On the Concept of the Holy Guardian Angel -
Among the Zoroastrians
An ancient tradition like Zoroastrianism has many voices. It is a strong tree with many branches and multiple deep strands of roots. Trying to identify a single line of tradition or ritual practice would not only be naive but also neglecting the beauty such a rich tradition has to offer. A living choire instead of a single dead voice.
During my journey to learn about the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel among the Zoroastrian this was one of the most fascinating yet also difficult aspects: Reducing multiple layers of time, meaning and tradition into one. And while it was challenging it also was a wonderful reminder that all kinds of magic have to be brought to life in practice and through practice alone - rather than in books. Because it is just in our subjective experience that all these layers can co-exist. Only when we project what we felt in our hearts and saw in our minds and lifed through in our dreams on the pages of a book all living dimensions fade away. And what we are left with is the track instead of the game.
Nevertheless every journey needs a starting point. And I hope this is what the following report can be: a humble addition to the keys that open many more doors to creating Knowledge and Conversation with our Holy Guardian Angel.
Finally, in this report you will find quite a lot of quotes. Feel free to skip over them and you should still be able to follow the text. I decided to include them as the primary and secondary sources on Zoroastrianism are vast and still relatively unknown among Western magicians. And as some of the findings reported may be surprising I want to give you the chance to form your own opinion based on a rich field of scholarly voices rather than mine.
Frater Acher, March 2012
May the serpent bite its tail.
Researching how our current Western esoteric concept of the Holy Guardian Angel evolved would be impossible without understanding the deep influence of Zoroastrianism. Just as Zoroastrianism itself influenced later monotheistic religions in the West (Moore, p.181 / Scheftelowitz, Vorwort) we will see that so did its ideas about personal spirit guardians our Western occult lore.
On trying to locate Zoroastrianism on the timeline between other ancients religions such as the Hindu, Egyptian and Chaldean as well as later monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity we are faced with an essential problem. That is that the actual origin of Zoroastrianism still couldn’t be mapped down in the history of Ancient Persia. Surprisingly we find vast variations of about 2000 years - locating the origins of this ancient religion anywhere between 3000 and 600 BCD. This problem seems mainly due to the fact that Zoroastrianism even though being much older entered recorded history only by the mid-5th century BCD (Kingsley, p. 245). However, even this earliest historic record dating Zoroaster back to the 6th century BCD seems to be flawed.
“By now it is agreed by almost all scholars actively working in the field that this date is in fact fictitious, calculated piously but quite erroneously by Persian Magi, perhaps early in the Christian era, in order to place Zoroaster in a historical setting and so make him equal in this respect with Jesus and the gnostic prophets of that time.” (Boyce, quoted after Kingsley, p.245)
Thus the dispute about the actual age and origin of Zoroastrianism has a long history all the way back to the Magi in antiquity as well as the Greek philosophers (Kingsley, p. 245). Irrespective of its exact date of origin, however, we do know a lot about the actual content and cosmology of Zoroastrianism. Probably the most important source are the Ghatas, a compendium of loosely connected ancient hymns that are said to have been composed by Zoroaster himself.
From these early sources we learn that according to Zoroastrianism the most distinct aspect of creation is an eternal struggle between two opposing forces, played out on various levels of existence. On the divine level we find the concepts of ‘ahuras’ and ‘daevas’. (Blois, p.3: The latter term survives in modern Persian as dew, Western Persian div, "demon").
First and foremost among the ahuras is Ahura Mazda or Spenta Mainyu (Holy Spirit, ref. Dhalla, 1914, p.48) the principal creator god and the only ahura mentioned by name in the Ghatas. (Note: this is also why Zoroastrianism is also called Mazdaism, according to the principle divine being of AHura Mazda). The eternal struggle between him, Ahura Mazda and his devil opponent Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (i.e. Evil Spirit, ref. Dhalla, 1914, p.48) forms the fundament and background of all events and fates on earth as well as the central divine dynamic within Zoroastrianism (Panati, p.252/358).
