UNIVERSAL MAZDEISM. AN OUTLINE
By faith and reason, a Universalist Mazdean believes that at the dawn of life Ohrmazd forwarded1 Daena – vision, conscience and religion - as a key to an overall understanding of the Universe, a weapon against evil and a tool to build up a sound and creative2 civilization, so that the Good Creation could be His herald, soldier & hamkar (co-worker).
To restore this original mazdayasna (Mazda-worship) to its pristine purity, partly lost in space and time, there arose the religion of Zarathushtra, which the Holy Gathas, songs of Divine Light, perpetually embody.
Many centuries later, the Gathic teachings were revisited by priests, law-givers and thinkers in the Videvdat and in the Pahlavi texts. Since in each stage of human history good and evil tend to reach their farthest ends to the extent made possible by the state of times – the chronicles of the Good Religion not being exempt from this process, which seems to have affected all levels of reality after Ahriman’s onslaught to the Good Creation – it is no surprise that the aforesaid writings both developed and distorted, clarified and obscured Gathic concepts, though Divine Wisdom still played a major role in their composition. So, for instance, they taught universal salvation – not as explicit in the Gathas as, say, in the Nām Stāyīshn prayer3 - but also gave way to beliefs and customs (concerning science, jurisprudence, rituals, purity, etc) which at times seem to be inconsistent with the frame of thought and feeling evoked by Zarathushtra’s hymns. The same could be said of a few ideas and pronouncements in the Yashts.
This dual situation has its historical counterpart in the Sasanian Empire when on the one hand Zoroastrianism was reinforced and on the other subjected to bigotry - disguised under the zeal of High Priests like Kartir - and formalism. The ancient call to universality - that the Achaemenians had somehow tried to follow, though with heavy inconsistencies, along political lines, and under the Parthians had found an answer in a growing interreligious attitude, sometimes linked to Gnostic teachings4 – was left unheeded. So was the call to justice, even more ancient and authoritative, since it forms the core of the Gathas. This gave rise to a lasting spiritual and social unrest of which Mani’s and Mazdak’s movements were the outcome, the first championing universality (by including Noach, Buddha and Jesus in its own prophetic lineage), though with some mistakes from the standpoint of Zoroastrian anthropology, the second pleading for justice, both in Court’s circles and among the working classes. It’s worth noting that Manichaeism, in its western garb, was the first attempt to lead Christianity to universalist theological scopes, while the Mazdaki Zartushti Daen as an ignition of social consciousness - one of the first recorded in history - carries in itself universalist implications .
After the fall of the Sasanian Empire, mainstream Zoroastrianism became a repository of those faithful who migrated to India in order to practise the Good Religion overtly, without having to undergo persecutions or tax vexations. Despite their being jealous guardians of Tradition, the newly formed “ethnic” Zoroastrian community - called the Parsis (Persians) – drew some customs and rites from the Hindu setting, and this very fact meant a step towards – or a return to - a non-ethnocentric approach to religion, though those who nowadays oppose any idea of opening up the gates of Zoroastrianism to strangers won’t easily admit it.
While Irani and Parsi Zoroastrians strove to survive – the first among continuous hardships, the second more smoothly, till they gained a position of prominence in Indian society during the 18th century, which they have kept to-date - Europe witnessed many epochal changes: the collapse of the Middle Ages with their forceful religious unity; the Renaissance, marking a resurgence of Platonism and Hermeticism, with a related lively interest in the figure of Zarathushtra, though only glimpsed within the golden nimbus of magic; the Protestant Reformation, coming up with assertions of personal choice and responsibility which we find in the Gathas; the Enlightenment5, when a rational, unbiased study of other religions began to be carried out, and the Avesta was first explained in a Western idiom (French) by Anquetil-Duperron; and finally Romanticism, with its somehow fussy attraction for Eastern spiritual charms and for the secrets of Nature.
In 1770, a year before the first edition of Avestan scriptures in Europe, a Christian from London, John Murray, landed at Good Luck Point, New Jersey, willing to preach there the doctrine of Universalism, namely the eventual salvation of all living beings, which had been upheld by some Christian thinkers (the foremost among them being Origenes) but condemned by the Catholic Church as early as the sixth century A.D.
