As we’d noted towards the outset of Part One, the Scythian religion is endlessly, fascinatingly frustrating. We know so little – and yet we can seemingly ‘piece together’ a few elements from the scant textual (and usually virtually third hand) viewpoints of their faith that have come down to us from Antiquity.
One figure in particular that has attracted salient attention is that of ‘Scythian Ares’ – so-called because, well, that’s all we really have to go on for the name. Unlike with Tabiti or Thagimasidas or Papaios – we don’t get both an Interpretatio Graeca equivalency AND a Scythian theonymic (or close enough thereto). We’ve just got the ‘Ares’ descriptor and some perhaps surprisingly detailed ‘ritual context’ elements which we shall be discussing shortly.
It’s not much with which to endeavour to ‘unlock’ the mysteries of Scythian Ares – however, by taking the perhaps rather revolutionary approach of analyzing what we do have in terms of and via the light of the Scythians’ cousins in the Hindusphere (rather than just trying to scrabble about with the Hellenic or Zoroastrian-Iranian linkages that have been largely tried and drawn to their limits of probative value already) … we think we’re on to something.
I took a look at some of the previous attempts at comprehending Scythian Ares in Part One, and the ‘methodological issues’ that have beset other efforts on this front, so shall not repeat all of that here. Instead, we’ll just get straight into it.
Now, the sum total of Herodotus’ remarks upon ‘Scythian Ares’ are as follows:
“The Scythians then have what most concerns them ready to hand. It remains now to show the customs which are established among them. The only gods whom they propitiate by worship are these: Hestia in especial, and secondly Zeus and Earth, whom they deem to be the wife of Zeus; after these, Apollo, and the Heavenly Aphrodite, and Heracles, and Ares. All the Scythians worship these as gods; the Scythians called Royal sacrifice also to Poseidon. In the Scythian tongue Hestia is called Tabiti: Zeus (in my judgment most rightly so called) Papaeus; Earth is Apia, Apollo Goetosyrus, the Heavenly Aphrodite Artimpasa, and Poseidon Thagimasadas. It is their practice to make images and altars and shrines for Ares, but for no other god.
but their sacrifices to Ares are on this wise. Every district in each of the governments has in it a building sacred to Ares, to wit, a pile of [bundles] of sticks three furlongs broad and long, but of a less height, on the top of which there is a flattened four-sided surface; three of its sides are sheer, but the fourth can be ascended. In every year an hundred and fifty waggon-loads of sticks are heaped upon this; for the storms of winter ever make it sink down. On this pile there is set for each people an ancient scimitar of iron, which is their image of Ares; to this scimitar they bring yearly sacrifice of sheep and goats and horses, offering to these symbols even more than they do to the other gods. Of all their enemies that they take alive, they sacrifice one man in every hundred, not according to their fashion of sacrificing sheep and goats, but differently. They pour wine on the men’s heads and cut their throats over a vessel; then they carry the blood up on to the pile of sticks and pour it on the scimitar. So they carry the blood aloft, but below by the sacred building they cut off the slain men’s right arms and hands and throw these into the air, and presently depart when they have sacrificed the rest of the victims; the arm lies where it has fallen, and the body apart from it.
[Herodotus IV 59 & 62; Godley translation]
So what do we have then?
Well, we have what the Rawlinson translation somewhat loosely declares a ‘Temple’ – although which could probably more aptly be summated as a ‘Ritual Enclosure’ (for reasons that shall perhaps become apparent in due course).
We also have a rather large … indeed downright mountainous if Herodotus’ figures are to be believed … mound of wood. The actual dimensions given are, in Greek – σταδίους τρεῖς μῆκος καὶ εὖρος. That is: ‘three stadia long and wide’. How big’s a stadia? Six hundred Greek Feet. How big’s that? Well, it depends … but as a ballpark figure (a ball-stadium estimate?) around two hundred meters, maybe less. That’s six hundred meters each way. That’s insane! That’s virtually a mountain made out of all of this bundled timber. No wonder it takes a hundred and fifty car-loads, renewed annually. Assuming, of course, that Herodotus isn’t exaggerating somewhat … or, we might suggest, perhaps somewhat misinformed.
Now, the word being used for an ‘Ancient Scimitar of Iron’ in that Godley translation (a rather more unexotic simple ‘Antique Iron Sword’ in the Rawlinson) … well, the phrase itself is ‘ἀκινάκης σιδήρεος ἵδρυται ἀρχαῖος’ – akinakes to refer to the weapon itself (a rather short sword), ‘sideros’ is here translated as ‘iron’ or ‘made of iron’ (although can similarly mean ‘very hard, unyielding’), ‘idrytai’ to refer to that ’emplacement’ or ‘consecration’ (‘dedication’), and ‘arkaios’ to mean its antiquity (indeed, that’s almost underselling it … ‘primeval-ness’, ‘from the beginning’ would be closer to the mark).
This, we hear, is an ‘Image’ of the ‘Scythian Ares’.
And predictably, this is where I start having bursts of my ‘insight’ upon matters. For you see, all of this sounds suspiciously like an array of Vedic conceptry that we are reasonably familiar with. However before we get to all of that – let’s really briefly summarize the ‘essentials’.
