October 26 marks the festival of waters in the Zoroastrian religious calendar. Zoroastrianism could justly be termed ancient worship of pure, undefiled waters as well as worship of lights and sacred fires.
The Avestan term for Water is áp or ápö, (Compare Hittite hāpa, Lithuanian upė, Latvian upe “moving waters, river,” and Old Irish ab, Modern Persian áb “water.”)
Making the offering of “pure, undefiled” waters is the culminating rite of the main Zoroastrian act of worship, the yasná ceremony, (literally “yearning, desire, Greek zelós is a cognate.”)
At the heart of the rituals of the second part of the yasná is consecrating the holy water that is prayed upon/invoked (Avestan apæ zaôθra.)
The ancient belief is that waters, which give vitality to all living things, make the act of longing, worship “much more powerful and purer.”
The use of holy water in libations has continued in Zoroastrianism up to the present. Prayed upon waters is poured on the sacred ground, before or at the beginning of acts of worship.
In Zoroastrian religion, water should never be drawn from well or river/stream during hours of darkness, nor can holy water, ever be offered during nighttime.
In Zarathustra’s poetic gathas, waters are associated with “healing, wholeness” haurvatát (Greek hólos “whole.”) In the Old Avestan Yasna Haptaŋhāiti (Yasna 38.3,) the waters are venerated as ahûránî, “goddesses.”
In the Avestan lore, the concept of waters tends to merge with that of “tri star” tištriiá, “the mighty lady of the undefiled waters, arədvî sürá anahitá and the fiery descendant/nephew of waters apam napát.
Apam napát is a splendid god figure ahûrá in the depths of waters. The first part of the name apam relates to “flowing waters,” while napát refers to “descendant, nephew of,” thus the “kin, nephew of the waters.”
Napát is a cognate of Lithuanian nepoutìs, Latin nepōs, Old High German nefo “descendant, nephew.” Also Old Irish nai “descendant” and modern Persian niyá “descendant, navæ “grandchild” come from the same root.
In the most sacred yasná liturgy, waters are repeatedly invoked with apąm napát. In the religious divisions of the day, the morning is set under the protection of Mithra, while the sunset/afternoon under that of Apąm Napát.
Still today, when a Zoroastrian says the prayers proper to the watch of sunset uzærîn gáh, he/she calls upon the fiery descendant of waters, apąm napát.
The epithet of apąm napát is bərəzantəm ahûrəm, the “lofty, high ahûrá or god-being.” (Avestan bərəz “lofty” is a cognate of German berg “mountain, hill.”)
In the Avestan hymns or Yašts (Yt. 19.52,) follows a magnificent verse in honor of apąm napát:
“We worship the lofty god/lord (bərəzantəm ahûrəm), regal, shining, Son of the Waters, who has swift horses, the hero who gives help when called upon. (It is) he who created men, he who shaped men, (yö nərə̄uš dadha, yö nərə̄uš tataša) the god amid the waters, who being prayed to is swiftest of all to hear.”
The chief duty of apąm napát is to watch over the “divine glory or fiery luminous halo” (xᵛarənah or farnæ) that he safeguards in the depths of seas/waters for the Aryans (Yt. 19. 51–64.)
There exists a close relationship here between the “fiery luminous halo of good fortune” (xᵛarənah or farnæ) and apąm napát “the brilliant descendant of the waters” himself. He is somehow a form of light/fire, but not synonymous with fire. “The abode of the “adorable high god” yazad bôrz (as he is so called in the middle Iranian) is there where are the undefiled waters.
In the Greek mythology, the dive for the gleaming gold ring, as the concrete symbol of Minos’ sovereignty, has an analog in the Avestan account of the Turanian warrior Fraŋrasyan (Persian Afrásiyáb) who dived three times into the “wide shored sea” vôurû.kaša in a misguided attempt to rob the fiery luminous halo or the divine glory of xᵛarənah or farnæ of the Aryans.
The old Armenian poem about the birth of the hero vahagn may preserve another reflex of the motif of the fiery god figure in the waters.
Finally, in Old Norse appears the phrase sævar niðr “descendant of the sea” as a kenning for fire (Ynglingatal 4. 3). The Norse kenning derives ultimately from a sacral formula of Indo-European hymnal poetry, based on a cosmological myth with many parallels to Avestan apąm napát.