Zoroastrian Mysticism I: The Mysticism of the Gathas

One of the questions that is most often asked about Zoroastrianism by non-Zoroastrians is whether there is a mystical side to the faith. Jews have their Hasidim, Christians have a long history of mystical experiences, writing, and practices; Islam has Sufism. Are there Zoroastrian mystics, and was Zarathushtra himself a mystical Prophet as well as a religious and social reformer?

The subject of mysticism is a difficult one because there is a large amount of misdirection, misinformation, fear, and just plain contempt for mysticism. On one side of the matter, there is an endlessly proliferating forest of miracle-stories, pseudoscience, magic, crystal-gazing, astrology, speculations about the future and the past, imaginative interpretations of scripture and history, and various 19th and 20th century ideological movements featuring a mixture of the "hidden" traditions of East and West. All this is thought, by many, to be what "mysticism" means. But this is not mysticism: this is esotericism, which is outside the theme of this essay.

On the other side there is the attitude of academics and humanists, who either deny that mysticism is important or deny that it is relevant to their studies; they regard it as a concession to irrationality. The important thing about a religion, to them, is not its unmeasurable and subjective mysticism, but its philosophical, moral, and social teachings, along with its texts and documentable history. The rest is for private inspiration only.

As a result, many excellent texts about Zoroastrianism, whether they are written by Westerners or by Zoroastrians, fall into one or the other of these categories, usually the latter. The modern drive to reform Zoroastrianism has caused the reformers to model themselves after the rationalists of the West, and thus mysticism is discounted or ignored. (There are some fine exceptions, such as the work of Dr. Farhang Mehr and the text-analysis of Dr. Helmut Humbach; both openly deal with mystical topics.)

Therefore before I write anything about Zoroastrian mysticism I must define my terms and what I am working with. A mystic is someone who believes, or is believed, to have had a direct experience of the Deity, or God. I define mysticism as an ongoing life lived in the presence of God, a God to which the mystic relates as a Beloved as well as a Source of Wisdom. This mysticism is rationally tested but transcends any rational explanation. Some of the basic factors of the mystical life, as cited by mystics and mystical writings are: a powerful sense of a divine Presence, with which one can sustain inner dialogue and prayer (in the imagination, mentally), the loving and friendly quality of that Presence, the increase in intelligence and alertness it brings - which is often related to a concept of God as Divine Wisdom - a feeling of happiness and peace, and, as a sign, the inner perception of brilliant light. These experiences can be simulated, or counterfeited, by various mind- altering techniques or drugs, but the true experience can be measured by its power to bring about personal and moral transformation towards what is good and constructive - what Zoroastrians call the path of ASHA, or Righteousness.

I believe that the mystical life is universal, and that, in varying contexts and varying degrees, such contacts with the God of Light happen to people in every religion and in every time. But each mystic, of course, describes his/her experience in the context of his/her own faith. The Gathas of Zarathushtra, in my opinion, show that Zarathushtra, their author, is speaking from just such an authentic mystical experience.

These mystical experiences are easily describable in Zoroastrian terms. The mystical perception of God in the "inner eye" or "imagination", the mystical Light, the sense of divine Wisdom, the love between God and human, the infusion of virtue, courage, and perseverence - all these basic factors clearly exist in the Gathas. Anyone who says that there is no mysticism in Zoroastrianism or the Gathas has misunderstood the Gathas, or else has closed himself off to the mystical side of life. In the Gathas (and other texts) mysticism is hidden in plain sight.

Here are some of the ways that true mystical experience blazes forth in Zarathushtra's Gathas.

Yasna 28, the first Song of the Gathas, is composed of grand invocations; it is sung by the Prophet in relationship with God and with his prophetic community. In verse 28,2 Z. speaks of the mystical means of that relationship, how it comes about: "Wise God, I approach you through good mind..."(Jafarey translation)

The simple phrase "through good mind," speaks of a high level of mystical experience. S. Insler, another modern translator of the Gathas, translates _vohu manah_, the original Avestan, as "Good Thinking;" but this misses the point of the Prophet's mystical way. Good Thinking is a human virtue, and approaching God through good thinking is something a non-mystical liberal Protestant or rationalist humanist would say. It is far more than "good thinking" to Zarathushtra. Good Mind is a living emanation of the Wise Lord. To approach ("be encircled by" in literal translation) Good Mind is to achieve communion, through the mind, with the Divine Mind, or Divine Intelligence. It is a sharing of the divine Mind through the cooperation of human mind and Divine communication. Through this union of minds comes perception of divine information, the laws of humanity and nature - perception of ASHA.