Before long, The Universalist Church6 founded by Murray was stepping towards a trans-Christian perspective, and by the last quarter of the 19th century it had started adding to the “larger hope” of universal salvation the idea of a universal revelation, based on the assumption that, since God must be the highest source of Intellect and Love, He would never limit His relationship with mankind to a certain section of it. This spentic attitude, which was gradually finding its way through other Christians groups like the Quakers, was shared by a church, founded in 17th century Transylvania but actually grown in England during the Age of Reason: the Unitarian Church (with which the Universalist Church would eventually merge in 1961). Among its leaders was Ralph Waldo Emerson, the noted essayist and founder of the Transcendentalist group, which aimed at perceiving and expressing spiritual motives in Nature, thus spiritualizing it. Now, it wasn’t definitely by chance that Emerson – as his most reliable biographers remark – felt a strong attraction for the Zoroastrian idea of God, and that later quite a few Unitarians and Universalists discarded the idea of God as an arbitrary ruler, utterly unaccountable to human reason and conscience, and espoused that of a “growing God” who wills, treasures, even needs man’s cooperation in improving Creation and in value-making. Though not dualistic in their approach they reached conclusions parallel, when not akin, to those exposed in Mardan Farrokh’s Skhand Gumanig Vichar and they subscribed to the idea of man as a hamkar of God; in their catechisms they called this ”salvation by character”.
By the efforts and grace of Ohrmazd, the cleaning wind of Universalism – uplifting, “working on high” like Vayu yazad (Yasht 15, 1:3) - affected many traditions: in the Hindu context it took the form of the Brahmo Samaj, founded by Ram Mohan Roy in 1828, and of its Navavidhan offspring, heralded by Keshub Chandra Sen in 1881; it reached Persian Shi’ite Islam, universalizing the contents of the recently formed Bahá’í faith during the second half of the 19th century, though this new religion got soon engulfed in self-centeredness; even the father of the Italian Nation, Giuseppe Mazzini, boldly supported ideas of universal revelation and universal salvation, as anyone can read in the pages of his work Dal Concilio a Dio (1870), where, writing to the Catholic Fathers assembled for the First Vatican Council which would eventually issue the dogma of Pope’s infallibility, he equated their doctrine of eternal damnation to an unconceivable “suicide” of God.
Were Zoroastrians involved in the universalist tide which mounted during the 18th century and reached its apex in the 19th? Sure they were. First of all, we must keep in mind that Parsis formed the backbone of Freemasonry in India: most of the greatest scholars and leaders of the community became Freemasons: from J. J. Modi to T. Anklesaria, from J. Jeejeeboy to K. R. Cama, who rose to the chair of Deputy Grand Master for India. Freemasonry in its modern form was founded in 1717.As early as 1735, the Grand Lodge of London sent a letter to the Provincial Grand Lodge located in Calcutta stating that the disciples of Zoroaster were of Noachide lineage7 - thus catching the universalist roots of the Good Religion (according to the Talmud, the “Sons of Noach” were bearers of a universal cult with markedly ethical features) - and that as such they were most suitable candidates for a Craft which should aim at restoring an ethical unity among men under the aegis of a belief in a Supreme Being. When the Theosophical Society was founded in New York (1875) by Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott - who would lecture in Bombay ten years after – as a rallying point for seekers trying to catch the hidden meanings of religions, penetrate the mysteries of Nature and explore the latent powers of Mind, many Parsis were ready to answer the call and became keen theosophists. Quite often they joined both Freemasonry and the T.S., as was the case of Kharshedji Cama of revered memory.
But, valuable as they be, from the Zoroastrian angle such experiences can be considered as forms of “imperfect universalism”. In the case of Freemasonry - an Order which in its highest contents, now fully understood and practiced only by small circles of Freemasons, has brought a flux of Mistery Light8 to mankind - the fraternal link is based on a symbolic and social code fostering mutuality between people of different traditions, but doesn’t necessarily shape their personal religious views in theological or practical matters: in other words, one can be a universalist de facto in his Lodge – which incidentally, being a closed society, is hardly recognized as an authoritative source of principles by the world at large - but quite a conventional churchgoer outside; in the case of Theosophy, its universalist premises were spotted from the start by mostly Hindu/Buddhist maps of the spiritual worlds, a “mechanical” vision of reincarnation and some odd pretensions, viz that instruction was granted to the Society by a hierarchy of unknown masters living in some secluded places in Tibet (a pattern later reproduced by the Zoroastrian group Ilm-e Khshnoom, though in this case the secret instructors supposedly lived on Mount Damavand, in Iran). The same can be said of the Mazdaznan movement, which sprang up from rather doubtful origins in the early 20th century. It had the double merit of connecting Zoroastrianism and Christianity at a mystical level – along more scholarly lines, historians of religions were then investigating Iranian influences on the apocalyptic Judaic milieu which the teachings of Jesus, or at least part of them, can be traced to – and of revitalizing the maternal side of Mazdeism with its devotion to Anahita, yazad of Waters who was raised to a symbol of the “feminine” in God - but blended these intuitions with a hodge-podge of neo-yogic and dietetic norms whereby one can be easily led to the shores of inflated fantasy.
