CHINVAT BRIDGE , the "crossing" or "bridge of the separator" or of the "decision"—the meaning is not certain—is, in the Zoroastrian tradition, a mythical bridge that souls must cross to go to Paradise. They succeed in crossing it only if they are souls of the asha-van, that is, faithful followers of asha, truth and order (Vedic, ṛta ), the fundamental principle of Indo-Iranian religion. If they are souls of the dregvant, that is, followers of druj (falsehood), they will fall off the bridge, which for them will narrow itself to a razor's edge, and they will forever reside in Hell. Indeed, Chinvat Bridge stretches over the infernal abysses. One of its ends is on the peak of Mount Harā, also known as Alburz or Harā Berez ("high Harā")—a mythical mountain that figures importantly in Indo-Iranian cosmological conceptions; the other end reaches Paradise (garōdman), which the soul of the ashavan will enter after passing through the "Region of the Mixed" (hamistagān) and then through the halls of Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.
Awaiting the soul on Chinvat Bridge is a divine tribunal composed of the deities Mithra, Sraosha ("discipline"), and Rashnu ("the judge"), assisted by Arshtāt ("justice"). It is then that the soul confronts its own inner self, its daēnā, the sum of its thoughts, words, and deeds. The daēnā can take the form of a magnificent maiden or of a horrible witch, according to the individual case. It serves as psychopomp for the rest of the voyage, accompanying the soul of the ashavan to paradise, where it is received by Vohu Manah ("good thought"), one of the Amesha Spentas, or beneficent immortals, and comforted for the difficult and painful test it experienced during its separation from the body.
This scenario is very ancient: Chinvat Bridge and the daēnā are both mentioned in the Gāthās. Many aspects of this belief—in particular, that of the bridge—are reminiscent of conceptions in other religious traditions, above all those of the shamanistic variety.
A passage to the beyond, Chinvat Bridge can also be considered the path of the soul to heaven during an ecstatic experience (Nyberg, 1938). It thus figures not only in conceptions of the afterlife but also in the religious transports that occur during initiations, which are analogous to death.
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Gherardo Gnoli (1987)
Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris
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