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Ashem vohü, is the second of the four great sacred formulas/charms of the Zoroastrians. Ashem vohü is placed in Yasna 27.14. The other sacred formulas/charms are in respective order: Ahüna vairyö (Yasna 27.13), Yeñghæ hátánm (Yasna 27.15), and Airyémá ishyö (Yasna 54.1).
The purpose of the ashem vohü is the invocation of “excellence, virtue, brilliance and goodness (ashá/arthá), awe, wonder, marvel and beauty (vohü), and new horizons, radiance, joy and the realm of adventure (úshtá).”
Ashem vohü consists of twelve words and is recommended to be recited 12 or 3 times. The ancient commentary adds that the 3 recitations refer to the coming of the 3 saöshyánts or the 3 future ages of the saviors. The number 12 refers to the 12,000 symbolic years of this world-age till the dawning of the fresh, new age of eternal progress or frashö-kereití (fresh, new creation).
Ashem vohü speaks in thought-provoking riddles, as the rest of the gathas or enchanting songs of the ancient Aryan prophet do. The formula has an enigmatic poetical form and a magical effect; an effect which seeks to achieve through the repetition and variation of the four keywords.
The keywords are “ashem, ashái, ashem”..…..”vohü, vahishtem, vahishtái,” ……”astí,…astí,” …….”úshtá,…úshtá.” The other two words appearing in this verse are respectively “ahmái” and “hyat.”
The deliberate word play is an invitation to the imagination; a bid to reflect, to meditate and to ponder on a host of meanings of the sacred formula, and the numerous relations between its multilayered words. In this respect the “ashem vohü,” is representative of Zarathushtra’s poetical style in the poetic gathas as a whole.
“ashem, ashái, ashem,” come from “ashá or arthá.” In Avestan sh and rt are freely interchangeable. ashá or arthá is Greek arête, aristos “art, skill, ingenuity, excellence, brilliance, virtue.”
The ancient commentary of baghán adds: ashá or arthá “excellence, brilliance, virtue, goodness” is the very self of ahúrmazd, and connects it to Yasna 39.5.
Varshtmánßar gathic commentary says that in virtue and wisdom lies the power of Gd and the wise.
“vohü, vahishtem, vahishtái,” is literally “wow; awe inspiring, wonderful.” All that is beautiful, marvelous, wonderful, lovely and good.
Varshtmánßar gathic commentary says that the words are about the awe and marvel of creativity, imagination and the Gd of mind; the eternal betterment and progress of the worlds, betterment of progeny and kin, and the beauty and the odyssey of the mind and soul.
“astí,.. astí,” literally means “is,” from the base es- “to be;” Compare with German “ist,” and Lithuanian. “esti.”
“úshtá…úshtá,” refers to the “new horizons, radiance, new and pristine splendors.” úshtá can be compared with Proto.Germanic. “Ôstarâ,” Old.Irish. “usah.”
Varshtmánßar gathic commentary connects úshtá to the realm of adventure, new horizons, radiance, and great joy. For virtue and holiness lies in delight, Adventure, wish fulfillment and undiscovered, new splendors.
In addition, “ahmái” is “am, to be;” Compare with Old.Norse. emi, Lithuanian. esmi. Ahmái is the spark “am,” of Gd in each and every creature.
The word “hyat” (pronounced yat) represents the unleashed power of all the mánthrás or the mind formulas of the creation.
From “ashái vahishtái” of this verse, is taken the 4th name of ahúrmazd or “asha vahishta” in Ohrmazd Yasht or the hymn to divine names of GD.
In short, excellence/virtue is a journey of awe and betterment, an odyssey of radiance and joy, a call to new horizons, and the realm of adventure. And if we dare to be happy and joyous there will be fulfillment of wishes and the possibility to be one with the self of Gd.
Ashem vohü vahishtem astí
Úshtá astí úshtá ahmái
Hyat ashái vahishtái ashem