I – a ‘Ritual Enclosure’ – apparently characterized by a significant raised structure with a four-sided platform atop, and an access-ramp on one direction; and which is annually (re-)constructed.
II – a ‘Weapon’ (ostensibly a Sword of suitably primordial provenancy and inviolable material hardness) acting as the ‘Image’ or ‘Embodiment’ of the God. Or, perhaps, ‘merely’ ‘Consecrated To’ the Deific in question.
III – an annual sacrificial rite that features not only “sheep, goats, and horses”, but also a rather specific manner of offering human sacrifice (in which the victims are quite literally ‘dis-armed’), accompanied by libations of the lifeblood of same.
IV – a clear ‘War’ association, as attested both by the ‘Ares’ labelling, and the ‘Prisoner of War’ major sacrificial element. And, of course, the usage of the Weapon to embody – or be ‘consecrated to’ the God. This ‘War’ association seeming to encompass both the rite as well as the Deific.
So, the question would thusly become … can we, perhaps, identify any Vedic elements which might seemingly remind us of the above?
Well, I’ll let you be the judge.
Here’s a suite from the Mahabharata. Which I’ve slightly trimmed for reasons of space. And to avoid being pinged by various algorithms for using the actual term for a bundle of sticks that, whilst it might have been uncontroversial in the Victorian English of the translator’s own era … now conjures something else. By which I mean a postban on social media.
The excerpt’s context is a plague of Demons overrunning the cosmos and attempting to disrupt or even outright make War upon the Gods and Sages (i.e. Priests).
This therefore calls for a very special blend of theology and extreme violence.
“Then the divine Brahman, accompanied by the regenerate sages, proceeded to a delightful summit of Himavat, extending for a hundred Yojanas in area, adorned with diverse kinds of jewels and gems, and upon whose surface the stars seemed to rest like so many lotuses on a lake. On that prince of mountains, O sire, overgrown with forests of flowering trees, that Foremost of the Gods, viz., Brahman, stayed for some time for accomplishing the business of the world.
After the lapse of a thousand years, the puissant lord made arrangements for a grand sacrifice according to the ordinances laid down in the scriptures. The sacrificial altar became adorned with Rishis skilled in sacrifice and competent to perform all acts appertaining thereto, with [bundles of wood] of sacrificial fuel, and with blazing fires. And it looked exceedingly beautiful in consequence of the sacrificial plates and vessels all made of gold. All the foremost ones among the gods took their seats on it. The platform was further adorned with Sadasyas all of whom were high regenerate Rishis.
I have heard from the Rishis that soon something very awful occurred in that sacrifice. It is heard that a creature sprang (from the sacrificial fire) scattering the flames around him, and Whose splendour equalled that of the Moon Himself when He rises in the firmament spangled with stars. His complexion was dark like that of the petals of the blue lotus. His teeth were keen. His stomach was lean. His stature was tall. He seemed to be irresistible and possessed of exceeding energy.
Upon the appearance of that being, the Earth trembled. The Ocean became agitated with high billows and awful eddies. Meteors foreboding great disasters shot through the sky. The branches of trees began to fall down. All the points of the compass became unquiet. Inauspicious winds began to blow. All creatures began to quake with fear every moment. Beholding that awful agitation of the Universe and that Being sprung from the sacrificial fire, the Grandsire said these words unto the great Rishis, the gods, and the Gandharvas:
‘This Being was thought of by Me. Possessed of great energy, His Name is Asi (sword or scimitar). For the protection of the world and the destruction of the enemies of the Gods, I have created Him.’
That being then, abandoning the form He had first assumed, took the shape of a sword of great splendour, highly polished, sharp-edged, risen like the all-destructive Being at the end of the Yuga. Then Brahman made over that sharp weapon to the blue-throated Rudra Who has for the device on His banner the foremost of bulls, for enabling Him to put down irreligion and sin.
At this, the divine Rudra of immeasurable soul, praised by the great Rishis, took up that sword and assumed a different shape. Putting forth four arms, He became so tall that though standing on the Earth He touched the very Sun with His Head. With Eyes turned upwards and with every limb extended wide, He began to vomit flames of fire from His mouth. Assuming diverse complexions such as blue and white and red, wearing a black deer-skin studded with stars of gold, He bore on His forehead a third eye that resembled the sun in splendour. His two other Eyes, one of which was black and the other tawny, shone very brightly.
The divine Mahadeva, the Bearer of the Sula [Spear], the tearer of Bhaga’s eyes, taking up the sword whose splendour resembled that of the all-destructive Yuga fire, and wielding a large shield with three high bosses which looked like a mass of dark clouds adorned with flashes of lightning, began to perform diverse kinds of evolutions. Possessed of great prowess, He began to whirl the sword in the sky, desirous of an encounter. Loud were the roars He uttered, and awful the sound of His laughter. Indeed, O Bharata, the Form then assumed by Rudra was exceedingly terrible.
Hearing that Rudra had assumed that Form for achieving fierce deeds, the Danavas, filled with joy, began to come towards Him with great speed, showering huge rocks upon Him as they come, and blazing brands of wood, and diverse kinds of terrible weapons made of iron and each endued with the sharpness of a razor. The Danava host, however, beholding that foremost of all beings, the indestructible Rudra, swelling with might, became stupefied and began to tremble.
