Copyright: @2013 John Easter.
Heaven, Purgatory, reincarnation, ghosts, and Hell in light of the Gathas
“The Gathas must be understood by themselves and in the light of their own contents. In other words, it would not be correct to take a Gatha word in the sense it acquired in later Zoroastrian Literature.” “The nearest to the Gathas, both in language and in spirit, stands the Vedic Literature of India.” “The Gathas are spiritual in the fullest sense of the word.”
-The Gathas of Zarathushtra pp. ix-x by Dr. Irach J. S. Taraporewala
Heaven in Zoroastrianism or Mazda-Yasna(God-Worship) is called Garo Demane, literally song/singing house/domain, which means the House of Song or House of Music and Songs. It is known by other terms meaning House of Loving/Good Mind/Purpose, World of Goodness, Infinite Lights, and Best Existence. It is the dimension of Ahura Mazda(God) and all the angelic spirits. It is associated with music, light, happiness, and love, and is where the souls of good people and also the souls of animals dwell.
Yasna 28.2 of the Gathas refers to both a physical world and a spiritual world. Yasna 32.15 refers to the spiritual world or Heaven as the House of Vohu Manah(Loving/Good Mind/Purpose). Yasna 50.4 and 51.15 calls it Garo Demane(House of Song or House of Music & Songs) and the dimension of Ahura Mazda(God). Garo Demane is later called Garodman in Middle Persian texts and Garothman in the Parsi Gujarati language.
Other Zoroastrian terms for Heaven include Gathic Avestan “Ashahya Gaeva”, meaning World of Asha or goodness, Avestan “Anaghra Raochah”, meaning Endless Light or Infinite Lights, and Avestan “Vahista Anhus”, meaning Best Existence, as well as Middle Persian “Wahisht” and New Persian “Behesht” also meaning Best Existence.
Heaven in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all reflections of the House of Music & Songs first described in the Gathas. The Yasna verses from the Gathas are actually composed by Zarathushtra himself and are dated between 3000 to 3800 years old. It is likely that they also distantly influenced the concepts of the Deva Lokas(deity realms), the Pure Lands, and Moksha or Nirvana within later Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism.
English “Heaven” comes from Middle English “Heven”, which in turn comes from Old English “Heofon” meaning Home of God. Earlier Heofon meant the sky. It is related to Old Norse “Himinn”, Old Frisian “Himul”, Dutch “Hemel”, and German “Himmel” for sky as well. Old English “Neorxna-Wang” is a similar term that means contentment field.
It is also related to the Old Norse term “Himin-Bjorg”, literally Heaven’s castle or mountain, which is the dwelling place of Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, and a part of Asgard, the world of the Aesir gods, at the top of Bifrost or Asbru(Aesir’s Bridge), which is the illuminating rainbow bridge that connects down to Midgard, the world of men, in Norse myth. Interestingly Old Norse “Aesir” is linguistically related to Gathic Avestan “Ahura” in the name of Ahura Mazda(God) through Indo-European roots.
In Zoroastrianism the Gathas describe the Chinvat Bridge as the separator or divider for souls between the physical dimension and the spiritual dimension. The Al-Sirat Bridge is the equivalent in the Islamic Koran and seems to be directly based on the Chinvat. Jacob’s Ladder used by angels to travel down to Earth and back up to Heaven in Jacob’s dream seems to be the equivalent in the Jewish Tanakh & Christian Old Testament.
There is a similar bridge in Japanese myth & Shinto religion called Ama-no-uki-hashi or the Floating Bridge of Heaven, which connects the Earth to Takama-ga-hara or the High Plain of Heaven. It is used to travel to and from Heaven. The bridge is also from where creation emanated from. Heaven overarches creation and is the place of Ame-no-minakanushi or the Central Master who is above all the gods. The Floating Bridge, the Chinvat, and Bifrost/Asbru all share the same basic similarities.
Takama-ga-hara is also the place of the ancestors, the kami(spirits), and where the Yamato Japanese gods have their assembly place and halls. Including the sun goddess Amaterasu who is the acting leader of the Yamato pantheon. Similarly Odin, the acting leader of the Norse pantheon, has halls such as Valhalla for the souls of warriors, Gladsheim where the gods have their assembly place, and Hlidskjalf for observing the worlds. Other halls of the gods within Asgard include Freya’s Sessrumnir in Folkvang, Thor’s Bilskirnir in Thrudheim or Thrudvang, Heimdall’s Himin-Bjorg, and others.
