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The Christmas Tree's Origins in Iranian Culture
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 25, 2004 5:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We already had this discussion a while ago. Laughing Surena is a man's name.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 25, 2004 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Spenta wrote:
Also Stephania Caspar, Balthasar and Melchior. are not Arab names!

Indeed they are not. They are the western names given to them. Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph are names given to the three by middle eastern christians. These names are more persian.

Larvandad is a combination of Lar, (near Tehran) , and vand or vandad which means "located in". So it means born in Lar.

Hormisdas is a variation of Hormoz.

Gushnasaph was a common name used in Old and Middle Persian.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 26, 2004 1:18 pm    Post subject: Persian Roots of Christian Traditions Reply with quote

Iranica Institute—Outreach Program

Persian Roots of Christian Traditions

Borrowed Ideas: Persian Roots of Christian Traditions
By: Ramona Shashaani, Esq.

Awhile ago, I was invited to give a talk at a Christmas party about the Persian tradition of celebrating the winter solstice on December 21st. In order to speak intelligently to a spiritually and psychologically keen audience, I set out to research the subject. I was scrambling to find resource m aterial when my day was saved by our list co-moderator, Peter Bridge, who provided me with more references than I had hoped to find in my attempt to unravel the historical, symbolic and mythic bases behind the Persian people's celebration of this festive occasion.

What I did not expect to find, however, was a fascinating history of how Christmas may have its origins in the ancient Persian Mithraic tradition of worshipping Mithra or Mehr, the sun-god or god of love. With the approaching winter solstice, I thought it might be appropriate share this history with you.

While Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25th, the Persians are getting ready to tribute one of their most festive celebrations on Dec. 21st, the eve of winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. In Iran this night is called SHAB-E YALDAA, also known as SHAB-E CHELLEH, which refers to the birthday or rebirth of the sun.

In the east more than in the west, lifestyles have often remained more in tune with nature. This integration of natural rhythms into life cycles is especially true in ancient Persia and has survived the ages. YALDAA, like other major Persian celebrations, is focused on the changing of the seasons. It is as ancient as the time that people organized their lives around the precession of equinoxes.

The most eminent festive affair is NOROOZ, the Iranian new year, which occurs with the spring equinox, around March 21st. It is no wonder that astrology was first inaugurated in ancient Babylonia, a part of the Persian Empire. Yet YALDAA is chiefly related to MEHR YAZAT; it is the night of the birth of the unconquerable sun, Mehr or Mithra, meaning love and sun, and has been celebrated by the followers of Mithraism as early as 5000 B.C.

Is it a mere coincidence that Christmas and YALDAA are so close in time and similar in nature? I suggest that the origins of Christmas may be from ancient Persia.

According to the Bible, the man Jesus Christ was actually born on January 6, and the celebration of his birthday on December 25th, may in fact be born out of the Persian Mithraic influence. In the old Persian mythology, Mitra (Mithra, Mehr), the God of love, friendship, and light, the sun-god, was miraculously born from a rock by a river or stream on this longest night of the year.

In his fifth volume of the collected works, Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist who broke away from Freud, has extensively discussed the influence of Mithraism on Christianity and has portrayed its images and symbols. He quotes Franz Cumont's The Mysteries of Mithra, p. 149, modified:

"Perhaps no other religion has ever offered to its votaries, in so high a degree as Mithraism, opportunities for prayer and motives for veneration. When the initiate betook himself in the evening to the sacred grotto concealed in the solitude of the forest, at every step new sensations awakened in his heart some mystical emotion. The stars that shone in the sky, the wind that whispered in the foliage, the spring or brook that hastened murmuring to the valley, even the earth which he trod under his feet, were in his eyes divine, and all surrounding nature evoked in him a worshipful fear of the infinite forces that swayed the universe (para. 109)."

