Frequently when the subject of the Zoroastrian inversion of Indo-European religious belief is brought up, people presume that it is ‘just’ some form of linguistic confusion – a ‘reversal of polarity’ afflicting only an incredibly limited array of things. ‘Deva’ [‘Deus’, ‘-Tyr’, etc. – ‘God’, ‘Shining One’] becoming ‘Daeva’ [‘Demon’], for example; and if they are a bit more aware, then the list of prominent Vedic Deities that are more directly and specifically demonized by the Zoroastrians.
When considered in this light, it is easy to minimize what has occurred here. To presume that it is only a matter of some surface-labelling changing over; which, of course, rather blatantly ignores the outright heresy that is directly and literally demonizing The Gods. But you see, that is not all the Zoroastrians did as a part of their effort at subverting, culture-jamming, and suppressing the previously prevailing Indo-European (more specifically, Indo-Iranian – post-Andronovo) religious orthodoxy in order to make way for their new cult.
There are a suit of other terms and their associated concepts that are quite integral to the practice of our religion which they likewise took a poisonous malice to. One example that I have already considered concerns the shift in ‘active ingredients’ and associated experiential elements between Vedic (and, for that matter, likely Scythian – and Old Norse) Soma , and Zoroastrian Haoma. But this instance we shall consider today is another one which makes my blood boil.
Now, integral to the Indo-European religious experience is the concept of Furor – ‘Divine Inspiration’ is one way we could perhaps render this in more modern English. We see this in Old Norse with the notion of ‘Odr’ [a designation closely cognate with the main theonym of Odin, and utterly uncoincidentally also with the ‘Odrerir’ functional epithet for the major vessel of the Mead of Poetry], and in Latin with that of ‘Vates’ [a term for a seer or an energized/empowered poet with that spark of the divine propelling their verses, their speech], and other similar terms from across the Indo-European sphere. Both Odr and Vates are from PIE ‘Weht’, which refers unsurprisingly to becoming ‘excited’, to be ‘enraged’, and the various other physiological manifestations which go along with that. In modern psychiatric terms, we should probably refer to these also as “psycho-motor agitation” – moving with the energy and velocity of the Wind that is also what is investing the Speaker in question who Speaks with the Voice of the Divine.
In Vedic terms, we have quite expansive and eloquent ways to refer to this same phenomenon. My favourite, of course, being RV X 125 5 – wherein the term used for the power of the Rsi, the Brahmin, is ‘Ugra’ … which in other contexts quite directly means Anger, Berserk Rage, Fury. And which is bestowed to the Man in question by the Goddess Vak – to the Man She ‘Chooses’ [the actual verb is ‘Kama’ – and more upon what that means and entails, later].
A further and reasonably close cognate for this understanding is presented within the Greek mythos – where the empowerment bestowed to Diomedes, Achilles etc. by Goddess Athena and represented by both ‘Menos’ and the ‘Illumination’ of coruscating flame from forehead, enables the seeing of the world as it actually is; and even the supreme martial proficiency to contend directly with Gods upon the field of war if necessary. Truly, through Vak – everything is possible! [For more detail upon this, consult various of my previous works such as ‘Furor Teutonicus And Furor Poeticus – The Furious Goddess-Given Power Of Both Barbarian And Brahmin Alike’, as well as the Third Mytholinguistics of War]
However, another and perhaps more pervasively encountered Sanskrit means to reference this concept is ‘Vipra’. This is, unsurprisingly, quite a broad term in its Vedic usage, and simultaneously refers to – in specia – that which makes a truly gifted Brahmin a Brahmin, and therefore more figuratively to ‘Wisdom’; as well as the ‘input’ required for such – the ‘Divine Inspiration’, and the exterior manifestations of being in possession of this quality such as a certain ‘trembling’ and ‘excitement’. It is, in other words, a shorthand for ‘religious ecstasy’ in just the same manner as we have seen with Odr, Vates, etc.
