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Ancient Persian Mythology

Ancient Persian Mythology


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The mythology of ancient Persia originally developed in the region known as Greater Iran (the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia). The Persians were initially part of a migratory people who referred to themselves as Aryan (meaning “noble” or “free” and having nothing to do with race). One branch of these Aryans settled in and around the region now known as Iran (originally known as Ariana – “the land of the Aryans”) prior to the 3rd millennium BCE and are referred to as Indo-Iranians; another branch settled in the Indus Valley and are known as Indo-Aryans.

Since both of these originated from roughly the same environment and culture, they shared a common religious belief system, which would develop in time as the Vedic lore and Hinduism of India and the Early Iranian Religion and Zoroastrianism of Persia, all of which share key concepts and types of supernatural beings. Belief in such beings and their stories – designated in the modern-day as 'mythology' – was simply their sincere religious system, as valid to them as any religion is to an adherent in the present. This so-called 'mythology', in fact, would go on to inform Zoroastrianism which, in turn, would influence the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Sources & Development

The ancient Persian religious tradition was passed down orally, and the only written texts relating to it come from after the prophet Zoroaster (c. 1500-1000 BCE) initiated the reforms which would become Zoroastrianism. The Avesta (Zoroastrian scriptures) is the primary source in the section known as the Yasht which deals with pre-Zoroastrian deities, spirits, and other entities. Other information on pre-Zoroastrian religion comes from later works known as the Bundahisn and the Denkard and, to a lesser extent, the Vendidad.

The early Iranian deities were almost completely reimagined by Zoroaster but many retained their original function to greater or lesser degrees.

The Vendidad text provides insight on how one should practice Zoroastrianism and mentions various entities and rituals which predate the founding of the religion. The other major sources for Persian mythology are the Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”) written by the Persian poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi (l. 940-1020 CE) drawing on the much earlier oral tradition, and the popular One Thousand Tales (better known as The Arabian Nights), written during the Sassanian Period (224-651 CE) and also based on oral tradition.

The early Iranian deities were almost completely reimagined by Zoroaster but many retained their original function to greater or lesser degrees. How these deities were venerated by the pre-Zoroastrian Persians is unclear but it is certain that rituals involved fire (considered a divine element and also a god), were conducted outdoors, and elevated the supreme principle of Goodness personified in the being of Ahura Mazda, king of the gods.

Creation & the Problem of Evil

The world, seen and unseen, was created by Ahura Mazda, the source of all good and all life. Ahura Mazda was uncreated and eternal and, by his goodness, made all that was known in seven steps:

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  • Sky
  • Water
  • Earth
  • Plants (vegetation, crops)
  • Animals
  • Human Beings
  • Fire

Sky was an orb suspended in the midst of nothingness and, within it, Ahura Mazda released waters and then separated the waters from each other by earth. The sky element rose high above the earth and passed beneath it. Upon the earth, Ahura Mazda spread all different kinds of vegetation and imbued it with its own life and then created Gavaevodta, the Primordial Bull (also given as “the uniquely created bull”, Primordial Bovine, and Primordial Ox) who would give life to all other animals which would feed on, and fertilize, the vegetation.

At this point, Ahura Mazda's supernatural enemy enters the narrative – Angra Mainyu (also known as Ahriman) – who embodies chaos, darkness, and evil. The Avesta gives no origin for this entity and seems to assume a prior knowledge among its audience of Angra Mainyu's existence and beginnings. The later sect of Zorvanism made Angra Mainyu the twin brother of Ahura Mazda, but this dualism was (and is) rejected by traditional Zoroastrians.

The 19th century CE German Orientalist Martin Haug (l. 1827-1876 CE) sought to resolve this problem of the origin of evil in a world created by an all-powerful and benevolent Ahura Mazda by claiming Angra Mainyu did not actually exist as a deity but was rather the destructive/negative energy-discharge of the creative act of the god. In this view, Angra Mainyu takes on sentience and power from the act of creation but is himself a created being and, ultimately, will fail against the greater power of the creator. Haug's answer seems to fit with Zoroaster's original vision but whether it would apply to pre-Zoroastrian understanding is unknown.

After Ahura Mazda created the world and Gavaevodta and set all in motion, the Primordial Bull was killed by Angra Mainyu for no reason other than that he could. Gavaevodta's corpse is taken to the moon and purified, and from the bull's purified seed, all animals come into being. Ahura Mazda thereby sets the paradigm, repeated in many other instances, of turning Angra Mainyu's efforts at destruction to positive ends.

Humans were granted the gift of free will by Ahura Mazda, & the meaning of human existence comes down to choosing good over evil.

Once animals and plant life were in place, Ahura Mazda created the first man, Gayomartan (also given as Gayomard, Kiyumars) who is beautiful and “bright as the sun” and so attracts the attention of Angra Mainyu who kills him. The sun purifies Gayomartan's seed in the ground, and 40 years later, a rhubarb plant comes from it and grows into the first mortal couple – Mashya and Mashyanag – into whom Ahura Mazda breathes the spirit of life which becomes their souls. Mashya and Mashyanag live in complete harmony with the animals of the world, each other, and Ahura Mazda until Angra Mainyu comes into their paradise and seduces them by claiming that he is their creator and master of the world and that Ahura Mazda has been deceiving them.

Confused, the couple doubt their true creator's word and accept the lie of Angra Mainyu and so sin enters the world and harmony is lost. The couple cannot conceive for 50 years after their fall and, when Mashyanag finally does give birth, she and Mashya eat the children because they have lost any sense of balance and reason. Many years after this, another set of twins is born who will become the progenitors of humanity. Owing to the first couple's acceptance of the lie, however, paradise has been lost and humans will now live in strife with the natural world and each other.

