8. Early Indo-Iranian cults


L.Lommel[1] has treated the role of the Soma-drink in the vedas: God Soma is the spender of the creating juice. He is bull, and the soma-juice is his sperm. Soma is the juice of life, the life-giving liquid inside all the green plants, the cup of life, the water of life. The holy juice from the soma-plant is the holy symbol and prototype of all the juices giving life to sprouting vegetation.

Soma is also the holy essence which in the cow is turned into nourishing milk, in the bull into generative sperm. On the mythical level is soma the milk of the divine heavenly cow and the sperm of the heavenly bull and the rain that fertilizes the earth. Acc to archaic cosmology the rain falls from the moon. The moon is the reservoir for all the life-juice circulating in cosmos. All life flows from the moon in 1000 streams through clouds and the rain which sinks into the earth, and in the form of steam and vapour returns to heaven. The bowl of the crescent moon is the cup of life, and even the gods must drink from it to stay alive.

But the god Soma has to die to give life, and Lommel draws our attention to the research done by Ad.E.Jensen (to whose book Die getötete Gottheit, 1963, published some years later, Lommel has contributed with a chapter on soma). The juice of life has many epiphanies: As bull, moon, euphoric drink and the highest tree in the forest. He is the creator and life-giver of all nature, present in each straw of grass and each drop of rain. He is even the king of the gods and the life force pulsating in the universe. He is a god similar to the Ugaritic El living at the universal fountainhead of all streams of water and the Mesopotamian Ea living in the sweet water ocean, but perhaps even older and more authentic, more close to the original notion which created both Ea and El. In the Bible God's throne is set by the “Crystal Ocean”, and Jesus is the spender of “living water”[2].

 The magic drink in Iran is called haoma. The haoma-cult is acc to Geo Widengren rooted in warrior societies, gangs of young warriors cultivating killing and fighting as ecstatic rage[3]. They are called “wolves”. Black is their dominant colour, and the dragon-banner is carried in front of them when they charge naked, only with a leather belt around the waist and long plaited hair. We shall see how one version of the hunter, Gilgamesh, is often pictured naked, only with a triple belt around the waist, and Baal-Reshep with an extremely long hair plait. These men´s societies were acc. to Widengren centred round the bloody killing of the bull: the first king Yima was the first to give man meat to eat and to prepare the haoma-drink. He is a central figure in the cult of the men´s societies and plays the role of a king of carnival. He creates a large underground room, vara, where he and his men seek refuge against the deteriorating climate. Like Baal in Ugarit and Gilgamesh he is king of the dead spirits of those who lived in early ages, cf. Dionysos coming to Athens as leader of the keres, the spirits of some kind of primeval inhabitants of Attika presumed to come from Caria on the west coast of Anatolia. Yima has an Indian parallel, Yama, who is lord of the nether world.

From the religion of Catal Hüyük there are links to many later Near Eastern religions. The very special role the buzzard plays in the burial ceremonies is also found among the Magoi, and an euphoria-giving drink giving ascension to heaven is known from the circle surrounding Zarathustra: “Mix cannabis with wine, give it to Vistaspa (Zarathustra´s protector) ... when he had drunk he was on the spot unconscious and his soul was led to Garodman (the highest heaven)”[4].

Zaehner[5] calls our attention to a Persian devil-cult in Hellenistic times. Plutarch writes that Zoroaster, the magi, taught men to bring thanksgivings to Oramazes and dark apothropaeic sacrifices to Areimanios de Isid.: “While they grind a herb they call omoni in a morter and call on Hades and the darkness, they mix the crushed herb with the blood of wolves and bring it to a place where the sun does not shine, and cast it out (to the spirits)”. Also the Pahlavi-books mention the “devil worshippers” (devasn). Denkart gives a more detailed description:

“The perverted, devilish, unrighteous rite of the mystery of the sorcerers consists in praising Ahriman, the destroyer, in prowling around in great secrecy, in keeping home, body, and clothes in a state of filthiness and stench...”[6]

The life stile here described is similar to the left-hand tantra of India. Acc. to Zaehner even the mysteries of Mithras have some elements of devil worship when they allow sacrifices to Ahriman[7].

To get a key to a deeper understanding of the old religion in the area of East Anatolia and Northern Iraq we have to look to the folk religion: Geo Widengren has paid some attention to traces of a survival of Pre Zoroastrian religion. In Vendidad we find a description of people honouring the old deavas by getting together after sunset on the graveyards eating the dead bodies in the company of the deava-demons, Vd.7, 54-55;58[8]. Also in Vd. 8,73 the roasting and eating of corpses is mentioned. Most important is the third example given by Widengren[9]: the Christian bishop of Adiabene began preaching in the villages where they were still fire-worshippers and even at one of their great feasts threw small children on the fire after hanging their kidneys and livers on the branches of the trees standing by a great well, where they bathed and finally shot a lot of arrows up in the open air[10]. The shooting of the divine bull is here a shooting to the open sky like Mithras´ shooting into the primordial rock to liberate the juice of life, the rain. Also to strengthen the vegetation some vital organs of the poor victims are hung on the trees. The duality of water and fire in the setting of the cult scene must also have some meaning. The juice of life and vegetation contrasted with the fire of the big hunter and his fiery arrows are important themes in the old prehistoric folk religion. The water of life gives cleansing, but the god of fire demands human lives.

[1] “König Soma”, in Numen 1, 1954, pp.196-205

[2] Joh 4 and 8

[3] Die Religionen Irans, 1965, pp.23-26. Widengren depends heavily on the research of Stig Wikander & Otto Höfler, see below

[4] Denkart ed. Madan, pp.641 & 270, 10ff.

[5] Zurwan, 1955, p.14

[6] ed. Madan, 182, 6f.

[7] deo Areimanio, Cumont MMM II, pp.98 & 141

[8] Die Religionen Irans pp.115f.

[9] ibd. p.182

[10] E.Sachau: “Die Chronik von Arbela”, 1915, PAW Abhandl. Phil. hist. Kl. 1915, 6, p.43