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Angra Mainyu

[ang-ruh mahyn-yoo]
"Ahriman" redirects here. For other uses, see Ahriman (disambiguation).

Angra Mainyu (alt: Aŋra Mainiuu) is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman.

In the Avesta

In Zoroaster's revelation

Avestan 'angra mainyu' "seems to have been an original conception of Zoroaster's." In the Gathas, which are the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and are attributed to the prophet himself, 'angra mainyu' is not yet a proper name. In the one instance in these hymns where the two words appear together, the concept spoken of is that of a mainyu ("mind", "mentality", "spirit" etc) that is angra ("destructive", "inhibitive", "malign" etc). In this single instance - in Yasna 45.2 - the "more bounteous of the spirits twain" declares 'angra mainyu' to be its "absolute antithesis."

A similar statement occurs in Yasna 30.3, where the antithesis is however 'aka mainyu', aka being the Avestan language word for "evil." Hence, 'aka mainyu' is the "evil spirit" or "evil mind" or "evil thought," as contrasted with 'spenta mainyu', the "bounteous spirit" with which Ahura Mazda conceived of creation, which then "was."

The 'aka mainyu' epithet recurs in Yasna 32.5, when the principle is identified with the daevas that deceive humankind and themselves. While in later Zoroastrianism, the daevas are demons, this is not yet evident in the Gathas: In Zoroaster's view the daevas are "wrong gods" or "false gods" that are to be rejected, but they are not yet demons.

In Yasna 32.3, these daevas are identified as the offspring, not of Angra Mainyu, but of akem manah, "evil thinking." A few verses earlier it is however the daebaaman, "deceiver" - not otherwise identified but "probably Angra Mainyu" - who induces the daevas to choose achistem manah - "worst thinking." In Yasna 32.13, the abode of the wicked is not the abode of Angra Mainyu, but the abode of the same "worst thinking." "One would have expected [Angra Mainyu] to reign in hell, since he had created 'death and how, at the end, the worst existence shall be for the deceitful' (Y. 30.4)."

In the Younger Avesta

Yasna 19.15 recalls that Ahura Mazda's recital of the Ahuna Vairya invocation puts Angra Mainyu in a stupor. In Yasna 9.8, Angra Mainyu creates Aži Dahaka, but the serpent recoils at the sight of Mithra's mace (Yasht 10.97, 10.134). In Yasht 13, the Fravashis defuse Angra Mainyu's plans to dry up the earth, and in Yasht 8.44 Angra Mainyu battles but cannot defeat Tishtrya and so prevent the rains. In Vendidad 19, Angra Mainyu urges Zoroaster to turn from the good religion by promising him sovereignty of the world. On being rejected, Angra Mainyu assails the prophet with legions of demons, but Zoroaster deflects them all. In Yasht 19.96, a verse that reflects a Gathic injunction, Angra Mainyu will be vanquished and Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail.

In Yasht 19.46ff, Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu battle for possession of khvaraenah, "divine glory" or "fortune". In some verses of the Yasna (eg Yasna 57.17), the two principles are said to have created the world, which contradicts the Gathic principle that declares Ahura Mazda to be the sole creator and which is reiterated in the cosmogony of Vendidad 1. In that first chapter, which is the basis for the 9th-12th century Bundahishn, the creation of sixteen lands by Ahura Mazda is countered by the Angra Mainyu's creation of sixteen scourges such as winter, sickness and vice. "This shift in the position of Ahura Mazda, his total assimilation to this Bounteous Spirit [Mazda's instrument of creation], must have taken place in the 4th century B.C. at the latest; for it is reflected in Aristotle's testimony, which confronts Ariemanios with Oromazdes (apud Diogenes Laertius, 1.2.6)."

Yasht 15.43 assigns Angra Mainyu to the nether world, a world of darkness. So also Vendidad 19.47, but other passages in the same chapter (19.1 and 19.44) have him dwelling in the region of the daevas, which the Vendidad asserts is in the north. There (19.1, 19.43-44), Angra Mainyu is the daevanam daevo, "daeva of daevas" or chief of the daevas. The superlative daevo.taema is however assigned to the demon Paitisha ("opponent"). In an enumeration of the daevas in Vendidad 1.43, Angra Mainyu appears first and Paitisha appears last. "Nowhere is Angra Mainyu said to be the creator of the daevas or their father."

