Zoroastrianism - Cosmogony Or Theories of Creation

Zarathushtra or Zoroaster, the Founder of Zoroastrianism

by Jayaram V

The Zoroastrian cosmogony is based on the belief that God fashioned and shaped the world in which we live as a conscious choice. However it is not the only world that He brought into existence. Before he shaped our material world, He created an invisible, spiritual realm, which He populated with spiritual entities from His own light. He created lords or ahuras, archangels or Amesha Spentas, guardian angels and other yazatas or luminaries. He made sure that evil would not be able to enter this world. It is a world of million suns where darkness has no place to hide. He also sanctified it with His holy order or Asha by establishing perfect harmony and division of powers among its constituents. The beings of the spiritual realm personify His qualities and serve as ideals of Truth and righteousness for others to follow.

Next He created the material world and populated it with plants, animals and humans. He created the earth and the sky. He brought forth water and air. These are the physical or material aspects of the same entities that populate the higher realm. Both are mirror images that differ in the nature of their constitution. He materialized sacred fire that would serve as His own symbol upon earth with the ability to purify, sanctify and create order and harmony. He limited the presence of evil to the material plane and trapped it in the metals and material things, so that at an appropriate time He can destroy it altogether.

As for God, He is self existing. No one created Him. He exists eternally without a beginning and an end. However He is not someone who mere resides in a high tower and remains unconcerned with what goes on in His own domain. He is an active and dynamic God, who is just and benevolent. He can be approached and communicated through prayers and supplications. He responds to our calls. He comes to our rescue. From time to time He reveals himself to a chosen few or sends a savior or prophet upon earth to help people progress on the righteous path.

The Zoroastrian texts do not provide a clear and unanimous explanation of how the evil came into existence and since when. Some later day texts present an argument that the spirit of evil came into existence as a twin to the spirit of good in the remote past and that God as the highest of all would ultimately settle the dispute by punishing the evil. The earlier texts however do not address this issue. The primeval evil seems to be there from the beginning in its own sphere, separated from the realm of God by a huge void. God being Truth, righteousness and justice could not be be the creator of evil. So Ahirman, the evil entity, existed in his own realm from the beginning, waiting for an opportunity to strike at God and His realm. He is however no match for God. Perhaps God's patience and tolerance is what keeps him alive so long as He is not a complete menace. In the beginning of times, he tried to attack God and corrupt His realm. God threw Him back into the abyss. When God was creating the worlds and beings, he created counter forces to keep himself in a state of preparedness. Finally, when God finished creating the material world, he managed to creep into it and infest the elements with his presence, making them unstable, impermanent, prone to negativity and susceptible to decay and disintegration.

Theories of creation

The Zoroastrian theory of creation is perhaps one of the oldest and most elaborate concept ever found in any ancient or prehistoric religion. Following are some of the fundamental aspects of Zoroastrian cosmogony.

1. Before the creation there was only infinite time. God created finite time out of it. With it came the linear time consisting of past and future and cycles of time consisting of four periods of 3000 years each.

2. Before creation there was only infinite space. God created finite worlds out of it consisting of the heaven, the earth and the middle atmospheric region.

3. Creation took place in two levels or planes. First God created the spiritual realm and then proceed to create the material world.

4. Creation in both realms did not happen in a flash, but in a sequential and orderly fashion over a period of time. In the spiritual plane God first created the Amesha Spentas and then various categories of divinities and beings. In the material plane He first created relative time from infinite time. Then came sky, water, earth, plants, animals, primeval ox and primeval man.

5. Creation in both the planes proceeded in a similar fashion so that whatever that was created in the Spiritual realm will have a corresponding entity in the material world. The difference between the elements of both the worlds is with regard to their composition and susceptibility to the problem of evil.

6. God shaped both the realms from His own light. The luminaries of the spiritual realm were created out of His own aura or brilliance, while fire and light played an important role in shaping the material world.

7. God shaped the worlds through good thoughts, good words and good actions. He chanted the most sacred Ahuna Vairya mantra at the time of creation. He used His mental power or Divine Mind and positive thoughts to create Asha or the holy order.

8. God is both protector and sustainer of His creation. He created Asha, the holy order and infused it in His creation, so that it would stand apart from the chaos that prevail in the realm of evil.

Creation of the divinities of the spiritual realm

It is difficult to enumerate the entire gamut of Zoroastrian divinities or spiritual beings created by Ahura Mazda. The Haft Amahraspand Yasht of Khorda Avesta mentions the following list of divinities.