“Life is co-operation with good and conflict with evil. Good and evil are co-existing polarities. Man can think of things only in terms of their opposites. Light is light because of darkness. Health is a coveted boon, as its loss heralds sickness. Life is valued as Ahura Mazda's most incomparable gift, as lurking death threatens its extinction. Happiness is pleasant, for misery is unbearable. Riches rise in worth owing to the dread of poverty. Joy is gratifying, for sorrow aims at killing it. Virtue is the health of the spirit, for vice is its disease. Righteousness is the life of the spirit, for wickedness spells its death. There can be no compromise between good and evil. Incessant warfare is raging between good and evil. Man's duty is to commend good and co-operate with it; to condemn evil and enter into conflict with it.” (Dhalla, 1938, Chapter X, link)
As we learn from this quote man is given an active role to play in this transcendent battle. He is placed right in the middle between the two opposing forces of truth and order facing chaos, falsehood and destruction. Based on his free will it is his active choice to support either the forces of Ahura Mazda or Ahriman that can tip of the scales and decide about the fate of life and all of creation ultimately. Thus the necessity for an ethical life is deeply embedded in Zoroastrian religion and pursuing truth and order through good thoughts, good words, and good deeds became one of the central pillars of its everyday practice. Furthermore, the position of man towards the divine is less of a subordinate and more of a devoted partner or co-creator of reality (Winston, BBC 2005).
This eternal battle between Ahura Mazda and his devil opponent Ahriman forms the most transcendent layer of creation where these two opposing forces collide. Yet, as we will see later it is on the next lower layer, the one closely connected to the nature of the human soul where this struggle is fought just as hard (Blois, p.4) - and we shall encounter possibly one of the earliest version of the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel.
Before that, however, it will be helpful to take a brief look at the fundamentals believes of Mazdian Demonology.
2. Mazdian Demonology
According to the dualistic Mazdian cosmology the primal evil being Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit) is the creator of all things evil, destructive and chaotic. Assigning all evil creations directly to him solved a lot of complex theological problems for Zoroastrians (Russel, p.73).
As they simply assumed that nothing evil could ever emanate from a genuinely positive creator god such as Ahura Mazda they didn’t had to deal with all the complex ramifications of explaining how evil came into existence in a world with a positive creator. For most Zoroastrian sources - just like the Vendidad or the 12th century Bundahishn - the answer was straight forward: It was Ahriman himself who brought forth all chaos, evil, sicknesses and first and foremost the evildemons called daevas.
“The infernal crew. The diabolic spirits who have entered into a compact with Angra Mainyu to mar the good creation of Ahura Mazda are the Daevas, or demons. They are the offspring of the Evil Mind and spread their mischief over all the seven zones. The Evil Spirit has taught them to mislead man through evil thought, evil word, and evil deed.” (Dhalla, 1914, p.49)
Next to Ahriman himself source texts mention six and more rarely seven main daevas. Beyond this inner circle of evil spirits vast hordes of additional evil spirits of lower ranks are spread out into the material realm. Their numbers extend into infinity as constantly new demons are brought to life by the evil deeds of all creatures:
“Various new devs are those who spring on to the creatures, ever and anon, out of the sins which they commit. “ (Bundahishn XXVII.51)
The basic source of all these evil demons is Ahirman’s relentless desire to counter the benign creation of Ahura Mazda. This motive becomes particularly clear in the creation of the main six daevas - each of whom is an antitheses to one of the six Amesha Spentas, the ‘bounteous immortals’ (literal translation) or divine sparks of Ahura Mazda.
“As Ahura Mazda holds his council of celestial beings, so Angra Mainyu maintains in his infernal court a retinue of male and female demons. In opposition to every archangel and angel (...) the younger literature sets up a corresponding fiend. These form exact counterparts of the powers of goodness, and always act in direct opposition to them. We do not find the symmetry of diametric opposites between these rival forces carried out to completion in the extant Gathic literature. The names of not all the corresponding demons, who are the opponents of Mazda's ministering angels, are found.” (Dhalla, 1914, p.49)
The basic antagonism of these six highest Zoroastrian angels and demons mirrors the cosmological war between the two eternal divine principles Ahura Mazda and Ahriman on a lower cosmological level, one step closer to creation. And it is this principle of antagonistic demonic and angelic forces that we rediscover in the Solomonic Tradition of magic centuries later.
2.1 The Solomonic Connection
For Western practitioners of the Arte the matching of the 72 spirits of the Goetia to the 72 angels of the Shemhamephorash will be the most famous examples of such pure dualism between angelic and demonic forces, each balanced by the power of its opponent. From what we know today it was Dr. Thomas Rudd who first shared evidence of this practical approach in his angelic magic in the 17th century by matching the seals of the Goetic demons with the corresponding angelic seals (Skinner, Rankine, p.73). A full overview of all 72 antagonisms can be found in Carroll Runyon’s ‘The Book of Solomon’s Magick’ (consolidated in the ‘Master Mandala’) or in Stephen Skinner and David Rankine’s ‘The Goetia of Dr Rudd’ ,table, M15, p. 366-377.