In praise of the Mithraic sun-god, Jung states:

"The sun. . . is the truly "rational"image of God, whether we adopt the standpoint of the primitive savage or of modern science. In either case Father-God from whom all living things draw life; he is the fructifier and the creator, the source of energy into our world. The discord into which the human soul has fallen can be harmoniously resolved through the sun as a natural object which knows no inner conflict . . . It shines equally on the just and the unjust, and allows useful creatures to flourish as well as the harmful. Therefore the sun is perfectly suited to represent the visible God of this world, i.e., the creative power of our own soul, which we call libido, and whose nature it is to bring forth the useful and the harmful, the good and the bad. That this comparison is not just a matter of words can be seen from the teachings of the mystics: when they descend into the depths of their own being, they find "in their heart" the image of the sun, they find their own life-force which they call the "sun" for a legitimate and, I would say, a physical reason, because our source of energy and life actually is the sun. Our physiological life, regarded as an energy process, is entirely solar (para. 176)."

With the advent of regional battles between ancient Persians and Romans, a majority of the Roman soldiers who lamented their brutish ways, came to find reverence for the Mithraic devotion to nature and beauty. They exalted Mithra's illustrating of slaying the bull, representing sacrifice of the animal instinct in order to find the path to the divine. Soon, Mithraism spread its wings from Persia to the ancient-civilized world in Rome and many European countries. Consequently, in Europe as in Persia, the 21st of December was celebrated as Mithra's birthday.

Early Christians took this very ancient Persian celebration to Mithra, the sun- god, and linked it to Christ's birthday. But in the 4th century A.D., because of some errors in counting the leap year, the birthday of Mithra shifted to 25th of December and was established as such.

Hence, in 274 CE, the Roman emperor Aurelia declared December 25th as the birthday of the unconquered sun ("natAlis solis invicti"), which at the winter solstice begins to show an increase of light; he declared this day as a day of festivities. Later, the church of Rome established the commemoration of the birthday of Christ, the "sun of righteousness," on this same date. Until that time the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated on January 6th. But the religion of most of the Romans and many people of the European continent was still Mithraism. Pope Leo in the fourth century, after almost destroying the temple of Mithra in 376 A.D., in his campaign against Mithraism -- and in the good old Christian tradition, "If you can't claim it, imitate it" -- proclaimed the 25th of December as Christ's birthday instead of January 6th, a date, by the way, which is still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Armenians.

It is also noteworthy that Epiphany, or the "Feast of the Three Holy Kings" on January 6, commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the Magi. The Magi, who were known astrologers, saw a newborn bright star in the sky and predicted the birth of Christ. From the religious city of Qum in Iran, they set out to Jerusalem to greet the infant Christ as the newly born king of the Jews, offering him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Originally, the Magi had been disciples of Zoroaster, who spread his new religion in Persia long after Mithra. Their name is the Latinized form of Magoi [Herodotus I, 101]. They were a priestly caste during the Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian periods in ancient Persia. Later, parts of the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians, including the ritualistic sections of the Vendidad, probably derive from them. As a sacred and powerful caste, Zoroastrians ruled the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C.; they continued to have a dominating religious influence on the subsequent kings of Persia and were still powerful at the time of the birth of Christ.

The connection of the Magi with astrology and their Persian origin is all that is known of the Magi ("wise men" in most English Bibles, "astrologers" in the new English Bible). In early Christian art the Magi usually wear Persian clothes (e.g., the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, 2nd century). In the Syriac tradition those names are Persian and they are connected with Persian religious history.

Zoroastrians, after refining and discarding some of the mythical and "heretical" aspects of Mithraism, retained YALDAA, a Soryani word meaning "the birth'" The ceremony is traced to the historical combat myth between the good forces of light against the evil forces of darkness. This longest night with evil as its zenith is considered ill-fated by this ancient Persian religion. From this day onward, the good forces of light triumph as the days grow longer and give more light.

This celebration comes on the eve of the Persian month of "DAY," the first month of winter, also the name of the pre-Zoroastrian creator god, more commonly known as 'Saturn" in the west. In Persia, DAY was praised and revered as the most powerful God of creation and light, from which we have the English word "day" (the period of light in 24 hours). In the Roman world, the Saturnalia, from December 17 through December 24, became a time of merrymaking and exchange of presents, in honor of the Roman God Saturn.