  • the Amesha-Spentas:
    • Vohu-Mano;
    • Asha-Vahishta,
    • Khshathra-Vairya;
    • Spenta-Armaiti;
    • Haurvatat,
    • Ameretat
  • Mithra, the lord of wide pastures
  • Rama Hvastra.
  • Atar (Asha), the son of Ahura Mazda.
  • Apam Napat, the tall lord
  • The Fravashis of the faithful
  • Verethraghna, made by
  • Sraosha, the holy, devout, fiend-smiting who makes the world grow;
  • Rashnu-Razishta
  • Arshtat, who makes the world grow, who makes the world increase;

In addition we also find mention of the following ahuras or divine entities

  • Fareshtas or archangels
  • Varuna, the lord of justice
  • The fair Yima, the good shepherd, who was the first mortal
  • Fravashis, the guardian angels

Creation of entities of the material world

The following entities were created by God in the material world

  • Sky
  • Water represented by Haurvatat
  • Earth represented by Aramaiti
  • Plants represented by Ameretat
  • Animals represented by Vohu Mano
  • Human beings
  • Gayoamard, the primeval man from whom descended 25 races in all
  • Goshorun, primeval ox.
  • Planetary gods Tishtar (Mercury), Haptoring (Mars), Vanand (Jupiter), Sataves (Venus), Gochin (Saturn)
  • Mashye and Mashyane, the first man and woman or Adam and Eve

Formation of the luminaries

The Bundahisn mentions the following luminaries created by God in the region between the sky and the earth.

"Ohrmazd produced illumination between the sky and the earth, the constellation stars and those also not of the constellations, then the moon, and afterwards the sun, as I shall relate.

"2. First he produced the celestial sphere, and the constellation stars are assigned to it by him; especially these twelve whose names are Varak (the Lamb), Tora (the Bull), Do-patkar (the Two-figures or Gemini), Kalachang (the Crab), Sher (the Lion), Khushak (Virgo), Tarazhuk (the Balance), Gazdum (the Scorpion), Nimasp (the Centaur or Sagittarius), Vahik (Capricorn), Dul (the Water-pot), and Mahik (the Fish); 3. which, from their original creation, were divided into the twenty-eight subdivisions of the astronomers, of which the names are Padevar, Pesh-Parviz, Parviz, Paha, Avesar, Beshn, Rakhvad, Taraha, Avra, Nahn, Miyan, Avdem, Mashaha, Spur, Husru, Srob, Nur, Gel, Garafsha Varant, Gau, Goi, Muru, Bunda, Kahtsar, Vaht, Miyan, Kaht. 4. And all his original creations, residing in the world, are committed to them; so that when the destroyer arrives they overcome the adversary and their own persecution, and the creatures are saved from those adversities.

"5.As a specimen of a warlike army, which is destined for battle, they have ordained every single constellation of those 6480 thousand small stars as assistance; and among those constellations four chieftains, appointed on the four sides, are leaders. 6. On the recommendation of those chieftains the many unnumbered stars are specially assigned to the various quarters and various places, as the united strength and appointed power of those constellations. 7. As it is said that Tishtar is the chieftain of the east, Sataves the chieftain of the west, Vanand the chieftain of the south, and Haptoring the chieftain of the north. 8. The great one which they call a Gah (period of the day), which they say is the great one of the middle of the sky, till just before the destroyer came was the midday (or south) one of the five, that is, the Rapithwin.

"9.Ohrmazd performed the spiritual Yazishn ceremony with the archangels (amahraspand) in the Rapithwin Gah, and in the Yazishn he supplied every means necessary for overcoming the adversary. 10. He deliberated with the consciousness (bod) and guardian spirits (farohar) of men, and the omniscient wisdom, brought forward among men, spoke thus: 'Which seems to you the more advantageous, when I shall present you to the world? that you shall contend in a bodily form with the fiend (druj), and the fiend shall perish, and in the end I shall have you prepared again perfect and immortal, and in the end give you back to the world, and you will be wholly immortal, undecaying, and undisturbed; or that it be always necessary to provide you protection from the destroyer?'

"11. Thereupon, the guardian spirits of men became of the same opinion with the omniscient wisdom about going to the world, on account of the evil that comes upon them, in the world, from the fiend (druj) Ahriman, and their becoming, at last, again unpersecuted by the adversary, perfect, and immortal, in the future existence, for ever and everlasting."

Creation of Evil Entities by Ahirman, The Arch Villain

While God was creating the worlds and entities, Ahirma went ahead with his own counter creation. The following demons and dark spirits are some of the entities mentioned in the Zoroastrian scriptures.

  • Mitokht who is falsehood
  • Akoman who is evil thought
  • Andar
  • Sovar
  • Nakahed
  • Tairev
  • Zarik
  • Daewas,
  • Jeh, the evil consort of Ahirman
  • Mazendaran (Indra's) demons

The nature of Ahirman

The Bundahishn (Chp. 27) catalogues the list of evil spirits and their misdeeds in the following manner.

