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On Pre-Zarathushtrian Influence - Facts and Fallacies
by Sarosh J. H. Manekshaw
In this slightly lengthy essay, I will try to show the following:
That the statement: "Meher & Behram Izads, and the other Yazatas, were condemned by Zarathushtra because they were not specifically mentioned by him in the Gathas," can neither be proved right nor wrong - one simply cannot prove anything from a negative.
That Zarathushtra did, in fact, mention numerous Yazatas in the Gathas, as being beneficent beings.
That Zarathushtra classified all beings (both spiritual and material) as either "good" or "evil," - accepting the "good" and rejecting the "evil."
That we each now need to decide whether we consider the Yazatas to be either in the "Ahuric - spiritually good" or "Daevic - spiritually evil " category.
If individuals accept the Yazatas as belonging to the "Ahuric" class, then there is no reason to change the way Zarathushtis believe, because that was exactly what Zarathushtra preached in his Gathas.
If other individuals by their own "choice," wish to consider the Yazatas to be "Daevic," and hence reject them, then they are free to do so, but in doing so they are violating a fundamental principle laid down by Zarathushtra in his Gathas.
From what I have read lately, the statement has been made to the effect that since Meher Izad (Mithra) and Behram Izad (Vrethragna), and a lot of the other Yazatas, are not specifically mentioned in the Gathas, that Zarathushtra must have condemned them. The claim is that they are found in the present-day religion only because the "corrupt" priesthood, immediately following Zarathushtra, re-introduced these Yazatas into the religion, because they were the popular "gods" of the people.
May I assume that that is an accurate assessment of those "fundamentalists" who "by choice" wish to do away with the Yazatas? If not, I would like to be corrected with a more precise explanation.
If so, let us examine their statement further.
As any student should know, the most elementary rules of logic and science tell us that you CANNOT prove anything from a NEGATIVE.
True, Meher and Behram Izads (for convenience I shall only use these two names to represent the group of Yazatas) are not mentioned in the Gathas. But from their absence in the Gathas, we can draw no conclusion. Those who try to do so are merely using non-scholarly techniques to try to prove the unprovable. All we can say for certain is that they are not mentioned.
Thus, there is simply no way for anyone to prove the statement, "Meher and Behram Izads were condemned by Zarathushtra because they were not mentioned in the Gathas," either true or false.
I do hope that we can finally put this non-scholarly, unscientific and fallacious argument to rest.
So, is there any other proof that can be present to show that Zarathushtra condemned the Yazatas?
Now that at least one fallacy has debunked, what are the facts?
If the Gathas are silent on the mention of Meher and Behram Izads, how do we know what Zarathushtra’s position on the acceptance or rejections of these beings was? To answer this question we must look at the Gathas as a whole and try to draw inferences based on his extant writings.
In the Gathas Zarathushtra lists a pantheon of beneficent, spiritual beings. These include:
Other Ahuras (in the plural)
(The Amesha Spentas)
It is very obvious from this list that he considers multiple, beneficent, spiritual beings to exist, in addition to Ahura Mazda. That he specifically also mentions the Yazatas Sraosha, Atar, Ashi, etc, (and that he speaks of them in a positive vein) indicates that certainly the concept of the existence of lesser divine beings – the Yazatas – was something he approved of. (It should be noted that the term "Yazata" is not used by Zarathushtra in the Gathas, but I am using it here as a collective noun to describe the group of lesser, beneficent, spiritual beings.)
So we can safely conclude that Zarathushtra, rather than condemn the Yazatas, very specifically made mention of some of them (as beneficent beings) in the Gathas. That all are not mentioned could be for many reasons, but certainly the fact is that he did NOT condemn them ALL as a group.
Let us try to fortify this point by examining another concept presented in the Gathas by Zarathushtra.
