was a late-comer in the field of moral exhortation.
Very well, but let us not forget to balance such traits against others that were also attributed to Varuna. Take, for example, a hymn in the Atharvaveda (3.25) by a man who wants the gods to make a woman love him so that he can take her away from her parents and home. He very reasonably asks Kama (the god of sexual love) to inspire her with a burning desire for his embraces, but then he asks Varuna and Mitra to brainwash her, so that she can think of nothing else and will have no will of her own and thus cannot refuse to elope with him. Can we imagine a Zoroastrian’s asking Ahura Mazda to help him seduce a woman? If not, then Ahura Mazda is a fundamentally different god.
2. Zoroaster called his good god Ahura Mazda, and the second of these words means ‘illustrious, bright’ (and was consequently used a few decades ago in the United States to designate an improved kind of electric-light bulb), and ‘bright’ always suggests ‘wise’ when applied to persons. The new god was ‘the brilliant ahura,’ and an ahura is a great supernatural power, i.e. a god. Avestan ahura is obviously a dialectical form corresponding to the Sanskrit asura, which is applied in the Vedas to some of the gods honored in them.
Now the generic word for ‘god’ in Sanskrit is deva, which becomes daeva in Avestan, and Zoroaster, by his drastic and epochal Überwertung, transformed all the devas into evil beings, the servants of Angra Mainya, so that in his language daeva means ‘devil,’ a foul fiend whose worship must be suppressed.2 He vehemently denounces veneration and even respect shown to such agents of pure evil, and while he singles out for special obloquy Indra, who was the equivalent of Odin for the Aryans of India, he certainly includes in his irate reprobation all the other devas of whom he knew and, by implication, all the gods of whom he had never heard. Recent scholars have argued, however, that while Zoroaster damns all the devas, he makes an exception for the gods who are called asuras in the Vedas, since he calls his own god an asura.
The generic word for ‘god,’ deva, seems originally to have meant ‘shining one, bright being,’ presumably with special reference to the bright sky, while asura seems to mean ‘lord’, although its derivation is uncertain.3 So the question is, In the old hymns of the Vedas (and hence in Zoroaster’s understanding) was asura a word that designated a kind of being different from a deva or was it simply an epithet likeadityá, which was applied to various gods without implying that they were a special class of being?
Although asura seems most frequently applied to three gods in the old Vedic hymns, Dyáus, Váruna, and Mitrá, it cannot be shown that any generic distinction is intended. There is certainly no indication of antagonism or rivalry. I have already mentioned the hymn in which Varuna and Indra as friendly colleagues define their specialities in the celestial faculty. The gods who are called asura are included in the visve devah (‘all-gods,’ i.e., the pantheon). And in the hymns, the gods who are often called asura are worshipped by the same rites and by the same priests as the other gods. Of the three gods to whom the term is commonly applied, Dyaus becomes the Greek Zeus but fades out of the Indian pantheon in later times; Mitra likewise fades out, but appears in the later Zoroastrian cult as Mithra; but Varuna continues to be worshipped as one of the Thirty-Three Gods and is assigned jurisdiction over the ocean (he is the Hindu equivalent of Neptune) and is the Regent of the West (i.e., one of the four Lokapalas, the gods who preside over the four cardinal points of the compass and foreign lands that lie in the indicated direction).
Obviously Zoroaster intended asura to mean something radically different from deva when he applied it to his god, but having decided to call the latter ‘brilliant,’ he needed a noun that would take the place ofdeva and his choice was limited. I can think of only two available alternatives. The Sanskrit aditya, ‘heavenly being’, would have suggested the vague Vedic myth of a goddess, Aditi, who was their mother, and if Zoroaster’s god was to have existed from all time, he couldn’t have parents. The word bhaga (Avestan bagha, Old Persian baga) seems originally to have meant ‘giver of gifts, bestower of good fortune’, and was, like the English ‘lord,’ a term applicable to both human and supernatural beings. It does mean ‘god’ in Old Persian and so was applied to Ahura Mazdi, but Zoroaster would probably have had a different sense of the word’s connotation; it occurs very frequently in the Rigveda (e.g., 3.62.11) as an epithet of the god Savitr, who, whether or not he is to be identified with Indra, was presumably a deva in Zoroaster’s opinion, and the word also occurs at least once (10.85.36) as the name of a god ‘who evidently presides over marriages to assure the prosperity of the wedded couple, thus providing another connotation Zoroaster would have wished to avoid. So far as I can see now, asura, meaning something like ‘lord,’ a word not associated with any one earlier god and not connected with any attribution of genealogical descent, was about the only word connoting divinity that Zoroaster had at his disposal.
What causes the trouble, of course, is that in post-Vedic Sanskrit the word asura does become the generic name of a race of supernatural beings who are the enemies of the Indian gods, although it must be carefully noted that the gods who are called asura in the early Vedas never appear among the asuras of the later myths. It is hard to say how asura acquired this different meaning.4 I have toyed with the idea that Zoroaster really caused it, that what we find in India was the reaction of the Hindu Brahmins to his attack on their devas as evil beings and his attempt to supplant them with an asura of his own creation. We all know how holy men react to a threat to their business, and the reaction would have been violent even among the common people, if the early Zoroastrians were as active in trying to promote godliness with swords as their traditions suggest or even if the Hindus were pestered by missionaries.
In the later Hindu theology, it is an axiom that the Asuras are the enemies of the gods, just as the numerous races of demons are the enemies of mortal men. Most of these demons, who are chiefly conspicuous in the literature because the Aryan heroes slay so many thousands of them, obviously represent the alien races of aborigines whom the Aryans encountered in India when they invaded that sub-continent or later.5One could accordingly think of the Asuras as foreign gods, although that does not necessarily follow. I think it worthy of note that the Asuras are anti-gods, not devils, and they retain their dignity in the best Sanskrit literature, a cultural amalgam in which distinctively Aryan elements long survived, so that they are treated with the respect that our race accords to valiant enemies.6 But I see no reason for reading into the very early hymns of the Vedas, and hence into Zoroaster’s consciousness, a meaning of the word that is attested only much later. I therefore reject the views of many contemporary scholars.
For what interest it may have, I add the conjecture that the transformation of the concept of asura may have been facilitated by a kind of religious evolution that is of some interest in itself. The Vedic gods became commonplace and, so to speak, were becoming worn out, since even pious votaries must eventually have come to suspect that they importuned in vain deities who could not answer their prayers. As the Brahmins consolidated their lucrative monopoly of religion, they subordinated the old pantheon, often called the "Thirty-Three Gods," to the newer and greater divinity of a Trinity, Brahman, Visnu and Siva. And, oddly enough, the Brahmins shared some of Zoroaster’s animus, for they particularly exerted themselves to denigrate Indra, who had been the Aryan god par excellence, and reduce him to the status of a second-class god, who, while retaining a limited jurisdiction in his own heavenly principality, sins and is punished for his sins by a superior power. The professional venders of Salvation vented on Indra their venomous hatred of the Aryan aristocracy – an animosity that may also have been racial, as we surmised earlier.