Humans were granted the gift of free will by Ahura Mazda, which is how they were able to choose to believe Angra Mainyu's lies over their creator's truth, and so the meaning of human existence comes down to the exercise of that free will in choosing good over evil, Ahura Mazda over Angra Mainyu. However one chose would then dictate the quality of one's life and, naturally, one's afterlife.

Life & Afterlife

If one chose to follow Ahura Mazda, one would live a good and productive life in harmony with others and one's environment; if one chose Angra Mainyu, one lived in opposition to the truth and became a source of confusion and strife. When a person died, their soul hovered around the corpse for three days while the gods tallied up their spiritual credits and debits in life. The soul was then called to cross a dark river to the land of the dead during which good souls were separated from bad ones (a process known as the Crossing of the Separator). Afterwards, justified souls went on to paradise where they were reunited with those who had gone before; evil souls were dropped into a dark hell of torment.

Gods & Spirits

The supernatural entities who decided one's fate, and also kept the universe functioning, came into being through the emanations of Ahura Mazda. Among the best known are:

  • Mithra – god of the rising sun, covenants, and contracts
  • Hvar Ksata – god of the full sun
  • Ardvi Sura Anahita – goddess of fertility, health, water, wisdom, and sometimes war
  • Rashnu – an angel; the righteous judge of the dead
  • Verethragna – the warrior god who fights against evil
  • Vayu – god of the wind who chases away evil spirits
  • Tiri and Tishtrya – gods of agriculture and rainfall
  • Atar – god of the divine element of fire; personification of fire
  • Haoma – god of the harvest, health, strength, vitality; personification of the plant of the same name whose juices brought enlightenment

There were a number of other entities in addition to these, among the most important being the angel Suroosh – guide of the dead – and Daena – the Holy Maiden – both of whom met the soul at the crossing to the afterlife. This world, and the next, was thought to be inhabited by invisible spirits who, just like humans, were engaged in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. The ahuras were good spirits and the daivas were evil; both influenced human life and thought.

Central to one's spiritual journey was how well a person treated animals, especially dogs. Dogs in ancient Persia were accorded an especially high status and, in later Zoroastrian belief, guarded the Chinvat Bridge (which would replace the image of the dark river in the Crossing of the Separator) spanning the abyss between life and death. Dogs would welcome a justified soul and reject those who had been condemned.

Supernatural Creatures

The dog features prominently in one of the most popular and enduring figures from Persian mythology, Simurgh, the so-called dog-bird. Simurgh was an enormous bird with the head of a dog, body of a peacock, and claws of a lion, large enough to lift an elephant with ease, who lived in cycles of 1,700 years before plunging into a fire of its own making to die and be reborn (precursor to the later myth of the Phoenix). Simurgh originally appears as the Great Falcon known as Saena who sits high in the branches of the Tree of All Seeds at the center of the world and, by flapping her wings, sends seeds scattering through the air which find their place in the earth through wind and rain.

Birds feature prominently in Persian mythology on either side of the struggle between good and evil. The great bird Chamrosh (with a dog's body and eagle's head and wings) assists in distributing seeds from the Great Tree and also protects Persians against threats by non-Persians while, on the opposing side, is the enormous bird Kamak who seeks to thwart whatever good Chamrosh intends. The Huma bird, similar to Simurgh in many respects, conferred kingship and held all the wisdom of the ages while the giant bird of prey known as the Roc (or Rukh) dispensed justice upon those who thought they could escape it.

One of the most feared supernatural entities was the Al (also known as the Hal and Umm Naush), a nocturnal demon who fed on the life-force of newborns. The Al were part of a larger body of evil and dangerous spirits known as khrafstra who troubled, disrupted and, at times, ended human lives. The khrafstra were invisible but manifested their intentions through observable nature in stinging ants, wasps, crop-destroying beetles, spiders, frogs, rodents, serpents, and beasts of prey. The dog was considered the best protection against these spirits as well as their physical manifestations.

One of the most potent invisible spirits was the Jinn (also known as Djinn and best known as Genies) who, unlike any other entity, were collectively neutral in the war between good and evil. Some Jinn were malevolent and some benign but, overall, they seem to react to circumstances and individual prompts. A Jinn might grant one wishes but could twist and betray the outcome in doing so or, conversely, could simply be helpful outright. Jinn were thought to especially favor lonely places such as desert plains and oases so amulets were carried by merchants and travelers for protection from their influences.

Similar to the Jinn were the Peri (fairies) who could be mischievous or helpful. Peris are tiny, beautiful, winged creatures – usually female – who can deliver important messages from the gods or, just as easily, steal and hide some important object or misdirect a person. They were allegedly imprisoned in their fairy-form until they had atoned for a past sin but were neither human souls nor immortal entities. If their purpose was atonement, they seem to have been collectively bad at their jobs since tales concerning them show them causing trouble as often as resolving it.

Another great threat to order and human happiness was the dragon (known as azhi) and the most fearsome of these was Azhi Dahaka who is described as “three-mouthed, the three-headed, the six-eyed, who has a thousand senses…most powerful, to destroy the world of the good principle” (Yasht 9.14; Curtis, 23). The dragon Azhi Sruvara preyed on humans and horses while another, Gandareva, stirred up the seas and sank ships.

