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Fire "Athra" and Fiery Test

Gathic Illustration


Dr. Darius Jahanian

State of Illumination
Nature of Light...
The Light of Lights...
School of Illumination...


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Spiritual men, through illumination of the mind, envision The Light. Shah Nematollah Wali, a fifteenth-century Persian Sufi, expresses this state of mind: "Be sure that any eye which sees Light has seen it only by the Light itself."(1) In a simpler term, "One should illumine in order to see the Light." The state of illumination and beholding light is reflected in different verses of the Gathas, e.g., in 31.8, Zarathushtra realizes God by grasping Him in vision,(2),(3),(4) and in 45.8, the Prophet declares, "I beheld Him clearly in my mind's eye."(5)

Yasna 43 reflects meditation and attainment of divine illumination as correctly titled by Bode, since many verses begin with "I realized You God when I was encircled by good mind VohuMana," and Yasna 29.8 indicates a relevance when VohuMana picks Zarathushtra for prophet-hood as it allegorically illustrates that the prophet through VohuMana (contemplation) has attained illumined mind and the knowledge of God. Finally, Zarathushtra discovers that silent meditation is the best for attainment of spiritual enlightenment (43.15),(5) and in two verses (43.4-43.9)he alludes to the envisioned fire.

State of Illumination

The key is VohuMana or good mind, wisdom and good thinking, which has a very prominent place in the Gathas. Wisdom stands first among the list of the divine attributes, whereby the others (Truth, Strength, Love, Wholeness and Immortality) are perceived and imbibed, the path to God is treaded and the state of illumination attained, at which point man beholds The Light and becomes one with God. This is indeed a state of extinction in which man's being incorporates into God.  God upholds the best mind, which brightens our mind (31.7). He pours out His holy wisdom on all living beings (45.6).(5) Through His Wisdom, God Has fashioned the world (31.11), ordained the creation with universal order (Asha)(31.7), and granted man free will to make his choice (31.11). The divine dominion (Khashathra) is the fruit and blessing of wisdom (30.8, 31.5, 31.6, 33.15), and through wisdom God is realized (28.6, 33.6, 34) and the path to God is found (28.5- 5.6).(6) Good thinking generates good words and good deeds, which lead the world to evolution and perfection.

Nature of Light and the True Meaning of Fiery Test

In Islam, "God is The Light of the heavens and the earth, Koran XXIV, 35"(I) In the Bible, "God is a consuming fire, Himself comes very fire and in The Old Testament and the Koran, He manifests to Moses as fire.(9)(10)(1l)

In the Gathas, the envisioned light is a divine one and fire is only a faculty of God which, like other divine qualities, is shared by man. It represents the divine wisdom (VohuMana) and man's knowledge of God. When VohuMana comes to Zarathushtra he Realizes God, and it is VohuMana who picks him for prophet-hood (29.8). This fire is called by Zarathushtra Mainyu Athra (31.3), which means spiritual or mental fire, an abstract or inner fire and not a physical one. It is radiated by The Divine Wisdom or the best mind (VohuMana) 43.9 and VahishtaMana 31.7), brightens mind (31.7) and brings the strength of VohuMana (wisdom)(43.4). The working of the divine fire and wisdom in hardship enlightens one’s inner-self, whereby one receives salvation (46.7 Kemna Mazda).

The divine fire is empowered by truth (Asha)~(34.4-43.4), whereby the rewards of two groups of righteous and wrongful are determined (31.3,31.19, 34.4,43.4,47.6), hence Asha, or truth and justice prevails (46.7).  This is the fiery test (or ayangha Khshushta 51.9 and 32.7,30.7, literally molten metal) that illustrates The Law of Asha or action and reaction(12) and once comprehended many seekers will convert (31.3-47.6). As noted, the fiery test is also a spiritual one. In this context the unburning fire that the legendary Seyavash, for the proof of his innocence, passed through,(13) and the unburning molten zinc that Adharbad Maraspand, for the proof of accuracy of the religious books, applied to his chest,(14) should be construed in allegorical and spiritual terms.

The Light of Lights and Absolute Wisdom

According to the Gathas, The Divine Light radiates other lights (31.7)(6) (Light of lights), God upholds the Best Mind (or Vahishta Mana) that brightens minds (31.7),(6) his wisdom pervades all the living beings (45.6).(5)  Sobravardi, a twelfth-century Persian philosopher, compares God to Light of lights(4)(15) from Whom other lights are radiated that are not separated from the Source, but enriched by it and the first light or the most proximal one to the Source is Bahman (VohuMana). Considering the above analogy, one can conclude that the Divine Light in Yasna 31.7 signifies God and the radiated lights are indeed His attributes the prominent one being His Absolute Wisdom from which man's wisdom emanates.  Sohravardi, in another text, defines God as the essence of First Absolute Light who gives constant illumination whereby it is manifested. . Everything in the world is derived from the Light of His Essence… and to attain fully to this illumination is salvation.(1) (State of illumination—also see 46.7)

Seyyed Ahinad Alavi, a prominent scholar of the school of illumination (eshragh) after discussing the concept of emanation of existence from the Source (God) or derivation of many from a single unit which is the  essence of Sohravardi's view, maintains that this notion is from Zarathushtra.(16)

The concepts of illumination and joining the beloved (God), unity of mankind and oneness of their origin, have profound roots in the Persian mysticism and they derive from the Gathas. Persian mysticism may be compared to a river that temporarily went underground but eventually surfaced during the Islamic period. In the words of Jami, a fifteenth-century Persian poet.(1)

    The Essences are each a separate Glass
    Through which the Sun of Being's Light is passed.
    Each tinted fragment Sparkles in the Sun
    A thousand colors but the Light is One.