Adam McLean in his ‘A Treatise on Angel Magic’ clearly over-simplifies the explanation of the dualism present in Rudd’s works. In his eyes they are nothing but an expression of a “primitive dualism” (McLean, p.15) which he interprets as an unfortunate legacy of the “Jewish patriarchal religion” (McLean, p.13). According to McLean this dualism can be unveiled as an expression of the inability of our ancestors to understand ‘evil’ as “being nothing else but an encounter of the magician with his unconscious mind” (McLean, p.14). It is this projection that “must be integrated in order to avoid pathological conditions arising through repressing in a dualistic way a side of our being” (McLean, p.13).
While trying not to judge McLean’s highly eurocentric take on ritual magic and demonic evocations in particular it has to be pointed out that his identification of the Jewish influences as the root cause for the historic dualism is at least shortsighted. While he claims that “before this period magicians could work naturally to invoke spirits without any inner qualms” (McLean, p.13) we know that this wasn’t true amongst many cultures before the Christian area already. As we have seen in the previous chapter on Chaldean magic even thousands of years before the Jewish religion took form the spiritual realm was divided into benevolent and malefic spirits. And performing evocations of the latter type was sanctioned even in ancient times. This is especially true among Zoroastrians (Kiesewetter, p.123).
Thus the actual term ‘magi’ for the devotees of Zoroastrianism as well as Pliny the elder’s comment of Zoroaster as the inventor of magic are both highly misleading. Sorcery is condemned in the harshest way in all Zoroastrian source texts that mention it. Zoroaster himself labelled magicians as the hands, the feet, eyes and ears of the evil spirit Ahriman (Kiesewetter, p.123). While the mythical figure of Zoroaster always had a strong reputation as a master of astrology the connotation with magic was deliberately introduced later by the Greeks (Beck, 2002).
Rather than ritual magic it were detailed cleansing and purification rites that evolved as part of Zoroastrian cult and practice. In order to understand why this development took place we need to take a closer look at the nature of matter and substance itself according to Zoroastrian sources.
2.2. The Nature of Matter
“In Zoroastrian literature, the Evil Spirit’s creation has a negative character because it begins in opposition to that of the Beneficent Spirit. The material state is the creation of the Beneficent Spirit; the Evil Spirit can only attack, contaminate, and corrupt it.” (Moazami, p.316)
The world with all its human, animal and elemental realms had already been fully created when the first evil spiritual beings came into existence. Before the daevas arrived all of creation was in perfect harmony; the event of a human or divine fall as known in e.g. Lurianic Kabbala is unknown to Zoroastrianism. Only on arrival of the daevas and due to their conscious impact did evil start to exist and actively affect humans as well as all of the material realm. This means, however, that according to Zoroastrianism matter itself is perfect and pure in its very nature.
Demons can only affect the living world of creation by penetrating through matter in order to affect the life forces encapsulated in it. According to Mazdian cosmology every evil demonic being depends on matter to materialize itself on any level of creation. Thus the nature of demons is parasitic. They depend on a foreign body or shell to dwell in. Their primal and most deeply rooted urge is to enter the world of substance in order to be clothed in matter and take effect (ref. Bruce Lincoln during a lecture at Duke University in 2010).
Once the demons have achieved to break into a body they take direct influence on the spirit residing in it. In accordance with their own way of being they change the feelings, behavior and thoughts of the spirit whose body they inflicted and trigger a process of moral and physical corruption that ultimately leads to decay.
This process is not only restricted to the human realm but similarly affects the animal, plant, metal and mineral kingdoms. Especially in the animal realm this influence can be shown clearly as according to Zoroastrianism all animals can be divided into beneficial and maleficent animals. This divide among animals weights even heavier given the fact that all animals were considered to be intermediary between the human and the divine world - either angelic or demonic in nature (Moazami, p.317)
2.3 The Demonic Animal
“The animal world is likewise divided between “beneficial” animals, creatures of the Beneficent Spirit, and “maleficent” animals, creatures of the Evil Spirit. The partition of animals as beneficial or maleficent represents one of the most important and original aspects of the ancient Iranian religious worldview.” (Moazami, p.301)
While their physical bodies were originally created by Ahura Mazda their spirits have been overtaken by the sinfulness and malevolence of Ahriman. Thus maleficent animals (xrafstars) had infiltrated the benign creation and turned into agents of the Evil Spirit. Their influence and impact, however, wasn’t directed against the benevolent creatures only but also against the raw elements of creation themselves: water, fire, earth and all plants. Evil animals therefore work as parasitic forces of pollution, impurity and destruction from within creation itself (Moazami, p.301/302).
