Solstice rites, lights and Lamps in the Zoroastrian customs and tradition

A characteristic aspect of Zoroastrianism is its veneration of light/fire. The elaborate cult of fire is one of the most distinctive and striking aspects of the Zoroastrian faith and goes back to the earliest periods of the ancient Indo-European spiritual beliefs. 

Fire altars and eternal flames featured on Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid coins, seals, rock inscriptions and images are the most visible icon of Zoroastrianism. The most meticulous tending of fires and eternal flames, their ritual purity and sacred songs, enchantments said before light/fires are at the core of the Zoroastrian religious experience.

The following customs are examples of ancient Zoroastrian reverence for light/fire that has survived to this day in Iranian culture. In the Iranian cultural realm, Lamps have spiritual significance and are treated with reverence. Swearing by the glowing light of the lamp (bae sūyae čerāḡ) is a good example of this ancient continuity.

Also, when a lamp is lit, one should recite a blessing and look at something green, a mirror or something beautiful. Lamps should be lit before the last rays of the sun disappear and burn uninterruptedly before the sun has risen. Every lady of the house should personally light the lamp in her own house regardless of servants or not.

It is believed that one should not put out the light of a lamp or candles by blowing on them, as such a deed is sinful and shorten one’s life. The expression čerāḡ-eʿomr and related expressions refer to this association of light and lamps with life. Hence it is considered bad omen and sacrilege among observant Zoroastrians to blow on birthday candles!    

Similar beliefs are attested in Shakespeare’s Richard II (Act 1, scene 3), John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, says, “My oil-dried lamp, and time-bewasted light, shall be extinct with age and endless night.”

Light and lamps are associated to all the important events of a person’s life, such as birth, marriage, business, and death. A burning candle/flame shall stay lit for a minimum of three nights and days (9 nights are more customary) in the room in which a woman and her newborn baby are sleeping. 

A burning candle/flame must burn continuously till the third dawn after a person dies. The third dawn after passing is the time that the soul stands at the rainbow bridge and is ready to pass the very bright portal to other dimensions. 

Lamps play an important role in ceremonies connected with the signing of the marriage contract because of the association of light with godly blessings, prosperity, and happiness. In the ancient Pars/Fars province, a lamp filled with a mixture of honey and oil is lit, in order to ensure that the bride and groom will have a bright, prosperous future. Newlywed women are not supposed to ensure that the lamps in their nuptial chambers burn continuously for three nights and days. 

It is an ancient custom to light a flame whenever a wish is made. Hence, lamps are placed at many sofras. Sofra is a piece of white or green cloth laid on the ritually clean ground and filled with fruit and nuts offerings to obtain a wish. 

Zoroastrian rites associated with solstices and equinoxes involve the lightning of fires and torches. The Ancient Varšt.mánsar commentary of Yasna 33 talks about the pristine light of the two trees in the realm of pure mind/spirit. The two are known as hadha.náæpta trees (much later identified with pomegranate or jewel tree.) The fire of the two trees is unmarred and cannot be transported to our mundane world. However, whenever sacred flames, lights/lamps are lit in our world, they carry some of the indomitable spirit and magical powers of that brightest of spiritual fires.  

The Jewish festival of Hannukah is today one of the more observed and popular festivals in the Jewish calendar. The central ritual activity of Hannukah is the lightning of candles in the home after dark during the eight days of the holiday. This custom in all its ritual detail is primarily a development that took place in Mesopotamia under the Persian Rulers. The festival is said to be based on a fire-based miracle from the era of Nehemiah and the Persian rulers, itself an overt example of Jewish Zoroastrian syncretism.

According to Geofrey Herman, the legend of the fire-based miracle and lightning of candles may have been stimulated by the encounter between Babylonian Judaism and Zoroastrian fire/light veneration, (See Hannukah in Babylonian Talmud and Zoroastrianism.) 

Geofrey Herman argues that the Jews of the Persian Empires were aware of the Zoroastrian fire cult and the Zoroastrian fire cult find explicit mention in Babylonian Talmud. The degree to which the Babylonian Talmud rabbis might have been attune to the prominence of fire in Zoroastrianism is suggested by a precise parallel found in the Babylonian Talmud to the Zoroastrian sacred text in Yasna 17.11 that delineates the various types of spiritual fires. (See IBd 39:20 b. Yoma 21b. The rabbinic is introduced as a Baraita.)  

Geoffrey Herman further argues that Hannukah has a small place in the rabbinic sources originating in Palestine. Only six isolated traditions referring to kindling lights for Hannukah appear in Jerusalem Talmud. In those six passages too the Babylonian input is predominant. 

Geofrey Herman argument seem to be make sense if we Look at the pervasive symbolism of fire/light in winter solstice celebrations of the Zoroastrians and the Zoroastrian fire festival held on November 24th

In conclusion, the word for lamp, torch in Moslem Quran is SIRAJ. 

SIRAJ is attested four times in the Qur’ān. The word is clearly a loanword and is a borrowing from Pahlavi, middle Iranian čirāγ

Parthian čirāγ has been widely borrowed, into: e.g. Armenian črag. The Arabic form may have come from Syriac.


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1 Response to Solstice rites, lights and Lamps in the Zoroastrian customs and tradition

  1. Forouzanfar says:

    As usual very insight full. Thank you Adrashir.

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