Indra was left in possession of his own special heaven, Svarga, which is the highest paradise accessible to those who have not become "pure mind." It is the Hindu Valhalla, to which Indra welcomes the souls of warriors who have died in battle, and it is also a heaven worth attaining, for it abounds in all luxuries and sensuous delights, from magic trees (kalpapadapa, etc.) that produce whatever is asked of them to the radiantly beautiful Apsarasas, who are the courtesans of heaven. But poor Indra was reduced to an almost comic figure, for he was taught that even a god of his rank must respect the sanctity of holy men. There is, for example, an Hindu analogue to the well-known story of Zeus and Alcmene: Indra impersonated Gautama, a great sage, and thus seduced Ahalya, the sage’s wife, but Gautama, a holy man who had acquired great spiritual power by his piety, cursed the amorous god, whose body was accordingly covered with one thousand miniature representations of the female sexual organs, and the disgraced god had to hide in shame until the holy man was finally persuaded to relent and change the stigmata to eyes. Indra, who had once been the Aryans’ pater hominum divômque, even became guilty of the most horrible, abominable, and almost unspeakable of all sins: he accidentally killed a Brahmin! He fled in terror to the end of the earth and hid among the lotus blossoms that float on the waters of the abyss, and he remained in hiding, trembling, until Brhaspati, the Priest of the Gods, by sacrificing many celestial horses in the asvamedha rite and performing many other powerful liturgies and invultuations, finally cleansed the terrified god of his awful crime. In India, the clergy entrenched themselves in power even more ingeniously than their counterparts in the West.
3. We are told that Ahura Mazda was not Zoroaster’s only god, because he "must" have admitted the worship of certain gods supposedly favored by his contemporaries, since they (e.g., Mithra) turn up in the pantheon of later Zoroastrian sects. Now I think it would have been odd indeed if Zoroaster not only forgot to mention the favored deities, but invented the six Ameša Spentas as the immediate subordinates of Ahura Mazda and the only ones he mentions. There is no mention of Mithra in any gatha or other text that could conceivably go back to the time of Zoroaster, who very frequently mentions his six great archangels. Miss Boyce tries to read Mithra into two words (mazda ahurañho) in a line that could be ancient. The grammatical relationship of the two words is puzzling and the text is probably defective or corrupt. But however that may be, if you had a text that constantly invokes Yahweh and constantly appeals to Gabriel, Michael, Ithuriel, Raphael, and other archangels, but never mentions Jesus, would you believe that when the author wrote "god & co" in one line, he intended thereby to express his veneration of Jesus? As for the common argument that Zoroaster must have permitted the worship of Mithra because he does not specifically forbid it – well, I shall not be so unkind as to comment.
I cannot think the question important. If Zoroaster did, perchance, accord grace to a few of the supposed Iranian gods, he made them subordinate to the six great archangels. Miss Boyce admits (p. 192) that "the core of Zoroaster’s new teachings" was his claim that "in the beginning ... there was only one good God ... namely Ahura Mazda," who created the six archangels to help him in the war against Angra Mainya. It would follow, therefore, that any Iranian gods that Zoroaster may have exempted from his general damnation of all other gods were created by Ahura Mazda (or the archangels) as spirits (yazatas) subordinate to the six and therefore subordinate in a second degree to the supreme god.
Miss Boyce admits (p. 255) that Angra Mainyu, the supreme god of evil, is entirely Zoroaster’s invention, and that he made all the Vedic devas into devils (Avestan.daevas), the creations and servants of his one supreme god of evil. If Zoroaster permitted a few Iranian gods to serve his good god, that does not alter in the least his great and enormously important innovation, the transformation of the whole world into one divided between two gods, one of pure good and the other of pure evil, with all (or almost all) of the gods previously worshipped by men, no matter how fair and gracious they were, made the malignant servants of the god of pure evil and therefore the enemies of all righteous men, who are thereby obligated to convert or exterminate every worshipper of those gods.
That, I submit, was an epochal innovation and a disaster to the civilized world – a cataclysm of which we still suffer the terrible aftermath.
APPENDIX 1 – NOTES
6. For one example, see above, p. 99, n. It is true that Asuras appear in some myths as destroyers, but they are never degraded to mere devils. In the Kathasaritsagara, for example, we are twice told the story of the Asura Angaraka, father of the most beautiful woman in the world. She, smitten with love for King Mahasena, eventually betrays her father, as libidinously impulsive as Scylla, who betrays Nisus in the Vergilian poem, but until she does, Angaraka slays Mahasena’s police officers and, in the guise of a great boar, ravages the countryside, but he does so, we are told, because a divine curse forced him to become a Raksasa to expiate a sin. That preserves the purity of his daughter’s praeternatural lineage and saves the dignity of the Asuras.1. The oldest hymns in the Rigveda are by far the earliest expression of the primitive Aryan religion; the Atharvaveda is later, but still very early. For our purposes here, it will suffice to say that both must be considerably earlier than Zoroaster. I am not so temerarious as to try to determine precise dates for their composition.2. When Zoroaster made daeva a word denoting utter evil, he was, in the vernacular phrase, cutting it fine, for he had to retain the obviously cognate word, daena, usually translated as ‘religion,’ as a term for a praiseworthy activity. The Avestan daena becomes den in Pahlavi and forms part of the extremely common term for Zoroastrianism, Veh Den, i.e., "the Right Religion." In Avestan, however, some learned perplexities could be avoided by translating daena as ‘spiritual’ and supplying from the context either ‘things’ or ‘nature’ as the accompanying noun. In some contexts the word does mean a reverence for spiritual matters, but in others it must designate the ‘spiritual nature’ that a man creates for himself by righteous or sinful conduct as he passes through life. In the Zoroastrian eschatology, which must be Zoroaster’s, the soul of the dead man must go to the Cinvato Bridge, where it is judged: the True Believers pass over the bridge to Heaven, but the wicked (including, of course, all infidels) slip from the bridge and fall into the abyss of Hell. How this happens is explained in several ways, but a common explanation is that the soul is accompanied by its daena, which is hypostatized as an attendant maiden or female genius; if she is righteous, she sustains him as he walks across the very narrow bridge, but if she bears the accumulation of his evil deeds, her weight, as she clings to him, causes him to lose his footing and fall to his terrible doom.
3. A common etymology derives the word from Ashur (Assur), the Assyrians’ name for their country, their capital city, and its tutelary god; it would thus have designated the gods of an enemy nation, which would explain the later use of the term asura that I shall mention shortly – but why would the Aryans have applied the word to their own gods? It is possible, of course, that we have two words of entirely different origin that came to be pronounced alike and so confused.
4. One explanation is given in the preceding note. Another possibility is that asura was originally a word of very wide meaning in its application to supernatural beings, as are some comparable words in English: the average Christian does not, in his own mind, connect his Holy Ghost with the innumerable ghosts who haunt houses and gibber in the night to scare foolish women.