“The Bundahisn (...) divides evil animals by whether they live in the water, on earth, or in the air—of the water, the frog; of the earth, the many-headed dragon; and of the air, the winged snake are the worst.” (Moazami, p.302)
The killing of evil animals developed into an important form of devotion among the Magi. Not only was it done collectively during important dates in their ritual calendar to honor the feminine angelic spirit of earth, Spandarmad but also as a means of atonement for grave individual sins. Given the fact that the long lists of evil animals are assigned to the night in general and contain most species of snakes, reptiles, amphibians and flying and crawling insects it is worth wondering if we still find a shadow of the idea of demonic animals in the convoluted recipes of the medieval witch cults? Moreover, as Zoroastrian sources specifically call out that the bodies of dead evil animals can be used in the composition of remedies. This is because once they are dead the malevolent spirit is cut from the material body. The pure physical remains, however, are made from the benevolent elements of water, earth, wind and fire (Moazami, p.308).
Another striking similarity to the medieval image of the witch in the West is that the cat specifically was an evil animal associated with demons and sorcerers. However, considering that ancient Iranians were nomads it can be understood that they would have considered cats ambiguous, restive and perfidious in comparison to the loyal dogs that watched their cattle and tents (Moazami, p. 314).
From the above two central characteristics of Zoroastrian cult become obvious:
- First, this is its deeply entrenched dualism which leaves no space for any shades of grey. That means it was impossible to contact any spiritual being through prayer whose nature wasn’t clearly marked as either good or evil. As we can see from the quote below the demarcation line of good and evil even crossed through the land of the fairies... Just like in everyday life so became every ritual act a testament to the practitioners intent to side with the forces of good or evil.
- Secondly, the main corpus of Zoroastrian cult was aimed towards cleansing and purification of substance and matter. After all, the eternal divine battle was fought over immanence in matter, i.e. wether creation could maintain its inborn purity and benevolence through the guard of watchful angelic beings or lost it due to the malice, cunning and destruction of evil spirits (Russell, p.76/ Kiesewetter, p.120/ p.134).
“A class of bewitching fairies has been created by Angra Alainyu to seduce men from the right path and injure the living world. Nimble as birds they go along flying in the shape of shooting stars between the earth and the heavens. They come upon fire, water, trees, and other creations from which they are to be driven away by the recital of spells.” (Dhalla, 1914, p.172)
3. The Constitution of Man
Having discussed the main aspects of Mazdian demonology it became clear that man played a crucial role in ending the siege of evil and help the forces of Ahura Mazda to overcome the enteral fiend. However, as mentioned earlier this struggle between good and evil took place on all levels of creation - the divine, the demonic and angelic as well as on the human level itself.
So not surprisingly we can find that even man carried two demons bound into his own nature: an evil demon and an beneficial angel. The Zoroastrian texts call these elements twins (Blois, p.4/ Carnoy, p.864), the ‘animal’ and ‘angel’ within men or simply the lower and the higher self. While the higher self supports the evolution of man towards light and righteousness the animal within is constantly laying pitfalls into his way hoping he will stumble over the desires, the false needs and deceiving emotions he hides under.
