The History and Significance of the God Ahura Mazda

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In the last 5,000 years of our history, the diverse cultures that have made up this world (both ancient and contemporary) have given birth to thousands of gods, goddesses, spirits, demons, monsters, semi-divine beings, heroes and divine animals.

One of our richest sources of mythology can be found from ancient Mesopotamia. Located in the modern day Middle and Near East, ancient Mesopotamian mythology has provided us not only with a rich cultural heritage but a distinct way of gaining insight into the lives of the ancient Mesopotamian.

The mythology of this region can be reflected in the geography of the land; the Mesopotamians depended on the agricultural cycle, like that of the ancient Egyptians, which was made fertile by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Like the Nile, however, these rivers were prone to sudden flooding and could be unpredictable. In addition to this, the people were under constant pressure from hostile neighbours threatening to invade their lands. Due to this, the mythology frequently featured life as a constant battle between order and chaos and many deities had dual natures.

We can see this in the god, Ahura Mazda (also spelt Ohrmazd). As the supreme god in the Avesta, Ahura Mazda’s role was the ordering of the universe and upholding the cosmic order. The two epithets of the Old Iranian supreme god that make up his name, mazdd and ahura, may refer to his two functions as primordial poet-sacrificer god, who by his divine sacrifice created the ordered cosmos, and as ruler of the universe and father of many of its constituents, respectively . 

According to one scholar, Ahura Mazda was the recorder of all statements ever (this can be ascribed to ritual poems), who then passes judgement on them. Additionally, he “protects his creatures against the forces of evil and his Ordered cosmos against the chaos of the Lie, the cosmic deception that wishes to lead his creatures astray. Thus, the epithets of the supreme deity refer to a double function: politico-legal and poetic-sacral. It is as the supreme, cosmic ruler that he, like the Achaemenid king, ensures peace and prosperity for the world, and it is in his capacity as supreme poet-sacrificer that he judges the output of poet-sacrificers in this world to see if they are competent and guarantees their fees and livelihood.”

Ahura Mazda was considered to be the supreme god and under the Achaemenians (who ruled from c.558 – 330 BCE) he became the patron deity of the royal house. In Zoroastrianism, the god was believed to make light visible, and so he was usually depicted as the sun. When the movement known as Zurvanism, Ahura Mazda was regarded as the offspring of Zurvan Akarana (‘Infinite Time’), which then explained the problems of Ahura Mazda creating evil or, at least, allowing it to exist.

Bibliography:

Skjaervo, Prods Oktor (2002) Ahura Mazda and Armaiti, Heaven and Earth, in the Avesta, Journal of the American Oriental Society, American Journal Association.

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