Holy Water in Zorastrianism
October 26th marks the festival of waters in the Zoroastrian calendar. Zoroastrians, could as justly be termed worshippers of water as of fire. Per Zoroastrian literature, water is merely a liquid manifestation of light and splendor. This is evident from the names used to designate the water, including light and ambrosia. Yasna 38.3 calls waters with the epithet of ahüránísh ahüráhyá “glowing, resplendent and divine.” In Yasna 38.5, waters are called mátarö jítayö “mother of life.” In Zámyaad Yasht of the Avesta, waters are the Creator of mankind. In the same hymn, there is an evident link between the khavernö “good fortune, brightness, lucky star” and the waters. The ancient Iranians greatly respected waters and the smallest spring or dewdrop was regarded as representing the whole creation of water. The great respect of the ancient iranians for the waters was not lost on the Greek and Romans, who both report how the Persians went on great length and through elaborate rituals, lest they not pollute the waters. Accordingly, the ancient Iranians evidently made offerings to waters, to keep them pure and vivifying.
Numerous passages in the Avesta and the Zoroastrian tradition, report that Zarathushtra’s offerings to GD consisted of holy water (Zatspram 19.2-3), and that the ancient seer/prophet received his revelation/illumination on a riverbank while preparing holy water (Zatspram 21.1).
The use of holy water in libations comes in the Gáthás of the prophet (the first line of Yasna 50.8) and has continued in Zoroastrianism up to the present (áp-zör). The avestan term for holy water is apö zaöthra literally “the water that is invoked with Avesta prayers and the sacred verse.” Compare with Old Church Slavic zovo “to call, invoke.” The Avestan word for water is áp, Latin aqua Proto.Germanic. akhwo, Gothic ahua “river, waters,” Lithuanian. uppe “a river” Old.Norse. Ægir, “the sea” Sanskrit. ap “water.”
Making the holy water is the culminating rite of the main Zoroastrian act of worship, the Yasna; and preparing and consecrating it is at the center of the rituals of the second part of the Yasna service. Yasna 63-69 is dedicated to the “invocations to the waters,” while Yasna 62 constitutes the prayers to fire. Holy water is offered to the nearest source of pure water, a spring or running stream or well. There the offering would be made ritually, in three pourings, with the recital of Avesta. This is the observance also at a fire temple (which must always be built near a source of water and/or spring).
Water because of its sacredness should never be drawn from well or stream during hours of darkness, nor can āp-zōr or holy water ever be offered by night. Preparations to make holy water must be made between sunrise and noon, in the Hávan gáh (the time of pressing the nectar.) To pray and meditate next to streams, rivers, waterfalls, springs, lakes, seas and the ocean is highly recommended in the beautiful religion, and on the 10th day of each Zoroastrian month, the believers make pilgrimage to various sources of water, offering to the waters their respect and heartfelt prayers.
The belief that by the offering the vital creation of water, which sustains all living things, is made “stronger,” that is purer and more abundant, invests the offering of the holy water or āp-zōr with great significance. In Zoroastrian cosmogony GD is represented as saying to the spirits of the waters, “I shall create one [i.e., Zarathushra] who will pour the holy water into you and cleanse you again” (Bundahišn, p. 91.1). In a passage in the Dēnkard (8.25.24; ed. Sanjana, XVI, p. 12), which is derived from the Avesta, “carrying the offering to the water nearest to the battlefield,” (zōr-barišnīh ī āp ī kārezār gyār nazdtar) is prescribed for soldiers before the battle. This practice is also reported by the Greek sources
We also read in the Manichean Middle Persian texts (in which Zoroastrian imagery is being widely used): “I am the water which is fit that you should give me the offering to water, that I may become strong” (an hēm āb īg passazag ku-m āp-zōr dayād ku zōrmand bawān, M 95 V; for the Manichean fragments, see Boyce, Cat. Man. Script.);“he carries the offering to the water, and gives it power so that it becomes strong” (barēd zōr ō āb u-š tad nērōg ku bawād zōrmand, M 653).
In addition to the āb-zōr consecrated in the Yasna ceremony, a simpler offering to water is still made by conservative Zoroastrians in the orthodox villages of Yazd. For this the libation consists of three ingredients, milk and two things from the vegetable kingdom, such as marjoram leaves, rose petals, or the fruits of the oleaster (senǰed) tree. The offering is prepared, with strict purity, by a lay person, who takes it to the village priest. The priest then carries it to the bank of a stream, and there makes a slow, ritual libation, dropping the liquid by the spoonful into the water, while reciting the Drōn-e āp-zōr (Dari, Drīn-e ōw-zūr). In an old orthodox community this rite is performed on behalf of nearly every Zoroastrian household twice a year,
In India the practice of making offerings to water (apart from the zor-melavvi of the Yasna ceremony) somewhat resembles similar Hindu customs, and is frowned on by reformists. Nevertheless, the more traditional Parsis continue to maintain the palli ritual, which approximates the āp-zōr ritual of Iran, down to the present century. This consists of casting a threefold offering of sweetballs (palli), coconut candy, and flowers into the waters of a river or the sea. The rite is performed by women, but at the feast of Āpān Ardvisūr, that is, on the day of Āpān of the month Āpān, a more general threefold offering of coconut, sugar, and flowers is made by men also.
The holy water is specifically used for spiritual cleansing and protection from the powers of darkness. It is considered also healing, and believers drink a sip of it, while the remainder is poured away on the roots of fruit-bearing trees.