And in the words of Saadi:(17)

Mankind is the body, men as the limbs
    Of one essence at the dawn of genesis.

School of Illumination in the Islamic Period of Iran
Many Iranian gnostics of the Islamic era have contributed to the Persian mysticism by utilizing the philosophy of ancient Iran.(16)  They were able to differentiate the Gathic songs of Zarathushtra from the religion introduced by the clergy of the Sassanian era. These writings present the true philosophy of Zarathushtra and the concept of illumination. The founder of this school of Islamic era is Sohravardi (Sheikh el Eshragh or the Sheikkh of illumination), who for his Zoroastrian views was martyred and is known as Sheikh the martyr.  He certainly had access to Zoroastrian literature and at his time the spoken language of the city of Zanjan where he lived was Pahlavi. Three of the followers of this school are Mirdamad and his two students, Ashkevari and Mulla Sadra.(18)

Fire in this school is a Gnostic term and is used as a means of enlightening or consuming a devotee to attain truth and love, and join the abode of the beloved (God).

In the ancient Iranian mysticism, the true Gnostic is KeiKhosrow, who, prior to his ascension, undergoes physical cleaning, wears white attire and resides in a fire temple so that by proximity to the symbolic fire, his being purifies as pure gold. This is an allegorical expression of enlightenment or illumination in which one ecstasies and feels nonexistent and his being becomes incorporated in the Essence of God. In mystical terms, hard hearts melt by this fire as a molten iron, in the words of Movlavi Roomi who vociferates: “I am fire, I am fire."  The term of molten metal in the philosophy of ancient Iran or "glowing and consuming in oven" is an allegorical means of attaining the Ashoi, Truth and Love. This fire, in its broadest mystical term, is the science of discovery and recognition of God, the divine knowledge that descends as fire to Zarathushtra.  It is said he holds it in hands without being burned. It should be added that God’s being manifests as a glaring fire to Zarathushtra, and VohuMana, which signifies the perfect knowledge of God, is presented to the prophet as a man embodied in absolute light.(16)  In the Koran, too, Moses beholds a distant fire and tells his wife, “I will bring a part of it or will lead myself into its light.”(9)(11)


Fire and fiery test should be construed in spiritual terms. Fire in the Gathas represents the divine wisdom that on reckoning delivers justice. In humans, it indicates illumination or bright mind, whereby God is realized; hence, in its broadest mystical term, it is the science of discovery of God. Fiery test, or the test of molten metal, is indeed a spiritual purification and refinement process to attain love and perfection an4 join the abode of the Beloved. This process is summarized by Movlavi Roomi: “I was raw, I was roasted, I was consumed." In the words of Zarathushtra such a person who has passed the fiery test, has attained physical and spiritual strength, wisdom, truth and love with serenity (30.7), and belongs to God.(2)


1 Nasr, S. II., Iran. the Bridge of Turquoise.
Jafarey, Ali A., The Gathas, Our Guide.
Jahanian, D., An Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathushtra, No.10, July 1990, p.20.
Vahidi, H., A Research in the Zoroastrian Culture,(in Persian).
Bode, F. A., Songs of Zarathushtra.
Taraporewala, I. S., The Religion of Zarathushtra.
Isaiah 66.16.
Hebrews 12.29.
Koran, Teh9-10.
Exodus 3:2-5.
Koran, 20.10-12,27.7-9, 28.29-30.
Mehr, F., The Philosophy of Zarathushtra, p.110 (in Persian).
Parto Aazam, A., The Fiery Test.
Azargoshasb, F., Gathas, The Songs of Zarathushtra, (in Persian).
Vahidi, H., Concept of Asha, (in Persian).
Razi, H., Ghotbeddin Ashkevari, monthly Faravahar, No.334 (in Persian).
Translatjan by D. Jahanian.
Other scholars mentioned include: Haj Mohammad Hidaji, Shamseddin MohammadShahrzuri, Abu Yazid Teyfur, Javanmard (Fati) Peysa (Beiza) or Hallaj, AbolAbbas Ghassab Amoli, AbolHassan Kherghani, and Henry Corbin, a French author.
Sethna, T.R, The Teachings of Zarathushtra.
Cama, L., An Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathushtra, No.7, July 1990,
Jafarey, A., Stot Yasn, (in Persian).