Are Animal Sacrifices mentioned In Zend Avesta?
by Mrs. Pervin Mistry
The word "sacrifice" means giving up or forsaking of a thing, a quality, and it could also mean the killing of an animal. Our religion is fundamentally based on the purity of body, mind and soul. It emphasizes Universal Brotherhood and extends it to all the Kingdoms of Nature that include, most importantly, the animal kingdom, and the plants, minerals as well as the elements that are within us and without us such as the elements of fire, water, air and earth. Subsequently, great care and importance is given to the preservation of the sacred elements of Nature, namely, fire, water, air and earth. These are to be safeguarded from being polluted. In all our rituals we invite and invoke Ahura Mazda, the Divine Yazatas, the Holy fravashies of Asho Zarathushtra and all the righteous men and women. Is it possible, is it ever conceivable, that during the consummation of any such rituals performed in the presence of the sacred elements with utmost purity of environment as well as of body, mind and soul, that "blood" or any other "nasu" formed a part of that ritual? Certainly not!
We are taught that as soon as life leaves the physical form, the dead body is considered "druj" or "nasu". Even when the body is alive, any part of the body, viz. hair, nail, blood, or any excretion which is not part of the vital circulation within the body, immediately becomes "nasu". It is then considered as angre-mainyu or the dark side. Dinkard mentions how the evil sorcerers falsely accused Asho Zarathushtra to be in possession of "nasu" to enhance the evil powers. But Asho Zarathushtra proved to King Vishtaspa that He was innocent of the false accusation and moreover, He also made the King aware as to who the real culprits were! This episode unequivocally proves that the so-called ritual use of "nasu", or an actual "sacrifice" is absolutely forbidden in any and all our rituals. It is a repugnant thought to even consider for a minute that our rituals, performed with utmost purity and piety, can ever tolerate the use of "nasu" in any shape, form or in any way or manner what-so-ever!
As given in the Rivayet of Ervad Eduljee Kersaspjee Antia, in "The Kisseh of Sultan Mahmoud", (Spiegel Memorial Volume, 1908, edited by Dr. J.J. Mody), it is stated that Mahmoud had ordered all Zarthushti lives to be taken. The Zarthushtis of Yazd decided to appease the Sultan by showing him proof of the greatness of our rituals! They performed a Yasna (Ijeshne) ceremony in the presence of the Sultan and requested him to view the outcome of the ritual on a white sheet they erected. They wished to prove to him that we invoke and invite the Divine Host in our rituals and they accept our rituals with their Divine Presence! While the ceremony was under way, the Sultan became furious and ordered the performing mobeds to be beheaded first. The mobeds were scared but curious as to what could have evoked such an adverse reaction! They wanted to find out and upon investigation, found out that by mistake, a single hair had fallen from a mobed's beard and that attracted the dark forces instead of the Divine Beings the mobeds felt sure would grace the ritual. When this was disclosed to the Sultan, he gave the mobeds a second chance and they did prove to him the greatness of our rituals and that ours was also a Religion that belonged to "Din-e Asmani"! Zarthushti lives were spared! This proves that our religion is not only "baal karta baarik", meaning, finer than a hair, but also that fallen hair is a "nasu" and it attracts the evil forces. Hence, it is not even remotely imaginable that any kind of "nasu", such as flesh or blood, could ever be ritually accepted or be permitted to become a part of any of our rituals.
The Holy Avesta clearly emphasises the care and preservation of animals. Vohu Mano or Bahman Ameshaspand is the protector of cattle. By killing animals, certainly the archangel Bahman or Vohu Mano is not propitiated but desecrated!
One of the four holy professions is that of a farmer/shepherd. By cultivating the earth and by breeding cattle, one cultivates ashoi and propitiates Vohu Mano. Killing an animal and offering it to the sacred fire tantamounts to sorcery!
The reason why we never ever offer animal sacrifice is because blood contains iron which is magnetic. It draws impurities "druj" to itself. Any severed blood therefore, is charged with druj and becomes one of the greatest pollutants.
In fact, over and over again, in our Yashts, warnings are given to those who seek the blessings and union with the Yazatas through any impurities of body, mind and soul, as well as through improper cleanliness and neglect of the environment. Such individuals are penalized; never can they please or establish a communion with any Divine Being.
The avowal of some to accept animal sacrifices as part of Zarthushtrian rituals is perhaps due to the distortion of a certain phrase occurring in the Avesta. For example, in Behram Yasht, stanza 17, the word "pasu-pach" is mentioned. Translated literally, it means to eat a "pasu" (animal). It is the incorrect rendition and misunderstanding of this one word that has caused the wrong idea in the minds of some that animal sacrifices were a part of Zarthushtrian rituals. "Pasu" denotes a gentle quality and hence it meant "gospand", an animal that can be domesticated. Vile, ferocious beasts are not referred to as "pasu".