5. This is most clearly seen in the Dasas, who are a race of demons but obviously represent the dark-skinned aborigines, since the word always retained the meaning of ‘slave’ or ‘Sudra’. The Raksasas may originally have been Mongolians, whose characteristically slant eyes were exaggerated into the vertical eyes of the demons, while their yellow complexion was supplemented by other colors. The Pisitasins (Pisitasas) were obviously anthropophagous native tribes before they became ghouls. The Pisacas were barbarians who had a language capable of literary expression; I have often wondered who they may have been.
SINCE one of the later Zoroastrian sects exerted a great influence on early Christianity, some mention of it in these pages seems called for.
A first-rate theologian always wants to rise and shine by devising some novel twist or application of doctrine, and it is safe to assume that in the time of the Persian Empire, many an ambitious Magus tried to make himself prominent. But we do not know what checks there were on heresy. We do not know how the Magi were organized, by what discipline they maintained a reasonable uniformity of dogma, or whether they could make the usual appeal to the "secular arm" in cases of contumacy. In the history of all religions, a heresy is a doctrine disapproved by theologians who are "orthodox" because they have the power to enforce their opinions, especially when their orthodoxy is guaranteed by the police and hangmen. When those indispensable guardians of the True Faith are lacking or ineffectual, the usual result is a schism and an enormous waste of ink and papyrus or paper. But it would be temerarious to guess either that religion evolved normally in the Persian Empire or that it did not.
There is some evidence that the religion’s centre of gravity shifted to Babylon at some time after the Persian conquest. In that large and opulent city the Magi would have come into contact with Semitic superstitions, especially the cult of the god Marduk, and it is only reasonable to assume that they urged or applauded the action of Xerxes when he desecrated the god’s temple and confiscated his huge effigy, reportedly of solid gold. They came into contact (assuming that there was no earlier relation) with the city’s large and wealthy colony of crafty Jews, but we do not know in what ways the Jews tried to exploit them. The Zoroastrian holy men in Babylon also found themselves in the very capital of one of the world’s oldest and most lucrative superstitions, astrology. It was, furthermore, a superstition which at that time, and indeed for many centuries thereafter, could plausibly claim to be a scientific observation of the real world.1
The premises of Zoroaster’s religion, and indeed of most religions, should exclude astrology, but it is a poor theologian who cannot make his Scriptures say whatever he deems expedient. It would be interesting to know to what extent astrology penetrated the doctrines of the presumably orthodox priests in the Persian Empire, but all that we know is that the Chaldaean astromancy was taken up by the Magi who were operating in the Greek cities along the Mediterranean and who, if we conjectured rightly above, gave their Saviour’s name the form in which it is now familiar.
The preaching of Zoroaster’s gospel to all the world was interrupted by one of the climacteric events of history, the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great and the consequent Greek colonization of Asia from the Mediterranean to the borders of China and from the Caspian Sea to the Ganges. From its status as the official religion of a mighty empire, Zoroastrianism suddenly fell to the abject position of being only the faith of conquered peoples, discredited by the crushing defeat of its pious monarchs, and abandoned by a large part of its former adherents because they had lost faith in an impotent god, or because they recognized the cultural superiority attested by the conquerors’ military superiority, or because they saw the advantages of joining the victors, or even because they had adhered to Zoroastrianism only because it was fashionable. To the Magi, it must have seemed as though the end of the world had come, and we may be certain that they then began to devise the theology that explained the catastrophe as the result of some bargain between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu whereby the latter was granted a stipulated period of dominion.2
Zoroastrianism was eclipsed, but it would be an exaggeration to say that it went underground. There was, of course, no persecution, no opposition to it, no official disapproval of it by the Greeks, who were too intelligent and civilized to be susceptible to the fanaticism and pious delirium excited by "universal" religions. What happened was that the better part of the population spontaneously recognized the superiority of Greek civilization and adopted it, including its incomparable language, its elegant culture, and the Aryan attitude toward religion. It must not be forgotten that the dominant part of the population of the Persian Empire was composed of Persians, Medes, and other Aryans, the racial kin of the victors and therefore sharing their basic racial instincts.3 I can imagine that many a cultivated Persian had only to become acquainted with Greek literature and philosophy to free himself from the hariolations of a "revealed" religion and to enjoy kicking the Salvation-peddlers from his door. As for the non-Aryan subjects of the former empire, they had new masters to conciliate and to exploit.
The Greeks built Greek cities throughout the lands Alexander had conquered, and Greek became the language of all persons who had any pretensions to culture. Aramaic, the Semitic langaage which had been the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, became largely the language of illiterates, spoken by the Semites among the ignorant peasantry of the countryside and the mongrel or alien proletariat that formed the most debased social stratum of the cities. Ahura Mazda, his name modernized to Horomasdes, lost his universal empire and became just a commoner in a supernatural world already crowded with a plethora of gods. His gospels could not be marketed in polite society: fanaticism had become uncouth. The Magi, who had been God’s terrestrial representatives and the authorized salesmen of eternal life and post mortembeatitude, were reduced to the status of the swindlers who pose as "evangelists" and "psychics" in our society. They had to adapt their sales-pitch to their customers, the ignorant and gullible, and their skill in tricks of prestidigitation, psychological impostures, and applied chemistry gave the word ‘magic’ to all modern languages.
During the period of Greek dominion, however, alien superstitions seeped upward from the multi-racial soil on which the Greek society was built in Asia, thus providing a confirmation of Günther’s hypothesis, which we mentioned above.4 The Aryan’s lack of fanaticism makes him tolerant of alien superstitions, and it is supplemented by what we may call a geographical relativism in religion, which we commonly so take for granted in the modern world that we overlook it.5 It does startle us, however, when we first encounter it in the ancient world, where it usually takes the form of a theocrasy that, at first sight, seems to us incredible. We, habituated to Christian dogma and its pretensions to know the "truth" about its triple deity, simply gasp when we first see Herodotus give to the Egyptians’ cow-headed Hathor the name of the Greeks’ gracious and beautiful Aphrodite. To us, who believe in neither, that seems a profanation; it did not to Herodotus, who identified them as aspects of a single numen in whose existence he was willing provisionally to believe. When we first read Iphigenia in Tauris, we wonder why Euripides’ fellow Athenians did not accuse him of the most outrageous blasphemy against Artemis when he portrayed that fair maiden as the barbarously sanguinary goddess of blood-thirsty barbarians. That puzzles us until we realize that a Greek was willing to regard an alien deity as the equivalent of the traditional Greek god from whom he or she least differed, and to believe that, if supernatural beings did exist, since they were by nature unknowable, the exotic gods might well represent the same religious concepts as adjusted to a radically different culture of radically different human beings in a remote part of the world.6
A striking and fresh verification of Günther’s hypothesis is provided by the current excavations at the site of a great Greek city at the confluence of the Oxus and the Kokoha in the northeastern corner of Afganistan, three thousand miles from Greece.7 The city is probably Eucratidia, one of the many cities founded by Greek colonists in the then fertile land of ancient Bactria. The Greeks, who, for several centuries, civilized that distant land, may have weakened themselves by miscegenation, although their rulers, as shown by the portraits on their coins, were handsome Aryans to the end. The Greeks of Bactria certainly weakened themselves by almost incessant wars against their fellow Greeks, the Seleucid Empire, from which they had declared independence, and the Greek kings of India, who were determined to remain independent of Bactria if they could not conquer it. The Greeks further weakened themselves by some civil wars in which, we may be sure, the lower races profited at the expense of their Greek masters. Thus the Greeks and civilization in Bactria eventually succumbed to hordes of barbarians who poured in from what is now part of China. The excavations show, however, that to the end the Greeks kept and cherished their elegant language and their incomparable literature; they maintained their distinctive institutions, such as gymnasia, so repugnant to Oriental vulgarity and prudery; they ingeniously adapted their architecture to the climate of a region in which stone suitable for building was rare; and, significantly, the only evidence of cultural miscegenation is in religion, the few divinites thus far found are all patently non-Greek, and thus far no inscriptions have been found to tell us what names they were given. The chances are that Greeks thought of them as local varieties of their own gods.
