Ahura Mazda: an epic
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Yet thou has not given me requital for this good word which came out of the mouth of Re himself: "speak the truth [Ma'at,] do the truth. For it is great, it is mighty, it is enduring. The king constantly refers to himself as 'Living in Truth' and his city as the 'Seat of Truth'. Men and nature were to stand naked before their god, rejoicing in the light and heat of his rays.
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To gain an insight into the profundity of the religious revolution conceived by the genius and brought about by the will of Akhenaten it is only necessary to read his famous Sun Hymn printed at the end of this book. It shows a full spiritual realization of the idea of a universal god which had had its faint dawn in the previous reign; it is highly charged with the sense of the sole god's universal and all-pervading love. When you shone from the eastern horizon You filled every land with your beauty.
You are lovely, great and glittering, You go high above the lands you have made, Embracing them with your rays, Holding them fast for your beloved son. There is an ecstatic delight in the beneficent power of god manifest in nature, the power that makes the birds lift up their wings in adoration, makes the sheep skip and the fish leap, calls the chick from the egg, quickens the human child in the mother's womb.
Throughout the whole hymn, there is no threat, no judgment, no fear of darkness. Moreover, although it is full of intense poetry it is also supremely rational. Here indeed is religion true to the light of the sun. Yet they were always aggressive, and established the myth that their Sun God was to lead them to victory over their neighbours, that he had commanded them to maintain the military discipline, the denial of the individual, of a dedicated warrior race.
They therefore developed all the characteristics of a repressive society. Sin was for them synonymous with drunkenness and sexual liberty. In expiation or to please their gods they practised horrible penances of slashing themselves and drawing blood from ears and tongue with cactus spines.
On many occasions they perforated their tongues and drew through them a cord threaded with these barbed spines. Even today the Flagellantes run through the streets of Mexico flogging and being flogged, their backs streaming with blood. The Aztecs' image of themselves as a chosen people was even more dangerous than such images usually are, for it was charged with the hate and desire for revenge that follows from subjection and humiliation.
So when success came to them and they fought their way to power and riches, they had become peculiarly charged with violence and dark urges, and hence, after the inevitable ways of the psyche, peculiarly inclined to see their supposed enemies as charged with violence and dark urges. As one of their own most sympathetic historians has written, in addition to believing they had to support the sun with human sacrifice they 'also believed they had an ethical ideal to attain.
The struggle of the sun against the powers of darkness was not only a struggle of the gods, but it was also, above all, the struggle of good against evil. The mission of the Aztecs was, then, to be on the side of the sun, the symbol of good, opposing the fearful gods of darkness, the symbols of evil.
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Speaking from their conscious minds, the priests still proclaimed their virtue and loving-kindness, their glorious duty of maintaining the light of the world, but within them the dark side of the psyche that is in us all had grown, had corrupted and had taken possession.
They enjoyed what they did, and Huitzilopochtli the sun of the day became in truth the sun of darkness. Now I have to follow the story of man's relationship with the sun into an altogether new phase. The first experience of Old World civilization when religion, blossoming spontaneously from the psyche, united societies in total dependence on their gods, was faltering and coming to an end. The change which began to take place during the last millennium B.
Each step since man had left behind his wholly animal past had been marked by his further separation from the natural matrix. The light of the conscious intellect brightened and was focused more sharply on. Whether this was solely due to the inescapable lessons of time, the discovery that great god-centred empires could fall to pieces, civilizations collapse and even the economics of everyday life fail, leaving individuals utterly at a loss, or whether it was the more or less inevitable outcome of a cosmic evolution of consciousness, is for each of us to judge.
Certainly it was helped on by the invention of alphabetical writing.
Ideas could now be recorded with much more ease and flexibility and by a greater number and variety of people, so that observations, questions and answers, inspired guesses, which before had too often flitted through the mind, been expressed in fleeting speech and soon been forgotten or allowed to become blurred, could now be fixed in permanent clarity and accumulated from generation to generation. Before going on to describe the part which the Sun God played in the mystery religions which were the oriental response to the new age, and to the great flourish of solar monotheism in which paganism ended in the Roman Empire, I want to go back for a moment to the earlier history of the Indo-European peoples who are to play so considerable a part in the remainder of this chronicle.