‘Vibration’ is a modern English cognate; and the ancient Latin that that is from (‘Vibro’) is quite illuminating for our purposes – as this does not only refer to the ‘vibration’ that we should be expecting, but also potentially to a luminous quality to the individual ; and, of course, the expected states of excitement and agitation, shaking with it indeed, for the thusly impelled. Interestingly, there is also a more razor-edged element to it as well – with the hurling of spears or threats being covered within its definitional ambit likewise.
And that ‘weaponized’ understanding is also saliently Sanskrit relevant – as we find precisely this cognate term, ‘Vip’, in-use to describe the Weapon of Trita Aptya (Whom we might fairly describe, I think, as a Warrior Priest) in RV X 99 6; something that should be unsurprising given the emphasis in other Vedic hymnals upon the Weapon of Trita (and an immensely powerful, Chaos-banishing and Demon Dragon-slaying weapon it is, too!) being His Heritage of the ancestral rites and Their pious performance; as well as the co-occurrence in Greek mythology of the same figure as Iolaus, Hydra-Slayer, making use of Fire in the closely correlate mythic occurrence. There is far more that I can, should, and must say upon the Weapon of Trita – but we shall leave that for a future (a)arti-cle.
But why am I devoting such attention to all of this in an article ostensibly about Zoroastrian culture-jamming?
Because it is one of those various means – along with the Empowering Elixir, with which it is often closely correlate – via which the Divine is emanated out into the world around us. Through the skilled tongues and guided insight of the Seers [Rsis – Sages, Priests, Bards, Poets; and the speculative etymology of Sanskrit ‘Rsi’ is just exactly that – the one from whom the great welling up of this divine impartment ‘flows forth’], we come to be able to engage with the religious realm. We have our beautiful myths and resonant ritual formulas provided, as well as the further guidance even beyond and off the page for those of us who come into such presence of the Immanentizing Divine.
In short – short of actually (meta-)physically turning up and directly doing things Themselves (which does happen from time to time), that is the major vector via which proper, authentic, and true Indo-European religiosity has made itself an enduring element in the descendant IE mytho-cultures. Indeed, even where The Gods Themselves are more directly invoked, the Vedas also hail Them as being in possession of this Vip-expressed quality.
So if you were looking to, say, cut off your subject population from such genuine Divine engagement … you’d want to strike at exactly those points wherein this interaction could occur.
And one way you could do that, of course, is the simple and direct method – kill all the priests and holy-men that you can find (who won’t swear allegiance to you ‘new order’), attempt to vigorously suppress all knowledge of that which went before (and is implicitly beyond your control), that sort of thing. There’s some evidence for an array of this occurring under the early Zoroastrians (including Zoroaster’s request to the king that was his patron to have rival priests put to death) – but it never really got very far. Partially because they just didn’t have the power to do so – as even despite their propagandtastic claims to the contrary, it appears likely that they were losing the initial uprising against ‘Daeva’ orthodoxy [as can be seen by their having to engage in a hurried trek far to the west to escape from the former heartland they had attempted to domineer away from its previous faith], meaning they were not in a position of military supremacy to begin engaging n seriously systemic purges in what they hoped to be their initial sphere.
But another, and more interesting reason appears to be that the groups which wound up under or allied to the Zoroastrians had limits about just how much deletion of the previously prevalent Indo-Iranian religious orthodoxy that they’d grown up under which they were prepared to tolerate. We can tell this, in part, due to the eventual ‘re-incorporation’ of certain elements that could not be suppressed entirely outright as the Zoroastrian scriptural corpus develops through time. Indra, for example, had been demonized as ‘Indar’; yet in later texts, we find a Verethragna [based upon the Iranic expression of the familiar Sanskrit epithet ‘Vritrahan’ – Slayer of Vritra, Smiter of Resistance; despite there being no [Vritra-] dragon-slaying in Verethragna’s mythology] being integrated in as a ‘sanitized’ and ‘controllable’ version of an Indra-cult figure of devotion. Indeed it has also been proposed that what appears to be the gradual introduction of the concept of Gods (plural) into the Zoroastrian texts all up is the result of the people whom the Zoroastrians had under them just not being positive nor keen about the Godsless earliest conception of the religion which appears to have existed under Zoroaster himself.
