Zoroastrianism and Culture

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Enrico Raffaelli


Room 24
Wed, 2016-08-03 14:15 - 15:45


by Mahvash Shahegh / Independent Scholar

Abstract: The Transcendentalist’s Movement of the 19th century, which Melville was a part of, was tied to the philosophy, religion, and literature of the East. Consequently, Melville was also informed by the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, and his doctrine. The evidence for this acquaintance is illustrated in the Zoroastrian character he introduced in his towering novel, Moby Dick. This character is Fedallah, a Parsee. Throughout the novel Melville moves back and forth between his Calvinistic upbringing, with its emphasis on Original Sin, and his leanings toward the Zoroastrian ideology that emphasizes the presence of man’s God-like figure and responsibility of man to counter evil. Aspects of both doctrines are found in Captain Ahab, along with the existence of Zoroastrianism’s cosmic evil embodied in Moby Dick.
This article argues that, beyond this supposition, the result of original sin does not conclude with its inherent guilt; but, it is also outwardly and physically reflected, an example of which is the ivory leg of Captain Ahab. Contrary to Calvinism, there is no original sin in Zoroastrianism, and man was born into this world to side with Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian deity of good, in his constant struggle with Ahriman, the Zoroastrian deity of evil. These two doctrines parallel one another in this book, but ultimately, the Calvinistic doctrine prevails.

by Amir Ahmadi / Monash University

The idea that sacrifice reproduces (in both senses of the verb) the cosmic order has found wide acceptance and application among the students of Zoroastrianism. We find its first articulation in relation to the (supposed) Gāthic sacrifice in the work of Molé, who adopted the general idea from Eliade. For Molé, as for those who follow him, 'sacrifice figures the world'. The impetus for the adoption of the idea seems to have been the realization of the central role of ritual in Zoroastrianism. Despite their differences in the interpretation of various topics, all the current major approaches to the Avesta depart from the premise. Until recently, however, scholars who ascribe a cosmological or eschatological function to the Gāthās hardly went beyond its assertion. In the past few years a number of prominent Avesta scholars have attempted to argue the case in reference to and through detailed discussion of specific Gāthic passages. According to these arguments, each of the Gāthās, or the Gāthās in their entirety, describes and accompanies a daily sacrifice. Kellens interprets the first Gāthā (Ahunavaitī) as a dawn sacrifice whose purpose is to ensure the sunrise and thus the maintenance of the cosmic order. In Cantera's view, the Gāthās relate to the individual eschatology, or a rehearsal of it in which the soul of the sacrificer meets Ahura Mazdā by way of the daēnā- or the 'Vision'. In particular, he interprets the last Gāthā in this light. The consultation with the god takes place at the sunrise through the matrimonial possession of the 'Vision' personified as Pourucistā in Vahištoišti Gāthā. In the paper, I investigate the main evidence and arguments for these interpretations and will argue that they fail to show that the Gāthās are the text of a ritual scenario.

by Enrico G. Raffaelli / University of Toronto

Dahmā Āfriti is the personification of a Zoroastrian prayer blessing the house and the community of the worshipper. This prayer is contained in the Avestan text Yasna (where it is placed after the end of the most sacred core of the text). During the history of the Zoroastrian tradition (starting from the period of composition of the Avesta itself), the Dahmā Āfriti was personified as a deity. different functions were attributed to this deity, such as that of giving protection to the world, and that of helping the soul in its otherworldly journey after death. The paper will investigate on the evolution of the figure of Dahmā Āfriti, based on an investigation of her role in the Avesta and in the Pahlavi texts, as well as on the rituals performed in her honour.