The Avestan Champion Archer Araḵš, and Old Norse Berserkr Warriors

The Avestan hymn to Tištar or the Tri-star, recounts the epic story of araš or erešö, the champion archer of the Aryans.

According to the Avesta, erešö “of the swift arrow, having the swiftest arrow among the Aryans” shot an arrow from Mount Airyö.šaôθa to Mount Xanvant. Historian Bīrūnī states, Āraš displayed himself naked and said: “Behold! My body is free of any deformity or fault; but after this bowshot I will be ripped apart into pieces.” At dawn araš shot the arrow and the wind bore the arrow as far as the remote regions of the Iranian Northeast, and in this way the boundary between the Aryan kingdoms of Iran and Nomadic kingdoms of Central Asia was established.

Avestan erešö Old Iranian araš, is cognate with Latin ursus, Greek arktos, Welsh arth “a bear” and all go back to reconstructed Indo European *rtko. The constellations of Ursa Major and Minor were named as a “bear.” Names such as Ursula come from the same root, so is the Persian male name Áraš.

In Greek Mythology the name of Artemis, “the Mistress of Animals” is derived from arktos or “bear.” In Slavic the bear is called the “honey eater” medvēdi. However, the closest parallel to the Avestan account of Bear warrior/archer are the Norse berserkr champion warriors. Berserkr or “bear-shirted” is the term in Old Norse for a warrior in battle frenzy. They are reported to have fought in a trance-like fury, a characteristic that later gave rise to the English word berserk. These champion warriors would often go into battle wearing only bear pelts In Germanic the bear is the “brown one” Old Norse bjørn. Bearskin dress Hartagga was observed also in Hittite sacred rituals.

The epic story of araš, the champion archer of the Aryans is about the cosmic order of things, sacred duty, heroism and selfless sacrifice. In Zoroastrianism life is an epic battle, and man must choose the Gods, goodness and nobility throughout the ages of this world, not because of fear or in hope of favors, but for the sake of virtue only.


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