“Man was animal but yesterday. Today he is man, though not devoid of animal traits. His destiny is to be angel, and tomorrow he shall be that also. Everyone has in his or her power to be a saint. But the way to attain sainthood and divinity is distant and beset with countless difficulties. Every step in advance is a struggle. The animal in man is obdurate and persistent, cunning and resourceful. To escape from his grip, to destroy his power, to eliminate him, man has to fight a hundred battles. Man's inner life is a perpetual warfare between animal and human within his breast. A violent struggle is going on in every human heart between the higher impulses to renounce animal appetites, and the lower instincts to satisfy them. Man is a divided self, divided mind, divided will, and feels within him the conflict of two opposing natures. The one half of man's being is always at war with his other half. When the Good Spirit first met the Evil Spirit, he said that he was opposed to him in his thoughts and words and deeds and faith and conscience and soul and every thing. The same complete polarity obtains between the higher self and the lower self in man.” (Dhalla, 1938, Chapter X, link)
It is here that we possibly encounter the first example of what turned into the philosophy of the ‘Holy Genius and Evil Demon’ as portrayed by the Divine Pymander in the Corpus Hermeticum in the second or third century:
“(...) for I the Mind (the logos or holy genius, ed. Frater Acher) come unto men that are holy and good, pure and merciful, and that live piously and religiously; and my presence is a help unto them. (...) But to the foolish, and evil, and wicked, and envious, and covetous, and murderous, and profane, I am far off, giving place to the revenging Demon, which applying unto him the sharpness of fire, tormenteth such a man sensible, and armeth him the more to all wickedness, that he may obtain the greater punishment. And such an one never ceaseth, having unfulfiled desires, and unsatisfiable concupiscences, and always fighting in darkness; for the Demon always afflicts and tormenteth him continually, and increaseth the fire upon him more and more.” (Westcott, p.27/28)
Thus the notion that man is torn between the inner guidance of two opposing spiritual beings can be traced from Zoroastrianism all the way to the Hermetica. Moreover, we also find evidence of it in the early Christian scriptures such as the Shephard of Hermas from the first or second century:
“‘Hear now,’ saith he, ‘concerning faith. There are two angels with a man, one of righteousness and one of wickedness.’ ‘How then, Sir,’ say I, ‘shall I know their workings, seeing that both angels dwell with me?’ ‘Hear,’ saith he, ‘and understand their workings. The angel of righteousness is delicate and bashful and gentle and tranquil. When then this one enters into thy heart, forthwith he speaketh with thee of righteousness, of purity, of holiness, and of contentment, of every righteous deed and of every glorious virtue. When all these things enter into thy heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with thee. These then are the works of the angel of righteousness. Trust him therefore and his works. Now see the works of the angel of wickedness also. First of all, he is quick tempered and bitter and senseless, and his works are evil, overthrowing the servants of God. Whenever then he entereth into thy heart, know him by his works.’" (Shephard of Hermas, Mandate 6:2, link)
And still thirteen hundred years later we encounter the same philosophy of mans’ soul in the main compendium of medieval Western magic, Agrippa of Nettesheim Three Books of Occult Philosophy:
“As therefore there is given to every man a good spirit, so also there is given to every man an evil Diabolicall spirit, whereof each seeks an union with our spirit, and endeavors to attract it to it self, and to be mixed with it, as wine with water; the good indeed, through all good works conformable to it self, change us into Angels, by uniting us, as it is writ of John Baptist in Malachi: behold I send mine Angel before thy face: of which transmutation, and union it is writ elsewhere; He which adheres to God is made one spirit with him. An evil spirit also by evil works, studies to make us conformable to it self, and to unite, as Christ saith of Judas, Have not I chosen twelve, & one of you is a devil? And this is that which Hermes saith, when a spirit hath influence upon the soul of man, he scatters the seed of his own notion, whence such a soul being sown with seeds, and full of fury, brings forth thence wonderful things, and whatsoever are the offices of spirits: for when a good spirit hath influence upon a holy soul, it doth exalt it to the light of wisdom; but an evil spirit being transfused into a wicked soul, doth stir it up to theft, to man-slaughter, to lusts, and whatsoever are the offices of evil spirits.” (Agrippa, Book3, Chapter XX, p.521/522)
On taking a closer look at the constitution of man according to Mazdian sources we find a distinction of five specific elements.
We don’t know exactly on which level the fight between the lower and higher self of man occurs. It could be within each of these levels or between specific elements of his constitution, i.e. between his animal nature captured in boadhagh (body) and the higher conception of man in aghva (prototype).
This latter interpretation of the roots of the lower and higher self could find support in the Jewish tradition of the ‘good and evil urge’. Both the Talmud and the Zohar know this principle that often keeps man caught in-between good and evil, unable to fulfill his true fate. According to the Zohar the good inclinations spring from the highest level of the soul, Neshamah (Prophet, p.167) whereas the evil urge is attaching itself to the body of the newborn during its moment of birth (Müller, p.152). Given the influence Zoroastrianism exerted on the formation of Judaism this could point toward the interpretation that even in Mazdian times the higher self was identified with aghva, the prototype of the humans?
