The earth is an angel
I Part II Part
"My mother is Spendarmat, the Archangel of
the Earth, and my father is Ohrmazd,
the Lord of Wisdom." - The profession of faith of the Mazdean believer
upon his initiation at the age of fifteen (Pand-Namak Zartusht)
In his book Spiritual
Body and Celestial Earth, the
famous French Iranologue Henry
Corbin  precedes his analysis of Zoroastrian Mazdaism with
a reflection on a powerful and captivating image: that
of the Earth as an angel of the utmost beauty, an eternal
presence perceived and meditated through the ages. As
we will see, Mazdean angelology
indeed recognized and experienced the presence of a feminine Archangel of
the Earth, Spendarmat or Spenta Armaiti.
In this article, I will try to present a coherent albeit succinct gathering
of the Mazdean angelology and some
related issues based almost entirely on Corbin's work. The next
article in the series will try to shed light on the restoration,
in the 12th century, of some of the Zoroastrian motifs by Sohrawardi,
the great Islamic philosopher of light.
The Mazdean Angelology
Angelology is one of the main characteristics of the Zoroastrian Mazdaism, for which reason the latter can not be reduced
to a monolithic type of monotheism; on the other hand it is also clearly
distinct from pre-Zoroastrian polytheism.
The spiritual disposition of Mazdean angelology,
as preserved by the Avesta, or at least the part of it which has survived,
namely the psalms (Gathas) of Zarathustra and
the Pahlavi commentaries and traditions,
pictures a merciless battle between Ohrmazd (the Avestan Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (the Avestan Angra Mainyu) with Earth as battlefield.
Ohrmazd is always
surrounded by six Powers of Light; together they form the divine Heptad of Holy Immortals or Amahraspands (the Avestan Amerta Spenta). The Heptad is divided in two groups: three masculine Archangels
on the right of Ohrmazd, three feminine
archangels on his left. All seven together created the Earth
and the beings by a liturgical act, that is, by celebrating the
heavenly Liturgy .
Each of them, by virtue of the Energy that overflows from its being, brings
forth the fraction of the beings that represents its personal
spiritual character. Ohrmazd brings
forth the human being of Light. Of the masculine Archangels, Vohu Manah (Bahman in Persian) is the protector of the animal creation, Arta Vahishta (Urdibihisht in Persian) governs Fire, and Xshathra Vairyu (Shahrivar in Persian) governs the
Of the feminine Archangels, Spenta Armaiti (Isfandarmuz in Persian)
represents the Earth and the woman of Light, Haarvatat (Khurdad in Persian) rules the aquatic
world, and Amertat (Murdad in
Persian) is the archangel of the plants. These spiritual relations
indicate to human beings precisely how to meet the invisible
Powers of Light and cooperate with them for the salvation of
The archangels are helped the countless multitude of feminine celestial entities
called Fravarti (literally, "those
who have chosen", meaning those who have chosen to fight on Ohrmazd's side
against Ahriman). Fravartis are,
at the same time, the celestial archetypes or angels of beings: Every
physical or moral entity has its Fravarti.
This essential dualism of being expresses the dramatic metamorphosis undergone
by the Creation of Light when invaded by the demonic powers.
A seemingly eternal and unmovable characteristic of the Iranian
soul, this deep-rooted duality is beautifully and poignantly
rendered in the description of the formation of the mountains
in the Mazdean book of Genesis (Bundahishn):
Under attack by the demonic Powers of Ahriman,
the Earth began to tremble; it shook in horror and rebellion.
As if to set up a rampart against these powers, the Earth raised up its
The duality translates into the menok (heavenly) state and the getik (earthly, material) state
of beings. It is notable that the getik state does not imply permanent degradation or
corruption of being; it was before the Ahrimanian invasion,
and it will be thereafter, a state of light and peace. Every
being can be thought of in its menok state,
as well as in its getik state. For example, in its heavenly state,
the earth is called Zam; in its getik state it is called Zamik (Zamin in
The perception of the getik state is enabled by the transmutation, through
active imagination, of sensory data into symbols to be deciphered,
the "key" being imprinted in the soul itself. Hence
the imagination does not construct something unreal, but unveils
the hidden reality of an underlying archetype . This is exactly
equivalent to the ta'wil, the spiritual hermeneutics  practiced by the spirituals
of Islam and by the alchemists (occultation of the apparent,
manifestation of the hidden).