After these fragmentary anticipations, the time has come to set forth clear and whole principles for a universalist appraisal of the Zoroastrian Faith. What follows is only a step in this direction, along the homeward trail of Universal Mazdeism.
I. A Religion For The Whole Universe
This is the true and right foundation of Universal Mazdeism, namely that the Good Religion brought back to this Earth by Spitama Zarathushtra is beneficial for all the worlds in the Universe.
Its essentials are meant to enlighten, comfort and guide all sentient beings throughout the seven karshvãn, and their import cannot be confined to any single nation, culture or epoch. When the Prophet was born - Farvardin Yasht proclaims - all the good creatures rejoiced (“vispāo spentō dātāo dāmãn: ushtā nō zātō āthrava, yō Spitāmō Zarathushtrō”), because the announcement of their deliverance from evil would be finally voiced (Yt 13, 87-94).
It is our duty to tune up with that ancient cosmic hope and translate it in terms of universal revelation and salvation. In our perspective, both - like creation - are perennial, this being the process of God’s love, from which not a single atom can escape, as the Universalist preacher Quillen Hamilton Shinn used to say.
Farvardin Yasht also invites us to revere and celebrate the wise and righteous of all nations, which implies studying their lives and works and challenges us to show the courage of incorporating their findings and examples in a wider Zoroastrian heritage.
Nothing, then, should prevent us from combining our daily devotions, firmly based on the Khordeh Avesta, with a collection of inspirational thoughts, prayers and poems taken from alien and most diversified spiritual sources, provided they fully respond to the Zoroastrian spirit*.
*It’s up to the most dedicated mobeds and behdins to compile such an anthology, well typified by Pushpanjali and other prayer books in use among the Universalist Hindus of the Brahmo Samaj. Reading from it would train the faithful soul to fly wings towards unknown spiritual landscapes..
II. Worshipping A Universal Godhead
The majestic metaphysical scenery of Zoroastrianism - which has been aptly defined as henotheistic, in that it celebrates a host of celestial beings but always asserts the primacy of Ohrmazd* - is in itself deeply universalist, depicting the Godhead as all-pervading and One expressing Itself plurally.
The emanation of Amesha Spentas, Yazads and Fravahrs from Ohrmazd implies a process of spiritual dissemination, which eventually covers all degrees and levels of reality. Many faiths have envisaged triads, heptads, etc., to articulate the Divine constitution or manifestation; ours, we believe, climbs the peaks of visionary wisdom, because the Divine Assembly evoked by Avesta represents the fullest image of a universal Godhead. Mazdeism is the religion of Cosmic Consciousness: in fact, by praising every single yazad we have a chance of getting in touch with the spiritual side of that area of Creation over which it presides.
In celebrating the very character of Ahura Mazda by chanting the 101 Holy Names, let’s be aware we are actually visualising its kaleidoscopic nature, which makes up the pictorial side of its universality **.
*The henotheistic nature of Zoroastrianism is asserted by K. Mistree, see K. Mistree - F. Sohrab, The Zarathushti Religion. A Basic Text (FEZANA, Hinsdale, Ill., 1998), p. 7. It was the great scholar Max Müller who made use of this concept to classify the Hindu religion, with its seemingly wild polytheism, in the light of Vedic and Vedantic metaphysics, which instead point to Monism. Henotheism reconciles monotheism with the highest aspects of polytheism and animism, by which one refers to the moral and aesthetic advantages that multiple refractions of the Holy within reality can bring along: a sense of openness, presence and sharing, an enrichment of religious imagination. Surely polytheism lends itself to spiritual diversion and to superstition, but on the other side, while monotheism can be a guarantee of unity and clarity, monotheistic obsessions easily foster a blind and violent faith. Zoroastrian henotheism is mirrored by divine characters in other traditions: if we draw “hierographic lines” across religious borders, we will discover that Behram and Heracles, Mithra and the Archangel Michael, Khorshed and Helios, Haoma and Dionysos, Atar and Ephestos, Spenta Armaiti and Virgin Mary, share some common background.
**Should we want to restrict the scope of our sketch, say borrowing from Keshub Chandra Sen’s universalist writings the shorter sevenfold definition of God as Creator, Father, Mother, Friend, Guide, Judge and Saviour, we’d still have to realize that such a circular relationship between Divinity and humanity also points to universality, brought to a perfect roundness by the Universalist Christian idea that Christ symbolizes the Divine Son each man has to give birth to within himself (here, paradoxically, the Creator is “re-created” by His creature, which is another way of expressing the idea of hamkarship) and by the Hindu metaphysical “bilocation” of the Divine in a personal God (Brahma) and in an impersonal Absolute (Brahman)
III. Spentic Essence and Dualism As Universalist Trends
A universalist trait is inherent in the spentic – namely: effusive, increasing - essence of the Good Religion, which the twin Ahuric attributes rayōmand (radiant) and khōrehmand (glorious) so well epitomize.