The Magi, in a world grown so evil that their incomes had dropped drastically, had to adapt their Glad Tidings to the market. They, no doubt, still had customers among the peasantry and the urban proletariats, both, alas, impoverished. Astromancy, which even good minds had to accept as possible, was, of course, a staple for which there was always a fair demand. But Zoroastrianism really survived in heresies that would have made Zoroaster speechless with horror. The Greeks would listen to no nonsense about a supreme god who had made devils out of all the amiable and companionable gods of the whole world, but they were quite willing to believe that Zeus was also Horomasdes in inner Asia. Why not? He was Amun in Egypt, and it was only reasonable that he would seem different to a different people.
One consequence of the Greek conquest of Azia was that Zoroastrianism survived in bastard cults that would have given its founder apoplexy.
A very good example is the spectacular monument, which has partly survived the depredations of two millennia, on the high mountain which the Turks call Nemrud Dag, close to the upper course of the Euphrates and about 365 miles east-southeast of Ankara.8 There, as close to heaven as men could climb, Antiochus I of the small buffer kingdom of Commagene, who claimed both Alexander and Darius as ancestors, erected, on both sides of an artificial hill added to the summit, colossal statues of his gods, who wear Oriental robes and Persian headdress above features that are portrayed in the Greek style and which, if viewed apart from their accoutrements, could pass as Greek. One of the two principal gods, who sat in majesty, looking out over the wide valley below, is a fusion of Zeus and Oromasdes (= Ahura Mazda), bizarre as that seems to us. The second, equally august, is a blend of Apollo, Helios, and Mithras (with a bit of Hermes thrown in for good measure). The three assistant gods are equally hybrid.
We need not smile at this example of religious bastardy nor amuse ourselves by imagining what execrations the great monument would have evoked from Zoroaster, who had taught that we should worship only Ahura Mazda and represent him only in aniconic form as fire, the pure element that is the essence of divinity. The shrine, despite the Greek camouflage given it by Antiochus, is late Zoroastrian and even included a massive altar on which the sacred flame could be kept burning. Antiochus, a relatively petty king who, under Roman patronage, ruled his client kingdom from 64 to 38 B.C., undoubtedly spoke a fairly pure Greek and would have stared uncomprehendingly at a text in Old Persian, Avestan, or Aramaic; what he himself believed, we have no means of knowing, but it is most unlikely that he was fooled by his own pretenses. He knew that kings should hedge themselves about with divinity, and that it was expedient to associate himself with the Zoroastrian religion, which had been revived by the Parthians after the collapse of Seleucid (i.e., Greek) power in Asia. 9
To the southeast of Nemrud Dag may still be seen, stripped of its once lavish ornaments, a remarkable shrine that was probably built and excavated by Antiochus for an annual commemoration of the miraculous birth of the Son of God, Mithras, who, like the later Jesus, was born in a cave,10 saluted by choirs of rejoicing angels, and first adored by understandably-amazed shepherds. Mithas, however, was born an adult, so that his Epiphany immediately followed his Nativity as he emerged from the maternal cave.
The shrine was a large cave in the side of a mountain. A wide terrace was built up in front of it, and the entrance made an arch in walls covered with sculptured reliefs and inscriptions, which have long since disappeared. From the floor of the cave, engineers sank a tunnel, at an angle of 45° downward, into the mountain for 520 feet and enlarged it to a room of considerable size at the bottom. In all probability, the shrine was used for,a reënactment of the Saviour’s Epiphany, doubtless at the rebirth of the sun on the twenty-fifth of December, after the Winter Solstice. In the room at the bottom, Antiochus probably performed religious rites to renew his own participation in divinity, put on suitable garments to impersonate Mithras, and manifested himself, probably at the dramatic moment of sunrise, on the terrace as thetheos epiphanes, suggesting to the assembled worshippers that he was, if not a reincarnation of Mithras, at least the Saviour’s divinely-appointed representative on earth. He was doubtless adored by shepherds, who had been carefully rehearsed in their rôle, and received the plaudits of a multitude assembled from far and wide to witness the iterated miracle, which must have stirred their pious hearts.11 The choirs of angels (fravasi) had unfortunately to be omitted from the performance, but it may be that Antiochus had suitable background music provided in the ceremony by which he convinced the common people that he was indeed the Vicar of God on Earth, hoping, of course, that the True Believers were too ignorant and stupid to perceive that he, in his relatively constricted domain, was only the vicar of whatever Roman general held the proconsular imperium in Asia.
Besides doubling for Mithra in the annual celebration of the Nativity, Anitiochus had himself portrayed in the favorite pose of most Oriental kings, tête-à-tête with his god. He and Mithra, both stalwart figures in Persian dress (loose trousers and tunic) stand facing one another and joining their hands, doubtless sealing an agreement with a handshake. Antiochus is distinguished by his crown, Mithras by the rays of the sun, which appear behind his Phrygian cap. The two appear as equals: Antiochus was not a megalomaniac, just a good politician. He also had himself portrayed as shaking hands with Ahura Mazda, who remains seated on his throne, since the supreme god is entitled to that social precedence. That preëminence, however, was threatened by two developments in Zoroastrian theology that we must mention here.
Some earnest theologians were evidently puzzled by the coëxistence of a supreme god of good and a supreme god of evil. It did not seem right for the former to have created the latter, for a respectable god really should not be so stupid as to create, whether voluntarily or by inadvertence, an implacable adversary as powerful as himself. The problem, like the equivalent one in Christianity and similar religions, is insoluble, of course, but it was felt that it would be less objectionable to make the divine antagonists brothers, so a father was created for them out of the concept of time (zurvan). This primordial god, Zurvan, later Zervan, was commonly called, in Greek and Latin, Aeon or Cronos (i.e., Saturn, but the name was confused with Chronos); originally conceived as hermaphroditic and thus able to engender children by himself, he was eventually depicted as a nude male figure having wings and the head of a lion, and having a serpent coiled many times about his body. Needless to say, this theological device merely pushed the dilemma one step farther back: Who was Zervan’s daddy? And for that matter, since his sex is unmistakable in most representations of him, where did he find a mama for his boys when he was the only being in the whole universe? And why did Zervan fecklessly or maliciously engender an evil son to hate and strive to destroy his good son, to say nothing of raising hell on the earth that the good son was going to create? As in all religions, the answer, of course, is that it is damnably wicked to bother theologians with embarrassing questions. You must have Faith.