Although Rudra was alone and single-handed, yet so quickly did He move on the field of battle with the sword in His arm that the Asuras thought there were a thousand similar Rudras battling with them. Tearing and piercing and afflicting and cutting and lopping off and grinding down, the Great God moved with celerity among the thick masses of His foes like forest conflagration amid heaps of dry grass spread around.
The mighty Asuras, broken by the god with the whirls of his sword, with arms and thighs and chests cut off and pierced, and with heads severed from their trunks, began to fall down on the earth. Others among the Danavas, afflicted with strokes of the sword, broke and fled in all directions, cheering one another as they fled. Some penetrated into the bowels of the earth; others got under the cover of mountains, Some went upwards; others entered the depths of the sea. During the progress of that dreadful and fierce battle, the Earth became miry with flesh and blood and horrible sights presented themselves on every side. Strewn with the fallen bodies of Danavas covered with blood, the Earth looked as if overspread with mountain summits overgrown with Kinsukas. Drenched with gore, the Earth looked exceedingly beautiful, like a fair-complexioned lady intoxicated with alcohol and attired in crimson robes.
Having slain the Danavas and re-established Righteousness on earth, the auspicious Rudra cast off His awful Form and assumed His Own beneficent shape. Then all the Rishis and all the Celestials adored that God of Gods with loud acclamations wishing Him Victory. The divine Rudra, after this, gave the Sword, that protector of religion, dyed with the blood of Danavas, unto Vishnu with due adorations.”
This most magnificent of primordial blades then embarks upon a lengthy chain of custody through various figures – most prominently, it is said to have been “[given] unto all the great Rishis” (i.e. as a ritual element that could be thusly invoked as necessary or required), before making its way to the lineage of kings therethrough.
In essence, it is ‘rulership’ – insofar as it is congealed to defend Righteousness and the kingdom, its polis and its people, from those who would transgress against its bounds. To again quote from the Ganguli translation:
“The latter gave it to Vasava. Vasava gave it to the Regents of the world. The Regents, O son, gave that large sword to Manu the son of Surya. At the time, of giving it unto Manu, they said, ‘Thou art the lord of all men. Protect all creatures [‘Praja’ (परजा) – ‘Subjects’] with this sword containing religion within its womb. Duly meting out chastisement unto those that have transgressed the barriers of virtue for the sake of the body or the mind, they should be protected conformably to the ordinances but never according to caprice. Some should be punished with wordy rebukes, and with fines and forfeitures. Loss of limb or death should never be inflicted for slight reasons. These punishments, consisting of wordy rebukes as their first, are regarded as so many forms of the sword. These are the shapes that the sword assumes in consequence of the transgressions of persons under the protection (of the king). In time Manu installed his own son Kshupa in the sovereignty of all creatures, and gave him the sword for their protection.”
The text then goes on to give us some additional information of broader purport pertaining to the astrological and deific connexions to the weapon – “The constellation under which the sword was born is Krittika. Agni is its deity, and Rohini is its Gotra. Rudra is its high preceptor.” We have looked at some of the intriguing saliencies of these dimensions elsewhere, and may, perhaps, return to this at some future point in earnest.
Now, the question we have here is a simple one. How well does what’s presented in that Hindu mythic account align with the Scythian ritualistic conceptry that Herodotus had presented to us?
And I think the answer is … quite well, in fact. Especially if we make the perhaps not unreasonable presumption that maybe some of the more overtly unreliable-sounding details to Herodotus’ account (such as a veritable miniature-mountain of bundled up wood to make the ritual platform) might be ‘exaggeration’ in the same fashion to what we find in the Hindu mythic recounting.
Indeed, in exactly the same fashion. For the essential ‘bones’ of that Hindu presentation are, indeed, ritualine elements that have been ‘extrapolated’ or ‘mythologized’ in certain ways. Hence how the ritual space’s center and its raised dimension becomes as akin to Mt. Meru (and we note with some interest that both the Scythian ritual platform, as well as the situation of Mt Meru, should seem to have the wood being blown down or otherwise collapsing amidst storms). This is something that is entirely in keeping with the ‘mesocosmic’ understanding for ritual space in the Vedic religion – wherein the ‘ritual enclosure’ (ostensibly a ‘microcosm’) does, indeed, become as the Realm, the Plane, the World (the ‘macrocosm’). The ‘mesocosm’, in case you were wondering, is the ‘interactive space’ between macrocosm and microcosm, thusly congealed through precisely such eminent ‘resonancy’ betwixt same.
So, to break down the above-aforementioned Mahabharat-presented mythic narrative into its constituent components:
i) there’s adversaries – demons, but these are emblematic for a broad range of things including human adversaries to the Dharma (and the Realm)
ii) the calling to order of officiants for a Rite … that is to take place up a great Mountain, and of course, with wood (both in tree form on sides of said Mountain; and also brought in bundles-of form for the fire)
iii) at the Rite itself, Prajapati emanates / calls into being a most terrifying figure indeed. This being the Sword. Which is then taken up by Rudra, the appointed Wielder thereof (in fact, we might feasibly ponder the notion of the Weapon as the extension of the Wielder in earnest).
iv) the Weapon is thence used to clear out the space that has been contested by the demons via combat, hacking and dismembering these enemies in a fashion that explicitly sends limbs flying – and blood spatter all over the ‘mountain peak(s)’ of the Earth.
v) the space is thusly secured, and Righteousness upheld – the sacred nature of the Kingship both empowered and (demonstratively) established.
