Tuesday, 20 February 2007

That indignation which we profess to feel

John Ruskin: The Seven Lamps of Architecture

That indignation which we profess to feel at deceit absolute, is indeed only at deceit malicious. We resent calumny, hypocrisy, and treachery, because they harm us, not because they are untrue.

Ted Hughes - Gnat-Psalm

When the gnats dance at evening, Scribbling on the air, sparring sparely, Scrambling their crazy lexicon, Shuffling their dumb cabala, Under leaf shadow. Leaves only leaves, Between them and the broad swipes of the sun. Leaves muffling the dusty stabs of the late sun From their frail eyes and crepuscular temperaments

Dancing, Dancing

Writing on their, rubbing out everything they write, Jerking their letters into knots, into tangles, Everybody else’s yoyo. Immense magnets fighting around a centre. Not writing and not fighting but singing, that the cycles of this Universe are no matter that they are not afraid of the sun, that the one sun is too near it blasts their song, which is of all the suns That they are their own sun Their own brimming over At large in the nothing Their wings blurring the blaze


That they are the nails In the dancing hands and feet of the gnat-god that they her the wind suffering Through the grass And the evening tree suffering The wind bowing with long cat-gut cries And the long roads of dust, Dancing in the wind, The wind’s dance, the death-dance, entering the mountain. And the cow dung villages huddling to dust, But not the gnats, their agility Has outleaped that threshold And hangs them a little above the claws of the grass,



In the glove shadows of the sycamore A dance never to be altered A dance giving their bodies to be burned And their mummy faces will never be used Their little bearded faces Weaving and bobbing on the nothing Shaken in the air, shaken, shaken And their feet dangling like the feet of victims O little Hasids Ridden to death by your own bodies Riding your bodies to death. You are the angels of the only heaven!

And God is an Almighty Gnat!

You are the greatest of all the galaxies! My hands fly in the air, they are follies. My tongue hangs up in the leaves. My thoughts have crept into crannies, Your dancing, Your dancing Rolls my staring skull slowly away into outer space.”

The Wood Knoweth No Breach In All Its Beauty

I Planted Trees by Richard St Barbe Baker, Lutterworth Press 1944; Forests and the Ancients

…….The wood knoweth no breach in all its beauty; holy fragrance resteth there throughout the land; ne’er shall it be changed to all eternity, until He who first created it shall end His ancient work of former days.

The Phoenix Anglo-Saxon (eight century).

...Modern man has bartered his forest inheritance for beer, meat and wheat. That is putting it crudely, and some hard thinking may be required before the truth of this comes home to the average person, who may find it difficult to believe that the forest was the earliest home of man. It provided both food and shelter. Its wild animals developed the hunter, first providing means of subsistence and then, exhilaration and recreation. The mast, the fruit of the oak, beech and other forest trees in the openings of the forest and the protected pasture, gave the forest its value for the herdsman, and only later with the development of settled communities and more elaborate conditions of life did the wood product come to be considered its main contribution towards civilization. Through the ages it has always influenced the soil, climate and water conditions.

Yes, the forest was indeed the cradle of mankind, and yet man has been ruthless in his destruction of it. Civilizations arose as they exploited their forests and vanished with their destruction. As agriculture developed, the need for farmland overshadowed the usefulness of the forest as a means of providing meat, simple food and shelter. As his appetite increased, he kept tame animals in flocks and herds from which he could take whenever he thought he needed it. Soon he become lazy and lost the art of living by his bow, so he cleared more fresh areas of forest and made fields and pastures upon which to fatten his flocks and herds. The simple forest diet of herbs and gourds gave place to wheat and other cultivated grain, for which he needed still more virgin land from the forest. Lastly, not content with honey, he cleared more land still to grow sugar cane and beet.

As the forest was cleared away by scanty populations, waste was the rule, until necessity arose demanding greater care in its exploitation and a more rational distribution of farm and forest areas, when finally there came the need for the intentional reproduction of wood as a crop. There are but scanty records of the beginning of man’s acquaintance with trees.

Primitive man saw the resemblance between his life and the life of trees. His needs and necessities being what they were, it is not surprising that one of his first cults should have been that of the tree.

The mysteries of growth, the seasonal change in the green world around him and the age-long life of trees led him to regard them as supernatural, or as symbols of immortality.

The trees called forth veneration, and tree worship is found among the very earliest traces of religion, as, for example, on the engraved cylinders of Chaldaea, some of which date back to 4000 BC. It was mo mere crude tree worship, for even at that early stage it had undergone a process of idealisation. In a bilingual hymn of Arcadian origin, which is probably one of the most ancient specimens of literature in existence, a mystical tree is described as the “abode of the gods.” In Babylonia the sacred tree was closely associated with Istar, the Divine Mother, whose cult was introduced into Chaldaea from Eridu, the city that flourished on the shores of the Persian Gulf about 3640 BC. Among the Canaanites every altar had a sacred tree beside it, and when the Israelites established local sanctuaries they set up their altar under a green tree and planted beside it as its indispensable companion the Ashera, which was either a living tree of a tree-like post.

In the early strivings of the mind of primitive man to account for the scheme of creation, the tree quite rightly took a foremost place, and the sky and its clouds and illuminations became likened to an enormous cosmogonic tree, of which the fruits were sun, moon and stars. Many races of the earth evolved their own conception of a world tree, vast as the world itself. They looked upon this tree as the cradle of their being, and it bore different names among different nations and possessed different attributes. The world Tree of the Indian paradise was the mandara, very similar in its attributes was the World Tree of Buddha, the Tree of Wisdom, of Perfection and of Holiness. The old Tree of the Iranians or Persians was the naoma tree, bearing an immortalizing and life-giving juice. There was, too, the Tree of Eden - the Tree of Knowledge.

The patriarchs of the Bible went into the woods to worship God, and in the oak grove at Mamre we are told that Abraham entertained God Himself. We also learn that the Patriarch raised an altar to Jehovah near a grove of terebinths, oaks, in the Valley of Hebron.

Divine revelations were often associated with trees. Moses received his call through the burning bush; a very arresting sight was this thorn with its startlingly red leaves. Aaron carried a rod of the almond tree. The Psalmist was inspired by trees and revered them as a manifestation of Jehovah.

The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the Cedar of Lebanon which He hath planted…..Lord, how manifold are Thy works.

In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches.

In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches.

The prophet Isaiah says:

For ye shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Christ Himself likened His kingdom unto a seed which grew to be the greatest on earth. In His hour of mental anguish, He went among the olive trees of Mount Olivet, and in the words of the American Sidney Lanier that musician and poet who wrote in his “Ballad of the Trees and the Master”:

Into the woods my Master went,

Clean forsent, forspent………………

But the Olives were not blind to Him,

The little grey leaves were kind to Him:

The thorn-tree had a mind to Him

When into the woods He came.

Rabbinical tradition is that the tree of the Cross, or the tree of Adam, was adopted by the Mohammedans, the account to the Koran differing but little from the Bible story. Among the tribes of Siberia legend tells that the beginning of the world a tree was born without branches. God caused nine branches to spring, at the foot of which were born nine men, the predestined ancestors of the nine human races. The tradition of the World Tree can be traced in the Mohammedan belief that paradise is situated in the seventh heaven, in the center of it stands the immortal tree called tooba, which is so large that a man mounted on the fleetest horse could not ride round its branches in a hundred years, but whose boughs are laden with delicious fruit of a size and taste unknown to mortals. The rivers of paradise take their rise from the tree, flowing some with water, some with mild, some with honey, while others are blessed. It was by a lotus tree that Mohammed gained his inspiration. It was under a pippala tree, Fiscus religiosa, that Gautama achieved perfect knowledge. This is the bo tree, or tree of Buddha, and it is said when his mother, Maya, felt her time was at hand she retired to the lumbini garden, and there, standing and holding on to the branch of a bo tree or, as some say, a sal tree, she gave birth to the future prophet. The name bo is that by which this tree is known in Ceylon, from bodhi, which means “wisdom,” personified in the tree, the Tree of Knowledge.

