The "Vast Individual"

Eloise Hart

Mazdean teachings explain that because all creatures are equally important parts of one "Vast Individual," whatever gives pleasure or pain to one, affects for good or ill all others. Thus it behooves us to recognize all beings, whether visible or invisible, low or high, as our kinfolk. Again and again their scriptures remind us: one's wife or husband, one's family, neighbor and "children" — the animals, vegetables, minerals and elements — must be well treated. Animals must be cared for with kindness, plants nurtured to their full growth, metals kept bright and untarnished. Earth, rivers and lakes must not be defiled or dirtied by any pollution, whether by interring the dead or disposing of waste. Air must not be spoilt with bad odors, nor fire contaminated in any way. These rules were strictly observed by the priests who kept themselves and their paraphernalia scrupulously clean, pure and consecrated, even wearing masks lest their breath pollute the elements. Laymen also followed these practices at home and in business.

All of which demonstrates the respect and concern the Zoroastrians felt and showed for the elemental creatures, and for the unseen souls and intelligences of which these forms are the "shadows." The compassion and care with which they tilled the soil, watered their gardens and tended their cattle were indicative of their conviction that in so doing they were not only benefiting, and strengthening, these lower life forms, but also their polar extensions, the cosmic powers which infill all beings.

Water and the plants it nourishes represented to them wholeness and immortality, for water was not only the liquid of our rivers and seas but the Waters of Life which pervade and sustain the entire living world. In the wind they saw diverse forces of life, including the psychospiritual vitality that survives physical death. They used fire as a symbol of the ever-mysterious Essence which permeates and enlightens all things and, when identified with the "life-giving sun," finally draws the soul upward at death. This spiritual "fire of the sky" they represented as Ahura Mazda and also as a lion, both frequently pictured with wings to suggest the transcendent nature of this first, most nearly divine element.

Although the Zoroastrians have been called "fire worshipers," they never worshipped the visible flame; rather they honored the Light of lights, the glorious "Band" or hierarchy of solar divinities who, "admitted into the secrets of His essence,'' protect and illumine the worlds throughout. In daily affairs fire is a comforting friend — love-wisdom-light all together — it sparks from a rock, dances in the hearth, glows under our pots, and showers down upon us rays from the stars. (The Desatir, trans. Mulla Firuz Bin Kaus, Wizards Bookshelf, 1975; p. 62.)

Long ago, it is told, their destur mobeds, their "perfect masters," brought fire from the heavens, by magic, to their altars, and their priests preserved it undying for hundreds of years. Later priests combine, for their temples, the purified fires from a thousand different sources: One from the many, One in the many. They collect earth-fires from coal, wood, gas, from kilos, pits and stoves, and "transform" them by igniting each with a bit of sulphur, of cotton, of sandalwood shavings, repeatedly relighting the flames until the dross is purged and the etheric, spiritual essence fit to be placed on the altars of their mountaintop temples. It was this "fire" of their teachings that Zoroaster placed in the hands of Vishtaspa; this "radiance," which Mazdean Magi brought from the East to the newborn Christ; which illumined medieval alchemists; and which, even today, their provocative writings pass on to us.

Until the 5th century BC, the Zoroastrians had, according to Herodotus, "no altars, no temples, no images; they worshipped on the tops of mountains. They adored the heavens and sacrificed to the sun, moon, fire and water." Later, however, they preserved their mystical traditions in architecture and temple carvings. Their first temples were high-roofed, open-sided "forests of pillars," into which flooded the radiance of sun and of stars — refreshing contrasts to the dark interiors of other religious structures. After a time, construction became more elaborate. Alexandre Dumas, Sr. mentioned one castle-cathedral-like building in his Travels in the Caucasus: the sacred Attesh-Gag, located on the shores of the Caspian Sea. This was carved out of solid rock in whose center a high tower rested on four huge columns, through which an inexhaustible fire "from the heart of the mother-rock" was drawn upwards into the atmosphere, a fire that had burned undiminished for three thousand years — until the late nineteenth century when it was replaced by a Russian oil refinery! (H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, Theosophical Publishing House, 2:122-30.)

Equally impressive were their observatories. The "Grotto of Zaratushta," for example, is:

a vast cave in the deserts of Central Asia, where into light pours through its four seemingly natural apertures or clefts placed crossways at the four cardinal points of the place. From noon till an hour before sunset that light streams in, of four different colors, as averred — red, blue, orange-gold, and white — owing to some either natural or artificially prepared conditions of vegetation and soil. The light converges in the center around a pillar of white marble with a globe upon it, which represents our earth. — The Secret Doctrine, 1:464

Another 'observatory,' much admired by the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius, in the city of Bazaeum, was an immense machine that depicted the planets — each with its presiding angel — revolving in their orbits.

A most graphic demonstration of man's interrelation with the planetary beings, however, was not in their observatories, but in their "celestial" cities. The Dabistan (pp. 2 et seq.) describes one laid out with separate temple-complexes and dedicated to the different planets. Each temple exemplified in structure, operation and practice the nature and qualities of one particular planet. The temple of Saturn, for example, was built of black stone, its ministers were people of dark complexion who wore blue clothes, finger rings of iron, and who taught such subjects as mathematics, medicine and pharmacology. The Jupiter temple-complex was of earth-colored bricks. Its officials and the statesmen, judges, scribes and priests who lived in its vicinity, wore robes of yellow and white, and silver rings with signets of carnelian. So likewise were temples dedicated to Mars, Venus, Mercury and the moon.

The most resplendent of all was the temple of the sun. Its golden dome was iridescent with jewels, its ministers and attendants dressed in garments of spun-gold girdled with diamonds and rubies. And in its environs lived members of the royal family together with nobles and distinguished scientists.

