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Zoroastrianism, Mazdism, and Zervanism

The Gnostic's radically anti-worldly attitude and cosmological dualism stems from the pessimism of the time, but also draws inspiration from the cosmologies and theologies of old Persia.

The ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, founded by the prophet Zoroaster, was an ethically-orientated monotheism, inspired in part - as with the contemporary Hebraic prophetic tradition - by the moral and religious decadence of the contemporary peoples.  Zoroaster presented his listeners with the choice between choosing good and evil, personified as the God of Good, the "Wise Lord", Ahura Mazda, and the power of evil and of the Lie, Angra Manyu, respectfully.

But as is the unfortunate case with all religions, the simple and pure moral teachings of the Founder soon degenerated into a straight-jacket theology, advocated by fundamentalists that, in their zeal to persecute all those who hold differing views, showed themselves to be on the very side of those who the Teacher spoke against.

So the original Zoroastrianism of Zoroaster became religious Zoroastrianism, or Mazdism.  As with contemporary Evangelical Protestantism, this taught a rigid metaphysical duality of two fundamental Powers, the power of Light, Ahura Mazda, later to be called Ormazdh, and the power of Darkness, Angra Mainyu, or Ahriman, with the eventual triumph of the former.

Zoroastrianism was the first religion to teach the idea that time is historical rather than cyclic, with a specific beginning (Creation) and end.  It taught a heaven and a hell, and a future Day of Judgment, resurrection, and Divinely ruled perfect world.  Scholars agree that it was from Zoroastrianism that the Jews acquired these concepts, during the so-called "Babylonian exile" fifth century), when they were under the dominion of the Persians.  From the Jews of course, these concepts passed over into Christianity, and later Islam.  Thus, in a certain respect, it was Zoroaster, rather than Jesus or Mohammed, who was the most influential character in history.

In the following centuries, Mazdism remained established as an authoritarian Persian religion.  Yet it is a strange thing that whenever the human mind and spirit has been confronted with duality, it has always sort and erected unity.  Thus it was that the dualistic Mazdean theology came to be supplanted by a monistic religion called Zervanism.  The Zervanites taught that both Light and Dark, Good and Evil, Ormazdh and Ahriman, emerge from a higher, unitary, Godhead principle, called Zervan akarana "boundless or infinite time".  This is contrasted with this the character of this cosmos, which is "Time of long duration".  Although things here might last a long time, they are not eternal.  The Zervanite metaphysicians distinguished between temporal or cosmic time and eternity or Limitless Time.  From Zervan proceeded a number of other emanations, which formed a tetrad (four-fold grouping) or series of tetrads.

This then was a religion of great profundity, and one which for a time was very successful.  In the Hellenistic world, Zervan came to be known as Aion (Aeon), and was identified also with Chronos or Saturnus (Time) [Link to Amazon com Franz Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, Dover, p.107].

In all probability it was from Zervanism, with its idea of the Absolute as "Eternity", that the Gnostic theosophy of Aeons developed.  In a sense then, Zervanism, with its idea of a transcendent Godhead from  which proceed further emanations, and its contrast between the serene realm of light above and the world of conflict and contrast here, was the earliest sect of Gnosticism.

The exoteric or popular religious aspect of Zervanism was also significant.  For it was an important late Zervanite sect, Mithraism, the religion of the god Mithra, which during the first few centuries after Christ became the most important religion of the Roman empire.  Indeed, the Western world would now be a Mithraic civilisation, had Mithraism's main  rival, Christianity, not triumphed.

Eventually, Mazdism re-established itself, and the Zervanite heresy was ruthlessly suppressed.  So efficient were the Mazdean fundamentalists in this task that today only a few pathetic fragments - brief references in philosophical and religious works - remain of what was once a great and profound teaching.

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