Ormuzd and Ahriman
Ormuzd And Ahriman.
The most difficult religious problem for the mind to solve is that of the existence of evil in this world. If there be a God, then must that God be good; and as nothing can happen without his will, naturally we should expect that the world which he governs would be a place where everything would be good, virtuous, and happy. But the contrary is the case. The world, as a matter of fact, is full of evil, of sin, and of misery. Whence, then, comes this? Is the Deity not good? or is his power limited? or how is this conflict which we see actually going on in the world to be explained? Without the higher ideas given us by revelation, the problem could not be solved; but it is interesting to examine what were the conclusions to which the mind of man, unaided by the light. of revelation, came by the exercise of its own reasoning powers. It then attempted to solve the problem in two ways: the one was pantheism, the other dualism. In pantheism it is denied that there is .any real difference between good and evil. Things do not exist, but merely seem to exist. This whole external world is a mere illusion, in which the world-spirit develops itself in various ways, and which finally it will absorb back into itself. Just as the bubbles upon a stream seem to have a separate existence for a time, and float upon its surface, bright in the sunshine with reflected colors, and dark and lustreless in the shade, but finally as they break all fall back into the main flood of waters, so is it with men. They seem to have a separate existence for a time, and live some in sunshine and some in shade, but really they are all portions of the world-spirit, and at death become again indistinguishable parts of his existence, none the better and none the worse for what happened to them in life, It is this same world spirit which makes the plants grow. They have no merit and no blame for their wholesome or noxious qualities. Beauty, richness of odors, utility earn them no praise; nor is the poisonous hemlock blamed when it destroys man's life. So human actions are bit higher developments of the activity of this same-world-spirit;. and as they are his doings, he cannot praise or blame them. Like want, squalor, and crime in a picture, they are unrealities, and nothing follows from them.
It was in India that pantheism was elaborated into a perfect system; but the religions both of Egypt and Babylon were based upon the same fundamental idea, which is at the root of pantheism, that good and evil are not essentially opposed, but in appearance only In the religion of the ancient Medes and Persians we find a totally different conception. Zoroaster, its reputed author, had views too high and noble to be contented with a solution which ignores the reality of this entire present state of things. On the other hand, he could not believe that the Deity, whom he conceived to be essentially good and altogether perfect, could himself have created evil, and admitted it into the world which he had created. There seemed, therefore, but one way to escape from the dilemma, and that was to suppose that evil also had an independent existence, and that there was a struggle in the moral world as well as in material nature. There cold and heat, light and darkness, tempest and sunshine seemed ever at variance, waging perpetual war for the ascendency; and so he conceived that in opposition to Ormuzd, the good god, and principle of goodness, there stood Ahriman, an evil god, and the author of all evil and sorrow and death. Ahriman likewise seemed to him an independent power, not called into being, but equally eternal with Ormuzd himself; eternal as regards his pre-existence, but not eternal in the future. Zoroaster could not bring himself to believe that this struggle was to go on forever; and therefore, not very logically, he taught that a being endowed with an infinite pre- existence was nevertheless finite. In distant ages three prophets, sprung from Zoroaster, were to bring into the world the three remaining books of the Zend-Avesta, and convert the world to the faith; and thereupon evil was to disappear, and the whole world become pure and happy, as it was when first created by Ormuzd, before Ahriman had entered it, and marred it by his mischievous activity.
On closer examination, however, it appears that the Zend-Avesta is not all of the same date, and that this dualism is not found in its most ancient sections. There are very early chapters that contain traces even of a polytheistic nature-worship, in which the gods have no personal existence, but are mere powers, such as the sunshine, the wind, the earth, and fire. As the same sort of worship is found in the older religious basis of India, it seems as if this was the primitive religion of the whole Aryan stock. But this system was too sensuous to long satisfy men's minds, and the next stage in the Zend-Avesta is that in which we have a distinct recognition of deities who are real persons, possessed of self-consciousness and intelligence. These deities are some good and some bad, the former being called Asuras, "spiritual beings," while the latter are the Devas, or Divs — a word etymologically the same as the Latin Deus, but originally signifying the sky. In Sanscrit, Greek, Latin, and most languages the word has a good meaning, and signifies the Supreme Deity. But the Iranians, in their recoil from nature-worship, gave it a bad sense, and it soon became equivalent with them to fiends and devils.
