The History and Significance of the Amesa Spentas

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The Amesa Spentas, otherwise known as the Amesha Spentas, are not deities the general public recognises on first glance. Unfortunately in today’s contemporary society, only the major gods, such as Zeus, Isis, Osiris and Odin for example, are recognised. However, the more obscure deities, such as the Amesa Spentas, can provide us with information into the lives and religious identity of a culture. 

The Amesa Spentas are the holy immortals of Zoroastrianism. They were later grouped into a special class of archangels, named “Vohu Mano, the “Good Mind” (of God); Asa Vahista, the “Best [World] Order,” Hsathra Vairya, the “Desired Kingdom” (of God); Spenta Armaiti, “Holy Piety,” Haurvatat and Ameretat, “Physical Perfection” and “Immortality”; to which might also be added Sraosa, “Obedience.” The latter is often supposed to have been added in order to complete the number “seven,” since “obedience” can hardly be termed a divine attribute” (Albright, p.234).

Historians have translated a prayer which is addressed to the Amesa Spentas, which states “At whose sacrifice Ahura Mazda knows the best for me according to righteousness. Those who were and are, those I shall worship by their names, and shall approach with praise” (Boyce, p.18-19).

This prayer has been of importance to the study of Zoroastrianism. The worship and invocation by the prophet of divinities other than Ahura Mazda, however subtle the doctrine of their relationship with the supreme god, is not consonant with a theory of his strict monotheism. It has also been suggested by scholars that the Amesa Spentas had a special closeness with the worship of Ahura Mazda and the protective powers of Mithras (Boyce, p.33).

In standard Zoroastrian doctrine, the first six Amesa Spentas , have respective connections with the series of creations – Vohu Mano with cattle; Asa Vahista with fire; Hsathra Vairya with metals; Spenta Armaiti with earth; Haurvatat with water; and Ameretat with plants. Concerning the seventh, Sraosa, one scholars states that “Ahura Mazda himself had his own special creation, that of man, who comes at the beginning of the series” (Barr, p.207).

When looking at the significance of the Amesa Spentas in regards of history and religion, or the history of religion, it has been argued amongst scholars that they were part of the model Hebrew angelology developed, although the names and functions of the Amesa Spentas, and the nature of the entities as revealed by them, are very far removed from what counted as angels in most stages of Judaism (Barr, p.222).

Regardless of the fact that the Amesa Spentas are not well known in today’s society, they provide us with great insight into the culture and society of ancient Mesopotamia.

Bibliography:

Albright, W. F. (1927) Note on the Goddess Anat, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, The University of Chicago Press.

Barr, James (1985) The Question of Religious Influence:  The Case of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Oxford University Press.

Boyce, Mary (1969) On Mithra’s Part in Zoroastrianism, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies.

Cotterell, Arthur & Storm, Rachel (1999) The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hermes House, Anness Publishing House.

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