English “Paradise” ultimately comes from Avestan “Pairidaeza” which originally referred to enclosed parks and gardens. Hebrew “Shamayim” for sky is the word for Heaven and the Home of God in the Jewish Tanahk/Old Testament while Greek “Ouranos” for sky is used in the Christian New Testament for the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God. Arabic “Jannah” for paradise or garden is the equivalent term used in the Islamic Koran.
Chinese “Shangdi” and “Tian”, and Mongolic & Turkic “Tengri”, are very similar terms that mean both one high god and the sky realm of the gods or Heaven. Sky ladders for humans and gods to travel to and from Heaven are mentioned in many ancient Chinese myths in the form of mountains, trees, ropes, towers, cobwebs, and even rainbows. Sky ladders to Heaven are also mentioned in numerous myths around the world including Central & North Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, and South America. Sky realms of the gods are also mentioned in Maori and general Polynesian myths within Oceania.
Similar terms for a good supernatural realm include Greek Mount Olympus, Elysium or the Elysian Fields, and the Islands of the Blessed, Irish Mag Mell and Tir na nOg, Welsh Annwn and Avalon, Norse Asgard & Vanaheim: Odin’s Valhalla, Freya’s Folkvang, Gefjon’s hall, Vingolf(assembly place of the goddesses), and Gimle(for good souls), Sami Saivo, Finnish Paivola/Ylinen, Hungarian Tulvilag/Felso Vilag, Slavic Iriy/Virey, Russian Bunyan, Lithuanian Dausos, Latvian Debeskalns(Sky Mountain), Iranic Ossetian Kurys, Hindu/Indian Svarga, Egyptian Aaru(Field of Reeds), and Wiccan Summerland.
“into the eternal lights, and then into the celestial House of Music & Songs of Ahúrá Manzdá. The House of Music & Songs is called Garö Demanæ in Avestan;”
-The Zoroastrian Threefold Motto: The Purest Essence in Thoughts, Words and Deeds by Herbad Ardeshir Farahmand
“in good music of all kinds I’ve always perceived the echoes of Garodman(Heaven)”
-On becoming a Zoroastrian in Italy by Michele L. Moramarco
“There, too, will all the animal kingdom be-flocks and herds, wild animals, birds, and fish”
-The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism p. 307 by R. C. Zaehner
“An absolute white Light that is God-all loving. The reunification of us with our creator.”
-Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience p. 27 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
There are numerous near death experience testimonies about God and Heaven that mention great light and also the feeling of great love.
See Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience by Dr. Ken R. Vincent.
Music is also mentioned.
See Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience p. 41 and p. 69 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent.
The Gathas seem to express a view in between the extremes of ultra liberalism and ultra fundamentalism but ultimately leans towards Universalism. What seems to be expressed as sinful within the Gathas is harming sentient beings such as by exploiting and killing fellow humans and by causing unnecessary and prolonged suffering towards animals. This is extended to include intentional verbal and psychological abuse.
Yasna 51.9 states that Ahura Mazda exposes everyone to his divine “fire” or “molten metal” which affects people differently based on how good or bad they are. Yasna 30.7 and 32.7 mention this as well. This exposure is also understood to be an allusion to what happens at the Apocalypse/Ragnarok or the Frasho-Kereti(making wonderful, excellent, fresh) of Earth or the Universe. Olam Haba(world to come) is the Jewish equivalent.
Yasna 30.11 states that happiness and blessings come to the followers of goodness while pain and long punishment come to the followers of Druj(evil). The verse also says that eventually all shall be well. Yasna 31.20 states that the followers of Druj experience a long age of misery, darkness, ill food, and crying of woe.
However Yasna 30.8 states that when comes the punishment of the wicked, Ahura Mazda, through Vohu Manah(Loving/Good Mind/Purpose), makes them understand and they are then taken back by Ahura Mazda when their frenzy finally wears off and they surrender the evil in their hearts to the powers of good. Yasna 30.10 and 34.10 imply this as well.
Comparatively in modern Judaism what is called Hell really functions as Purgatory. The Babylonian Talmud, in tractate Eduyot 2:10, states that souls are not punished anymore than 1 year or 12 months.
A specific shadowy Purgatory and Limbo like dimension is only vaguely alluded to in Yasna 33.1 of the Gathas. It is first called Misvan Gatu(place for the mixed ones) in the later Avesta. In Middle Persian texts it is called Hamistagan(equilibrium stationary). Interestingly it has later been described as being similar to Earth and even having winters and summers.
See Eschatology in the Indo-Iranian Traditions p. 205 by Mitra Ara.
The neutral and shadowy dimension corresponds to many similar references within mythologies from all over the world. Including Sheol in ancient Judaism and the older Kur(Sumerian name) or Irkalla(Assyro-Babylonian name) in Mesopotamian myth.