The ‘culture-jamming’ switch of the active ingredient(s) for Soma, with the ephedra which even today forms the main constituent for Zoroastrian Haoma – is another, and far more insidious instance of this trend. Because it is a quite a direct ‘bait and switch’ substitution. It takes something that an ancient Indo-Iranian would have unquestionably expected to be there at the core of his or her archaic religion – the Empowering Elixir aforementioned, which shows the universe as it truly is and enables communing with and receiving inspiration from The Gods – and instead of merely endeavoring to delete or suppress this outright … it changes the substance of it [in multiple senses of this term]. So rather than an entheogen – one is instead consuming something we might perhaps compare to a seriously strong coffee. The cultural structure is hijacked, hollowed out, and subverted to demonstrate that the ‘new orthodoxy’ is in fact .. orthodox, despite being obviously nothing of the sort!
Yet this insipid process of ‘Culture-Jamming’ also manifests in other manners as well. Whereby a pervasive ‘revaluing of values’ is promulgated in a bid to disrupt the engagement of the subject population with the concept in question by changing its associations to something objectionable.
In the case of this ‘Vip’,’Vipra’ that we have found amidst the Vedic sphere – and which has as its antecedent roots other Indo-Iranic expressions sharing etymology; as well as, as we have seen, finding direct pan-Indo-European expression via other terminology for the same substantive phenomenon – this was exactly what the Zoroastrians then proceeded to do.
The specific form of this technique which they employed is one that will be familiar to just about every man who has attended high school – something which demonstrates the long-term efficacy of the tactic that it still resonates today as it did perhaps three millennia ago ‘midst the Mazdian sphere. In short – they declared that Divine Inspiration was now Gay , that those who engaged with Divinity in such a manner were homosexual , and that the practices involved were tantamount to (receptive) sodomy.
Hence, where Vip, Vipra for us in the orthodox Indo-Iranic sphere refers to the radiant quality of the Rsi, the Seer, the bearer of sacred insight and the communer with The Gods upon our behalf … for the Zoroastrian, Vaepaiia meant to be homosexual ; and is utilized by Zoroaster himself (in Yasna 51.12) as an insult toward a ‘Kauui’ (in Sanskrit we would say a Kavi), a Poet or a Seer of the by now rival orthodox Indo-Iranic religion.
[Now I should almost certainly clarify at this point, in case it was not abundantly apparent by my earlier remarks, that Zoroaster’s stances are not my own. And that what we are engaged in here is a frank explication of socio-politico-ecclesiastical mores of an early Iron Age culture; rather than some trenchant template for action in the modern day. So, in short – before jumping to the unfounded insinuation that I may be propelling some homophobic agenda in Zoroastrian clothing … please instead arrive at the reality – that I am detailing a situation of the multi-millennia archaic past wherein a particular religious group sought to propel an anti-Divine agenda in homophobic terms. Something that, for obvious reasons, I do not support.]
The major elocution for Zoroastrian perversion of ‘Vip’ is the Vendidad – wherein it is set out that the land of Hyrcania was under the baelful influence of Angra Mainyu who had suffused the land (and its menfolk) with such conduct. Now this is interesting to us for a number of reasons. One of which being the etymology of Hyrcania – which effectively means the land of Wolves (and which has some figurative relation in terms of later geography to the place of the Wolf-Headed Warriors fought in the Shahmaneh – but more upon that, perhaps, some other time); but the other being the relative position of Hyrcania to the Zoroastrians’ relocated center of gravity following their defeat and exile from Balkh of Medea. It is immediately to the north, and would at that time have still very much been inhabited by the men of the old ways – the Scythian #GangSteppe indomitable adherents of the broad-ranging Indo-Iranic orthodoxy which had previously beaten the Zoroastrians’ earlier generation back in their original homeland. And, not to put too fine a (three)point upon it – plausibly within the vicinity for ancient Sanskrit texts describing the haunts of the Steppe Iranic worshippers of the Deity we would know as Shiva.
