Archive Sections: letters | music | index | features | photos | arts/lit | satire Find Iranian singles today!

Not that old hat again
From the daughter of Ahriman to the rib of Adam


Vida Kashizadeh
April 29, 2005

The Buried treasure
That history chest I found
Had only a few copper coins
And the three imagined
Precious stones
The rest were sands glowing
Like embers
Burning a musty
Wedding gown
And an old hat
Malodorously moist

During 1987 I did a research exploring the connection between the rhythm in sound and in movement which led to a performance called the "Rhythm within Sound and Unsound" (the track Anahita on my CD was in fact written during this time). In this research I focused in particular on women and music in the ancient history of West Asia.

As it frequently happens this research took me to many places in the history beyond the need of the planned performance, and became a journey in itself. Each place had a sign pointing to the other. And the whole picture had important information seemingly unconnected begging for a new interpretation.

I spoke of some of these findings at the Kaargah-e She'r va Honar for the Iranians present. The title was "Mokhtasar negaahi zanaaneh beh taarikh-e baastaan; nagsh-e musighi va tavalod-e zan az shaytaan va bel-aks" (A brief womanly look at the ancient history, the role of music and the birth of woman from Satan and vice versa).

It was during this time that I had come also across Mary Boyce's book named Zoroastrian Houses of Yazd (as reviewed posthumously by Ryszard Antolak in "Buried treasure").

It was apparent that Boyce had a deep fascination for Zoroastrianism and had taken the architecture of Yazd as the theme for her thesis. In her observation of ganza-yi punidun which is naively unbiased (as many university professors in those days expected a thesis to be) she describes these holes she finds in the old houses of Yazd which were not in use anymore (but which obviously must have been in use until about 1950's, depending on when the new houses were made).

And I said holes because in Farsi Dari beh surakh raftan (to go to the hole) means to menstruate. And these were made just big enough for a female person to be able to sit or sleep in them. They had no windows and were separated from the rest of the house by a curtain at the entrance of the hole. Antolak writes "it was nothing than a simple stone hut. Women would pass the first few days of their menstrual periods here, segregated away from the men".

Karl Marx has said that religion is the opium of the masses. If so then the missionaries must be the Dealers of this drug (although these days the opium is replaced by crack cocaine which affects the liver to a greater extend resulting in violent behaviour replacing the lethargy of the opium).

The fact is that the females in the household had to spend all days of their periods (3-7 days in some disorders even longer) in the surakh in order to be prevented from touching anything and anyone in the house and also not to be seen. As anything she touched was believed to be contaminated.

And why for Ahura Mazda's sake?

I will come back to that.

At the present chaos of the unity between the state and religion - increasingly practiced in many parts of the world - some rightly confused Muslims (as indeed this is a confusing religion) mistake their own search for an individual and national identity to be a need for a new religion.

So much so, that in the last 3-5 years there has been a considerable number of Iranians who have changed faith without knowing why they were Muslims in the first place. Now, Christianity has always been a missionary/ evangelical religion like Islam inviting people to join in actively if not aggressively (think of Jehova's Witnesses knocking at the door on Saturday mornings).

Whereas Zoroastrianism was until their recent reform (after the Islamic coup d'etat) a more race oriented faith -- like Judaism -- which rejected the idea of accepting new members to their faith. This meant that even Iranians who had converted to Islam in the past -- as well as their descendants -- could not become Zoroastrians, as their race had already mixed with others.

Meanwhile even the Zoroastrians had to learn about the genetics and the advantages of being mixed race. And perhaps also becoming conscious of the opportunities they had lost -- during Reza Shah's rule -- amongst the anti Arabs (who are a Semitic race as Jewish people) and the Hitler Youth in Iran (and would you believe, there seem to be a revival of this amongst some young people in Iran at present?).

Outside Iran anyhow, they have nowadays badly trained and out-of- touch Dealers sent to the masses of confused Muslims who have blindfolded themselves bumping against other religions in their search for identity.