We think that a sound idea of Providence is of paramount importance for the safeguard of true Zoroastrianism. Only an impartial Providence - disposing its boons for all the living and the dead, especially the deserving and destitute, being visibly contrasted in its workings by Ahriman, the accursed power which disrupts and strangles - is consistent with the the radiant and glorious nature of our God*.
Ohrmazd wills to share His Glory with all his hamkars. In the same manner should his devotees open the shining gates of the Faith to all the well-wishers who yearn for the Path of Asha**. The adepts of the Good Religion are not a given race; they are meant to be much more: builders of a solar race on Earth.
Also Zoroastrian dualism – another invaluable treasure of the religion, twin to its spentic nature – can be deemed universal: many religious and philosophical traditions outside the Faith contain dualistic ideas and myths, though in less crystal-clear forms: from Sumer to the Native American Iroquese, from Plato to the Jewish Essenes, from the Gnostic Christians to the Mandaeans.
As Universalist Mazdeans we are led by this to promote even more briskly the dualistic vision which was first taught by Zarathushtra in the Holy Gathas.
Any attempt of denying or diluting this vision - which is both morally and intellectually sound, beside being realistic - is a deadly threat to the meaning and role of the Good Religion. If nature is not dual, then God is, but such a Deity would be sick and contradictory, even a false and wicked one, totally unworthy of reverence. Nobody, no way, will ever convince a sincere Mazdeab that God is less than perfectly good and innocent or that His acts can offend reason, which we consider a divine endowment in man.
Neither should we reduce the great long lasting battle to a mental conflict within man; rather, we should acknowledge and teach that it is wrought in nature - where beings are nearly always at war, predating and eating each other - and in the convulsive and destructive motions that involve celestial bodies, from constellations to tiny asteroids***.
An actively universalist feature is that - offering rational and dignified answers to those sensitive souls who are perplexed by the tragedy of evil in the world and refuse the idea that God wills it or allows it for some inscrutable plan – it potentially helps winning to faith many who turned atheist out of disbelief in those twisted theologies which place the origins of evil in God.
* Hardly anything can be found of a more mundane and irreligious nature than the partialist, selfish idea of Providence, a blasphemy whence all sorts of superstitions and abuses have stemmed. When men of means and power ascribe their privileges to a specific act of God’s will, while myriads of honest, hard-working people live in dire poverty, they are actually swearing, inasmuch as they counterfeit the Divine image into that of a stonehearted, ineffective or willfully blind being.
** A soft but deeply rooted universalist stance runs through Dr. Kersey Antia’s The Argument for Acceptance. A Reply to the Three High Priests (private edition, printed at Parsiana Publications, Chicago-Bombay 1985). Other interesting universalist Zoroastrian writings by the High Priest of Chicago include essays and papers such as Concepts and Beliefs Zoroastrianism Shares with Other Religions, The Universal Appeal of The Message Of Zarathushtra, Contribution of Ancient Iran To Our Judeo-Christian Heritage etc.
***We should engage in detecting and classifying any traces of dualism in human history and even in cosmic history: astronomers and physicists talk of “wars” between matter and antimatter, light and darkness, from the beginnings of the physical universe until now, and we must be confident that all sciences (including Psychology), now shadowed by distortions and sheer emptiness induced by Ahriman, will one day acknowledge the soundness of our analysis.
IV. Ohrmazd’s Workings in the Spiritual History of Man
We must remind ourselves and the world that Zoroastrianism is the Mother Religion of those groups and trends which – within other religious contexts - have tried to raise mankind to sublime visions of God*.
Though it’s likely that good and wise men scattered on Earth arrived independently from each other to the same conclusions (we have already mentioned that dualistic insights can be detected even among remote tribal cultures), it’s altogether possible that the ancient light of Iran had reached many of them along subtle, even hidden lines. Praised be Plato for having made in his Republic (II,379 b-c) the noble statement that evil doesn’t occur from God, and that consequently a different principle operating in the cosmos must be ascertained, but let’s not forget that the among the Greeks, despite their enmity to the Persians, Zarathushtra was held in high esteem. Praised be Jesus, for in the Gospels we find many Ahuric teachings and examples, centered in His life devoted to justice and to fighting Satan/Ahriman’s worldly lures, but be it likewise considered that in the New Testament the evil spirit is mentioned much more often than in the Old, which clearly points to the insertion of a foreign element within the Jewish precincts, a circumstance which may be traced back to Babylonian captivity** which King Cyrus – called mashi’ach, anointed, in the Bible – put an end to. Surely within the Platonic and Christian lineages we can pick up values and ideas which might not only embellish, but also reinforce our spiritual mansions. And in doing so, we wouldn’ t be yielding to simplistic syncretism, we’d just be reaping what Ohrmazd - or our mazdaysani forefathers on His behalf - had sown.