The Vendidad, in its subsequent exposition upon sin and cleanliness makes the characteristics of this ‘Vaepiia’ quite clear. That it is not, we might say, a crime of sexual violation … but one of consorting with “demons” – Daevas; and, indeed, one which renders the human participant as a Daeva, himself. It is not at all hard to see how what is actually being condemned here is not (in principle) homosexuality – but rather homosexuality being utilized as a convenient cover to castigate those who were actually engaged with the Divinity, the Devas – especially as a core element in a lot of Indo-Iranic ritual orthodoxy is for the major participants therein to become as the Gods thusly invoked for the purposes of the ritual performance. This is not merely the case of standing in a certain prescribed spot and reciting specific lines attributed to the Divinity in question – in various of the rites in question, it involves quite directly the Voice of the God coming from one’s lips – an investiture of the Deity being inside one. Evidently the Zoroastrians took the “a God is inside him [i.e. the Priest]” bit and ran with it in quite a heavily perverted direction.
And I must confess, I find all of this particularly galling – because as we should probably expect by now with the Zoroastrian Heresy, where they are not inventing things wholesale or may as well be … it is a downright inversion of authentic tradition. Why do I say it is an inversion? Because in the Indo-European mytho-religious canon, the direct cognate to what they are decrying does indeed have a rather romantic relationship between divinely inspired Seer and Divinity … except the Divinity in question is a Goddess.
Many would be familiar with the notion of an Artist and his Muse, and I suppose that this is a useful paradigm with which to approach the matter. In the Vedas, we find Goddess Vak described as relating in just such a manner to the Rsi. My favourite RigVedic Hymnal, RV X 125, has this bestowal of the Divine Inspiration, the Power and the Potency of the Poet/Prophet, being granted by Vak [‘Speech’ – like Vox, Voice] to the Man whom She ‘Chooses’, with the verb being rendered as ‘Chooses’ being ‘Kama’ [i.e. ‘Loves’]. RV X 71, the Jnanam Sukta is in some ways more direct. Quoth line 4 – “[to the Rsi] hath She shown Her beauty as a fond well-dressed woman to Her husband” (Griffith translation); or, as Jamison/Brereton put it – “She has stretched out Her body, like an eager, well-dressed wife for Her husband.” The Shatapatha Brahmana [a ‘Ritual Manual’/’Commentary’ to the Vedas], as we should expect, is more expansive – for instance, devoting several verses in 3:2:1 to the manner in which a Brahmin is to invoke Vak for the purposes of one of these rites … and describing the ritual steps in question in quite directly and overtly “flirtatious” fashion. As in, that’s literally the process being described – that of wooing a woman. Which makes various levels of sense, of course, given that the next steps for the ritual also entail the Birth of Indra from the ’embryo’ that has gestated within the rite – i.e. the ‘flirtation’ has obviously been successful and lead to a metaphysical coital situation of a sort which pre-sages a somewhat metaphorical progeny [as in, the ‘presence’ of the divinity in a ‘descended to this plane’ iteration we may say].
And while I am not immediately aware of – nor would seek to promulgate in the absence – direct presentation of a similar level of intimately expressed engagement between Chosen Male and the Empowering Goddess in the Greek or Nordic-Germanic canons … we nevertheless have key consistencies in the accounts aforementioned of Athena empowering with sparks of divinity Her favourites, and Freyja in the Ynglinga Saga being “priestess of the sacrifices, and first taught the Asaland people the magic art”.
It should therefore be quite abundantly clear why it is that I have declared the Zoroastrian presentation of Vip, Vipra to be such an Inversion in these matters. Because even when we CAN say that a romantic relationship IS involved in the relevant ritual metaphysics … it is a decidedly heterosexual one [the existence of female Rsis in the Vedic age, perhaps being a complication to this schema – I have genuinely not looked into how they may have related to the understandings in question, or perhaps whether the Priestly God that the Brahmin is, in some senses, standing in for or re-enacting the previous mighty deeds of, may have been involved].
So why put in all this effort into not merely demonizing – and I mean that quite literally, referring to the beings and forces involved as ‘demons’, whether human or Divine – but homosexualizing one’s religious opponents and the previous prevailing Indo-Iranic orthodoxy of lived belief? Surely the declaration of Daeva-ism ought have been enough?