If we analyze the Gathas, we find that in them there is a sharp dichotomy between "good" and "evil." Zarathushtra repeatedly, and pointedly, makes this distinction in every one of his hymns. This dichotomy exists, for him, both in the spiritual world as well as in the material world. He does not list a "neutral" group. In other words, for Zarathushtra, all beings, both spiritual as well as human, were either "good" or "evil," with no in-between.
In the spiritual world he speaks of the pantheon of beneficent spirits - already listed above. He also mentions the pandemonium of evil spirits, including:
The Daevas, as well as:
In the material world, he draws the distinction between "good rulers" and "evil rulers;" between followers of the Truth (Ashavans) and followers of the lie (dregvants); as well as their respective priests – the Zaotars (the "good" priests, of which Zarathushtra was one, since he calls himself that in the Gathas) and the Karapans & Usigs (who were the evil priests of the cattle rustlers and the followers of the lie).
We can see from the Gathas that Zarathushtra categorized all beings, spiritual as well as human, into one of the two classes: "good" or "evil." Further, in the Gathas he continually entreats his followers to only accept and respect the "Ahuric" beings, and to reject and condemn the "Daevic" beings.
So, the question to ask is: In which category did Zarathushtra classify the Yazatas? Did he classify them in the "Ahuric" or "Daevic" class?
I think we can, beyond a reasonable doubt, conclude that he considered them to be "Ahuric." If we look at either the pre-Zarathushtrian or post-Zarathushtrian traits of the group of Yazatas as a whole, we can be certain that these were all beneficent beings. Why else would they have been considered as Yazatas (literally, worthy of worship)? Further, he had already, in his Gathas acknowledged certain Yazatas (Sraosha, Atar, Ashi, etc.) as "Ahuric" beings.
Thus, we can safely conclude from the Gathas that Zarathushtra, on the basis of the principle of differentiating between "good" and "evil" beings, could NOT have condemned the Yazatas as a class. If he had, that would have created a major contradiction in his principles and doctrines.
The community currently consists of two groups of individuals:
Group 1: These are the "Zarathushtis" who believe the Yazatas to be beneficent spirits. They see Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas and the Yazatas jointly making up the pantheon of "Ahuric" beings. They believe in protecting and preserving the religion as it was handed down to them generation after generation, for 3,500 years.
Group 2: There are those who, by their "choice," wish to reject the Yazatas. They also choose not to recognize the Yasna, the Yashts, the Visperad, the Vendidad or the Khordeh Avesta as part of the sacred literature. In addition, they wish to abandon the priesthood, as well as time-honored rituals. They wish to destroy the Zarathushti traditions and model their new religion on Islamic / Judeo-Christian fundamentalism.
The individuals in Group 1 believe that the basic foundation of the Zarathushti religion is built on the Gathas, and that the structure of the religion is built around the Traditions developed over three and-a-half millennia – in other words, the Zarathushti religion is an evolving continuum from Zarathushtra's time to the present. They see the Yazatas as beneficent beings, and recognize that even Zarathushtra rejected the "Principle of Inclusion" since he called for including into his brotherhood only those who are "good," while totally rejecting the "evil."
The people in Group 2 have, by their own "choice," created for themselves a double contradiction. First, they claim that they believe in the exclusiveness of the Gathas, yet by rejecting the Yazatas they violate a most fundamental Gathic Principle: that Zarathushtra himself accepted all "Ahuric" beings. Second, they have on the one hand vigorously called for "total" inclusion yet, on the other hand, they are shouting for the rejection (exclusion) of the Yazatas from the pantheon of "Ahuric" beings.
The people in the two groups are treading down two diametrically opposite paths. True, all individuals have the "choice" of which path to follow, but the choice should be made on complete knowledge (which implies studying for themselves and understanding the history and tenets of the religion – as opposed to just listening to what someone else has to say) and on reason (which implies looking beyond the "spin" put out by those who have a vested interest in promoting their point of view).
I recommend that we each think about the above and reach our own conclusions as to which we wish to choose – the path of fact or fiction.
With my best wishes,
Sarosh J. H. Manekshaw