Perhaps I would not bother to do so, perhaps I would plunge directly ahead, were it not for one very solid thing: Stonehenge. The most massive monument in the Old World, the Pyramid of Cheops, and what many might judge to be the most impressive momument in the New World, the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, were both raised in solar worship.
It is a remarkable testimony to the creative power of the star that the greatest monument of prehistoric Europe was also a sanctuary of the Sun God. Although the history of the expansion of the peoples speaking. They were successful pastoralists, and almost everywhere they imposed themselves as a ruling class, drawing their wealth from flocks and herds. They moved in the atmosphere of an Heroic Age.
Everywhere, too, as far as we can tell, they introduced religions in which the celestial gods were pre-eminent. If a paternal sky god, a Zeus, was at least nominally supreme, the Sun God was always at his elbow. In the Kuban, where warrior graves dating from about B. The centre of dispersal of these battle-axe-using Indo-European peoples seems to have been the grasslands of Russia north of the Black Sea and the Caspian. From here they thrust eastward into Iran, and then over the passes into the Punjab, where they helped to bring the Indus Civilization to an end in about B.
The early Aryan unity of the Iranians and these invaders of India is shown by the many similarities between the Rig Veda and the Persian Avesta. The southward movement of the Indo-Europeans is best represented by the Mitanni who entered western Mesopotamia, the ruling class among the Hittites in Asia Minor and the Greek-speaking Mycenaeans who had established themselves in Greece by B.
Later, as is well known, further Greek-speaking peoples, including the Achaeans and Dorians, followed in the wake of the Mycenaeans, while the Italians occupied their promontory, the Spaniards theirs. In the north the Teutonic tribes took shape, and powerful Celtic-speaking peoples emerged in South Germany, Switzerland and France, many groups of them crossing to the British Isles during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages there.
But long before these later. These began as early as I B. In their expansion to the south and west, the Indo-European peoples, with their devotion to celestial deities, again and again encountered the peoples whose religious beliefs still, as it were, looked downward towards the chthonic powers of the earth.
Cults of the Mother Goddess had been carried by the early cultivators along the Mediterranean and into western Europe and Britain. The clash between the divinities of the heavens and of the earth took place with dramatic clarity, for example, when the Greek-speaking peoples entered the Minoan world, and it happened at a humbler level when the first warrior peoples of the Early Bronze Age, with their wealth in cattle and sheep, landed in a Britain then in the possession of a stone- using peasantry.
The religious encounter is embodied at Stonehenge. This place, now visited by thousands of people from all over the world, was originally the site of a New Stone Age sanctuary. At that time instead of standing stones pointing towards the sky there were pits pointing down into the earth , and the deities served there may be assumed to have been of the underworld where they could be reached by the pouring of libations. Then came the invasions by the pastoralists whom we have recognized as in part at least Indo-European , and the holy ground was taken over for a temple built with the famous Blue Stones brought over two hundred miles from south-west Wales.
Already this second Stonehenge had its entrance facing down the ceremonial Avenue towards the point on the horizon. He shone for the world, for gods and men, and drove away the powers of darkness, witches, disease and evil dreams. He was the husband of Ushas, the Dawn, and drove a chariot, sometimes with one horse, sometimes with seven or more. He seems to be one of the Sun Gods, now familiar, who have far more power and worship than their place in the pantheon would suggest.
The single origin revealed in the language, forms and religious feeling of the Rig Veda and the Iranian Avesta has already been mentioned, and the fact that many of the gods common to both represent something at least of the ancient Indo-European pantheon has been confirmed by their appearance in Mitannian inscriptions. Yet the Avesta has been in some ways very deeply altered by the individual teaching of Zarathushtra, the much mythologized yet essentially historical prophet of Zoroastrianism. Although it is uncertain exactly when he lived, it was before the middle of the last millennium B.