"We can ascribe to the winter the harm which the Evil Spirit has produced unto the creation of Ohrmazd. His astral body is that of the frog, the vicious crab. He neither thinks of, nor speaks, nor works the weal of the creatures of Ohrmazd. His work of unforgiveness and destruction is this that he will destroy the creatures whom Ohrmazd increases. And his eye lashes will not refrain from inflicting calamity unto the creatures."

"And with sorcerous smiting he instigates mankind to friendship for himself and unfriendliness to Ohrmazd, so that they may forsake the Revelation of Ohrmazd, and pursue that of Ahriman. He instills this into the minds of men that this is not the Revelation of Ohrmazd, and they ought not to be steadfast to it. 4. He who will give something to the man who has laid down this aphorism as a tenet, will propitiate the Evil Spirit, that is, he shall have delighted him."

Nature of Ahirman's creatures

The creatures of Ahirman are divided into two categories: Arch Daevas and Druj or cooperators. Most of the evil creatures have the "strength of pestilence and disease, producers of pain and grief, possessing their own weapons, of the seed of darkness, and bringers of stench, defilement, and vileness." They are "large in number, and of immense details, a portion of them all is mingled in the bodies of men, and their tokens are clear to men." The daevas are six: Akoman, Indra, Saurva, Nanohaithya, Taurvi and Zairi.

  • Akoman produces vile thoughts and unpeacefulness into the creatures.
  • Indra. He freezes the minds of the creatures from practicing righteousness just like much frozen snow. He instills this into the minds of men that they ought not to have the sacred shirt and thread girdle {sudre and kusti}.
  • Saurva is the leader of the devs. He personifies evil authority, oppression, unlawfulness, and the production of want.
  • Naonhaithya produces discontent among the creatures.
  • Taurvi mingles poison into the vegetable creations.. She is the smiter,
  • Zairi is the venom maker. She poisions the waters, plants and animals

The Druj or the evil cooperators are

  • Taurvi
  • Taromaiti produces scornfulness.
  • Mithaokhta is the druj of scepticism.
  • Araska is the druj of revengefulness and of the evil eye.
  • Vizaresh is that which contends with the souls of departed men, during those three nights, when they are on earth, brings fear and smiting on to them, and sits at the gate of the wicked existence.
  • Uta is that which delivers a message invisibly, when men sit to answer the call of nature, or when they eat food.
  • Akatash is the druj of perverseness, which makes the creatures averse from righteous objects.
  • Cheshma causes earthquake and makes whirlwind too, and proceeds to the opposition of the cloud.
  • Varun practises unnatural lust. He is without the path.
  • Bushasp practises slothfulness,
  • Sij is the druj which causes destruction,
  • Niyaz is that which causes want.
  • Az swallows things; when, owing to privation, nothing is obtained, it devours from its person.
  • Pinih makes a hoard; it neither enjoys nor gives it to any.
  • Nas causes the pollution and contamination which they call ‘nasa.'
  • Freptar distracts mankind.
  • Spazg is a slanderer who brings and carries the talk of a thing which is nonexistent by similitude.
  • Anast is utters falsehood.
  • Aghash is the druj of the malignant eye which kills man with the eye.
  • But is that which they worship in India; its light is lodged in such idols as Butasp worshipped.
  • Astwihad is the evil wind which snatches life.
  • Apaush and the dev Spenjaghra are at war with the producers of rain.
  • Kunda is that which is the steed of sorcerers.

How Ahirman attacked the material world

An account of how, instigated by Jeh, Ahirman, who was reeling from the earlier defeat, woke up attacked various entities of the material world is given in the Bundhahishn, Chapter 3, which is reproduced below.

"6. And, again, the wicked Jeh shouted thus: 'Rise up, thou father of us! for in that conflict I will shed thus much vexation on the righteous man and the laboring ox that, through my deeds, life will not be wanted, and I will destroy their living souls (nismo); I will vex the water, I will vex the plants, I will vex the fire of Ohrmazd, I will make the whole creation of Ohrmazd vexed.'

"7. And she so recounted those evil deeds a second time, that the evil spirit was delighted and started up from that confusion; and he kissed Jeh upon the head, and the pollution which they call menstruation became apparent in Jeh.

"8. He shouted to Jeh thus: 'What is thy wish? so that I may give it thee.' And Jeh shouted to the evil spirit thus: 'A man is the wish, so give it to me.'

"9. The form of the evil spirit was a log-like lizard's (vazak) body, and he appeared a young man of fifteen years to Jeh, and that brought the thoughts of Jeh to him.

"10. Afterwards, the evil spirit, with the confederate demons, went towards the luminaries, and he saw the sky; and he led them up, fraught with malicious intentions.

"11. He stood upon one-third of the inside of the sky, and he sprang, like a snake, out of the sky down to the earth.

"12. In the month Frawardin and the day Ohrmazd he rushed in at noon, and thereby the sky was as shattered and frightened by him, as a sheep by a wolf.

