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PERSIA will not detain us long, for its religion is undoubtedly a reflection of Vedism, or, more probably, it reveals a common origin. Eugene Burnouf and Spiegel have indeed proved that certain parts of the "Avesta" are as old as the "Rig-Veda."
Mazdeism or Zoroastrianism would thus appear to be an adaptation to the Iranian mentality of Vedism, or of Aryan traditions (Atlantean, the theosophists would say) even older than Vedism. During the Babylonian captivity it permeated Chaldeism and exerted a profound influence on the religion of the Jewish nation. We owe to it, among other things — as they found their way into the Judo-Christian tradition, — the conception of the immortality of the soul, the judgment of the soul, the last judgment, the resurrection of the dead, purgatory, the belief in the efficacy of good works as a means of salvation, the revocability of penalties and rewards, and all our angelology.
Zoroastrianism sought to solve, more exactly than the other religions of antiquity, the problem of evil, by making evil a separate god, perpetually warring against the good god. But this dualism is more apparent than real. Ahura-Mazda or Ormazd (Ormuz), the absolute and universal Being, the Word, the omnipotent and omniscient Spirit, the Reality, precedes and dominates Agra-Mainyus or Ahriman, who is non-Reality — that is to say, he is all that is bad and deceptive, being in his darkness ignorant of everything; seeming as greatly inferior to Ormazd as the devil is to the God of the Christians; appearing, on the whole, merely as a sort of mimic, aping divinity, clumsily imitating its creations, but able to produce only vices, diseases and a few maleficent creatures who will be annihilated in the tremendous victory of good; for the end of the world, in the Zoroastrian system, is but the regeneration of creation. However, we are not told why Ormazd, the supreme god, is obliged to tolerate Ahriman, who, it is true, does not personify essential or absolute evil, but the evil necessary to good, the darkness indispensable to the manifestation of light, the reaction which follows action, the negative principle or pole which is opposed to the positive, in order to assure the life and equilibrium of the universe.
Moreover Ormazd himself, it seems, obeys necessity, or a natural law that is stronger than he; above all he obeys Time, whose decrees are Destiny, "for excepting Time," says the "Ulema," "all things are created, and Time is the Creator. Time in itself displays neither summit nor foundations; it has been always and will always be. An intelligent person will not ask, Whence comes Time? nor if there was ever a time when this power was not." 1
It would be interesting to examine this religion from the point of view of its contributions to Christianity, which borrowed as much from it as from Brahmanism and Buddhism; perhaps even more. We ought also to consider, if only in passing, its ethical system, which is one of the loftiest, purest, and most nobly human that we know of. But this examination would exceed the scope of our inquiry. We owe to ancient Persia, for example, the wonderful conception of the conscience, a sort of divine power, existing from all eternity, independent of the material body, taking no part in the errors which it sees committed, remaining pure amid the worst aberrations, and accompanying the soul of man after his death. And the soul of the upright man, when crossing the bridge Tchinvat, or the bridge of Retribution, sees advancing to meet it a young girl of miraculous beauty. "Who art thou?" demands the astonished soul; "thou who seemest to me more beautiful and more magnificent than any of the daughters of earth?" And his conscience replies: "I am thine own works. I am the incarnation of thy good thoughts, words, and actions: I am the incarnation of thy faith and piety."
On the other hand, if it be a sinner who is crossing the bridge of retribution, his conscience comes to meet him in a horrible shape, although in herself she does not change, but merely shows herself to man as he deserves to see her. This allegory, which might well be drawn from a collection of Christian parables, is perhaps 5000 to 6000 years old, and is merely a dramatic expression of the Hindu Karma. Here again, as in the tradition of Karma and that of the Osirification of the soul, it is the soul that is its own judge.
We owe likewise to Mazdeism the subtle and mysterious conception of the Fravashis or Ferohers which the cabala borrowed from Persia, and which Hebraic mysticism and Christianity have made into angels, and more particularly guardian angels. This conception implies the preexistence of the soul. The Ferohers are the spiritual form of being, independent of material life and preceding it. Ormazd offers to the Ferohers of men the choice of remaining in the spiritual world or of descending to earth to be embodied in human flesh. It was probable from prototypes of this kind that Plato derived his theory of "ideas," supposing that everything has a double life, first in thought and secondly in reality.
Let me add that a phenomenon analogous to that which we have already found at work in India is here seen to repeat itself: what was public and obvious in Mazdeism gradually became secret and was reserved solely for those initiated into what the Greeks and the Jews (especially in their cabala) had borrowed from it.
1 J. Darmesteter, Ormazd et Ahriman; p. 320.