Anahita – Persian Goddess

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Copyright © 2005 Anna Franklin & Wade White
reprinted by permission

Sustaining Waters

ANĀHITĀ [“Immaculate One”(1) ]: A pre-Zoroastrian Water-Goddess of Persia whom the occupying Greeks identified with ARTEMIS [Fox 2004: 141], and was associated with the Moon [Farrar 1987: 195]. She was also known by the epithet, Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā, “the Moist One, the Strong One, the Pure One,” and invoked as the personification of water:

“Hither flowed Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā . . .
she causes some waters to stand still,
she lets others flow, suitably,
she makes free a dry passage
through the Vanghuī [Vaŋhuī]
and the Vītanghvaitī [Vītaŋhvaitī]
Avesta, Yasht V.78;
5th to 1st century BCE.

As a testament to Her cult many of the surviving temple structures that were dedicated to Her bear frequent associations with water. One, from the Zoroastrian period, still frequented by Iranian pilgrims [Nabarz 2005: 99-100], at the mountains of Yazd, appears to use an onomatopoeic device, bearing the name Pir-e Sabz or Chek Chek [“drip, drip”]. While another temple, located at Bishapur, Iran, was built over a canal during the Sassanian dynasty [ca. 224-729 CE], which channelled water from the Shapur River around and beneath the temple, giving the impression of an island [Ibid, 100] rising from Her sustaining waters.

After the triumph of Islam, however, many of Her temples were eventually converted to Mosques [Susan Gaviri, tr. Payam Nabarz]; even so, Her cult may have survived despite the domination of the Islamic Saints [Nabarz 2005: 102].

Offerings and Libations

One possible rite, attributed to the cult-centre of St. Khezer, has it that a breeding woman wanting for the safe delivery of her child should have water poured upon her from the drainage-pipe stationed at his site [Ibid.].

“Of this libation of mine let no foe drink, no man fever-sick, no liar, no coward, no jealous one, no woman, no faithful one who does not sing the Gathas(3), no leper to be confined.

“I do not accept those libations that are drunk in my honor by the blind, by the deaf, by the wicked, by the destroyers, […] nor any of those stamped with those characters which have no strength for the holy Word.

“Let no one drink of these my libations who is hump-backed or bulged forward; no fiend with decayed teeth.”
Avesta, Yasht V.92-93;
5th to 1st century BCE.

Moreover, it was only from the hours of sunrise-to-sunset (probably a Zoroastrian influence) that She would receive offerings in any form:

“…Zarathustra(4) asked Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā: ‘O Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā! What becomes of those libations which the wicked worshippers of the Daevas(5) bring unto thee after the sun has set?’

“Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā answered: ‘O pure, holy Spitama Zarathustra! howling, clapping, hopping, and shouting, six hundred and a thousand Daevas, who ought not to receive that sacrifice, receive those libations that men bring unto me after [the sun has set].’”
Ibid, Yasht V.94-95.

Additional Aspects of the Goddess

As a Water-Goddess She is indelibly linked with fecundity, and thus by extension, semen, for it is She who:

“…makes the seed of all males pure, who makes the womb of all females pure for bringing forth, who makes all females bring forth in safety, who puts milk into the breasts of all females in the right measure and in the right quantity;”
Ibid, Yasht V.2.

Furthermore, She appears to be a multifunctional “Great”-Goddess who fulfilled the Dumézilian tripartite religious structure(6) of the Indo-Europens(7), whereby She could bestow wisdom upon the Priests, valour to the warriors, and abundances onto the remaining tribesmen and women [Dexter 1990: 70]:

“strong warriors ask of you [Anāhitā]
possession of a rapid horse
and the superiority of glory…
the priests…ask of you
wisdom and prosperity…
maidens pray to you
for a well-working field [to be sewn]
and a brave husband…
young women who [are] giving birth
pray to you for an easy delivery.”
Avesta, Yasht V.86-87;
5th to 1st century BCE.

Conversely, however, She was known to decline the petitions made by blood-thirsty warriors (so great was Her existential concern for humankind) when, for example, Azi Dahaka:

“…begged of her a boon, saying: ‘Grant me this boon, O good, most beneficent Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā! that I may make all the seven Karshvares of the earth empty of men.’

“Arēdvī Sūrā Anāhitā did not grant him that boon, although he was offering libations, giving gifts, sacrificing, and entreating her that she would grant him that boon.”
Ibid, Yasht V.30-31

Indeed, it was Ahura Mazdāh [“Wise Lord”(8)]—the Supreme-God found in Zoroastrian henotheistic religious thought—who charged Her with the task of “watching over all creation” [Stone 1976: 75].