Zervan, however, created another difficulty that even oodles of Faith could not completely overcome. It was fundamental Zoroastrian teaching that after the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgement, the triumphant Ahura Mazda would put an end to time, and if Time was his father, that would be patricide. One could, of course, give the standard explanation that this was a "mystery" that the human mind must not think about, but the doctrine was so fundamental in Zoroastrianism that the paregoric did not always work. When the Christians grabbed the idea of a Resurrection and Last Judgement, they were content with the phrase, "time shall be no more," without trying to understand it. In Zoroastrian eschatology, however, the distinction between time and eternity must be understood. Time is what causes the distressing state of affairs in the world, in which it produces change, happenings, events and thus creates history. Time is thus the fatal flaw in the world that permits the powers of evil to afflict mankind. After the Last Judgement, therefore, Ahura Mazda will abolish it and restore the universe to its state of timeless perfection, and since perfection admits of no change, that will be an eternity in which nothing can ever happen again. Just how the good can enjoy this bliss and the wicked can suffer exquisite torments if they are as changeless as marble statues is not explained.
Zervan virtually replaced Ahura Mazda, who was thus reduced to a mere link between his Father and his Son, and one can see why many Magi did not hold with the innovation. The Zervanists flourished, however, until c. 531, when the "orthodox" Magi got the ear of Chosroës (Khosrau) I, the greatest of the Sassanian kings of Persia, who ruled that the Zervanists were heretics. Since there was no question about the loyalty of his army, he and God were clearly in agreement on that theological point.12
Poor God was squeezed from above and below, for his Son, having become the Saviour of mankind and the god who must be contacted for favors, reduced him to a mere figurehead in many of the Zoroastrian denominations, including the Zervanists and others. Mithra’s votaries early provided him with an indubitably immaculate conception, having him born from rock of a sacred mountain, and gave a distinctive explanation of his work as the Saviour. He slew the Cosmic Bull, and if I understand the ambiguous references aright, it was from this bull that he obtained the "eternal blood" that was shed for the Salvation of mankind.13 The blood may originally have been thought to be the hallucinatory drug haoma but the common tradition reported that Mithra and his companions drank wine at the Last Supper, when they celebrated the completion of his work of Salvation; and when his votaries assembled for the love-feasts at which they celebrated that Last Supper, wine was the soteric blood. Mithra either was the sun or the hero who delivered the sun from darkness or the hero who conquered the sun and made it attend to its business. The theologians disagreed about that rather important article of Faith, as may most readily be seen from the very large number of votive inscriptions in Latin, many of which are to "Mithra, the Invincible Sun," while as many others regard Mithra as the companion of that Sun."14 The latter conception is in agreement with the usual form of the myth that Helios was the coadjutor of Mithra in the struggle to save mankind from the powers of darkness and that he even saved Mithra by carrying him safely over the demon-infested ocean; after their victory the two celestial companions and their assistants shared the sacred repast we have mentioned, and faithful Mithraists imitated it in their holy suppers, which were a pledge of their comradeship and reciprocal affection in their common struggle against the evils of the world. The third interpretation comes from a supplemental myth to the effect that soon after he was born, Mithra was attacked by the jealous god of the sun, but overthrew him in a wrestling match, forced him to do homage, and compelled him to traverse the heavens and shed light on the world regularly. Mithra crowned his defeated rival with the radiance that the sun has had about his head ever since and gave him the right hand of friendship, thus forming an alliance that both have ever since loyally observed. This myth, obviously, was devised to prove that Mithra had subdued and annexed the Babylonian sun god, Shamesh, who is known as Shemesh to readers of the "Old Testament" in the common English version.15
We cannot enter into the intricacies of the Mithraic theology, but may note a curious detail which may show some propensity to trinitarian thinking. In most of the sculptural representations of him, Mithra is accompanied by two figures whose names, of uncertain derivation and meaning, are Cautes and Cautoptes, and who are commonly called the dadophori because they are carrying torches; one has the torch elevated, while the other holds it reversed. They look like replicas of Mithra and doubtless represent aspects of him (rising and setting sun?) that were explained to the Faithful in the prolonged instruction they were given before they were initiated into each of the several degrees of the cult, for it had become a "mystery religion," in imitation of the Eleusinian and other early Greek mysteries.
As is well known, since Mithra was born in a cave, the Mithraea, the "churches" of the cult, had to be located underground, and if no natural cave was conveniently available, an area of ground was excavated and roofed over, a fact which accounts for the partial preservation of so many of the spelaea, since the Christians, when they took over, were content to desecrate a shrine and then built one of their churches on top of it to make sure that the Devil’s magic would remain permanently buried and inaccessible. A normal Mithraeum would accommodate only thirty or thirty-five worshippers at one time,16 and there can be no doubt but that the size of a congregation was deliberately limited to ensure that its members were truly united as comrades, feeling the close fellowship and reciprocal trust and affection that were so large a part of the cult. One may think of an analogy to the "lodges" of the Masons and perhaps other basically religious "fraternal" societies of the present day.
The Mithraic worship was exclusively for men. Their wives went to the temple of the Magna Mater (a development of Cybele), which was usually located just across the street for their convenience and, being entirely above ground, was usually effaced completely by the fury of the Christians when they were at last able to take over. There was necessarily a close alliance between the cults of Mithra and the Magna Mater, of which the details escape us, and there was to some extent an interpenetration of the two theologies. As numerous inscriptions attest, women could indulge in a taurobolium and have their sins washed away by the magical blood of the bull who was slain in memory of the Cosmic Bull and whose blood was doubtless believed to be charged with religious efficacy by a kind of simple transubstantiation. They were also acquainted with the use of holy water for ritual purification, and one or two scholars have guessed that the Magna Mater might have been thought of as corresponding to the Anahita of the divine trinity recognized by Artaxerxes in the springtime of the religion.
The reader will have observed an impressive religious evolution. We begin with a religion in which Ahura Mazda, represented only in aniconic form by the sacred fire, is the only god to be worshipped, and there is no hint of a suggestion that he might have a son.17 In the Mithraic cult, the Son has, for all practical purposes ousted the Father, who survives only as a link between Zervan and Mithra, so that it would have been easy to dispense with poor old Ahura Mazda without a significant change in the cult or even its theology, and the sacred fire has been replaced by sculpture, some of it of fair quality, and such rites as Last Suppers.
