The Daēva cult in the Gāthās

2017-02-17T03:22:32Z (GMT) by Ahmadi, Amir
Who were the daēvas that the poet of the Gāthās so vehemently opposed, and why did he condemn them? I will argue in this thesis that as far as our evidence allows us to judge they were the deities which presided over the fate of the soul and its passage to the beyond. Since mental life continued across the threshold of death and was determined in its quality by earthly existence, the daēvas were thought to exercise power over the latter too. Their cult as it is described in the Gāthās seems to have had a specifically eschatological significance. Chapter 1 examines and criticizes the four theoretical frames put forward since the mid 19th century to explain the repudiation of these gods in the Gāthās and their subsequent demonization in Zoroastrianism. The peculiarity of the phenomenon is lost on all these theories. None of these theorizations makes the Gāthic repudiation of the daēvas comprehensible. The question of the repudiation of the daēvas can hardly be separated from that of their non-Zoroastrian status and function. This has to be the frame of research on the topic. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss in detail the passages from the Gāthās that bear on the topic. It will be seen that the opposition to the daēva cult was current at the time of the composition of the Gāthās. The daēva cult is described in the Gāthās as having eschatological pretentions and involving ritual features that indicate a background in initiation-based male associations. This connection with the Männerbund type rites must remain a hypothesis, but a plausible one nonetheless in view of the convergence of the comparative material. The cultic status and function of the Gāthic deities become understandable against the proposed thesis concerning the daēva cult. In effect they replace the daēvas. Further, the generally or readily admitted characteristics of the two sets of deities mutually illuminate one another once they are placed in the perspective defended in this thesis. Chapter 4 examines materials from other sources, especially the Greek representations of the magi’s lore (mainly) in the context of a discussion of the mystery cults. Classical Greek writers consistently associate the magi’s nocturnal rite with the mysteries, and the magus with figures such as the ‘divine man’ and ‘mystic initiator’ belonging to the mystic cultural field. The ‘magician’ undoubtedly receives his professional name from this association, which points to the solidity of the connection. The Greeks had a more or less definite image of the mysteries. The comparison of the magi’s rite with the mysteries is explicit in a Pre-Socratic exegesis of an Orphic theogony from the 5th century. Likewise, we regularly find the Greek ‘Zoroaster’ in the company of or otherwise associated with figures like Pythagoras or Empedocles, who like Orpheus travels to the underworld in quest of ‘true’ knowledge or departed souls. The capacity to make the world immortal at the end of times is attested for their rite in Greek philosophical sources. One would have to conclude, taking into account the Iranian evidence, that the magi’s lore included a nocturnal rite, perhaps both funerary and initiatory, which aimed at ensuring the soul’s journey to the beyond and a desirable afterlife.