Well, on one level, I would suspect that the insult was meant as just exactly that – an insult. The archaic Zoroastrians most definitely hated the bastions of the religious order they were seeking to usurp and overthrow, and accusing a rival of effeminacy, “unnatural practices” [in fact, this is not strong enough of a translation – it is more “conduct directly corrosive to the immanency of order and the fabric of reality itself” that is meant – see Yasna 46.11, for instance] would certainly fit with this. The fact that the Zoroastrians had lost a war and been set on the run by these supposedly ‘inferior’ worshippers of the Old Gods can only have added to their venom in their spiteful invective as they fled and rebuilt elsewhere.
Except propaganda is rarely comprised of just mere insults. There would be little point – it would be akin to shouting into the proverbial void [something that, for the Zoroastrians, may have been met with the uncomfortable realization that when you do so – the “void” may also Roar back at you]. It adds little to make more abundantly obvious that the targeted group is disliked. Instead, the terminology must become ‘operationalized’ – it must provide an implicit ‘guide to action’ for its listener out here in the non-rhetorical world.
Thus it is with the Zoroastrians’ declaration that ‘Vip’ and its practitioners were now ‘homosexual’. For on the one hand, this provided an open license to kill priestly practitioners of the old religion as and where they were found (and, for that matter, to engage in significant corporal punishment of those found more passively involved notionally “against their will”), as confirmed by a literal litany of Zoroastrian scripture upon the subject which even appear to suggest that such killings are a meritorious (rather than sinful) deed.
Yet on the other – it provides severely negative and odious appearance to the religion and its practitioners in question; in a way that goes beyond the rather abstract notion of “engaging with demons” and makes it a sort of maleficarum which a man of the time would be expected to ‘relate to’ with a visceral disgust. Why was this necessary? Because I suspect rather strongly that, as with any ‘new creed’ that is endeavouring to turn everything upon its head in an unasked for “revolution” – the Zoroastrians had a considerable problem with the people under their dominion ‘backsliding’ to old ways. I intend to speak more about that particular subject in a future piece, but for reasons of length have excised sustained discussion of it from this one.
The promulgation of the transvaluation of ‘Vip’ produced an in-built backstop against such things. Something rendered increasingly necessary due to the implicit realities of the Zoroastrians’ newfound situation in Medea – where immediately to their north an immanent instance of the ‘living past’ of their warrior-caste was to be found amongst the ‘Wolf Cults’, D(a)eva worship, Divine Speakers, and Lord of Furor deity of Hyrcania. We can see other evidence in the early phase of Zoroastrianism for the psychocultic needs of those warriors causing notable developments in the religion (for example the ‘sanitized’ introduction of Verethragna some time after the demonization of Indra), presumably likewise to keep them ‘in the fold’ rather than tempted to head off back to their own more ancient ways, clans, and homelands in search of what they were now missing. The emphatic association of a potential powerful rival for the loyalties and the emotional allegiances of these men with what would have been portrayed as decidedly unmanly – indeed outright emasculating – conduct is therefore a classic example of ‘demonizing the enemy’. Conducted, as with an array of such efforts at propaganda, in a bid to keep artificially divided and self-dividing – peoples (in this case, Iranics) who would otherwise gradually come to realize that they really were not so different after all.
We can see the tangible effects of this sort of psychosocial barrier largely via its absence. That is to say – just what happened in the closely neighbouring regions, centuries and millennia later, when the by-then ancient hatreds were no longer kept actively alive and aimed as they had once been. In the eras of Kushan, Kushano-Sassanian, and other post-Persian dominance – we see groups that may have started out with Zoroastrian inclinations, and certainly kept some of the Zoroastrian visual stylings here and there … coming to practice a semi-syncretic (dare I say almost ‘reconstructionist’) Indo-Iranic religion which was in practice saliently Hindu. That is to say – strongly Deva oriented (including by name), hailing the wisdom of the Vedic-style (song-)sages and Seers, and worshipping as God-Emperor that veer-y same Indo-European God Who had formed such a bete-noir-Ish template for the Zoroastrians’ demonologic conceptry in their earliest and subsequent days.
In other words, they Came Home.
It is our hope that one day soon, so too shall the rest of the Iranosphere likewise.