In Zurvanite Zoroastrianism

Zurvanism was a branch of Zoroastrianism that sought to resolve the dilemma of the "twin spirits" of Yasna 30.3. The resolution, which probably developed out of the contact with Chaldea, was to have both Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu as twin sons of the First Principle "Time" (Avestan: Zurvan). Zurvanism was strongly criticized as a heresy during the Sassanid period (225-651) of Iranian history, an era in which it probably also had its largest following. Although the monist doctrine is not attested after the 10th century, some Zurvanite features are nonetheless still evident in present-day Zoroastrianism.

Zurvanism's principle feature is then the notion that both Ahura Mazda (MP: Ohrmuzd) and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) were twin brothers, with the former being the epitome of good and the latter being the epitome of evil. Further, this dichotomy was by choice, that is, Angra Mainyu chose to be evil: "It is not that I cannot create anything good, but that I will not." And to prove this, he created the peacock.

The mythology of the twins is only attested in the post-Sassanid Syriac and Armenian polemic such as that of Eznik of Kolb. According to these sources the genesis saw Zurvan as existing alone but desiring offspring who would create "heaven and hell and everything in between." Zurvan then sacrificed for a thousand years. Towards the end of this period, androgyne Zurvan began to doubt the efficacy of sacrifice and in the moment of this doubt Ohrmuzd and Ahriman were conceived: Ohrmuzd for the sacrifice and Ahriman for the doubt. Upon realizing that twins were to be born, Zurvan resolved to grant the first-born sovereignty over creation. Ohrmuzd perceived Zurvan's decision, which He then communicated to His brother. Ahriman then preempted Ohrmuzd by ripping open the womb to emerge first. Reminded of the resolution to grant Ahriman sovereignty, Zurvan conceded, but limited kingship to a period of 9000 years, after which Ohrmuzd would rule for all eternity.

In Zoroastrian tradition

In the Pahlavi texts of the 9th-12th century, Ahriman (written ˀhl(y)mn) is frequently written upside down "as a sign of contempt and disgust."

In the Book of Arda Viraf 5.10, the narrator - the 'righteous Viraf' - is taken by Sarosh and Adar to see the "the reality of God and the archangels, and the non-reality of Ahriman and the demons." This idea of "non-reality" is also expressed in other texts, such as the Denkard, a 9th century "encyclopedia of Mazdaism", which states Ahriman "has never been and never will be." In chapter 100 of Book of the Arda Viraf, which is titled 'Ahriman', the narrator sees the "Evil spirit, ... whose religion is evil [and] who ever ridiculed and mocked the wicked in hell."

In the Zurvanite Ulema-i Islam (a Zoroastrian text, despite the title), "Ahriman also is called by some name by some people and they ascribe evil unto him but nothing can also be done by him without Time." A few chapters later, the Ulema notes that "it is clear that Ahriman is a non-entity" but "at the resurrection Ahriman will be destroyed and thereafter all will be good; and [change?] will proceed through the will of God." In the Sad Dar, the world is described as having been created by Ohrmuzd and become pure through His truth. But Ahriman, "being devoid of anything good, does not issue from that which is owing to truth." (62.2)

Book of Jamaspi 2.3 notes that "Ahriman, like a worm, is so much associated with darkness and old age, that he perishes in the end." Chapter 4.3 recalls the grotesque legend of Tahmurasp (Avestan: Taxma Urupi) riding Angra Mainyu for thirty years (cf. Yasht 15.12, 19.29) and so preventing him from doing evil. In Chapter 7, Jamasp explains that the Indians declare Ahriman will die, but "those, who are not of good religion, go to hell."