Our own poets are inspired by trees, from Chaucer who wrote “The verie essence, and, as it were, springeheade and origine of all musicke is the verie pleasaunte sound which the trees of the forest do make when they growe,” down to our modern poets of whom I regard Montro as outstanding:

How beautifully they grow,

Crowding the brink of silence everywhere,

With branches dipping low

To smile toward us or to stroke our faces

Above their stiles and lanes and watery places.

Or Thomas Hood:

I remember, I remember,

The for trees dark and high;

I used to think their slender tops

Were close against the sky:

It was a childish ignorance,

But now ‘tis little joy

To know I’m farther off from heav’n

Than when I was a boy.

Surely these lines record the passing by the individual through the same experience through which the race has passed; which made Wordsworth long even for a creed outworn, if only he could feel Nature more akin to him. In our approach to the study of trees and forestry we do well to consider their poetry, for is there not something inherent in all of us that responds to it? Deep in our hearts we feel that it is part of our heritage, and our poets have expressed man’s eternal search for truth.

Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower- but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

If that applies to Tennyson’s little flower, how much more does it apply to a tree. The mystery of renewal, the mystery of the seasons, the promise of spring.

It was among the trees in the beautiful Garden of the Rizwan that Baha’u’llah announced himself as “Him whom God shall Manifest” and , addressing all humanity, Baha’u’llah said, “Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch. All the nations, peoples and tongues are the branches leaves, blossoms and fruits of his great tree of humanity.

While we have many references to trees among the ancients in the writings of the poets and historians, these are generally too brief to give us a clear picture of the progress of forest history. But we do know that the countries which were occupied and known to the ancients were well-wooded. Palestine was not always bare of trees, neither was Sinai a desert. The mountains of Lebanon were covered with extensive forests, but as far back as the eleventh century before Christ forests of Asia Minor and Greece, especially in the neighbourhood of thriving cities, had vanished to meet the need for timber. There was a continual drain upon the forest fo Mount Lebanon. The wood for the temple at Tyre and Sidon came from Lebanon in 465 B.C.

Artaxerxes I attempted to regulate the cutting, but by 333BC Alexander the Great found that the timber, at least on the south slope, was exhausted. The destruction by axe and fire of the great forests of Sherin, Carmel and Bashan is the theme of the prophet Isaiah in 590 BC and the Jewish wars is depicted by the historian Josephus.

According to Diodorus Siculus, about 100BC the southern provinces of Spain were densely wooded, but a hundred years before, when the Romans took possession , a great forest fire, starting through the Pyrenees, ran over the country, exposing deposits of silver ore which brought

A large influx of miners, which was the cause of the reckless de-afforestation of the country.

When the forests of the Mediterranean countries became decimated as a result of colonization, or exploitation, fire or other abuses, supplies of wood could still be secured by water from distant parts and the lignarii , or wood merchants, of Italy drew their supplies from as far-distant places as India by way of Alexandria. We learn that they went for ash to Asia Minor, for cedar to Cilicia. There was a regular wood market in Rome, where firewood was sold by the pound in Cicero’s time at about three shillings for a man’s load, approximately two hundred pounds. They knew how to carry big loads in those days.

In ancient times, unlike the present day, when forests along hostile frontiers are cleared for protection, forests were regarded as a barrier and defence against outsiders, or a hiding place in case of need, so in early times we find frontier forests, or, as Germans call them, Grenzmarken,

designated for such purpose and set aside to serve as bulwark against attacks from invaders. There were sacred groves among the Greeks and Romans as well as among the Pagans. During Joshua successful campaign in Palestine there must have been considerable forest destruction. The Israelites were enjoined to eradicate the sacred groves in the promised land with axe and fire, and this they did most thoroughly, to the determent of the land, which soon ceased to flow with milk and honey. The Hittites and the Amorites, the forest dwellers and the natural protectors of the forest, were ruthlessly driven from the forest fastnesses, and gradually the man with the plough and the hoe upset the balance of nature. Later the Levites, with their priestly shrewdness, took upon themselves the role of forest protectors and instituted a form of arboriculture in the Feast of the Trees, and from a form the time that they entered the Holy Land the Jewish nation has celebrated this annually.

As in Palestine, so among the Indian Brahmins, Ethiopians and the Egyptians as well as among the Greeks and Romans, sacred forest lands were reserved by the priests and religious leaders. In the Orient kings were the undisputed owners of all un-appropriated public forests. Such was the case with the Indian and Brahmin princes.

While the first Roman kings had their forest tombs, which were distributed among the people, after their expulsion with the extension of Christendom, the holy trees and groves became the property of the Emperors, who sometimes preserved them or enacted laws for their protection. This is the cutting and selling of Cypress and other trees in the holy grove near Antioch and of the persicon of walnut trees in Egypt which had been deemed holy under the Pharaohs. If cut without permission, a penalty of five pounds in gold was enacted.

It was found in Attica as well as in Rome that the state could not satisfactorily carry out any business. Forestry was no exception, and so state forests returned out under a system of time or perpetual rent. The tenants, after exploiting the timber, sublet the denuded lands as pasture except where coppice could be utilised with profit. The Greeks had their hyloroi, or forest guards, and, amasing for those early days, Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle and Plato, produced the first work on plant history and wood technology, a most important branch of forestry.

The Romans were poor foresters, and paid but little attention to their woods or forestry, but we must allow that nursery practice was well known to Cato. Among the ancients there were those who possessed more silvercultural knowledge than they are usually credited today, and there is little doubt that some of their knowledge and practice found entrance among the German tribes who came into contact with the Romans during the fourteenth century. Thence they, in the course of centuries have developed silvercultural systems which became intensively applied and from which they have developed the reputation for forestry which they hold today...

Bignor at Dawn: CA Tacey

Fringed with half-charred wood and silky ash

The fire had died and lay in silver wreath

While I, curled snugly in my blanket bed

Had dreamed beside the crooning Lethe

The sea’s cold breath, idly heaving on the tide,

At last swept inland in swift attack

And welty brushed my cheek and stirred the yew

That darkly spread its ragged skirts across my back,

Somewhere on the Down a sheepbell tolled

While, close at hand, like pebbles drop’t on glass,

A clam’rous blackbird raised his voice

And straightway plunged upon the dew-sheened grass,

Slinking thicket folk

Swished last-years leaves with padded grace,

Sinuous as the swathing mist,

Hunting and hunted in the primal way

Jewelling with blood dawn’s amethyst

I turned and let my lucid eyes ascend the ponderous hump that held the skies

And, even as I looked, from Bignor’s ancient crown

A flaming pennant streamed - and overhead

A seagull, whitely gliding to the fields,

Dipped and easterwardly careened.

Richard Jefferies encounter by WH Hudson


Nature in Downland, 1900: page 14

…Jefferies was much in my mind just now because by chance I happened to be writing this introductory chapter in the last house he inhabited, and where he died, in the small village of Goring, between the sea and the West Sussex downs.

