On Wolves Against Zoroastrian Identification

Something else that has been playing upon my mind as applies that fine Sogdian funerary sculpture’s purported Zoroastrian provenancy … is the name of the Sogdian whose tomb it was. 

In his own language, it is Wirkak – that is to say, ‘Wolf’, from the same root a Sanskrit ‘Vrka’, etc. 

Now, why that is interesting to us is because it is not a name we should expect for a proper and pious Zoroastrian. Why?

Because the Zoroastrians were very negative about wolves. Indeed, they effectively wound up turning it into a generalized term for a ‘demon’.

We can see this lycophobia most clearly in, for instance, the Bundahishn; a compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs about how things were made and where they thence fell within the order of things. 

Section 23 is, aptly enough, entitled in (Anklesaria) translation –  As regards the nature of the wolf species.

1 One says in the Scripture, “The Evil Spirit produced the dark and thievish wolf, the most worthy of darkness, noxious, of the darkest race, of black astral body, biting, with out hair, sterile, and with that disintegrated astral body, for this reason that when it tears the sheep, first its hair may fall off from its body.”

2 He forthwith produced it in fifteen species: first, the black dismal wolf, rough and very intrepid, that is, it enters everything it dares to, and then the other wolf species such as even the tiger, the lion, the panther which they also call the ‘kaput’, the hunting panther, the hyena, the fox which they also call the jackal, the cave digger, the crab, the cat, that which is winged such as the owl, that which is watery such as the water drinker, and even the noxious creature of the jar which they name the wolf of the water, the dark-bodied, and other aquatic species of species which are in the water species, just like other beasts, up to the production of the four-footed wolf which goes in flock when it is small.

3 He, the Evil Spirit, spoke when he produced the crab, “By me art thou created, thou who art the crab, of the wolves the most productive of pest, that I have even this happiness owing to thee that what thou strikest the teeth in, thou piercest and makest impure, and whoever eats that, without doubt the pain owing to that does not decrease. When thou bitest man, cancer is produced in the body.”

4 Of these wolf species the crab is the worst.

5 As one says, “The good deed of him who kills four lion wolves will be as much as he would kill one dark-tailed crab.”

6 The Dasturs say this, too, from the Scripture, “The Evil Spirit wished to produce these wolf species clandestinely, in the semblance of fever, disease and other evils, so that when they approach men, men may not see them. And Ohrmazd, for the sake of great advantage, formed their models, and showed them at the time to the Evil Spirit.

7 Thereupon, on account of after wit, the Evil Spirit clattered, ‘Ohrmazd himself did that which I chose to do.’

8 Having attached the evils to those models, he made them corporeal, and the creatures ought to abstain the most from them.”

9 From this too it is evident that the formation of their models is resembling that of the precious dog and analogous to the beasts, and not in the manner of noxious creatures. There are even some whom men avoid on account of fear, and there are some who are delighted with desire, such as the elephant and the lion, and their corporeality is due to the four generators: water, earth, wind, and fire.”

Indeed, while it would be simple enough to presume that the Wolf being regarded as ‘demonic’ might be a matter resultant from the admittedly threatening nature of the Wolf in the wild … I believe that there is something else going on here. Something much more pointedly Zoroastrian – by which I mean animositic toward the archaic Indo-Iranian religious and social orthodoxy that they had sought to overturn. 

Some measure of proof of this is to be found within the Denkard:

“And he was born of his father Pourushasp — a descendant of (the Peshdadian King) Jamshed — and of his mother Dukdaub. Further, when he (the prophet) was born, there was a light like the blaze of fire-a glare and a twilight –irradiating from his house in all directions, high in the air, and to great distance on the earth, as a token of his greatness and exaltation. And there (in the house of the holy Zartosht) were (gathered together) the sorcerers, the paris [i.e. pairikas, fairies], the teachers of the religion of Ahriman, those that turned their eyes and ears away from the Divine Religion, and other evil-doers, desiring to do him mortal injury at his birth and in his infancy, and to cause harm (to his pure soul). So much so that the evil doers collected there wanted by any means to make his soul inefficacious through death, or to disable him otherwise, and to obscure the dawning intellect in him. And for the purpose of contriving the destruction of Zartosht, they sent (to the house of Pourushasp), in the forms of wolves and other beasts of prey, such of Pourushasp’s relatives as were addicted to sorcery and devil-worship.”

