Indian traditional community

Jāti (in Devanagari: जाति Tamil:சாதி) (the word literally means ‘birth’) is the term used to denote the thousands of clans, tribes, communities and sub-communities in India. It is a term used across religions. Each jāti typically has an association with a traditional job function or tribe, although religious beliefs (e.g. Sri Vaishnavism or Veera Shaivism) or linguistic groupings may define some jatis. A person’s surname typically reflects a community (jati) association: thus Gandhi = perfume seller, Dhobi = washerman, Srivastava = military scribe, etc. In any given location in India 500 or more jatis may co-exist, although the exact composition will differ from district to district.[1]

Professor Madhav Gadgil (1983) has described the reality of self-governing, closed communities, which are called Jatis, in India, based on his research in rural Maharashtra: “The Indian society is even today an agglomeration of numerous castes, tribes and religious communities. The tribal and caste groups are endogamous, reproductively isolated populations traditionally distributed over a restricted geographical range. The different caste populations, unlike tribes, have extensive geographical overlap and members of several castes generally constitute the complex village society. In such a village society, each caste, traditionally self regulated by a caste council, used to lead a relatively autonomous existence. Each caste used to pursue a hereditarily prescribed occupation; this was particularly true of the artisan and service castes and the pastoral and nomadic castes. The several castes were linked to each other through a traditionally determined barter of services and produce (Ghurye 1961, Karve 1961). These caste groups retained their identity even after conversion to Islam or Christianity. Each of the caste groups was thus the unit within which cultural and perhaps genetic evolution occurred, at least for the last 1500 years when the system was fully crystallized and probably much longer. Over this period the various castes had come to exhibit striking differences in cultural traits like skills possessed, food habits, dress, language, religious observances as well as in a number of genetic traits.”

Under the Jati system, a person is born into a Jati with ascribed social roles and endogamy, i.e. marriages take place only within that Jati. The Jati provides identity, security and status and has historically been open to change based on economic, social and political influences. In the course of Indian history, various economic, political and social factors have led to a continuous closing and churning in the prevailing social ranks which tended to become traditional, hereditary system of social structuring. This system of thousands of exclusive, endogamous groups, is called Jāti. Though there were several variations across the breadth of India, the Jati was the effective community within which one married and spent most of one’s personal life. Often it was the community (Jati) which provided support in difficult times, in old age and even in the resolution of disputes. It was thus the community which one also sought to promote.

The British, since 1901, for the purposes of the Decennial Census, fitted all the Jatis into one or the other of the varna categories as described in Brahminical literature. The Census Commissioner had this to say, “The principle suggested as a basis was that of classification by social precedence as recognized by native public opinion at the present day, and manifesting itself in the facts that particular castes are supposed to be the modern representatives of one or other of the castes of the theoretical Hindu system;”.[2] This deliberately ignored the fact that there are innumerable Jatis that straddled two or more Varnas, based on occupation. As a community in south India put it,”We are soldiers and saddle makers too” – but it was the enumerators who decided their caste. The Indian society since pre-historic times had a complex, inter-dependent and cooperative political economy. One well known text, the Laws of Manu, c. 200, codified the social relations between communities from the perspective of the Varna castes. Although this book was almost unknown south of the Vindhyas, it gained prominence when the British administrators and Western scholars used it exclusively to gain an understanding of traditional Hindu law in India.[3]

Crispin Bates noted in 1995 that

In India, anthropologists now more often speak of ‘sub-castes’ or jatis, as the building blocks of society [rather than castes]. However, unless there is a strong element of political control or territoriality associated with such groups these too tend to disintegrate upon closer inspection as soon as essentially exogamous practices such as hypergamy are taken into account. Needless to say, all such endogamous groupings are increasingly irrelevant when talking about modern India, where large-scale migrations are commonplace, where economic and social change is radically re-shaping society, and where marriage taboos are being overthrown at an accelerating rate.[4]

All Jatis across the spectrum, from the so-called upper castes to the lowest of castes, including the Untouchables, tended to avoid intermarriage, sharing of food and drinks, or even close social interaction with a Jati other than their own. Indeed, for some of them, for example, the Tharu Boxas, even Brahmins were untouchable. The Jatis did not see themselves as socially inferior to the others. If at all, it was the other way round and many had folk narratives, traditions, myths and legends to bolster their sense of identity and cultural uniqueness. For instance, the Yadavs, a prominent backward class believe that “Even in the Vedic age the Yadavs were upholders of the Republican ideals of government…. The Mahabharata furnishes interesting details regarding the functioning of the republic form of government among the Yadavs…. It is now an agreed fact that Sri Krishna, the central figure of the epic narratives tried to defend the republican ideas against the imperialistic movement led by Jarasandha of Magadaha and Kamsa of Mathura” (R.V.K. Yadav quoted by Lucia Michelutti in “Caste and modern politics in a north Indian town”). Dalits also have “the stories that assert the glory of the caste, identify legendary figures who, the narrators imagine, have played pivotal roles in building their caste identity. The facts of the past are interspersed with myth and fantasy to create a new perception of a past that is glorious, pure and exclusive. This in turn is accorded historical status and imagined to have existed from time immemorial (Seneviratne1997: 5). This kind of history, which seeks authenticity from written sources and from the self-interpretation of so-called archaeological re-mains, is sustained by commemorations such as feasts, fasts, celebrations and the creation of new symbols like flags and emblems based on these…” (Dalit mobilisation and nationalist past” by Badri Narayan).

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USHAO: Zarathustra by Tim Smith


By Timothy R. Smith

Talk presented by the author at San Jose University on February 13, 2004

IT is the oldest revealed religion known to us. As such, it is intimately related to the most of other world religions; its doctrine lies at the very foundation of civilized society. For the next half an hour or so, we will talk about Zoroastrianism, highlights of its history and philosophy, its role in the present and in the future. Now, we may be assured that any talk on Zoroastrianism is likely to provoke some controversy. Its scriptures are unfortunately incomplete, written in languages difficult to understand today, and its history is complicated by sources that differ widely in their reliability and intent. My version of the subject may be quite different from someone else’s and, quite honestly, they might have as difficult a time disproving it as I would have in proof of mine. But, nevertheless, dispelling the fog and peeling through the layers, one finds doctrines that defy trivial controversy, doctrines that have stood solidly for generation upon generation.

Drawing from the Zoroastrian scripture along with modern history and science, we begin this story some 25,000 years ago, where there lived a people in a mountain valley in Asia, with a good river, streams and trees, and abundant game. Life was good there. The people enjoyed living in harmony with the very Soul of the Living World. But then, something happened, perhaps quite suddenly. Winter came with the worst of the plagues: “There were ten months of winter there, and two months of summer, and these were cold for the waters, cold for the earth, cold for the trees.”

Winter was relentless –winter that would not go away. Disease was prevalent, and with the land so cold, earth hardened with ice, the dead could not often be buried easily, and were laid out with great care to be consumed by the elements and scavengers. To survive in the northern lands, if there was no cave, then one had to be built from whatever was at hand. Though people had already learned the use of stones and wood to make tools to build shelters and such, they would master another tool now desperately needed for their survival: Fire.

Fire deserved the greatest respect, for fire was the difference between life and death in this place. The cold persisted for a very long time. Finally, after nearly 9000 years, the land began to warm a little again. People all over began to move again, slowly. For the first time, a few people in northern Asia moved to the North American continent, before the ice melted to the point of filling the oceans again. But nature was not quite finished tormenting humankind yet. As the ice melted, long, narrow lakes filled the deep cavities scoured out by glaciers, but their shorelines were weak and often gave way as torrential rains fell from thick clouds rising from the glaciers melt, resulting in terrible floods.

The people of our mountain valley moved, too. Those who told this story moved south, away from the cold, into the lands we know today more or less as Iran. Others went to India, to Afghanistan, perhaps to the Caucasus, and to other lands. In a time span covering millennia, from the makeshift caves of the ice age came towns, and later, cities. All were fit by Fire, which brought light and warmth to the home. New uses were discovered for Fire, including the smelting and refining of metal. Copper, then bronze, then iron. The cities surrounded by farms and fields provided a comfortable guarantee of food in case the perpetual winter happen to come again. But our people from the mountain valley remembered fire, and they remembered a great flood, and they remembered their lovely faraway home before a terrible winter came.

It was about 3,800 years ago, when something else extraordinary happened among the people. By this time, populations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley were flourishing but, suddenly, there was a catastrophe. We are not sure just what it was that triggered it, but whatever it was brought out the worst in people. The Indus Valley civilization collapsed entirely, never to recover. The great city of Ur fell, and never regained its prominence. The archaeologist who excavated Ur noted that every single building of that period was ravaged with the marks of war. This time, it was neither ice nor snow nor rain that enveloped the earth, but a period of lamentation. It seems people had their first experience of the full wrath, not of the gods, but of their fellow people. The Soul of the Living World cried out to God —but the answer was not quite what was expected.

