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The earth is an angel
Mazdean angelology
Part I Part II Part III

Afshin Afshari
December 13, 2004

"My mother is Spendarmat, the Archangel of the Earth, and my father is Ohrmazd, the Lord of Wisdom." - The profession of faith of the Mazdean believer upon his initiation at the age of fifteen (Pand-Namak Zartusht)

In his book Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, the famous French Iranologue Henry Corbin [1] precedes his analysis of Zoroastrian Mazdaism with a reflection on a powerful and captivating image: that of the Earth as an angel of the utmost beauty, an eternal presence perceived and meditated through the ages. As we will see, Mazdean angelology indeed recognized and experienced the presence of a feminine Archangel of the Earth, Spendarmat or Spenta Armaiti.

In this article, I will try to present a coherent albeit succinct gathering of the Mazdean angelology and some related issues based almost entirely on Corbin's work. The next article in the series will try to shed light on the restoration, in the 12th century, of some of the Zoroastrian motifs by Sohrawardi, the great Islamic philosopher of light.

The Mazdean Angelology
Angelology is one of the main characteristics of the Zoroastrian Mazdaism, for which reason the latter can not be reduced to a monolithic type of monotheism; on the other hand it is also clearly distinct from pre-Zoroastrian polytheism.

The spiritual disposition of Mazdean angelology, as preserved by the Avesta, or at least the part of it which has survived, namely the psalms (Gathas) of Zarathustra and the Pahlavi commentaries and traditions, pictures a merciless battle between Ohrmazd (the Avestan Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (the Avestan Angra Mainyu) with Earth as battlefield.

Ohrmazd is always surrounded by six Powers of Light; together they form the divine Heptad of Holy Immortals or Amahraspands (the Avestan Amerta Spenta). The Heptad is divided in two groups: three masculine Archangels on the right of Ohrmazd, three feminine archangels on his left. All seven together created the Earth and the beings by a liturgical act, that is, by celebrating the heavenly Liturgy [2].

Each of them, by virtue of the Energy that overflows from its being, brings forth the fraction of the beings that represents its personal spiritual character. Ohrmazd brings forth the human being of Light. Of the masculine Archangels, Vohu Manah (Bahman in Persian) is the protector of the animal creation, Arta Vahishta (Urdibihisht in Persian) governs Fire, and Xshathra Vairyu (Shahrivar in Persian) governs the metals.

Of the feminine Archangels, Spenta Armaiti (Isfandarmuz in Persian) represents the Earth and the woman of Light, Haarvatat (Khurdad in Persian) rules the aquatic world, and Amertat (Murdad in Persian) is the archangel of the plants. These spiritual relations indicate to human beings precisely how to meet the invisible Powers of Light and cooperate with them for the salvation of creation.

The archangels are helped the countless multitude of feminine celestial entities called Fravarti (literally, "those who have chosen", meaning those who have chosen to fight on Ohrmazd's side against Ahriman). Fravartis are, at the same time, the celestial archetypes or angels of beings: Every physical or moral entity has its Fravarti.

This essential dualism of being expresses the dramatic metamorphosis undergone by the Creation of Light when invaded by the demonic powers. A seemingly eternal and unmovable characteristic of the Iranian soul, this deep-rooted duality is beautifully and poignantly rendered in the description of the formation of the mountains in the Mazdean book of Genesis (Bundahishn): Under attack by the demonic Powers of Ahriman, the Earth began to tremble; it shook in horror and rebellion. As if to set up a rampart against these powers, the Earth raised up its mountains.

The duality translates into the menok (heavenly) state and the getik (earthly, material) state of beings. It is notable that the getik state does not imply permanent degradation or corruption of being; it was before the Ahrimanian invasion, and it will be thereafter, a state of light and peace. Every being can be thought of in its menok state, as well as in its getik state. For example, in its heavenly state, the earth is called Zam; in its getik state it is called Zamik (Zamin in Persian).

