The Winter Festival of Sadæ and the Discovery of Fire

The Zoroastrians celebrate their major winter festival called sadæ on the fortieth day after the winter solstice. It is believed that fortieth (also known as “čellae” in Persian) is the most freezing night of winter. The festivities start on January 24th, culminate on January 30th, and conclude on February 3rd.

Persian historians and chronicles after the islamic age, derive the word sadæ from the Persian numeral sad (one hundred.) However, that appears to be nothing more than folk etymology.

Sadæ called saræ in villages of Northeastern Iranian Province of Khorasan, most likely comes from Avestan sareta “cold, freezing.” Lithuanian šalti and Latvian salt “to freeze” are cognates. The original Indo-Iranian root must have been *sarH1 and the reconstructed Proto Indo-European root is *kélH “to freeze.”

In the ancient Iranian myth, the discovery of fire, the age of industry and knowledge, is said to have begun on the winter festival of sadæ

It is narrated that by the Wondrous Providence and Foresight of the Ahûrás (The original God Powers, Titans,) the epic hero Hūshang wandered into a mountain cave. Upon seeing a snake, the epic hero tried to strike the reptilian creature with a firestone. The pyrite stone hit the walls of the cave and sparked a sacred fire. From that light/flame, human civilization, and technology begun. 

Hūshang’s name in the sacred poetry of the Zoroastrians/Avestá is Haô.šyaŋha literally the founder of “happy dwellings, good settlements.” “According to the ancient Iranian myth, Hūshang has introduced the arts of metallurgy, building, and constructing, and the science of cultivating the soil and growing crops. 

In the Zoroastrian sacred lore, because of his discovery of fire and his learned powers,Hūshang is remembered as victorious over demon gods and the followers of lie. 

His surname Para.δāta translates into “he who has established the prime principal or law.” The Zoroastrian priests understood this as “he who through innovation/discovery has established kingship, dominion,” (See Pahlavi Vendidād.) Vendidád literally means “laws/rules against demon gods.” It is a Zoroastrian sacred book of elaborate purity laws and exorcism. Vendidad starts with the golden age, and how creation was contaminated by lie, envy, wrath, and other diabolic forces. Pahlavi or middle Iranian is a language that most Avestan commentaries are handed down to to us via that middle-Iranian language.) 

The spiritual symbolism of fire in Zoroastrianism is “passion/energy, passion to learn, discover, passion to prosper, thrive, and overcome, passion to imagine and embark on new adventures, See the poetic songs/gathas Yasna 46.7, of the ancient seer-prophet where fire is followed by awe-inspiring mind powers, spirit, fervor, áθras.čá man.aŋhas.čá.

In Zoroastrianism, Godhood is “the epic adventures of imagination, creativity of mind/thoughts, discovery, learning, and triumph of the spirit,” that is best manifest in the energy and inspiration of light and fire. 

On Sadæ each member of the community supplies their share of firewood for a majestic bonfire. Around sunset a great bonfire is lit. The priest then recites the Avestan “ode to fire.” It is considered auspicious to look at the reflection of the bright flames in a nearby water, (The bonfires are lit, and the Zoroastrian fire temples are always constructed next to a lake, river, spring, or body of water. In fact, the festivities for the winter bonfires of sadæ start on the day of Waters in the Zoroastrian religious calendar.)

To drink red wine with sugar coated almonds, and other sweet nuts is also considered fortuitous on this happy occasion. The participants then make merry and enjoy a variety of hearty winter soups and dishes. 

At the conclusion of the festivities, the embers from the communal bonfire are taken to the sacred flame of the fire temple and hearth of each family and are merged with the eternal flame of the fire temple, and the fire of each family hearth. 

This beautiful rite suggests that Godhood manifest in luminosity, the melodies, and songs of the Avestan sacred verses, and our noble fellowship are all inextricably linked in an eternal bond. 

In fact, in the Zoroastrian religious calendar, the 40th day after winter solstice is dedicated to mithrá who assigns our “duties, responsibilities, and watches over our bond/contract with the Immortals.” It is our fulfillment of duties and contract that make God-Powers dwell and be incorporated within us. The festivities continue from January 30 to February 3rd and are concluded on the day dedicated to the god-force of triumph, victory. 

The winter festival of sadæ shows many similarities to hirômbá bonfire festivities, celebrated in late April among Zoroastrians.  The etymology of hirômbá is uncertain but it is widely believed that the word alludes to communal lightning of a bonfire. 

During hirômbá festivities, Zoroastrians go to wilderness to collect dry bushes and firewood. Close to the sunset, a mighty bonfire is lit. Priest gives a blessing for health, much strength, and prosperity for the living while the departed souls of each clan/family are named and honored. Later, embers from the bonfire are taken to the fire temple and each household’s fire. These embers are mixed with the sacred flame of the temple and the hearth fire of each clan. 

In Zoroastrianism, we believe that Godhood can be experienced through the phenomenon of fire/light, the Avestan sacred melodies and songs, and our sense of purpose/duties in life. However, this special Zoroastrian veneration for shrines of flame, fire and light has come under virulent and insincere attack by some alleged puritanical moslems.  

According to a muslim skeptic site, “fire is the visible sign of Ahura Mazda.  Since Satan is made of fire, Ahura Mazda is nothing more than figment of Imagination and a myth. It is therefore Satan himself who desires the company of Zoroastrians in the eternal hell-fire.” 

In response, it shall be said that Qur’an itself contains three different accounts of the story of Moses and the Burning Bush from which Allah reveals himself to Moses amid a burning flame/fire.  

in Surah 20:9-24, Quran states that “And has the story of Moses come to you? When he saw fire, he said to his family: Stop, for surely I see a fire, haply I may bring to you therefrom a live coal or find a guidance at the fire.  So, when he came to it, a voice was uttered: O Moses, Surely I am your Lord, therefore put off your shoes; for you are in the sacred valley, Tuwa,”

In Surah, 27: the Ant, 7-14 Quran states: “When Moses said to his family: Surely I see fire; I will bring to you from it some news, or I will bring to you therefrom a burning firebrand so that you may warm yourselves. So, when he came to it a voice was uttered saying: Blessed is Whoever is in the fire and whatever is about it; and glory be to God, the Lord of the worlds; O Moses! surely I am God, the Mighty, the Wise.”

And in Surah, 28: Qissass, the stories, 29-33, Quran states: “So, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and he journeyed with his family, he perceived on this side of the mountain a fire. He said to his family: Wait, I have seen a fire, maybe I will bring to you from it some news or a brand of fire, so that you may warm yourselves. And when he came to it, a voice was uttered from the right side of the valley in the blessed spot of the bush, saying: O Moses! surely I am God, the Lord of the worlds.”


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