In the East, in the land of Bactria, appears Zarathushtra, a descendent of those survivors of the ice age, and it was clearly in Zarathushtra’s revelations that the answers came. The core of the revelation said, and I quote:

“Hear the best with your ears, and ponder with a bright mind.
Then each man and woman, for his or herself select, either of the two.
Awaken to this doctrine before the great event of choice ushers in.
Now, the two foremost mentalities, known to be imaginary twins are
the better and the bad in thoughts, words, and deeds.
Of these, the beneficent choose correctly, but not so the maleficent.

Now, what did this mean? It meant each person had free will. It also meant, each person was expected to use his/her free will to choose right over wrong by themselves. It meant the reason for the mess they were in was also their own problem to solve. God had nothing to do with their pitiful situation. God had given human beings reasoning minds, and each person was expected to use the faculty to the fullest degree. There would be no miraculous displays here, no Deus ex machina endings.

What does Zarathushtra’s revelation mean today? Exactly the same as it did then. Given that reason practiced well in a community leads to wisdom, it is not surprising that Zarathushtra elevated Ahura Mazda, meaning the “Wise Lord,” truly the “Lord of Wisdom” itself, to the highest level among the pantheon of early Iranian gods. Although it is the earliest monotheistic view known to us, a view that likely had a profound impact on later religions. Zarathushtra and his followers were hardly concerned with intricate theologies during his time. They had other problems to contend with, as already mentioned, so what was to become of the Zarathushtrian religion was largely practical in its outlook.

They were survivors of the ice age, and fire had played an important role in their culture for generation. With Zarathushtra, fire would now take on a deeper meaning.

Fire would symbolize enlightenment, the illuminated mind. To this day, every time we see a candle burning in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, its flame means much the same thing. But for most of us, we have forgotten that it was once, literally during the ice age, the difference between life and death.

Now, with Zarathushtra’s revelation that we have free will to choose what is better for us and what is not, perhaps for the first time, we see a connection now with another of the world’s religions. Judaism, in the second chapter of Genesis, deals with the same subject. The version in Genesis is an archetypal story for teaching. Everything goes fine in the Garden of Eden until people learn about good and evil: the concept of discerning good from evil comes along, and we have had nothing but problems ever since. In both cases, the Zoroastrian and the Judaic, good and evil are old concepts, but they are ethical in their dimension now.

Good and evil are no longer seen as a great clash of cosmic forces. Instead, they are seen as subtle influences in our day-to-day decisions.

Now, underlying the principle of free will to choose. As expressed by Zarathushtra, are some very important concepts that apply as much today and in the future as they did back then. The first of these recognizes how we think. One of our basic thought processes, and the one that can cause us the most difficulty, is polarized thinking. That is, thinking in terms of good or evil, the truth or the lie, light or dark, hot or cold, positive or negative, rich or poor, and so on. Zarathushtra’s revelation presumes that we often think this way, and this has repercussions in later philosophical development.

The second concept recognizes how we learn. We learn by making choices and, given our all-too-human vulnerability, every choice may not be the best one. Zarathushtra’s revelation thus expects a certain degree of failure, it predicts forgiveness among people, it favors leading by example rather than retribution, and thus arrives early at the golden rule found later on in Leviticus, the Gospel, the Hadith and other scriptures.

The third concept recognizes how we interact. To choose, each man and woman for his or her self, implies freedom as a complete reality in society. This was perhaps the most revolutionary concept to be derived from Zarathushtra’s revelation of free will. Given that some 3,000 years had passed since the time of Zarathushtra, it remains to this day the least developed concept the most difficult to put into practice.

Thus, Zarathushtra’s revelation of free will tells us much about how we think, how we learn, and how we interact with each other. It is not a static statement, but a dynamic process. As such, the concept of free will also has many implications in Zoroastrian thought. One implication is purpose. In Zoroastrianism, each and every person has a purpose, and that purpose is to help make this a better world by making good choices.

Another implication is that some rare people will do this to a far greater positive effect than usual. Thus, the hope for a world savior was born. A savior –a person whose guiding example was so strong, that others would be compelled to likewise make good choices. In Zoroastrianism, the thought was that not only one savior, but perhaps many saviors, could be expected. The Hebrew prophets, too saw the coming of a messiah, a savior. Given the time period during which Zarathushtra and the Hebrew prophets lived, it is quite possible the idea was originally one and the same.

Another implication that comes from the Zoroastrian version of freewill is a difficult one – the consideration of social justice and undeserved suffering. Freewill, and freedom itself, comes with a deep sense of responsibility. Social justice has but a single axiom: that the society is responsible for the undeserved suffering of its members. Put another way, it is an ideal condition in which no one’s happiness depends on the suffering of another. In the strictness interpretation, it is up to each person to make that a reality through the choices they make in their lives. This is easiest to comprehend when we are talking about problems that are obviously our fault. Slavery, servitude, caste, hate, racism, prejudices, bigotry, poverty, starvation, hunger, substance abuse, apathy, indifference, corruption, misuse of power, licentiousness, gross immorality, oppression, excessive law, war, strife, fear – all are conditions that can be created by human beings for other human beings.

The idea of undeserved suffering is much more difficult to accept when we are talking about problems that seem outside of our control. Allow me to give an example of just how difficult this is. Prior to the year 1796, about a third of all children born into the world died from smallpox, and how hard it must have been for family to bear. A few hundred years later, smallpox has been successfully eradicated from the face of the earth. It is a bright and shining example of what we can do with the rational, reasoning minds God has given us. Before 1796, the suffering was undeserved because we had not yet looked hard enough to find some answer. If a child were to contact smallpox today, it would be truly undeserved; and while we may be doing great with smallpox, there is still underserved suffering on a massive scale that needs to be addressed worldwide.

Still another logical implication of free will is that of judgment. The notion of the Day of Judgment is a clear acknowledgment that freewill ultimately determines the outcome of our lives, not destiny or fate. If it were otherwise, judgment would really make no sense. Zoroastrianism has contemplated judgment from many perspectives over its long history. One of the most interesting is a metaphor that one’s soul is purified much like the refining of metal with fire – there’s fire again – and from this metaphor comes a concept of hell being a very hot place. However, in the Zoroastrian view, God is given a lot of credit, a lot of power, and no soul is really God’s wisdom to purify. So, while judgment is a natural outcome of Zoroastrian thought, the idea of an eternal hell is usually not. Perhaps, a kind of purgatory and heaven. We may very well create our own hell on earth as a result of poor choices, but to imagine any human transgressions are beyond God’s capability to set straight is quite unimaginable to the Zoroastrian sense.

So judgment is implied, and knowing we might all be judged, a great deal of tolerance, and to a large degree acceptance, is implicit in Zoroastrian thought. Following the time in which Zarathushtra lived, there is quite a long gap before Zoroastrianism catches on, but it appears brightest in the Achaemenid, Cyrus, the Great king, king of kings of the Persian Empire, known among the Hebrew Prophets as the anointed of God. To this day, Cyrus, the Zoroastrian, is remembered in history as one whose benevolence, tolerance, humility and wisdom won the hearts of people everywhere and, during his reign, brought some happiness to the Soul of the Living World.

Today, those who profess the Zoroastrian faith number only a few hundred thousand out of some 6.3 billion people. But the legacy of Zarathushtra’s revelation has touched every corner of the globe, and likewise, Zoroastrianism has also been influenced by other religions. Indeed, today it is quite a challenge to study Zoroastrianism outside of the context of our modern views on religion. We have talked a little about its relation with Judaism, because the Tanakh shares many remarkably similar if not exactly the same, revelations and the history of the Jewish people were closely interwoven with the Zoroastrianism in early times. Zoroastrianism is also closely related to Hinduism, with whom its scriptures share a closely related language, and many customs, names and the like are related.. Because of its great antiquity, it can be argued that Zoroastrianism laid the groundwork for the great family of monotheistic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, along with most of Hinduism, and others that share a monotheistic view.

With a little knowledge about Zoroastrianism, it is not too difficult to see the author of the Gospel of Matthew tries to persuade not only Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets, but also the savior promised by Zoroastrianism. Hence, in Christianity, we find not only the magi (Zoroastrian priests) recognizing the birth of Jesus, but there is also the deduction proclaimed by the Apostle’s Creed: that “Jesus died, and was buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead.” It happens to be a sequence that is virtually identical to an ancient Zoroastrian metaphor. Today, Christianity’s deep sense of love finds a welcome home in Zoroastrian thought. Islam share not only monotheism with Zoroastrianism, but also a deep concern for the relationship between actions of individuals within a community. Both the Zoroastrian scriptures and the Quran teach equality and tolerance among the whole of humankind, and we cannot forget that both have at special times in their histories created high civilizations that greatly advanced in knowledge of science and philosophy. Very little in the way of constructive systematic study has been performed on the relationship of Islam and Zoroastrian religious philosophy.