As the embodiment of the fructifying waters [Dexter 1990: 71], procreation was naturally Her primary socio-religious modus operandi. And to this end the hieros gamos [“sacred marriage”] became a prominent expression of Her worship. In Her cult-centre at Acilisena, Armenia, for example, noble families would routinely surrender their daughters into Her service as hierodules, “sacred prostitutes” [Jordan 2004: 18]. While at Babylon, young women of noble birth would also offer their virginity to the Goddess as Her temporary temple surrogates [Farrar 1987: 195].

Albeit She was responsible for fertility, She was the Immaculate “Virgin”-Mother, and Consort, of the luminous Saviour Bull-God, Mithra [“Friend”]. In fact, probably contributing to Christian mythology, shepherds bearing gifts attended Him upon His birth in a cave, or grotto, at the Winter Solstice [Harpur 2004: 82; Kramer-Rolls 2002: 229]—later changed to 25 December under the influence of Rome. Occasionally assimilated with Her Consort-Son, the Persian King Artaxerxes II notably invoked Her as a faithful Tutelary-Goddess on one of the first inscriptions to address Her:

“…by the will of Ahura Mazdāh,
And Mithra…
May Ahura Mazdāh, Anāhitā,
And Mithra protect me.”
Artaxerxes II (Mnemon), Susa A; 405-359 BCE.

Even so, with the official adoption of the Cult of Mithras, by Rome, Her presence was to be subsequently omitted [Nabarz 2005: 12]. Indeed, throughout the extent of pre-Islamic Persia Her cult was discontinued for a time, but eventually reinstated after the onset of the Sassanian dynasty, which may have been the result of foreign influence [Larousse 1976: 313].

Magic and Rituals

However, while Her cult flourished, particularly during Achaemenian times [ca. 558-330 BCE.], it was characterized by the presence of the Magi—Priest-Magicians, from whose root both “magick” and “Magus” etymologically descend—which would regularly meet to read their sacred texts among assemblies of the faithful [Fox 2004: 141], and offer “holy spells” unto the Goddess, perhaps on the tenth day from the New Moon or throughout the eighth month [of the native Persian calendar, or the Julian calendar?]—both were celebrated as particularly propitious to the Goddess [Farrar 1987: 195].

The expression of Her worship likely involved a communal feast of sacrificial bull-meat along with a draught of Haoma (perhaps cognate with the Indic soma [Rätsch 2005: 747 n.417]); an inebriating ritual-drink believed to confer communion with the Gods and induce an altered state of consciousness [Rätsch 2005: 748] (probably engaging one on a shamanic odyssey of the psyche). Although, the exact botanical identity of this liqueur remains a mystery, a few possibilities have been suggested [Rätsch 2005: 231]: In the Harirud Valley [Baluchistan], all members of the Ephedra genus are collectively known as hum, or huma; while Iranians still refer to Syrian rue [Peganum harmala] as hom or homa.

During the excavation of an apparently pre-Zoroastrian temple [Ibid.], at the South-Eastern Kara-Kum Desert [Turkmenistan], remnaints of a fermented ritual-drink clearly containing ephedra [Ephedra sp.] were found at the fire-altar (perhaps being brewed there); while trace elements of the opium poppy [Papaver somniferum Linnaeus] were identified on associated equipement within the antechamber [e.g. pestles]. Moreover, during the Zoroastrian period an incantation was pronounced over the consecration of Haoma to drive away evil genii [“spirits”], while preparing the way for the reign of good [Larousse 1976: 310], as dictated by the Avesta.

The Radiant Goddess

Throughout the Avesta—the earliest known sacred writings of the Iranian people [Dexter 1990: 70]—Anāhitā was the only Goddess to whom a Hymn was dedicated throughout this section of a text to celebrate the pre-Zoroastrian deities [Ibid.]. By recording an orature from a millennia earlier than it’s noted composition [Ibid.], She was subsequently perceived by the faithful Avestan mythopoets as a buxom young woman donning a gold mantle with a high crown surmounted by eight rays and one-hundred stars, with gold fillets streaming down; a radiant Khvarēnah(9), or “halo,” was also present.

As the personification of Venus—for Her modern Parsee Name, Anahid, is translated as “Venus”—the stars were believed to be Her home. Furthermore, during the first-second centuries BCE a bronze statue—which may represent Anāhitā—of the Aphrodite-type(10), was discovered in modern Turkey, where Her cult grew quite strong. Adorned with jewels, She wore square earrings and a necklace, both of gold, and frequently brandished a baresma(11). She was also envisaged bearing a water-vessell in one hand, while holding a red pomegranate blossom [Punica granatum] to Her breast.