But how does all of that pertain to a ritualistic occurrence which us ‘down here’ humans might feasibly seek to perform?
Well, we shall start with a brief postulation. Namely, the possibility that the Sword in question might, in fact, be Devi. I make no hard determination upon this, only a speculative theory which my mind wishes to consider in potentia. Yet it should make a certain level of sense. We are frequently aware of the invocation of Devi into Sword form. The Chandi Di Var of the Sikhs is one such exemplar. There is a potential attestation for Chandi in the form of a Sword from an Eastern Indian inscription of Hindu provenance which predates the Sikhs by some centuries. And, of course, who could forget the famed Sword of ShivaJi of the Marathas – variously referred to (and occasionally distinguished out as separate blades according to some tellings) as the ‘Bhavani Tulwar’, ‘Jagadamba Tulwar’, and ‘Tulja Tulwar’. All theonymics of the Goddess – although, of course, this is more directly explained via Her directly handing the Sword to the soon-to-be Chhatrapati [‘Paramount King’] than incarnating therein. Particularly if one takes at face value the occasionally encountered perspective that the Sword in question was none other than the mythic Chandrahas [‘The Glinting Laughter / Smile of the Moon’] that was Shiva’s Own Blade. Whatever its ‘imbuement’, there is no doubt that ShivaJi used the justly well-renowned blade in exactly the fashion that the Mahabharat had enjoined such a weapon to be most judiciously employed. Namely – the defending and establishing of Hindu Rashtra, the Realm of Righteousness, upon this earth even in the teeth of the invidious foe.
The notion of ‘Mountain’ and ‘Sword’ being poetically overlapping is also not unknown within the Sanskrit conceptual syllabry – ‘Shikhara’ ( शिखर ) comfortably encompasses both quite directly. Something which makes eminent visual sense when considering the hard, protruding projection of rock with a sharp ridgeline and point that may form a mountainous edifice. Devi as Mountain is well-known (‘Parvati’ being, likely, the best-recalled exemplar); and the Shatapatha Brahmana has frequent directive for offerings to be poured upon the Earth (Prithvi), as this Earth is the Altar. The Scythian Ares scenario presents the Sword in a rather significant ‘mountain’ being in receipt of the blood-libation. Who knows – perhaps the ‘Ares’ of ‘Scythian Ares’ is, in fact, a Goddess. Something that would definitely concord with the general a) Sovereignty-bestowing b) All-conquering and c) most formidable War deific saliency for a certain Goddess elsewhere in Hindu, and for that matter the broader Indo-Iranic religious milieu. Even the Zoroastrians have a Goddess (Anahita) being propitiated through bloody sacrifice in order to bring about victory by a hero or king.
Yet let us move forward to firmer ground.
The bloodshed in the Scythian ritual reportage is not a combat – not literally, at any rate. It is a killing of prisoners taken in war. One which features dismembering in such a fashion that the right arms are lopped off – because that’s the sword arm, and so therefore the strength has indeed utterly left the vanquished. They are, to make it rather obvious – literally ‘disarmed’. There are two things we may say about this.
The first concerns some rather curious conceptry found within the SataRudriya rite contained within the Shatapatha Brahmana. SBr IX 1 2 makes a point of liquid sprinkling libations following the tumult of the preceding phase of Rite (wherein we do indeed most definitely hear of Lord Rudra (Manyu – that foremost of the Vedic War Gods) as a Swordsman therein) … however, whilst the Eggeling translation has ‘water’ – the fact that in close connection with the right armpit (i.e. where you would sever the arm in the Scythian rite) we find the Heart so prominently mentioned, and liquid flowing therefrom may very well suggest another kind of ‘libation’.
Blood, – blood to assuage. Of course, before getting too excited, it is necessary to note that this is – strictly speaking – the right extremity of an aviomorphic altar pile. We might be on surer ground if we were to consider the circumstance of savitr losing His Arm(s) when Rudra is yet to be propitiated with the relevant Share of the Sacrifice (the same incident wherein Pushan’s Teeth are knocked out), but I think we can do much better still.
Allow us to introduce into the mix SBr I 2 4 & 5. These are both effectively built around the utilization of metaphysical weaponry to clear an area, a ritual enclosure that is again a mesocosm and microcosmic ‘resonancy’ for the macrocosmic world at large, from demonic interlopers. That is to say: it presents a mythically infused ‘ritual combat’ re-enactment. Against Demons. Driving them out of the ritual space, and so forth. With one enemy captured, fettered and bound and dealt to accordingly [from verse 17 onward]. A ‘prisoner captured in war’, you might say; who is then put down with great firmness with all the force(s) that can be mustered in the Three Worlds and even Beyond … hurting the maleficarum so badly that it knows not to come back, even if it could, having been “cut off” repeatedly from each further World in succession. As the Priest, who is acting as Agni (and Agni, as we all know, is also Rudra), does this – he also is piling up earth upon a mound before placing his Sword (Sphya) upon and into said mound (which, admittedly, here is the rubbish / detritus ‘spoil’; but is nevertheless interesting to observe).