Virtually no study whatsoever has been performed on the relationship of Zoroastrianism to the indigenous religions of China such as Taoism. Lao Tsu lived long after Zarathushtra, yet the Tao Te Ching offers considerable guidance on how to govern a free people – a free people who did not yet exist on the face of the earth except in the people’s minds and, at the time, mostly Zoroastrian minds. A central idea of Taoism is for those who would lead others to lead by example rather than through dogma, to trust that people will find their way, and that their thinking can be shaped in a way, which will help assure their happiness. Contrary to popular myth about Taoism, that does not mean to stop thinking altogether, but to clear one’s mind of thought pattern that lead nowhere. All of this can be considered an offshoot of Zoroastrian thought, yet it lacks systematic study.

Native Americans laid out their dead to the elements, much as Zoroastrians did thousands of years and as people in the Asiatic highlands still do to the present day. Thus, there is at least one cultural relationship among the ancient peoples of Asia and the Americans, and probably a great many more, that may help better interpret the proto-Zoroastrian culture, or vice-versa. Ten thousand years ago, all came from the same part of the world, and they knew each other then.

Zoroastrianism today is a vibrant religion. Its doctrines live on in other religions worldwide, and are at the foundation of civilized societies everywhere. The world today faces challenges posed by huge increases in population, great economic inequity and social deprivation, and serious environmental destruction. Yet the Zoroastrian view is an ever-optimistic one. It reminds us that we already have the great gift needed to solve our problems today and in the future. We have the ability to reason. If we choose to do so, we can think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good deeds. We can positively change the world in which we live. Hope is with us always until the end of time. ■

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USHAO: Mazdakism (early iranian communism)


By Irach J.S. Taraporewala

“Mazdak might well be termed the first Bolshevik in history. Indeed, in some respects Bolsheviks might be regarded as lukewarm compared to Mazdak; he not only preached communism in worldly possession but he also advocated an equal division of women among men “

JUST as Mani’s eclectic Faith was a pointer at the germs of decay in the Sassanian body politic, so also Mazdak’s teaching was a pointer at the inevitable downfall towards which the Sassanian Empire was heading. Mani came within one generation of the establishment of Sassanian rule in Iran; Mazdak came towards the end of that rule, about a century before the Arabs overthrew the Empire. Both these movements were fiercely and ruthlessly uprooted in the land of their origin, and to all outward appearances it seemed as if the authority of the theocratic state was amply vindicated. But the triumph over Mazdakism was short-lived. There is another similarity between these two movements: Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic writers have poured unbounded vituperation against both. These unfriendly writings are our only sources of information regarding the teachings of Mazdak. As regards Mani a great deal of new and valuable information has come to light since the Turfan discoveries in 1902. These have shown Mani as really a great personage and the founder of a new Faith. But no such finds have yet been discovered to rehabilitate Mazdak.

Still Mazdakism may be viewed as a symptom, which indicated a deep-seated cancer in the body politic of Sassanian Iran. Therefore we should judge this movement after accepting the principle embodied in the saying, “By their fruits shall ye know them.

The founder of the Sassanian dynasty was one of the supermen of history. He was a born leader of men and he led his country and his people to a renovated existence. A man of great fixity of purpose, he carried out to the full the task he had set before himself, and he left to his son a newly established empire, a renovated religion and hundreds of well-trained and enthusiastic men and women ready to carry on the work to its fulfillment. Shapur I, the son of the founder, Ardashir I, was worthy of his father, for he also was a great leader, far above the average. He established the new empire and completed the task of the revival of Zoroastrianism to the satisfaction of all concerned. He loyally carried out his father’s admonition regarding Faith and Royalty as brothers. He fixed firmly and finally the theocratic constitution of the newly established Sassanian empire. By this the Zoroastrian clergy acquired powers second only to those possessed by the king himself. And naturally also the landed aristocracy of Iran came in for a good share of political power and emoluments.

Of course, it was never the intention of either Aradshir I or of Shapur I that these two great sections of Iranian society –the Zoroastrian clergy and the landowners – should become the oppressors of the masses. As long as the king at the top was a strong man he could hold both these sections in check and could stand between them and the masses. Both Ardashir I and Shapur I understood that the masses would give full support and would be loyal to the state provided they got justice from their king, and so both these rulers were eager to see that justice was done to the meanest of their subjects.

But once the strong hand of the king at the top was removed the two powerful sections would naturally try to consolidate their own power over the masses and to gain new privileges. In justice, however, to the Zoroastrian clergy it must be mentioned that the spread of Christianity throughout Iran was a constant and growing menace to the newly revived Zoroastrian religion. To add to these difficulties the Christian Roman Empire was steadily growing more and more menacing and truculent. Rome was always trying to find some pretext to make war on Iran nor was Iran at all behind to find excuses for a fight. Armenia, which held a strategic position between the two empires was itself torn by the religious strife of the Armenian Zoroastrians and Christians; and Rome and Iran being both theocratic, the affairs in Armenia almost always kindled the flames of war. And in these wars the landholders were ever an important factor for they ensured the victories of Iran. And so we find the power of both the Zoroastrian clergy and of the Iranian landholding aristocracy daily growing stronger and more firmly established. When the king was a young man of easy-going and pliable temperament both these sections consolidated their gains and tried to acquire yet more. And all this was at the expense of the masses.

Ardashir I and Shapur I did all they could to ensure that the masses got a fair deal. But when they were gone a succession of weaker men ruled the empire from 272 to 309 A.D., which gave time enough to the vested interests to work their will in the state.

Then came Shapur II (the Great), a unique figure in history. He was a posthumous son, and he succeeded to the empire before he was born. The vested interests naturally looked forward to a fairly long period of minority (at least fifteen years) and they had hopes of molding the baby king’s character to suit their own purposes. But Shapur was a superman, even greater than the first two rulers of his line and at a very early age he gave clear indications that he had a mind of his own and a will also to get whatever he wanted, and he was a true-born ruler of men. Shapur II wished to curb the powers of the Zoroastrian clergy and of his landholders, for he was wise enough to appreciate the dangers if these were left unchecked. But other events outside Iran forced him to side with his clergy and his aristocracy.. Constantine, the Roman Emperor, carried away by his zeal for Christianity, proclaimed himself to be the spiritual head of all the Christians in the world (including, of course, the Christians of Iran). This was more than Shapur II, the proudest of the Sassanians, could tolerate. The poor Christians of Iran found themselves placed in a very false position, torn between the two loyalties, to the king of their own country and to the head of their faith, the Roman emperor. Whenever there was a war between Iran and Rome (which was practically always) the Christians of Iran were looked upon as foes and “fifth columnists” and had to pay the penalty. This gave the vested interests good opportunities to launch fierce persecutions against the Christians, to which Shapur II, with his offended pride, was not unwilling to lend his support. So on the whole during the long reign of Shapur II (lasting over seventy years) the vested interests had their own way more or less in spite of the strong king.

After Shapur II came a long successions of very ordinary kings and during over one hundred years (379-487 A.D.) there was only one king who was well above the average. That was Behram V (Beheramgore, the Hunter of the Wild Ass), but he was busy most of the time with wars with the Huns. One important event happened in the days of Behram V and that was the final separation of the Iranian Christian Church from the Orthodox Church of Byzantium. The fratricidal strife between the Christians and the Zoroastrians had been going on with ever increasing ferocity and bitterness ever since the days of Shapur II. Thousands had lost their lives; the manhood of Iran was slowly but surely being bled to death. But after the separation of the Iranian Christian Church from Byzantium the Christians found comparative peace. Still the religious hatred and fanaticism on both sides were of too long a growth to die out completely. Violent polemical writings continued on both sides.

Meanwhile the masses were being ground down relentlessly by the vested interests and seem to have sunk to the deepest depths of poverty and misery. The unsuccessful wars of Firuz I (459-483) against the Huns added to the prevailing discontent. The conditions in Iran soon after the death of Firuz I were almost exactly the same as those prevailing in France on the eve of the French Revolution or in Russia at the end of the First World War. The fruits of these centuries of oppression were soon to be visible in the revolutionary and communistic preaching of Mazdak, who began his work about 488 A.D.

We can but make a guess at the social conditions of Iranian masses by observing the extra violent language in the preaching of Mazdak and the extremes to which his doctrines went. Even more significant was the extreme rapidity with which Mazdak’s teaching was accepted by the masses. Within the course of a few months his followers could be counted by the hundred thousand; and in every part of the vast empire they were drawn from every stratum of society from the king downwards. The king at that time was Kawadh (488-531 A.D.), and in the beginning he openly declared his sympathies with the new preaching. But the vested interests were seriously perturbed and so strongly were entrenched that the king was forced to leave his throne for a few years (499-501).