Lady of the Beasts

Considering Her status as an Aquatic-Goddess She was also clothed in a garment of thirty beaver pelts that were, according to Avestan tabu, from beavers [Castor fiber] that have birthed a minimum of four pups.

Subsequently, it was Ahura Mazdāh who bequeathed to the Goddess Her famous chariot and four horses—the personifications of atmospheric change—named Wind, Rain, Cloud, and Sleet. Also associated with Anāhitā were Her cult-animals: the dove [Streptopelia sp.], sheep [Ovis sp.], and the peacock [Pavo cristatus].

Persia and Beyond

During the extent of Her worship it was under the Hellenization of Her Name—Anaïtis—that Her adoration grew, particularly throughout Asia Minor [Turkey] and the Occident [Larousse 1976: 313]. It was here that She was conflated with the local “Great”-Goddess of Ephesus [Asia Minor], Artemis [“High Source of Water”? or “Strong Limbed”]. However, when the Persians conquered the Assyro-Babilonians in the century preceeding 538 BCE. Anāhitā adopted many of the characteristics of IŠTAR, particularly as Love-Goddess.

Like Ištar [Bottéro, tr. Fagan 2001: 122-124], Her worship may have ultimately acquired male homosexual hierodules (some of which were likely eunuchs)(12). At one time She was also conjoined with CYBELE [e.g. Anahid-Kybele], the Phrygian Mother-Goddess; and may be linked to other Witch-Goddesses, such as `ANAT—although scholars contend that it is a mere coincidence that Their Names and characteristics are strikingly similar. Prior to Her adoption into the Parsee pantheon, She likely began Her evolution as a Semitic Goddess.



1 Literally “Faultless,” however the connotation of “purity” is usually assumed, denotating the status: virgo intacta [Dexter 1990: 172].
2 As a Goddess who embodies the most pristine water, and is “Faultless” by nature, it is little wonder that She should expect any less from those praying to Her for succour. It was probably to these ends that She was invoked as a potent Healer-Goddess.
3 Zoroaster’s hymns.
4 i.e. Zoroastra.
5 i.e. “demons”.
6 French comparative mythologist, Georges Dumézilian, initially advanced this “tripartite” socio-religious theory. Accordingly, the Proto-Indo-European social structure is divided into three functions, which may be reflected in their subsequent mythology [sacred narratives]: The priestly caste, which also included judges and lawgivers, occupied the first function; the warrior class occupied the second function; while the nurturing class, which constitute the farmers, herdsmen, artisans, and women, occupied Dumézilian’s third function. In the male-dominated proto-Indo-European society, the first two “functions” were widely revered over the latter; that is, they were the respective class of prestige. The third function was, being of lesser status, the caretakers, or “servants,” of the prior. This “tripartite” religious structure may be the spiritual ancestor for the sacred narratives of the later Indo-European people. However, despite these male-dominated views, those Goddesses which retained far more depth than the degenerate status of mere “nurturer”—unlike their prototypical “Indo-European” sisters—probably stemmed from non-Indo-European origin [Dexter 1990: 35], i.e. the Neolithic [ca. 10,000 BCE.]. In fact, Anāhitā may have origionated as an omnipotent Goddess adopted into the Indo-European religious structure [Ibid, 155].
7 The Iranian people constitute an Indo-European substratum stemming from the Aryans [“nobles”], who migrated from Southern Russia, and passed into Asia through either Caucasus or Dardanelles to gain the plateau of Southwestern Asia [Iran, “the land of the Aryans”] around the beginning of the second millennium BCE. [Dexter 1990: 70; Larousse 1976: 309].
8 The etymology of Mazdāh is uncertain. It may be cognate with the Sanskrit term medha, “wisdom”. However, this explanation has been abandoned by some authorities due to its perceived connection with the terms mada, “intoxication,” and mastim, “illumination,” possibly making the God one who bestows “transcendental powers” [Larousse 1976: 312]. Be that as it may, there are phonological reasons against these arguments.
9 This is denoted as a “fiery spirit of creative energy” which indicated “light,” “majesty,” “energy,” and “brilliance”. It was known to frequently surround Iranian Gods and Goddesses—sometimes as a “halo,” and other times as an “aura” [Dexter 1990: 71].
10 Gk. “Foam Born”.
11 A ritual implement; a bundle of consecrated twigs.
12 q.v. Ištar.



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