The perception of the getik state is enabled by the transmutation, through active imagination, of sensory data into symbols to be deciphered, the "key" being imprinted in the soul itself. Hence the imagination does not construct something unreal, but unveils the hidden reality of an underlying archetype [3]. This is exactly equivalent to the ta'wil, the spiritual hermeneutics [4] practiced by the spirituals of Islam and by the alchemists (occultation of the apparent, manifestation of the hidden).

The feminine angel Daena [5] "who is the daughter of Spenta Armaiti" is the celestial "I" of humans. It is to her that the Fravartis will answer after the death at the entrance to the
Chinvat Bridge. It is for his angel Daena that the incarnate Fravarti battles the Ahrimanian horror and contributes to the final transfiguration of the Earth.

The energy that enables this transmutation is called Xvarnah in the Avesta (Khurrah or Farrah in Persian) which means Light of Glory. In iconography, it is usually represented by the luminous halo (such as the ones which haloe the kings and priests of the Mazdean religion).

Corbin suggests that the farrah is not a quality inherent in material substances; phenomenologically [6], it should be understood as the primordial image of itself which the soul projects. Thus, the Earth, for instance, can be seen in its heavenly person, as an angel.

Iran-Vej: The Land of Visions
According to the Mazdean visionary geography, the Earth is divided into seven keshvars, one central keshvar surrounded by six peripheral keshvars. Iran-Vej (literally, the cradle or seed of the Aryans) is at the center of this mythic Earth.

Gayomart, the primordial Man, was created in Iran-Vej. When he died, Spenta Armaiti gathered his seed and, from it, created the first human couple, Mahryag-Mahryanag (In this sense, the first humans were truly the children of Spenta Armaiti). The two beings were so closely united that the male could not be distinguished from the female. This state of prefect union was destroyed by Ahriman and from the scission of the total being into Adam and Eve resulted the historic humanity.

It is in Iran-Vej that the Kayanids, the heroes of legend, were created and Zarathustra had his visions. It is in Iran-Vej that Yima was ordered to build an enclosure, a Var, to preserve, from the mortal winter unleashed by the demonic Powers, the elect from all beings ("the fairest, the most gracious"), so that they may repopulate some day a transfigured world.

The Bridge of Chinvat which, at the dawn that rises after the third night following death, the soul has to cross in order to reach the heavenly Lights, is also situated in Iran-Vej. Most importantly, it is in Iran-Vej that will be born the Saoshyant (Savior, Persian Sorösh) who will destroy Ahriman and bring about the Transfiguration of the Earth (Frashkart).

Corbin suggests that the effort to situate Iran-Vej according to positive geography is illusory (even though most orientalists agree that Zarathustra originated in central Asia, at the eastern boundary of the Iranian world). According to him, the representation of the Earth with its seven keshvars is an archetype-figure, an instrument for meditation, a mandala.

Daena and the Mazdean Mode of Being
According to the Zaratusht-Nama, at the age of thirty, Zarathustra entered Iran-Vej. His arrival took place on the last day of the year, Nowruz eve. There, he had his ecstatic visions. The heavenly angels initiated him into wisdom. According to Corbin, Zarathustra's encounter with his heavenly "I" prefigures not only the final Transfiguration of the Earth (Frashkart) but also the individual eschatological event which awaits all human beings: The meeting with the angel Daena at the entrance of the
Chinvat Bridge.

In this regard, it is remarkable that Iranian graphic art has always strived to represent landscapes transfigured by the Light of Glory that the soul projects onto them. It is essentially a symbolic art, an iconography of the landscape of Farrah. Additionally, the art of cultivating gardens is perceived by Iranians as an actualization of a paradisiacal vision of Iran-Vej [7]. The purpose of theses iconographies of the visionary geography of Iran-Vej is to offer a support for meditation in order to prepare the human being for his rebirth through the encounter with his celestial "I", Daena who is the daughter of Mother Earth.