As mentioned in the Behram Yasht, the devotee is required to perform the rite of "pasu-pach". But was this rite of "pasu-pach" or "sacrifice" meant in a literal physical sense of killing an innocent "pasu" or was it meant mystically and metaphorically to give up the "animal" within each one of us, the animal qualities, the baser instincts, the lower self? It stands to reason that this mystic rite referred only to the killing or giving up of the animal instincts within the individual who wished to attune to the Divine Yazatas. We know from our Yashts that the Yazatas, when invoked with purity, to bestow blessings, are said to appear in the forms of several mythic animals. These mythical animals have been described with special qualities and unusual colours and characteristics. As mentioned in the Behram Yasht, Behram Yazata appears before the devotee, whom he wishes to bless, in the form of a celestial bull with golden horns and as the beautiful horse with yellow ears, etc. These mythical animals represent and depict a specific spiritual quality or attribute of Behram Yazata. Mythology has its roots in mysticism.
The different mythical forms that Behram Yazata and all Yazatas adopt are personifications of the different spiritual gifts the Yazatas bestow upon their devotees. To explain the true significance of the mythic and mystic animal forms affected by the Yazatas, we must try and understand that we have five physical senses that help us to know the physical world we live in. But, as spiritual entities, we are not simply of the earth, Earthly. The two worlds of spirit and matter are combined within us because the physical man furnishes the spiritual soul within the body of flesh. Hence, even while living, we partake of both the physical as well as the spiritual worlds. Naturally, just as we have the five physical senses, our soul too has its own spiritual senses, viz. intuition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, prophecy, as well as the power to give shape and animate thought forms. These attributes, required for the progress of the soul are the mystic gifts that the Yazatas impart to the devotee in the form and shape of magical animals. For example, in mysticism, the beautiful horse with yellow ears represents the power of clairaudience; the celestial bull with golden horns symbolizes the power to animate thoughts.
If we can understand and accept the mystic symbolism behind our scriptures, then it can be irrefutably demonstrated that "pasu-pach" or the allegorical killing of a "pasu" as mentioned in Behram Yasht is this mystic and occult sacrifice which indicates the "killing" of the lower self, the lower instincts.
In the same Yasht, Behram Yazata is referred to as the Victorious One who slays the enemy. He is the destroyer of the evil foes, meaning of course, the army of angre-mainyu. It should be noted that angre-mainyu resides in the dualistic mind; the unprincipled mind is "angre-mainyu". It is this inherent enemy that Behram Yazata vanquishes or asks to "sacrifice". It is the unrighteous mind that we are asked to sacrifice on the altar of spiritual wisdom. Behram Yazata is also called the Protector, the Guardian of the Golden Sword of Ahura Mazda.
If we take these symbols and attributes literally, it makes no sense that a Celestial Being should kill, destroy and be the guardian of a sword! The "sword" itself is allegorical. It mystically personifies thought. It is the power of good thought that destroys evil or angre-mainyu. No physical weapons can match the evils of angre mainyu or a sinister mind. Behram Yazata, who personifies Divine Thought is always victorious because wisdom is the only weapon and protection against the dark forces of matter and ignorance.
Incidentally, this explains why in the Atash Bahrams, symbolic swords and the cow-headed mace are installed right inside the Kebla (Holy of Holies). Atash is the most perfect and unadulterated reflection on Earth, and in heaven, of the Creator of all Creations - Ahura Mazda. Fire being pure, purifies and transmutes anything which comes in its contact. Fire is the Divine Flame, Breath of Life, Spirit of Ahura Mazda that drives out darkness and evil. Zarthushtis who worship fire, call their places of worship "Atash Bahram". "Atash" is the Spiritual Fire, the Divine Essence, and "Bahram" means victorious, referring to the attainment to spiritual perfection, or the inevitable victory of spirit over matter.
Killing any creature with a sword is destroying only the physical form. The energy of mind, as well as the spiritual soul, survives physical death. Only an illuminated mind can achieve spiritual victory over the darkness and destruction of angre-mainyu (evil mind). Physical destruction of any kind, killing, fasting, torturing the body is against the spiritual disciplines of the Zarthushti religion as these cause physical pain as well as physical destruction without affecting a cure for the mind or the soul. Wisdom is the outcome of spiritual illumination which creates according to the Will of Ahura Mazda; wisdom leads to spiritual ecstasy, not to pain and penance.
In our kusti prayers, while reciting Jasme Avanghe Mazda, we utter the word "nidhasnaithishem". The literal translation reads as "laying down the weapons". In reality, the "weapon" is our physical body. Our physical senses through which our physical body and mind learn and evolve are considered "weapons" for our souls. To lay down arms means the soul will unshackle the weapons of senses controlled by an unprincipled mind. Then alone will "khaethvadtham" (divine union or resurrection) and "frashogard " (renovation) be achieved. For attaining to the final goal, the physical body having served as a "weapon" for destroying the evil instincts and tendencies will have to be sheathed or laid aside, discarded. This is the teaching of "nidhasnaithishem".