I recall how a few years back one of these Dealers in a group of literary interested people speaking about his journey to Cairo with an attitude towards Arabs which would have pleased Hitler himself. And so tyrannical, that he couldn't bear any contradictions expressed.

It is about time for the Iranians (AND non Iranians by all means), who feel the need for religion in order to experience connectedness to the world, to become more eclectic and open and start judging for themselves what is just and what isn't.
No religion is free of the social conditions which created it in the first place, and therefore it remains in its truthfulness constantly relative. An absolute religion is a dead religion which has to kill in order to rise to life again.

And now back from the question of identity of a nation to the question of the surakh.

Here is some food for thought about the history of Iran without going into too much detail as this would be time consuming and perhaps not appropriate for this site. I am not even sure how many visitors of this site would actually be reading this in the first place.

As for the bibliography, I leave this to the interested professors to do a bit of research for themselves (as this is a part of their job for which they are paid for and which they usually ask of their students to provide, so that they can publish the results later in their own names. If they are prepared to pay I may sell them the bibliography after all, but if stingy just give my name as reference!).

Anyway, what you read is my interpretation of the quiz of history. It is important to know that all historians interpret history depending on from which angle they look at an event or social structure. As for the history of Islam and pre Islam, they are even more fascinating, but I am not finished with my life yet!

-- The rituals like Nowrouz, Charshanbeh-Suri, Sizdah-Bedar and Yalda that the Iranians usually associate with Zoroastrianism existed long before this religion. They are pagan in character and are concerned with nature only. Zoroastrianism had to incorporate these festivities in its rituals in order to be accepted by all people of Persia.

A parallel example has already been observed in Europe where the Romans had to incorporate the pagan rituals of the natives in order to make Christianity acceptable. Easter, being a celebration of spring, originally and Christmas the celebration of the winter solstice (Yalda).

-- The reason a woman had to remain in the hole during her period was because in Zoroastrianism man is created by Ahura Mazda and woman (also snakes, lizards and frogs) by Ahriman.

Obviously as women were nevertheless necessary for the functioning of the patriarchal family -- procreation and domestic service -- they could not be got rid of altogether. As a result they had to work hard observing strict rituals in order to keep themselves 'pure'. During their menstruation however, this was not possible as their connection with Ahriman was perceived as being manifest.

Now of course when Herodotus visited Babylon, the social structure was still pre patriarchal. He observed that women left their families during their menstrual period and stayed in the women's temple while their men and children brought food for them to the gate of the temple.

Research of feminist study groups in the 80's has shown (this was before the women studies were hijacked by universities and became an academic subject in order to tame and assimilate the feminist movement into the party political agenda benefiting the career of some middle class women only, causing the backlash. In the 70's and 80's the feminist movement was anarchistic in its structure and attracted women of all classes for its spontaneous campaigns, which had no leaders as such) that what used to be the symbol of holiness in women in the ancient societies turned to najess and taboo in the patriarchal societies and used against them.

Hence you can see this huge difference in the transformation from gathering with other women in a big temple for meditation to staying in a dark small hole for days with food put on the side of the curtain (and how they dealt with her excrement as Ahriman's crap is beyond me).

-- Although Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Iranian kings and the great majority of the people of Iran before the third century AD, it was only during the Sassanian Dynasty (226 AD- 650 AD) that it was imposed on all people of Persia as the only religion acceptable.

In 500 B.C Xerxes had already forcibly suppressed the worship of Devas in his kingdom. But other deities' worships continued to be practiced for almost another three centuries. These included the worship of Anahita (the goddess of river), Mithra (god of light/sun) and some forms of Hellenistic worship after Alexander's invasion of Persia in 334 BC. Buddhism had already existed since 600 BC (like Zoroastrianism) and was practiced in east of Persia.

As for Judaism, Zoroastrianism had already influenced this religion by the introduction of the concept of the Paradise/Hell (Torah's completion by the Jewish theologicians took place within 600 years), hence influencing all monotheistic religions of the west subsequently.

