Zoroastrianism, The Battle Between Good and Evil


Zeus-Serapis-Ohrmazd, Bactria 3rd Century CE

by Jayaram V

According to Zoroastrian teachings, Angra Mainyu is the architect of evil, the anti-God principle, who represents evil, untruth, arrogance and death and subjects people to torment once they come under his influence. He is emotionally unstable, lazy, lacks confidence, cowardly and ignorant, but has a blind ambition to overpower God and infest His creation by whatever means that are available to him. He is assisted in his effort by a host of evil entities, the Daevas and the Druj whom he created.

Jeh, the primeval woman is his partner, who instigates him and reminds him of his duties, whenever he is depressed or frightened by the memory of God, and goads him into action. Despite his weaknesses and evil intentions, he is somehow endowed with the power to create his own forces. Though God is omnipotent, Zoroastrian texts do not give the impression that he is created by God, because God being pure light and truthfulness, cannot create evil that is centered in darkness, falsehood and malice. God will only destroy him when the times comes. Until then Ahirman exists by himself, presenting a problem to the forces of light. They have to contend with him and do all they can to maintain the sanctity and order of the worlds so that he remains confined to his own domain until God destroys him in a manner already planned by Him.

Zoroastrian religion is based on the belief that the world is a battleground between good and evil forces, with far reaching consequences for the humanity, depending upon which side they join. Zoroastrian texts vary in their interpretations of this epic battle. According to one version, Ahura Mazda is constantly opposed by an evil being called Angra Mainyu. The battle between the two will continue until the end of creation when God will ultimately triumph and confine the evil to one particular region, the hell. According to another version, at the beginning of creation, Ahura Mazda created the twin spirits, the good Spenta Mainyu and the other named Angra Mainyu or Ahirman.

He gave them the freedom to choose between life, light and good on one hand and death, darkness and evil on the other. Spenta Mainyu chose life, truth, light, order and goodness, while Angra Mainyu chose death, darkness, chaos and evil. Spenta Mainyu presides over the world of Truth and Justice while the latter over the kingdom of lies or falsehood (Druj). The material world in between is a playground in which the opposing forces meet and determine the fate of human beings. Angra Mainyu is presently trapped in metals and material things and will continue to trouble people until God brings him to justice on the Judgment Day. Some later day texts describe the opposing twins as children of Zurvan or Time.

Traditional accounts favor the first version according to which in the beginning there was only Infinite Time. In it God and Angra Mainyu were both infinite and finite. They were infinite on one side where there were no boundaries to their domains. On the other side, they were separated by a great Void. Because the void limited their domain on one side, they were also finite. God was not only the more powerful of the two, but also omniscient. with the knowledge of the past, present and future. Before He even met him, He was aware of Angra Mainyu, residing on the other side of the Void. He also knew about their impending battle. But Angra Mainyu was not omniscient. He was also not as brave and courageous as God. He was weak, timid, ignorant and lazy. Fear and malice were his weapons. In the Infinite Time, when there was perfect balance in the universe, Angra Mainyu crossed the Void and saw God for the first time. He made an attempt to attack Him. God made a covenant with him, knowing well that the time to contain the evil was yet to come.

According to the covenant, God offered a truce to Ahirman, that would last for 9000 years. According to the agreement, God's will alone would prevail in the first three thousand years. The will of both would prevail in the next three thousand years during which the material world and things would become susceptible to the forces of evil and suffer from instability, death and decay. The next three thousand years would begin with the birth of Zoroaster, who would spread the teachings of God among humanity and make them aware of the conflict between the forces of good and evil and prepare them for the final confrontation, teaching them the right way to live and support the forces of good. Another prophet would be born a thousand years later to continue the teachings. Finally at the beginning of the third millennium, a future son of Zoroaster would manifest on earth. He would be called Saoshyant. He would herald the Final Judgment Day, distribute the drink of immortality among people and help God and his forces destroy the evil for ever.

As projected by God, Ahirman attacked the material world when he was instigated by his partner, Jeh. He burst through the sky. He invaded the earth. He attacked the primeval man, the primeval ox and all the elements, namely, fire, water, earth and air. He attacked the stars, the planets, the plants and the animals. According to Zoroastrian beliefs, the presence of evil in the material plane makes our world unstable and ever changing. Evil renders the things in our world susceptible to decay, death and disintegration. Mountains were formed when the evil pierced through the otherwise plain earth and caused earthquakes deep inside. It is also responsible in our world for droughts, deserts and the stench that comes sometimes from the earth. Smoke and black soot is formed when evil overtakes the fire. It makes air noxious with stinking smells, water susceptible to pollution and impurities, plants, men and animals to fever and sickness and the sun and the moon to eclipses.

Human beings are also susceptible to the invasion of evil forces. Especially, their minds and bodies can succumb to the influence of evil. Their minds and bodies can fall prey to evil thoughts and evil temptations. They can intentionally or unintentionally come into contact with evil things such as dead or putrid matter or contaminated water, air or earth. The Zoroastrians scriptures therefore urge men to be very careful in their day to day lives. living very responsibly, religiously and ethically, remembering God all the time and practicing righteousness by observing the three commandments taught by Zoroaster, namely: good thoughts, good words and good deeds. They are advised to protect themselves by chanting the sacred mantras like Ashem Vohu and Ahunwar mantra and abide by the instructions given in the scriptures to keep their minds, bodies and environment as pure and clean as possible.

The concept of duality, or the battle between good and evil forces is found in all religions. Rejection of evil and adoration of the divine for one's own good is the common theme that runs through all religious scriptures. However Zoroastrianism presents its in a rather dramatic way, not as something that has been happening only in some higher worlds between beings of light and darkness, but as something that has been happening right here, right now, in oneself and in every aspect of the material creation, in everything that one can see, touch, smell and feel. It presents it as an inherent problem of our existence, from which escape is possible, by a conscious and ethical choice, by practicing righteousness and emulating all the qualities represented by God and His six Immortal Beings.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Image Attribution: The image of Ohrmazd used for this essay has been adapted with alterations from Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or later

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