Famous Myths

The stories of these creatures, gods, and spirits – as well as the heroes who contended with them – were passed down in a long oral tradition until they were included in parts of the Avesta and, more fully, in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi written between 977-1010 CE. The Shahnameh is an enormous epic spanning generations but, roughly speaking, tells the story of the forces of good, symbolized by the kingdom of Iran, battling those of chaos and evil personified by the kingdom of Turan.

Long before their conflict begins, the first great hero is King Yima (also given as Yama), who rules over the known world with justice and devotion, banishing death and disease and elevating the lives of the people throughout his realm. He is given power by the gods as a reward for his selfless devotion and uses it wisely: when the world becomes overpopulated, he simply enlarges it, providing more space and resources for humans, animals, and vegetation to live together peacefully.

In a story which some scholars cite as a direct influence on the later biblical Noah's Ark tale, Yima also saves the world from destruction. The gods tell Yima that a hard winter is coming and he should gather a man, woman, the seeds of all kinds of vegetation, and two of each kind of animal in a large three-tiered barn. Yima does so, and the world is saved. After a reign of over 300 years, however, he begins to listen to the lies of Angra Mainyu and so he sins and the divine grace leaves him. Afterwards, his successors must struggle to maintain just rule since deception and trickery will now regularly play a part in politics.

The greatest Persian hero is Rustum (also given as Rostom and Rustam) who is the grandson of the hero Sam and son of the equally heroic Zal. Sam longed for a son and was overjoyed when Zal was born but that moment vanished quickly when he looked at the boy and saw he had bright white hair. Interpreting this as an evil omen, Sam abandons the newborn in the Alburz Mountains and leaves him to die. The boy is taken by Simurgh, however, who raises him as her own son, and he develops amazing strength and superhuman powers.

After some time, news comes to Sam's court of a great hero living in the mountains and, at the same time, Sam dreams of his son alive again and is encouraged to go find him. Simurgh tells Zal to return to his father and the world of humans but gives him a feather (in some versions, three feathers) which he should use to summon her if he needs help. Zal becomes a great prince and marries the princess Rudabeh who has a difficult time giving birth to their son.

Zal summons Simurgh who teaches him how to deliver the child through Caesarian section and also instructs him in the medicinal use of plants. Rustum is born and, after one day, is the size and strength of a one-year-old and continues growing quickly to “the height of a cypress tree and with the strength of an elephant” (Curtis, 39). He becomes the great hero of the Iranian forces against those of Turan and, though eventually killed through deceit and trickery, he prevails and order is restored.

Conclusion

There are, of course, many other famous stories from Persian mythology – the Rustum tales alone are epic, and the Shahnameh weaves these with others in 50,000 rhymed couplets, making it longer and more thematically complex than other famous works like The Epic of Gilgamesh or Homer's Iliad – which explore and expand upon the theme of good vs. evil and order triumphing over chaos. The long tradition of telling these tales attests to the popularity of their rich imagery and dramatic tension as they were repeated orally for centuries before they found written form.

The Avesta was only finally written down during the reign of Shapur II (309-379 CE) and codified/revised under Kosrau I (r. 531-579 CE) of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE), while the Shannameh was only completed at the beginning of the 11th century CE. Even so, the oral tradition of the Persians is thought to have influenced the religious systems of other cultures many centuries earlier. Persian mythological motifs are evident in aspects of Vedic, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek religious systems and, through later development by Zoroastrian thinkers, would come to influence significant aspects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, among others; suggesting Persian mythological thought as foundational to religious belief worldwide in the modern era.


Deities or Vampires? Hecate and other Blood-Drinking Spirits of Ancient Times

Vampires are a relatively recent creation. However, most of the ancient world knew of the practice of consuming blood. It seems that this was a fascinating ritual centuries before the term ''vampire'' appeared.

The ritual drinking of blood may sound today like a practice related to Satanists or fictional characters in fantasy novels or horror films. However, it was a part of mysterious rites related to many past civilizations. The custom of consuming blood always had a magical and mysterious meaning. It was used as a part of witchcraft, as a symbolic connection of the powers of life and death, as a religious practice, or as a form of offering to the gods.


Ancient Persian Mythology - History

AN ANCIENT PERSIAN FAIRY TALE

Abstract: There are several different versions of this tale in Persian and as they have been orally transmitted from one generation to another, the originality of any of them cannot be proven. A few years ago an Iranian writer collected them from people of different provinces in Iran. What follows is a compilation from six versions.

"You didn't need faith to fly, you needed to understand flying. This is just the same. Now try again. " Then one day Jonathan, standing on the shore, closing his eyes, concentrating, all in a flash knew what Chiang had been telling him. "Why, thats true! I AM a perfect, unlimited gull!" He felt a great shock of joy.

-Jonathan Livingstone Seagull


"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced-even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it."

-Keats

There was being and nonbeing, there was none but God [1] , who had three sons: Prince Jamshid (King of the golden age of Iranian epics), Prince Q-mars, and the youngest, Prince Khorshid (Sun, light, divine wisdom., who was self-born -- an initiate), who had no mother. He was the king's favorite because he was the bravest of all.

In the garden of the palace there grew a pomegranate tree [2] with only three pomegranates their seeds were fabulous gems that shone like lamps by night. When ripe, the pomegranates would turn into three beautiful girls who were to become the wives of the three princes. Every night, by the king's order, one of his sons guarded the tree lest anyone should steal the pomegranates.

