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Amesha Spentas

AMESHA SPENTAS

AMESHA SPENTAS . In the Zoroastrian tradition, the Amesha Spentas (Av.; MPers., Amahraspandān), or "beneficent immortals,"are an important group of entities surrounding Ahura Mazdā and figuring significantly in the Gāthās. From one point of view, they are aspects of divinity; from another they are personifications of abstract concepts. They do not exist independently but find their raison d'être in a system of interrelations and correlations among themselves. Since the divine is mirrored in the corporeal world, they gradually assumed, in theological speculations, correspondences with material elements as well. This explains the later, Manichaean use of amahraspandān to refer to the five luminous elements: ether, wind, light, water, and fire. The collective name of the Amesha Spentas and their definiton as a set of six or seven immortals (if the two spirits Spenta Mainyu and Ahura Mazdā are included) is found in the non-Gathic Avesta, in which the adjectives amesha ("immortal") and spenta ("beneficent") are sometimes used to describe various entities. The words do not, however, occur in the Gāthās (Narten, 1982).

The entities positively identified as Amesha Spentas are a well-defined group: Vohu Manah ("good thought"), Asha Vahishta ("best truth"), Khshathra Vairya ("desirable power"), Spenta Ārmaiti ("beneficent devotion"), Haurvatāt ("wholeness" or "health"), and Ameretāt ("immortality" or "life"). Many of these notions are present in Vedic religion. Thus Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), in developing his doctrine, was following a tendency, already present in the older Indo-European tradition, toward the spiritualization of abstract concepts that, according to the Indo-European tripartite ideology, corresponded to functional divinities (Dumézil, 1945; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1962; Widengren, 1965; et al.). Zarathushtra, however, took this tendency in a new and original direction. The Bundahishn (Book of primordial creation; ninth century ce) gives us a picture of correspondences between the Amahraspandān and the elements: cattle correspond to Vohu Manah, fire to Asha, metal to Khshathra, earth to Ārmaiti, and water and plants to Haurvatāt and Ameretāt.

Vohu Manah is simultaneously divine and human; through "good thought" humans recognize divinity and divinity indicates to them the way, the goal, and their origins. It is, then, an intermediary between the divine and the human. Asha is the Iranian equivalent of the Indian ta ("truth") and personifies the cosmic, social, ritual, and moral order. Ārmaiti is humankind's devotion to divinity, their receptive and obedient behavior. Khshathra is the power that comes to a person from his or her state of union (maga) with divinitya special power used to conquer the malefic forces and establish the rule of Ahura Mazdā. Haurvatāt and Ameretāt are the drink and food of divinity (offerings are made to them of various kinds of drink and plants) and of humans, for whom they represent a reward for a correctly lived life of good thoughts, good words, and good actions.

Bibliography

de Jong, Albert. Traditions of the Magi. Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature. Leiden, 1997.

Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques. The Western Response to Zoroaster. Oxford, 1958.

Duchesne-Guillemin, Jacques. La religion de l'Iran ancien. Paris, 1962.

Dumézil, Georges. Naissance d'Archanges. Paris, 1945.

Geiger, Bernhard. Die Ameša Spentas: Ihr Wesen und ihre ursprüngliche Bedeuntung. Vienna, 1916.

Gershevitch, Ilya. "Zoroaster's Own Contribution." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 23 (1964): 1238.

Gershevitch, Ilya, trans. and ed. The Avestan Hymn to Mithra. Cambridge, 1959.

Gray, Louis H. The Foundations of the Iranian Religions. Bombay, 1930.

Kellens, Jean. Le panthéon de l'Avesta ancien. Wiesbaden, 1994.

Lommel, Herman. "Die Elemente im Verhältnis zu den Ameša Spenta's." In Feschrift für Ad. E. Jensen, vol. 1, edited by Eike Haberland et al., pp. 365377. Munich, 1964.

Narten, J. Die Amĕa Spetas im Awesta. Wiesbaden, 1982.

Nyberg, H. S. Irans forntida religioner. Stockholm, 1937. Translated as Die Religionen des alten Iran (1938; 2d ed., Uppsala, 1966).

Schlerath, Bernfried. "Die Gathas des Zarathustra." Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 57 (1962): 565589.

Thieme, Paul. "Die vedischen Āditya und die zarathustrischen Ameša Spenta." In Zarathustra, "Wege der Forschung," no. 169, edited by Bernfried Schlerath, pp. 397412. Darmstadt, 1970.

Widengren, Geo. Die Religionen Irans. Stuttgart, 1965. Translated as Les religions de l'Iran (Paris, 1968).

Gherardo Gnoli (1987)

Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris

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