Other examples include the Asphodel Meadows of Hades in Greek myth, Helheim of Niflhel in Norse myth, Tuonela/Manala in Finnish & Estonian myth, Jabme-Aimo in Sami myth, Patala in Hindu myth, Yomi in Japanese myth & Shinto religion, and the House of Hine in Polynesian(Maori) myth from New Zealand.
Yasna 46.11, 49.11, and 51.14 state that the souls of evil people, in particular the Karapans(evil priests) and the Kavis(tyrant princes), fall back into the Demane Druj (House of Druj) while crossing the Chinvat Bridge. Druj is the concept of evil in general.
The Chinvat Bridge was understood as the separator or the divider between the physical world and the spiritual world. Apparently the Chinvat Bridge, through Indo-European roots, is related to the Norse Bifrost or Asbru(Aesir’s Bridge) which is the illuminating rainbow bridge that separates Midgard(Earth) and Asgard(the world of the Aesir gods).
The House of Druj looks like it should be a name for Hell and it is understood that way. However Dr. Taraporewala, in his free verse translation of the Gathas p. 215, p. 255, and p. 283, identifies it with the Earth or the physical universe.
The reason for this seems to be because in Yasna 49.11, the Gathic Avestan words, paiti and yeinti, could be translated as “shall return” or “do come back”. Alternatively it could be translated as “go (forth?) to meet”. Another reason for this seems to be because the Chinvat Bridge was understood as the barrier between the physical dimension and the spiritual dimension. They are called Astavat(physical) & Manahya(spiritual) in Avestan and Getig(physical) & Menog(spiritual) in Middle Persian.
The problem with this is that it makes it sound like the Earth, or the physical universe, is being identified with Hell, similar to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Buddhism, instead of being the good creation of Ahura Mazda. However the physical universe is understood to be afflicted by Druj. It’s in this sense how I understand what Dr. Taraporewala meant.
“In Zoroastrianism, the material world is not seen as negative in itself; rather, it exists in the state of ‘mixture’ and it has been contaminated by the aggressive activity unleashed against it by the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu.” “The spiritual world is directly connected with the material world, as if the latter were the manifestation of the spiritual world.”
-Eschatology in the Indo-Iranian Traditions p. 166 by Mitra Ara
If Yasna 49.11 is referring to reincarnation it should be compared to statements that seem to be in support of reincarnation from the nearly contemporary Rig-Veda instead of later Hindu texts.
The Rig-Vedic verses, 10.16.3 and 10.16.5, either mentions being reborn in Heaven or on Earth. The Rig-Vedic verses, 2.33.1 and 6.70.3, mention being reborn through one’s descendants.
See The Rig Veda pp. 48-51, p. 206, and p. 221 translated by Wendy Doniger.
Interestingly Middle Persian texts from the Sassanian era refer to the resurrection of people, after the Apocalypse or Frasho-Kereti, as obtaining the “Final Body”. This may or may not be a very distant echo of reincarnation from the Rig-Veda and the background of Indo-Iranian religion, which in turn come from the even older Indo-European religion.
Additionally post-Vedic Hindu texts seem to show some noticeable traces of Zoroastrian influence. Examples include the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the Narayaniya chapters of the later Shanti Parva book added to the Mahabharata epic.
The Shvetashvatara Upanishad mentions using forms, including the depictions of all the different Hindu deities, to help understand Brahman(God) and the importance of expressing Bhakti(loving devotion) to Brahman or God. The statements in the Upanishad about Brahman and the later Bhakti movements within Hinduism, such as the Hare Krishna movement, may have originated from Zoroastrian influence on the composers of the Upanishads. Major avatars include Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, and Maha-Devi.
The Shanti Parva mentions a foreign land to the north-west of India called Shweta Dwipa that seems to be referring to Zoroastrian Iran because its people are described as being equals, monotheistic, and worshiping God through good thoughts, words, and deeds.
See Zarathushtra pp. 60-61 by Ardeshir Mehta.
However post-Vedic Hinduism also contains many influences from the later ascetic Shramana movements indigenous to India. The Shramana traditions taught a purely karma based reincarnation instead. Shramana not only changed Hinduism but also very strongly influenced the formations of Buddhism and Jainism, which rejected the Vedas.
The main objection I have against reincarnation in Zoroastrianism, mainly through Yasna 49.11, is that it implies a system similar to the pure karma systems in later Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It should be noted that Yasna 49.11 may not be specifically referring to reincarnation even if “do come back” is definitely the correct translation.