In either case we learn from Zoroastrian scriptures that it is first and foremost the urvan , the soul of man that needs protection from the afflictions of evil (Anklesaria, p.58) in order not to degenerate and decay:
“And in that wind he saw his own religion and deeds as a profligate woman, naked, decayed, gapping, bandy-legged, lean-hipped, and unlimitedly spotted so that spot was joined to spot, like the most hideous, noxious creature, most filthy and most stinking. Then that wicked soul spoke thus: "Who art thou, than whom I never saw any one of the creatures of Auharmazd and Akharman uglier, or filthier, or more stinking? To him she spoke thus: "I am thy bad actions, O youth of evil thoughts, of evil words, of evil deeds, of evil religion. It is on account of thy will and actions that I am hideous and vile, iniquitous and diseased, rotten and foul-smelling, unfortunate and distressed, as appears to thee.” (The Book of Arda Viraf (A.D. 226 to A.D. 640), Chapter XVII, quoted after Mueller p.205)
Luckily in this fight against evil within and around him man had a strong ally set next to his side. According to Mazdian tradition this is his fravashi, his personal guardian angel.
4. The Fravashis - The Holy Guardian Angels of Zoroastrianism
The only known portrait of the prophet Zoroaster (Müller, p.64)The essential antidote against all demonic inflictions are the fravashis. On creation all things that emerged embedded into matter were assigned a “double or spirit form” (Horne, p.2). In this intricate relationship between the fravashis and the material body they guard over we find another proof of the positive connotations of matter in Zoroastrianism: having a physical body was the pre-requirement to be assigned to a personal spirit guardian. Thus the fravashis are individual spirit patrons of all things created of substance and embody “the simple essence of all things, the celestial creatures corresponding with the terrestrial, of which they were the immortal types.” (Lenormant, p.199)
For anybody familiar with Platon’s theory of forms this might sound strangely similar to his concept of ‘ideas’? As a disciple of Socrates Plato evolved and wrote about his teacher’s theory on how material forms are connected to the realm of the essential good or divine. In his eyes material forms are just shadows of ideal forms. These ideal forms exist as living entities and posses the highest and most fundamental kind of reality - different to the world of change we are bound into - yet they are also impossible to know. Thus reality of the material realm wasn’t considered a complete illusion - just like a shadow exists somewhere between illusion and representation of the object itself. And just like a shadow can give a hint about the form of the actual object so the material realm allowed conclusions about the shape and nature of reality on the highest realm. Thus the material realm of change is caught in a process of constantly ‘miming’ the good or divine forms from which it originally emerged. And from this man’s purpose can easily be derived:
“Man's proper service to the Good is cooperation in the implementation of the ideal in the world of shadows; that is, in miming the Good.” (Wikipedia)
Such seeming affinity between Zoroastrian and Platonic philosophy was noted early in history already. Not only did it lead to the belief that Zoroaster had been the chief authority behind Platobut it also ensured a lasting popularity of Zoroaster’s name among a long line of scholars, especially during the 15th and 16th century (Wouter, p.1183).
Returning to our subject of the fravashis, however, we do not find confirmation for the assumption that their relationship with the being they guarded over resembled the one of object and shadow. Both, the material being as well as its spirit double had ontological reality only on different levels. While humans, animals, plants and crystals were mortal creatures on the material realm, the fravashis were their immortal counterparts on the celestial level. And while the latter formed the matrix of life for the former both of them were filled with independent, individual life - one of them ephemeral, the other eternal.
Here now we can find the potentially earliest notion of each man having his own individually assigned ‘star’ in the skies above. Crowley’s later formulation that ‘Every man and woman is a star’ has to be considered a direct or indirect derivate from this early Mazdian doctrine. The essential point is that the fravashis - just like the stars - were created long before the individual being they were meant to watch over came into life. Thus every created being has its fixed point or own guiding star in the shape of its individually assigned fravashi.
“They (the fravashis, - ed. Fra.Acher) are like guardian-angels of all individual persons. They are a duplicate of the soul, existing before birth and uniting themselves to the soul after death. The name seems to mean ‘confession’, ‘conscience’ and may be an equivalent of daena, ‘conscience’, ‘religion’ which survives a man and is shaped after his conduct during life.” (Carnoy, p.865)
Interesting enough, according to Zoroastrian philosophy the question if man either has a ‘Holy Genius and Evil Demon’ attached to his soul or alternatively a single immortal ‘Holy Guardian Angel‘ was not perceived as mutually exclusive.