The Zend-Avesta, however, soon went one step farther. In the old nature- worship there had been no attempt to subordinate one power to another. But when the deities were regarded as persons, the question soon arose, How did these various beings combine to act together? was there among them any order of agreement? or any superiority of one over another? Now here it is the especial glory of Zoroastrianism that it conceived of the existence of one supreme God. Ormuzd is the highest object of adoration, "the true Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe." Mr. Rawlinson (Ancient. Monarchies, ii,3 24) spells the name Ahuro-Mazdao, and gives several explanations of it, the most probable being that of Haug, "the living wise." He is set forth "as the source of all good, and the proper object of the highest worship. He is the creator of life, both the earthly and the spiritual. He made the celestial bodies, all earthly substances, all good creatures, and all things good and true." "He is himself good, holy, pure, true, the holy God, the holiest of all, the essence of truth, the father of all truth, the best being of all, the master of purity." Moreover "he is supremely happy, and possesses every blessing, health, wealth, virtue, wisdom, immortality." From him comes all good to man. On the pious and the righteous he bestows not only earthly advantages, but precious spiritual gifts, truth, devotion, "a good mind," and everlasting happiness; and as he rewards the good, so he punishes the bad, though this is an aspect in which he is but seldom represented.
In this description of Ormuzd, gathered by Mr. Rawlinson from the Yacna, or Book of Sacrifice, a part of the Zend-Avesta, we are moving among thoughts grand as those of the Old Testament, though, as this writer remarks, the conception of Ormuzd is less spiritual and less awful than that of Jehovah. The ascription to him of health, and also of the physical qualities of brightness and lucidity, shows that they did not regard him as purely spiritual; while his being so predominantly the author only of good things in a great measure deprives him of Jehovah's most sublime attribute of justice.
But Zoroastrianism did not stop here. The contemplation of the evil that is in the world led in time to a highly developed dualism, in which Ahriman stands opposed to Ormuzd as a being possessed of almost equal power, but using it only for the worst purposes. Though we do not find this doctrine, as was said above, in the most ancient sections of the Zend- Avesta, yet even there the distinctions between good and evil, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, are described in strong colors; and the name Ahriman (in ancient Persian, Angro-Maingus, the dark spirit) occurs but in a highly poetical passage, not as a real personage, but as a figure of speech. But in course of time this "dark spirit" came to be regarded as a living power; and as men noticed how in the struggle of life evil seemed as mighty as good, he was invested with attributes as great as those of Ormuzd himself. As, too, it was inconceivable that the good deity would have allowed such a being to come into existence, it was concluded that evil must be co-eternal with good. But as man's heart dictates to him that good is better than evil, and must finally prevail, and as the thought was unendurable that the struggle could go on forever, and this world be eternally miserable, the conclusion was arrived at that at some distant period Ormuzd would gain the victory, and evil depart out of the world forever.
Meanwhile a fierce war is carried on, in which every act of Ormuzd is watched by his enemy, and immediately spoiled. The good deity spends his time in devising schemes of benevolence for the happiness of his people, and Ahriman is equally active, and even more successful in inventing pests and annoyances, which turn every creation of Ormuzd into a place of trial and misery. The imagination, too, soon called into existence numerous personages to be the allies and ministers of these dread powers in the conflict, and each especially had his council of six, by whose instrumentality the conflict was maintained. On the side of Ormuzd the council is more completely defined than on that of Ahriman. It is composed of six Amshashpands, or immortal saints, of whom the first, Bahman, "the good mind," originally a mere attribute of Ormuzd, has for his office the maintenance of life in animals and of goodness in man. Ardibesht, the second, means "the clearest truth." He was regarded as the light of the universe, and his business was to maintain the splendor of the various luminaries, and enable them to dispense heat and light. The third, Shahravar, was the dispenser of riches. The fourth, Isfand-Armat, represented the earth. As the Iranians were a purely agricultural people, the earth always held a high place in their esteem, and Armaiti, the earth- goddess, was also goddess of piety. Under her charge was all growth and fertility, and she was the giver of abundant harvests. The last two were Khordad, "health," and Amerdat, "immortality." The vegetable world was especially intrusted to their charge. Besides these, the armies of Ormuzd are commanded by the angel Serosh, described as "the sincere, the beautiful, the victorious, the true, the master of truth." Under his command they wage perpetual war with the Devas, whom sometimes he even stays, and guard the whole world, and especially the Iranian territory, from their attacks. Ahriman's council of six consists of Ako-mano, "the bad mind;" Indra, the Vedic god of storms and war, but simply a destructive being in the Zoroastrian mythology; Caurva, who may be Siva; Naonhaitya, Taric, and Zaric, the two latter being "darkness" and "poison;" but this council is not elaborated with so much care as that of Ormuzd, and several of its members are very shadowy persons.