However I don’t think reincarnation is necessarily incompatible with Zoroastrianism. I also don’t think a Zoroastrian reincarnation would be a cold and mechanical process like how it’s described in Buddhism, Jainism, and some expressions of Hinduism. Nor do I think people, who are reborn unaware of their past deeds, are to experience suffering or good things in the current life, nor in a yet even later life, when their karma “ripens”.
The Rig-Veda portrays rebirth among descendants as desirable and even requesting it from the gods. The Helgi lays of the Poetic Edda and the Norse/Icelandic sagas, Finnboga Saga, Viga Glum Saga, Svarfdaela Saga, and the story of Olaf in the Flateyjarbok, which are all from a Germanic but related Indo-European culture, also seem to hint at this same idea. Other Indo-European peoples, Celts, Greeks(see the story of Er in the Republic by Plato), and the Italic Romans(see book 6 in the Aeneid by Virgil), hint at this as well.
“A lesson which they[the druids] take particular pains to inculcate is that the spirit/mind does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another;”
-De Bellico Gallico 6.14 by Julius Caesar. He is describing the druids of the Celtic Gauls.
Alternatively I think reincarnation could be a willing request made by souls to God to help spread more goodness throughout the universe as hamkars(co-workers). Kabbalistic Judaism expresses it in this sense and the basic idea is in alignment with Zoroastrianism.
“but reincarnation is generally viewed positively, as multiple opportunities to help others and acquire merit for the self.”
-The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism p. 218 by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis
“In Kabbalistic understanding of gilgul(cycle), which differs from many Eastern-religious views, reincarnation is not fatalistic or automatic, nor is it essentially a punishment of sin, or reward of virtue.” “As such gilgul is an expression of Divine compassion, and is seen as a Heavenly agreement with the individual soul to descend again.”
-Gilgul article on Wikipedia.
Similar expressions of a more positive version of reincarnation are also mentioned in the Native American traditions as well.
See Amerindian Rebirth: Reincarnation Belief Among North American Indians and Inuit by Antonia Mills and Richard Slobodin.
If the translation “shall return” or “do come back” in Yasna 49.11 is correct it would not necessarily mean reincarnation or reincarnation alone. It could also refer to the physical or Earthbound containment of a disembodied Urvan(soul/self in Gathic Avestan) akin to a ghost.
The Zoroastrian texts don’t seem to specifically mention ghosts, outside of the temporary state of a disembodied Urvan before going to the Chinvat Bridge, but they do mention demons. Evil spirits or bad ghosts may have been associated with the demons in general.
Zoroastrians do maintain an ancient tradition of a series of 10 days, known as the Farvar-digan or Muktad days approximately March 11-20, for honoring all the good spirits of the dead who are believed to visit from Heaven. Jashne(Festival) of Farvar-dingan on April 8 is another day of the dead. The Farvar-digan days are generally similar to both the All Saints’ Day/All Hallows and the Feast of All Souls Day in Catholic Christianity.
The last Wednesday of the 10 days is called the Chahar Shanbe Suri. It is also known as the Festival of Fire and bonfires are made at night to repel the evil spirits. It has aspects surprisingly similar to Halloween and may reflect ancient Indo-European connections. During the evening children and adults use white shrouds or sheets to dress up as ghosts to reenact the coming of all the spirits and then go out to visit homes asking for treats.
“The popular holiday of Halloween has its roots and origin in the Celtic holiday of Samhain. It is truly fascinating that how Halloween and many other ancient Indo-European festivities, have been preserved untouched in Mazda-Yasna or Zoroastrianism with the original ancient beliefs behind them.”
“The Gaels, like the Zoroastrians believed that the border between this world and the Other-World became thin before the New Year; it thus allowed the spirits to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living.”
-Celtic Origins of Halloween and Zoroastrian Beliefs and Festivities by Herbad Ardeshir Farahmand
Some near death experience reports describe Hell as being in an Earthbound state as a ghost. There are exceptions, such as in ancestor veneration, but many of the ghosts and other undead beings that are recorded in folklore from all over the world are usually described as hostile or sad as well as being in an unnatural or even Hellish like state.
“But what if one level of hell existed right here on the surface- unseen and unsuspected by the living people occupying the same space? What if it meant remaining on earth but never again able to make contact with it?”
-Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience p. 131 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Taken from Return from Tomorrow by George Ritchie and Elizabeth Sherrill
“The psychiatrist George Richie (1998, pp.37-41) who had an NDE(near death experience) in 1943 tells of visiting hellish realms invisible but on the earth-plane, as well as tours of other realms where people were trapped because of their own desires.”