Man was constantly tormented by his evil urge and had to battle demonic attacks from within and around him to fulfill his purpose in creation, i.e. to follow his good urge with ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’. This dualistic dynamic wasn’t resolved for him but presented his essential purpose in creation. However, in the fravashi each man had his own celestial ally, a safe place of powerful protection against evil, a place of personal guidance and counsel. Thus in the concept of the fravashi we can find one of the earliest forms of the personal daimon as conceived by Socrates during the Greek period. As the individually assigned “unseen agent” (Mueller, p.205) for the first time we encounter the idea of an immortal self-conscious higher being that is completely dedicated to guiding and protecting its mortal counterpart through the struggles of everyday life.
As mentioned above, in Mazdaism, however, not only humans had their own genius, but so did all things created, including the stars and the gods. To illustrate the glory and praise that the influence and powers of the fravashi receive in Mazdian ritual practice let’s read a longer quote from the Fravardin Yasht (probably 559–330 BC):
“Ahuramazda spoke to Spitama Zarathushtra: To thee alone I shall tell the power and strength, glory, usefulness, and happiness of the holy guardian angels, the strong and victorious, O righteous Spitama Zarathushtra! how they come to help me. By means of their splendor and glory I uphold the sky which is shining so beautifully and which touches and surrounds this earth; it resembles a bird which is ordered by God to stand still there; it is high as a tree, wide-stretched, iron-bodied, having its own light in the three worlds. Ahuramazda, together with Mithra, Rashnu, and Spenta Armaiti, puts on a garment decked with stars and made by God in such a way that nobody can see the ends of its parts. By means of the splendor and glory of the Fravashis I uphold the high strong Anahita (the celestial water) with bridges, the salutary who drives away the demons, who has the true faith and is to be worshipped in the world. If the strong guardian-angels of the righteous should not give me assistance then cattle and men, the two last of the hundred classes of beings, would no longer exist for me; then would commence the devil's power, the devil’s origin, the whole living creation would belong to the devil. By means of their splendor and glory the ingenuous man Zarathushtra who spoke such good words, who was the source of wisdom, who was born before Gotama, had such intercourse with God. By means of their splendor and glory, the sun goes on his path; by means of their splendor and glory the moon goes on her path; by means of their splendor and glory the stars go on their path.'” (Mueller, 205-206)
Upon death the soul returns to the fravashi and unites with it (Anklesaria, p.58 / Carnoy, p.868). However, even though the fravashis are immortal in nature it seems their relationship to the creature they watch over can be affected by the thoughts, words and deeds of the latter. Wether or not this idea was a later development in Zoroastrianism doesn’t seem to be evident. Yet the relationship to ones personal fravashi seemed not only important in order to gain support in the struggle between the evil and good urge within every man - but to ensure the continued support and favor of one’s own guardian angel in the first place.
“Similarly, the Fravashis or Guardian Spirits are the most helpful genii, but on condition that man propitiates them with sacrifices. When satisfied they are of indescribable help but once offended they are hard to deal with. They are to be approached with religious awe. They are to be feared rather than loved. This fear of the celestial beings may engender obedience in man, but not devotion. And devotion is the higher of the two virtues.” (Dhalla, 1914, p.79)
5. The Ritual Practice
Looking at the forms this devotion took in daily life we discover the spiritual practices that Zoroastrians took to engage with their Holy Guardian Angel. It is here that we find a most interesting fact for Western practitioners of the ritual art: In Zoroastrianism invocation of the fravashi formed a crucial element of spiritual life and practice (Lenormant, p.199) - it was not at all an occult or secret practice and didn’t require extended periods of purification or preparation.
As mentioned earlier the ritual setup in Zoroastrianism is kept to the most basic components: the sacred fire that continuously is kept burning in each temple and devotee’s house - ideally fed with sandal-wood only - some incenses to be sprinkled into the flames, a possible offering of bread and milk and the baresman or bundle of twigs that is held in hands wile prayers are recited (Carnoy, p.868). This is all it takes to invoke one’s personal guardian angel as the sacred books of Zoroastrianism repeatedly show us in their prayers. As just one example we quote from The Vendidad (probably 600 to 400 B.C.):
"Invoke, O Zarathushtra! my Fravashi, who am Ahura Mazda, the greatest, the best, the fairest of all beings, the most solid, the most intelligent, the best shapen, the highest in holiness, and whose soul is the holy Word! Invoke, Zarathushtra ! this creation of mine, who amAhura Mazda. Zarathushtra imitated my words from me, and said: I invoke the holy creation of Ahura Mazda.” (Horne, p.144)
From a Western ritual point of view it makes good sense that we never encounter evocations but only invocations of the fravashis and other gods in Zoroastrian literature. A religion that tried to overcome the tribal cults of the nomadic ancestors focussed on prayer and devotion as its main tool of liturgic practice. And as the battle between good and evil took place on all layers of creation - from the most divine to the most common - the powers of the fravashi were needed first and foremost where it mattered most to every human being: within themselves. Only if the fravashi was kept in close contact and in favor of one’s thoughts, words and deeds could the devotee hope to achieve an increasing assimilation between his being and the powers of his fravashi. Such was the belief of the Zoroastrians that the forces of the fravashi had to be drawn into one’s own being and soul repeatedly in order to fully benefit from the divine power of one’s Holy Guardian Angel.