Now, as we have repeatedly demonstrated, when the Zoroastrians are speaking of ‘devil-worship’ – they in fact mean Deva Worship.  That is to say, that aforementioned Indo-Iranic – and, more broadly, Indo-European religious orthodoxy. The Daevas .. are the Devas, cognate with Deus in Latin and Tyr [as a general term for God, Tivar is the plural] in Old Norse. Thus, the literal demonization of Indra, Sarva (Rudra), the Nasatyas, and to a point, both Vayu and Anahita as we have covered elsewhere (insofar as the former was held to have a ‘foot in both camps’; and the latter was held to have Daevic cults who worshipped Her in a ‘Daevic’ manner – particularly amidst the ‘Turanians’, i.e. the Scythian sphere). 

So, of course, it is in one sense entirely logical that we should find Wolves mentioned as having congregated with the D(a)eva worshippers that are supposed to be so metaphysically maleficent in the eyes of the Zoroastrian usurpers. 

However, it is about more than that. And as per usual, there is both a ‘sidereal’ and a ‘supernal’ set of elements to be considered here – which are, again as per usual, decidedly mutually reinforcing. 

The Scythian sphere contained quite some groupings who were – as with many other Indo-European peoples – very keen on Wolves, regarding them in a totemic sense. We see this attested in both personal names (of which the aforementioned Wirkak is one), and in ethnonyms – indeed contrary to the assertion of ‘Dahae’ being correlate to Vedic ‘Dasyu’, it is actually not unlikely to have meant something more akin to ‘Wolf-People’ in a manner similar to a supposed etymology for ‘Dacian’. We see this even turning up in toponymics – the name of the sphere of Hyrcania, for instance, which is more properly Vrkana (Vehrkana, Varkana, etc.) .. the Land of the Wolf. 

To quote my own earlier work upon this subject:

“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.”

Now, to quote from the Khorda Avesta – from a set of sections pertaining to driving back ‘demons’ and ‘demonic forces’ (as its authors regarded them) …

“‘The brood of the Snake fled away; the brood of the Wolf fled away; the brood of the Two-legged fled away. Pride fled away; Scorn fled away; Hot Fever fled away; Slander fled away; Discord fled away; the Evil Eye fled away.

‘The most lying words of falsehood fled away; the Jahi, addicted to the Yatu, fled away; the Jahi, who makes one pine, fled away; the wind that blows from the North fled away; the wind that blows from the North vanished away.

‘He it is who smites me that brood of the Snake, and who might smite those Daevas by thousands of thousands, by ten thousands of ten thousands; he smites sickness, he smites death, he smites the Daevas, he smites the Daeva’s counter-work, he smites the unholy Ashemaogha, he smites the oppressor of men.

‘He smites the brood of the Snake; he smites the brood of the Wolf; he smites the brood of the Two-legged. He smites Pride; he smites Scorn; he smites Hot Fever; he smites Slander; he smites Discord; he smites the Evil Eye.

‘He smites the most lying words of falsehood; he smites the Jahi, addicted to the Yatu; he smites the Jahi, who makes one pine. He smites the wind that blows from the North; the wind that blows from the North vanished away.
‘”He will smite the snakiest of the Snake’s brood, he will afflict the snakiest of the Snake’s brood;
‘”He will smite the most wolfish of the Wolf’s brood, he will afflict the most wolfish of the Wolf’s brood;
‘”He will smite the worst of the two-legged brood, he will afflict the worst of the two-legged brood;”

And so on and so forth. 

The point I have in quoting this is to demonstrate that there was very much an awareness in the later Zoroastrian scripture and liturgy that the threat to them came from the North, akin to the Wind, and was Wolf (and interestingly, also Serpent) linked – along with being figuratively and quite probably literally linked to the Daeva (i.e. Indo-Iranic religious orthodoxy) religion. The ‘Two-Legged’ are best considered in exactly this like – ‘Wolf Who Walks On Two Legs’ is an idiom of some resonancy even in modern English, and would appear to refer to the Mairya warrior-cults. This may be substantiated via the ethnonym of the Haumavargas (a group of Scythians that were renowned for their appetite for the Empowering Elixir – which may have been regarded as turning them into ‘wolves’) – although the association of ‘vargas’ with Vrkas is not uncontested. 