Ancient Zoroastrians believed that AHURA MAZDA (the good God) created light, day and sunshine as representations of order and "the ahurAic," or good. The day is a time of work, harvest and productivity. They also believed that AHRIMAN (an equally powerful, but evil god) created "the night', a time of darkness, cold, hidden secrets and wild predators. Observing the cyclical changes in the length of days and nights, engendered a belief that light and darkness, or day and night are in continuous battle. The triumphant light brought about longer days, whereas the victory of darkness produced longer nights. It was believed that the greatest battle between the forces of good and evil was fought on SHAB-E YALDAA, the night before winter solstice. Since the first night of winter is the longest and from that night onwards, the days get longer while the warmth and light of the sun increases, the night of the winter solstice was recognized and celebrated as the time of the sun's birth or rebirth by Aryan tribes in Iran, India and Europe.

Fires and lights, symbols of AHURA MAZDA, warmth and lasting life have always been associated with the winter festival. To remain safe from AHRIMAN'S harms, in the evening of SHAB-E YALDAA, bonfires are lit outside, while inside family and friends gather in a nightlong vigil around the KORSEE, a low, square table covered with a thick quilt overhanging on all sides. A brazier with hot coals is placed under the table, in the center. All night, families and friends sit on large cushions on the ground around the KORSEE with the quilt over their laps. They arrange a special sacred space wherein the elders tell stories and fairytales or read poetry to the younger generations. The oldest member of the family says prayers, asks sun "yazat" to bless them, thanks God for the previous year's crops, and prays for the prosperity of next year's harvest. Then with a sharp knife, he or she cuts through a thick yogurt or watermelon, giving everyone a share. The cutting symbolizes the removal of sickness and pain from the family.

Snacks are passed around throughout the night. It is virtually obligatory to eat pomegranates with angelica powder (GOLPAR) and AJEEL-E SHAB-E YALDAA, a tasty mixture of nuts and dried fruits as a symbol for solving problems, translated as "opening one's problems" or "knots." Eating nuts is said to keep illness at bay until the spring. The fruits are meant to bring more fruits and prosperity in the coming spring and onwards. More substantial fare for the night's feast include eggplant stew with plain saffron-flavored rice; or rice with chicken or fish; thick yogurt, as well as sweets made with carrots and saffron (HALVAA-E HAVEEJ).

The foods themselves symbolize the balance of the seasons; watermelons and yogurt are eaten as a remedy for the heat of the summer, since these fruits are considered cold or SARDEE; while HALVAA, the saffron and carrot sweets, is meant to overcome the cold temperatures of winter since they are considered hot or GARMEE. Throughout the night of festivities, the family keeps the fires burning and the lights glowing to "help" the sun in its battle against darkness.

Ancient Persians also decorated an evergreen tree called SARVE. The SARVE or "Rocket Juniper" - also known as the cypress tree, being straight, upright and resistant to the cold weather, was known as a symbol of enduring hardship, thus appropriate for celebrating Mithra. The younger ones had their "wishes" symbolically wrapped in colorful silk cloth and hung them on the tree along with lots of offerings for Mithra in the hopes that he would answer their prayers.

Again in the same tradition, Luther, the famous German reformer, in mid 18th century (1756), having learned of the YALDAA SARVE, introduced the Christmas tree to the Germans. As cypress trees were not widespread in Germany, as indeed in most of Europe, the chosen tree became a variety of pine which was abundant in Europe.

In summary, it is not just Mithra's birth time which entered Christianity. There are many similarities between the Mithraic and Christian traditions. Nowadays all Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus, light fireplaces and candles, decorate trees with lights, stay up all night, sing and dance, eat special foods, pay visits, and celebrate this festive occasion with family and friends.

Christmas and YALDAA are just another example of the many common beliefs, customs, symbols, stories and myths that bind people of different nations and religions across the globe. Let us honor these manifestations of the collective unconscious, so that we may be the keepers of light, love, friendship and peace among the peoples of the world. Enjoy your Christmas holidays, in its true spirit of love, gratitude, compassion, giving and forgiving, knowing that it may have its origins in an ancient tradition which, as Carl Jung says, links us back to "the creative power of our own soul." As our teacher Rumi suggests, "Open up your hidden eyes and return to the root of the root of your own Self."