-Scientific Investigation of the “Dark Side” by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Gathic Avestan “Druj” means malicious falsehood, the opposite of “Asha” or goodness, and the essence of evil in the wickedest, vilest, deepest, and un-holiest sense. It is a close cognate of Vedic Sanskrit “Druh” which means affliction, hurtful, hostile, injurer, foe, fiend, demon, and evil power. “Druh” is also the opposite of “Rta” which is the Vedic Sanskrit cognate of Gathic Avestan “Asha” and means order.
Old Norse “Draugar” and Middle Irish “Aurddrach” refer to undead beings and are related cognates of Gathic Avestan “Druj” and Vedic Sanskrit “Druh” through Indo-European roots. Other related words include Old English “Dreag”, meaning ghost, Scottish Gaelic “Dreag”, meaning ghost lights or “fiery death-warnings”, Old Persian “Drauga” and Persian “Dorug”, meaning lies, German “Trug”, meaning fraud or deception, and English “Trick”. Possibly even English “Darkness”, which derives from Old English “Deorc” meaning obscure, gloomy, sad, cheerless, sinister, and wicked.
“Aurddrach” means ghost. “Abhartach” is a similar word that refers to an undead dwarf in an Irish legend who is described as one of the “neamh-mairbh” or walking dead. “Draug”, singular, or “Draugar”, plural, are ghoul like beings described in the Norse/Icelandic sagas. Including Eyrbyggja Saga, Saga of Grettir the Strong, Saga of Erik the Red, Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Saga of Egil & Asmund, Saga of Hromund Gripsson, Njal’s Saga, Laxdaela Saga, Gisli Sursson’s Saga, and Floamanna Saga.
Draugar are related to ghasts in Swedish lore, Nachzehrers in German lore, and revenants in English lore. Draugar are particularly similar to the vampires in Slavic & Romanian lore and to both the Rakshasas and the undead beings in Hinduism & Indian lore. They are also similar to the ghouls in Arabian lore and to the Dybbuks in Jewish lore. Whether described as physical ghoul like beings or non-physical ghost like beings the undead are mentioned in the lore of numerous countries and cultures and on every continent.
Draugar were thought to be very greedy, cruel, and wicked people in life. As undead they injure and terrorize both human and animal life in the Norse sagas. This does seem to be connected to the Dregavants, the followers of Druj and the living injurers of human and animal life, who fall back into the House of Druj after their deaths, which is described as a Hellish state for their souls in the Gathas. Frawardin Yasht 12 states that the guardian angels help prevent Druj from gaining power over the physical world or corporeal life.
“In Norse mythology the bridge/or link to the Aesir’s realm is inaccessible to the wicked and is only open to the noble souls. Also, in the Zoroastrian holy writings the vile because of their own actions (destroying the world of men/mortals) and lack of vision are unable to cross over the bridge and are cast back into the domain of lies that have consumed them through all ages. (Yasna 46.11 and Yasna 51.13)”
-The Concept of the Illuminating Bridge in Zoroastrian Faith, Norse Mythology and the Al-Sirat in Islam by Herbad Ardeshir Farahmand
A fate like this would seem more likely for the Karapans(evil priests) and Kavis(tyrant princes) in the Gathas than reincarnation considering their offenses of instructing men to do evil and causing harm and pain towards people and animals alike.
Yasna 31.20, 46.11, and 51.13 state that it is actually their own soul and self, not God, that torments them for their wicked deeds and words when they approach the Chinvat Bridge and fall back into the House of Druj.
“This concept of self-judgment most likely stems from the Zoroastrian insistence that God is perfect goodness and that such a God could not inflict the pain of punishment.”
“As Ahura Mazda can create no evil, the pain of any Hell must come from demons independent of God’s power or, as the Gathas indicate, must be self-inflicted. Ahura Mazda does instigate the final ordeal of molten metal, but it is clear that the suffering depends on the person’s nature, for the righteous swim in this fluid as if it were warm milk.”
-Last Judgment as Self Judgment: After Death Experiences in Zoroastrianism and Tibetan Buddhism
Taken from “Humanistic Self-Judgment and After-Death Experiences” by N. F. Gier in Immortality and Human Destiny pp. 3-20 by Geddes MacGregor
Here Hell is identified with the Abyss or the dimension of Angra Mainyu and his daevas. As opposed to a place meant for human souls to be sent for punishment by God. It appears souls can be drawn down to it but not as a part of the will of God and the angelic spirits under him.
