Barshanöm is the most important Zoroastrian purification rite. Barshanöm consists of full 9 nights of solitude, ritual purification and reflection. The 9 nights of seclusion rite is primary to gain insight and wisdom. The purification rite is invoked against the forces of death, decay and evil and is seen as awakening the inner eye.
Every Zoroastrian priest has to undergo barshanöm before being initiated herbád/ervad and again before solemnizing the rituals.
Also, every member of the Zoroastrian community is required to undergo the full 9 nights rite at least once in his or her lifetime.
According to the Persian Rivayats, barshanöm is part of the preparation required of coverts to the Zoroastrian religion (Persian Rivayats, ed. Unvala, I, p. 282; tr. Dhabhar, p. 276).
The purification rite is touched upon briefly in the Yasht/hymn dedicated to haúr-vatát (healing, cure, every wisdom and wholeness formula) and described in detail in Vendidad 8.37-72, more briefly in Vendidad 9.1-37.
The full 9 nights of purification, seclusion and reflection of the Zoroastrians, reminds one of Óðinn’s discovery of the runes after full 9 nights.
Óðinn watched the Norns from his seat in Asgard and envied their powers and their wisdom. And he bent his will toward the task of coming to know the runes.
Since the runes’ native home was in the Well of Urd (Compare with the Avestan ardá/arthá) with the Norns of faith, and since the runes did not reveal themselves to any but those who prove themselves worthy of such insights, Óðinn hung himself from a branch of Yggdrasil (tree of life,) pierced himself with his spear, and peered downward into the shadowy waters below. Óðinn stared downward and called to the runes for no less than nine days and nights, teetering on the realm that separates the living from the dead.
At the end of the ninth night, Óðinn at last perceived shapes in the depths: the runes! The runes had accepted his sacrifice and shown themselves to Óðinn, revealing to Óðinn not only their forms, but also the secrets that lie within them. Equipped with the knowledge of how to wield the runes, Óðinn became the mightiest and most accomplished of beings in all the worlds.
After the full 9 nights, Óðinn’s gift/offering/sacrifice to himself (gefinn Óðinn) secured him from the Well of Wyrd 18 (twice 9) charms or runes.
I shall add that the poetic gathas or the most sacred verses of the Zoroastrians consist of 17 songs and 1 chapter of 7 charms, or 18 in total. The 18 gathas/songs (Lithuanian giedoti “to sing”) are world-shaping mind/consciousness formulas or secret wisdom (avestá from the root vid.)
The rite consist of a triple cleansing, with gö-míz (cow’s urine mixed with wine), ash and pure water mixed with flower extracts, followed by nine nights’ of seclusion/contemplation, during which three simpler cleansings take place.
The cleansing rite’s full name is barshanöm-e nö-šaba (Darī nö-šwa) “barshanöm of the nine nights.”
It is administered on clean, barren ground, 30 paces from holy fire, holy water, and the baresman (sacred tree branches).
Nine shallow pits, maγa-, are dug in a straight line from north to south, so that the person undergoing the cleansing may move from the direction of hell to that of heaven (Pahlavi commentary of Vendidad 9.32).
The first six pits, are a pace apart. A gap of three paces separates them from the last three. A line/ditch, karšā-, is drawn round all nine pits, and twelve more lines/ditches, in sets of three, inside it, the last three pits being again somewhat separated by this means.
Stones are placed within the outer lines before the first pit, and after the ninth, and also in the gap between the sixth and seventh pits, so that the person’s feet never touches the good earth (Vendidad 9.11).
The priest stands outside the lines, reciting Avesta (hidden wisdom,) beginning with Yasna 49.10.3rd rhymed verse line. First he pours gömíz into a metal pot fixed to the end of a rod with nine “knots.”
This priest reaches the metal pot with nine knots to the person undergoing the cleansing ritual. The person then rubs his/her hands with gömíz and then every part of his/her body, from head to foot, finally reciting the Ahün-var (yasna 27.13) and Kem-ná Mazdá (Yasna 46.7.)
This process is repeated in the next five pits, with a dog being shown to the person undergoing the ritual after each cleansing. Dogs are holy in Zoroastrianism and their gaze, spirit and presence is believed to be most effective in combating evil and negative/dark energies.
Between the sixth and seventh pits the person undergoing the purification rite dries his/her body with fifteen applications of ashes, then in the last three pits the administering priest hands water mixed with flower extracts to him/her, with which he/she rubs him/herself all over, once in the seventh pit, twice in the eighth, thrice in the ninth (Vendidad 9.31).
Finally, on the stones beyond the ninth pit the administering priest perfumes the person with incense. The person undergoing the barshanöm puts on fresh clothes and retires to a place of seclusion/contemplation for 9 days and nights.
There, on the fourth, seventh, and tenth mornings he/she bathes body and clothes with gömíz and water mixed with flower extracts, regaining thereby full purity.
Let’s not forget that this system was wonderfully protective: if somebody came from a far-away land, he/she had to undergo the 9 nights’s bareshnum, thus if there is a sickness caught in the far-away land, it is seen during these days and nights, and an epidemy is avoided. This is what we call quarantine and it is practiced since hundreds of years by our wise and lovely priests.
very interesting, fascinating you compare this zoroastrain clensing rite with Odin and his search for wisdom-both for 9 days-Mary Boyce writes of this ancient clensing rite in her book she wrote after living in Firozbad-A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism.
Lorenzo Snow of the LDS said the following; which I found very compatible with Zoroastrianism: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.”
Wow great article.
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What is the significance and symbology of the nine knots ?
9 is a sacred, powerful number in Zoroastrianism. it is 3×3.