A strange, I had almost said mysterious, adventure befell me as I came hither. On a cloudy melancholy day in September I came in search of this cottage, walking to the church by a narrow lane with a low trim wall- like hedge on either side, my thoughts were of Jefferies, who had doubtless often walked here too, feeling the icy hand on him of one that walked invisible at his side. My mind was full of sadness, when, hearing the crunching of gravel beneath other feet than my own, I suddenly looked up, and behold, there before me stood the man himself, back on earth in the guise of a tramp! It was a most extraordinary coincidence that at such a moment I should have come face to face with this poor outcast and wanderer who had the Jefferies countenance as I knew it from portraits and descriptions. It was the long thoughtful suffering face, long straight nose, flowing brown beard, and rather large full blue eyes. I was startled at the expression, the unmistakable stamp of a misery that was anguish and near to despair and insanity. He passed me, then paused, and after a moment or two, said hesitatingly, “Can you spare a penny?” I gave him something without looking at his face again, and went on my way sorry that I had met him, fo I knew that those miserable eyes would continue to haunt me.

Here, sitting in the room that was his – the author of the strange Story - the morning sun filling it with brightest light, the sounds he listened to coming in at the open window – the intermittent whispering of the foliage and the deeper continuous whisper of the near sea, and cries and calls of so many birds that come and go in the garden, each “deep in his day’s employ” - I cannot but think of him and lament again that he was prematurely torn away from this living green world he worshipped…


Nature in Downland

WH Hudson: page 178

…On such a day of silence and desolation a remembrance of late summer has come back suddenly like a lightning-flash to my mind, with such startling vividness as to affect me powerfully. A vision of the vanished insect life that a little while ago covered these green flowering hills. I moved and had my being amid that life as in a golden mist spread over the earth; my ears were full of the noise of innumerable fine small voices blending into one voice; wheresoever I looked their minute swift-moving bodies appeared as thin dark lines on the air and over the green surface. Forms so infinitely varied, yet so wonderfully fashioned, each aglow with its complete separate life, and all in harmony with all life and all nature, responsive in a million secret springs to each and every external influence; so well balanced in their numerous parts and perfect in their equipment, so intense in their lives as to seem fitted to endure forever. And now in so short a time, in a single day and night as it seems, it is all over, the feast and fairy-dance of life; the myriads of shining gem-like bodies turned to dead dust, the countless multitude of brilliant little individual souls dissipated into thin air and blown whithersoever the wind blows!

The first and inevitable effect of such a thought, when the tremendous tragedy of t he passing year is brought unexpectedly and vividly before the mind, compressed into a moment of time, is a profound melancholy, as of a black shadow of apprehension coming over the soul. But it is like a shadow on the earth on a day of flying cloud and broken sunshine that is quickly gone. That teeming life of yesterday has indeed vanished from our sight for ever; it is nothing now, and its place will know it no more; but extinction came not on it before the seeds of the life that is to be were sown – small and abundant as the rust-coloured seed of the mullein, that looked like inorganic dust, and was shaken out of its dead cups by the blast and scattered upon the ground. Or smaller still, like the infinitesimal particles enclosed within the round case of the dead fungus of the downs – the devil’s snuff-box of the peasant - which, when trodden upon, or broken by a blow of a stick, sends out a dense purple or deep yellow vapour, which floats away in the wind and vanishes. The still earth is full of it. Out of the matted roots of the turf and from the grey soil beneath, innumerable forms of life resembling those that have vanished will spring to light – creatures of a thousand beautiful shapes, lit with brilliant colour, intense in their little lives, for ever moving in a passionate, swift, fantastic dance.

And we shall see it all again, and in seeing renew the old familiar pleasure. For these innumerable little lives quickly pass while ours endure. Furthermore the brief life which they have is but one, and though their senses be brilliant they see not beyond their small horizons. To us the Past and the Future are open, like measureless countries of diversified aspect, lying beyond our horizon; yet we may see them and are free to range over them at will. It may even happen that the autumnal spectacle of the cessation of life on the earth, nature’s yearly tragedy, brought thus suddenly and sharply before the mind’s eye, may cause us to realise for the first time what this freedom of the mind really means. It multiplies our years and makes them so many that it is a practical immortality. A vivid consciousness of it, coming thus suddenly, puts the soul in a proud temper, and we all at once begin to abhor the sickly teachings of those who see in nature’s mutations, in cloud and wind and rain and the fall of the leaf, and the going out of ephemeral life, nothing but mournful messages, dreary symbols, reminders of our mortality. It is a false, debilitating doctrine which they preach and sing; an ancient fable, a tale of a bogie invented a thousand years ago to frighten unruly children and make them good. We are rather of the Psalmist’s virile mind, when he said that those who had compassed him round, and had come to him like bees, were extinct as the fire under the thorns; and then triumphantly cried, “I shall not die, but live!”

Let us imagine a god, or immortal being of some kind, in a reverie, seated on some great hill – Cabburn, or Firle, or Cissbury – seeing as in a vision the “insect tribes of human kind” that have dwelt upon these green downs since the coming of man – Saxon, and Dane, and Roman, and Briton, and the earlier races that were slain by the Celt, and the earlier still, and others and still others farther back in time. All the events of long thousands of years, all the thousands of “generations of deciduous men,” called back and seen passing in procession before that clear cold immortal mind. Dark and pale races, speaking strange tongues; love and hate and all passions, heard and seen in music and laughter and cries, and agitated speech, and faces ashen white and burning red, and wide fixed eyes; tumults and wars upon wars, the shock of furious battle, the shouts of victory that frightened nature. And thereafter peace; toil and rest, and day and night; a young mother sitting on the summit of some high hill, looking out upon the vast range, the illimitable green world, the distant grey and silver sea, all the world sleeping in a peaceful sunshine and no cloud on all the sky; a young mother fondling her firstborn and laughing in pure gladness of heart. And then the fading out of earth of that golden sunshine, and the grey chill evening of fear and flight; men drunk with blood, still thirsting for blood, their mouths frothing, their eyes ablaze, streaming over the hills, untiring as wolves on the track of the fugitives. The slayers in their turn are slain by death; in long quiet years there is a slow recovery of lost good, increase of people, and little children with shrill glad voices playing merry games in all the hollow hills, and staining their lips purple with blackberries as in the old forgotten years. And once more strife, and all natural calamities – cold, and fever, and wasting famine; people with white skeleton faces sitting in rows on the hill-side, like those who sit by the river waiting for the slow ferryman to ferry them over, one by one. Slain by men or by some natural agency, still they pass and pass, and are succeeded by others – other tribes, other races, speaking a new language, but swayed by the same passion, and war still succeeds war. Then peace again, the lasting peace that causes all sweet and gentle feelings, all virtues, all graces, to flourish – the peace that is like a secret, unfelt malady which is slowly consuming a beautiful woman’s life. And after long quiet, the battle-cry, the strange men with the old wolfish hunger and fury in their faces, the heavens darkened again with the smoke of cruel fires; and after the storm, quiet again, the old silence and desolation, wild-flowers blooming everywhere on the graves of a dead, forgotten people.

We can imagine that even he, albeit immortal, recalling and seeing again that immeasurable procession of human forms – the long long series of events and the millions of passionate, strenuous lives that have ceased to be - all compressed into a few moments of time, would feel his mind darkened with a sudden great shadow of sorrow. But the shadow would quickly pass; and his immortality would again be to him like the sun shining in a blue sky that is without a cloud.

And after all a dream may be a man’s best possession;

Nature in Downland

WH Hudson , 1900: page 124

…And after all a dream may be a man’s best possession; though it be but of an immeasurably remote future – a time when these tentative growths, called art, and valued as the highest good attainable – the bright consummate flower of intellect – shall have withered, and, like the tendrils no longer needed, dropped forgotten from the human plant.

Silence and Music

Nature in Downland

WH Hudson, 1900: page 122

…That music comes to us naturally, that it is an instinct, nobody will deny; it is only music as an art and an end in itself, cultivated in the highest degree for its own sake alone, and taken out of its relation with life, that I am compelled to regard as a mere by-product of the mind, a beautiful excrescence, which is of no importance to the race, and without which most of us are just as rich and happy in our lives.