Thus, in verse 4, Zarathushtra describes himself as "attuned to" Good Mind:

"I, who am attuning my soul to Good Mind, know that the actions done for the Wise God have their rewards..." (Jafarey trans.)
It is an ongoing perception and union with the Wisdom of God, through which Zarathushtra's innovative teachings will proceed. A similar sentiment is in verse 6, where Zarathushtra proclaims:
"Come through good mind, and grant a long life through righteousness..." (Jafarey)
Vohu Manah occurs in every single verse of Yasna 28, song 1, as well as in every single verse of the last canto of that Gatha, Yasna 34. Throughout the Gathas, Vohu Manah is repeated in verse after verse. This rhetorical repetition assures us that Zarathushtra considers Good Mind of the highest importance in his relationship with God and in his teaching.

It is interesting that Good Mind, and its accompanying ASHA or Cosmic Order, should be Zarathushtra's key concept. In other mystical paths, such as Sufism or much of Christianity, the key concept is not Good Mind, but Love. Zarathushtra's mysticism is distinctive for its rigorous intellectual nature; love is part of his way, but is secondary.

In Yasna 31, song 4, Zarathushtra introduces another feature of mystical life, the "inner fire" or "inner light." This is in verse 3:

"The happiness you grant, has been promised to the two parties through Your mental fire and righteousness..." (Jafarey)
The "mental fire" in the Gatha text is again spoken of as an "instrument:" happiness comes to people THROUGH this divine illumination, which corresponds, in Zoroastrian practice, to the real fire that burns as the sign of God in fire temples and at sacred services. The Parsi scholar Irach Taraporewala calls it the "inner fire." It corresponds to a universally reported factor in mystical experience. To those who are gifted with such an experience, it is not just a metaphor. In mystical perception, this inner light is a sign that something holy, powerful, and divine is present. The light seen by mystics represents the light of the good and wise God, or at least one of His intermediaries such as an angel or Saint. Given the theme of a mystical interpretation, this is what Zarathushtra is talking about here. This light will later be elaborated in the Zoroastrian doctrine of the khvarenah, the holy halo around heroes, kings, and Prophets.

The Prophet continues the theme of Light in 31.7, where he describes the creation, or divine emanation of light. Here I use the poetic translation of D.J. Irani:

"He who, in the first beginning, thus thought: "Let the glorious heavens be clothed in light..." (D.J. Irani translation)
In this verse Zarathushtra perceives the universe as filled with the primal light. This links the inner light/fire perceived by the prophet or mystic with the light of creation. Zarathushtra goes on to further link that light with ASHA and Vohu Manah in the second line of the verse:
"He, by His supreme Understanding, created the principles of Truth and Right..." (D.J.Irani trans.)
The light is identified with divine Order (ASHA) and Intelligence (Vahishtem Mano, or Best Thought, the superlative form of Vohu Manah.) It is these divine emanations, as well as the others mentioned in the Gathas, that are the subject of Zarathushtra's vision. This is what Zarathusthra sees in his union with God. His visions are not just "feelings" or outpourings of love. They are LEARNING; they have intellectual content. This is why Zarathushtra says, in the aforementioned Yasna 31.3:
"It is a matter of principle for the discerning, O Wise One, for our knowledge..."(Jafarey translation)
Zarathushtra's mysticism is one of LEARNING and THINKING, which, for some temperaments at least, does not in any way preclude love or even passion.

Zarathushtra's use of mystical light metaphors is accompanied by his description of "inner vision," which occurs in at least three Gatha verses. Zarathushtra mediates his mystical learning by two main senses: seeing and hearing, and a lesser one, touch. Seeing, vision, seems to be the most prominent one. Zarathushtra asks to SEE the abstract Attribute of God, ASHA, in Y. 28,

"Having realized Good Mind, when shall I see you, O Righteousness?" (Jafarey tr.)
In 31.8, Zarathushtra perceives the Wise Lord Himself with his inner eye:
"Wise One, I realized You as the first and the last, and the patron of Good Mind, when I grasped You in my vision...."(Jafarey tr.)
Here two senses are used in perception, the inner eye of vision and the secondary sense of touch, signified by "grasped." The same usage of inner eye occurs in Yasna 45.8, line 2:
"I shall seek to turn Him towards us with praises of reverence, because I have now conceived Him with my eyes of good thoughts, words, and deeds..." (Jafarey tr.)

