Several centuries before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the Zend-Avesta religion revered in ancient Iran a ‘Lord of Lords’, a ‘supreme God’, named Ahura Mazda,which translates, in Pehlevi, or Middle Persian, as Ormuzd. Ahura Mazda has also other names, such as Spenta Mainyu, literally: « the Holy Spirit ».
Ahura Mazda reigns unique over all other, lower ranking, divinities, called ‘Gâthâs’.
Ahura Mazda being a supreme God, far beyond human reach or understanding, the prayers of the Zend-Avesta are addressed to the Gâthâs, rather than to Ahura Mazda, though they are only ‘intermediate divinities’, or more exactly ’emanations’ of Ahura Mazda. The Yasna says about the Gâthâs: « All the worlds, the bodies, the bones, the vital forces, the forms, the consciousness, the soul, the Phravaṣi, we offer them all and present them to the Gâthâs, Saints, Lords of time, pure; to the Gâthâs who are for us supporters, protectors, a food of the spirit.»i
In Avestic, which is the ancient Iranian language, Ahura means « lord ». Mazda means « highly learned », according to the eminent Burnouf, who breaks down the word mazda into maz – dâ. Maz is a superlative, and dâ means « to know ». In modern Persian, dânâ means « learned ». There is also an equivalent in Sanskrit: « mêdhas« .
When asked by Zoroaster about the meaning of his Name, Ahura Mazda declared, as reported in the first Yast:
« My name is the Sovereign, my name is the One who knows ».
Zoroaster did not stick to this answer and continued to question Ahura Mazda. He urged him to reveal what is most powerful, most effective against the Spirit of Evil, Aṅra Mainyu (in Pehlevi: Ahriman), and against all the demons.
Ahura Mazda replied that what is most powerful is the names he bears.
And he added:
« My name is the One to be questioned; my second name is the Head of the flock; the Propagator of the law; the excellent Purity; the Good of pure origin; the Intelligence; the One who understands; the Wise; the Growth; the One who increases; the Lord; the One who is most useful; the One who is without suffering; the One who is solid; the One who counts the merits; the One who observes everything; the Helper; the Creator; the All-Knowing (the Mazda) (…). Remember and pronounce these names day and night. I am the Protector, the Creator, the Suspender, the Savior, the Most Holy Celestial Being. My name is the Auxiliary, the Priest, the Lord; I am called the One who sees much, the One who sees far away. My name is the Supervisor, the Creator, the Protector, the Connoisseur. I am called the One who augments; I am called the Dominator, the One who should not be deceived, the One who is not deceived; I am called the Strong, the Pure, the Great; I am called the One who has good science.
Whoever remembers and pronounces these names will escape the attacks of demons. »ii
In passing, we note the obvious analogy of these lines with comparable, but much later, texts of Judaism, and even later texts of Islam.
Avesta has all the characteristics of a revealed religion.
First of all, it was God (Ahura Mazda) who initially revealed himself to the Mazdaites.
Then, the Avesta refers to a great prophet, Zoroaster, who boasts of having served as an intermediary between God and man, and who was the great reformer of Mazdeism. The most recent scientific work shows that Zoroaster lived before Abraham, between 1400 and 1100 BC. He was the prophet who transformed the initial dualism of Mazdaism and the multiplicity of the various Gâthâs into an absolutely transcendental monism, after having discussed it directly with Ahura Mazda.
The interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster is not without analogy with the encounter between God and Moses, several centuries later.
From this strident comparison we may derive the following rough alternative.
The Materialistic Hypothesis :
The « world from above », the world of the divine, whose variations, analogies and anagogies, similarities and echoes one tries to identify in the long history of religious ideas, simply does not exist. The ‘spiritual’ world is really empty, there is no God, and it is the materialists who are 100% right. So the wars of religion, the sacrifices, the martyrs, the passions of belief, and all the blood shed today, yesterday and tomorrow, are all facets of a sinister farce played by scoundrels or Machiavellian policies at the expense of the unfathomable naivety of peoples, victims of their credulity and superstition.
This farce is continually developed and rewritten over the millennia by the so-called ‘enlightened’, the mad, the deranged, the cynical and the war criminals, all contributing to making this Earth a place without meaning, without past and without future. In this hypothesis, the world would be condemned to self-destruction, moral suicide and absolute violence, as soon as the trickery is finally blown up.
The Spiritual Hypothesis:
The « world from above » does indeed exist, in one way or another, but it escapes our perception, our understanding and intellection. It’s a Mystery, or the Mystery. In this case, there is a good chance that religions that have appeared since the dawn of time, such as Shamanism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Veda, Avesta, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldaic magic, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, far from being able to claim an elective singularity, are as many instances of various perceptions and intuitions of the divine by man, as many testimonies of the plurality of possible approaches to the Mystery.
Each one of these religions represents a unique and special way of understanding the divine emanation, more or less adapted to the time and the peoples who receive it.
It would then be futile to rank or classify religions among themselves. It would be more productive, particularly from a forward-looking perspective, to examine the systemic relationships between a given era and the way in which religious fact is inscribed, at that moment in history, in the social, cultural, political and economic fabric.
Let us add that the general state of the world today, unfortunately suggests hat none of the religions mentioned above is now in a position to claim a monopoly on the ultimate truth or the final revelation on the fundamental questions that humanity keeps asking itself since millennia.
If such a « world from above », inaccessible to human reason, does in fact exist, it also implies that something extremely important, vital, and also beyond human comprehension, has been at stake for thousands of years at the core of Mankind, with the active but hidden and (most of the time) silent complicity of the Divine.
It should be assumed that since the dawn of humanity there has been a kind of cosmic, sidereal « great game », whose meaning and purpose are clearly beyond our grasp, but in which men are invited to take part, within the limits of their limited means.
Humanity is composed of generations that fleetingly pass through the earth like insects in the light on a summer evening. It is therefore very likely that these successive generations can only apprehend in a deficient way, the unspeakable challenge of this super-natural arrangement.
But it is possible to assume that successive human generations may from time to time generate in their midst enlightened spirits capable of intuitively perceiving, imaginalement (‘imaginally’), as Henry Corbin would say, the grandiose stake of this divine part.
All we can do in an era like ours, where materialism seems to pervade everything, is to refuse to let ourselves be caught up in the trap of preconceived ideas, to refuse sectarianism, dogmatism, the prisons of thought and imagination. We can actively contribute, soul by soul, to the slow, fragile and ungraspable building of the immanent Noosphere, the collective Unconscious of all humanity.
iYasna, ch. 54
iiQuoted by Abel Hovelacque, Avesta, Zoroastre et le mazdéisme. Paris, 1880.