This question does not concern us. Music in another wider sense is, like beauty, everywhere – the elemental music if winds and of waters, of

The lisp of leaves and the ripple of rain,

And the music of bird voices. For just as the bird, as Ruskin says, is the cloud concentrated, its aerial form perfected and vivified with life; so, too, in the songs and calls and cries of the winged people do we listen to the diffused elemental music of nature concentrated and changed to clear penetrative sound. Listen to the concealed reed-warbler, quietly singing all day long to himself among the reeds and rushes: it is a series of liquid sounds, the gurgling and chiming of lapping water on the shallow pebbled bed of a stream. The beautiful inflected cry of the playing pewit is a mysterious lonely sound, as of some wild half-human being blowing in a hollow reed he had made. Listen again to a band of small shore birds – stints, dotterels, knots, and dunlins – conversing together as they run about on the level sands, or dropping bright twittering notes as they fly swiftly past: it is like the vibrating crystal chiming sounds of a handful of pebbles thrown upon and bounding and glissading musically over a wide sheet of ice.

From these small sounds and the smaller still of insect life, to the greater sounds of bird and mammal - the noise of the herring and black-backed gulls drifting leisurely by at a vast height above the earth, and ever and anon bursting out in a great chorus of laugh-like cries, as if the clouds had laughed; the innumerable tremulous bleatings of a driven flock; the percussive bark of the shepherd’s dog, and the lowing of kine in some far-off valley. They are all musical, are in a sense music. And, best of all, there is the human voice. Even a musical artist, in spite of an artist’s prejudice, an old English composer, has said that speech, the sweet music of it, is infinitely more to us than song and the sound of all our musical instruments… The people of the downs have in my experience the nicest voices in speaking. And here as in other places you will occasionally find a voice of the purest, most beautiful quality. I would go more miles to hear a voice of that description speaking simple words, than I would go yards to listen to the most wonderful vocal flights of the greatest diva on earth. Not that the mere pleasure to the sense would not be vastly greater in the latter case; but in the other the voice, though but of a peasant saying some simple thing, would also say something to the mind, and would live and re-live in the mind, to be heard again and often, even after years; and with other similar voices it would serve to nourish and keep alive a dream.

Friday, 16 February 2007


Oh dear mother I love you more
Than chocolate, puppies and Christmas galore
I won’t try to lie or try to pretend
But just a touch you’re going round the bend
I know I can’t say much, look how hyper I go
Screaming like a harpy and talking to snow
Our voices so similar that when I get back
Tom can’t tell the difference, he can’t get the knack
Your teabag obsession is getting quite high
Right next to boring long books that truly defy
The laws of interesting – that even a phrase?
I hope to god that it’s just a silly phase
Your ruffled hair that you constantly cut
Listening to sad monks gurgling about luck
Or some such thing, completely strange
And saying things utterly deranged
But through it all in everyway
I’ll love and you and your habits till my dying day.

By Claudia Amarylis

The Charm of the Downs

Nature in Downland page 20
First published by Longmans Green & Co 1900

On the south side of the range the hills are as a rule lowest, and slope gradually to the sea. The aspect of the downs on this side is familiar to most of us, owing to the large number of persons, probably amounting to millions annually, who visit one or other of the seaside towns and villages that extend in a chain along this part of the south coast, from Eastbourne to the Selsey peninsula, near Chichester. The hills are highest on the north side, where they rise abruptly from the flat weald, like a gigantic buttressed wall, or an earthwork reared of old by Titans. The loftiest part of the range is in the South Downs proper, where, in the neighbourhood of Lewes, east and west of that town, one may walk many miles along the crest of the hill, on a turf which makes walking a joy, and keep at a height of from 700 to 860 feet above the sea level, the ocean six or seven miles distant on one hand, the deep-green wooded flat country of the weald on the other…

I myself prefer to approach the downs on the north side, rather than walk five to seven or eight miles from the coast before getting to the highest point. The climb up the steep smooth escarpment is a good preparation, an intensifier of the pleasure to follow. Those who know the downs are all agreed that it is a rare pleasure to be on them. And when we have had our upward toil on a hot day, and are at length on the level plateau-like summit, on the turf; when the wind has blown us dry, and we have experienced that sense of freedom and elation which is the result of rising from a low level into a rarefied atmosphere, these purely physical sensations are succeeded by a higher, more enduring pleasure, which the mind receives from the prospect disclosed. I mean the prospect of the vast round green hills extending away on either hand to the horizon. What is the secret of his peculiar pleasure? We may say off-hand that it is nothing but the instinctive delight which we have in wild nature and a wide prospect. And this is no doubt a principal element in the feeling - wild nature and a wide prospect in unenclosed country, an elastic turf under foot, and full liberty to roam whithersoever we will. There is another element resulting from the conformation of the earth’s surface – the special character of the scenery. The wilderness, the wide horizon and sense of liberty after the confinement of the roads and fences and hedges, come first: it is the local aspect appealing as it does to the aesthetic faculties, which makes the feeling distinctive. Thus, among mountains, on moors, and in vast desolate marshes, on iron-bound coasts, and on wide seaside flats and saltings, and on level plains, I experience this same feeling of elation, which yet differs in character in each locality, and I may be able to analyse my feelings in all or some of these cases and find out why they differ. What is to be said concerning the special quality of the South Downs - the mental flavour they impart?

I remember Gilbert White speculated on this very question, in the often-quoted Letter LVI, where he says:

“Though I have now travelled the Sussex Downs upwards of thirty years, yet I still investigate that chain of majestic mountains with fresh admiration year by year, and I think I see new beauties each time I traverse it… For my own part, I think there is something peculiarly sweet and amusing in the shapely-figured aspect of chalk hills, in preference to those of stone, which are rugged, broken, abrupt, and shapeless. Perhaps I may be singular in my opinion… but I never contemplate theses mountains without thinking I perceive somewhat analogous to growth in their gentle swellings and smooth fungus-like protuberances, their fluted sides and regular hollows and slopes, that carry at once the air of vegetative dilatation and expansion: or was there ever a time when the calcareous masses were thrown into fermentation by some adventitious moisture – were raised and leavened into shape by some plastic power, and so made to swell and heave their broad backs into the sky, so much above the less animated clay of the wild below?”

“Sweet and amusing” are not words we should now use in this connection; but the description is pleasant, and the speculations, albeit fanciful, are suggestive; for it is a fact that the attractiveness of these broad hills is in a measure due to their fungus-like roundness and smoothness. But not only to these qualities, as we find when we leave the chain to look upon an isolated down: it fails to attract: the charm is not in the one but in the many. Furthermore, it is die to a combination of various causes. To begin with, we have the succession of shapely outlines; the vast protuberances and deep divisions between, suggestive of the most prominent and beautiful curves of the human figure, and of the “solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep.”

That modern poet’s vision of a Titanic woman reclined in everlasting slumber on the earth, her loose sweet-smelling hair lying like an old-world forest over leagues of ground; the poet himself sitting for ever, immersed in melancholy, in the shadow of her great head, has seemed a mere outcome of a morbid imagination. Here, among the downs, the picture returns to the mind with a new light, a strange grandeur; it is not a mere “flower of disease” and nothing more, but is rather a startlingly vivid reminder that we ourselves are anthropomorphic and mythopoeic, even as our earliest progenitors were, who were earth-worshippers in an immeasurably remote past, before the heavenly powers existed.