I do not believe that these words of "seeing" and "eye" mean that Zarathushtra actually saw God with his physical eyes. This "seeing" is an inner event, which does not make it any less real than an outer event. As I said earlier, modern students of religion, especially those studying Zoroastrianism, have been heavily influenced by rationalism and the "scientific" viewpoint, which denies any reality to things which are not physical or provable by physical means. As a result, the place of IMAGINATION is demoted to unreality or even hallucination, or else it is considered simply a "mental" event without any reference to a wider reality outside the visionary's head. These passages of Zarathushtra cannot be completely understood without returning to the idea of true mystical perception through Imagination, or the "inner eye." Imagination is not just fantasy, delusion, or hallucination. I believe it is part of God's gift to human beings through, and in, Vohu Manah.

Is the mysticism of the Gathas only an intellectual mysticism? Is there any element of love in Zarathushtra's mystical way? There is, but it runs a distant second to the brilliance of his intellectual communion. Words for "loving" do turn up in the Gathas (in verses 28.8 and 28.10). The Divine Attribute of Spenta Armaiti has often been interpreted as the personification of Divine Love, but Spenta Armaiti's meaning is too complex to mean one thing, and sometimes it is so ambiguous or unclear that the idea of Divine Love can only be tentatively understood from references to Armaiti.

The clearest description of Zarathushtra's way of divine love is in his description of his relationship with the Wise Lord as _frya_ or "friend." This occurs in Y. 43.14:

"Just as a wise and powerful man helps his friend, Wise One, give me your enlightening support...." (Jafarey tr.)
The same word for Friend also appears in Y. 44.1:
"....How shall I reverently pay You your homage? Teach this to a friend like me, Wise One...." (Jafarey)
and especially in Y. 46.2:
"I appeal to you. Please, Lord, see to it; lend me the help a friend gives a friend. Grant, through Righteousness, the riches of Good Mind." (Jafarey tr.)
Taraporewala makes a special comment on this verse, saying "One finds here the germ of "Sufi" philosophy." His translation of the same verse is very different from Jafarey's:
"But, Ahura, to Thee I do appeal,
As Lover to Beloved, teach me how
I may be one with Thee in perfect Bliss."
(Taraporewala translation)
This translation, unlike the other ones of Irani, Insler, and Jafarey, borrows from Hindu and Sufi ideas, and I regard it as less accurate in its depiction of the authentic Zarathushtrian mysticism. The word used by Zarathushtra, frya, does not have the connotations of erotic or nuptial love.

In contrast to the love and passion-themes of Sufism, Zarathushtra never uses an erotic metaphor to describe his loving relationship with God in the Gathas. Marriage occurs in the Wedding Gatha, Yasna 53, but it is between earthly people, not between God and a human being. The eros which so permeates Sufi mystical poetry is absent in Zarathushtra's mystical poetry. Rather, it is a kind of dignified, restrained, even strait-laced type of love-relationship that Zarathushtra leads with his Wise Lord. Zarathushtra is neither the drunken lover of the Sufis nor the passionate bride of the Biblical Song of Songs, re-interpreted by generations of Christian mystics as the soul in relation to God.

These are some of the mystical references in the Gathas that stand out, for me, as evidence that a true mystical path exists which is central to the Zoroastrian experience. I believe that a Zoroastrian mystic can, with the grace and help of the Wise Lord, travel the same path of vision and friendship with God than Zarathushtra did so long ago. I believe this because I have heard hints from many practicing Zoroastrians, that Zoroastrians even now do have such experiences. If the religion is to live and survive, these experiences must be remembered, cultivated, and even encouraged.

Zoroastrian Mysticism II: Zoroastrianism and the mysticism of the Created World

In "Zoroastrian Mysticism I" I discussed Zarathushtra's mystical path, the connection between God and the human soul. It is a relationship between the devotee and the Transcendent God, who can be "seen" or "grasped" only with inner senses, a way of Knowledge and Friendship. This relationship is abstract, inward, intellectual, and, to use a keyword often cited by the Zoroastrian philosopher K.D. Irani, "reflective."

But this is not the only mystical path in Zoroastrianism. There is another way, equally important in the Zoroastrian faith. This is the path of divine Immanence - devotion and relationship with God as He is present in the material world. This material world includes not only what we would call the "natural" world - things such as stars, oceans, mountains, clouds, forests, and animals - but also things refined, cultivated, formed, and offered up by human beings, who are themselves part of the material world. This mystical path of Immanence belongs to Zarathushtra's vision as much as do his inner insights of Good Mind and Justice. And the mysticism of the created world is very much present in the Gathas, as it will be in all subsequent Zoroastrian scriptures and practices.