But not only one’s own fravashi could be invoked. We also find proof of invocation of the fravashi of other people, especially of the powerful and righteous ancestors (Horne. p.148). Irrespective towards whom the invocation was directed - one’s own fravashi, the fravashi of the righteous or the powers of stars or gods - each prayer had to be saturated with profound devotion. In fact the praise and devotion did not stop at the actual object of one’s spiritual practice. Yet it was extended to include all things present in the ceremony, both on a material and spiritual level:
“The following are the objects that come in for a share of invocation in the ritual : Haoma, Aesma or the wood for the fire altar, Baresman or the sacred twigs, Zaothra or libations, one's own soul and Fravashi, the Gathas, the chapters of the Yasna Haptanghaiti, meters, lines, words of the chapters of the Haptanghaiti, intellect, conscience, knowledge, and even sleep. Thus the creator and his creature, angel and man, ceremonial implements and scriptural texts are all alike made the objects of adoration and praise.” (Dhalla, p.80)
The power that emanated from the prayers of the devotee clearly dissolved the boundaries between the objective and subjective features of the ritual. The actual paraphernalia used but also one’s soul, one’s fravashi, one’s conscious, intellect, knowledge and even sleep - they all merged and became one in prayer and adoration. What we really find in this early Zoroastrian practice is a description of a state of deep devotional trance.
This interpretation is supported by one last feature of Zoroastrian ritual practice we will look at. The only word in the quote above whose meaning isn’t explained is the first in the list, haoma.
“Besides this there was, despite Zoroaster’s ban upon it, the sacrifice of haoma (= Skr. soma), an intoxicating plant of which the stems were crushed in a mortar and the juice strained off; this was presented before the fire and drunk by the officiating priest and his acolytes.” (Carnoy, p.868)
Much dispute has been going on around the botanical nature of haoma until it was identified as a variant of Ephedra in the 19th century. When drunken as an extract it had a mildly intoxicating and hallucinogenic effect. We also know that the twigs that were held while in prayer were also taken from the haoma plant. Finally, the name haoma was not only used to describe the plant itself but also its divinity, i.e. the spirit of the plant...
So this spiritual practice that we rediscover in ancient Zoroastrianism is creating a unique synthesis between a tradition of liturgic prayer invocation and deeply shamanistic trance techniques.
“Shamanism is an anthropological term for a range of beliefs and practices relating to communication with the spirit world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits, who typically enters a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.” (Wikipedia)
And now bring this image to life in your mind: The Mazdian priest is standing in the half-light of the temple, the sacred haoma twigs in his folded hands, reciting long lines of prayers from heart while staring motionless into the flames of the sacred fire. Clouds of incense rise from the flames and while his gaze is deeply fixed into the blaze, prayers flowing like water from his lips the hallucinogenic effect of the drunken potion slowly takes effect... This was the way of the Zoroastrians to achieve knowledge and communion with their Holy Guardian Angels.
While not directed at the effect of drunken potions but inhaled incenses it is revealing what Christian Rätsch, one of the leading botanists on hallucinogens has to say about the ancient spiritual goal of such practices:
“It was in the smoke or odor of the incense that one realized the actions of gods, demons, angels, spirits, souls of the plants and others. They manifested within man once they were inhaled. This is why the smoke of certain sacred plants was breathed in or inhaled in order to give space in one’s own body to the related spiritual beings.” (Rätsch, p.27)
In light of this we can assume that the effect of drinking the haoma potion, staring into flames for extended periods and reciting the related prayers were the tools Zoroastrians leveraged to create a spirit vessel of their own bodies for the powers invoked. Just like the ancient Egyptians and Greeks created spirit dwellings within statues it seems so did the Zoroastrians within themselves by invoking the powers of their fravashis, their personal guardian angels.
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