Although no one holds the exclusive of ideas and we are glad that others may have reached by themselves the haven of a healthy spirituality, we must contradict those who claim to have discovered or created something when somebody else had been proclaiming the same for ages. Take, for instance, universal revelation and salvation: a number of Christian theologians and authors, some of whom even belonging to mainstream denominations, support these ideas today, but seldom - if ever - are Zoroastrianism, Mahayana Buddhism and Christian Universalism credited with having upheld those doctrines throughout history, from the Bronze Age to that of Reason. Nonetheless, it will be both useful and comforting for Zoroastrians to hear their most precious ideals echoed - or amplified - with stringent logical sequences and inspired style, by a variety of thinkers in the last three centuries***. Let the celebrated spentic and knowledgeable spirit of Zoroastrians challenge them to dive into the ocean of good thoughts that Ahura Mazda has managed to shower on the seven karshvan.
We must reckon the signs of Ohrmazd’s workings in human thought and history. Prominent among them stand the epiphanies of Christian Universalism (embodied by the Universalist Church, the Unitarian Church and some sections of the Religious Society of Friends, called the Quakers) and Hindu Universalism (Brahmo Samaj). There are universalist trends**** also within Mahayana Buddhism, notably that of the Lotus Sutra, full of compassion for the pains of sentient beings who - this school teaches - will all attain buddhahood sooner or later; but these trends appear less meaningful to us, since the vision underlying them is impersonalistic: individuals have no real substance in Buddhist anthropology.
In reading the catechisms adopted by some Universalist Churches during the 19th century, one is struck by the analogies existing between their language and that made use of by Zoroastrians: a church in Pennsylvania summoned its members to be, with God, authors of the greatest Good, to wage a permanent war against ignorance, illness, death and all kinds of evil in oneself and in others, to defend the poor (“khshathremchā Ahurāi ā yim dregubyō dadat vāstārem”), which amounts to eradicating poverty, and to stand for justice, never withdrawing from, nor swaying in, this. In the Winchester Profession of Faith (1803), we find one more meaningful link between Christian Universalism and Zoroastrianism, namely the relevance of happiness as a result of holiness (in the Ashem Vohū it is proclaimed that righteousness is ushtā, bliss). Unluckily, though predictably - since the strikes of Ahriman tend to afflict the noblest human undertakings – these groups were somehow spoiled by monistic prejudices, ultra-liberal trends and the like*****.
* Therefore, we should carefully reconsider some of the themes raised by the “Religions of the Light” (like Mithraism, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, Mandaeism) even if in ancient times the Zoroastrian establishment engaged in bitter controversies or ruthless fights against them. In these days, it would be really expedient to recover the Mithraist esprit de corps (as vs. the quarrels which afflict the Parsis), the Manichaean sensitivity to the so called “Cross of Light” and a subsequent interest in environmental and vegetarian issues (what relationship is there between the lament of the Cow in Ahunavaiti Gatha and the attitude of Sasanian kings who sported hunting gospand?), the powerful inward echo of some invocations contained in the Mandaean Ginza. A new appraisal of Mithraism, Manichaeism and Mazdakism, at a very simple level, was proposed by Irach Teraporevala (1884-1956) in his essay Three Forgotten Religions, published in 1950.
** The Iranian influence on Judaism leavened and became more visible in later times, as Prof. James R. Russell explained in his paper Zoroastrian and Jews, delivered to the North American Zoroastrian Congress held in Houston (sept. 1990): “It is no coincidence that the most abundant evidence for dualism in Jewish texts corresponds to the middle of the Parthian period, when Iranian-Jewish relations were closest and most friendly. Christianity was born at this time, too…”
***As regards the problem of evil, we could mention Wilfred Monod (French Reformed), Clive Staples Lewis (Anglican), Aldo Capitini (free religious, founder of the Nonviolent Movement and called “the Italian Gandhi”); as regards universal salvation, Urs Von Balthasar (Roman Catholic), Pavel Evdokimov (Russian Orthodox) and Shri Aurobindo (Hindu); as regards universal revelation, Giuseppe Mazzini (theist, father of the Italian Nation), Rufus Jones and Thomas Kelly (Quakers).