One of the most important figures in the Gathas is that of the _geush urvan_ or "Soul of the Cow." This is an excellent example of how Zarathushtra portrays the presence of God in the material world. Western scholars have debated the meaning of the "Soul of the Cow" for more than a century; is Zarathushtra talking about real cattle and their welfare, or is he talking about a mythically exalted Sacred Cow such as is featured in the poetry and devotion of Hinduism (which sprang from the same primordial Indo-Iranian civilization as Zoroastrianism) - or is the Prophet referring to the Cow as a symbol of the whole living world? The answer is: All of the above. Zarathushtra is a master of multiple meanings layered on one simple word or phrase. To limit the Cow Soul to an animal or an abstract symbol is to miss the point. All of the meanings point to the presence of God: in the animal, in the symbol, and in the whole living world.

There is a famous passage in Yasna 44 (song 9), verses 3-5 which further illustrates Zarathushtra's devotion to the divine presence in the created world:

This I ask you, tell me truly, Lord.
Who is the foremost creator and parent of Righteousness:
Who made the sun and the stars in their paths?
Who makes the moon wax and wane?
I am, O Wise One, eager to know all this and more.
This I ask you, tell me truly, Lord.
Who holds the earth below,
who keeps the sky from breaking away?
Who creates the waters and who the plants?
Who lend the wind and clouds speed?
Who is the creator, Wise One, of good mind?
This I ask you, tell me truly, Lord.
Which artist fashioned the light and the darkness?
Which artist planned sleep and awakening?
Who made the dawn, day, and dusk
that remind the wise of the ultimate goal?"
(Jafarey translation)
Many modern scholars, interpreting this passage, marvel at Zarathushtra's curiosity about the sky, the atmosphere, and the ecosystem, as if he were a Bronze Age scientist lacking only the telescopes and the weather-stations of our modern era to complete his research. Zarathushtra is indeed a vivid observer of the world around him, but that material curiosity is only one part of the question which begins each verse.

The most important thing to understand about a mysticism of Immanence is that it regards the entire created world as symbolic of God and divine realities - it is, as another tradition might put it, a great book in which the truth of God can be read. Everything mentioned by Zarathushtra in that passage: sun, stars, moon, earth, sky, waters, plants, wind, clouds, light and darkness, is a Sign of the presence of God. To a mystic attuned to the presence of God in the material world, everything that exists can point to God. Thus the Prophet speaks of the divine attributes of Righteousness and Good Mind (ASHA and Vohu Manah) in the same lines as he speaks of Sun and Wind.

Most of us have been trained to think in the mind-set of scientific or academic rationalism, a way of thinking that separates the religious from the material and denies the immanence, or even the relevance, of God and religious realities to the study of nature or the material world. The idea that sun, moon, stars, or a Cow are symbols or signs, or that they have a living soul in which God participates, is a matter for mythology and faith, not serious study. But the philosophical world of Zarathushtra, and of all his Zoroastrian successors, is a world where the spiritual and material are not separate, but participate in a single wholeness. In this world- view not only does the material symbolize the spiritual, but it is CONNECTED to it in ways that cannot be systematized or rationally proven. Light, Sun, and God; Cow and World; Fire and Righteousness - all these things are organically connected, and if you encounter one, you have mystically encountered its correspondent as well. This world-view is at the very foundation of Zoroastrian thinking, as well as its prayer and ritual.

Forever after, this view of a seamless universe of God and the world will guide Zoroastrian devotion and practice. This world- view is beautifully portrayed in the Yasna Haptanhaiti, or "Worship in Seven Chapters," an early liturgical text probably composed by Zarathushtra's contemporaries or immediate successors. The Seven Chapters contain praises of the natural world, the human world, and the abstract virtues and attributes of God, united in a divine Order. Here are some selected verses from this text:

