Book Review: Witches, Whores, And Sorcerers: The Concept Of Evil In Early Iran

Witches, Whores, and Sorcerers: The Concept of Evil in Early Iran.

By Satnam Mendoza Forrest.

This is an English language book (236 pages), published University of Texas Press (2011), available as paperback, hardback and Kindle, the details here on Amazon.

I am reading the hard back edition. The author is Satnam Mendoza Forrest Assistant Professor of religion at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

The book description: Early Iranians believed evil had to have a source outside of God, which led to the concept of an entity as powerful and utterly evil as God is potent and good. These two forces, good and evil, which have always vied for superiority, needed helpers in this struggle. According to the Zoroastrians, every entity had to take sides, from the cosmic level to the microcosmic self. One of the results of this battle was that certain humans were thought to side with evil. Who were these allies of that great Evil Spirit? Women were inordinately singled out. Male healers were forbidden to deal with female health disorders because of the fear of the polluting power of feminine blood. Female healers, midwives, and shamans were among those who were accused of collaborating with the Evil Spirit, because they healed women. Men who worked to prepare the dead were also suspected of secret evil. Evil even showed up as animals such as frogs, snakes, and bugs of all sorts, which scuttled to the command of their wicked masters. This first comprehensive study of the concept of evil in early Iran uncovers details of the Iranian struggle against witchcraft, sorcery, and other “evils,” beginning with their earliest texts.

This is a very well written comprehensive academic book on evil in ancient Iran using  Zoroastrian texts and other available material. The nature of evil in Avesta is discussed from multiple sources and provides various interpretations. It makes a very useful reference book. It contains numerous quotes form Gathas, Yashsts and other Zoroastrian body of texts. I give it 5/5 stars.

Content covered:

  • The Avesta and Its Translation by Prods Oktor Skjærvø
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Study of an Ancient Tradition
  • 2. The Iranians and Their Literature
  • 3. Magic and the Magi
  • 4. General Concepts of Evil in the Avesta
  • 5. “Naturally” Occurring Evils
  • 6. Sorcerers, Witches, Whores, and Menstruating Women
  • 7. The Evil Eye, Corpse-Abusing Criminals, Demon Worshippers, and Friends
  • 8. Exorcistic and Apotropaic Rituals
  • 9. Structure of Avestan Incantations
  • 10. Uses for Avestan Incantations
  • 11. Exorcisms
  • 12. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • General Index
  • Index of Verses

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