It would be tempting to presume that the Wolf and Serpent iconographic associations are merely those that we find elsewhere in the Indo-European sphere as quite authentic perils and adversaries to the Gods and our ancestors – consider two of the three childer of Loki, as a grand example. However, apart from the obvious fact that the Scythians (and others of that sphere) had, themselves, quite the taste for serpentine visual and other such elements – it is also the case that Indo-European traditions … the authentic Indo-European traditions … have a much more nuanced and contextual view of the symbolism of both Serpent and Wolf. Certainly, we find these creatures used as shorthand reference-points for perils and malefic foes – but so, too, do we actively find them associated with the Gods Themselves; whether as Forms or Aspects which take these shapes, or as associated members of household and of retinue (I hesitate to say ‘pets’), or as steeds – and, for that matter, in intriguing resonancy for certain associated figures such as the Valkyries or the Erinyes with Wolves and Serpents respectively. As applies the former, this is likely due to the lesser-known correlation of the Wolf as part of the transmission of the living to the realm of the Dead, as I covered in ‘On Why Valkyries Ride Wolves – An Extract From ‘On Odin As Agni’’; as applies the latter, the Serpent seems frequently to turn up as an Enforcer for Cosmic Order, correlate with the Power of Speech and other such potencies. (Which, of course, is not – again, and lest I be misinterpreted – to deny that there’s rather prominent serpentine / demon-dragon figures that are inexorably opposed to said Order … only to highlight that this is Not All Snakes. Consider the serpent set to punish Loki, by Skadi; or that aforementioned situation of the serpentine linkages of the Erinyes, etc. – and I have written voluminously upon this subject elsewhere [see, for instance, ‘The Queen of Serpents – The Serpentine Figure of the Indo-European Earth Mother’, which looks directly at a relevant Scythian deific etc. as well] so shall not repeat that analysis here). 

Now with the Zoroastrians, the linkage of the Wolf with Death has obviously been preserved. Except it has become decontextualized – it has become reduced down to just a malefic and antagonistic thing. Whereas the decidedly more nuanced Indo-European view tends to acknowledge that yes, yes the Wolf and Death is there … its dangerousness, difficulty to be controlled or subdued, and fundamental ‘wild’-ness are not disagreed with (indeed, as applies the Ulfhednar, for instance, they are at least partially the point). Only tempered with an array of other qualities – including their admirable intelligence, ability to co-operate and demonstrate internal loyalty, and possess quite some perspication, knowledge, and wisdom (of the Wolf). Indeed, upon that last point, there is a most intriguing potential resonancy of one PIE term for ‘Wolf’ – ‘Weit” – and another for ‘Knowledge’ and Seeing – ‘Weit” (whence Sanskrit ‘Vedas’, etc.). And while it is most certainly the case that we find Wolf utilized in an array of IE cultures to refer to the status of an outlaw or a criminal … funnily enough, this does not at all contradict with a divine coterminity. After all – we tend to have a certain rather prominent God of Outlaws (in a certain sense of the term). 

Indeed, the veer-y same qualities that had rendered the Wolf so inimically terrifying to the Zoroastrian, are in no small part precisely why they are accorded the powerful quotient of their status within the broader Indo-European sphere. It is a wariness, a respect, certainly – and that is not the same thing as a callow demonization. 

The notion that a Wolf may bring death – we do not disagree. We only disagree that it axiomatically has to be our own. Rather, the Wolf as a talismanic, totemic creature – the idea is to embrace and be empowered by its qualities so as to bring about what the Zoroastrian would fear, to the enemies. Similarly, the notion that the Wolf has some essence-tial linkage to the Devas … we of course do not disagree! Indeed, that is quite the point. We only disagree that this is somehow an inherently negative thing – just as, of course, we most vehemently disagree with the downright snarl-inducing contention that our Gods are somehow “demons” as the Zoroastrians had foundationally maintained. 

If many were asked to name a prominent Wolf within our mythology, they would likely go for the obvious ones. Freki & Geri that are the Wolves of Odin, are an obvious standout. And at some point, I do mean to produce a commentary upon these and Sarva & Bhava in relation to Rudra. Others might speak of the Wolf (Lyceus / Lykeios / Lykios etc.) associations of Apollo – and, for that matter, His Mother. Odysseus is alleged upon quite reasonable grounds to have a certain ‘wolfishness’ about Him – and not least due to the forebear, Autolykos (‘The Wolf Himself’). And, of course, we have that most famous she-wolf of all – the foster-mother of young Romulus & Remus. 

However, my mind tends to go instantly to another figure – indeed, one of the most archaic Wolves of the Indo-European mythic corpus in terms of original attestation … Sarama, in fact more properly speaking a Vrki – a She-Wolf. 