The reader will also have observed that in the course of our discussion of Mithraism we moved from Persia to the Roman world. That was because it is only in the latter that we have any secure information about it.18 It almost certainly arose in or near the old Persian territory, and it could most easily be explained as a heresy of a heresy. It retained the theology of the Zervanists, and so must be an offshoot of that cult, showing an even greater devotion to the Son of God and perhaps adopting a new religious organization, limiting membership to male proselytes who were willing to form groups comparable to the lodges of modern religious clubs, such as the Masons, and to proceed through several degrees of initiation, learning and memorizing fresh "secrets" at each stage, to full membership.19
After the gradual revival of Zoroastrianism under the Parthians, the Zervanists, as we have already said, flourished in the old Persian territories as one of the Zoroastrian sects until Chosroës ruled them heretical. We have, so far as I know, no information about the Mithraic sect that we have described in the same territory, and that suggests that it was either a relatively minor sect or underwent considerable modifications for export. Given the limitation of our sources, however, that is not necessarily true. I have often thought that the Mithraic cult, in the form in which we know it, would have particularly appealed to the Parthian aristocracy, whose special devotion to Mithras is attested by their use of such common names as Mithridates. They were officially Zoroastrians and maintained Magi at their courts to keep the sacred fires alight and provide holiness when needed, but they were so negligent in their observation of the Zoroastrian proprieties that the Zoroastrians of the Sassanid period regarded them as little better than infidels. They, like the Mithraists of whom we know, had so little godliness that they never felt a yen to persecute and kill ad maiorem gloriam Dei. So marked was this lack of zeal among the Parthian aristocracy that Professor Tarn remarks that "one gathers the impression that they thought all religions useful, none material; what mattered to a man was his horse, his bow, and his own right arm." But perhaps that goes too far. Would not their chivalry have found a religious satisfaction in a kind of mystery cult that formed them into small congregations of comrades, bound together by a kind of military sacrament, for the worship of the heroic Son of God, who had subjugated even the sun, and who was ever ready to fight evil? The speculation appeals to me, but I know of no evidence to confirm or even bolster it.20
We first hear of the Mithraic cult in Cilicia early in the first century B.C. So manly a religion had an obvious attraction for military men, and it is believed no doubt correctly, that it was spread throughout the Roman world by Roman soldiers, to whom it offered a double chance of immortality: a man’s soul, which had come down from Heaven to be imprisoned in the flesh, could, if he had sufficiently kept it pure from falsehood and evil in this life, ascend directly to heaven, perhaps a sequence of seven heavens, when he died; otherwise, as in Christian doctrine, his soul would sleep until the final Resurrection, when it would rejoin his reconstituted body for the Last Judgement, after which, if found worthy, he could dwell in God’s Paradise, or if found stained with ineradicable evil, he would be annihilated, since the cult did not have the sadistic urge that made Christians hope to see unbelievers and sinners tortured with the utmost of fiendish ingenuity forever and forever.
To Zoroastrians who preserved any knowledge of the religion that had been proclaimed by Zoroaster, Mithraism must have seemed a shockingly wicked perversion, even more ungodly than the Zervanism from which it had sprung. If there were Mithraists in Persian territory in the time of Chosroës, they undoubtedly vanished with the Zervanists. The great king undertook to restore and enforce an orthodoxy based on what had survived, or was assumed to have survived, of the old Zoroastrian scriptures. To Zoroaster, mithra seems to have been only a noun meaning ‘compact, agreement,’ but Mithra as a spirit of some sort was mentioned in the Avesta and he was too firmly established to be expunged, but the orthodox Magi quickly cut him down to size. The Father returned in glory to his old supremacy.
It is a nice irony that Christianity, which was a remodelled Zoroastrianism, also borrowed many of its trappings and decorations from a Zoroastrian heresy with which it had to compete in its formative years.
APPENDIX II – NOTES
20. To my mind, a Parthian origin is suggested by the fact that the proselyte could advance through seven degrees of which the fifth was "Persian." (The sixth was "Messenger of the Sun," i.e., Mithra, and the seventh was "Father," i.e. a consecrated priest.) This corresponds to the respect that the Parthians had for the Persians over whom they ruled.1. In antiquity, the fallacies of most of the astrologers’ hocus-pocus were apparent to good minds long before Carneades and the Academics systematically demolished the hoax, but, as Cicero had to concede in the De divinatione (II.43.90), there was one argument for planetary influences on human life that could not be dismissed or refuted, so that candid and objective students, such as Diogenes of Seleucia (whom Cicero quotes ad loc.),had to concede to astrology a considerable element of probable truth. It has always been a matter of common observation that the children of one man by one woman, if not identical twins, always differ from one another, and often differ radically, not only in physical characteristics, such as features, stature, and figure, but also in temperament and mentality, although they receive the same nurture and the same education. The great differences between the offspring of one pair of parents, observed in circumstances that excluded all suspicion of adultery and even between the children of a brother and sister (as in Egypt or among the Magi) had to be explained by the operation of some variable factor, and before the genetic processes that ineluctably determine innate qualities were scientifically determined in our own time, the significant variables seemed to be the times of conception and birth, and hence astral influences, since observation would quickly exclude such factors as weather and the seasons. The alternatives were (1) unperceived causes, (2) metempsychosis, and (3) special creation of individuals by a god or gods who artistically avoided duplication in their handiwork. The first of these was simply a confession of irremediable ignorance and the third was fantastic, leaving, for all practical purposes, the second; and the hypothesis that there were invisible and impalpable souls that could accumulate in successive lives experiences they could not remember was, objectively considered, much less likely than the hypothesis that some influence from the planets, invisible as the influence of a magnet on iron is invisible, acted on the foetus in the womb from the very moment of conception. Thus the abilities and characters of men and women were to some extent, and perhaps almost entirely, determined by the planetary influences before and during birth; and character within certain limits does determine an individual’s fortunes. This opened the door for a claim by the soothsayers that the planetary influences which had determined character could throughout life exert at least some influence on the being they had formed. Before the modern science of genetics, there was a real problem, and we should not feel for all consideration of astrology in antiquity the contempt that we feel for the practice of it today, when it is simply a notorious imposture on the gullible and superstitious. It is not remarkable that the astrological racket has become so lucrative today: minds that have been so sabotaged that they can believe in the equality of races can believe in anything.2. The most generally accepted explanation was that at the very beginning of time Ahura Mazda established a preordained chronology and a series of epochs during which Angra Mainyu was to be dominant. The first era ended when God sent Zoroaster to restore righteousness, but the schedule called for a relapse into sin until, at the end of the next period, one of Zoroaster’s belated sons would be engendered by the miraculous process we described earlier. This notion reappears,of course, in the various Christian doctrines that Yahweh had allotted to Satan a certain period of prosperity, but the Christians do not commonly suppose a bargain between the two gods. In the common version of the Gospel of Thomas, that apostle encounters the snake that seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden and compels him to restore a dead man to life by sucking out the venom with which he killed him, and the snake, infected by its own deadly poison, swells up and bursts, but not before complaining that Thomas is destroying him before the end of his allotted time; similar complaints are made by devils whom Thomas coerces by what they regard as a "tyrannical" violation of their rights, but it is never explained who did the allotting of time. It would have been embarrassing to admit that the good god was directly responsible for the successes of the evil god and also embarrassing to admit that he was powerless to prevent them. That is the inescapable dilemma of all ditheisms.