The feminine angel Daena  "who
is the daughter of Spenta Armaiti" is the celestial "I" of humans. It
is to her that the Fravartis will answer after
the death at the entrance to the Chinvat Bridge.
It is for his angel Daena that the incarnate Fravarti battles the Ahrimanian horror
and contributes to the final transfiguration of the Earth.
The energy that enables this transmutation is called Xvarnah in the Avesta (Khurrah or Farrah in
Persian) which means Light of Glory. In iconography, it is usually
represented by the luminous halo (such as the ones which haloe the
kings and priests of the Mazdean religion).
Corbin suggests that the farrah is not a quality
inherent in material substances; phenomenologically ,
it should be understood as the primordial image of itself which
the soul projects. Thus, the Earth, for instance, can be seen
in its heavenly person, as an angel.
Iran-Vej: The Land of Visions
According to the Mazdean visionary geography, the
Earth is divided into seven keshvars, one central keshvar surrounded by six peripheral keshvars.
Iran-Vej (literally, the cradle or seed of the
Aryans) is at the center of this mythic Earth.
Gayomart, the primordial
Man, was created in Iran-Vej. When
he died, Spenta Armaiti gathered his seed
and, from it, created the first human couple, Mahryag-Mahryanag (In
this sense, the first humans were truly the children of Spenta Armaiti).
The two beings were so closely united that the male could not
be distinguished from the female. This state of prefect union
was destroyed by Ahriman and from the
scission of the total being into Adam and Eve resulted the
It is in Iran-Vej that the Kayanids,
the heroes of legend, were created and Zarathustra had
his visions. It is in Iran-Vej that Yima was ordered to build an enclosure, a Var, to preserve, from the mortal winter unleashed by the
demonic Powers, the elect from all beings ("the fairest,
the most gracious"), so that they may repopulate some day
a transfigured world.
The Bridge of Chinvat which,
at the dawn that rises after the third night following death,
the soul has to cross in order to reach the heavenly Lights, is
also situated in Iran-Vej. Most importantly,
it is in Iran-Vej that will be born
the Saoshyant (Savior,
Persian Sorösh) who will destroy Ahriman and
bring about the Transfiguration of the Earth (Frashkart).
Corbin suggests that the effort to situate Iran-Vej according
to positive geography is illusory (even though most orientalists agree that Zarathustra originated
in central Asia,
at the eastern boundary of the Iranian world). According to him,
the representation of the Earth with its seven keshvars is an archetype-figure,
an instrument for meditation, a mandala.
the Mazdean Mode of Being
According to the Zaratusht-Nama,
at the age of thirty, Zarathustra entered Iran-Vej. His arrival took place on the last day of the year, Nowruz eve. There, he had his ecstatic visions. The heavenly
angels initiated him into wisdom. According to Corbin, Zarathustra's encounter with his heavenly "I" prefigures
not only the final Transfiguration of the Earth (Frashkart) but also the individual
eschatological event which awaits all human beings: The meeting with the
angel Daena at the entrance of the Chinvat Bridge.
In this regard, it is remarkable that Iranian graphic art has always strived
to represent landscapes transfigured by the Light of Glory that
the soul projects onto them. It is essentially a symbolic art,
an iconography of the landscape of Farrah.
Additionally, the art of cultivating gardens is perceived by
Iranians as an actualization of a paradisiacal vision of Iran-Vej .
The purpose of theses iconographies of the visionary geography
of Iran-Vej is to offer a support for
meditation in order to prepare the human being for his rebirth
through the encounter with his celestial "I", Daena who is the daughter of Mother Earth.