One night when Prince Jamshid was guarding the tree he fell asleep and, in the morning, one pomegranate was missing. The next night Prince Q-mars was on guard, but he also fell asleep and the next morning another pomegranate was missing. When it came Prince Khorshid's turn, he cut one of his fingers and rubbed salt on it so the burning would keep him awake. Shortly after midnight a cloud appeared above the tree and a hand, coming out of it, picked the last pomegranate. Prince Khorshid drew his sword and cut off one of the fingers. The hand and the cloud hurriedly disappeared.

In the morning when the king saw drops of blood on the ground he ordered his sons to track them, find the thief, and bring back the stolen pomegranates. The three princes followed the blood drops over mountains and deserts until they reached a deep well where the trail ended. Prince Jamshid offered to be lowered down the well with a rope to investigate. Less than halfway down he screamed: "Pull me up, pull me up, I am burning." His brothers pulled him up. Next, Prince Q-mars went down and soon he also cried out that he was burning. When Prince Khorshid decided to go down he told his brothers that no matter how loudly he shouted, they should not pull him up but let the rope down farther and they were then to wait for him only until dark. If there was no sign of him, they could go home.

Prince Khorshid entered the well and, in spite of unbearable heat, went all the way down to the bottom where he found a young girl, beautiful as a full moon. On her lap lay the head of a sleeping deav/div [3] , whose thunderous snores filled the air with heat and smoke. "Prince Khorshid," she whispered, "what are you doing here? If this deav wakes up, he will surely kill you as he has killed many others. Go back while there is still time."

Prince Khorshid, who loved her at first glance, refused. He asked her who she was and what she was doing there.

"My two sisters and I are captives of this deav and his two brothers. My sisters are imprisoned in two separate wells where the deavs have hidden the stolen wealth of almost all the world."

Prince Khorshid said: "I am going to kill the deav and free you and your sisters. But I will wake him first I do not wish to kill him in his sleep." The prince scratched the soles of the deav's feet until he opened his eyes and stood up. Roaring, the deav picked up a millstone and threw it at the prince, who quickly stepped aside, drew his sword, and in the name of God cut the deav in half. Thereafter he went to the other two wells, finished off the deavs and rescued the sisters of his beloved. He also collected the treasure.

As it was not yet dark, his brothers were still waiting for him and when he called them they started to pull up the rope. The girl whom Prince Khorshid loved wanted him to go up before her, because she knew that when his brothers saw the jewels they would be jealous and would not pull him up. But the prince insisted she go up first. When she saw that she could not change his mind she said: "If your brothers do not pull you up and leave you here, there are two things you should know: first, there are in this land a golden cock [4] and a golden lantern [5] that can lead you to me. The cock is in a chest and when you open it, he will sing for you. And when he sings, all kinds of gems will pour from his beak. The golden lantern is self-illuminated, and it burns forever. The second thing you should know is this: later in the night there will come two oxen that will fight with each other. One is black, [6] the other white. [7] If you jump on the white ox it will take you out of the well, but if, by mistake, you jump on the black one, it will take you seven floors farther down."

As she had predicted, when the princes Jamshid and Q-mars saw the girls and the boxes of gold and silver, they became jealous of their brother's achievements. Knowing that their father would surely give him the kingdom, they cut the rope and let him fall to the bottom of the well. Then they went home and told their father that they were the ones who had rescued the girls, killed the deavs, and brought all the treasure, and that Prince Khorshid had not come back.

Prince Khorshid was heartbroken. He saw two oxen approaching and stood up as they started to fight. In his excitement he jumped on the back of the black ox and dropped with it seven floors down. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a green pasture with a view of a city in the distance. He started walking toward it when he saw a peasant plowing. Being hungry and thirsty he asked him for bread and water. The man told him to be very careful and not to talk out loud because there were two lions nearby if they heard him they would come out and eat the oxen. Then he said: "You take over the plowing and I will get you something to eat."

Prince Khorshid started to plow, commanding the oxen in a loud voice. Two roaring lions came charging toward him, but the prince captured the lions, turned the oxen loose and hitched the lions to the plow. When the peasant returned, he was very much taken aback. Prince Khorshid said: "Don't be afraid. The lions are harmless now and will not hurt you or your oxen. But if you are not comfortable with them, I will let them go." When he saw that the farmer was still reluctant to approach the lions, he unfastened them and they went back where they had come from.

The man had brought food but no water. He explained: "There is no water in the city because a dragon is sleeping in front of the spring. Every Saturday a girl is taken to the spring so that, when the dragon moves to devour her, some water runs through the city's streams and people can collect enough for the following week. This Saturday the king's daughter is to be offered to the dragon."

Prince Khorshid had the peasant take him to the king: "What will be my reward if I kill the dragon and save your daughters life?" The king replied: "Whatever you wish within my power."

Saturday came and the prince went with the girl to the spring. The moment the dragon moved aside to devour her, Prince Khorshid called the name of God and slew the monster. There was joy and celebration in the city. When Prince Khorshid, asked to name his reward, announced that his one wish was to return to his homeland, the king said: "The only one who could take you up seven floors is Simorgh (In New Persian literature Simorgh and in Pahlavi or Middle-Persian: Sen-Murv), who has many manifestations besides divine wisdom, it may symbolize the perfected human being. According to some Pahlavi texts, Simorgh is a bird whose abode is in the middle of a sea in a tree which contains all the seeds of the vegetable world. Whenever Simorgh flies up from the tree one thousand branches grow, and whenever she sits on it, one thousand branches break and the seeds fall into the water.

In Ferdowsi's Shah Nameh (Book of Kings) -- originally called Khoday Nameh (Book of God) -- Simorghs abode is on top of the mountain Ghaph, by which is meant Alborz mountain.). She lives nearby in a jungle. Every year she lays three eggs and each year her chicks are eaten by a serpent. If you could kill the serpent, she surely would take you home."