Here to, where the lines of the earth are most human-like, we are reminded of the philosophic doctrine that for us all nature is a secondary object of the passion of love, and that to this fact the beauty of nature is chiefly due. The scene also takes us back to the discredited Hogarthian notion concerning the origin of our idea of beauty; and at the same time to Burke’s theory of the beautiful. This, too, has fallen into neglect, if not contempt, oddly enough, since it contains the germ of our modern philosophy of the beautiful. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that it contains a good deal more than the germ. Burke was assuredly right in maintaining that there exists a very close connection between the senses of sight and feeling, and in tracing the agreeable sensations arising from the contemplation of soft and smooth surfaces in this connection. To put the theory into five short words – what we see we feel.

When we look on a landscape, particularly when it is seen form a considerable elevation, the body goes with the mind or vision; in other words, locomotion is associated with seeing – we are thee, as it were, roaming corporeally over the expanse we are gazing on. When we look at the sky, or a cloud, or the sea, the sight does not instinctively rest on it, but is satisfied with a glance; if we continue to gaze, not occupied with something in us, but seeing vividly, it is because some object or some strange or beautiful atmospheric effect excites our admiration or curiosity; or because we are artists, or sailors, or fishermen, and have an interested motive in studying water or sky. “I cannot stand all day on a naked beach watching the capricious hues of the sea,” pathetically wrote Charles Lamb from some spot on the south coast. “I would fain retire into the interior of my cage. While I gaze on the sea I want to be on it, over it, across it. There is no home for me here.” I have read that in convents and harems there is an arrangement of the windows which prevents the inmates from looking out or down upon the earth; they are constrained to look up, presumably because there is no male form, nor shadow nor reflection of one, in the void above. Those who have been fenced in from harm in this fashion must have hated the blue sky as much as Tennyson’s worn-out mariners hated the dark blue wave. I have noticed that birds when perched do, even when they appear to be reposing, gaze a good deal at the sky. They are aerial, of the sky, and are accustomed to ravel and dwell there with spread wings; and their fellows and enemies are there.

The sea and the sky in their ordinary aspects do not hold the attention, because we are not of them, and do not feel them, and the sensation of moving in or on them is consequently not here associated with seeing. The sight dwells with pleasure on the downs, because they are, in appearance, easy to walk upon, and in a sense are being walked upon when looked at.

Here it may be remarked, that a surface which appears easy to the feet is also easy to the sight. The greater pleasure which we receive from flowing outlines than from those that are angular, as Herbert Spenser has pointed out, is due to the harmonious unrestrained action of the ocular muscles occupied in the perception of such outlines. On these downs, for the sight and bodily sensation which cannot be dissociated from sight, there are not impassable chasms, no steep heights difficult to climb, not jagged rocks and broken surfaces to impede free movement and passage.

Finally we have as another important element in our pleasure the large prospect disclosed. Why a wide horizon should have so great a fascination for us, wingless walkers on the level ground, is a curious question. It is not merely a childish delight in a novel sensation; I should rather look on it as a survival, like a fighting, hunting, and various other instincts – an inherited memory of a period when the hill-top was at the same time refuge, fortress, and tower of observation from which all hidden things stood revelled – where men, loosing their fear and feeling superior to their enemies, were lifted above themselves.

One would be only too glad to believe the feeling to be different in its origin, and in a sense prophetic – like the unnecessarily large brains of primitive man, according to the Wallacian doctrine – pointing to a time when we shall be able, with the aid of perfected machinery, or better still, by means of some mysterious undeveloped faculty within us, to rise from earth and float hither and thither at will through the boundless fields of air.

Oddly enough, that desire that we all have at times for wings, or at all events for the power for flight, and which like other vague and idle promptings is capable of cultivation and of being made a real source of pleasure, most often come to me on these great green hills. Here are no inviting woods and mysterious green shades that ask to be explored: they stand naked to the sky, and on them the mind becomes more aerial, less conscious of gravity and a too solid body. Standing on one great green hill, and looking across vast intervening hollows to other round heights and hills beyond and far away, the wish is more than a wish, and I can almost realise the sensation of being other than I am – a creature with the instinct of flight and the correlated faculty; that in a little while, when I have gazed my full and am ready to change my place, I shall lift great heron-like wings and fly with little effort to other points of view.

To come back from this digression, or flight. It is true that the extent of earth visible from the very highest downs is not really great, but with a succession of dome-like outlines extending to the horizon we have to take into account the illusion of infinite distance produced on the mind by the repetition of similar forms. The architect, in a small way, produces the same effect in his colonnades. I was once very much struck by an effect of this kind at sea, in the South Atlantic, when during perfectly calm weather there was a stupendous swell, the long vast glassy rollers succeeding one another at regular intervals. Viewed from the bridge of the steamer the ocean appeared to have increased immeasurably in extent; the horizon was no wider than before, yet it was as if I had been lifted hundreds of feet above the surface.

Those of my readers whose minds run on mountains, and the joy of mountains, may say here that, in spite of the illusion produced, the height of the downs is really so small that the pleasure arising from that cause must be comparatively very little. It is, I think, a very common error that the degree of pleasure we have in looking g on a wide prospect depends on our height above the surrounding earth – in other words, that the wider the horizon the greater the pleasure. The fact is, once we have got above the world, and have an unobstructed view all around, whether the height above the surrounding country be 500 or 5,000 feet, then we at once experience all that sense of freedom, triumph, and elation which the mind is capable of. This “sudden glory,” which may be ours on a very modest elevation, is the most we can hope for; we can no more get a new sensation or a larger measure of the quickly vanishing pleasure we have enjoyed by transporting ourselves to the highest summits on the globe, than we can change a Skye terrier into an eagle by taking it three or four miles up in a balloon and throwing it our of the car.

What we do get by ascending to greater heights, to the limits of our endurance, is the mountain scenery, the new aspects of nature, which have an aesthetic value. This is the same kind of pleasure which we experience in walking or riding through a picturesque country; but the aesthetic pleasure of the mountain may actually seem more, or keener, on account of the greater novelty – the unlikeness of the scene to the more or less familiar aspects of nature on the level earth. For we live on the earth but pay but brief visits to mountain summits.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Zoroastrian beliefs


The transcendental and universal God Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator and to whom all worship is directed.
That creation is attacked by violence and destruction. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict. Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point time will end.
Active participation in life through good thoughts, words and deeds are necessary to ensure happiness and to keep evil at bay.
The free will to decide whether to perform good thoughts, words and deeds.
Not of Zarathushtra's original teachings, but nonetheless accepted by some as doctrine, are:
Evil is represented by Angra Mainyu (literally 'destructive spirit'). In articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made his ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu, who then fell back confounded.
After death, the soul is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell.
The universe will go through three eras:
4. creation;
5. the present world where creation is under attack.
6. a final state when Ahura Mazda will prevail, all the universe will revert to its pure state and the occupants of hell will be released.
Precepts include:
1. equality of all people
2. respect, kindness to all living things
3. the values of hard work, charity
4. loyalty, faithfulness to family, country
[edit] History
Little is known of early Zoroastrianism, and what is known is mostly from the accounts of ancient Greek philosophers and historians.
Herodotus's The Histories (completed c. 440 BCE) includes a description of greater Iranian society with what may be recognizably Zoroastrian features, including exposure of the dead. Perhaps more importantly, The Histories is a primary source of information on the early period of the Achaemenid era (648330 BCE), in particular with respect to the role of the Magi. According to Herodotus i.101, the "Magi" were the sixth tribe of the Medians (until the unification of the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, all Iranians were referred to as Mede or Mada by the peoples of the Ancient World), who appear to have been the priestly caste of the Mesopotamian-influenced branch of Zoroastrianism today known as "Zurvanism", and who wielded considerable influence at the courts of the Median emperors.(It is also relevant to note that , as per Boyce, the 'priesthood' were known as 'Athravans' during the period Zoroastrianism was in its infancy and being proselytised in the eastern regions of Iran, and central Asia; further,Boyce postulates the Athravans were missionaries, a role more or less abandoned by the magi when they 'took over' as the priesthood of the fledging religion, after its slow spread in western Iran, prior to and during the Achaemenid period.)
Following the unification of the Median and Persian empires in 550 BCE, Cyrus II and later his son Cambyses II curtailed the powers of the "Magi" after these had attempted to seed dissent following their loss of influence. In 522 BCE, the "Magi" revolted and set up a rival claimant to the throne. The usurper, pretending to be Cyrus' younger son Smerdis, took power shortly thereafter. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Persians, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).

