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THE HEALING GODS OF ANCIENT IRAN
PART I: GENERAL SURVEY
N ancient Iran, medical doctrines and practices were determined by the sacred books and were under the direction and control of the priests, acting as physi
Iranian religion. The Avesta.
The Iranian religion, which, as reformed by Zoroaster, was conceived on a highly moral and elevated plane, prevailed in the land from an early period; but of its holy texts, the Avesta, only about one third has survived to form the scriptures of the Parsis of India and of their co-religionists, the Gebers, in Persia. Originally inscribed with golden ink on thousands of cow-hides, it was religiously guarded in the 'Stronghold of Records'; but a large part is traditionally said to have been destroyed during the invasion of Alexander the Great, so that the Avesta, as it exists today, is a reconstruction dating from the reign of Shāpūr II (A.D. 310-379). The portion called the Gāthās ('Songs') bears internal evidence, in phraseology and dialect, of being the oldest, and is ascribed by tradition to Zoroaster himself; but some other parts reveal the fact that they were written, at least in their present form, in a dead language. The Avesta is divided into the Yasna (including the Gāthās), the Yashts, the Visparad, the Vendidad, etc.; and treats of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) and his teachings, cosmology and legends,
precepts for sanctity and a religious life, the moral and civil law, and liturgy and ritual. Of all these texts, the Vendīdād (or Vīdērdāt, 'Law against Demons') is of special interest to physicians, since it makes frequent mention of disease, while chapters xx-xxii are almost wholly medical.
The religion of Zoroaster.
The salient feature of the religion of Zoroaster is an essential monotheism with an apparent dualism. The Principle of Good is Ahura Mazda (or Ormazd), and the Principle of Evil is Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), each attended and aided by lesser divine or infernal beings, partaking of their respective characters, depositories of their respective powers and attributes, and acting as agents with varied functions to carry out their leader's will and to assist in waging the incessant warfare in which their principals are engaged. High above all others, Ahura Mazda, the omniscient creator of the universe and of all good things, is supported by six Amesha Spentas (or Amshaspands), the 'Immortal Holy Ones' who form his court; while occupying an auxiliary place, the Yazatas ('Venerable Ones') are his angels. To these is opposed, in unremitting, malevolent, bitter conflict, Angra Mainyu, the 'Enemy Spirit,' who, ignorant and short-sighted, created darkness, sin, disease, suffering, and evil of every kind. With him are six Arch-Fiends, the antitheses of the Amesha Spentas, who are his commanders and who direct the activities of untold hordes of diabolical, malignant spirits, seeking to overcome and enslave Ormazd, and by every means in their power to create confusion in all his good works and to destroy them, assailing man to his detriment and destruction. Man always has a part in the struggle, aiding the one or opposing the other according to his moral attitude; and
every deed is an act of warfare for the good or for the bad. This conflict between the powers of good and evil continues without cessation through eons of time until eventually the world will undergo an ordeal by which it will be purified, after which evil will be eliminated, and Ahura Mazda and goodness will reign supreme.
Many of the myths of Iran date from the period of Indo-Iranian unity, whence, compared with those of the Vedas, they show a marked similarity in theme and form, varying only in personalities and details. They center about the theme of the struggles between the agencies of good and evil, and, for the most part, tell of creation and of the valiant endeavors of kings and ancient heroes to secure for earth and for mankind light, rain, and other blessings of Nature against the opposing forces of evil, of dragons, and of tyrants. These cosmic and terrestrial conflicts are often in the storm-cloud, amid raging elements, on a mountain or in a cavern, with thunderbolts, wind, and fire as weapons for the confusion and destruction of the demons.
The creation of remedies.
The myth of the creation of the vegetable kingdom, later furnishing all medicinal plants, is of special interest (Būndahishn, ix, xviii; cf. Vendīdād, xx, 4; Yasht, i, 30).1 Ameratatat ('Immortality'), one of the Amesha Spentas, who had vegetation under her guardianship, pounded the dry plants very small and mixed them with water, which Tishtrya, the dog-star, who was a good genius in Iran, made to rain upon the earth, so that plants sprang up like hair on the head of man, ten thousand growing to overcome ten thousand produced by evil spirits, and these ten
thousand becoming an hundred thousand. From the same germs arose the 'Tree of All Seeds' which stood in the middle of the deep sea Vourukasha; and near this tree was the Gaokerena ('Ox-Horn') tree, the miraculous 'All-Healer,' from which came all healing plants. This tree was necessary for the renovation of the universe, that immortality might follow; and it was that "with which they restore the dead" (Būndahishn, xxiv, 27). The Evil Spirit, Ahriman, set a lizard in the sea to injure the tree, but Ormazd, to keep the monster away, created ten kar-fish which, circling about it constantly, guard it from harm. They are both fed spiritually and will watch each other until the universe is renovated. The Gaokerena tree is the White Haoma, a manifestation of the mystical haoma plant (Būndahishn, xxvii, 4); and a part of the Avesta now lost told of "the production of entire species of plants by Aūharmazd for the curing of the creatures from disease; the success of the Gōkerenō plant-which is the white Hōm-in curing, as compared with other plants; and the diligence of Airman in the medical treatment of the world" (Dinkart, VIII, xliv, 80). According to another myth (Bundahishn, x, 1),3 the bull created by Ahura Mazda was killed by Ahriman; but its death gave birth to vegetable life on earth, while from grew "twelve species of medicinal herbs."
Disease and dualism.
All disease, regarded as a diabolical entity, and often named after the particular demon causing it, was supposed to be governed by the quasi-dualism which ruled the cosmos; and since it was regarded as an attack or as a possession by spirits of evil, the power of good spirits must be invoked to secure relief. Sin and disease were on
2 SBE xxxvii, 165.
3 SBE v, 31-32.
much the same plane; sin was a spiritual, and disease a bodily, malady, being a breach of the moral or physical order resulting from pollution, visible or invisible, but substantial. This pollution must be removed by some rite or act which would effect purification; and supernatural powers were summoned by invocations, hymns, and conjurations, often in conjunction with natural remedies administered with rites and ceremonies.
Ahura Mazda declares that Angra Mainyu created 99,999 ('countless,' Yasht, xiii, 59) diseases (Vendīdād, xxii, 2); and in the Vendidād he reveals to the human race, through Zoroaster, the means whereby man may free himself from their power. Two Amesha Spentas, Haurvatat ('Wholeness, Health') and Ameratatāt ('Immortality'), were assigned as special guardians of man, while Ahriman directed Taurvi and Zairika to oppose them, the latter actively sowing seeds of suffering, disease, and death, and the former provided with remedies to combat these ills, both the supernatural powers of Ahura Mazda, of which they were the repository, and the natural means which Ormazd revealed to Zoroaster by many hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands (Būndahishn, xxviii, 11; xxx, 29; Vendīdād, xx, 4).*
The cure is effected by the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta through the medium of the physician (Dīnkart, VIII, xxxvii, 14); and the Avesta names several divisions of the healing art: "One health by righteousness,
* SBE v, 107, 128; Dhalla, Zoroastrian Theology, pp. 168, 265; id., Zoroastrian Civilization, p. 152.
* SBE xxxvii, 116; also A. J. Carnoy, "Magic (Iranian)," in ERE viii, 294-295.