The Mazdean profession
of faith  establishes a filial relationship between humans
and celestial entities. The individual is no more bound by the
terrestrial boundaries of birth and death. As the son of the
Earth Mother, he vows to fight against Ahriman and
demonic humans by Thought, Word and Action, and contribute to
the Frashkart and the expulsion of
the demonic forces from Ohrmazd's creation.
Hence, this relationship creates a specific mode of being and
responsibility conforming to the provident action of the feminine Archangel of
the Earth. A mode of being so remote, ancient, and mortified
that few recall it, yet so close, timeless and imperious that
it may well be woven into the Destiny of our Nation.
 Corbin (1903-1978), who was the first French translator of Heidegger,
encountered Sohrawardi, almost by accident,
when his mentor gave him a copy of the Hikmat Ishraqi. This encounter left a lifelong impression on him:
He devoted the rest of his life to the development of a highly original
phenomenological framework, based on spiritual hermeneutics or ta'wil, for understanding the unique Iranian spiritual genius.
He demonstrated the remarkable constancy, pre- and post-Islam, of the
main tenets of this genius. Apart from the clear and persistent imprint
of Heidegger's phenomenology, Corbin also, occasionally, resorts to some
of the theoretical constructs of his friend C.G. Jung whom he regularly
met at the Eranos conferences. However, this latter affinity, or at
least explicit reference to it by use of such consecrated Jungian terms
as archetype, mandala, deep psychology, collective
unconscious, imago, anima, etc., tends to decrease in Corbin's later
 Notice a striking similarity with J.R. Tolkien's account
of the creation of the world in The Silmarillion.
 C.G. Jung rejects Freudian accounts of infant sexuality as the source of libido. He developed a rich account
of the unconscious, positing shared primordial žarchetypesÓ as
elements established innately in the collective unconscious
of all human beings rather than as features of individual personality.
 The hermeneutical process consists
in a particular method of žinterpretationÓ of texts. It involves
a complex interaction between the interpreting subject and
the interpreted object. The task is complicated by the apparent
circularity of understanding some elements in light of the
text as a whole, which can, in turn, be understood only by
reference to them÷ Ta'wil or spiritual hermeneutics consists in "bringing
back" the data to their origin, to their archetype. Ta'wil is, therefore, essentially the exegesis
of symbols, the bringing out of hidden spiritual meaning from
the material data of external history. It is a technique commonly
used by Shi'ite philosophers (Sohrawardi, Molla Sadra, Mirdamad ... ) for the interpretation of Islamic religious texts.
 Under the Sassanid reign, Daena became the Pahlavi word den which signified the whole of the Zoroastrian Mazdaism religion
with its rites, moral precepts and scared texts. The Pahlavi word den then
penetrated the Aramean language and
finally became the commonly used Arab word din, signifying religion in general.
 Phenomenology is a rigorous philosophical method first described by
Edmund Husserl and later considerably
expanded by Martin Heidegger. The method consists in describing
the experience or awareness of things in a manner which does
not reduce them to scientific data. By focusing on the act of
experiencing (i.e., the intellectual process of which we are
introspectively aware) rather on the thing being experienced,
and by not making assumptions about the supposed causal connections
to existent objects, the phenomenologist produces a new kind
of knowledge and can account for things unthinkable within the
reductive limitations of science.
 The word "Paradise" is
derived from the Avestan noun pairidaeza, "a
wall enclosing a garden or orchard" which is composed of pairi, "around" and daeza, "wall".
The preposition pairi is related to
the equivalent Greek form peri,
as in perimeter. Daeza comes from the
Indo-European root dheigh, "to mold,
form, shape". Zoroastrian religion
encouraged maintaining arbors, orchards,
and gardens, and even the kings of austere Sparta were
edified by seeing the Great King of Persia planting and maintaining
his own trees in his own garden.
 "My mother is Spendarmat, the archangel
of the Earth, and my father is Ohrmazd,
the Lord of Wisdom." (Pand-Namak Zartusht)