The Bundahishn, a Zoroastrian account of creation completed in the 12th century has much to say about Ahriman and his role in the cosmogony. In chapter 1.23, following the recitation of the Ahuna Vairya, Ohrmuzd takes advantage of Ahriman's incapacity to create life without intervention. When Ahriman recovers, he creates Jeh, the primal whore who afflicts women with their menstrual cycles. In Bundahishn 4.12, Ahriman perceives that Ohrmuzd is superior to himself, and so flees to fashion his many demons with which to meet Creation in battle. The entire universe is finally divided between the Ohrmuzd and the yazads on one side and Ahriman with his devs on the other. Ahriman slays the primal bull, but the moon rescues the seed of the dying creature, and from it springs all animal creation. But the battle goes on, with mankind caught in the middle, whose duty it remains to withstand the forces of evil through good thoughts, words and deeds. Other texts see the world created by Ohrmuzd as a trap for Ahriman, who is then distracted by creation and expends his force in a battle he cannot win. (The epistles of Zatspram 3.23; Shkand Gumanig Vichar 4.63-4.79). The Dadistan denig explains that God, being omniscient, knew of Ahriman's intent, but it would have been against His "justice and goodness to punish Ahriman before he wrought evil [and] this is why the world is created."

Ahriman has no such omniscience, a fact that Ohrmuzd reminds him of (Bundahishn 1.16). In contrast, in Manichean scripture, Mani ascribes foresight to Ahriman.

In present-day Zoroastrianism

In 1878, Martin Haug proposed a new reconstruction of what he believed was Zarathustra's original monotheistic teaching, as expressed in the Gathas - a teaching that he felt had been corrupted by later Zoroastrian dualistic tradition as expresssed in post-Gathic scripture and in the texts of tradition. For Angra Mainyu, this interpretation meant a demotion from a spirit coeval with Ahura Mazda to a mere product of the Creator. Haug's theory was based to a great extent on a new interpretation of Yasna 30.3; he argued that the good "twin" in that passage should not be regarded as more or less identical to Ahura Mazda, as earlier Zoroastrian thought had assumed, but as a separate created entity, Spenta Mainyu. Thus, both Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu were created by Ahura Mazda and should be regarded as his respective 'creative' and 'destructive' emanations.

Haug's interpretation was gratefully received by the Parsis of Bombay, who at the time were under considerable pressure from Christian missionaries (most notable amongst them John Wilson) who sought converts among the Zoroastrian community and criticized Zoroastrianism for its alleged dualism as contrasted with their own monotheism. Haug's reconstruction had also other attractive aspects that seemed to make the religion more compatible with nineteenth-century Enlightenment, as he attributed to Zoroaster a rejection of rituals and of worship of entities other than the supreme deity.

The new ideas were subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, which eventually reached the west and so in turn corroborated Haug's theories. Among the Parsis of the cities, who were accustomed to English language literature, Haug's ideas were more often repeated than those of the Gujarati language objections of the priests, with the result that Haug's ideas became well entrenched and are today almost universally accepted as doctrine.

While some modern scholars hold views similar to Haug's regarding Angra Mainyu's origins, many now think that the traditional "dualist" interpretation was in fact correct all along and that Angra Mainyu was always considered to be completely separate and independent from Ahura Mazda.

In modern spiritual systems

Rudolf Steiner, the initiator of the Anthroposophical movement, published detailed and elaborate studies on Ahriman, a spiritual entity whom the author associates with materialism. Ahriman fulfills the role of influencing and undermining events which occur in contemporary society. Steiner writes that Ahriman can be considered to be the same spiritual being as the Satan of the Bible; he differentiated both of these from Lucifer, the tempter, and the demon Mephistopheles. According to Steiner, the biblical demons Mammon and Beelzebub are Ahriman's associates.

Ahriman's assignment, according to Steiner, is to alienate the human being from his spiritual roots and to inspire materialism and heartless technical control of human activity. His positive contribution is to bring intellectual development and a focus on the sensory world. As such, his influence is highly relevant to present-day Western culture. His great opponent is the archangel Michael, who Steiner equates with Babylonian Marduk. Ahura Mazda and the Vedic Vishva Karman represent Christ's spiritual aura around the Elohim, the spirits of the Sun sphere.