Connected with each of these temples were lodgings, restaurants and hospitals where the ill, aged or weary travelers could find refreshment and care in surroundings compatible with whichever of the seven planetary groups they belonged to. For in those days the Iranians were versed not alone in the movements of the stars and planets, but also in the varying degrees of both the beneficent and the maleficent influences that flow from celestial to terrestrial planes. Never would they worship, conduct business, wear clothes, or take medicine inappropriate to the particular stellar angel who presided over this or that event, hour, day and month.

Their priests, physicians and astrologers knew considerably more. They understood how the powers of the Amesha Spentas — characterized as the Star-Yazatas whose bodies we see as the planets and stars — mystically function as "builders" and "watchers" of man's and of the earth's sevenfold being; understood also how each planet's distinctive essence and motions affect individuals, races, cycles and events. They could when they wished, catch, direct or crystallize specific cosmic emissions for particular use — perhaps to promote fertility, agricultural abundance, or success in some business or spiritual endeavor. If they desired to create something of a Venusian quality, they would assemble objects related to that planet: pearls and diamonds, fragrant white flowers, cereal grains, musicians, artists and innocent girls. Then, at the moment of Venus's greatest effulgence, they would capture with these earthly "receivers" her celestial radiance and direct it into and upon the select terrestrial object or undertaking.

Cosmogonically, they felt, these various influences had been instrumental in the formation of earth and in the development of the mineral, vegetable and animal productions as well as of the human physical, psychological, mental and spiritual evolutionary progress. Each phase of which development, the Mazdeans believed, had its specific, proper and propitious time-periods. For instance, they divided time into a sequence of one thousand year cycles during which a particular planetary regent rules, first alone and then in combination with other regents. Thus, they spoke of Saturn as the King or Lord who ruled alone for a thousand years, where upon he chose a planetary partner with whom he presided. A similar course was followed by each of the planets until the moon's cyclic term was completed and the succession ended. After this a period of rest ensued before a second Grand Cycle, with a second Lord and his series of celestial associates was begun. At the termination of each Grand Period all living beings on the earth are restored to their former "designations and distinctions," ready to begin a new order. (The Desatir, pp. 14-l5, Moshan Fani, The Dabistan, trans. David Shea and Anthony Troyer, Tudor Publishing Co., 1937; pp. 17-18.)

Every form and image, which seems at present effaced,
Is securely stored up in the treasury of time
When the same position of the heavens again recurs,
The Almighty reproduces each from behind the mysterious veil. — The Dabistan, p. 19

Moshan Fani cites this passage to describe how at the beginning of each Great Period "the rapidly-sketching painter of destiny" drew forth the flowers and fruits, minerals and gems, laid out the cities and the arts, sciences and religion that would benefit mankind. And how, as the revolving worlds continue, the scattered members — the lower counterparts of the now transcendent beings — reassemble and reassume a figure, property and shape similar to that which they had had in the former Grand Cycle.

Zoroaster evidently wanted to know more about the re-creation of man, for he asked Ahura Mazda: "Whence shall they re-form the body which the wind has blown away, and the water has dragged down, and how shall resurrection occur?" In reply the Zandakasik gives a beautiful step-by-step account of the creation of the world and of man, and then adds, "what has been can be again; behold, . . . at that time, I will demand the bony-frame from the spirit of the earth, the blood from the water, the hair from the plants, and the life from the wind, as they had received at the beginning of creation." (Zand-akasih, Iranian or Greater Bundahisn, trans. Behramgore Tehmuras Anklesaria, p. 285.)

Other Mazdean writings continue this primeval history by describing, in the metaphor and with the numerical figures used by initiates of every age, the rising and sinking of continental landmasses, the succession of early races, and the gradual awakening of man's "celestial" intelligence. Further, in the story of Yima ( Vendidad, Farg. II), they tell how three times the over-crowded earth was "stretched out" to make room for new lands, races of men, cattle and the "red blazing fires"; how these "stretchings" were accompanied by earthquakes, fires and floods from the melting of snow. And how Yima, the first "Good Shepherd," preserved in an ark the seed of the best and the finest of all life on earth so that at the New Time the globe was replenished as before. (The Vendidad, Fargard II, The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 4, trans. James Darmesteter.)
There is in the Baghdad Museum an interesting Zoroastrian relief carving from a temple at Hatra, which in its way quite effectively preserves ancient Mazdean teachings. Especially noteworthy is that section of the carving which resembles an elongated caduceus, composed of their sacred poniard, the wand of the Magi, encircled by seven different rings, semi-rings, or circular objects. To those familiar with ancient lore, this may suggest the cyclic "earth-stretchings" that brought about the rising and sinking of earlier continental land massifs. Or, it may suggest to some the seven planets, or even the seven principal facets of our human nature, with the poniard as the spiritual thread of consciousness interpenetrating and connecting the whole, just as the mystical Mount Hara is said to connect the earth's seven karshvars (our globe with its six invisible mansions).

Then again, this caduceus-like figure may represent the different "kinfolk" or classes of beings that compose the "Great Man," whose Body, Tehim, the Universe, is made up of stars and planets, of men, animals, plants metals, earth, water and fire; whose Soul is composed of all souls, and whose Intelligence, of all intelligences. The Desatir (pp. 71-4, 90) elaborates this basic Zoroastrian idea by explaining that each individual within the "Great World" will discover in time that, although he too is composed of bodies, of souls and intelligences, although he too functions through an infinite multiplicity of forms and conditions and worlds, visible and invisible, there is in reality but one life, one spirit — one Vast Individual.

(From Sunrise magazine, April, 1977. Copyright © 1977 by Theosophical University Press)

Theosophical University Press Online Edition