Water as a symbol of memory, deepest wisdom/inspiration in Zoroastrianism

October 26th marks the festival of waters. The hymn or Yašt to waters is among the longest and most beautiful in the sacred Avestan literature. In Zoroastrian worship both fire and water play a crucial role. The month of waters “ábán” is the 8th and the month dedicated to fires is the 9th month in the seasonal Zoroastrian calendar. 

Yasna is the main and most sacred Zoroastrian Liturgy. Yasna literally means “yearning, intense desire, hallowing.” The pouring, libation of holy water is the culminating rite of Yasna ceremony. The consecration of water is done by pounding in a mortar the dried twigs of the most sacred haômá/höm plant with the sap of fresh pomegranate leaves together with milk/cream. The preparation and pouring of holy water stands at the center of the second part of the Yasna ritual. 

The holy water is called áb-zür (Literally “the invoked water” from Avestan züt, to invoke.)The Old Avestan züt “invocation” has later been connected by word play to zür “strength, power.” The belief is that by “invocation of god powers/beings” through sacred Avestan charms and prayers, the vital element of water is made stronger, purer, and more invigorating. 

I shall note that the etymology of “god” goes back to the “pouring of libation, invocation” among ancient Indo-Europeans. Old Avestan züt is a cognate of Gothic guth, Old Church Slavonic zovo, “to invoke, call,” and Sanskrit huta “Invoker.” The reconstructed Proto Indo-European root is *ghu “to invoke,” and *gudhō are “those worshiped with libations or those worthy of invocation/gods.”

The Váršt-mánsar commentary of Yasna 50.1 on züt “invocation, libation” sums up the great significance of water in ancient Zoroastrianism. It states that the reason for 3 steps taken by the Invoker Priest toward water libation after the conclusion of the fire ritual, is in memory of the supernatural wisdom, inspiration and strength that the seer-prophet Zarathustra received after each consultation with the Brilliant Immortals.  

The three steps are a reminder of the Brilliant Immortals and their ascension from earth to the sun station through the “realms of good/superb thoughts, words and deeds” after the conclusion of each wise counsel. The pouring of holy water is in memory of their profound inspiration and deepest wisdom. 

According to Váršt.mánsar commentary of Yasna 43, Zarathustra had his consultations with the Brilliant Immortals at the banks of the beautiful dáityá river. It is by the waters of dáityá that Zarathustra received his revelation and luminous vision.  Prophet Zarathustra got infused with deepest wisdom and inspiration from drinking holy water mixed with wine and/or haômá juice from this scared body of water. 

In traditional Zoroastrianism, Fire temples are always built close to a body of water, a well, spring, pond, pool, lake or river. Waters and their libation in Zoroastrianism, are connected to memory, inspiration, profound wisdom and Godhood. 

Close parallels could be drawn to mead as a source of inspiration and Mîmir’s well or Mímisbrunnr in Norse Mythology. The Prose Edda relates that the waters of the Mímisbrunnr contain much wisdom, and that Odin sacrificed one of his eyes to the well of memory in exchange for drink of supernatural wisdom. 

The offering of water libation is still a living tradition among Zoroastrians in the orthodox villages of Yazd. All libations must be modelled after the Yasna ceremony consisting of water, mixed with three ingredients, milk/cream, leaves and/or fruits from 2 sacred plants or trees.  

In strictest purity, a lay Zoroastrian takes marjoram/oregano leaves, rose petals, and/or the fruits of the oleaster (senǰed) tree in bowl of milk/cream to the village priest. The priest then carries the offering to a stream, river, pool or well and there makes a slow, ritual libation, dropping the liquid by the spoonful into the water, while reciting from the sacred charms/poetry of the Zoroastrians, the Avesta. 

This libation rite should be performed on behalf of every living Zoroastrian twice a year, in the months of Ardibehišt and Āḏar (which are dedicated to yazatas of fire and luminosity.) To perform offerings, acts of worship, desire on months dedicated to light or fire are considered especially auspicious. The water offering can be performed on behalf of a departed spirit at any time!


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