To quote directly from SBr I 2 4 [Eggeling translation]:
“8 The Gods and the Asuras, both of them sprung from Pragâpati,were contending for superiority. The Gods vanquished the Asuras; and yet these afterwards harassed Them again.
9 The Gods then Said: ‘We do, no doubt, vanquish the Asuras, but nevertheless they afterwards again harass Us. How then can We vanquish them so that We need not fight them again?’
10 Agni then Said: ‘By fleeing northwards they escape from Us.’ By fleeing northwards they had indeed escaped from Them.
11 Agni said: ‘I will go round to the northern side, and You will then shut them in from here; and whilst shutting them in, We will put them down by these (three) worlds; and from what fourth world there is beyond these (three) they will not be able to rise again.’
12 Agni thereupon went round to the northern side; and They (the Other Gods) shut them in from here; and whilst shutting them in, They put them down with these (three) worlds; and from what fourth world there is beyond these (three) they did not rise again. Now this same (expulsion of the Asuras) is virtually the same act as the flinging away of the grass-bush.
13 The Āgnīdhra goes round to the north, for he is virtually the same person as Agni Himself. The Adhvaryu then shuts them in from here,; and whilst shutting them in, he puts them down by means of these (three) worlds; and from what fourth world there is beyond these (three) they do not rise again. Thus now also they do not rise again, for by the same means by which the Gods kept them off, the priests now also keep them off during the sacrifice.
14 And whoever has evil designs upon the sacrificer and hates him, him he thereby puts down by means of these (three) worlds, and what fourth world there is beyond these. And in putting him down with these (three) worlds, and what fourth world there is beyond these, he flings everything away from this (earth), for on it all these worlds rest: for what would he fling away, if he were to fling (the grass-bush) away with the words, ‘The air I throw away, the heaven I throw away!’ therefore he flings everything away from this (earth).”
Effectively, I would suggest, if there is a coterminity of concept (if not, necessarily, the exact broader rite – for certainly, there are quite an array of such Ritual Enclosure Expurgation Operations within the Vedic canon and corpus) with the Scythian ritual Herodotus vicariously informs us of … then in the Scythian enaction thereof, they should seem to go rather a bit further than ‘just’ having the Priestly officiants taking the roles of mythic figures.
Indeed, it should seem to me that the role of the demonic adversaries are also taken up in (unwilling) earnest by those unfortunate war-prisoners duly sacrificed in the course of the rite. With every step carrying a pointed ‘mesocosmic’ significance and intended apotropaic or otherwise beneficent effect.
So, in the course of the SBr rite aforementioned [I 2 4, Eggeling translation again], we find the Sphya (Ritual Sword) once more taken up by our Priest – via a specially metaphysically empowered pair of arms ‘borrowed’ from the Divine, no less – and this time ‘standing for’ the Vajra (Thunderbolt) often wielded by Indra.
“6 He murmurs (Vāj. S. I, 24): ‘Thou art Indra’s right arm!’ for Indra’s right arm no doubt is the most powerful one, and for that reason he says: ‘Thou art Indra’s right arm!’ ‘The thousand-spiked, hundred-edged! he adds, for a thousand spikes and a hundred edges had that thunderbolt which he hurled at Vṛtra: he thereby makes it to be that (thunderbolt).
7 ‘The sharp-edged Vāyu (wind) art thou!’ he adds; for that indeed is the sharpest edge, to wit, that (wind) which here blows: for that one sweeps right across these worlds. He thereby makes it sharp. When he (further) says: ‘The killer of the enemy!’ let him, whether he wishes to exorcise or not, say: ‘The killer of so and so!’ When it has been sharpened, he must not touch either himself or the earth with it: ‘Lest I should hurt either myself or the earth with that sharp thunderbolt,’ thus he thinks, and for that reason he does not touch either himself or the earth with it.”
See that? The Right Arm (and, we also note, something flying through the air). Why does this matter? As we have said – ‘symbolic resonancy’ and deliberate inversion.
A ‘ritual combat’. With more ‘ritual’ than ‘combat’. In which – in contrast to the vigorous strength of the righteous (and, indeed, outright Divine) Right Arm … the right arms of the captives (i.e. the sword arms – and therefore in essence their ability to make war against their captors), these victims standing in for demons or general conception of foes and disorder … are severed off. The force of the Maleficarum being able to be picked up and ‘thrown’ – just as, in the Scythian rite, we find the right arms of the bound captives to be disposed of.
To this we may add with intrigue the notation found within SBr I 2 5:
“7 Having thus enclosed him on all (three) sides, and having placed Agni (the fire) on the east side, they went on worshipping and toiling with it (or him, i.e. Viṣṇu, the sacrifice). By it they obtained (sam-vid) this entire earth; and because they obtained by it this entire (earth), therefore it (the sacrificial ground) is called vedi (the altar). For this reason they say, ‘As great as the altar is, so great is the earth;’ for by it (the altar) they obtained this entire (earth). And, verily, he who so understands this, wrests likewise this entire (earth) from his rivals, excludes his rivals from sharing in it.”