The Mazdean profession of faith [8] establishes a filial relationship between humans and celestial entities. The individual is no more bound by the terrestrial boundaries of birth and death. As the son of the Earth Mother, he vows to fight against Ahriman and demonic humans by Thought, Word and Action, and contribute to the Frashkart and the expulsion of the demonic forces from Ohrmazd's creation. Hence, this relationship creates a specific mode of being and responsibility conforming to the provident action of the feminine Archangel of the Earth. A mode of being so remote, ancient, and mortified that few recall it, yet so close, timeless and imperious that it may well be woven into the Destiny of our Nation.
Part I Part II Part III

[1] Corbin (1903-1978), who was the first French translator of Heidegger, encountered Sohrawardi, almost by accident, when his mentor gave him a copy of the Hikmat Ishraqi. This encounter left a lifelong impression on him: He devoted the rest of his life to the development of a highly original phenomenological framework, based on spiritual hermeneutics or ta'wil, for understanding the unique Iranian spiritual genius. He demonstrated the remarkable constancy, pre- and post-Islam, of the main tenets of this genius. Apart from the clear and persistent imprint of Heidegger's phenomenology, Corbin also, occasionally, resorts to some of the theoretical constructs of his friend C.G. Jung whom he regularly met at the Eranos conferences. However, this latter affinity, or at least explicit reference to it by use of such consecrated Jungian terms as archetype, mandala, deep psychology, collective unconscious, imago, anima, etc., tends to decrease in Corbin's later works.

[2] Notice a striking similarity with J.R. Tolkien's account of the creation of the world in The Silmarillion.

[3] C.G. Jung rejects Freudian accounts of infant sexuality as the source of libido. He developed a rich account of the unconscious, positing shared primordial žarchetypesÓ as elements established innately in the collective unconscious of all human beings rather than as features of individual personality.

[4] The hermeneutical process consists in a particular method of žinterpretationÓ of texts. It involves a complex interaction between the interpreting subject and the interpreted object. The task is complicated by the apparent circularity of understanding some elements in light of the text as a whole, which can, in turn, be understood only by reference to them÷ Ta'wil or spiritual hermeneutics consists in "bringing back" the data to their origin, to their archetype. Ta'wil is, therefore, essentially the exegesis of symbols, the bringing out of hidden spiritual meaning from the material data of external history. It is a technique commonly used by Shi'ite philosophers (Sohrawardi, Molla Sadra, Mirdamad ... ) for the interpretation of Islamic religious texts.

[5] Under the Sassanid reign, Daena became the Pahlavi word den which signified the whole of the Zoroastrian Mazdaism religion with its rites, moral precepts and scared texts. The Pahlavi word den then penetrated the Aramean language and finally became the commonly used Arab word din, signifying religion in general.

[6] Phenomenology is a rigorous philosophical method first described by Edmund Husserl and later considerably expanded by Martin Heidegger. The method consists in describing the experience or awareness of things in a manner which does not reduce them to scientific data. By focusing on the act of experiencing (i.e., the intellectual process of which we are introspectively aware) rather on the thing being experienced, and by not making assumptions about the supposed causal connections to existent objects, the phenomenologist produces a new kind of knowledge and can account for things unthinkable within the reductive limitations of science.

[7] The word "Paradise" is derived from the Avestan noun pairidaeza, "a wall enclosing a garden or orchard" which is composed of pairi, "around" and daeza, "wall". The preposition pairi is related to the equivalent Greek form peri, as in perimeter. Daeza comes from the Indo-European root dheigh, "to mold, form, shape". Zoroastrian religion encouraged maintaining arbors, orchards, and gardens, and even the kings of austere Sparta were edified by seeing the Great King of Persia planting and maintaining his own trees in his own garden.

[8] "My mother is Spendarmat, the archangel of the Earth, and my father is Ohrmazd, the Lord of Wisdom." (Pand-Namak Zartusht)

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