Since in our Preamble we have briefly dealt with the universalizing synergy between Zoroastrianism and Freemasonry, let’s now focus our attention on two Christian mystics of the Eighteenth century who were at a time outstanding Masons: Andrew Michel Ramsay (1686 circa – 1743) and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1803). They both dealt extensively and deeply with the problem of evil, denying any connections between the God of Light, in whom is no darkness (1 John, 1:5), and the tragedies of life. Ramsey, in his “The Voyages of Cyrus”(1727), showed great sympathy for the wisdom of the Magi, of whose stock were the legendary characters bringing gifts to baby Jesus, who would turn out to be, in a way, a reformer of Judaism along Mazdean lines, a saviour among his people: there’s an ancient tradition of a Mazdeo-Christian lineage, dating back to some apocryphal Gospels of Infancy (Arabic-Syriac, ch. 7, Armenian, ch. 11). And at the time of Yalda (Winter Solstice), waiting for the new Sun to rise over the blue horizon, the sensitive soul can perceive Zarathushtra’s fravahr hovering above the manger, the shepherds and the Three Wise Men.
**** We refer here to the cardinal ones; universalist gleams have touched all the great historical religions, as shown by Rumi’s Sufism in Islam or Oomoto in Shintoism.
***** Referring to what Quillen Hamilton Shinn asserted regarding Christian Universalism, we believe that Universal Mazdeism must be free, not liberal, namely that it must be centered in Divine Freedom and not run after mundane freedoms (always keeping in mind the Platonic warning that licence is the anteroom of slavery), adjust to historical trends or allow to be fouled by more or less stupid fashions. Yielding to liberalism within the Universalist Church first caused the rising of the “Death and Glory” movement - according to which unhappiness in this life, even when unfelt, and the blocking shock of death suffice as penalties to the guilty - and then the spreading of “do-it-yourself” theologies, often amounting to atheism, and of a perplexing condescendence to all kinds of lifestyles.
V. Tradition and Reform According to Universal Mazdeism
In a Universalist Mazdean perspective, Reform and Tradition are loyal allies. In fact, true Reform is like sailing back to the enlivening sources of Tradition, and as such it must be constant: the followers of Zarathushtra must always watch that Tradition be neither distorted nor encumbered by concretions. Reform means keeping Tradition pure by re-shaping (re-forming) it according to the original pattern. Therefore reforming is not equal to “neo-forming”. Conversely, true Tradition - which largely coincides with memory and fidelity - is a victorious remedy against the obsession of change which affects modern times, but doesn’t consist of closeness or immobility .
Out of primeval mazdayasna, there evolved among Zoroastrians a host of ritualistic practices.Since the seed was pure, many of those rituals still bear the mark of purity. Some, most relevant to us, will always be arrangements of Divine life and atmospheres, giving devotees a taste of Paradise. Others were plainly devised by the clergy to increase their control over the community, or were set in by local customs or temporary needs*, so can be dispensed of without damage to the body of the Good Religion.
An excellent example of Zoroastrian broadmindedness on such matters is the way we look up to Avesta for inspiration and instruction. Though holding its core as sacred, no Zoroastrian scholar has ever vindicated literal inerrancy for it: we know of no relationship with our Scriptures as many Christians have with the Bible or Muslims with the Koran. The holiness of Avesta lies in its spirit of justice and purity, in its manthric influences which lift the soul to heightened states of consciousness, not in single words or statements. Most precious to us, it is no idol, for we seem to have always understood that the Word of God resounds across the Universe and in our consciences, not being confined to any book, however venerable. This peculiar attitude towards the Scriptures is itself a sign of how the Good Religion stands beyond the limitations of both traditionalism and reformism.
*This was openly acknowledged by the greatest researcher on Zoroastrian rituals Jamshedji J. Modi in his capital work The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsis
VI. The Social Side of Universal Mazdeism
Reforming means also rectifying, both inside and outside the borders of the small Zoroastrian realm.
Planetary life is at stake because of natural and mental pollution: disaster is impending. Behavioral filth and the defilement of the Earth are but the two sides of a coin. Always has been man prone to laxity and crime, after Ahriman’s attack, but what looks unprecedented today is that the “liberal” ideologies of the West claim to give this tragic cripple a philosophical – nay, a presumedly scientific - endorsement.
False needs, empty fashions, luxury are like infections and cancer for the urvan (soul); moreover they sharply contrast with the abject misery in which too many humans are still sinking, be this due to outright exploitation or to idleness engendered by socio-cultural patterns.These contrasts are bound to get explosive. Truly, Astrea - the deity of Justice among the Greeks (parallel to our Astad yazad) is on exile from the Earth. Ahriman is now unbalancing planetary life more than ever. True Mazdeans must rise against this and help Zamyad yazad get rid of the dark foolishness which exhibits itself with arrogance everywhere and creeps even among them; they must point to a sober lifestyle which alone fits the Path of Asha, boycott all forms of base literature and art, work for an equitable sharing of world resources and goods. There should be no exclusive richness nor indigence in a veritable Mazdean community, but rather a widespread prosperity without excesses and defects (maintaining balance in life is suggested by the Kusti prayers). This must be our social goal, descending from Asha, Divine Law and Order.