In popular culture

  • In the Warhammer 40,000 fantasy game, Ahriman is a chaos sorcerer in command of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion who is second in power only to Magnus the Red.
  • In the Final Fantasy video game series, Ahriman is a frequent enemy, depicted as a flying eyeball with wings. In Final Fantasy XII, Ahriman is a "boss" character, but appears as a ghostly figure instead of an eyeball. In Final Fantasy X-2, Angra Mainyu is an optional "boss". In Final Fantasy XI, Angra Mainyu is the chief of the area "Dynamis - Beaucedine", where he appears as a black-colored monster with wings and one large red eye.
  • In the Type-Moon visual novel Fate/Stay Night, a figure named 'Angra Mainyu' is called forth as a servant in the Third Holy Grail War to corrupt the Grail itself. The figure's role is further expanded in the sequel Fate/hollow ataraxia, where it acts as the servant Avenger.
  • In the DC Comics book Wonder Woman Ahura Mazda is married to the Amazon Nu'Bia. In the comic the demon Ahriman murders Ahura Mazda, and carves his heart from his body. Nu'Bia returns to earth in search of Ahriman, hoping that she can retrieve the heart and revive her lover.
  • In Jacqueline Carey's 2003 novel Kushiel's Avatar, the protagonist Phèdre nó Delaunay finds herself in the middle of a parallel universe where Zoroastrianism has been inverted and the worship of Angra Mainyu replaces that of Ahura Mazda. The protagonist becomes the bed-mate and plaything of the 'Conqueror of Death' who promotes "ill thoughts, ill words, ill deeds", which eventually kills him and allows the worship of Ahura Mazda to be reinstated.
  • In Ben Bova's novel Orion, Ahriman is the main antagonist, seeking to destroy the continuum in what is later revealed to be a revenge plot for the destruction of his species.
  • In the role-playing game Arcturus, Angra Mainyu is the final boss at Eden of distant, apocalyptic future.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw warns Gillian Boardman not to inadvertently brainwash Michael Valentine Smith, the man who had been raised on Mars, in the process of teaching him terrestrial etiquette, imploring her "by the myriad deceptive aspects of Ahriman" (Ch. 12).
  • In the B indi-movie Dark Gate a box that contains within it a portal to hell is known as the tool of Angra Mainyu, describes the entity as an evil spirit born in the blackest pit of hell.
  • Noise musician and avant-garde musician Leila Bela released an album named after Angra Mainyu titled Angra Manyu.
  • In the game God Hand, the English voice calls the final boss (Satan) Angra.
  • In the fifth season finale of Highlander: The Series, Ahriman is a demon who - in attempting to dominate mankind - reappears every thousand years.
  • In the fictional Roleplaying Game Dark Ages: Vampire, the Ahriman is the primordial essence of the Abyss, an evil, unholy realm from which the members of the Lasombra clan summon their power to manifest and handle shadows.
  • In Dean Koontz' False Memory, the antagonist is brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Ahriman. Dr. Ahriman makes the conscious choice to be evil, treating his patients like toys, to be dominated, controlled, played with, debased and, ultimately, discarded.
  • In Philip K. Dick's The Cosmic Puppets, the protagonist's hometown has come under the control of Angra Mainyu (named Ahriman in the novel) and Ahura Mazda, called Ohrmazd.
  • In David Zindell's Lightstone series, Angra Mainyu is a fallen member of the angelic Galadin, and is the master of the main villain of the series, Morjin.
  • Ahriman is an antagonist in the Prince of Persia: Prodigy video game.
  • The figure of Ahriman is a literary topos in Karl May's Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen (1898).
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, Ahriman is the original name of Asmodeus, the overlord of Nine Hells of Baator.
  • In the video game Prince of Persia, Ahriman is the main villain. He has infected an alternate world with a strange plague which causes people to transform into savage beasts. The Prince of Persia must unite with a woman named Elika in order to save this bizarre realm.
  • Prophet of Doom author Craig Winn equated Ahriman (which he refers to as the Persian Devil) with one of the names of Allah, Ah-Rahman, and uses this connection to state his case that Allah is actually a manifestation of Ahriman (and hence, Satan) who had purposely inspired a false prophet to deceive the masses away from the one true God.
  • Ahriman is the principal villain in the game Defenders of Oasis for the Sega Game Gear.



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