In his general summary of Mazdeism, as the worship of Ormuzd is called, after Mazda, the second part of the deity's name, Mr. Rawlinson (p. 337) points out that, besides their belief in a spiritual world, composed partly of good, partly of evil intelligences, the Zoroastrians held very enlightened views with respect to human duties and hopes. In their system truth, purity, piety, and industry were the virtues chiefly valued and inculcated. Evil was traced up to its root in the heart of man; and it was distinctly taught that no virtue deserved the name but such as was co-extensive with the whole sphere of human activity, including the perfect triad of thought, word, and deed. Man's industry was to exert itself in reclaiming the soil from the thorns and weeds and barrenness with which it had been cursed by Ahriman. Thus tillage became a religious duty, in which man was a fellow- worker with Ormuzd., Worship consisted in the recitation of prayers and hymns; the offering of soma-juice, which was not allowed to ferment and become intoxicating, as was the case in India, but was drunk fresh; and finally in sacrifices, that of the horse being looked upon as the most acceptable. The flesh was only shown to the sacred fire as an act of consecration, and was then eaten at a solemn banquet by the priest and his fellow-worshippers.
Finally, the Zoroastrians were devout believers in the immortality of the soul and a conscious future existence. They taught that immediately after death the souls of men, both good and bad, proceed together along an appointed path to "the bridge of the gatherer." Over this, from its extreme narrowness, only the souls of the good can pass, while the wicked fall from it into the gulf of punishment below. Even the good have to be assisted in their passage by the angel Serosh, but when safely over the archangel Barman rises from his throne to greet them severally with the words, "How happy art thou who hast come hither to us from mortality to immortality." After this the pious soul goes joyfully onward to the presence of Ormuzd, to the immortal saints, to the golden throne, and to Paradise. As for the wicked, when they fall into the gulf, they find themselves in outer darkness in Ahriman's kingdom, where they are forced to remain and feed on poisoned banquets. The one dark spot, therefore, in the Zoroastrian religion was this dualism, which placed opposite to the good god Ormuzd a being of nearly equal might and activity, Ahriman, who wages with him constant war. Yet even this appears to have been a corruption of the primitive creed. The earlier portions of the Zend-Avesta are strongly monotheistic, are averse to idolatry under every form, and mark in the strongest way the opposition between good and evil. But as time went on, and men mused upon this mysterious problem of the presence and power of evil in a world made by a good god, the figure of the bad intelligence, Ahriman, began to stand out in stronger colors, till he became a god too, endowed with attributes well-nigh as mighty as those of Ormuzd. Then round, the two there grew up a mythology of angelic beings, towards some of whom at last even a religious reverence was paid verging on idolatry; and so the spirituality of the original creed of the Iranians was lost.
The chief authorities are Spiegel's edition and translation of the Zend- Avesta; Haug, Essays on the Sacred Language, etc., of the Parsees;
Lenormant, Manuel d'Histoire Ancienne de lOrient, 2:306-324; Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, 2:322-344. See also Hardwick, Christ and other Masters, 2:383 sq.; Muller, Chips from a German Workshop, vol. i; Upham, Wise Men, p. 7274, 82-85; Hunt, Pantheism, p. 32 sq.; Ueberweg, Hist. of Philosophy, 1:17 sq.; Etheridge, Introd. to Hebrew Literature, p. 340 sq. (R. P. S.)