Charles Dickens has given a wonderful passage in the last chapter of his A Tale of Two Cities, in which he indicates the connection between revolutions and their causes. Describing the rolling of six tumbrils through the streets of Paris bearing the unhappy victims of the guillotine he says:

“Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back to what they were thou powerful enchanter. Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my Father’s house, but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants. No; the great magician who works out the appointed order of the Creator never reverses his transformation”. Further on he adds: “ Crush humanity out of shape under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the seed of rapacious license and oppression over again and it will yield the same fruit according to its kind. ’By their fruits indeed shall ye know them’

We do not have any historical records of the seeds sown in Iran, but we possess ample evidence of the hideous fruit, from which we may infer the nature of the seed if the Laws of God have any meaning.

Mazdak might well be termed the first Bolshevik in history. Indeed, in some respects Bolsheviks might be regarded as lukewarm compared to Mazdak; he not only preached communism in worldly possessions but he also advocated an equal division of women among men.

When Kawadh was restored to the throne in 501 A.D. he was made wiser by experience and he withdrew his open support of the Mazdakites. He clearly recognized the seed from which this terrible tree of Mazdakism had grown, and he tried his best during the remaining thirty years of his reign to see that the conditions of the masses were made more tolerable. But he was not strong enough to remove the root causes of Mazdakism. That was reserved for a greater man than Kawadh. It was his son Khusrav I, known to all Orient by his title Noshirwan, who freed Iran from the Mazdak frenzy.

Khusrav was the favorite son of Kawadh and he had been his father’s closest friend and counselor during the closing years of Kawadh’s reign. Khusrav was easily the greatest ruler Iran ever had. Indeed, he may rank among the six greatest kings in the history of the world. He clearly saw the imminent danger to both the state and the religion from Mazdak’s teaching and the first thing he did was to suppress the movement with an iron hand. But at the same time he saw justice done to the masses. Like a good physician he removed not merely the symptoms of the disease but he removed the disease itself. With equal firmness he brought under control the oppressors of the masses. Quite early he won the title of ‘Adl’ (the Just), for Justice was his watchword. Under his strong and just rule peace and prosperity returned to Iran, and the masses were satisfied. For this achievement his grateful subjects with one voice called him Anushak-Ruban or Noshirwan (he of the immortal soul). To posterity he is known as Noshirwan alone, the most glorious name ever bestowed upon an earthly ruler.

Mazdak was certainly a successor of Mani, because his movement was not merely social but was essentially religious. His extreme ideas were certainly a menace both to society and to religion. They certainly threatened the very existence of Zoroastrian priesthood, and so very naturally he was violently abused by Zoroastrian writers. He has been called Ashemaogha (a distorter of truth) and one commentator on a religious text explains this epithet by adding, “like Mazdak, the son of Bamdad”. The mildest epithet used for him by Zoroastrians is “accursed”.

Mazdak’s ideas are a natural corollary to the state of Iran in his days, and to the condition of the masses that he had seen with his own eyes. He felt himself obliged to preach extreme communism and an absolute community of possessions, including women. Very likely he was moved by the idea that desperate diseases need desperate remedies. At the same time he also preached a higher ideal of life. He pointed out the value of self-restraint and renunciation of all sense-pleasure including animal food. For this last teaching he has been called “the devil who would not eat.” He asserted that the desire for pleasure and possessions constituted the universal cause of all hatred and strife. He also like Mani laid stress on Zoroaster’s teaching of the two essential Principles of Good and Evil, which pervade our life on earth. He also enjoined the strict purity of God’s “elements” fire, water and earth. But we have very scanty positive knowledge of what he actually taught.

Mazdak was treacherously murdered and many of his closest adherents lost their lives at the same time. Then followed a systematic suppression of all Mazdakites, often with much bloodshed. But though outwardly uprooted and completely destroyed the teachings of Mazdak continued to flourish for several centuries after his murder. Under the rule of the Islamic caliphs of Baghdad historians have noted several “heretical sects”. They all seemed to get their inspiration from the teachings of Mazdak, for they cite him as their authority. But what is more surprising and very significant is that many of these “heretical sects” have coupled the name of Mazdak with that of Zoroaster, the Prophet of ancient Iran. ■

[Source: “The Religion of
by the

Where there is faith, there is love.
Where there is love there is peace.
Where there is peace there is God
And where there is God, there is no need!

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USHAO: “A righteous government for all”


A righteous government is
of all the most to be wished for,
Bearing of blessing and good
fortune in the highest.
Guided by the law of Truth,
supported by
dedication and zeal,
It blossoms into
the Best of Order,
a Kingdom of Heaven!
To affect this I shall work
now and ever more.

Vohu Khshathra Gatha 51:1

Our socio-political world is intrinsically tied to what happens in the United States of America in its role as a „superpower‟. As debates about “big government” and
government‟s obligations to the less fortunate wage in the media and dining tables across the United States on the brink of presidential elections, it might help to go back to the scriptures for answers about the Zarathushti perspective on democracy. Dr. Jafarey explains a verse of the Vohu Khshatra Gatha that describes a righteous government: “The Gathic division of the human society is unique. It begins with the family living in a house that multiplies consequentially into settlements, districts, and lands and finally embraces the entire earth –all based on good thinking and precise procedure. This makes one realize the true democracy Zarathushtra expounded. The guiding leaders of all these units must be elected only on account of their competence, and that too by persons with „good mind – Vohu Manah‟ and in the „right –Asha‟ procedure. In today‟s definition it would mean that each and every person elected must be fully qualified for the office he/she is elected to.”

One of the crucial elements of this verse is the line “To affect this I shall work now and ever more” emphasizing the basic principle of Zarathushti ideology i.e. personal responsibility. Every individual has a place in making democracy work. In modern times this translates not only to the responsibility to vote in an election, but to make an informed decision guided by the truth. This means basing the vote on where the candidates stand on issues such as human rights, education, environment, foreign policy rather than background and personalities of the candidates. Democracy is an important freedom in a world where millions of people do not have a choice about the way they are ruled, and Zarathushtis are required as a fundamental tenet of their faith to participate in making the world a better place. *

USHAO Zoroastrian magazine Autumn 2012

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Esotericism by Alice Bailey

The Nature of Esotericism

by Alice A. Bailey

Educators in the new age will lay an increasing emphasis upon the esoteric approach, and it might be of service if I here attempted to define esotericism in terms of the general average intelligence of esoteric students and their point in evolution. I would remind you that true esotericism is a far deeper thing (from the angle of the Hierarchy) than you can appreciate.
One of the most inadequate of the definitions of esotericism is that it concerns that which is concealed and hidden and which, even though suspected, still remains unknown. The inference is that to be an esotericist is to be among those who seek to penetrate into a certain secret realm to which the ordinary student is not permitted to penetrate. If this were all that it is, then every scientist and every mystic would represent the approach of the mental type and of the developed emotional type to the world of esotericism and of the hidden realities. This would not, however, be accurate. The mystic is never a true esotericist, for he is not dealing in his consciousness with energies and forces, but with that vague “Something other” (called God, the Christ, the Beloved) and therefore, in reality, with that which satisfies the hunger of his soul. The scientist who is now so rapidly dealing with and entering into the world of forces and energies, is in reality a true esotericist—even if, in his effort to control the sought-for energies, he denies their source. That is of relatively small moment; later he will recognise their emanating source.
The basic approach for all who endeavour to grasp esotericism, or to teach esoteric students, is to lay the emphasis upon the world of energies and to recognise that behind all happenings in the world of phenomena (and by that I mean the three worlds of human evolution) exists the world of energies; these are of the greatest diversity and complexity, but all of them move and work under the Law of Cause and Effect. It is hardly necessary for me therefore to indicate the very practical nature of this definition and its applicability to the life of the individual aspirant, to community life and world affairs, or to the immediate conditioning levels of experimental spiritual energies which are constantly seeking impact upon or contact with the world of phenomena. This they do, under spiritual direction, in order to implement the Plan. The above statement is foundational in its importance; all other definitions are implicit in it, and it is the first important truth anent esotericism which must be learnt and applied by each aspirant to the mystery and the universality of that which moves the worlds and underlies the evolutionary process.
The first task of the esotericist is to comprehend the nature of the energies which are seeking to condition him and which work out into expression on the physical plane through the medium of his equipment or his vehicle of manifestation. The esoteric student has, therefore, to grasp that:

  1. He is an aggregation of forces, inherited and conditioned by what he has been, plus a great antagonistic force which is not a principle and which we call the physical body.
  2. He is sensitive to and should be increasingly aware of certain energies, at present unknown and of no use to him; of these he must eventually become aware, if he is to move deeper into the world of hidden forces. They may be energies which, for him, would be evil were he to work with them, and these must be distinguished and discarded; there are others which he must learn to use, for they would prove beneficial and would increase his knowledge, and should therefore be regarded as good. Bear in mind, however, that energies per se are neither bad nor good. The Great White Lodge, our spiritual Hierarchy, and the Black Lodge employ the same universal energies but with different motives and objectives; both groups are groups of trained esotericists.