It is a bit of a loose parallel, but we note that here, too, as with the Scythian mountain-style platform, we have a ritual enclosure that is accessible on one side, inaccessible on three sides, and rather prominently features a mound (indeed, in verse 17, the Vedi is pointedly described as ‘sloping’ upon its sides in particular formation).
We also note the idea of the ‘resonancy’ between altar-space and earth – and the securing of dominion inviolate and ever-expanding through the course of these ritual acts within the mesocosmic context.
Perhaps the truly immense dimensions of the structure reported by Herodotus are an expression of a similar principle. Bigger Mound? Bigger Earth. Bigger Realm.
Of course, all of this leaves one element as-yet unaddressed … and that is the rather specific libations of (captive) Blood upon the Sword of the Scythians.
So, to return to SBr I 2 5:
“19 He smooths it down, with the text (Vāj. S. I, 28): ‘Before the bloody (battle) with its rushings hither and thither, O mighty one!’ the bloody one no doubt is the battle, for in battle bloody deeds are done, and slain lie man and horse; and before that battle they removed it (the altar to the Moon); therefore he says, ‘Before the bloody (battle) with its rushings hither and thither, O mighty one!’–‘lifting up the life-bestowing earth,’ for after lifting up what was living on this Earth, they removed it to the Moon; therefore he says, ‘lifting up the life-bestowing Earth; which they raised to the Moon by prayers,’ ‘which they placed in the Moon by worship,’ he thereby says,–‘that (Earth) the wise still point out and worship,’ to that they accordingly address their worship; and the offering of him also who so understands this, is performed in that place of worship.
20 He now says (to the Āgnīdhra; Vāj. S. I, 28), ‘Put the sprinkling-water down (on the altar)!’ That thunderbolt, the wooden sword, and the priest (brāhmaṇa) have hitherto defended that sacrifice. Now the water also is a thunderbolt: that thunderbolt he thereby lays down for its defence. While the sprinkling-water is being held close above the wooden sword, he takes up the latter. If he were to set the sprinkling-water down, while the wooden sword is still lying, the two thunderbolts would come into collision with each other; but in this way the two thunderbolts do not come into collision with each other: for that reason he takes up the wooden sword, while the sprinkling-water is being held close above it.”
Again – men and horses slain, and libations poured upon the ‘Sword’.
Of course, as noted above, water is not blood – but it is not impossible to see how there might be some interesting conceptual resonancy to be had here. The ‘life force’ to empower such a thing.
At this point, we ought perhaps engage in a closer examination of the Sword Itself – particularly in comparative (Indo-Iranic) terms.
The Vedic ritual implement aforementioned, the Sphya, is effectively also a ‘shovel’ (which, after all, even in modern English, also features a ‘blade’ as its integral component – as does an ‘oar’, which ‘Sphya’ can also mean in Sanskrit elsewhere).
Meanwhile, the term utilized to refer to the Scythian weapon is ἀκῑνάκης (Akinakes). Its etymology may connect it to Sanskrit खन् (Khan), ‘Dig’, via Proto-Indo-Iranian *kanh- [my thanks to N. Mukhopādhyāyaḥ for pointing out this prospective etymology]
Why do i mention this ‘dig’ conceptry?
Because, other than being potentially what a rather short dagger-like sword would do if actively utilized upon the field of war (or, for that matter, sacrificial blood-letting – and the dismemberment of the sacrifice(d) ) … we of course find that the Sphya is utilized for digging.
What else might we draw out here? (other than, of course, the boundaries of the anticipated, hoped-for demon-free and yatudhana-forcibly-evacuated dominion)
Well, consider the much-earlier-aforementioned Ancient Greek phrasing utilized to refer to the Scythian Sword: ‘ἀκινάκης σιδήρεος ἵδρυται ἀρχαῖος’ .
Akinakes for the Weapon; Sideros meaning ‘Iron’ yet also ‘Unyielding’, ‘Very Hard’; Idrytai for the ’emplacement’ or ‘consecration (‘dedication’); and Arkaios – as one might expect, referencing its antiquity (indeed, an almost ‘primordial’ quality going by the roots – ᾰ̓ρχή referring to just such a ‘from the beginning [of the world]’ type demarcation … although with a curious ‘double-up’ with the other meaning for ᾰ̓ρχή, pertaining to rulership, sovereignty, and leading).
Yet why reiterate all of that once more? Because I – tentatively – suspect that the descriptors for the ritual implement at the center of all of this, that Scythian Sword, might in fact be indicative (also) of something else. Namely, the mythic weapon (or other element) which the Sword might feasibly be figured to ‘resonate’ with and ‘bear the essence of’ within its relevant ritualine context.
Confused? Let’s shed a little (electrifying) light upon the situation.
What’s a weapon (that we’ve met earlier in this very piece) which we might feasibly describe as being ‘Unyielding’, and which occupies a central place within the Vedic comparanda for the ritual schema in question.