Mazdeans, torch-bearers of the noblest Faith, are a handful compared to the world population or to the flocks of other religions. Worse than this, our small ranks are afflicted by indifference, worldliness, aeshmic quarrels, unworthy of the lineage of Light. The Earth needs a timely revival of our Faith, because - believe it or not - the alternative to the Good Religion is ruin. Universal Mazdeism is a viable way to identify and nourish the mazdayasni stream in all the spiritual experiences of man, what can be called the Good Religion “unnamed”. We neither want nor could convert the crowds to our Faith, but we must absolutely pour its main values into the global orientations and choices of the next future.
The apocalyptic stance our Tradition shares with others – or inspired to others - seems to indicate that the risk of no return is factual. Yet, it’s our duty to keep on fighting no matter what the result will be. Let’s be confident, anyway: if Angra Mainyu is working out its total potential, so is Spenta Mainyu. Never has the world witnessed such an amount of knowledge, sensitivity, awareness and skill as that which the ashavan have at their disposal today. And after all, we put our trust in Ohrmazd, rayōmand and khōremand, knowing, from Revelation, that He is the Mightiest and at the end of time will be all-in-all (Almighty). So we can rely on the divine optimism taught by our fundamental prayer Ashem Vohu. and by the first verse of Ushtavaiti Gatha (Y. 43, 1).
VII. A Hope For All Creation
The fulfillment and seal of Universal Mazdeism is no less than Frashokart or Making Wonderful, the goal of Ohrmazd for the entire Creation. We long for the apotheosis of justice, the purifying and eternal flourishing of the worlds, the general recollection of bodies and souls - finally reunited to their fravahrs - in joy.
“We celebrate the awful Royal Glory …/ …through which Ahura Mazda made the creatures, many and good, many and fair, many and wonderful, many and prosperous, many and bright / So that they may restore the world, which will never grow old and never die, never decaying and never rotting, ever living and ever increasing, and master of its wish, when the dead will rise, when life and immortality will come…” (Yt 19, 9-12)
Zamyad Yasht – just quoted - and Bundahishn describe with intense accents the Great Event, perhaps the most elusive and unlikely hope of religion, yet the noblest, the most righteous and imbued with a universal expectant spirit*, with a childlike, unspoiled sense of wonder by which we humans must abide if we are to enter the Kingdom of God as Jesus said (Mark 10:14-15), so we staunchly cling to it.
The blessed vision of individual resurrection and the restoration of the Cosmos to its perfect original - or ideal - pattern is widespread among nations, and everywhere expressed with a moving imagery (think of Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Kingdom in the Bible, Is.11: 6-9) ), but for us it’s understood that nowhere has it been depicted so clearly and consistently as in the Good Religion. It’s universalist also because it comprises matter – which according to the Pahlavi texts was created by Ohrmazd as a trap or prison for Ahriman, so that he could not invade the spiritual Creation – in its redemptive yearning and insight.
The hope of Frashokart is rooted in the plea for justice made by Geush Urvan, the Soul of the Cow, to Ohrmazd and the Ameshaspand (Gatha Ahunavaiti, 29). That ancient cry has been echoed through the ages by those who have fought for equity, for the dignity, wellbeing and freedom from fear and oppression of their fellow creatures.We reckon a Zoroastrian cypher in all those efforts, even if they were often conflused or incomplete: as a consequence, we engage in studying them and carrying ahead and perfecting their purposes in the light of the Good Religion.
We number ourselves in the ranks of the fighters for justice, with a definite mission:that of making the Good Religion known and treasured among them, so that Zarathushtra’s disciples may one day lead the righteous to victory over evil, with the indispensable aid of the Good and Wise Lord and all His cosmic allies.
*Messianic hopes cross and join many different religions: while Zoroastrians envisage the descent of the Saoshyant, Jews invoke the coming of Mashi’ach, Christians the Second Advent of Christ, Hindus the Avatar Kalki, Mahayana Buddhists the Buddha Maitreya, etc. So religiously universal is this hope, that even a thinker like Aldo Capitini (1899-1968), who didn’t especially like the language of myth, wrote beautiful pages on the the future day when this hardened reality will break up and the Supreme Wish will takeover till the whole Cosmos be changed into a “choir” of value-creating and harmonizing individualities.
1 The verb “to forward” is wilfully used here as it best conveys the sense of both emanation and creation in a Mazdean perspective. Ohrmazd expands and transfers His qualities to a matrix-Cosmos and this takes place through the offices of fravahrs, the immaculate entities which set Creation into motion – fravahr & forward are linguistically related - and act as overseers on their terrestrial projections, namely all living creatures.
