cosmogonic myths

Holy War in the Zoroastrian-Aryan Tradition

The Zoroastrian scripture postulates a universal battle at both the spiritual and the corporeal levels between two eternal principles: asha, which is equated to righteousness, truth, good, right, and the Holy; and drug, which is equated to evil, lying, bad, wrong, and the profane. War or ardīg is considered an appropriate means of striving, struggling, and fighting against all forms of evil. The term for Holy War, ardīg, derives from the word arta, which refers to the correct way or religious path.

The reward of heaven, after death, is offered for the souls of believers who have upheld order and combated evil during their lifetime. Moreover, Zoroastrian exegesis holds that at the end of time, Ahura Mazda will descend to earth with the other heavenly spirits, and a final spiritual savior will separate the righteous human souls from the evil ones.

According to the Gathas, Zarathushtra spoke of an ethical and moral dualism between asha (Truth) and drug (Falsehood), associating the former with god or Ahura Mazda and the latter with the devil or Angra Mainyu. Followers of Zarathushtra were required to “differentiate between the just and the unjust” (Yasna 46:15). Zarathushtra following his revelation from Ahura Mazda that “Destruction will come to confusion” (Yasna 30:10), because “the evil mob fears us, for we the strong ones smite those weaker evil ones according to the strictness of your law, O Mazda” (Yasna 34:8). He also urged Ahura Mazda to “place a mighty sword upon the evil ones, to bring appropriate recompense to them, O Mazda” (Yasna 44:14).

The Magi interpreted Zarathushtra’s message to mean that people who fight, morally and tangibly, for order will reach their “promised prize” in the paradisaical “house of song” or heaven as stated in the Gathas. On the other hand, those who spread confusion and harm will, upon death, be condemned by their own actions to be “guests in the spiritual house of deceit.”

By later ages, the Magi began to suggest through textual discourses that humans had entered into a covenant with Ahura Mazda to function specifically as the deity’s troops in the vital struggle against Angra Mainyu’s destructive hordes. According to the cosmogonical myth that the Magi canonized in the Bundahishn: “Ahura Mazda deliberated with the perceptions and immortal souls of humans… saying ‘incarnate you can battle with evil and vanquish it and I consent to resurrect you perfect and immortal at the end.’ The immortal souls of humans agreed to enter the material world to become perfect and eternal in their final bodies” (Bundahishn 3:23-24). Owing to belief in this agreement between god and humans, the life purpose of every Zoroastrian was postulated by the Magi as being a fixed one of combating drug in all its manifestations (religious, social, and political), utilizing all appropriate means, including violence.

Beliefs, praxis, and texts were conjoined in Zoroastrianism by Zarathushtra and the Magi to propose that the reason for human life is a collective Holy War, in addition to each person’s individual struggle. In that Cosmic conflict, the use of physical force is regarded as both necessary and justified as a means of countering the unholy and unjustified violence of Angra Mainyu and his minions.

lightfromlight-deactivated20161  asked:

What would you say to someone who says the slaying of Ymir was a terribly evil thing to do? Ymir was a being in his own right, strange and wonderful. I am not sure if I have the full story, but I read Odin and his brothers were just mad that there were more Jotun than Aesir. Hardly a reason to kill the grandfather of all.

P.S. I know Ymir and the story of his death are in the realm of myth and may not be literally true, but I write about myths as if the story actually happened. Also, the story of Ymir may be a way of telling how one religion (Odin’s) usurped an earlier religion.)

Hello lightfromlight and thank you for the question. I must apologise for the delay in answering as my messages have become very backlogged and it is taking me some time to work through them.

There are several factors that contribute to my opinion on this matter. As you mention, it has been theorised that the murder of Ymir by Odin, Vilje and Ve (it was all three brothers, not solely Odin) was an analogy of one religion usurping another.  I should note that nowhere is it stated that the death of Ymir was due to the brothers being mad. It is said that many generation of Jotner were birthed from Ymir and that they killed Ymir so that they could be the rulers over all things. In addition, in the Prose Edda, Ymir is simply the first being to be exposed from the ice, followed by Buri (who fathered the three brother independently of Ymir’s line). It is also stated in Prose Edda that Ymir and all of his descendants were evil - a possible indication of why the brothers killed him.

