Avestan xšnu, Greek xenos and extending goodness toward disguised divinity

In the poetic gathas of the ancient Aryan prophet, and the Avestan sacred lore a recurring term is xšnû or ḵšnû “ to delight, be congenial, well disposed, be good natured.”

Avestan xšnû is about “reciprocating, and corresponding to the brilliant and well disposed nature” of the supreme god Ahûrá Mazdá, his brilliant, wise immortals, and the soul of the primordial cow géuš ûrvá, as the personification of all life in the universe. The term also appears in relation to ties of reciprocity/generosity between mortals.

Many Avestan Prayers and formulas start with the phrase xšnaôthra ahûrahæ mazdáv “May we delight, mirror your good, brilliant disposition Ahura Mazda.

Avestan xšnû is a cognate of Greek xénos “extending hospitality to guest/strangers.” The Greek theme Theo-xenia or Theo-xeny however is closest to the Avestan original. The concept is that of extending “goodness, virtue, hospitality” towards a stranger/guest xénos, who turns out to be a disguised deity theos.

Xenía “guest-friendship” is centralized around the divine and both the disguised divinity as xénos “guest” and the host are bound by the ties of reciprocity. Gods, taking the likeness of strangers from elsewhere and assuming every kind of aspect, go from one community to another, monitoring men’s vile or virtuous conduct’ (Od. 17. 485–7.)

Several Greek and Roman myths tell how a god, or two or three gods together, travelled about and received hospitality from someone who did not know what they were and who impressed them with his goodness and virtue, or his/her lack of it. Animals such as dogs are better than humans at sensing the presence of gods and spirits. But a human being may be temporarily granted the special kind of vision that enables him to see the gods in their true form and know them for what they are.

In Nordic mythology Odin goes about similarly, accompanied by Loki and Hœnir.

The Trojan War described in the Iliad of Homer actually resulted from a violation of xenia. Paris, from the house of Priam of Troy, was a guest of Menelaus, king of Mycenaean Sparta, but seriously transgressed the bounds of xenia by abducting his host’s wife, Helen.

Avestan xšnû has remarkably survived almost intact in modern Persian in the form of xšnud “happy, delighted.”

The implication of the term xšnû in Zoroastrianism is to celebrate the world as an inherent potential for becoming divine.

Godhood in Zoroastrianism is not about a supremely powerful anthropomorphic being, but about “the eternal quest for excellence” manifested in the wonderful order and ingenuity of all that exists.

Godhood is the odyssey of consciousness and the evolution of Mind Power Mazdá. The Immortals personify the “overcoming of limitations” and the “discovery of new horizons.”

The way to adore the Gods in Zoroastrianism is to emulate/reciprocate their brilliant nature, good disposition and their virtues.



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