The Behistun Inscription, carved into a cliffside, gives the same text in three languages, telling the story of King Darius' conquests, with the names of twenty-three provinces subject to him. It is illustrated by life-sized carved images of King Darius with other figures in attendance.
According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown by Darius I in 521 BCE. The "Magi", though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (named Gaumata), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.
Whether Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian is subject to debate. It did however influence him to the extent that it became the non-imposing religion of Persia, and its beliefs would later allow Cyrus to free the Jews from captivity (and allow them to return to Judea) when the Persians took Babylon in 539 BCE. Whether Darius I, though certainly a devotee of Ahura Mazda (as attested to several times in the Behistun inscription), was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since a devotion to Ahura Mazda was (at the time) not necessarily an indication of an adherence to Zoroaster's teaching.
Darius I and later Achaemenid emperors, though acknowledging their devotion to Ahura Mazda in inscriptions, appear to have permitted religions to coexist. Nonetheless, it was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism gained momentum, and a number of the Zoroastrian texts (that today are part of the greater compendium of the Avesta) have been attributed to that period. It was also during the (later) Achaemenid era that many of the divinities and divine concepts of proto-Indo-Iranian religion(s) were incorporated in Zoroastrianism, in particular, those to whom the days of the month of the Zoroastrian calendar are dedicated. That religious calendar, which is still in use today, is itself (to some extent) an Achaemenid-era development. Those divinities, the yazatas (Persian jazd), are present-day Zoroastrianism's angels. (Dhalla, 1938).
Almost nothing is known of the status of Zoroastrianism under the Seleucids and Parthians who ruled over Persia following Alexander the Great's invasion in 330 BCE. According to later Zoroastrian legends (Denkard, Book of Arda Viraf), many of the Zoroastrian sacred texts were lost when Alexander's troops destroyed the royal library at Persepolis subsequent to the taking of the city. Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca historia (completed c. 60 BCE), which is to a great extent an encapsulation of earlier works, appears to substantiate Zoroastrian legend (Diod. 17.72.2–17.72.6). According to one archaeological examination, the ruins of the palace of Xerxes bear traces of having been subjected to fire (Stolze, 1882). Whether a vast collection of (semi-)religious texts "written on parchment in gold ink" as suggested by the Denkard actually existed remains a matter of speculation, but is in all likelihood untrue. Given that many of the Denkards statements-as-fact have since been established as untrue, among scholars, the tale of the library is widely accepted to be a fiction. (Kellens, 2002)
In the 1st century CE, the magi were known as astrologers and they appear as such in a nativity story of Jesus.
The text in the next four paragraphs does not cite references or sources.You can help Wikipedia by introducing appropriate citations.

A rock relief at Naqsh-e Rostam, depicting the triumph of Shapur I over three Roman Emperors Valerian, Gordian III and Philip the Arab.
When the Sassanid dynasty came into power in Persia in 228 CE, they aggressively promoted the Zurvanite form of Zoroastrianism and in some cases persecuted Christians and Manichaeans. When the Sassanids captured territory from the Romans, they often built fire temples there to promote their religion. Thus, Baku, present day capital of Azerbaijan, became a major center of ancient Zoroastrism, when Sasanid shah Ardashir I gave orders "to keep an inextinguishable fire of the god Ormazd" in the city temples[9]. The Sassanids were suspicious of Christians not least because of their perceived ties to the Christian Roman Empire. Thus, those Persian Christians loyal to the Patriarchate of Babylon — which had broken with Roman Christianity when the latter condemned Nestorianism — were tolerated and even sometimes favored by the Sassanids. Nestorians lived in large numbers in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan during this period.
A form of Zoroastrianism was apparently also the chief religion of pre-Christian Caucasus region, or at least was prominent there. During periods of Sassanid suzerainty over Caucasus, the Persians made attempts to promote the religion there as well. This may be evidenced by allegedly Zoroastrian temple, Atashgah, located just outside Baku, capital of modern Azerbaijan.
Well before the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Remains of Zoroastrian temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang, and according to some scholars, remained as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China. However, many scholars assert the influence of Zoroastrianism (as well as later Manicheism, which drew from Zoroastrianism) on elements of Buddhism, especially in terms of light symbolism.
In the 7th century, the Sassanid dynasty was overthrown by the Arabs. Although some of the later rulers had Zoroastrian shrines destroyed, generally Zoroastrians were included as People of the Book and allowed to practice their religion. Mass conversions to Islam were not desired or imposed[citation needed], in accordance with Islamic law. However, there was a slow but steady movement[citation needed] of the population of Persia toward Islam. The nobility and city-dwellers were the first to convert. Islam spread more slowly among the peasantry and the dihqans, or landed gentry. Later, the jizya, a poll tax imposed on non-Muslims, probably accelerated the process.
Many Zoroastrians fled, among them several groups who eventually migrated to the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. According to the Qissa-i Sanjan "Story of Sanjan", the only existing account of the early years of Zoroastrian refugees in India, the immigrants originated from (greater) Khorasan. The descendants of those and other settlers, who are today known as the Parsis, founded the Indian cities of Sanjan and Navsari, which are said to have been named after the cities of their origin: Sanjan (near Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan) and the eponymous Sari (in modern Mazandaran, Iran). (Kotwal, 2004)
In the centuries following the fall of the Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrianism began to gradually return to the form it had had under the Achaemenids, and no evidence of what is today called the "Zurvan Heresy" exists beyond the 10th century CE. (Boyce, 2002) Ironically, it was Zurvanism and Zurvan-influenced texts that first reached the west, leading to the supposition that Zoroastrianism was a religion with two deities: Zurvan and Ahura Mazda (the latter being opposed by Angra Mainyu).
Today, the number of Zoroastrians is significantly lower than it once was, but the religion is alive and dynamic. Over the centuries, adherents of the faith have dispersed in all directions, but greater concentrations of Zoroastrians may still be found on the Indian subcontinent and in Iran.
[edit] Relation to other religions and cultures
Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western Abrahamic and Eastern dharmic religious traditions.
Some scholars (Boyce, 1987; Black and Rowley, 1987; Duchesne-Guillemin, 1988) believe that large portions of the eschatology, angelology, and demonology (see Asmodai) of Judaism, a key influence on Christianity and Islam, originated in Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Babylonian captivity (apparently 100 years before the emergence of monotheistic Zoroastrianism) and the Persian era, despite the numerous structural differences in the belief systems, crucial to the faiths, as in the issue over whether the evil spirit is a product of the good spirit.
Some also believe monotheism to have been a Zoroastrian influence, as Deutero-Isaiah supposedly makes a first monotheistic declaration (Isaiah 45:5-7) during the reign of the Persian Kings, that corresponds to his declaration that Jews were to obey Cyrus.