Yasna 30.3-5 and Yasna 45.2 state that Angra/Akem/Aka Mainyu, the hostile/evil spirit, chose to oppose Spenta Mainyu(Holy Spirit) who is the sacred and bright life-emanating spirit under Ahura Mazda(God). Angra Mainyu, called Debaoma(arch-deluder/deceiver) in Yasna 30.6, persuaded the daevas, shining deities or beings, to join his cause. Yasna 30.6 and Yasna 32.3-5 state that the daevas chose to go bad with him and to afflict humans and the world or Universe with hateful acts as well as to inspire aggressive religious views and violence in the minds of people.
Their dimension is not directly described but it seems to be alluded to in Yasna 30.4 and Yasna 32.13. Their abode also seems to be alluded to in the Zamyad Yasht and the Mithra Yasht within the Avesta. The later Vendidad, Bundahishn, and Dadestan-i Denig texts all reference a mountain to the far north called Arezura said to have a gate or portal to their dimension on the summit.
Yasna 32.13 states that an evil man called Grehma, and his followers, obtained dominion or power in the House of Acishtahya Manah(Worst Mind/Purpose) but that the power will destroy them and then they will desire the power of Ahura Mazda instead. Acishtahya Manah is a term similar to Aka/Akem Manah(Evil Mind/Purpose).
Aka Manah is the opposite of Vohu Manah(Loving/Good Mind/Purpose). One of Heaven’s names is the House of Vohu Manah. So it seems that the House of Acishtahya Manah is the original name for Hell. Aka Manah in Yasna 32.3 seems to possibly be referring to Angra Mainyu(Hostile Spirit) instead of an arch-daeva under him like in the later Avesta. Interestingly Spenta Mainyu(Holy Spirit) and Vohu Manah might be the same being.
Other Zoroastrian terms for Hell include Gathc Avestan “Druj Demane”, meaning House of Druj or evil, Avestan “Anaghra Temah”, meaning Endless Darkness, Avestan “Achista Anhus”, meaning Worst Existence, and Avestan “Duzanhu”, meaning Bad Existence, as well as Middle Persian “Dusox” and New Persian “Duzak” also meaning Bad Existence.
English “Hell” comes from Old English “Helle” and “Hel”. Both mean concealed place and refer to the underworld of the dead in general. They are related to Old Norse “Hel” which refers to both the goddess of the underworld and the neutral area of the underworld in Norse myth. Old Norse “Niflheim” refers to the misty wilderness of the underworld.
Old Norse “Nastrond”, meaning corpse shore, is the punishment area of the underworld for murderers, adulterers, and oath-breakers. It is described as a large hall filled with serpents woven into the walls and ceiling that are continuously dripping venom and forming streams. It is similar to other Indo-European punishment areas. Including the Greek Tartarus within Hades of Plouton/Pluto and the Hindu/Indian Naraka of Yama.
The wicked dead, in addition to wading through rivers of venom, are also attacked by a wolf and by the flying dragon called “Nidhogg” which means Malice Striker in Old Norse. Old English “Wyrm-Sele” is a term that means Serpent Hall. It is filled with serpents and is probably the Germanic Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Norse Nastrond.
Uralic negative spirit worlds are similar to Norse Niflheim and Nastrond. Including Finnish Pohjola, described as a cold land of all evil and ruled by Louhi/Loviatar the evil goddess of diseases, Sami Rotaimo, described as the place of evil spirits and ghosts and ruled by Rota/Ruohtta the evil god of death and sickness, and Hungarian Pokol/Also Vilag, described as the place for cruel souls and ruled by Ordog the god of evil. Pohjola, like the mountain Arezura in Zoroastrian texts, is also described as being to the far north.
Hebrew “Gehinnom” in the Jewish Tanahk/Old Testament referred to a place called the Valley of the Son of Hinnom where children were burned to death as a sacrifice to the dark god called Moloch. In the later Jewish writings “Gehinnom”, because of its evil association, came to be used to refer to the negative spirit world or a place of punishment as either Hell or Purgatory. It also has a wicked angel prince depending on the source. The physical valley itself was thought to contain a gate or portal to the dimension.
Greek “Gehenna” comes from Hebrew “Gehinnom” and is the equivalent term in the Christian New Testament while Arabic “Jahannam” is the equivalent term in the Islamic Koran. The “Lake of Fire” in the Jewish Book of Enoch and the Christian Book of Revelation seems to echo the lakes and rivers of red fire for punishment within the Duat, which is the general spirit world in Egyptian myth. It is also similar to the molten metal described during the process of Frasho-Kereti(Making Wonderful) in Zoroastrianism.
