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Ahriman


Ahriman, the principle of evil in Persian mythology, was personified as Angra Mainya, "the destructive spirit," who introduced death into the world. He led the forces of evil against the host of Spenta Mainya, "the holy spirit," who assisted Ahura Mazdah, "the wise lord" and final victor in the cosmic war. "In the beginning," said Zoroaster (see Zoroastrianism), "the twin spirits were known as the one good and the other evil, in thought, word, and deed. Between them the wise chose wisely, not so the fools. And when these spirits met they established life and death so that in the end the followers of deceit should meet with the worst existence, but the followers of truth with the wise lord."

Ahura Mazdah told Zoroaster that Angra Mainya had upset his plans for making Persia into a terrestrial paradise. All of the creatures off "the wise lord" were created with free will: both spiritual beings and humans. Angra Mainya, the twin brother of "the holy spirit," simply took pleasure in "choosing the worst things." In order to thwart Ahura Mazdah he introduced frost in the winter, heat in the summer, all manners of disasters, and other ills that humankind has to endure. He likewise created the dragon Azhi Dahaka, who brought ruin to earth. When Ahura Mazdah created the stars in the heaven, he "sprang into the sky like a snake" and in opposition to those illuminaries formed the planets, whose baleful influence then fell across the world. Throughout the creation there was a cleavage and antagonism so deep that under the Sassanians (226-632) there arose a myth to soften the dualism. The twin spirits became the offspring of a pre-existing primeval being, Zurvan Akarana, "infinite time." Because Zurvan had vowed that the firstborn should rule as king and Ahriman "ripped the womb open" in order to claim the title, the evil one was given the kingdom of the world for a limited period. "After nine thousand years," Zurvan insisted, "Ohrmazd will reign and will do everything according to his good pleasure."

The chief weapon of Ahriman was az, concupiscence, Zurvan's gift. "By means of this power," the donor remarked, "all that is yours will be devoured, even your own creation." Ahriman accepted because it was "as his very essence." The demonic Az, a female principle, included more than sexual desire: equally it was doubt, a weakening of the intellect. Possibly the idea represents a borrowing from Buddhism, which saw in avidya, "ignorance," and its manifestation, desire, the reason for the endless round of conditioned being. Az was also connected with the Manichaean demon of the same name, "the mother of all evil spirits." In Zoroastrianism, however, the role of the woman is definitely not clear. Man was almost holy, a creation designed to play the foremost part in the destruction of evil. When Ahriman beheld the righteous man, he swooned away. For three thousand years he lay in a swoon…till the accused whore roused him. Jeh, the whore, coveted man and "defiled herself" with the "destructive spirit" to obtain her desire. But this concept appeared only in later texts; originally the role of the woman appeared to be for propagation of the race.

The Gathas, hymns or songs considered to have been written by Zarathustra himself, says that in the beginning Ahriman (Angra Mainya), the Evil Spirit, was widely separated from the Good. However, Ahriman is seized with curiosity and envy, and tries to invade the territory of good, which is luminous and pure. He is repulsed and the victory is attributed to the infallible effect of the prayer (the Ahuna Vairya) proffered by Ohrmazd, who meanwhile decides to allow Ahriman a period of semi-victory, the better to conquer him once and for all in the end. This latter theme may sound familiar since it is prominent in Christianity: the devil will reign on earth before the end of the world, and then be cast back into hell forever. Ahriman, who was said to have lived in a dark place beneath the earth, is thought by some to be the predecessor of the devil, or Satan.

According to another legend, somewhat imbedded in official Mazdaism doctrine, the origin of Ahriman, although uncertain, stems from the self-doubts of Zurvan (Time), who also fathered Ohrmazd. Zurvan, begotten of the supreme god, had offered sacrifices for a thousand years to have a son, and in the end doubted the efficacy of his own acts. Ahriman was the result of Zurvan's doubting, while Ohrmazd generated from the merits of Zurvan's sacrifices.

The mythology surrounding the twin, spiritual brothers, Ahriman and Ohrmazd, begotten of Zurvan was embodied in the religions of Zoroastrianism, Manichaenism, and Buddhism. Mythology became theology, or in some instances vice versa. However, the theme, or belief, currently exists: good versus evil, and in the end good will inevitably conquer evil. Perhaps this myth is more fact than it appears, the twins good and evil were the sons of Time itself since the concept of a war between good and evil seems to have obsessed the thinking of humankind since time immortal. A.G.H.


Sources:

Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, p. 63
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 194-195