Y. 36.1:
O fire of Mazda Ahura, may you, the most delightful one, come to us for (your) share, may you come to use for the greatest of sharings, with the delight of the most delightful one, with the reverence of the most reverent one.
We attribute to you, O Mazda Ahura, the most beautiful body among bodies, these lights here (the fire) (as well as) yonder (light), the highest among the high since it was given the name "sun".
Herewith we worship Mazda Ahura who created the cow and truth, who created the waters and the good plants, who created the lights and the earth and all good things.
We worship this earth that bears us. We worship it along with its women, and we worship those women who are yours, O Mazda Ahura, worthy of being chosen in accordance with truth.
We worship the waters which are tasty and juicy, the Ahuranis (female water spirits) which flow through the artful work of the Ahura. (We worship) you, (the waters) which provide good crossing, which flow well, and are good to swim in; a support for both existences (heavenly and earthly).
39. 1:
Herewith we worship the soul of the cow and (her) fashioner. (We worship) our own souls and the souls of the domestic animals, which seek refuge with us to whom they belong and with us who belong to them.
We worship the souls of the wild animals that are harmless. We worship the souls of the truthful men and women wherever they are born, whose better religious views prevail, will prevail, and have always prevailed." (Humbach-Ichaporia translation)
This liturgical text has been recited in Zoroastrian rituals for more than three millennia. The "worship" here needs some clarification: what is called "worship" might be more properly translated "reverence," "veneration," or even "praise" since this takes place in a monotheistic religion in which only Ahura Mazda is worshipped, not the earth or the waters. All these glories of creation are referred back to their Creator, Ahura Mazda; they are never worshipped on their own.

This reverence for Creation is a special feature of Zoroastrianism, but it is not unique to the Iranian faith. Similar hymns in praise of Creation occur in the Jewish Bible - for instance, Psalm 104 which presents a grand panorama of God's work in the natural world, and the song of the three young men in the fiery furnace, found in Daniel 3:52-90. It is impossible to say whether there is any influence from the Iranian traditions in these texts. But they are quite similar. The song in the book of Daniel is a litany (repetitive chant) which goes through all the different creations of the world, blessing the Lord: "Sun and moon! bless the Lord: give glory and eternal praise to Him.
Stars of heaven! bless the Lord: give glory and eternal praise to Him.
Showers and dews, all bless the Lord....Winds, all bless the Lord...
Fire and heat! bless the Lord...Springs of water! bless the Lord...
Seas and rivers! bless the Lord...Animals wild and tame! bless the Lord..."
(Jerusalem Bible translation) The hymn continues throughout the order of the created world until it reaches human beings, and the souls of the faithful. All things and people bear witness to the greatness of the one Lord. Both these Jewish texts are extensively used in Christian worship as well, especially in the Eastern churches. And in the Catholic West, much later on, St. Francis of Assisi, who was much influenced by these hymns of creation in the Bible, composed his "Canticle of Brother Sun" which in some verses could almost be a free translation of the Yasna Haptanhaiti:

"Be praised, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
By Whom You give us the light of day!
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
Of You, Most High, he is a symbol!
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the Stars!
In the sky You formed them bright and lovely and fair....
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
Who is very useful and humble and lovely and chaste!
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
By whom You give us light at night,
And he is beautiful and merry and mighty and strong!"
(St. Francis, translated by Raphael Brown)
As the Zoroastrian faith developed, this reverence for Creation was put together with the symbolism of the Amesha Spentas, the seven Attributes of God. Each one of the Seven became personified as a great guardian spirit, having one sector of Creation to watch over. The exact number of the seven Amesha Spentas, and the identification of each one with a sector of Creation, does not occur in the Gathas, though there are some passages that hint at such connections. The doctrine of the Seven appears soon after Zarathushtra. The Seven Creations comprise one of the fundamental teachings of the Zoroastrian faith; it is a structured plan of how God is present in the material world. For it is through the Amesha Spentas that God, who is Himself transcendent and beyond all things, also lives within the Cosmos. Thus Creation is divided between the Seven: Spenta Mainyu, the creative Energy of God, cares for human beings, ASHA, Righteousness, presides over Fire, Vohu Manah, Good Mind, over Animals. Kshathra, God's Power, protects Metals and Minerals, and in some theories, the Sky and Air as well; Spenta Armaiti, Devotion and Serenity, cares for the Earth and the Land. Haurvatat and Ameretat, Wholeness and Immortality, watch over Waters and Plants.

Later on, this immanence was made even more specific, as the ancient divinities which personified natural forces and abstractions were brought back into Zoroastrian worship under the rule of Ahura Mazda. These are the _yazatas_, the "beings to be reverenced." Though these entities are much maligned by Zoroastrian reformers as "recycled paganism" or "fantasy," they are very much in the spirit of the Zoroastrian view of a universe full of signs of God. The Yashts (worship-hymns) to the various Yazatas such as Anahita, Tishtrya and Mithra are indeed full of inherited pagan symbolism, but this symbolism has been transformed by Zoroastrian monotheism into an iconography of the divine presence in the material world.