The Vajra. Quite directly it ( वज्र ) has come to mean ‘Diamond’ in later scripture; and has a definite sense right the way through of being very hard indeed. This quite naturally fits – there is a long-remarked-upon linkage for the Vajra with Meteor conceptry; and a corresponding line of supposition around Meteoric Iron being utilized to forge impressively hard (particularly by the standards of the Bronze Age) bladed (and other) weaponry. ‘Adamantium’ ultimately derives from a potentially quite cognate concept found amidst the Hellenic sphere – that of the ‘ἀδᾰ́μᾱς’ (‘adamas’ – un- (a-) breakable (-damnao)) quality utilized to describe certain (particularly Harpe style) swords within the mythology (perhaps most notably the blade of Perseus (a Striker/Thunderer expression) – described as a ‘falx’, per Pseudo-Hyginus’ Astronomica). Indeed it is perhaps worth noting here that some of the oldest iconographic representations we have of Herakles and Iolaos slaying the Hydra – depict the deed being done with a Harpe.
Where am I going with this? The Taittiriya Samhita of the Yajurveda. What do we find there?
In II 1 5:
“The sacrificial post is shaped like a wooden sword; the wooden sword is a thunderbolt; verily he hurls a thunderbolt against him; the strew is made of Çara grass; verily he crushes him; the kindling-wood is of Vibhidaka; verily he splits him.”
In II 1 7:
“The sacrificial post is shaped like the wooden sword, the wooden sword is a thunderbolt; verily he hurls a thunderbolt against him; the strew is made of Çara grass; verily he crushes him; the kindling-wood is of Vibhidaka; verily he splits him.”
In II 1 8:
“The sacrificial post is shaped like the wooden sword; the wooden sword is a thunderbolt; verily he hurls a thunderbolt against him; the strew is made of Çara grass; verily he crushes  him; the kindling-wood is of Vibhidaka; verily he splits him.”
We note with interest that these invocations are in the context of Brahmanaspati, Varuna, or Rudra. Which we may observe to be, in essence, Facings of the Indo-European Sky Father deific. Why does that matter?
Because we are directly familiar with an array of worship and worshipful regard for said Sky Father in ‘pillar’ or ‘post’ form known across the Indo-European sphere.
The Irminsul of the Germanics is well-known (and we have elsewhere written upon its likely ‘resonancy’ with Yggdrasil); as is the contemporarily prominent ShivLing of us here in the Hindusphere. Similar elements are also found in the Classical Indo-European religions. But let us return to the ShivLing in earnest.
This Shaivite embodiment presents a continuation of the (Yupa)Sthambha of Vedic antiquity that is more directly the ‘sacrifical post’ … and, per the relevant theological commentary, with the Skambha hymnals of the AtharvaVeda [AV-S X 7 and 8] likewise expressing this notion of the Sacral Post as the God as the Axis Mundi of all the Worlds. In our ‘Mesocosmic’ ritual expanse, therefore, we should be utterly unsurprised to find an ‘Axis Mundi’ embodiment at the center of proceedings. Just as it (or, in this case, perhaps ‘He’) is for the Cosmos at large. (However, having used the male pronoun there – it is also worth returning to our earlier hypothesis concerning the Goddess : after all, we have a pervasive suite of conceptry for the Wife of the Sky Father in / as the Axis Mundi, also ; something double-buttressed via the ‘Weaponized’ associations of the Ash Tree as a Spear, and the utilization of relevant terminology also in reference to Her, as we have covered capaciously elsewhere).
I have often asserted that the Axis Mundi, in truth, is the major saliency for Rta (Cosmic Order – Orlog, in the Old Norse [‘Supernal Law’]) within our universe. It is, after all, the great Axle about which all else turns ; hence in part, perhaps, why the Chakravartin – the ‘world-ruler’ or ‘paramount sovereign king’ – has such a title. Ostensibly, it is because ‘His Wheels Are Ever In Motion’, as he can travel anywhere in his chariot and go unchallenged. However I feel it appropriate that a World-Ruler, ‘setting the terms’ for the World(s) under His Rule, and determining the speed and rotation of said Wheel, should likely have some conceptual linkage to that most impressive and important of Chariot Axles. A Chariot Axle, we might add, which is described in decidedly ‘Tree-like’ terms, with its multiplicity of ‘spokes’ as ‘branches’. And an Axle that also may inform the paired terms of ‘Sukha’ and ‘Duhkha’ in Sanskrit – terms that have come to connote ‘happiness’ and a good state of being, versus ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’ respectively. The terms themselves in fact refer to the well-fitting (Su-kha) or ill-fitting (Du-kha) situation of a wheel relative to its axle. We might fairly extrapolate this out to not only individuals but also kingdoms. How well – or otherwise – one is ‘adhering’ and ‘congruent with’ the Cosmic Order, the Divine Rule. Which has obvious saliency if, as we have inferred in somewhat allusive terms, this Scythian Ares right pertains quite directly to the sovereign power of the King. Certainly, to protect and uphold the sway of Righteousness within the realm under his rule – through the apotropaic warding against the insurgency of the forces of UnRighteousness, whether demon or foreign invading interloper that might seek steal what is his and to invidiously-inequitably usurp same.