The Cyrus Cylinder, sometimes described as the "first charter of human rights"
According to Mary Boyce "Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed credal religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly or indirectly, than any other single faith... some of its leading doctrines were adopted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam". (Boyce, 1979, pg 1) Zoroastrianism has been proposed as the source of some of the most important post-Torah aspects of Judaic religious thinking, which emerged after the Babylonian captivity, from which Jews were liberated by Cyrus the Great.
This is also a view put forward by King and Moore, who wrote in The Gnostics and Their Remains that
it was from this very creed of Zoroaster that the Jews derived all the angelology of their religion... the belief in a future state; of rewards and punishments, ... the soul's immortality, and the Last Judgment - all of them essential parts of the Zoroastrian scheme. (King, 1887)
Many traits of this ancient religion can be traced back to the culture and beliefs of the proto-Indo-Iranian period, and Zoroastrianism consequently shares some elements with the Vedic faiths that also have their origins in that era. In fact, in many ways, although Zoroastrianism presents a similar philosophy as the Vedic faiths, it tends to present an "alternate viewpoint" that seems influenced primarily by a difference in perception. However, Zoroastrianism was also strongly affected by the later culture of the Iranian Heroic Age (1500 BC onwards), an influence that the Indic religions were not subject to. Nonetheless, scholars have used evidence from the texts of both religious systems to reconstruct the earlier stage of proto-Indo-Iranian beliefs and culture. This has also formed attempts to characterise the even earlier Proto-Indo-European religion, and so determine the process by which Dyeus became Jupiter, Sabazios, Zeus, and Tyr.
Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are in turn present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the greater Persian cultural continent, not least because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shāhnāme.
[edit] Religious texts
Main article: Avesta
[edit] Primary texts
The Avesta is the collection of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. Although some of the texts are very old, the compendium as we know it today is essentially the result of a redaction that is thought to have occurred during the reign of Shapur II (309-379 CE). However, important sections of the text have been lost since then, especially after the fall of the Persian empire, after which Zoroastrianism was supplanted by Islam. The oldest existing copy of the texts dates to 1288 CE.
The most ancient of the texts of the Avesta are in an old or Gathic Avestan language and are believed to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form. Later texts date from between the 8th century BCE to the Achaemenid period (648330 BCE) and are in Original Young Avestan and Artificial Young Avestan respectively. In existing copies of the text, the Avestan language words are written in Din dabireh script, a Sassanid era (226-651 CE) invention.

Yasna 28.1, Ahunavaita Gatha (Bodleian MS J2)
The contents of the Avesta are generally divided into five categories. The divisions are topical and are by no means fixed or canonical. Some scholars prefer to place the five categories in two groups, one liturgical and the other general.
The Yasna, the primary liturgical collection and comprising of 72 chapters: Yasna 1 to Yasna 72; includes the Gathas, (yasnas 28 to 34, the Ahunavaity Gatha; yasnas 43 to 46, the Ushtavaity Gatha; yasnas 47 to 50, the Spenta Mainyu Gatha; yasna 51, the Vohuxsathra Gatha; and yasna 53, the Vahishta Isti Gatha), which are thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself.
The Visparad, a collection of supplements to the Yasna.
The Yashts, hymns in honor of the divinities of Zoroastrian angelology.
The Vendidād, describes the various forms of evil spirits and ways to confound them.
shorter texts and prayers, the five nyaishes "worship, praise", the siroze "thirty days" (see Zoroastrian calendar) and the afringans "blessings".
[edit] Secondary works
The texts of the Avesta are complemented by several secondary works of religious or semi-religious nature, which although not sacred and not used as scripture, have a significant influence on Zoroastrian doctrine.
The Dēnkard "Acts of Religion" in Middle Persian
The Bundahishn "Original Creation" in Middle Persian
The Mēnog-ī Khirad "Spirit of Wisdom" in Middle Persian
The Arda Wiraf Nāmag "The Book of Arda Viraf" in Middle Persian
The Zartoshtnāme "Book of Zoroaster" in Modern Persian
The Saddar "Hundred Doors or Chapters" in Modern Persian
The Rivayats or traditional treatises in Modern Persian
Some of these works quote passages that are believed to be from lost sections of the Avesta.
[edit] Other texts
Two other collections of texts are considered a part of the Zoroastrian literary canon. These were intended for general use by the laity:
The Khordeh Avesta, a collection of everyday prayers from the Avesta.
The prayers of the Khorda Avesta are in Avestan, which continues to be the Zoroastrian language of prayer even today. The most sacred of these prayers is the Ahuna Vairya (also known as the yatha ahu vairyo), which has been interpreted to be the summation of the belief in Ahura Mazda, "the seed of seeds of the reckoning of the religion." (Dēnkard 8.45.1)
Zend (lit: commentaries) fragments.
The use of the expression Zend-Avesta to refer to the Avesta, or the use of Zend as the name of a language or script, are relatively recent and popular mistakes. The word Zend or Zand, meaning "commentary, translation", refers to late middle Persian and Pazend language supplementaries in Pahlavi script. These commentaries from the early Sassanid era were not intended for use as theological texts by themselves but for religious instruction of the (by then) non-Avestan-speaking public. In contrast, the texts of the Avesta proper remained sacrosanct and continued to be recited in Avestan - which was considered a sacred language. In a general sense, the secondary texts mentioned above are also included in the Zend rubric since they too often include commentaries on the Avesta and on the religion.
[edit] Principal beliefs

Faravahar (or Ferohar), one of the primary symbols of Zoroastrianism, believed to be the depiction of a Fravashi (guardian spirit)
Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.
Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta 'Holy Words'. Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, religious duty, but which can also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue. The metaphor of the 'path' of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the 'Good/Holy Path', and the 72-thread Kusti girdle, the 'Pathfinder'.
Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan - inherent to Ahura Mazda - and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more subtle and nuanced, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or 'uncreation', evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply 'the lie' (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in His role as the one uncreated Creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of 'druj' which is 'nothing', anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the "supreme benevolent providence" (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1)
In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (humans and animals both) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction. Throughout the Gathas, Zoroaster emphasizes deeds and actions; and accordingly asceticism is frowned upon in Zoroastrianism. In later Zoroastrianism, this was explained as fleeing from the experiences of life, which was the very purpose that the urvan (most commonly translated as the 'soul') was sent into the mortal world to collect. The avoidance of any aspect of life, which includes the avoidance of the pleasures of life, is a shirking of the responsibility and duty to oneself, one's urvan, and one's family and social obligations.
Thus, central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose between the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, or to give up this duty and so facilitate the work of druj. Similarly, predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life.
In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin. Zoroastrian morality is then to be summed up in the simple phrase, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta in Avestan), for it is through these that asha is maintained and druj is kept in check.
Through accumulation, several other beliefs were introduced to the religion, that in some instances supersede those expressed in the Gathas. In the late 19th century, the moral and immoral forces came to be represented by Spenta Mainyu and its Satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda respectively. Although the names are old, this opposition is a modern western-influenced development popularized by Martin Haug in the 1880s, and was in effect a realignment of the precepts of Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), which had invented a third deity, Zurvan, in order to explain a mention of twinship (Yasna 30.3) between the moral and immoral. Although Zurvanism had died out by the 10th century, the critical question of the "twin brothers" mentioned in Yasna 30.3 remained, and Haug's explanation provided a convenient defence against Christian missionaries who disparaged the Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) for their 'dualism'. Haug's concept was subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, thus corroborating Haug's theory and the idea became so popular that it is now almost universally accepted as doctrine.
Achaemenid era (648–330 BCE) Zoroastrianism developed the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, personal and final judgement, all of which are only alluded to in the Gathas. Yasna 19 (which has only survived in a Sassanid era (226–650 CE) Zend commentary on the Ahuna Vairya invocation), prescribes a Path to Judgement known as the Chinvat Peretum or Chinvat Bridge (cf: Al-Sirat in Islam), which all souls had to cross, and judgement (over thoughts, words, deeds performed during a lifetime) was passed as they were doing so. However, the Zoroastrian personal judgement is not final. At the end of time, when evil is finally defeated, all souls will be ultimately reunited with their Fravashi. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a universalist religion with respect to salvation.
In addition, and strongly influenced by Babylonian and Akkadian practices, the Achaemenids popularized shrines and temples, hitherto alien forms of worship. In the wake of Achaemenid expansion, shrines were constructed throughout the empire and particularly influenced the role of Mithra, Aredvi Sura Anahita, Verethregna and Tishtrya, all of which, in addition to their original (proto-)Indo-Iranian functions, now also received Perso-Babylonian functions.
Although the worship of images would eventually fall out of favour (and be replaced by the iconoclastic fire temples), the lasting legacy of the Achaemenids was a vast, complex hierarchy of Yazatas (modern Zoroastrianism's Angels) that were now not just evident in the religion, but firmly established, not least because the divinities received dedications in the Zoroastrian calendar, thus ensuring that they were frequently invoked. Additionally, the Amesha Spenta, the six originally abstract terms that were regarded as direct emanations or aspects or 'divine sparks' of Ahura Mazda, came to be personified as an archangel retinue.
Some Zoroastrians believe in the future coming of a Messiah-like figure known as the Peshotan. This too is a modern syncretic development, and is frowned upon by more conservative Zoroastrians.
[edit] Zoroastrian precepts

