Shir Zanan

A mythical rite practiced in remotest villages of Northern Iran


Shir Zanan
by LalehGillani

Nestled deep in the snowcapped Alburz Mountains of Northern Iran, amongst a heavily forested region, the Council of Shir Zanan met under the cover of a pitch black, moonless night. Seven women were seated around an altar, facing each other and holding the eternal fire of Ahura Mazda in the palms of their hands. The sacred fire illuminated their faces and drew eerie shadows on the wall. Their murmur could be heard in the silence of the frosty night as they chanted under their breath:

“Fear not our wrath; Fear not our revenge; Fear only our reverence.”

The cold wind carried their voices into the forest where their message turned into a hauler lashing against the trees and penetrating the world beyond.

I stood in total darkness in the far left corner of the room. I stood there at my own rite of passage, without a shadow, without an existence. The chanting grew more rapid but still only a whisper in the night. As someone, a familiar voice perhaps, beckoned me, I stepped forward out of the darkness into the sacred light. A shadow formed on the wall. Only a few steps to my tomb at the center of the temple: A coffin was awaiting my arrival. "Will I have the courage to do it?"

A whisper calling the Asiatic lioness to join the Council reverberated in the chamber. I was to be judged by the lioness, the symbol of once mighty but now fallen Persian Empire. I entered the tomb with my eyes wide open, determined not to miss the last moments of my childhood or perhaps my life. I felt the pain of two deep cuts on the palms of my hands, and then a blood soaked white rose was laid on my chest.

For the second time, the High Priestess summoned the lioness to our temple. Her soft voice, echoed by the others, amplified my anticipation and growing anxiety. "Will she come? Does she exist only in myths and dreams?" After years of research, experts have concluded that the Asiatic lion no longer dwells in Iran. Nonetheless, locals claim seeing the majestic beast. I tried to focus on the task at hand, concentrating on the sacred bond into which I was about to enter. Time was running out. Only one more invitation would be extended; the third was the final call. At last, the Council in unison decisively conjured the lioness again.

With every breath, the rose on my chest ascended into the light and, upon descent, disappeared into the darkness of my tomb. I heard a roar and trembled not only from fear but also from excitement. The chanting had stopped although my beating heart knew no silence. The lioness circled the altar and peeked into my tomb. She could smell the blood oozing out of the freshly cut wounds of my hands.

I felt the surge of adrenaline as our eyes locked. A human and a beast were looking into a mirror, each reflecting the darkness of the other’s soul. I wondered what she saw when she stared into my eyes and whether the image of her naked soul bearing witness to the sins of her kind terrified her. I gazed into a hollow emptiness and saw a savage desire to kill, to rip apart flesh, to prey on the weak, to afflict pain upon the helpless, to survive at any cost, and to kill your own kind. I saw a human soul without remorse, without mercy, without a future.

Tears welled up in my eyes; I blinked. The lioness was gone; the rose had vanished. She had offered me a glimpse into the nature and history of mankind and an opportunity, or perhaps even a duty, to mend the wrong. I, the granddaughter to the Northern tulips, entered into womanhood – lionhearted.

With a single nod of their heads, seven women cast one unanimous vote. The decision was made: The young were permitted to carry on the torch, to connect the history of an ancient fallen empire to that of a rising power. The next generation was to be groomed to embark on a long dangerous journey to advance the cause of an ancient sacred bond forged in blood and dated to the establishment of the Persian Empire in 550 B.C.E.

Persian women once held holy and wise were priestesses of temples and guardians of Mother Nature. They brought peace and harmony to earth and guarded the gates of heaven. They were the gatekeepers through whom salvation, redemption, and absolution were granted. Persian kings paid homage to them and sought their counsel. All that changed when the ancient empire fell to Arabs.

Islam relegated Persian goddesses to mere servants of men. They were veiled not only to cover their bodies but to conceal their identity and to curb their influence. They were stripped of all rights and confined to their homes. There, with the guidance of their wise elders, Persian women regrouped, organized and rose up again. They became brave, daring, rebellious women (Zanan) with the heart of a lion (Shir).

In the year 652 C.E., when Arabs began to rule Persia, the bond of Shir Zanan flourished into a secret covenant amongst Persian women who defied Islam. Since then, Shir Zanan have fought Islam for centuries and have passed on their knowledge and rites to the younger generations. Today, with the establishment of the first theocracy in modern times, Persian women must face an old enemy once again and with heavy hearts, fear the fulfillment of an old prophecy attributed to the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattāb:

Once the Wall of Fire keeping the Arabs and Persians apart crumples, neither can coexist with the other...

This article contains the dramatization of a mythical rite believed to have been practiced in the remotest villages of Northern Iran. The account of this ritual has been passed down by the word of mouth from mother to daughter for generations until it has reached me. Through these words, I wish to pay homage to our maternal ancestors who observed this rite many moons ago. Although their names have been erased from the pages of history and their faces have faded in the dust of time, their murmur still lingers in the heart of Shir Zanan throughout the Persian land to this day.