Prince Khorshid went to the jungle and found the tree in which Simorgh had her nest. While he was watching, he saw a serpent climbing up the tree to eat the frightened chicks. In the name of God he cut the serpent into small pieces and fed some to the hungry chicks who were waiting for their mother to bring them food. He saved the rest for later and went to sleep under the tree. When Simorgh flew over the nest and saw Prince Khorshid, she thought he was the one who each year ate up all her chicks. She was ready to kill him, when her chicks shouted that he was the one who had saved them from the enemy. Realizing that he had killed the serpent, she stretched her wings over Prince Khorshid's head to make shade for him while he slept.

When he awoke, the prince told Simorgh his story and asked whether she could help him. Simorgh urged him to go back to the king and ask him for the meat of seven bulls. "Make seven leather bags out of their hides and fill them with water. These will be my provisions for the journey I need them to be able to take you home. Whenever I say I am hungry you must give me a bag of water, and when I say I am thirsty you must give me the carcass of a bull." On their way up to the ground Prince Khorshid did exactly as Simorgh had instructed him until only one bag of water was left. When, instead of saying she was hungry Simorgh said she was thirsty, Prince Khorshid cut off some flesh from his thigh and put it in Simorgh's beak. Simorgh immediately realized it was human flesh. She held it gently until they reached their destination. As soon as he dismounted, the prince urged Simorgh to fly back at once but, knowing he could not walk without limping, she refused and with her saliva restored the piece of his flesh to his thigh. Having learned how brave and unselfish the prince was, she gave him three of her feathers, saying that if he were ever in need of her he should burn one of them, and she would instantly come to his aid. With that she flew away.

Entering the town, Prince Khorshid learned that three royal weddings were about to take place: for Prince Jamshid, and Prince Q-mars, and the third for the Vizier's son, because the youngest son of the king, Prince Khorshid, had never returned. One day some men came to the shop where Prince Khorshid was apprenticed, saying they had been to all the jewelry stores in town but no one would undertake to make what the king had ordered. Prince Khorshid asked them what it was and was told: "The girl who is to marry the Viziers son has put forward one condition to the marriage! She will only marry one who can bring her a golden cock from whose bill gems will pour when it sings she also wants a golden lantern which is self-illuminated and burns for ever. But so far no jeweler can build such things."

Prince Khorshid, recognizing the signs, spoke up: "With my master's permission I can build you a chest with such a golden cock and also the golden lantern by tomorrow. The men gave him the jewels needed to build those items and left. Prince Khorshid gave them all to his master for, he said, he did not need them.

That night Prince Khorshid left the town and burned one of the feathers. When Simorgh came, he asked her to bring him what the girl had demanded, and she did so. In the morning, the astounded men took the precious items to the king, who at once summoned the young man to the court and was overjoyed to discover it was none other than his favorite son. Prince Khorshid told his story but he begged the king not to punish his brothers for the wrong they had done him.

The whole town celebrated his return and there were three weddings indeed. The king made Prince Khorshid his successor to the throne and all lived happily every after.

[1] The duality of light and darkness has always existed in the fundamental belief of Iranians light representing the essence of life which is consciousness, and darkness representing non life which is form. All Persian fairy tales begin with the sentence "There was being and nonbeing, there was none but God."). In the old, old times there was a king (The guardian of the throne of wisdom

[2] The treasure of secret knowledge

[3] Giant: tyranny of human ignorance and weakness

[4] This represents Saroush (Sarousha in Pahlavi). Sarousha is a godlike bird who is the most powerful of the gods, since he is the manifestation of righteousness, honesty, and striving. He fights the diev of frailty and weakness. In some versions of this story, the golden cock in a chest is a golden nightingale in a golden cage.

[5] The light of wisdom. In some versions, Prince Khorshid must bring back a golden lantern, in others a golden hand-mill which represents the wheel of destiny (or civilization and culture).

[6] Terrestrial life leading to darkness.

[7] Terrestrial life leading to light.

Encyclopaedia Iranica

The British Institute of Persian Studies

"Persepolis Reconstructed"

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Ancient Persian Mythology - History

If you can only afford the essentials, these are the two things -- and the only 2 things -- that you need to develop your homeschool curriculum.

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Ancient Mythology: India, Persia, Mesopotamia
updated November 21, 2020


Recorded here is my own personal collection of articles, resources, favorite links, teaching ideas, and lesson plans. It encompasses many years, from the very beginning of my experience studying and learning about Waldorf to the present time. People from all around the world visit my site and recommend it to others. Welcome!

This site records my journey. I hope my honesty is encouraging and helps break down some barriers that may prevent people from trying Waldorf methods. Because this is an ongoing site documenting my curriculum planning and ideas, some materials are more Waldorf-y than others. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

This page has helpful links and LOADS of free resources to help you plan your fifth grade year. Enjoy!


Ancient Mythology: India, Persia, Mesopotamia
for Class 5

Pinterest - Renee Schwartz
My curated collection of visuals! Browse sample main lesson book pages, watercolor paintings, chalkboard drawings, etc. for Ancient India, Ancient Persia, and Ancient Mesopotamia.


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Excellent resource! Published Waldorf curriculum books provided here in PDF format for you to download, keep, and read. for free!