The Zoroastrian temple of Yazd.
Some major Zoroastrian precepts:
Equalism: Equality of all, irrespective of gender, race, or religion.
Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
Environmentalism: Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
Hard work and charity: Laziness and sloth are frowned upon. Zoroastrians are encouraged to part with a little of what would otherwise be their own.
Loyalty and faithfulness to "family, settlement, tribe, and country."
[edit] Other distinguishing characteristics
The symbol of fire: The energy of the creator is represented in Zoroastrianism by fire and the sun which are both enduring, radiant, pure and life sustaining. Zoroastrians usually pray in front of some form of fire (or any source of light). (It is important to note that fire is not worshipped by Zoroastrians, but is used simply as symbol and a point of focus, much like the crucifix in Christianity. For details, see Fire temple)
Proselytizing and conversion: Parsi Zoroastrians do not proselytize. In recent years however Zoroastrian communities in both Iran and in west have been more tolerant in conversion, although this move has not been supported officially by the priesthood in Mumbai, India.
Inter-faith marriages: As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement of the religion itself.
Some members of the Indian Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) contend that a child must have a Parsi father to be eligible for introduction into the faith, but this assertion is considered by most to be a violation of the Zoroastrian tenets of gender equality, and may be a remnant of an old legal definition (since overruled) of Parsi. However, to this day, some priests will not perform the Navjote ceremony - i.e. the rites of admission into the religion - for children of mixed-marriages, irrespective of which parent is a non-Parsi. This issue is a matter of great debate within the Parsi community, but with the increasingly global nature of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, such opinions are less vociferous than they previously were.
In Iran, due to continuing discrimination against non-Muslims, inter-faith marriage is not encouraged by the government.
Death and burial: Religious rituals related to death are all concerned with the person's soul and not the body. Zoroastrians believe that on the fourth day after death, the human soul leaves the body and the body remains as an empty shell. Traditionally, Zoroastrians disposed of their dead by leaving them atop open-topped enclosures, called Towers of Silence, or Dokhmas. Vultures and the weather would clean the flesh off the bones, which were then placed into an ossuary at the center of the Tower. Fire and Earth were considered too sacred for the dead to be placed in them. While this practice is continued in India by some Parsis, it had ended by the beginning of the twentieth century in Iran. In India, burial and cremation are becoming increasingly popular alternatives.
[edit] Adherents
Small Zoroastrian communities are found in India, Pakistan, Iran, as well as major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora. Zoroastrian communities comprise two main groups of people: those of Indian Zoroastrian background, who are known as Parsis (or Parsees), and those of Iranian background.
[edit] In Iran
Communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd and Kerman, where many still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan). Their language is also called Gabri or Behdinan (literally "Of the Good Religion"). Sometimes their language is named for the cities in which it is spoken, Yazdi or Kermani. Iranian Zoroastrians were historically derogatorily called Gabar (roughly translated as 'infidel') by Muslim neighbours. The term is still used but has lost much of its derogatory meaning.
[edit] In India

Parsi Navjote ceremony (rites of admission into the Zoroastrian faith)
Main article: Parsis, the Zoroastrians of the Indian subcontinent.
Subsequent to the fall of the Persian Empire, after which Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam, many Zoroastrians fled to other regions in the hope of preserving their religious tradition. Among them were several groups who migrated to Gujarat, on the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. The descendants of those refugees are today known as the Parsis.
In contrast to their co-religionists elsewhere, in India the Zoroastrians enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from other religious communities. From the 19th century onward, the Parsis gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British colonialism which favored certain minorities. As such, Parsis are generally more affluent than other Indians and are stereotypically viewed as among the most Anglicised and "Westernised" of Indian minority groups. They have also played an instrumental role in the economic development of the country over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.
As of the census of 2001, the Parsis numbered 69,601, representing approximately 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay). Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only about 23,000 or 0.002% of the total population of India. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labelled a 'tribe'.
[edit] In Central Asia
There is some interest among Iranians, as well as people in various Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, in their ancient Zoroastrian heritage; some people in these countries take notice of their Zoroastrian past. In fact, UNESCO (at the instigation of the government of Tajikistan) declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture," with special events throughout the world.
[edit] Demographics
In 1996, the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated to be "at most 200,000" (Melton, 1996:837). India's 2001 Census found 69,601 Parsi Zoroastrians. In Pakistan they number 5000, mostly living in Karachi. North America is thought to be home to 18,000–25,000 Zoroastrians of both Parsi and Iranian background. Iran's figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely; the last census (1974) before the revolution of 1979 revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians.
Few (if any) adherents remain in the Central Asian regions that were once considered the traditional stronghold of Zoroastrianism, i.e. Bactria (see also Balkh), Sogdiana, Margiana, and other areas closest to Zoroaster's homeland.
[edit] Noted Zoroastrians
For a list of Zoroastrians with Wikipedia articles, see List of Zoroastrians and Category:Zoroastrians.
Noted Parsis include the industrialist and founder of Indian Civil J. R. D. Tata; Indian freedom fighters Pherozeshah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji and Bhikaiji Cama; symphony conductor Zubin Mehta and rock artist Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Bulsara); nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha, the similarly named philosopher Homi K. Bhabha; the first field marshal of India, Sam Manekshaw, author and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala (of the films Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala), authors Rohinton Mistry and Bapsi Sidhwa. Indian industrial families Tata family, Godrej family and Wadia family are also of Parsi Zoroastrian background. Noted members of the more recently arrived Irani community include Bollywood director Ardeshir Irani, cricketer Ronnie Irani, comedian-actor Boman Irani, Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and actress Perizaad Zorabian.
Noted Iranian Zoroastrians include Dr. Farhang Mehr, former deputy prime minister of Iran, Boston University professor emeritus, longtime activist for religious freedom, and subject of the biography "Triumph Over Discrimination" by another Zoroastrian (of Parsi and Haitian descent), Lylah M. Alphonse.
Swedish artist and author Alexander Bard is a convert to Zoroastrianism.
[edit] Zoroastrian organizations
The World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce
FEZANA is a federation of North American Zoroastrian associations
The Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York is one of the oldest Zoroastrian associations in the USA
Web-site of the UNESCO Parsi Zoroastrian Project
World Alliance of Parsi and Irani Zarthoshtis
Zoroastrian Society of Ontario