The individual who kills his own "animal" rises as a twice-born, virgin born initiate, who is re-born spiritually of the Spirit. When an individual has conquered the inherent angre-mainyu, the lower animal instincts, then through Behram Yazata, the Higher, the Godly Self in Man becomes the Initiator, the Priest, and sacrifices the lower self, the "animal" within. Such a one is the worthy athravan to whom Behram Yazata imparts these sacred teachings and spiritual gifts in the shape and form of mystic animals. Hence, conclusively, the rite of "pasu-pach" or "animal sacrifice" means killing only of the lower self, the lower instincts. It is further described that the "pasu" that is about to be sacrificed, is said to be in a state of bliss, willingness, rapturous joy. This "pasu" is "aoorushem" or "white" and domesticated or "hamo-gaon". These references to the "pasu" positively prove the allegorical, occult and mystic ritual of animal sacrifice or "pasu-pach. What we sacrifice, is worth the sacrifice. We merely give up or forsake, we merely sacrifice, we merely exchange the lower for the higher and in so doing, even the "pasu" is willing and joyous and in exalted ecstasy, blesses its own sacrificer! At the ritual city of Persepolis (Iran), where spiritual rites were celebrated, carved in bas relief is a scene depicting animal sacrifice. It is not an ordinary animal, depicting an ordinary hunting scene. This is the depiction of a ritual event. This scene is generally referred to as the "Slaying of Ahriman". The initiate is portrayed as slaying a mystic animal with feathers, wings and the tail of a scorpion. The animal combines the shape and characteristics of a bull, lion, eagle and scorpion. While the "animal" is being slayed, an umbrella personifying divine "kshathra" or glory is held over the head of the initiate indicating his victory over Ahriman. There may be many interpretations to this ritual event but one of the explanations regarding the animal is that it represents the Beast of the Apocalypse: lion, bull, scorpion and eagle whose feathers also suggest the waves of water. Also, the mystic animal symbolizes the four signs of the zodiac, namely, Leo (lion), Taurus (bull), Scorpio (scorpion), and Aquarious (water). This mystic scene greets the visitor at the entrance to the Hall where the King received his subjects and gifts; or, we may presume where the "pasu-ratu" successfully conquered his own "animal", arose as a "twice born" initiate and received the spiritual rewards and gifts from fellow initiates.
Such mystic, occult, and divine rite alone was celebrated and mentioned in our Avesta. No physical man and no physical animal, either a horse, a bull or a lamb was meant as a sacrificial victim in any ritual mandated in our religion. "Animals" represent certain spiritual faculties and attributes. The stampeding horses in the story of Asho Zarathushtra personify "mind". For us, thoughts are like a stampeding heard of horses. The undisciplined stampeding heard of thoughts often destroys our spiritual, righteous thoughts substituting these with untamed ones. In the case of Asho Zarathushtra, the white stallion represented Asho Zarathushtra Mind that kept at bay the onslaught of wild, stampeding thoughts.
Faridun Padshah was brought up by a gentle cow named Purmaye and when Zohak killed all the cows in the kingdom (meaning he killed wisdom and led men astray), Faridun made the mace "Gorz-e-Gavsar" with a cow's head, representing Divine Wisdom, to conquer Zohak. The horns of a cow symbolize the crescent moon which is associated with mind. This mace is still the ceremonial weapon against evil.
Such is the divine initiation and the divine ritual of "sacrifice", the allegorical sacrifice of "pasu-pach" as mentioned in our Avesta. If indeed divine wisdom was abused and distorted, and used as an excuse to justify evil doing, it is not the fault of the religion or the Avesta. The evil doers alone are responsible for their own thoughts, actions and consequences. Just as the Bible is written in parables and contains many levels of meanings, the Avesta too is "razeng" or mystic as mentioned in Yasna 50. Yasna 48 also affirms the teachings are "guzra-senghaongo", meaning they are occult and hidden.
Therefore, mysticism is a fundamental aspect of all religions and religious teachings. Scriptures can never be taught or understood by literal translation (philology) alone.
During the Seleucid, Parthian and Roman times when the Mithraic cult was in vogue, several groups of so-called magi gathered into societies all over Europe and Asia Minor. These were not the magi who were the true heirs to Zarthushtrian priesthood and the legal heirs to the wisdom of the great Mazdayasni Zarthushti religion. If the sham claimants to magi brotherhood or any other misguided individuals practised blood sacrifices, it is not the fault of our religion. Instead of "pasu-pach", such wrong sacrifices should be regarded as "nasu-pach".
Would it not bring supreme exultant joy to the soul of Geush Urva (personified as a cow), if each one of us, through spiritual progress, would become our own priest and "sacrifice" the animal within us in order to rise as "pasu-ratus"? We would all become our own rulers, having conquered our own little kingdom by ruling over our own "animals" within.
Pervin J. Mistry
October 8, 1989