In fact he was the herald of the extraordinary spiritual and intellectual flowering of the sixth century, when Lao Tse, Confucius, the Buddha, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and other leading Greek scientists were all living at one time. In Persia Varuna became Ahura Mazda. He, too, presided over a divine physical and moral order, and he, too, was closely linked with Mithra, who even more clearly than his Indian counterpart was a solar divinity. The tendency for sky gods to concentrate into what men saw every day as the greatest of celestial powers and become Sun Gods is by now already familiar.
I do not see how this solar aspect can be withheld from the original Ahura Mazda. Was not his symbol the winged. In that most famous of all Persian inscriptions, the colossal Darius bas-relief carved on the cliff-face at Behistun , Darius the Great, standing head and shoulders above his followers, is shown raising his right arm in salutation to the god who hovers in the air above him in the form of the winged disk.
The text, recording in three languages Darius's overthrow of his rivals for the throne, concludes with the words 'Darius proclaims: Ahura Mazda came to my aid. Those who deny this because Ahura Mazda was also said to transcend the sun, to control it and appear before it at the dawn, simply do not know their Sun God. Evidently the makers of electric bulbs agree with me, for is not the round shining Mazda bulb unmistakably our indoor sun?
However I do not want to linger over the proof that in early, pre-Avesta, Persia, Ahura Mazda was in part an Indo-European solar divinity. For what is of significance at this stage of the history of the Sun God is the change in his nature brought about by Zarathushtra. As the individual self-consciousness increased and the conscious and intellectual mind grew further apart from the unconscious, there was an equivalent tendency to set a single male divinity outside and above nature, the world being his creation , sometimes his creation as Logos , the most intellectual of conceptions.
It is not easy to distinguish sharply between transcendental and immanent gods, for there is always something in man that wishes to draw the transcendent back into nature.
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Did not the ageing Wordsworth work over his poems trying to conceal the intuitive pantheism of his early inspiration? Perhaps the Hebrews made Jahveh more consistently transcendental than any of his contemporaries, yet even he seems sometimes to creep back into his works.
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Zarathushtra took Ahura Mazda and made him sole creator of the universe. He was all-powerful, all-wise and all-good. Zarathushtra's solution, as expressed in the Gathas, the most ancient part of the Avesta generally attributed to the prophet himself, was to say that Ahura Mazda who had created both light and darkness, good and evil, had created the twin spirits Spenta Mainyu Good Mind and Angra Mainyu Evil Spirit , who, as a concession to more primitive ideas were allowed attendant hosts of angels of light and demons of darkness.
These two spirits did not exist independently but in opposition to each other, and both met in the higher being of Ahura Mazda. It was the duty of man on earth to fight for the powers of good against evil; the good would triumph in the end, yet the efforts of each man contributed to its victory. For 'the central idea of Zarathushtra's religion is the individuality of Man and his responsibility towards the Universe.
Before him the individual person and his life counted for little Everybody has to decide for himself whether to align himself with the Good or side with the Evil. Yet the simpler ideas lingered on, doubtless more strongly in those who were inarticulate than in those whose words have been recorded. For instance the Indo-European idea of the god in his chariot lives in a hymn to the sun from the Avesta.
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It begins:. We sacrifice to the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun. When the light of the sun waxes warmer, when the brightness of the sun waxes warmer, then up stand the heavenly Yazatas by hundreds of thousands. They gather together its glory, they make its glory pass down, they pour its glory upon the earth made by. Then after proclaiming the purifying powers of the sun and the danger that would come from the demons should it fail to rise, it goes on:.
He who offers up sacrifice unto the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun - to withstand darkness, to withstand the Daevas born of darkness, to withstand the robbers and bandits Indeed the image of the chariot persisted in most tangible form. The Persian army of Xerxes was followed by a chariot of the Sky God drawn by eight white horses, and in writing of Cyrus, Xenophon says that this might be followed by another belonging to the Sun God. Another manifestation of the solar element in Zoroastrianism is preserved in the religion of the Parsees, Persian refugees from the Arab conquest who have lived in India ever since.