The esotericist in training has, therefore:

  1. To become aware of the nature of the forces which constitute his personality equipment and which he himself magnetically brought into expression in the three worlds. They form a combination of active forces; he must learn to differentiate between strictly physical energy, which is automatic in its response to other and inner energies, and those which come from emotional and mental levels of consciousness, focussing through the etheric body which, in turn, motivates and galvanises his physical vehicle into certain activities.
  2. To become sensitive to the impelling energies of the soul, emanating from the higher mental levels. These seek to control the forces of the threefold man when a certain definite point in evolution is reached.
  3. To recognise the conditioning energies in his environment, seeing them not as events or circumstances but as energy in action; by this means he learns to find his way behind the scene of outer happenings into the world of energies, seeking contact and qualifying for the bringing about of certain activities. He thus acquires entrance into the world of meaning. Events, circumstances, happenings and physical phenomena of every kind are simply symbols of what is occurring in the inner worlds, and it is into these worlds that the esotericist must enter as far as his perception permits; he will sequentially discover worlds which will call for his scientific penetration.
  4. For the majority of aspirants, the Hierarchy itself remains an esoteric realm which demands discovery and which will accept penetration. I am choosing my words with care in an effort to evoke your esoteric response.

Beyond this point of humanity’s destined goal I seek not to go; to initiates and disciples who have not yet taken the Initiation of Transfiguration, the higher realms of awareness and the “secret Place of the Most High” (the Council Chamber of Sanat Kumara) remain deeply esoteric. It is a higher realm of energies—planetary, extra-planetary and inter-planetary; with them educators have no concern and with their consideration the teaching staff of an esoteric school is not called upon to deal. The task is to train students in the recognition of energy and force; to discriminate between the various types of energy, both in relation to themselves and to world affairs, and to begin to relate that which is seen and experienced to that which is unseen, conditioning and determining. This is the esoteric task.
There is a tendency among esoteric students, particularly those in the older Piscean groups, to regard any interest in the energies producing world events or which concern governments and politics as antagonistic to esoteric and spiritual endeavour. But the newer esotericism which the more modern groups and the more mental types will sponsor sees all events and world movements and national governments, plus all political circumstances, as expressions of the energies to be found in the inner world of esoteric research; therefore they see no sound reason for excluding such an important aspect of human affairs from their reasoning and thinking and from the discovery of those new truths and techniques which may bring about the new era of right human relations. They ask: Why omit political research from the spiritual curriculum? They deem it to be of equal if not of greater importance than the activity of the churches; governments condition people and aid in the production of any current civilisation, forcing the masses of men into certain needed lines of thought. The churches and men everywhere need to learn that there is nothing in the entire world of phenomena, of forces and of energies, which cannot be brought under the control of that which is spiritual. All that exists is, in reality, spirit in manifestation. The masses today are becoming politically-minded, and this is viewed by the Masters as a great step forward. When the spiritually-minded people of the world include this relatively new area of human thought and its international activity within the field of their esoteric research, very great progress will be made.
Let me give you one simple illustration: War is, factually, a great explosion of energies and forces, generated on the inner planes where the esotericist ought to be working (but is seldom to be found), and finding its dire and catastrophic expression upon the physical plane. This is indicated today by the constant use of the terms “Forces of Light” and “Forces of Evil.” When the inner, esoteric and predisposing causes of war are discovered through esoteric research, then war and wars will come to an end. This is in the nature of truly esoteric work, but is scorned by present day esotericists who regard themselves as spiritually superior to such affairs and—in their ivory tower—concentrate on their own development, plus a little philosophy.
One point should here be stated: Esotericism is not in any way of a mystical and vague nature. It is a science—essentially the science of the soul of all things—and has its own terminology, experiments, deductions and laws. When I say “soul,” I refer to the animating consciousness found throughout nature and on those levels which lie outside the territory usually called nature. Students are apt to forget that every level of awareness, from the highest to the lowest, is an aspect of the cosmic physical plane, and is therefore (from the angle of evolutionary process) material in nature, and (from the angle or point of view of certain divine Observers) definitely tangible and formed of creative substance. The esotericist is dealing with substance all the time; he is concerned with that living, vibrant substance of which the worlds are made and which—inherited as it is from a previous solar system—is coloured by past events, and is (as has been said) “already tinged with karma.” It should also be noted that just as the physical plane, so familiar to us, is not regarded as a principle by the esoteric student, so the cosmic physical plane (from the standpoint of the cosmic lives) is likewise “not a principle.” I give you here much food for thought.
It might be stated that the esotericist is occupied in discovering and working with those principles which energise each level of the cosmic physical plane and which are, in reality, aspects of the qualified life energy which is working in and through unprincipled substance. His task is to shift the focus of his attention away from the substance-form side of existence and to become aware of that which has been the source of form production on any specific level. It is his task to develop within himself the needed responsiveness and sensitivity to the quality of the life dominating any form until he arrives eventually at the quality of the ONE LIFE which animates the planet and within Whose activity we live and move and have our being.
To do this, he must first of all discover the nature of his own qualified energies (and here the nature of the governing rays enters in) which are expressing themselves through his three lower vehicles of manifestation, and later through his integrated personality. Having arrived at a measure of this knowledge and having oriented himself towards the qualified life aspect, he begins to develop the subtle, inner mechanism through which contact can be made with the more general and universal aspects. He learns to differentiate between the quality or karmic predispositions of the “unprincipled” substance of which his form and all forms are made, and the qualified principles which are seeking expression through those forms and, incidentally, to redeem, salvage and purify them so that the substance of the next solar system will be of a higher order than that of the present one, and consequently more responsive to the will aspect of the Logos.
Viewed from this angle, esotericism is the science of redemption, and of this all World Saviours are the everlasting symbol and exponents. It was to redeem substance and its forms that the planetary Logos came into manifestation, and the entire Hierarchy with its great Leader, the Christ (the present world Symbol), might be regarded as a hierarchy of redeemers, skilled in the science of redemption. Once They have mastered this science, They can then pass on to the Science of Life and deal with the energies which will eventually hold and use the qualified, redeemed and then principled substance and forms. It is the redemption of unprincipled substance, its creative restoration and spiritual integration, which is Their goal; the fruits of Their labour will be seen in the third and final solar system. Their activity will produce a great spiritual and planetary fusion, of which the fusion of personality and soul (at a certain point upon the path of evolution) is the symbol in the microcosmic sense. You can see by this the close relation between the work of the individual aspirant or disciple as he redeems, salvages and purifies his threefold body of manifestation and the work of the planetary Logos as He performs a similar task in connection with the “three periodical vehicles” through which He works: His personality vehicle, His soul expression and His monadic aspect.
By means of all that I have said you will realise that I am endeavouring to take the vagueness out of the word “esotericism,” and to indicate the extremely scientific and practical nature of the enterprise upon which all esotericists are embarked.
Esoteric study, when coupled with esoteric living, reveals in time the world of meaning and leads eventually to the world of significances. The esotericist starts by endeavouring to discover the reason why; he wrestles with the problem of happenings, events, crises and circumstances in order to arrive at the meaning they should hold for him; when he has ascertained the meaning of any specific problem, he uses it as an invitation to penetrate more deeply into the newly revealed world of meaning; he then learns to incorporate his little personal problems into the problem of the larger Whole, thus losing sight of the little self and discovering the larger Self. The true esoteric viewpoint is always that of the larger Whole. He finds the world of meaning spread like an intricate network over all activity and every aspect of the phenomenal world. Of this network the etheric web is the symbol and design; and the etheric web to be found between the centres up the individual spinal column is its microcosmic correspondence, like a series of doors of entrance into the larger world of meaning. This, in reality, concerns the true Science of the Centres to which I have frequently referred. They are modes of conscious entry (when developed and functioning) into a world of subjective realities and into hitherto unknown phases of the divine consciousness.
Esotericism is not, however, concerned with the centres as such, and esotericism is not an effort scientifically to awaken the centres, as many students think. Esotericism really is training in the ability to function freely in the world of meaning; it is not occupied with any aspect of the mechanical form; it is occupied entirely with the soul aspect—the aspect of Saviour, Redeemer and Interpreter—and with the mediating principle between life and substance. This mediating principle is the soul of the individual aspirant or disciple (if one may use such misleading wording); it is also the anima mundi in the world as a whole.
Esotericism therefore involves a life lived in tune with the inner subjective realities; it is only possible when the student is intelligently polarised and mentally focussed; it is only useful when the student can move among these inner realities with skill and understanding. Esotericism involves also comprehension of the relation between forces and energies and the power to use energy for the strengthening, and then for the creative use of the forces contacted; hence their redemption. Esotericism uses the forces of the third aspect (that of intelligent substance) as recipients of the energies of the two higher aspects and, in so doing, salvages substance. Esotericism is the art of “bringing down to earth” those energies which emanate from the highest sources and there “grounding them” or anchoring them. As illustration: it was an esoteric activity of a world-wide group of students which resulted in the giving out of the teaching anent the New Group of World Servers,* thereby grounding and fixing in the consciousness of humanity the fact of the existence and work of this basically subjective group; thus the work of that group was focussed and their redeeming activity intensified.
All true esoteric activity produces light and illumination; it results in the inherited light of substance being intensified and qualified by the higher light of the soul—in the case of humanity consciously functioning. It is therefore possible to define esotericism and its activity in terms of light, but I refrain from doing so because of the vagueness and the mystical application hitherto developed by esotericists in past decades. If esotericists would accept, in its simplest form, the pronouncement of modern science that substance and light are synonymous terms, and would recognise also that the light which they can bring to bear on substance (the application of energy to force) is equally substantial in nature, a far more intelligent approach would be made. The esotericist does deal with light in its three aspects, but it is preferable today to attempt a different approach until—through development, trial and experiment—the esotericist knows these triple differentiations in a practical sense and not just theoretically and mystically. We have to live down some of the mistakes of the past.
I have given you many other definitions in my various books, and some of them were quite simple; they can carry meaning today and will come to have more abstruse significances to you later on.
I would challenge all esotericists to attempt the practical approach which I have here outlined. I would ask them to live redemptive lives, to unfold their innate mental sensitivity, and to work continuously with the meaning which is to be found behind all individual, community, national and world affairs. If this is done, then the light will suddenly and increasingly shine upon your ways. You can become light-bearers, knowing then that “in that light you will see Light”—and so will your fellowmen. (Education in the New Age , pp. 59-68)

