Dastoors, rivers of knowledge and Herbeds, scholar priests
The Zoroastrian Parsis employ dastoor as the title of a high priest and the term dastoorán dastoor has replaced the earlier pēshöpáy“spiritual leader, pontiff,” or the Sassanian möbedán möbed “chief magi.”
In the Sasanian period dastür was a term referring to “well versed scholars.” It was qualified as dæn ágáh“well versed in revelatory knowledge, vision, spiritual matters.” Dastürs were the highest authority in sacred verse, their exegesis and their new interpretation/light.
Dastür ī dæn ágáh was the designation for high-ranking doctors in sacred verse and spiritual wisdom, with dæn being “revelatory knowledge, vision, religion,” to whom members of the community turned for wise counsel. The Zoroastrian religious phrase dastoorán édoen guuft is to be translated “the spiritual counsel/experts have said so.”
The origin of the word dastür goes back to the poetic gathas. In the famous kém-ná ma(n)zdá manthra, Yasna 46.7, 5th rhymed verse line; we come across the word dánstvá(n)m, from the root dán.
Dán can be compared with Proto Indo European danu, Celtic danu(w)-yo-“a flowing, river.” Hence, dánstvá(n)m, is one who is “a river of knowledge and new ideas.”
Also in Yasna 45.5, 3rd rhymed verse line, dán like a river brings the flow and melody of inspired poetry (sraöshá) into understanding and savor.
The famous sage Jámásp bore the title dé-jámáspá in Yasna 49.9, 4th rhymed verse line; the discerning Jámásp of superior sagacity/wisdom; Translated in ancient Pahlavi commentary as dastür Jámásp.
The term dastür is also applied to doctors, highest agents of demons, (dævéñg dán) in Yasna 49.4, 4th rhymed verse line. The ancient Pahlavi Commentary of the verse says; avæshán dæv dastür hénd kæshán drüvandī dæn“those dastürs of demons whose vision/religion is treachery and lie.”
The term dastür has the sense of “mastery” and signifies “rule, best instruction, master formula,” as in: dæn pad dastür dár “regard the revelatory knowledge, religion as your rule, master formula” (Pahlavi Yasna and Visperad, p. 202) and akhv ī xvēsh paddastür künēd “make the ahü, divine in your inner-self Master” (Holy Denkart, ed. Madan, pt. 2, p. 528).
Dastoor in secular Persian literature is commonly used in the sense of “instruction; rule or formula;” e.g. grammar “dastūr-e zabān, lit., rules of language/tongue”; dastūr-e jalsa; “procedure of a committee meeting.”
Dastoor was also borrowed in Arabic and denotes “constitution, statute, canon, regulation.” In colloquial Arabic dastoor denotes “authority to do something, permission.”
HĒRBED (or Hērbad, Ērvad), is a Zoroastrian priestly title, used at present for a priest who has undergone the initiatory Návar ceremony and is qualified to officiate at simple rituals.
The Middle Persian form hērbed derives from Avestan aæthra-paiti, which denoted a keeper of flame who taught his disciples to recite the sacred verse/gathas (Yasna 65.9;Yasht. 10.116).
The power of mind/memory of the ancient aæthra-paitis was greatly revered in Avesta, (Yasht. 13.105; Vendidad. 4.45), and their role was deemed essential for the transmission of the sacred verse/gathas and their spiritual wisdom in an oral society.
The Sassanian inscriptions show that the high priest Kartir bore the title of hērbed (inscription at Kaʿba-ye Zardoesht, l. 8.) This suggests the word was a title for scholar priests who were qualified to teach religious matters.
This is confirmed by the Holy Denkart (ed. Madan, I, p. 406, l. 6), which gives the high priest Tanßar the title of hērbed. Hērbeds were not only responsible for teaching their pupils to recite the sacred songs/gathas and their hidden wisdom/Avesta, but taught more advanced branches of religious learning, such as the Middle Persian commentaries of the Avestan texts (gnosis/higher knowledge/zand), and the keys to their higher understanding.
In the Rivāyāt literature, the same persons are all called dastür in one letter and hērbed in another (Dhabhar, pp. 603, 607; Kreyenbroek, 1987a, p. 164).
Also, in the Rivāyāt literature, high ceremonies, which in modern Parsee practice can only be performed by more highly qualified priests, are repeatedly said to be carried out by hērbeds (Dhabhar, pp. 325, 397, 403).
While in Sasanian times society was evidently wealthy enough to support a considerable group of hērbeds for the sake of their scholarship and teaching activities alone, the impoverished Zoroastrian community of later times found it increasingly difficult to do so.
We learn, from the 9th century Dādestān ī dēnīg that there was active rivalry between hērbeds and hāvishts, that is scholar-priests and ritual priests.
Manuchihr, the traditionalist author of the Dādestān ī dēnīg, frowned on such rivalries and pointed out that the hērbeds’ status was higher; and, since they had knowledge of the Zand or hidden meaning of the sacred songs, they were better qualified to direct ceremonies.
Elsewhere in Dādestān ī dēnīg45, Manuchihr states “if a hērbed cannot make a living from his activities as a hērbed/scholar, may do other work . . .” or if the faithful fail to provide for him, a hērbed may engage in other activities to make a living. In other words, the community’s increasing poverty led to a blurring of the distinctions between scholar and ritual priests, forcing all priests to accept what work they could find.