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Approaching 22 Bahman

by LalehGillani on

The battle to bring down a tyranny has been fought many times over by our ancestors. Through it all, our nation has persevered, and our bond has grown stronger. The current struggle is no different…

Thank you for your comments and participation on this thread. Keep the murmur alive!

Azadeh Azad

Very interesting

by Azadeh Azad on

I wholeheartedly relate to this mythical rite. Thank you, Laleh.

The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) or Persian lion was found in the Caucasus until the 10th century. However, it remained widespread in Iran and India until the mid-19th century when the advent of firearms led to its extinction over large areas. The last sighting of a live Asiatic Lion in Iran was in 1941 (between Shiraz and Jahrom, Pars province). In 1944, the corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of Karun river, Khuzestan province. There are no subsequent reliable reports from Iran.

Source: Guggisberg, C.A.W. (1961). Simba: The Life of the Lion. Howard Timmins, Cape Town.


زادۀ ایران زمینم


سام سام گرامی، نقل دیرینه را به پارسی خواهم نوشت...

مگر میشود زادۀ مام ایران زمین بود و پاسداری از عهد کهن را نادیده گرفت؟ نغمه افسونگران در تار و پود شیر زنان آریا میجوشد و آرام نمیگیرد تا نبرد کنونی را به سرانجامش هدایت کند.

آنروز که دشمنان ایران زمین هراسان به کنام خود میگریزند، درفش کاویانی دوباره در نسیم سحرگاه کشتزار اجدادمان با غرور و سرافرازی میرقصد و نوید پندار نیک، گفتار نیک و کردار نیک را زنده خواهد کرد.

شاد باشید.






لاله گرامي چه شيرين گفتی اوازی از يادمان کيان و چه گيرا سخني .  چشم براهِ برگردان نبشته ات به پارسی هستم.

شادی افزون

Path of Kiaan Resurrection of True Iran Hoisting Drafshe Kaviaan // //


Beautiful and inspiring.

by benross on

Beautiful and inspiring.


TY Laleh - I like ur version

by MM on



Tabar Jaan

by MM on

I can not be too sure, but I saw this story in a National Geographic special, where the head-cover for women was "invented" in the small Jewish communities of the ancient world as a direct responce to the 7th (thou shall not commit adultry) and the 10th (thou shall not covet ....; .... ; covet your neighbor's wife) commandments. 

Like many other rituals, hejab was imitated after Prophet Mohammad whose wife and daughter did not wear hejab.  If anyone tells you that hejab was mentioned in the Noor Sureh, tell them to go where noor does not shine.



by jamshid on

I didn't know anything about this story. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.


To be fair

by tabar on

There are many theories that the hijab was created in Iran - women who wore more were richer and/or royalty while the lower classes did not wear much, if at all. And women weren't always treated that greatly in pre-Islamic Iran. But yeah overall things went /pretty/ downhill when Islam came.

Still I love this, it shows our strong history and our rich culture.


نقل فارسی شیر زنان


سالهاست که قصد دارم داستان شیر زنان را به فارسی بنویسم ولی به خود اجازه این کار را هنوز نداده ام.

آرزوی برگشتن به گیلان را دارم که بتوانم در آرامش و سکوت خانۀ اجدادم عهد کهن را دوباره زنده کنم. اگر روزی قسمت باشد و قلم نا داشته باشد، حکایت شیر زنان را خواهم نوشت. این داستان فقط نقل ناچیزی از روزگار آنان است. به زبان انگلیسی، چندین دفترچه را پر کرده ام...

کلمات شما افسون ابدی مادران ایران زمین را فریاد میزند. ممنونم.


لاله جان، درود گرم نیاکان بر تو که اینچنین است روزگار ما


و عهدی که باید نگاه داریم

کلماتی‌ از این یادبود مادرانمان را که همرنگ و گویای دوران بیداری است و بیدار کننده به فارسی بگرداندم


 من به خالی‌ سرد چشمان او خیره شدم و غریزه کشتن، دریدن و شکار ضعیف‌تر را دیدم. که بی‌ پناه را آزار دهد، و به هر قیمتی‌، حتی جان همنوعان، خود را بقا دهد.

من ذات انسانی‌ را دیدم بدون وجدان، بدون بخشش...بدون فردا

درود به شیر زنان ایران 


نغمۀ افسونگران


از غضبم مترس، از کین من مترس، از حرمتم بترس.

خواهش میکنم هر طوری که صلاح میدانید، از این نغمه افسونگران یاد کرده و استفاده نمایید. از لطف شما سپاسگزارم.


what words were used locally (in Farsi?)?

by MM on

From Wikipedia: The Gir Forest National Park of western India has about 359 Asiatic lions (as of April 2006) which live in a 1,412 km² (558 square miles) sanctuary covered with scrub and open deciduous forest habitats

Maybe one day the Asiatic lions can be re-introduced back to their Iranian ancenstral lands

Thanks for the story.  I used my Farsi translator and after some manipulation, they ring just as strong.  If you do not mind, I would like to use these words in a different site (w/ proper reference) 

از خشم ما نه ترس؛ از انتقام ما نه ترس؛ تنها از حرمت ما به ترس


Dorood bar hameye shir zanan e Iran

by zamyad on

Beautiful article