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Celtic Druidry & early Hinduism – the connections

Two Seasons, Three Worlds, Four Treasures, Five Directions: the Pillars of Celtic Cosmology and Celtic Reconstructionist Druidism

by Ellen Evert Hopman
As most of you are probably aware, the holiest river of Hinduism is the Ganges. But before the Ganges became the focus of religious belief and ritual there was another river that was likely an equally sacred river. That river was the Saraswati around which an entire civilization, known as the Harappan culture flourished from 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE in the Indus River Valley of present day northwest India and Kashmir. Its major cities were Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
The Harappan culture was highly advanced with writing, mathematics, metallurgy, dentistry, stringed instruments, three dimensional sculptures, urban planning, irrigation and drainage, public baths, boats and canals, and a population that was larger than the two kingdoms of northern and southern Egypt combined. It was a culture that traded widely and lived in peace. Their language was most likely a type of Dravidian.[1]
This culture faced an environmental catastrophe when the climate changed, the rains failed, and their sacred Mother River, the Saraswati dried up. By approximately 2000 BCE the holy river that had run through the heart of this civilization was gone and the Harappan culture began to disperse. What remained of the Harrapan culture was absorbed or conquered by Proto-Indo-European or Sanskrit speakers.
Evidence suggests that some of the Harappan peoples moved from Northwest India south into the subcontinent while other Harappans moved northeast into China and Tibet. There is also mounting evidence that yet others of them may have moved west – all the way into Western Europe. What evidence do we have to support this theory? As physical evidence we have the famous Gundestrup Cauldron that was found in a Danish bog in 1891. The provenance for the cauldron is still debated but it was constructed in the first or second century BCE. Despite coming from a Danish bog the cauldron depicts a horned deity surrounded by exotic creatures such as elephants and lions and seated in a yogic pose. The horned deity is Celtic; we know this because he is wearing a torc or neck ring, which is a Celtic symbol of noble status, and holds another torc in his hand. Yet the horned figure closely resembles the Harrapan Mohenjo-Daro depictions of Shiva Pashupati, the Lord of the Animals.
In Hindu depictions of Shiva he is often shown meditating with a serpent around his neck to illustrate his absolute fearlessness. Similarly the Gundestrup horned deity is shown clutching a serpent.

(See Images from my article “Encounters with the Horned God” in Bond of Druids: A Druid Journal, Summer 2008
Further parallels can be found between European, Vedic and Indus Valley cultures and I will speak primarily about the Celts because that culture is most relevant to my own faith which is Druidism.
The sacred mother river along which Celtic culture developed called the Danube is named for the Celtic Goddess Danu. The same Goddess gave her name to the Don River, the Dneiper, and others. Danu is also an early Hindu Goddess of the primeval waters. In the Rig Veda she is called the mother of the Danavas, or the Children of Danu.
The Celtic peoples developed a caste system of the “Nemed” or “Sacred” class of Druids who were the equivalent of Brahmins, warriors who were equivalent to the Kshatriyas, farmers and producers, and slaves who did the same menial tasks as the “Untouchable” castes of India. In common with Hindu and Vedic cultures where until the tenth century, one could move up or down the social ladder, advancing in status as one gained education or skills, the ancient Celtic caste system was fluid providing opportunities for advancement and also loss of status depending on education and other circumstances.
The Celts and Hindu-Vedic peoples shared other similarities such as the primacy of triple deities. In Celtic religious thought the most powerful deities were always personified in threes; the triple Brighid for example, who was the most popular pan-Celtic Goddess. She was personified as three Brighid’s; Brighid the Patroness of smiths and the forge, Brighid the Patroness of healing and Brighid the Patroness of poets. Similarly there was Lugh Samildanach, the God of every art, who was born as one of triplets. The triple War Goddess known as The Morrígan was often personified as three ravens, three crows or three Great Queens named Morrígan, Badb, and Nemain. The Land Goddess of ancient Ireland was a triple deity; Banba, Fodla and Ériu. In Celtic Gaul the Matronae were the “Triple Mothers” who brought the blessings of plants, food and healthy children to the tribes. Thus the number three implied High Gods, divinity and completion.
(See image of Gaulish Matronae from:
These triple deities can be compared to the Hindu Trimurti; Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu and to the Tridevi; Shakti, Lakshmi and Saraswati.
Druidic religious and philosophical teachings were similar to Vedic and Hindu beliefs as well. The Druids taught the doctrine of reincarnation according to contemporary witnesses and historians. Pomponius Mela reported that the Druids taught reincarnation to strengthen the courage of the warriors. He wrote that; “One of their dogmas has become widely known so they may the more readily go to wars: namely that souls are everlasting, and that among the shades is another life.”
Ammianus Marcellinus wrote; “The Druids . . . declared souls to be immortal” while Diodorus Siculus said; “The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them, teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body.” And in the first century, Lucan addressed the Druids rhetorically with these words…”You tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere, and that death, if what you sing is true, is but the midpoint of long life”.
We can find yet more parallels between the sacred scriptures of the Celtic and Hindu religion. In “The Song of Amairgen” from the eleventh century “Lebor Gabála Érenn” (“Book of Invasions”), a book composed of a mixture of pseudo-history and oral lore passed down through the generations in which the poet declares;
“I am the Wind that blows across the Sea;
I am the Wave of the Ocean;
I am the Murmur of the Billows;
I am the Bull of the Seven Combats;
I am the Vulture on the Rock;
I am a Ray of the Sun;
I am the Fairest of Flowers;
I am a Wild Boar in Valor;
I am a Salmon in the Pool;
I am a Lake on the Plain;
I am the Skill of the Craftsman;
I am a Word of Science;
I am the Spear-point that gives Battle;
I am the God who creates in the head of man the Fire of Thoughts…”
This can be compared to The Bhagavad-Gita where Sri Krishna says;
“I am the Self established in the heart of all contingent beings:
I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all contingent beings too…”[2]
“…Among luminous bodies I am the sun…among heavenly mansions I am the moon…and Meru among the high-aspiring mountains…of floods I am the ocean…of immovable things I am the Himalaya…I am the lion among beasts…the Ganges among rivers…I am endless time itself, and the Preserver whose face is turned on all sides…I am, O Arjuna, the seed of all existing things, and there is not anything, whether animate or inanimate which is without me…”[3]
Added to all this is the fact that Celtic religion featured offerings to sacred fire, sacred water and trees, while Vedic ritual involved making offerings to sacred fire (Agni), and sacred water (Soma) and the use of a pole in their rites. The sickle was also a ritual implement used by both Druids and Brahamanic priests. The evidence is mounting that there is a common Vedic or proto-Vedic thread that runs through Indo-European religious beliefs.
So having explored the deepest tap roots of what I perceive to be our closely woven origins, now I would like to look at the basic principles of Celtic Cosmology as they are understood by modern Celtic Reconstructionist Druids of today.