The Abyss and Tartarus are the Greek language terms used for the abode of fallen angels or demons in the New Testament. Abyss means bottomless pit. In Greek myth Tartarus is a great abyssal pit that was used to cast away and seal up powerful enemies of the Olympian gods such as the Titans, the Gigantes, and the monstrous Typhon according to the Theogony poem by Hesiod. The Tartarus within Hades where Plouton or Pluto, the god of the underworld, administers punishment to the wicked dead is a different Tartarus.
In the Book of Enoch and the Book of Giants of the Jewish Apocrypha a group of fallen angels called Watchers, led by Azazel and Shemyaza, subjugate and enslave humans killing hundreds of thousands of them. They were defeated by the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel and were then sealed up in Tartarus. These fallen angels, or abyssal fallen angels in general, seem to be alluded to in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 within the New Testament. The Second Book of Enoch says that Satan hovers above the Abyss.
In the Rig-Veda the Devas, or gods of the early Hindu pantheon, Indra, Agni, Soma, and Varuna, fight and defeat the Asuras(dark gods or demons) and Rakshasas(lesser Asuras) which are then sealed away in the world of the A-Sat, literally meaning the non-existence or anti-existence, and An-Rta, literally meaning anti-order. It is described as a dark hole or a great, deep, gloomy, and abyssal pit. It is later called Naraka in the Atharva-Veda.
See Eschatology in the Indo-Iranian Traditions p. 108 and pp. 140-146 by Mitra Ara.
“Time was forever, endless rather than all at once. The remembering of events had no sense of life review, but of trying to prove existence, that existence existed. Yes, it was more than real: absolute reality. There’s a cosmic terror we have never addressed.
The despair was because of the absolute conviction that I had seen what the other side was- I never thought of it as Hell- and there was no way to tell anyone. It wouldn’t matter how I died or when, damnation was out there, just waiting.”
-Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience p. 127 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Taken from Distressing Near-Death Experiences by Bruce Greyson and Nancy E. Bush
There are many near death experience testimonies about Hell. Many different people have described it as a vast pit or dimension of darkness and evil. Reports also mention that there are screams and demons within. Some people even described it as being very hot or having heat like in the traditional fire and brimstone descriptions but not always and sometimes even coldness is described instead.
Sometimes an evil being, thought to be either the Devil or a demon under him, would try to forcibly escort the person to go deeper and deeper down into the abysmal darkness. In many of these accounts where the person started to become more and more scared of what was happening around them they would call out to God for help and then God would instantly appear to rescue them from the evil dimension.
See Visions of God: From the Near Death Experience p. 117, p. 121, p. 123, p. 125, and p. 127 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent.
Many more near death experience testimonies report a Great Being of Light that generates love and it is usually identified with God. However many reports also state that there are actually numerous beings of light, that includes Jesus and the angels, who are the emissaries of God constantly saving souls from ending up in the Abyss like a rescue operation.
“Over the past few decades, increasing numbers of modern people have described a personal, direct knowledge of Hell as the result of their “near-death experience” (people revived following a period of clinical death).
Interestingly, those who found themselves in Hell initially often reversed their experience from negative to positive when they called out to God or Jesus. These encounters seem to indicate that God still rescues people.”
“I was in Hell…I cried up to God, and it was by the power of God and the mercy of God that I was permitted to come back..” “It appears from near-death experience accounts that Jesus is still rescuing people from Hell!”
-The Golden Thread: God’s Promise of Universal Salvation p. 24 and p. 63 by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
In Yasna 46.10 Zarathushtra states that he himself will be with and comfort the souls of good people who cross the Chinvat Bridge. It seems Zarathushtra was saying that he was going to become one of these helpers of light.
“All around these lost souls were Beings of Light just waiting to assist them out of their hellish state.” “Both the Northern Buddhist and Universalist Christian traditions have saviors (Amida Buddha and Jesus) who rescue people from hell (Vincent, 2005, p. 8).”
-Scientific Investigation of the “Dark Side” by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
“He(Amida Buddha) may well have emerged from Zoroastrian scriptures, which worship him(Ahura Mazda) in a similar way to the Amidists.”
-Handbook of Japanese Mythology p. 49 by Michael Ashkenazi
Ahura Mazda is not an angry or vengeful God. The souls seem to be weighed down to the House of Acishtahya Manah, or the dimension of Angra Mainyu, from the evil in their minds and hearts. The Gathas say that evil-doers suffer after death at the Chinvat through their own evil because they see or realize it and that God exposes everyone to his power, which affects people differently based on how good or bad they are. The Chinvat seems to function like a neutral mechanism that shows them what they done wrong.
