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VOL. XVIII.- No. III.
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The Religion of Zoroaster.
[Continued.] HERODOTUS remarked that of all people the Persians were the most ready to adopt the customs of other nations; and a modern Parsee has borne frequent and willing testimony to the facility with which his brethren in India fell in with the practices of the Hindoos, and now copy the habits and institutions of the English. A people of mild temper, and on the whole remarkably free from bigotry, they have been ready to learn from every source; and their opportunities have been ample. They occupied a position almost in the geographical centre of the old world, in intimate connection with the three leading races of men by whom it was peopled. The great highways of ancient commerce ran along the foot of the mountains which bordered Iran on the south-east and the north-west, and marked it out as the first common ground of traffic; while the gold of the desert of Cobi and the products of the Indian mines furnished a ready medium of exchange.?
The people of Iran belonged, as we have seen, to the great Indo-European family of nations, with the Hindoo branch of which they were most intimately connected. Along their northern border roamed the many tribes of Turan-fleet riders and irresistible invaders—who formed from the earliest times a considerable part of the population of Media and Sogdiana, and who exercised a constant and sometimes a preponderating influence. On their west, and equally mingled among them, were the so-called children of Shem, the populations of Syria, Babylonia and Palestine; to say nothing of the Greek deposit left by the conquest of Alexander. So many ways were there for the infiltration of foreign customs and modes of thought, among a people proverbially ready to borrow.
Of these various sources, the original family one was unquestionably the chief. When it is remembered that the
1 Heeren's Researches, i. 257. VOL. XVIII. 19
language of the Veda, of the older parts of the Aresta, and of the cunciform inscriptions presents only such diversity as is to be found among the dialects spoken in the several shires of Great Britain, or in the various provinces of Germany, we should expect to find very many coincidences between the religious traditions and observances of India and those of Iran. Yet we would again caution the reader against concluding that the one is lineally derived from the other, or that the Zend religion has any immediate connection with the very gross idolatry of the modern Hindoos. The evidence only shows a common and remote origin for both, the point of departure being that primitive nature worship presented in the hymns of the Rig Veda, while yet Hindooism had not grown and spread like the banian, embracing all manner of beasts and birds and creeping things within its shadowy labyrinths. We will here note a very few of the objects which are the common inheritance of both Indian and Iranian. The original three-fold division into the castes of priests, warriors, and husbandmen, the initiatory rite of girding the young neophyte with a sacred cord or emblematic girdle, and the use of the homa, or soma plant, which is at once a vegetable product, a hero and a celestial genius, are points common and fundamental to both peoples. Many characters of their mythology are in like manner a common inheritance. Thus the vedic Yama, the king of the dead, is the Yima of the Vendidad, the chief of the golden age, or of Paradise, the Jemshid of later fable ; the Zend Mithra is, as we have already observed, the vedic Mitra, the sun ; Haug has shown that Armaiti, the name of the Amshaspand who is guardian of the earth, is in the Rig Veda a name for the earth itself, and according to Roth, the vedic Adityas are identical with the Amshaspands.3 The same is true of a number of other personages. The dog with four eyes and yellow ears, led by the Parsees along the road which a corpse has been carried over, is but a slight variation of the two dogs of Yama. In the copious quotations from the Veda, with which Prof. Max Müller has illustrated his dissertation on the Funeral Rites of the Hindoos, those dogs of the under world are described in precisely the same terms as the animal prescribed in the Vendidad. It may be added that they are designated by a term believed to be identical in its etymology with the Greek Cerberos.
2 Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft viii. 770. 3 Ibid. vi. 4 Spiegel's Avesta, ii. 143.
It is worth remarking, however, that the personages common to both religions have generally different, or even opposite characters in each. The gods of the one people are very generally the devils of the other. So Ahura, the supreme god of the Zoroastrians, is the fiend, Asura of the Hindoos; and on the other hand Indra, the chief god of the Veda, becomes in the hands of the Iranians, Andra, or Ander, one of the principal devils. Even the common designation of the one people for a celestial divinity is to the other the name for an infernal spirit. The Sanscrit diva, a god, a name spread through all the Indo-European languages, and recurring as the Greek Zeus (gen with Acolic degamma Divos) and Lithuanian daevas is the Zend daeva, a spirit of darkness. This seems to be evidently the result of mutual and sectarian hate, and is closely paralleled in the history of Christianity. Not only did Milton people his Pandemonium with the gods of the ancient nations, but the Apostle Paul indignantly declares, “ The things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God.” 5
In addition to this primitive ground-work lying deeper than the distinction between Indian and Iranian, the religion of Zoroaster was probably affected in some degree by a later influence emanating from India itself. That disturbing power was Buddhism. Sakya-Muni, the founder of that most wonderful system, lived, according to oriental chronology, in the last quarter of the seventh century before Christ, and was therefore contemporary with Hezekiah in Palestine, and the Seven Sages of Greece. This barren gospel,—the first nevertheless ever offered to all mankindwas preached by zealous missionaries through all India and the high countries of Central Asia, promulgated in Siam, China and Tartary, carried to the borders of the arctic circle in Siberia, and ultimately confronted Christianity and European civilization in Russia and Sweden. Buddhist missionaries had reached China as early as 217 before Christ, and about the year 120 B. C., a Chinese general, after defeating the barbarous tribes to the north of the desert of Cobi, brought home, as a trophy of his victories, a golden
51 Cor. x. 20. So also Lev. xvii. 7. Deut. xxxii. 17. 2 Chron. xi 15. Psa. cvi. 37. 6 Max Müller's Buddhism and Buddhist Pilgrims.