Two Seasons

The first principle is the division of the sacred year. For the ancient Celts there were only two seasons; summer and winter, or the light half of the year and the dark half of the year. The dark half began at Samhain or as it is known in modern times “Halloween” or “All Souls Day” while the light half began at Beltaine or as it is known in modern times “May Day”. These two festivals were the holiest days of the Celtic year, acting as portals between dark and light, between one state of existence and another. They were times of chaos and change when Spirits were said to move freely between the worlds and communication with dead ancestors was most easily achieved.
Both of these festivals were centered around the activities of cows. At Beltaine the cows were sent to their summer pastures in the hills, while at Samhain the cows were brought back to the comforts of their winter enclosures. At Beltaine the departing cows were ritually blessed by passing them between two sacred fires as they left the farm. The fires were supposed to be close enough that a white cow passing between them would have her hair singed brown. Cows were thought of as lunar, watery animals that produced the all important liquid called milk that would later make butter and cheese for the tribes. By passing the cows through the fires, water and fire were brought together which was seen as a powerful form of magic because the ancient Celts believed that the world was made of fire and water and wherever these two elements came together there was the possibility for transformation, creation and powerful change.
In between Beltaine and Samhain there were two other high festivals. Imbolc, which happened in early February, was held in honor of the great Triple Goddess Brighid. It was also a milk festival that celebrated the lactation of the ewes. Lughnasad was the celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. It was observed from late July to mid August, depending on when the new grain was ripe. At this festival horses, which were understood to be solar creatures of fire, were ritually cleansed by driving them through living water such as a lake or a stream and once again fire and water were brought together to empower the world. Horse races and other games of skill and competition as well as great fairs and poetry contests marked the occasion. This festival honored the God Lugh who was “master of every art” and his foster mother Tailtiu, who can be understood to represent the Earth Mother herself.

Three Worlds

For the Celts there were three worlds that existed simultaneously and which were intertwined with each other to make up the whole of existence. The world of “Sea” or water was the underworld of the ancestors and the Sidhe or Fairies. This world was under the earth but could be accessed through water; hence offerings were dropped into water such as lakes, ponds, wells and streams, as gifts for the Fairy Realms and for the honored dead.
The world of “Land” was the sacred realm of plants, trees, animals, stones and humans. Some of the inhabitants of this world such as stones and trees were especially venerated because a stone could be half underground and half above ground and thus reside between two worlds, while a tree had its roots in the underworld of Water, its trunk in the realm of Land and branches that touched the Sky Realm. Offerings were made to sacred trees and stones to honor their existence between the realms. Deeply rooted trees such as ashes and oaks and stones that projected from the earth were understood to be liminal objects of power that could help a person to travel between the worlds. Rituals were performed in the presence of such trees and stones for this reason.
The world of “Sky” was the domain of the Sky Gods and Goddesses, of Thunder Gods such as Taranis and of the winged raven and crow emissaries of the Triple Goddess of Battle, the Morrígan. Solar deities such as Belenos and Aine were honored with fire offerings. Lugh and Brighid, who were Master and Mistress of Arts and associated with fire, were honored at the forge and at the fire altar. Offerings were made to sacred fires to reach the Sky Realm, because the fires carried the offerings upwards, via the smoke.
For the Celts the symbol that best encapsulated these three realms of existence was a tree, because of the tree’s ability to span the worlds. Every tribe had a Bíle or sacred tree under which oaths were sworn. Such a tree was simultaneously a church, a court house and a meeting place for elders, tribal leaders and Druids. The health and luck of the community was tied to the tree and the worst thing that could befall a community was to have their sacred tree cut down.
The three realms were also understood to exist within the human form. There were said to be three cauldrons within the human body; the “Cauldron of Wisdom” in the head, the “Cauldron of Motion” in the chest and the “Cauldron of Incubation” in the abdomen.
The Cauldron of Wisdom in the head was said to be born upside down in all people and was gradually turned upright by training and by divine intervention. The Cauldron of Motion in the chest was said to be born on its side in most people. It was the origin of emotions and of poetic art and had to be turned fully upright in order to achieve artistic mastery. The Cauldron of Incubation in the belly was the seat of warming, sustenance and health. In a healthy person it was said to be upright while in a sick person it lay on its side. This cauldron was turned completely upside down at death. These Three Cauldrons are comparable to three major chakras within the human body.
In the ancient poem “The Cauldron of Poesy”, another composition attributed to Amairgen White-knee, the three cauldrons are described in this manner;
“My perfect cauldron of warming
has been taken by the Gods from the mysterious abyss of the elements;
a perfect truth that ennobles from the center of being,
that pours forth a terrifying stream of speech…
The Gods do not give the same wisdom to everyone,
tipped, inverted, right-side-up;
 no knowledge, half-knowledge, full knowledge —
What then is the root of poetry and every other wisdom? Not hard; three
cauldrons are born in every person — the cauldron of warming, the cauldron 
of motion and the cauldron of wisdom.
The cauldron of warming is born upright in people from the beginning. It
 distributes wisdom to people in their youth.
The cauldron of motion, however, increases after turning; that is to say it 
is born tipped on its side, growing within.
The cauldron of wisdom is born on its lips and distributes wisdom in poetry 
and every other art….
The cauldron of motion then, in all artless people is on its lips. It is
 side-slanting in people of bardcraft and small poetic talent. It is upright 
in the greatest of poets, who are great streams of wisdom. Not every poet
 has it on its back, for the cauldron of motion must be turned by sorrow or 
There are two divisions of joy that turn the cauldron of wisdom; divine joy
 and human joy….[4]

Four Treasures

By tradition the Tuatha de Dannan or the Children of Danu, flew in from the north bringing their four treasures with them; the Sword of Nuada, the Cauldron of the Daghda, the Spear of Lugh and the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny.
Of The Sword of Nuada it was said that no one could escape it once it was unsheathed. But a sword was not just a battle implement in ancient times. A sword had practical uses such as cutting meat, hacking brush, digging, carving, reaping, cutting and shaping of objects. It was a symbol of wisdom, skill, creativity, honor, truth and discernment. In legends a noble sword uncovered truth and slayed falsehood.
The Cauldron of the Daghda was said to be a magical inexhaustible container of food from which no one left unsatisfied and Druids were said to be able to bring slain warriors back to life by dipping them into magical cauldrons of healing. Cups and drinking horns were related symbols that held magical and nourishing liquids from the Gods and which were containers for the magical wisdom of the Otherworld and the mysteries of nature. The legends of the quest for the Holy Grail are a remembrance of these mystical objects.
The Spear of Lugh was said to make its bearer invincible, it belonged to the bright shining God who was “Master of Every Art”. While Lugh was a great warrior he was also a magician, a goldsmith, a harper, a healer and many other things besides. His bright spear symbolized mastery of talents, the growth of wisdom, intense focus on a skill or an art, profound intelligence, the fire of Otherworldly inspiration, the fires of thought and the fire in the head.
The Stone of Fal or the Lia Fáil was the magical coronation stone that roared when the true king put his feet upon it. A “Lia” is a worked or inscribed stone, not a rough natural stone. With its base in the ground and its top in the air it is a boundary marker between one world and another just as the true king must be a bridge from this world to the divine realms. The color of the stone is grey, symbolic of wisdom and knowledge and a “Fail” is an enclosure or protective ring that surrounds and guards the kingdom. Thus this stone, which was said to reside at Tara and which was later taken to Scotland (and then purloined by the English crown) is an ancient stone that has been inscribed in a sacred and mysterious way so that it guards the kingdom. When the true ruler, one who is a wise and a true protector of the land approaches it will speak out clearly. Until then the stone will stay silent, holding its secrets and guarding their power for the rightful king who is to come.

Five Directions

There were as many as twelve directions that were recognized as significant by the Celts, we know this because there were twelve winds or “Airts” that were recognized for their unique effects upon the land and the people [5]. But for religious purposes there were five major directions that are still found in the myths and stories [6].
The North was the direction of battle and fire; its emblem was the sword and its creature the eagle. It was the direction of warriors and of Gods. Winds from the north presaged strife and conflict.
The East was the direction of abundance and prosperity. Its emblems were wealth of all kinds; good earth, fine clothing, bees and honey, its creature the salmon.
The South was the Goddess direction, associated with water and creative arts such as music and poetry. Its creature was the sow, an animal that roots deep into the dark earth for inspiration and sustenance, bringing hidden treasures to light.
The West was the place of history keeping, story telling, of illumination, of inner fire, and of learning and of passing on the mysteries. It was the airy direction of the intellect. Its creature was the stag.
The Center was the fifth sacred direction that completed a ritual space. Its emblem was the stone, its creature the Mare of Sovereignty who symbolized the Goddess of the Land. It was the place of mastery and of rulership. Five was the number that implied a sacred whole.
These five directions are mirrored in the Mount Meru of Hindu Cosmology where the four continents are said to be arranged around a mythical central mountain whose roots penetrate the same distance under the ocean as its peak rises to the sky.
While Modern Druids of today are actively searching out the ancient proto-Vedic roots that the Hindu religion and the Celtic religion hold in common we are also turning to intact, living Earth Religions such as Native American traditions and Siberian Shamanism for clues as to how to revive the ancient European Earth-centered tribal ways. There are may parallels to be found in Native American fire altars, prayers to water, reverence for sacred animals, plants and trees, and the recognition that women as well as men can be tribal leaders, medicine people and clergy [7]. It is an exciting time to be a participant in the Celtic Reconstructionist effort to reconnect with our ancient tribal ways and to honor the Earth and Her creatures.
Ellen Evert Hopman, Co-Chief Order of the Whiteoak (Ord na Darach Gile)

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Is The Vendidad a Zarathushtrian Scripture?

