Druj, Angra Mainyu
The Gathas, the Avesta, the Book of Arda Viraf, the Bundahishn
Ahriman (pronounced AH-ri-muhn), also known as Angra Mainyu (pronounced ANG-ruh MAYN-yoo), was the spirit of evil and darkness in Persian mythology and in Zoroastrianism, a religion that attracted a large following in Persia around 600 bce. Often called Druj (”the Lie”), Ahriman was the force behind anger, greed, envy, and other negative and harmful emotions. He also brought chaos, or the breakdown of order and structure, into the world. In Zoroastrianism, Ahriman is contrasted with Ahura Mazda , the supreme creator of order and goodness. In the Islamic religion, Ahriman is identified with Iblis, the devil.
The Zoroastrian history of the world was seen as a struggle between these two forces. Ahura Mazda had the backing of the yazatas (angels), while Ahriman created a host of demons called daevas to spread his evil influence by appealing to the envy, greed, and desire for power felt by human beings.
In the beliefs of early Zoroastrianism, good and evil fought for control of the world—Ahura Mazda from the heavens and Ahriman from the underworld , or land of the dead. The two forces were evenly matched, and constantly struggled back and forth. Ahura Mazda represented fire , sunlight, and life. Ahriman was the lord of darkness and death. Zoroastrians later came to view Ahura Mazda as the supreme ruler who would one day achieve final victory over Ahriman.
Ahriman in Context
Zoroastrianism views Ahriman and Ahura Mazda as locked in an enduring conflict. This opposition of good and evil is called dualism, and Zoroastrianism was only one among several Persian religions, including Zurvanism (the religion of the Magi) and Manichaeism, that adhered to this philosophy.
The idea of a dark, evil force pitted against a good, creative force is central to the major monotheistic religions (religions with one god) of the world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Where Zoroastrianism differs from these faiths is in the relative power of the good and evil forces. In the major monotheistic faiths, the supreme god is all-powerful, whereas in the Zoroastrian faith, the powers of good and evil are more evenly balanced, although Zoroastrians believe that the forces of good will eventually triumph.
An important aspect of the good-versus-evil struggle in Zoroastrianism is the notion of free will, or moral choice. Zoroaster believed that in the conflict between good and evil, good will ultimately triumph by choice: everything that Ahura Mazda created, including humanity, is good, so in the end, humans will choose good over evil.
Key Themes and Symbols
Ahriman was seen as the force responsible for greed and the desire for money or other material things. Ahriman also represented darkness and death, as well as chaos. In modern terms, Ahriman was a symbol of the evil that continually batded against the goodness of Ahura Mazda.
But Ahriman does not have an absolute grasp on humanity; the themes of goodness and free will run throughout Zoroastrianism. Humans are good because they were created by Ahura Mazda, who created only good, and they will use their free will to choose good over evil. Humans demonstrate their free will by actively upholding the order of Ahura Mazda's creation: following laws, performing good acts, and rejecting evil. By choosing good, humans will eventually eliminate evil from existence.
Religious scholars have long sought a satisfactory answer to the still-unanswered question: If God is all-powerful, why is there a devil? That is, how can the devil be a serious threat if God is so much stronger? This particular area of confusion has given rise over the centuries to various ideas called “heresies” (ideas that are different from accepted teachings) by the Christian church. The Manichaeans of the third century, and the Cathars and the Albigensians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, all differed from Christian teaching by adopting a view of the universe in which good and evil were equally powerful.
Ahriman in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Although similar to Satan , Mammon, and many other evil characters found in mythologies and religious teachings around the world, Ahriman is not very well known to those who are unfamiliar with Zoroastrianism. Ahriman has appeared several times in the Final Fantasy video game series as an enemy to be fought by the player; he has appeared under the names Ahriman and Angra Mainyu, and is usually depicted as a winged monster with a single eye. Ahriman has also appeared as a demon in the DC Comics series Wonder Woman.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The idea of two opposing forces at war in the universe, such as Ahriman and Ahura Mazda, is common in literature and film. Can you think of any books or movies that are based on this idea? Write down at least two examples, and explain how they handle this theme.
SEE ALSO Ahura Mazda; Angels; Devils and Demons; Persian Mythology