She has an entire RigVedic hymnal [RV X 108] dedicated to Her most famous exploit, that of successfully tracking some demonic thieves who had stolen from the Gods … and then proceeding to secure the return of the Divine Wealth by terrifying the Panis (the demons in question) into running rather than defending their stronghold and their claim to its ill-gotten contents. It is interesting to note that here, the Wolf is – once more – an associate of the Divine, indeed acting in the direct furtherance of the Divine Agenda against anti-pious forces, and comes as vanguard and as representative for Priests of that veer-y same Indo-Iranic orthodox religion. A much more positive – indeed, downright inverted – presentation than that found within the Zoroastrian insistent perspective. 

To bring things back somewhat full circle – to the issue of names – nowhere is the decided unorthodoxy of the Zoroastrian fear and loathing of the Wolf better displayed than amidst the incredible frequency with which we encounter “Wolf” names and epithets within the Nordic/Germanic sphere. Indeed, my own surname is built from one. There are any number of these, in various permutations – and occasionally, as with Beowulf [i.e. ‘Bee-Wolf’] utilized to produce more complex compound kennings [in that case, for ‘Bear’ – the ‘Bee-Wolf’ hunts for the bees and their honey to devour, you see]. About the only one that’s really undergone a ‘demonization’ of sorts is ‘Adolf’ (‘Noble-Wolf’), for reasons that are perhaps obvious – although effectively due to a historical illiteracy which prioritizes only the events of the last few decades at the expense of a broader perspective (hence, “Gustavus Adolphus” as something of a counterpoint, and certainly a much more positive figure). But those are matters for other times.

The point is – this Sogdian gentleman buried underground in a stonework tomb, we have already demonstrated in my previous work to have been a rather unorthodox ‘Zoroastrian’, to say the least. Part of a panoply of occurrences wherein what has somewhat lazily been presented as Zoroastrianism in the Scythian sphere, upon closer examination, turns out to be … somewhat different, and a lot closer to the old, archaic Indo-Iranic orthodoxy rather than that faith of its self-declared antagonists. 

To this we may add the rather fundamental issue of his name – for names, as we know, have power; and ‘nominative determinism’ was most definitely a thing believed in more readily in the past, when words were more easily understood and destiny weighed more heavily upon each of our shoulders than today here in the present. 

It would be exceedingly unlikely that a proper, stodgily pious Zoroastrian man would bear a name like Wirkak – ‘Wolf’. 

But quite conventional for a man more closely associated with the faith of his further-back forebears. Perhaps that goes some ways toward explicating the otherwise academically held to be ‘curious’ occurrence of Lord Shiva [as Sogdian Veshparkar / Weshparkar] upon his and his wife’s sarcophagus. 

In closing, I think, it should only prove apt to reference some scriptural materials from that self-same Indo-Iranic religious orthodoxy’s still-living furtherance – specifically devotional materials dedicated to Sarva & Bhava, Rudras / Forms of Rudra / Sons of Rudra / Wolves of Rudra [as the Sankhayana Srauta Sutras put it – “The Two Who Like Wolves With Jaws Wide Opened , Roam The Forest – Bhava & Sarva, The Sons Of The Great God”].

AtharvaVeda IV 28:

I Reverence You—mark this—Bhava and Sarva, Ye under Whose control is this that shineth.
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped. Deliver us, Ye Twain, from grief and trouble. 
Lords of all near and even of what is distant, famed as the best and skilfullest of archers,
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped, Deliver us, Ye Twain, from grief and trouble.
Thousand-eyed foe-destroyers, I invoke You, still praising You the strong, of wide dominion:
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped, Deliver us, Ye twain, from grief and trouble.
Ye Who of old wrought many a deed in concert, and showed among mankind unhappy omens;
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped, Deliver us, Ye twain, from grief and trouble.
Ye from the stroke of Whose destroying weapon not one among the Gods or men escapeth,
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped, Deliver us, Ye twain, from grief and trouble.
Hurl Your bolt, strong Gods, at the Yātudhāna, him who makes ready roots and deals in magic:
Lords of this world both quadruped and biped, Deliver us, Ye twain, from grief and trouble.
Comfort and aid us, Ye strong Gods, in battles, at each Kimidin send Your bolt of thunder.
I, suppliant, praise and ever call on Bhav and Sarva. Set us free from grief and trouble.

Hail, Indeed, to The Wolf Himself.!

Jai Ishvara ! 

One thought on “On Wolves Against Zoroastrian Identification

  1. Pingback: On Wolves Against Zoroastrian Identification – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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