Yasna 30.8, among other indications within the Gathas, makes it clear that Ahura Mazda neither wants nor intends to loose any of his creations. There are also other indications of this outside of the Gathas as well.
Yasna 19.6, outside of the Gathas, says that Ahura Mazda will help any soul pass over the Chinvat Bridge to Heaven who says the Ahuna Vairya prayer. It seems that later just saying Ahura Mazda, or calling out to God for help, was considered just as effective.
“Further, it is also said in the Zoroastrian text that whoever recites the ‘Ahuna-Variya formula'(see Yasna 19.6 & Yasna 27.13), his soul would be led by Ahura Mazda to ‘the lights of heaven.’ The repetition of Ahura Mazda’s name is repeatedly reported to be efficacious enough to lead the person to paradise.”
-Buddhism in Central Asia p.144 by B.N. Puri
“Merež is the word for Mercy in the Poetic Gathas.” “The mercy/grace of higher providence is for all the creation. We receive it according to our “sincere aspiration” and openness (See Yasna 33.11, 3rd rhymed verse line, sraótá möi merež-dátá möi.)”
“the Poetic Gathas unambiguously teach that mistakes can be effaced. The importance of mistakes and misdeeds lie in the extent to which they have served us to make progress. And once the learning/progress has been made, the consequences of past errors disappear through the bright light of mercy and providence’s grace.”
-Mercy in the Poetic Gathas by Herbad Ardeshir Farahmand
Maybe the differences in the perspectives about Hell, such as the Zoroastrian & Christian Universalist views compared to the Christian & Islamic Fundamentalist views, can be illustrated in this account of a missionary preaching to the Maori people of New Zealand and the people’s response to it.
“The missionary then began to expatiate on the torments of hell, at which some of them seemed horrified, but others said, “they were quite sure such a place could only be made for the white faces, for they had no men half wicked enough in New Zealand to be sent there;”
but when the reverend gentleman added with vehemence that “all men” would be condemned, the savages all burst into a loud laugh, declaring “they would have nothing to do with a God who delighted in such cruelties;”
-A Narrative of a Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand in 1827 pp. 154-155 by Augustus Earle
“The idea of “an endless misery” is fundamentally at odds with the core beliefs and dogmas of the Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism vehemently opposes the notion of a GD that creates imperfect, evolving creatures to punish them later for their imperfections in a demonic hell for ALL ETERNITY.”
-Reincarnation and the Zoroastrian Beliefs by Herbad Ardeshir Farahmand
“In point of fact Zarathushtra does not even deem evil-doers eternally condemned; there is hope for them too, for their evil passion must, perforce, wear off one day; and then even these lost ones are taken back by Mazda, in His infinite mercy, unto His bosm:
(Yasna 30.8:) And when the frenzy departs from these sinners, then Mazda Himself, with the help of His Loving Mind, makes them understand, and inspires in them His Strength; Ahura Himself instructs those who surrender the Lie into the hands of the Righteousness.”
-Zarathushtra by Ardeshir Mehta
This quote from Dastur(High Priest) Dr. Kersey H. Antia’s essay “A Brief Exposition of Spirituality in Zoroastrianism” seems to make a good conclusion here as well.
“We can thus see how comprehensive and yet so logical, lofty, sublime and literally so down-to-earth Zarathushtra’s philosophy is about attaining spirituality and how relevant, inspiring and practicable it is today as it was at the dawn of history.
As a matter of fact, when people are turning away from religion and religious dogmas today, his theology holds promise for inspiring us to recognize and fulfill our spiritual mission so easily on this earth, a mission which is not far from our grasp if we only will it.”
-A Brief Exposition of Spirituality in Zoroastrianism by High Priest Dr. Kersey H. Antia
Yasna 27.13: The Ahuna Vairya manthra/mantra/prayer in Gathic Avestan
Yatha Ahu Vairyo atha Ratush
Ashat chit hacha;
Vangheush dazda Manangho
Shyothananam angheush Mazdai;
Kshathrem cha Ahurai
A yim daregobyo dadat vastarem.
Yasna 27.13: The Ahuna Vairya manthra/mantra/prayer in English
Just as the Lord [Ahu] is all-capable [Vairya] and worthy of veneration [Vairya], so also the Prophet [Ratu]-by reason of his great store of Truth and Righteousness [Asha].
The gifts of the Loving Mind [Vohu Mano] are for those who perform deeds for the Great Lord of Existence.
The Power [Kshathra] of the Almighty is indeed his, who makes himself a protector of the poor, the needy and the meek.
-Zarathushtra pp. 72-74 translated by Ardeshir Mehta