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Time and the Zurvan myth

The specific concept of time in both Iran and India is described as being composed of three successive or connecting phases: the succession of events (infinite time); the wearing away or erosion of beings, their transformation and death; and their greater or lesser renewal according to the prevailing concept of time as cyclic or linear (finite time). Such a concept, although philosophic, harmoniously connects two types of myth: first is the myth of the creation of the world in three phrases, the universal creation of good and evil; the intermingling of the two forces; and the separation and the final triumph of good. The second type of myth, proceeding Zoroastrianism, is divided into epochs, where each epoch is corrupted but is turned back by one of the three sons of Zoroaster born of a virgin who bathed in a lake where the father's seed was preserved. The first myth stems more from a moral concept; whereas the second from the physical concepts of erosion and degeneration, and the fusion of the two is natural. In India, the second dominated, while in Iran, it was the first minus much explanation for the existence of evil since it existed before the creation of the world (Grimal 195).

Perhaps the myth of Zurvan (Time) can help to explain Zoroaster's basic concept of his religion, Zoroastrianism. The concept is of good constantly in combat with evil; Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainya in a continual struggle. In the myth, Zurvan , through the supreme god, has been offering sacrifices for a thousand years in order to obtain a son. In the end, when he doubts the efficacy of his actions Angr Mainya is conceived as a result of the father's doubt while Ahira Mazda comes from the merits of the sacrifices. While still in Time's androgynous womb Angra Mainya realizes the first to be born enjoys the privileges of kingship, so he hastens to enter the world first before his twin brother. Zurvan, with his plans thwarted, can only wait with the assurance that in the end good would prevail (Grimal).

The myth of Zurvan appears to answer previously purposed questions: in the initial paragraph it was stated that Iran held to the first myth accounting for the creation of the world without much explanation of the existence of evil that existed before the world's creation. This raises the first question, why did Iran, particularly Zoroaster, hold so steadfastly to this myth. The second question which the Zurvan myth seems to answer is how or why Zoroaster was so certain the twins would be constant combatants; Zoroaster confirms his certainty of this in his teaching that Ahura Mazda, through his wisdom, knew if he became Creator and fashioned the world, then the Hostile Spirit would attack it because it was good, and it would become a battleground for the two forces, but in the end he, God, would win the great struggle there and be able to destroy evil, and establish a universe which would be wholly good forever (Boyce 21).

The answers to both questions seem to rest upon the Zurvan myth itself and both answers seem to merge into one: Zoroaster, knowing the myth, believed evil did exist before the creation of the world since he gives no description of the origin of the two forces; for him, they always seemed to exist, and this was the way he explained evil in the world. This can be observed both from the myth and his teaching. In the myth the Hostile Spirit, Angra Mainya, conceived from doubt was hostile by nature before birth. Zoroaster's teaching only emphasizes this "Ahura Mazda, through his wisdom, knew if he became Creator and fashioned the world, then the Hostile Spirit would attack it because it was good, and it would become a battleground for the two forces…" Ahura Mazda knew, from this statement, that if he became Creator and fashioned the world, meaning this was prior to the creation of the world, that the Hostile Spite, evil by nature, would attack it, the world, because it was good, and it would become the battleground for the two forces. Simply, Zoroaster believed and taught that the two combatant forces of good and evil which existed before the creation of the world would continue their battle within the world, which also aided his explanation of the evil that existed in the world. His further teaching was that good would finally conquer evil. A.G.H.


Boyce, Mary, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, New York, Routledge, 2002
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965

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