I once asked a Zoroastrian priest, Ervad Noshir Karanjia, what the Amesha Spentas looked like. Were there any images of them, icons such as the holy pictures which fill Eastern Christian churches and are so much a part of Byzantine worship? This conversation took place at an outdoor Zoroastrian gathering in summertime. He said, "The image of an Amesha Spenta is in what it represents." Pointing to the trees and grass, he said that these were the image of Haurvatat. The earth, he said, was the image of Spenta Armaiti; the fire, that of ASHA. To a devoted and aware Zoroastrian, the whole created world - not just human beings, as in the Jewish/Christian tradition - is in the image of God.

This presence of God in creation is the underlying reason for the famous Zoroastrian concern for the purity and preservation of the natural world, and for maintenance of cleanliness and ritual purity in humans and animals. To pollute waters or earth is to defile a holy thing. All of the elaborate purity laws in the Vendidad, the Zoroastrian book of "canon law," have this reverence as their origin, though as time went on, the living consciousness of God's presence may have been obscured in an overgrowth of legalistic prescriptions.

In a similar way, the words, actions, and objects of Zoroastrian ritual all fit into the world-view of a created universe full of signs of God, connecting the physical and the spiritual. Each object used in a ritual has its divine correspondence. The cotton sudreh, the sacred shirt worn by observant Zoroastrians, reminds the wearer of the Plant Creation; the woolen Kushti cincture worn over the shirt reminds its wearer of the Animal Creation. At ceremonies such as the Jashan, the common service of prayer and fire, there is something to represent each sector of Creation: fire, plants and flowers, water, milk, metal vessels and implements, a cloth spread out over the floor to represent Earth or Sacred Space, and the priests and worshippers, themselves representing the human creation. Similarly, the materials and used in the Great Yasna ceremony, performed only in the ritually pure fire temples of India and Iran, not only represent the Creations but symbolize doctrinal elements of the faith; the ritual acts are a symbolic demonstration of God's work in the created world.

These rites are thousands of years old, though, and this presents a problem for a modern devotee who wishes to recapture the mystical sense of God's immanence through ritual. Due to the loss of Scriptures and the interruption of the priestly oral tradition in the many disasters that have happened in Iran, there is no complete and solid interpretation of what these ritual acts and objects really mean. Zoroastrianism has preserved a general idea of the Seven Creations and their correspondences in ritual, but the specific symbols are not entirely clear. Learned High Priests such as Dastur Firoze Kotwal, working with American philosophers and anthropologists such as James Boyd and Ron Williams, as well as the Zoroastrian scholar Jamsheed Choksy, have done a great deal to recover the original meanings of the ritual objects and actions. But their interpretations are still theoretical. The interpretation of ritual is an ongoing process, as it is in other religions.

Another problem in returning mystical life to rituals is that Zoroastrian rituals use ancient languages which very few of the worshippers understand. Translations are not always available. The ritual is often assumed to be effective automatically, more like an applied formula which "works" whether it is understood by the participants or not. The language then acquires its own mystical sound-significance, independent of its actual meaning. But this also limits the intellectual understanding of a ritual and the possibility for a deeper spiritual commitment to it. The best ritual is that which is done mindfully, with full consciousness of meaning on all of its levels. What is needed in the renewal of Zoroastrian ritual is good scholarship, and a wider education of the faithful in the real meaning of the language and symbolic actions, all of which will serve a renewed desire to experience God's presence directly in the material world.

Thus the Zoroastrian mystical path establishes an ascending scale for the contemplation of the Created World. Such a contemplation would start with a physical entity (for instance, fire), rising to the yazata Atar - the spirit of Fire, an intermediate spiritual being, worthy of veneration; to the entity of an "archangel" or Amesha Spenta ASHA, to the abstract concepts of Justice, Truth, and Cosmic Order, and finally, to the prophetic experience of Zarathushtra, as he "sees" God with his mystical eyes. There is, in this scale of being, a place for all levels of spiritual perception, from the believers who venerate the fire or the divinity Atar, to the more abstract minds who meditate on Amesha Spentas, to the philosophical types who find spiritual satisfaction in pure and imageless concepts. And there is room for the mystic, who can see God in all of these levels, from the flame of the fire to the living emanation of the Wise Lord.

Hannah M.G.Shapero