3. It is extremely odd that even so diligent a scholar as Tarn should have overlooked this obvious fact and attributed to Alexander an itch for race-mixing and a universal brotherhood of mongrels. The plain fact is that Alexander encouraged intermarriage only between his followers and high-born Persians, who were of pure or relatively pure Aryan ancestry. Not being stupid, Alexander would have perceived that fact, if he did not already know it, from their features and bodily conformation; their language, furthermore, was Old Persian, which did not differ from Attic, Ionic, and Doric Greek very much more than did some of the epichoric and contaminated dialects of Greek that may be inspected in A. Thumb’s Handbuch der griechischen Dialekte, revised by Kieckers and Scherer (Heidelberg, 1932-59). What Alexander proposed was nothing more radical than marriage between Anglo-Saxons and Irish or between Germans and northern Italians. There is no evidence at all to support the entirely gratuitous assumption that Alexander would have favored racial miscegenation. Propaganda that he had done so was concocted in the centuries that immediately followed his death, probably by Jews. One audacious forgery was a purported letter from Aristotle to Alexander advising him to interchange the populations of Asia and Europe to produce a mongrelized One World; it is now extant only in an Arabic translation. See S. M. Stern, Aristotle on the World State (Oxford, Cassirer, 1968), in which you will also find copious references to the Jews’ exploitation of the hoax.
4. Supra, p. 45.
5. We usually read Chaucer’s greatest poem when we are young:
When that Aprile with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote, . . .
Then longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
The pilgrims are taking a vacation to enjoy travel through the vernal countryside. But why do they go to Canterbury, "the holy blisful martir for to seke"? Isn’t Thomas à Becket up with Jesus in his paradise somewhere above the clouds? Or is he still in his tomb in the Cathedral? The pilgrims are glad of an opportunity to be out on the open road, and naturally refuse to worry about such nice points in theology. Many years ago, I visited the famous shrine at Guadalupe Hidalgo and chance permitted me to converse with a cultivated lady of Spanish ancestry who had come from Guadalajara, half-way across Mexico, to solicit a favor from the Virgin. She admitted that there were shrines of the Virgin in Guadalajara, and she agreed that the Virgin was the same Virgin everywhere, but she was nonetheless convinced that the Virgin at Guadalupe would do things that the Virgin wouldn’t do in Guadalajara. Our feeling for religious geography is stronger than the abstractions of dogma. Many men and women go to Lourdes and are healed of psychosomatic maladies by the strong emotions that are excited by their inner conviction that the Virgin will perform there miracles she is unwilling or unable to perform elsewhere, even though she must now be looking down on the earth from an abode far above it. The Virgin at Lourdes is as efficient as was the goddess Sequana at her shrine, which was uncovered by archaeologists some years ago, but the polytheist who journeyed to Sequana’s temple nineteen centuries ago did so quite logically: she was a local goddess and, though invisible, resided where she was worshipped. You couldn’t expect her to leave home and come to you, so you naturally had to go to her. Her therapeutic powers were very great, no doubt, but all her powers were limited to the small area that belonged to her.
6. This intelligent attitude was, of course, favored by the diversity of their own gods which posed the questions that Cicero noted in the last book of the De natura deorum. There are, for example, five different stories about the parentage and birthplace of Minerva: does this mean that there actually are five homonymous goddesses? If not, why not? A Christian theologian, accustomed to making Trinities, would have had no difficulty in making a Quintity out of Minerva, but he would have been laughed at. A polytheist would have reasonably asked the theologian how he knew and such impertinence always sends holy men into fits.
7. See the report in The Scientific American, CCXLVI #1 (January 1982), pp. 148-159.
8. A concise account of the monument with excellent photographs may be found in an estimable periodical published at Zürich, Antike Welt, Sondernummer 1975.
9. Antiochus I of Commagene was doubtless a cultivated man, who could not repudiate Greek culture or ignore the gods traditionally associated with it. His kingdom was a buffer between the Roman Empire on one side and on the other the aggressive Parthian Empire, whose greatest king, Mithridates VI Eupator (a votary of Mithra, as his name indicates), had waged a series of bloody wars with Romans from 88 to 66, when he was finally defeated decisively by Pompey and fled to his territories in the Crimea, where he committed suicide. The Parthian power was still formidable, as Crassus was to learn at Carrhae. It is likely that the greater part of Antiochus’s multi-racial subjects were given to some form of Zoroastrianism, so that his theocrasy was obviously a political necessity. Scholars differ in their estimates of the extent to which it may have been his own invention. In an extant inscription, he affirms that when his body is placed in the tomb he has prepared for it (and which archaeologists have not yet found), his soul will ascend to Heaven to join the other gods. The gods, however, neglected to give him advice that would have saved him from making a bad guess during the Roman civil wars that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar.
10. It is well-known, of course, that in the early form of the Christian myth, preserved in the several recensions of the Gospel of James, purportedly composed by the brother of Jesus (who should have known!), Jesus was born in a cave. This was the story known to the early Fathers of the Church, including Tertullian and Eusebius, and the latter, in the biography of Constantine that he concocted to spread the fiction of that emperor’s "conversion" by the miracle of "in hoc signo vinces," implied that Constantine had built a church in front of the sacred cave. Until recently a cave was, and perhaps it still is, exhibited as the scene of the Incarnation to gawking tourists who visit the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem. All this suggests that the shift of the scene to a house in Matth. 2.11, and to a stable in Luc. 2.7, were late retouches of the tales, introduced when it was thought best to play down the story about the Magi and Zoroaster’s Prophecy. One can see why it was thought desirable to minimize similarities to the Nativity of Mithras, but one cannot imagine why the Fathers did not make the stories in the two gospels agree before incorporating them in their anthology. The only explanation seems to be sheer carelessness on their part. In the gospels of James, one of the gospels attributed to Matthew, and others, the Nativity in a cave is logically accounted for, since Mary is overtaken by labor pains when she and Joseph are in a desert, some distance from the nearest town. A very amusing example of theologians’ carelessness may conveniently be found in the two Latin Infancy Gospels edited by M. R. James (Cambridge, 1927). Both gospels are obviously the work of holy men who are fixing up the story to suit their somewhat different tastes. In both tales, Mary, her husband, and her stepson are walking to Bethlehem, and since Mary is far advanced in pregnancy, she has to walk very slowly. Joseph therefore goes ahead to the town and, since he cannot find room in an inn, picks out an empty stable and prepares it for Mary. In both versions Mary finally arrives under the care of her stepson, who explains that she had frequently to stop and rest on the way, but in one version she then dismounts from an ass! In both versions, Joseph takes her into the place he has prepared, which, by an editorial miracle, is suddenly transformed into a cave! The stable becomes a cave within the space of a printed page in both versions, thus giving us a measure of the retentiveness of evangelists’ memories.