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Sample Lessons and Free Curriculum

    BLACKBOARD SKETCHING book by FREDERICK WHITNEY (1908)
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    Indian Mythology: Manu and the fish, page 219

*NEW picture book out with a story from Ancient Persia


*NEW* From Eggs to Apples food history video series "Episode 1: Mesopotamia"
"In our first episode, we start with the Yale Babylonian Tablets, the first-ever written recipes, produced around 1600 BCE in ancient Mesopotamia. In this video, we'll make two versions of a beef stew from the tablets: one from Mesopotamia's north (Assyria) and one from the south (Babylonia)."

There are basically two collections of stories from which to choose, depending on whose style you prefer: Dorothy Harrer or Charles Kovacs.

I like Kovacs and used it my first time around. However, I then discovered that the Harrer book, Chapters from Ancient History is now available online for FREE at the Online Waldorf Library, so that makes it a budget-friendly option (and, happily, her volume includes Ancient Greece as well).

Notes from Teaching with Kovacs (2016)

I taught this block in September 2016. At first I thought we could do two chapters each day, but then I saw how much the children loved them and what great detail they were going into in their main lesson book summaries. Thus, I had to slow down a bit!

I suggest spending two weeks on Ancient India, one week on Ancient Persia, and one week on Ancient Babylonia. In my mind, Ancient Egypt should get its own block, and a great resource for that is Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology by Geraldine Harris. There is also a brand-new book out called Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Mythology for Kids by Morgan E. Moroney, and it is excellent. Here is the link to my Ancient Mythology: Egypt page.

    Day One: Before beginning the first story, paint India (see my blog post for pictures), the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Himalayan Mountains, and the Ganges River, using pale blue for the shape of the entire peninsula and dark blue for the river, yellow for the surrounding water, and red for the mountains, and watercolor pencils to label each item on our map. Hear "Manu and Atlantis" from Kovacs.

Day Two: Chalkboard drawing of Manu (hint: draw the fish first). Add story to MLB. (We didn't do this, but it would be nice to do a watercolor painting of a rainbow for this story.) Hear "King Sangara's Horse" from Kovacs.

To knit a pure white horse, use the pattern in A First Book of Knitting for Children, page 64.

Day Three: Add story to MLB. Hear "Baghiri and the River Ganges" from Kovacs.

Day Four: Add story to MLB. Hear "Indra, the Warrior God" from Kovacs.

Day Five: Add story to MLB. Hear "The Fisherman's Catch" from Kovacs.

Day Six: Add story to MLB. Hear "Rama and Hanuman" from Kovacs.

Day Seven: Add story to MLB. (For help with drawing monkeys, use Live Education's Drawing Simple Animal Forms. But an easier illustration for this story is the path of rocks being held up by the ocean.) Hear "Buddha, the Enlightened One" from Kovacs.

(It is nice to do a MLB of Jataka tales in 2nd grade. If students are not familiar with these stories, take another day to read a Jataka tale such as The Golden Deer by Margaret Hodges, or set out I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha Told by Jeanne M. Lee.)

    Combine in a large saucepan
      2 cups whole wheat flour
      1 cup salt
      2 T cream of tartar
      2 T vegetable oil
      1 3/4 cups water
      1/4 cup lemon juice
      a few drops of lemon extract
      zest of one lemon, finely grated
      1 1/2 tsp lemongrass powder
      1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
      1 tsp ground ginger
      1/2 tsp ground cardamom

    Add story to MLB. Hear "Ahura Mazda and Ahrimen" and "Hushang Discovers Fire" from Kovacs. Make Persian recipe: Faloodeh (Persian Rose Water Ice).

    Day Nine: Add story to MLB. (We did a very effective two-page spread emphasizing their polarity, with warm colors and flames as the border around the Ahura Mazda summary and cool colors and icicles around the Ahrimen summary.) Hear "Zarathustra and the Kingdom of Light" from Kovacs.

    Of course, this story also features a beautiful horse which you could knit. This time it is a pure black one. In sixth grade students will, finally, be old enough to do needle-felting!

    (Another story for Persia, which I ran out of time to do, is The Legend of the Persian Carpet by Tomie de Paola.)

    Day Ten: Add story to MLB. Hear "The Land of Two Rivers" and "Marduk, the God Who Knew No Fear" from Kovacs.

    Day Eleven: Add story to MLB. Hear "Gilgamesh and Eabani" from Kovacs. Clay modeling of Gilgamesh and Eabani wrestling from Elizabeth Auer's book (see my blog post for picture).

    Day Twelve: Add story to MLB. Clay modeling of Babylonian tablets and cuneiform writing from Arthur Auer's book.

    (Another story for Mesopotamia, which I ran out of time to do, is Ishtar and Tammuz: A Babylonian Myth of the Seasons by Christopher Moore.)

    My Blog Posts from Teaching This Topic as a Summer Camp (2019)

    Notes from Teaching with Harrer (2020)

    My most recent time teaching this Ancient Mythologies block was in November 2020 during the time of COVID. Our homeschool co-op was doing distance learning, so we used Dorothy Harrer's book since it is available to download as a free PDF. Here is the link to the Online Waldorf Library.


    Affiliate links through Amazon cover domain registration, web hosting, and website backup fees. This allows me to offer
    my materials for free. Any extra revenue is used as our homeschool budget for the month. Thank you for your support!


    Manichaeism

    Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

    Manichaeism, dualistic religious movement founded in Persia in the 3rd century ce by Mani, who was known as the “Apostle of Light” and supreme “Illuminator.” Although Manichaeism was long considered a Christian heresy, it was a religion in its own right that, because of the coherence of its doctrines and the rigidness of its structure and institutions, preserved throughout its history a unity and unique character.