I have also often asserted that the Vajra has its efficacy as a demon-slaying instrument, in no small part due to it being a sort of congealed ‘Spark’ of the Absolute – Rta, once more. Hence, creatures of chaos and iniquity are thus rendered trenchantly vulnerable to encountering what is, in essence and in tangible impact, their ultimate antithesis.
Do we see any trace of this in the Hindu myth which is forming our effective ‘guide’ to these concepts?
The Mahabharat makes use of the phrase ‘asina dharmagarbheṇa’ (‘असिना धर्मगर्भेण’) to refer to this Sword originally wielded by Rudra (and, interestingly, the title accorded in this verse [MBh XII 160 67] to Manu as First King is ‘Ishvara’ – Emperor; also the theonym for Lord Shiva as ‘Cosmic Controller’, the God-Emperor of the Universe Entire). That is to say – the Sword (Asi) containing within it (Garbha) Dharma (Righteousness). We might also observe that Garbha can, of course, also mean rather more than just ‘inside’ in a locative sense – and the ‘Womb’ connotations are intriguing here. Mao had once observed that political power grew from the barrel of a gun. We might presage this by perceiving the Mahabharat’s dictum of Dharma, or perhaps Dharmarajya (‘Rule of Dharma’, ‘Righteous Rule’) being the Child of this most mighty of Divine Swords.
Yet does this rather ‘eso-political’ commentary relate to our Sword rite featuring the Scythian Ares?
I think so.
After all – just as a lawless kingdom houses bandits and brigands and is ever more vulnerable to invasion and violation by hostile, envious eyes further afield … so, too is the opposite a dominion which takes steps to actively control and counteract these things through the extension of a sure suzerainty. And thus must the threats interior be driven out or into the ground, and the threats exterior disempowered and dismayed against thinking nor feeling they can come and raid and carry off or otherwise despoil that which He is Pati to.
The banishment of demons from the mesocosmic ritual space – indeed, the banishment of demons from the mesocosmic ritual space as the major enactment of the ritual – makes eminently logical sense here. It is done via simulacra – and then the Sword is given the ‘taste’ of blood of the foe in earnest.
Perhaps this explains more overtly the ‘Ares’ linkage to the rite – perhaps it was something undertaken before likely martial action. Which, given the ‘yearly’ descriptor specified by Herodotus for the offerings in question, would prospectively entail a ‘fighting’ or a ‘raiding season’. Or maybe it is simply something carried out on an annual basis in order to seek to guarantee the security of the realm from such vile interlopers.
We can – and almost certainly should – continue to speculate further upon various dimensions to all of this. Yet for now, I think it is (mostly) enough.
Our key point, I feel, we have demonstrated:
Namely, that there is a reasonable sphere of evidence to hand (if one knows how, and where to look) seeming to suggest that the Rite of Scythian Ares (and therefore, assumedly, Scythian Ares Himself) is feasibly quite coterminous with elements found within the Vedic and subsequent Hindu suites of conceptry. With a particular focus upon (Who else?) Lord Shiva.
A figure that we definitely know the archaic Scythian sphere to have had – not only upon the basis of the general broad Indo-European pantheonic perception (i.e. the strong concordancy of Shiva with Odin, etc., showing quite an archaic saliency indeed); but also because of that handy Zoroastrian list of demons in the Vendidad which records certain elements of the pre-Zoroastrian ‘Steppe Iranic’ faith in inverted format. There, we find a ‘Sarva’ attested – that being ‘Sarva’, the ‘Archer’ or ‘Injurer’ that is so prominent as the hailing of Rudra. The similar situation of ‘Aeshma Daeva’, with the ‘Aeshma’ being cognate with our (i.e. Hindu) ‘Ishmin’ (again, a pointed Roudran epithet and associated characteristic), should also seem to suggest a presence.
In other words – the fact that we know there are broadly coterminous deifics between the Scythian and Vedic spheres, along with some rather intriguingly coterminous ritualine conceptry in other areas (consider, for instance, the Massagetae horse-sacrifice and certain of its particulars in comparison to our own rituals of this nature, as we have looked at briefly elsewhere) … in a situation such as this, wherein there is quite clear ritual convergence, yet a lack of much of anything to directly identify the deific – it makes sense to at least presume for the sake of argument that the deific involved just might be the ‘local’ (i.e. Scythian) co-expression of a figure much more familiar to us from the similar ritualine context to the somewhat further post-Andronovo Indo-Aryan East.
Phrased much more succinctly:
If The Sword Fits – (He) Wield(s) It.
ॐ नमः शिवाय
3 thoughts on “In Search Of Scythian Ares – Part Two : The Swords Of The Sky Father”
Colossal / epic!
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The Scythian practice of flaying an enemy’s right arm to cover their arrow quivers with that skin perhaps confirms a relationship between their war god and Sarva the Archer. The Irish Nuada loses an arm in battle and bears a sword that no-one can escape or resist and glows like a bright torch. After Tyr loses his hand to Fenrir’s jaws a sword is thrust into his mouth prying it open until Ragnarok when the wolf’s jaws will stretch wide enough to reach both heaven and earth.