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Rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies © Robert Sommers 2017

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chaharshanbe Suri

It is the time of Nowruz, the Persian festival of new year. Traditionally persians of all religious persuasions mark the holiday by jumping over fire, while reciting the words "May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine." Here in Southern California, at roughly 4 a.m. Wednesday, was the moment of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses directly over the equator, ushering in spring.

The fire jumping rite, Chaharshanbe Suri, is an obvious relic of early zoroastrian traditions which reach back at least 1800 years bce. Zoroastrianism was a belief system founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathusra and thought by many to be the world's first monotheistic religion. Plutarch put the date of Zoroaster back at least to 6000 bce.

Zoroaster saw life as a struggle between truth (aša) and lies (druj).  Zoroaster worshipped the uncreated god, Ahura Mazda, who was the embodiment of aša and the lord of light and wisdom. When Zoroaster was 30, he received a revelation. While fetching water from dawn for a sacred ritual, he saw the shining figure of the yazata, Vohu Manah, who led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda, where he was taught the cardinal principles of the religion of good.

Zoroastrianism has always been associated with fire and the cow. It influenced a multitude of other religions and philosophies including, islam, plato, the bahai faith and judaism.

It is interesting how the old religion manages to seep into the new religion in different cultures. Shinto rites still exert a major influence in Japan, the yule log and much nordic imagery is evident in Christmas celebrations and the old Bon practices still reverberate in Tibet.

They create a cultural rubric that underpins and often integrates more recent belief systems in a non threatening way. It is interesting and delightful how we humans can create an amalgam out of various myths, religions and creation stories and move seamlessly through the potpourri without skipping a beat.

The last five days of the persian year are known as Hamaspathmaedaya, the feast of all souls. Faravahar, the guardian angel of humans and the spirits of dead comes back for a reunion. According to Wicki:
Much of the symbolism of this act links to astrological connotations associated with sign of Pisces or Esfand, or the 12th House related to the subconscious mind, hidden resources, hidden problems, social responsibility. The human has to face his ultimate fears and does so by jumping over the fire. That cleansing act is necessary before the advent of the Spring at the Vernal Equinox. Wednesday is chosen because of its ancient association with being the fourth day of Mercury or Kherad, and Mercury being the messenger of Gods.
It is fascinating how different cultures celebrate the solstice and equinox. I was at Chichen Itza once for the Festival of the Serpent on September 23rd with about 20,000 mayan compatriots, feasting on corn and mango.

The pyramid was constructed so that the serpent of light, Kukulkan would appear on the side of the pyramid and descend into the ground, burying the life giving power. I watched just such an event, which is reversed in the spring.

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Our appreciation for these types of celestial events continues today. There was an article in the paper the other day about the famed Salk Institute in La Jolla. Architect Louis Kahn designed the building so that a river of life would be illuminated at the precise moment by the vernal and autumnal equinox's.


I found this picture online and hope to take my own next equinox!

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