2 Daena, according to various Avestan passages, manifests itself as the ideal form of Beauty (symbolized by a maiden of unprecedented fairness), whence all worthy Arts and Crafts draw inspiration. It should not be confused with the appeal of bodily appearances, none of which - being corruptible in itself and not related per se to spiritual endowments - deserves exaltation. When the ahrimanic worship of corruptible bodies spreads, as in our dark years, like an infection, and lust - despised by Vishtasp Yasht as a fault incompatible with that royal quality which all human beings are called to exert - is stirred up without scruples even among the youngest, Zoroastrians should rise and have their say, protesting against all shows and books which spread anti-ethical standards. One of the forms of social immorality is granting riches to someone for exhibiting his/her body. Decency is but a reflection of Daena (interlaced with Asha), so the Good Religion should empower the faithful to see spiritual beauty beyond the lures and traps of bodies, not condone to vicious and unnerved fashions.
3 Concerning universal salvation, Prof. James R. Russell, in his essay The Doā’ye Nām-Stāyišn (in Corolla Iranica. Papers in honour of Prof.Dr. David Neil McKenzie on the occasion of his 65th birthday on April 8th 1991, edited byR.E.Emmerick and D.Weber [Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, Bern, New York, Paris 1991], pp.127-132) credits this prayer with a clarity which he finds lacking in other Zoroastrian apocalyptic texts (see p. 131)
4 During the Parthian Era, yazadic worship flourished, sometimes in synergy with the rich Hellenistic pantheon but never losing its Mazdean axis. As regards Gnosticism, which often appears as a synthesis of Zoroastrianism, Platonism and Christianity, one of its literary masterpieces, the Hymn of The Pearl, uses the Parthian Empire as a metaphor of the Heavenly Homeland, thus showing it was a fitting milieu for the Gnostic eclecticism. Parthian Zoroastrianism is a progenitor of Universal Mazdeism.
5 there was quite a special admiration for Zarathushtra in some Illuministic circles, as shown by Jennifer Rose in her remarkable work The Image of Zoroaster: The Persian Mage Through European Eyes (Bibliotheca Persica Press, New York 2000), ch. 4 and ch. 5. One curiosity regarding Zoroastrianism and Unitarianism: in 1913 the chairman of the reformist Zoroastrian Conference stated that, on account of the common rational background, they “differ little”(see M. Boyce, Zoroastrians. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices [Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York 1986], p.214).
6 the most comprehensive work on the Universalist Church is Russell E. Miller’s The Larger Hope (2 volumes, Unitarian Universalist Association, Boston 1979-1985). A generously repeated attempt to make his coreligionists prize Zoroastrianism as a source of Universalism was carried out by Joseph L. Gentili in his Brooklyn Universalist Christian newsletter during the ‘80s and the‘90s. In recent years the most renowned supporter of this view has been Rev. Ken R. Vincent, editor of The Universalist Herald and author of The Magi: from Zoroaster To The “Three Wise Men” (D. & F. Scott Publishing, N. Richland Hills, TX, 1999). Rev. Vincent, also active in research on near-death experience, has contributed various articles to FEZANA Journal (whose Fall 2004 issue was devoted to The Zarathushti Connection with Judaism and Christianity) and Parsiana.
7see Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (Macoy, New York 1981), p. 449. For a phenomenological comparison between Freemasonry and Zoroastrianism, see M. Moramarco, Nuova Enciclopedia Massonica (3 voll., Centro Studi Albert Schweitzer, Reggio Emilia 1989-1995), vol II, pp.47-48, vol. III, pp.34-35; the latter pages quoted include some original reflections offered to the author by Mr. Mahesh Varshney from Aligarh, a Hindu Masonic writer and member of the Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati Lodge n. 2076 (the premier Resarch Lodge), based in London. The Q.C.’s yearly transactions, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, hosted R.H.M. Patel’s essay The Persians And The Parsis And Their Masonic Connections (A.Q.C., vol. 93, 1980, pp. 213-219) A well-known scholar in Zoroastrianism, James Russell, now teaching at Harvard University, devoted his article Builders in Bombay (in Empire State Mason, winter 1990, pp. 8-9) to the historical Masonic presence among metropolitan Parsis.
8 Mysteriosophy (embodied in the Ancient Mysteries - Orphic, Pythagorean, Osirian and so on - of which Freemasonry is a translation in modern times – purports the idea that the hidden side of reality is crossed by threads of Light along which the initiate can “travel” to transform his own mind – and to a certain degree even his body - into a medium for that same Light. Mystery, then, would amount to the Divine Space which always spreads beyond our faculties, thus fascinating, stimulating and strengthening them. In the Gathas, the mysteriosophic element glares through the Prophet’s questions (Gatha Ushtavaiti, Y. 44), the use of mathras, etc.