    Mani was born in southern Babylonia (now in Iraq). With his “annunciation” at the age of 24, he obeyed a heavenly order to manifest himself publicly and to proclaim his doctrines thus began the new religion. From that point on, Mani preached throughout the Persian Empire. At first unhindered, he later was opposed by the king, condemned, and imprisoned. After 26 days of trials, which his followers called the “Passion of the Illuminator” or Mani’s “crucifixion,” Mani delivered a final message to his disciples and died (sometime between 274 and 277).

    Mani viewed himself as the final successor in a long line of prophets, beginning with Adam and including Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus. He viewed earlier revelations of the true religion as being limited in effectiveness because they were local, taught in one language to one people. Moreover, later adherents lost sight of the original truth. Mani regarded himself as the carrier of a universal message destined to replace all other religions. Hoping to avoid corruption and to ensure doctrinal unity, he recorded his teachings in writing and gave those writings canonical status during his lifetime.

    The Manichaean Church from the beginning was dedicated to vigorous missionary activity in an attempt to convert the world. Mani encouraged the translation of his writings into other languages and organized an extensive mission program. Manichaeism rapidly spread west into the Roman Empire. From Egypt it moved across northern Africa (where the young Augustine temporarily became a convert) and reached Rome in the early 4th century. The 4th century marked the height of Manichaean expansion in the West, with churches established in southern Gaul and Spain. Vigorously attacked by both the Christian Church and the Roman state, it disappeared almost entirely from Western Europe by the end of the 5th century, and, during the course of the 6th century, from the eastern portion of the Empire.

    During the lifetime of Mani, Manichaeism spread to the eastern provinces of the Persian Sāsānian Empire. Within Persia itself, the Manichaean community maintained itself in spite of severe persecutions, until Muslim ʿAbbāsid persecution in the 10th century forced the transfer of the seat of the Manichaean leader to Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan).

    The religion’s expansion to the East had already begun in the 7th century with the reopening of caravan routes there after China’s conquest of East Turkistan. A Manichaean missionary reached the Chinese court in 694, and in 732 an edict gave the religion freedom of worship in China. When East Turkistan was conquered in the 8th century by the Uighur Turks, one of their leaders adopted Manichaeism and it remained the state religion of the Uighur kingdom until its overthrow in 840. Manichaeism itself probably survived in East Turkistan until the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. In China it was forbidden in 843, but, although persecuted, it continued there at least until the 14th century.

    Teachings similar to Manichaeism resurfaced during the Middle Ages in Europe in the so-called neo-Manichaean sects. Groups such as the Paulicians (Armenia, 7th century), the Bogomilists (Bulgaria, 10th century), and the Cathari or Albigensians (southern France, 12th century) bore strong resemblances to Manichaeism and probably were influenced by it. However, their direct historical links to the religion of Mani are difficult to establish.

    Mani sought to found a truly ecumenical and universal religion that would integrate into itself all the partial truths of previous revelations, especially those of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. However, beyond mere syncretism, it sought the proclamation of a truth that could be translated into diverse forms in accordance with the different cultures into which it spread. Thus, Manichaeism, depending on the context, resembles Iranian and Indian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism.

    At its core, Manichaeism was a type of Gnosticism—a dualistic religion that offered salvation through special knowledge (gnosis) of spiritual truth. Like all forms of Gnosticism, Manichaeism taught that life in this world is unbearably painful and radically evil. Inner illumination or gnosis reveals that the soul which shares in the nature of God has fallen into the evil world of matter and must be saved by means of the spirit or intelligence (nous). To know one’s self is to recover one’s true self, which was previously clouded by ignorance and lack of self-consciousness because of its mingling with the body and with matter. In Manichaeism, to know one’s self is to see one’s soul as sharing in the very nature of God and as coming from a transcendent world. Knowledge enables a person to realize that, despite his abject present condition in the material world, he does not cease to remain united to the transcendent world by eternal and immanent bonds with it. Thus, knowledge is the only way to salvation.

    The saving knowledge of the true nature and destiny of humanity, God, and the universe is expressed in Manichaeism in a complex mythology. Whatever its details, the essential theme of this mythology remains constant: the soul is fallen, entangled with evil matter, and then liberated by the spirit or nous. The myth unfolds in three stages: a past period in which there was a separation of the two radically opposed substances—Spirit and Matter, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness a middle period (corresponding to the present) during which the two substances are mixed and a future period in which the original duality will be reestablished. At death the soul of the righteous person returns to Paradise. The soul of the person who persisted in things of the flesh—fornication, procreation, possessions, cultivation, harvesting, eating of meat, drinking of wine—is condemned to rebirth in a succession of bodies.

    Only a portion of the faithful followed the strict ascetic life advocated in Manichaeism. The community was divided into the elect, who felt able to embrace a rigorous rule, and the hearers who supported the elect with works and alms.

    The essentials of the Manichaean sacramental rites were prayers, almsgiving, and fasting. Confession and the singing of hymns were also important in their communal life. The Manichaean scriptural canon includes seven works attributed to Mani, written originally in Syriac. Lost after Manichaeism became extinct in the Middle Ages, portions of the Manichaean scriptures were rediscovered in the 20th century, mainly in Chinese Turkistan and Egypt.

    The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.