Is The Vendidad a Zarathushtrian Scripture?
By Dastur Rostam Shahzâdi

The name “vendidad” shows that it concens ‘laws”, not religion law, but the law of a group of Iranians who had risen before the advent of Asho Zarathushtra, against “daevas” and their worshippers. The Avesta speaks about two laws in Iran. One is the Law against the Daevas (Dataam vi-daevaam), the “Vendidad”, and the other is the Zarathushtrian Law (Daataam Zarathushtrim). Yasna 25.5, 71.5, Soroush Yasht Hadokht 17. The first belongs to pre-Zarathushtrian times and the other belongs to the days after the Prophet. Let us see why Asho Zarathushtra did not make laws for his follower during his lifetime.

Asho Zarathushtra appeared at a time when Iran had a powerful King Vishtaspa of the Kianian dynasty. He and his civilized people had their own laws for every wake of life; from judicial through civil, trade, agriculture, cattle raising, medicine, education, and others.

Under such conditions no one approached Asho Zarathushtra to know what should be done to a thief or a murderer. Had some one asked him, he would have replied: “I have not come to create a government within a government. I have come to teach people how to lead a good life. Had he been asked: “What law should we follow?” The reply would have been: “Follow the existing laws.” It was the laws of the “Primal Doctrine”, (Paouiryo-tkasesha). He would have advised the people to consider those laws with their wisdom and knowledge, have them modified to the principle of monotheism, and to accept them as Zarathushtrian laws, because social laws change in every era and place, and because the mentality and knowledge of a people do not remain the same.

Therefore the laws of the Vendidad which belong to the pre-Zarathushtrian people, should not be considered today as proper and practical. Every law which, in the past, was prepared and enforced by the wise men of a people was good and useful for its own days. It is not for all the people and for all the times.

The Zarathushtrian Religion spread from eastern Iran to the western parts, and several Zarathushtrian governments were established each having their own laws. The Medians prepared their laws to suit their conditions. The Achaemenians came and the state and the religion became two separate policies. The people had new laws. The Parthians had a federal system of their own, and the laws changed accordingly. The Sassanians came with their theocracy. They promulgated new laws, which have been preserved in Pahlavi books.

No Zarathushtrian government followed the Sassanians, and therefore no new laws were made. Unfortunately, some think that the laws promugulgated by the Sassanians are the basic laws and that they are eternal. The present Zarathushtrian laws in Iran are the rules that apply to the Zarathushtrian minority. The judicial, trade educational and other laws are promulgated by the temporal Government.

After Asho Zarathushtra, Zarathushtrian Iranians provided themselves back with religious and cultural legends, history, medicine, veterinary, astronomy, agriculture and other science of their ancestors in form of Yashts as Mazdayasni literature. The Khordeh Avesta is the last addition which Adurbad Mahrasspandan, the Sassanian Mobedan-Mobed, complied for public prayers in Avesta and Pazand languages.

Various Sections of the Vendidad

A glance at various chapters of the Vendidad shows that the book is a compilation of numerous stories, legends, history, science, art, and religion of ancient Iranians. They were put together during the Median period by Western Magi after they accepted the

Zarathushtrian religion. They added a chapter concerning Asho Zarathushtra’s life. And they called themselves followers of “Mazda-worshipping Zarathushtrians (who were) against the Daevas and believed in the Ahurian Doctrine” (Mazdayasno Zarathushtrish vi-daevo Ahura-tkaesho). In order to show the Vendidad as the laws of Zarathushtra, they introduced every chapter of the book with “Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda and Ahura Mazda answered” sentences. The Gathas have nothing like it. This was a policy of the composers and compilers of the Later Avesta who wanted to have their old scriptures be attributed to the Zarathushtrian Religion.

According to the late Professor Nyberg, the Zarathushtrian religion spread first among the Medes and then among the Persians. It appears that the Median Magi were clever enough to see the danger the Zarathushtrian Doctrine posed to their beliefs. They soon pretended to be the orthodox supporters of the new religion. The Magi were the religious leaders of the Median people. They had the monopoly of performing religious rituals. Their profession was hereditary, and their leadership was quite usual for the laity to follow.

Their strategy saved them their former position in the new religion. They gradually introduced all their beliefs, rituals and customs under the garb of Zarathuhstra’s teachings. The Zarathushtrian doctrine came under the influence of the Magi. As a result, spiritual freshness was gradually replaced by hard and in many instance impractical rules and regulations. The Zarathushtrian Doctrine was against magic and superstitions. It recognized the work and progress as true worship. It raised man’s position and introduced principles, which forbade the monopoly of a distinct priestly class which would control human resources by means of superstitions. Zarathushtra replaced hypocrisy and deceit with virtue and excellence. He advocated freedom of will and intellect. The Zarathushtrian religion was greatly harmed by the Median Magi. It suffered much. They interfered in public affairs and gave them a religious hue. They controlled one’s life from birth to death.

Unfortunately, when Western scholars took to Avesta studies, they intentionally or not ascribed the entire collection to the Prophet and the true Zarathushtrian Religion.

Regarding the language, although the major part of the Iranian religious scriptures has been written in Avesta, one cannot ascribe the entire lot to Zarathushtrians.

Avestan Scriptures

With the spread of the Zarathushtrian religion, Iranians began collecting and compiling ancient history, philosophy, science, tradition, laws and and beliefs of their ancestors. According to Pahlavi sources, these scriptures were written in gold on 12000 cowhides. Later they were made into 21 volumes divided into three categories of (a) seven volumes of the Gathas of Zarathushtra and the principles of the Zarathushtrian religion, (b) seven volumes of mandatory prayers, rituals, and regulations.

The division clearly shows that the law scriptures were of lesser importance. The laws were prepared and enforced during different periods in places. They could never be placed on part with the first two categories. Further more many books were written in Pahlavi during the Parthian and Sassanian periods. At present Iranian Zarathushtrians are governed by the rules and regulations, which have been prepared and put in practice during the last century.

To fully understand the issues related to Zarathushtrian rules and regulations one should study and understand the laws in force before and during Asho Zarathushtra’s time. One should find out how the Prophet acted and reacted vis-a-vis such problems. Above all, every information we gather about the Magi and other religious leaders of Iranian groups will lead us to the overall picture of tl1e subject. It should be also noted that although all of them carry the same title of “Magi”, the Median, Azerbaijanian, and Babylonian religious leaders are not the same as the Zarathushtrian Mobeds.

Contents of the Vendidad

A glance through the contents of the Vendidad shows that although its rules and regulations are very old, some of them were hygienically very effective in its own times and even some of them may be accepted to be good today.

But one cannot accept the present version of the Vendidad to be the copy of the old origin. As seen, while Yasna and Yashta distinguish the Zarathushtrian Law as separate from the Vendidad, the extant version is a mixed collection of the old sections of the old Vendidad, the life of Asho Zarathushtra, and quotations from the parts of the Yasna. The reason for this mix up is the ascendancy of the Magi to control religious affairs. They forced most of their old customs, such as the Dakhmeh-nashini [disposal of the dead], upon Zarathushtrians. They forbade Zarathushtrians form burying or cremating their dead. Let us have a brief review of the contents of the Vendidad.

Comment on Fragard 1: It shows that the beliefs of the composers of the story of the Aryan countries were non-Zarathushtrian, and that it belongs to a period much older than the Zarathushtrian era.

Comment on Fragard 3:

[1] The ever-burning hearth fire shows the importance of maintaining fire in the day when matchstick and other means of lighting fire did not exist.

[2] The care of domestic animals, particularly the dog, shows the importance given to them in ancient times.

[3] The very ban on burial and cremation shows that ancient Iranian practiced all the three modes of the disposal of the dead.

[4] Regarding purification with bull’s urine, it may be pointed out that it is a disinfectant, and that in those days a thing which was readily available to the agriculturist people. But today when we have so many better means of medical purification, there is no need of using means of several thousand years and no sound wisdom will accept the old method.

Comment on Fragard 10: All the spells and prayers prescribed in this section in purification rites are from various parts of the Yasna. It shows that the Magi mixed their rituals with Avestan verses only to obtain the Zarathushtrian consent.

Comment on Fragard 22: This section, like Fragard I. shows the Zurvanite belief of Dualism of the composers of the Vendidad. Zurvanistic creed goes to pre-Zarathushtrian times. But these people survived the Sassanians and infiltrated Islam. We can see its footprints in the Persian Literature, which is full of fatalism. In fact, the Zurvanite belief in Fatalism is one of the causes of the Sassanian downfall and the domination of aliens. It was one of the reasons why Iranians did not rise [after the downfall of the Sassanians] for centuries to work for the good of humanity.

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