11.The priests must have had their part in the ceremony, of course, but it is hard to guess what it was. The Magi cannot have brought gifts, for there is no precedent for that act in the Mithraic myth, according to which it is the shepherds who bring the first fruits of their flocks and fields as gifts for the new-born god, and the Magi do not appear on the scene at all, since they were first given the glad tidings of Salvation by Zoroaster, long afterwards. Mithra was the divine Mediator (Greek mes…thj the title later given to Jesus in the "New Testament") between the Creator and his creations, but the priests had, as usual, acquired a monopoly of mediation between men and the Mediator, so they cannot have been left out. Only Magi, for example, could tend the sacred fire, which keeps demons away.
12, Chosroës had already proved his infallibility as a theologian by exterminating the Mazdakites, a numerous and popular sect that had been his father’s favorites. To save his subjects from future mistakes, Chosroës authorized his orthodox Magi to compile an authoritative text of the Avesta and gave it his approval, which, naturally, carried great weight. This is the version that was the basis of the text that we now have.
Chosroës protected the Christians in his domains, even after many of them were caught in an unsuccessful conspiracy to replace him with his son. He may have been influenced by the consideration that almost all of the Christians in Persia were Nestorians, whom his principal enemy, Justinian, the pious Christian emperor in Constantinople, was eager to exterminate. One of Chosroës’s acts is greatly to his honor and should be remembered. In 529, Justinian closed the "university" in Athens to extirpate the last, degenerate vestiges of Greek philosophy; the seven Neoplatonist teachers there, deprived of a livelihood and probably attracted by the talk about "social justice" in Persia during the ascendancy of the Mazdakites, migrated thither in 531, perhaps with the illusions that made unintelligent "intellectuals" flock to Russia after 1918. Chosroës welcomed them, but they were naturally disappointed by the discovery that Persia was not an Earthly Paradise and probably by the discovery that the hangmen had just corrected the Mazdakites’ theological errors. When Justinian in 533 negotiated with Chosroës a treaty for "eternal peace" (it did last almost seven years, which is about par for such treaties), Chosroës insisted on a clause which provided that the seven Neoplatonists were to be permitted to return home and live thereafter without molestation from the pious. One of the seven was Simplicius, who later wrote the well-known commentaries on Aristotle and Epictetus that have preserved for us important fragments of Greek philosophers whose works were subsequently lost. We are therefore indebted to the Zoroastrian "tyrant" for both information and an example of concern for humane scholarship.
13. An inscription, unfortunately mutilated, in the Mithraeum beneath the church of Santa Prisca on the Aventine in Rome, is a prayer to Mithra containing the praise, "nos servasti eternali sanguine fuso." Professor Schwertheim, in the issue of Antike Welt that I cite below, quotes a late and odd Mithraic text in which Mithra says: "He who does not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he partakes of me as I am [thereby] commingled with him, will never attain Salvation." I think this must be an heretical idea in Zoroastrianism, for there is, so far as I know, no other evidence that the votaries of Mithra thought of their holy suppers as theophagous,with the cannibalistic implications of the Christian imitation of them. Their Last Suppers commemorated, and hence doubtless imitated, the sacred meal at which Mithra and his assistants, celebrating their victory over the powers of evil, partook of bread and wine, the bread being made from the wheat that sprang from the spine of the slain Bull, and the wine from the grapes that sprang from the Bull’s blood. The Mithraic concept of Redemption by blood appears in the taurobolia so frequently celebrated by the religious in the waning Roman Empire: they were cleansed of their sins by the blood of a bull that was slain in obvious imitation of Mithra’s slaying of the Cosmic Bull.
14. The dedications usually give the name of the god in the dative, so we have "Soli Invicto Mithrae" as opposed to "Soli Invicto et Mithrae". I cannot say offhand which form is the more common. In sculpture representing the great Tauroctony, the side panels, if they include Helios, sometimes show him clasping the hand of Mithra in friendship and sometimes as kneeling humbly before his new master.
15. The name of the god is Samsu in theophoric names from the time of Hammurabi (including that of his son and successor), and Šamšu on the tablets from Mari,and the latter form is the more common generally. The pronunciation of the Hebrew equivalent in the second and first centuries B.C. is shown by the spelling in the Septuagint, samÚj, but the Greek alphabet at that time had no means of distinguishing between s and š. The Babylonian god was undoubtedly the hero of the legend about a praeternaturally strong man, who is called Sampson in the Jews’ adaptation of the myth. The strong man’s name admittedly means ‘of the sun, solar’ in Hebrew, as it doubtless did in the Babylonian original, i.e., ‘son of the sun.’ In the Hebrew myth, he was born and buried near the temple of the Babylonian god (Beth-Samus), and the Jewish tale of his miraculous birth with celestial annunciations and influence, as in the later tale about Jesus, is probably an expanded amplification of the Babylonian account of the birth of a hero who, like Enkidu, fell a victim to the wiles of a prostitute. Students of religion may speculate endlessly and dispute about whether or not the Mithraic tale about the Cosmic Bull was ultimately derived from the Babylonian tale of the heavenly bull that was slain by Gilgamish and Enkidu as an offering to Shamash or was a natively Aryan idea suggested by the well-known Aryan regard for cattle, which has now left a conspicuous trace in Hindu superstition.
16. A Mithraeum into which a hundred votaries might have crowded has been found in Rome, but, so far as I know, it is exceptional. Many Mithraea could have accommodated only twenty or so celebrants without intolerable crowding. Whether a given Mithraeum was used by more than one congregation of Brethren is an open question.
17. I dealt with this point in Appendix I.
18. An admirably concise and handsomely illustrated account of Mithraism in the Roman Empire by Dr. Elmar Schwertheim forms the 1979 Sondernummer of the well-known journal of general archaeology, Antike Welt. Good photographs show many of the best-preserved Mithraic sculptures and, what is not common, portraits of two Magi, in which historians of art may see an anticipation of the style of Byzantine religious paintings. Also shown is a trick arrow, one of the devices used to make simpletons gawk in pious awe; it is, of course, an anticipation of the device now commonly used on the stage and in the cinema when it is desired to show a man slain by an arrow or sword through his body. For the English reader, there is a compendious account in the translation of Franz Cumont’s The Mysteries of Mithra, which is available in a Dover reprint. A series of scholarly volumes devoted to Mithraism is in course of publication at Leiden as part of the collection of "Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’empire romaine." The inscriptions are collected in the Corpus inscriptionum et monumentorum religionis Mithriacae, edited by M. J. Vermaseren. For a basic bibliography of other works, see the notes to Dr. Schwertheim’s long article.
19. Masonic rituals and the bizarre myths about Yahweh, Solomon, Hiram, and a trio of malefactors, Jebulo, Jebula, and Jebulum, may be found in the Reverend Mr. Walton Hannah’s Christian by Degrees (London, 1964) and Darkness Visible (London, 1966). The myths are said to be understood symbolically, rather than literally, by the adepts, but Christians are exercised over the question whether the symbols are compatible with their religion.