We must understand that during the Viking Age, the tribal mentality (where the harsh reality existed that sometimes one must kill one’s enemies to survive) and different cultural significance of murder/sacrifice make our modern concepts of “evil” to be inadequate when judging such an act as Ymir’s death. To kill any creature (even as a man may kill a boar/cow/chicken/etc…) could be considered “evil” in today’s terms, yet it was necessary to ensure survival and as long as the animal was not wasted (and all parts were used and held as valuable) then the loss of life was not in vain. So we may find great value in that death.

My final point, acknowledging what you say about not being literally true, is that it has been theorised (through comparative themes in other Proto-Indo-European mythology) that such dismemberment represents the recycling of material in the creation of the world. Scholars J.P. Mallory and Douglas Adams cited Ymir as a prime example of that belief. They state:

“The [Proto-Indo-European] cosmogonic myth is centered on the dismemberment of a divine being and the creation of the universe out of its various elements…in both cosmogonic myth and the foundation element of it, one of the central aspects is the notion of sacrifice (of a brother, giant, bovine, etc.). The relationship between sacrifice and cosmogony was not solely that of a primordial event but the entire act of sacrifice among the Indo-Europeans might be seen as a re-creation of the universe where elements were being continuously recycled.”

I am left with the opinion that the killing of Ymir was a necessary action that had to be taken by the three brothers to create the world and ensure that it was a place where other beings could flourish. Often harsh actions must be taken for the greater good. As the saying goes, “it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it”. It is a thematic motif that is recurrent in Norse Mythology. There are many instances of dubious behaviour that is taken to ensure a better result.

I hope that helps.

Narrative Bias in The Silmarillion

Well, The Silmarillion focuses so much on the elves because it really is an elvish story - they were the great movers and shakers of the First Age, and all the drama revolved around them and Morgoth. But in actually Tolkien had a different idea about the Silmarillion’s bias. In an essay on the Flat World/Round World theories (more on that in this post), Tolkien wrote:

It is now clear to me that in any case the Mythology must actually be “Mannish” affair…  What we have in The Silmarillion etc. are traditions (especially personalized, and centered upon actors, such as Feanor) handed on by Men in Numenor and later in Middle Earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back - from the first association of the Dunedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand - blended and confused with their poor Mannish myths and cosmic ideas.

Added in a note to the essay is this bit:

The traditions here referred to have come down from the Eldar of the First Age, through Elves who never were directly acquainted with the Valar, and through Men who received “lore” from the Elves, but who had myths and cosmogonic legends, and astronomical guesses, of their own.

Now, as mentioned, the essay these quotes came from is focused specifically on the issue of the origin of the sun and the moon. But the general idea that the Silmarillion we are reading was at the least edited by Numenorean scholars remains. And it explains a few things about the way the stories of the First Age are told - large emphasis placed on tracing the lineage of mortal heroes (even when it’s not really relevant to the story), basically ignoring any non-Edain men (such as the Easterlings), and - as Tolkien is saying in the above quotes - the inclusion of cosmogonical beliefs more likely to be held by men than elves.

Now, all that being said, your original points are totally valid - the Silmarillion is told with a narrative bias, is told from the victors’ point of view, and does likely misrepresent some of the other cultures involved (such as the dwarves, the non-Edain men, and even some elvish subgroups like the Avari.) It’s just that the bias is more in favor of the Numenoreans/Edain than the elves.

SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 10 (“Myths Transformed”)

“But even when the Supreme Googly Eye has completely disappeared from cult is "forgotten”, his memory survives, camouflaged and degraded, in myths and tales of the Primordial “Paradise,” in the initiations and narratives of shamans and googly eyed men, in religious symbolism (symbols of the Center of the World, magical flight and ascension, sky and light symbols, etc.) and in certain types of cosmogonic myths.“

Submitted by lanelibteens!