    Ancient Persian Mythology - History

    Some scholars have held that in ancient Persian literature they can detect the elements of diluvial traditions. Thus in the Bundahis, a Pahlavi work on cosmogony, mythology, and legendary history, we read of a conflict which the angel Tistar, an embodiment of the bright star Sirius, waged with the Evil Spirit apparently in the early ages of the world. When the sun was in the sign of Cancer, the angel converted himself successively into the forms of a man, a horse, and a bull, and in each form he produced rain for ten days and nights, every drop of the rain being as big as a bowl so that at the end of the thirty days the water stood at the height of a man all over the world, and all noxious creatures, the breed of the Evil Spirit, were drowned in the caves and dens of the earth. It is the venom of these noxious creatures, diffused in the water, which has made the sea salt to this day But this story has all the appearance of being a cosmogonic myth devised to explain why the sea is salt it is certainly not a diluvial tradition of the ordinary type, since nothing is said in it about mankind indeed we are not even given to understand that the human race had come into existence at the time when the angelic battle with the principle of evil took place.

    Another ancient Persian story recorded in the Zend-Avesta, has sometimes been adduced as a diluvial tradition. We read that Yima was the first mortal with whom the Creator Ahura Mazda deigned to converse, and to whom the august deity revealed his law. For nine hundred winters the sage Yima, under the divine superintendence, reigned over the world, and during all that time there was neither cold wind nor hot wind, neither disease nor death the earth was replenished with flocks and herds, with men and dogs and birds, and with red blazing fires. But as there was neither disease nor death mankind and animals increased at such an alarming rate that on two occasions, at intervals of three hundred years, it became absolutely necessary to enlarge the earth in order to find room for the surplus population.

    The necessary enlargement was successfully carried out by Yima with the help of two instruments, a golden ring and a gold-inlaid dagger, which he had received as insignia of royalty at the hands of the Creator. However, after the third enlargement it would seem that either the available space of the universe or the patience of the Creator was exhausted for he called a council of the celestial gods, and as a result of their mature deliberations he informed Yima that "upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall, that shall bring the fierce, foul frost upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall, that shall make snow-flakes fall thick, even an aredvi deep on the highest tops of mountains. And all the three sorts of beasts shall perish, those that live in the wilderness, and those that live on the tops of the mountains, and those that live in the bosom of the dale, under the shelter of stables."

    Accordingly the Creator warned Yima to provide for himself a place of refuge in which he could find safety from the threatened calamity. He was told to make a square enclosure (Vara), as long as a riding-ground on every side, and to convey into it the seeds of sheep and oxen, of men, of dogs, of birds, and of red blazing fires. "There thou shalt establish dwelling places, consisting of a house with a balcony, a courtyard, and a gallery. Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of men and women, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of cattle, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth.

    Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of tree, of the greatest, best, and finest kinds on this earth thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of fruit, the fullest of food and sweetest of odour. All those seeds shalt thou bring, two of every kind, to be kept inexhaustible there, so long as those men shall stay in the enclosure (Vara). There shall be no humpbacked, none bulged forward there no impotent, no lunatic no Poverty, no lying no meanness, no jealousy no decayed tooth, no leprous to be confined, nor any of the brands wherewith Angra Mainyu stamps the bodies of mortals." Yima obeyed the divine command, and made the enclosure, and gathered into it the seeds of men and animals, of trees and fruits, the choicest and the best. On that blissful abode the sun, moon, and stars rose only once a year, but on the other hand a whole year seemed only as one day. Every fortieth year to every human couple were born two children, a male and a female, and so it was also with every sort of cattle. And the men in Yima's enclosure lived the happiest life.

    In all this it is hard to see any vestige of a flood story. The destruction with which the animals are threatened is to be the effect of severe winters and deep snow, not of a deluge and nothing is said about repeopling the world after the catastrophe by means of the men and animals who had been preserved in the enclosure. It is" true that the warning given by the Creator to Yima, and the directions to bestow himself and a certain number of animals in a place of safety, resemble the warning given by God to Noah and the directions about the building and use of the ark. But in the absence of any reference to a deluge we are not justified in classing this old Persian story with diluvial traditions.


    Ancient Persian Mythology - History

    Encyclopaedia Iranica

    The British Institute of Persian Studies

    "Persepolis Reconstructed"

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    Love, Pearls & Weddings

    During Ancient Greek days, the myth was that pearls were the gods&rsquo tears. It was also believed that if a woman wore pearls on her wedding day, it would stop her from crying.

    Hindu folklore is a bit different. It describes the gems as drops of dew that dropped from the sky during the nighttime, into the moonlit ocean. Pearl meaning behind the story of Krishna, AKA Vishnu, is believed to be one of the earliest accounts of weddings and pearls.

    It&rsquos said that Krishna pulled the very first pearl from the sea. He then presented it to Pandaia, his daughter, on the day of her wedding. His wedding gift was a symbol of purity, love, and union.

    FACT: In ancient Roman times, pearls were a symbol of wealth and high status. This is why in 1BC, Roman ruler Julius Caesar created a law that prohibited anyone below the ruling class to wear the gems of the sea.


    Ancient Persian Mythology - History

    Internet Ancient History Sourcebook

    Important: New Structure for the Ancient History Sourcebook

    Since January 24 1999, the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook has been completely reorganized. Each of the main sections had became too large to maintain as one file. To see the new arrangement go to the Main Index.

    The three older index files were called Ancient Near East (asbook1.html)| Greece (asbook2.html)| Rome (asbook3.html). All remained available until October 2000, but have now been removed. Too many links had gone bad, and as such the pages generated too many complaints about bad links, even though there was indication that they were no longer being updated and updated linkes were available within the new structure.

    For all texts it is now necessary to use the new structure.

    • Introduction: Using Primary Sources
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