"13. He came on to the water which was arranged below the earth, and then the middle of this earth was pierced and entered by him.

"14. Afterwards, he came to the vegetation, then to the ox, then to Gayomard, and then he came to fire; so, just like a fly, he rushed out upon the whole creation; and he made the world quite as injured and dark at midday as though it were in dark night.

"15. And noxious creatures were diffused by him over the earth, biting and venomous, such as the snake, scorpion, frog (kalvak), and lizard (vazak), so that not so much as the point of a needle remained free from noxious creatures.

"16. And blight was diffused by him over the vegetation, and it withered away immediately.

"17. And avarice, want, pain, hunger, disease, lust, and lethargy were diffused by him abroad upon the ox and Gayomard.

"18. Before his coming to the ox, Ohrmazd ground up the healing fruit, which some call 'binak,' small in water openly before its eyes, so that its damage and discomfort from the calamity (zanishn) might be less; and when it became at the same time lean and ill, as its breath went forth and it passed away, the ox also spoke thus: 'The cattle are to be created, and their work, labor, and care are to be appointed.'

"19. And before his coming to Gayomard, Ohrmazd brought forth a sweat upon Gayomard, so long as he might recite a prayer (vaj) of one stanza (vichast); moreover, Ohrmazd formed that sweat into the youthful body of a man of fifteen years, radiant and tall.

"20. When Gayomard issued from the sweat he saw the world dark as night, and the earth as though not a needle's point remained free from noxious creatures; the celestial sphere was in revolution, and the sun and moon remained in motion: and the world's struggle, owing to the clamor of the Mazendaran demons, was with the constellations.

"21. And the evil spirit thought that the creatures of Ohrmazd were all rendered useless except Gayomard; and Astwihad with a thousand demons, causers of death, were let forth by him on Gayomard.

"22. But his appointed time had not come, and he (Astwihad) obtained no means of noosing (avizidano) him; as it is said that, when the opposition of the evil spirit came, the period of the life and rule of Gayomard was appointed for thirty years.

"23. After the coming of the adversary he lived thirty years, and Gayomard spoke thus: 'Although the destroyer has come, mankind will be all of my race; and this one thing is good, when they perform duty and good works.'

"24. And, afterwards, he (the evil spirit) came to fire, and he mingled smoke and darkness with it.

"25. The planets, with many demons, dashed against the celestial sphere, and they mixed the constellations; and the whole creation was as disfigured as though fire disfigured every place and smoke arose over it.

"26. And ninety days and nights the heavenly angels were contending in the world with the confederate demons of the evil spirit, and hurled them confounded to hell; and the rampart of the sky was formed so that the adversary should not be able to mingle with it.

"27. Hell is in the middle of the earth; there where the evil spirit pierced the earth and rushed in upon it, as all the possessions of the world were changing into duality, and persecution, contention, and mingling of high and low became manifest."

The Purpose of Creation

In Zoroastrianism the reason behind the creation of God is not left to speculation or intellectual curiosity. Unlike in Hinduism which explains the creation as the play (lila) of God, in Zoroastrian world view creation is part of a grand plan orchestrated by God to deal with the problem of evil. Being omniscient, He created the worlds and its beings essentially to execute His plan to isolate and combat evil and get rid of it eventually. According to His plan, the world will come to an end in a great conflagration at the end of the fourth period when He would establish His authority, segregate the primeval evil and destroy it from the material plane. Humans were created as a part of the agreement between Him and the fravashis or the guardian angels that they would become part of His army against the evil and play an important role in destroying it. In the process they would also benefit by overcoming their shortcomings in the material world and become perfect beings fit to live in a perfect world marked by perfect order, harmony, truth and righteousness.

The Conflict between good and evil

The conflict between God and evil is akin to the tussle that goes on between light and darkness every day in the form of day and night. The material world of God presently is very much like a world passing through its night. The first three periods are akin to morning, noon and evening. The early hours before the rise of the sun is comparable to the infinite time during which Ahirman planned an attack on God but will little success. The forces of darkness fail to suppress the sun and it eventually arises from the horizon in a splendor of glory, infusing every thing with its presence. But as the day wears on darkness begins to enter the world and settles down in the spaces between things. For a while it seems as if darkness is winning and overtaking the elements. In that darkness what keeps people reminded of light are the few luminaries or the constellation of stars in the sky, the moon and the sacred fire that used to be lit in every house, temple and sacred place in ancient times. Fire is a personification of the sun. It is a symbol of light and brightness. It keeps the chaos of night at bay and reassures people of the coming dawn and the ultimate triumph of the forces of day light. This is not to suggest that Zoroastrian concept of creation and the battle between good and evil came out of some one's imagination. It is either a coincidence or a fact that the macrocosm of God's manifestation mirrors itself in many of its constituent parts like a holograph of the universe itself.

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