Hearth Fire in Zoroastrianism

The 9th month of the Zoroastrian sacred calendar, that is the last month of fall/autumn is dedicated to “hearth fire, and altar,” áθar/áthar. The great festival of fire ADAR.GAAN literally “singing hymns of praise to áthar/fire,falls on November 24th of the seasonal Zoroastrian calendar. 

Veneration of the “hearth fire, and altar” goes back to early Indo-European/Aryan times. Yet, the veneration of fire seem to be much more prominent, and play a more central role in Zoroastrianism than any other Indo-European faith. 

The chief duty of áθar.ván/átharván priests is/was to keep the flame of the clan, and the spark of the Titans alive and thriving. Remains of “fire altars,” or elevated fire-holders of the Zoroastrian type, are known from Pasargád from the time of Cyrus the Great; and it is very likely that one of these altars was the Achaemenid dynastic, hearth fire, (Achaemenids were the First Ancient Persian Imperial House.) 

The Letter of Chief Priest Tansar (ed. M. Mīnovī, Tehran, 1936, p. 22, tr. M. Boyce, Rome, 1968, p. 47) establishes that the Parthian dynasty, (The ancient Persian Imperial dynasty following the Achaemenids) allowed their vassal kings to found dynastic fires; and that the Arsacids’ own dynastic fire was most likely the one mentioned by Isidore of Charax (Parthian Stations 11) as burning at Asaak in northeastern Iran. A general term attested for a fire temple in the Parthian language was átaröšan (preserved in Armenian as atrušan.)

The Yasná Haptaŋ.háiti liturgy, (Literally “Seven Chapters of prayers/yearnings, and joyous blessings”) is a most ancient Zoroastrian celebration of all the good, material creation which consists of priestly offerings to fire and waters. 

Strabo (Geography 15.3.15) writes of “temples of the magi” in Cappadocia in his day (around the beginning of the Christian era). Some were “temples of the “Airyan Gods” and “pyratheia,” i.e., fire temples, “noteworthy enclosures; in the midst of these there is an altar, on which there is a large quantity of ashes and where the magi keep the fire ever burning. And there, entering daily, they make incantations to the Gods for about an hour, holding before the fire, their twig bundles (barsôm.)

Avestan áθar/áθarš is a cognate of Old Irish áith “fireplace,” Welsh odyn “oven,”  Umbrian atru “open fire,” English atrium (from Latin,) and Persian átaš “fire.” 

In the Zoroastrian sacred lore Avestá, fire is a yazatá-, that is, “an adorable god” as well as a visible means for worshipping Godhood. Fire’s twin function in the Zoroastrian worship is mentioned at the beginning of the Vispa.ratü “all the right formulas, rites” as follows:

átrəm.ca ia ahûrahæ mazdā̊ puθrəm yaza.maidæ 

átarš.ciθrə̄s.ca yazatə̄ yazamaidæ

Fire, the prodigy, son of Ahurá Mazdá, we adore, 

Fire, the visible yazatá/adorable god, we adore.

In one Avestan hymn, fire is invoked as “the magnificent, great god” (mazištayazata-):

nəma.sə tē ātarš mazdā̊ ahurahe hu.ā̊ mazišta yazata.

Homage/Bow to you fire of Ahura Mazdā, the discerning, magnificent god.

Hearth Fire shares this title of “being great, magnificent” only with Miθra (Yt10.142 mazišta yazata, “magnificent, great god”) and Ahûrá Mazdá (Yt10.76 yō mazištö yazata.nąm, “the greatest, most magnificent of all the Gods.”) 

In the poetic gathas/songs of the seer, prophet Zarathustra, fire is the visible sign of ašá/arθá, “excellence, right order, higher truth.”In the Gathas/Poetic Songs, fire illuminates, clarifies, and is in ceaseless fight against all that is opposed to ašá/arθá, “excellence, truth.” This warrior nature of the fire, and its ceaseless fight against all that is opposed to “higher order/truth” is symbolized by the enthronement and consecration of the “Victorious Fire” or Átarš Vahrám the highest grade of earthly fires in the Zoroastrian ritual. The priests escorting the Victorious Fire carry swords and maces; and after the ceremony some of the weapons are hung on the sanctuary walls of the fire temple to symbolize the victorious battle of light against darkness. 

The other Zoroastrian god of Fire, nairiiö.saŋha literally means “Manly, Brave, Teachings.” Avestan nairiiö.saŋha is the messenger of the Titans/Gods, and corresponds with Prometheus (The god of forethought in Greek mythology,) as well as with the Vedic samsa narya, See (RV 1.185.9a.) 

The Gathas/Poetic Songs of Zarathustra also talk of “judicial ordeal with fire” (Yasna 47,) and the “fiery flood of molten metal” which will cleanse the worlds at frašö.kereitî “the splendid, fresh new creation of the worlds,” (See Yasna 51.9.) Zoroastrian Frašö.kereitî, the Splendid, fresh, new Creation” is the more ancient version of Ragnarök in Norse mythology.

In the Zoroastrian sacred lore, (See Avestá, Yasna 17,) Five fires are invoked.  First is the fire called bərəzi.sava “fire of ascending weal, good fortune,” (Avestan bərəzi is a cognate with German Berg.) Second is the fire of vohü friyána the fire of passion, love that burns in the bodies of men and animals. Vohü friyána means literally “good friendship, love.” Third is the ûrvāzišta “the most joyful,” fire that is in “trees, plants” ûrvar (Compare with arbor;) fourth is the lightening fire that is in the clouds called vazišta “forceful, full of vigorous energy,” and lastly spə̄ništa “the most auspicious fire, the holiest, most sacred fire” which burns in the presence of Öhrmazd (middle Persian for Ahûrá Mazdá, the supreme God and source of Godhood himself.) 

The Zoroastrian vazišta “fire of lightening that is in the clouds” corresponds closely with the Old Norse gold fire of the sea and the fire of waters See Old Norse Skáldskaparmál 41. Also we read in Beowulf “it is by night a weird wonder to see fire on the flood fyr on flode …..I shall reward you with winding gold, (See Didie Calin Dictionary of Indo European Poetic and religious Themes page 96.)


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1 Response to Hearth Fire in Zoroastrianism

  1. Kersi B. Shroff says:

    Hello Ardeshir,

    Thank you for another wonderful posting.

    Re, the translation of *átrəm.ca i*ẟ*a ahûrahæ mazdā̊ puθrəm* , may I refer to a different interpretation? According to Professor Ervad Furdoonji Kanga’s *Khordeh Avesta* (1st ed. 1993), pg. 76 (footnote *),in *’Athro ahurahe Mazdao puthra’*, puthra is explained to be:

    *”Puthra” (sanskrit ‘putra’) – the ordinary meaning of the word is “son” but the meaning of this word in this [Atash] Neyaesh everywhere derived from the Sanskrit root pu (= to purify, to render pure) is “source of purifying, cleaning” and I have thought it proper to translate”purifier” deriving it from it.”*

    I suppose this is a very subjective interpretation.

    I look forward to future postings.

    Kersi Shroff Maryland, U.S.A.

    On Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 2:10 PM Authentic Gatha Zoroastrianism wrote:

    > orthodoxzoroastrian posted: “The 9th month of the Zoroastrian sacred > calendar, that is the last month of fall/autumn is dedicated to “hearth > fire, and altar,” áθar/áthar. The great festival of fire ADAR.GAAN > literally “singing hymns of praise to áthar/fire,” falls on November 24th > of” >

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