And since Cyrus's conquest of Babylon -- with the help of Jews living in that town -- this community was well accepted in the Persian empire. This was in particular true as the Judaism's Dealers do not recruit new Jews in principle. In the Asia Minor area on the other hand, Christianity in its initial multi forms was increasingly becoming influential, with various saints starting to walk on water.

Unlike Parthia the Sassanian Persia was a highly centralized state. Following the Indian example where the Aryan tribes had imposed the caste system on the native population - many of which flew towards south East Asia initially and later in the 9th century the Roma (gypsies) who moved towards the west - in four major castes: Magi (priests / mogh-haa), Soldiers (javaan-mardaan), Scribes and Commoners.

The equivalent in India was and is: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra with a fifth division for the large group of untouchables (aprishya sudra) which can be compared with the menstruating women in Zoroastrian Persia. In the meantime the castes in India have divided into many more sub-castes.

In fact if Iranians want to have a realistic picture of how the social structure of today's Iran would have been -- if Arabs had not invaded Iran -- they should make themselves familiar with the kind of problems the Indian democracy has today and with the official reports which are published by various authorities. As a matter of fact the Indian authorities themselves consider the caste system as a hindrance to an effective and speedy social progress.

Back to Persia:        

The Magi Of Sassanian dynasty was extremely powerful and tyrannized people with forced rituals and suppression of any resistance or opposition for almost 5 centuries. Anahita and Mithra were downgraded to angels (like Brigitte the goddess worshiped in Ireland who was later downgraded to a saint by the Christians). Hundreds of thousands of Mazdakian were massacred during this period which - considering the low population in those they -- would equal millions of people in today's society.

When Arabs conquered Persia during a mere 3 years they found out that the crown of Yazdgerd III was 16 kg heavy -- with precious stones -- hanging from the ceiling by three chains so that Idiot the Great had been bending himself to get underneath it. Now how further down can a king go? 

As regards to jazieh (poll tax), the Muslims had the policy for all people with a "Holy Book" (ketaab-e aasmaani) to pay this if they did not want to convert to Islam. Many Iranians today like the wishful thought (probably trained by the Pahlavi education system) that the Persians in the Sassanian period were forced to embrace Islam.

Now Islam had already attracted poor Jews in Medina creating conflict with the Jewish upper class in that town, and there is no reason to believe that the commoners in turn would resist an invitation for the abolition of castes in Persia.

A contemporary example of this can be observed in the Indian subcontinent during the last few centuries which led to the separation of Bangladesh and the creation of the state of Pakistan (together with the British Empire playing a crucial role, of course). 

In fact the only caste which could afford to remain Zoroastrian would have been the Magi. There are indications to believe that at least the Parsi community which has lived in India during the last 800 years belong to the Magi caste.

As for women, my guess is that Muslims had ABSOLUTELY no problem in attracting Zoroastrian women to their religion. What would you choose? Twelve weeks a year in a dark hole without being able to move OR having half the rights of a man and possibly a few havoos, if he can afford it? At least now they were made from the rib of Adam and were no longer the daughter of Satan.

Moreover the Ahriman turned out to be a previous angel turned rebellious against Ahura Mazda. This was all together a new HAT - then.

-- It is reasonable to make the following statement that the system we have at present in Iran represents the third period in Iranian history, whereby the state and religion have become one and the same (the massacre of Bab's followers during Qajar dynasty has its roots in the Russian Tsar's policy in Iran). The first period being the Sassanian period and the second, the Safavids (1500- 1722).

And I go even further to make the statement that the idea and the structure of Shi'ism is directly related to the Sassanian idea of kingdom and is Persianized Islam in its core.

But of that later...

For letters section
To Vida Kashizadeh

Vida Kashizadeh



Book of the day

Three volume box set of the Persian Book of Kings
Translated by Dick Davis

Copyright 1995-2013, Iranian LLC.   |    User Agreement and Privacy Policy   |    Rights and Permissions