While every effort has been made to ensure the high quality and accuracy of this article, Iranica Institute makes no warranty, express or implied, concerning the contents of this article which are provided "as is." Iranica Institute expressly disclaims all warranties.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 26, 2004 1:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

my mistake sourena of course i meant the achamenian. And im almost 100% sure that coinage was created by the lydians. Darius merely created a coin that could be used throughout the empire - like the euro.
"When on the battlefield if you have the sole intention of breaking into the enemy lines, you will manifest martial valour. Furthermore if you are slain in battle you should be resolved to having your corpse facing the enemy" - Yamamoto tsunetomo
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 26, 2004 2:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

reza wrote:
my mistake sourena of course i meant the achamenian. And im almost 100% sure that coinage was created by the lydians. Darius merely created a coin that could be used throughout the empire - like the euro.

That is correct, the coin was created in the Lydian empire, later it spread to Persian and then Greece.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 28, 2004 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

thanks for the verification...

btw, he location of the three magi's grave is apparently in a cathedral built in their honour in germany.
"When on the battlefield if you have the sole intention of breaking into the enemy lines, you will manifest martial valour. Furthermore if you are slain in battle you should be resolved to having your corpse facing the enemy" - Yamamoto tsunetomo
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Really???? Here everyone says that they were from Arabia!!"


I've read a number of articles from Christian resources, particularly Catholic resources, which do mention the Magi were a Zoroastrian priesthood......makes sense, seeing that the Catholic church has borrowed a number of beliefs from Zoroastrianism which many Protestant denominations do not recognize.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 3:27 pm    Post subject: norouz Reply with quote





If the Western Historians were to let go of their grudge against Persian Civilization, and give the due credit where it belongs...

they could easily identify the ROOTS of many Sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Astrology, Mathematics, Geometry, Medicine, Metaphysics, Earth Sciences, etc...) in Persia.

It's not a mistry that the roots of all Monotheastic religions also come from Persia and Zoroaster (Zoroastrian: the first one God Ideology)

Persians gave much to Humanity, yet all History books intentionally ignore it alltogether.

It's mainly because of the British & European Colonialism; to take over a nation and their resources, first they had to dismise them with all their history, culture and values and dehumanize the nation so they make GOOD SLAVES & SUBJECTS!

Well, they've done their best, yet despite all their efforts, they could NOT behead our Persian Traditions and culture.

Mind you, they came closest to destroying our values and dehumanizing Iranians in past decades, by Empowering the Forces of Islamo-Fascism in Iran.

Mullahs, have long been helping the Colonialists to De-Persianize Iran!
They have not only failed, but created the sense of URGENCY amongst the population to GO BACK to their ROOTS.

The people who gave ANGELS to Humanity, will not be left alone!


The people who introduce PARADISE, and worked hard to bring it to Earth, CAN NOT be forced to live in HELL for LONG!

A huge part of the knowledge that helped create THE MODERN WORLD, was borrowed from the existing Scientific knowledge that came from Persia.

Much of the cultural celebrations also stem from Persian celebrations, yet the world stands mute when the same celebrations are BANNED inside Iran!

Not only that, but when Persians finally got to celebrate their beautiful civilization and culture after centuries of invasions and foreign rule, and opened their arms to world leaders to be a part of this celebration in SHIRAZ...the Brits left it with even more grudge than before, filled with jelousy and ignorant to the historic facts, they vowed to topple the Shah of Iran, and put an end to RETURN TO PERSIAN ROOTS.

Americans, on the other hand, are nothing like their old grumpy and often jelous European causins! quite the contrary, Americans, more like Persians, can appreciate Human Achievements and advancements no matter where on Earth.

As long as the old European Colonialists still hold some power, Humanity will not be free to HEAL the past wounds, and to CELEBRATE A NEW ERA OF SOLIDARITY, AND COMMON THRIVE FOR A BETTER WORLD FOR ALL.




[ persian new year, celebration of renewal of the Earth, at the arrival of each SPRING- MARCH 21st ]



Paayande Iran
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 12:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You who would say that the roots of all science and culture spring from iran, tell me more of this theory. Give me evidence of ANY scientific advances made by the achaemenids. I wouldd be thoroughly suprised to see it. And Zoarastrianism is older than judaism only by a hairs breadth, credit is not solely taken by persia for monotheism. The jews were jews long before persian domination.
"When on the battlefield if you have the sole intention of breaking into the enemy lines, you will manifest martial valour. Furthermore if you are slain in battle you should be resolved to having your corpse facing the enemy" - Yamamoto tsunetomo
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

They are wrong. Many older texts in Europe also get it right. Today there are many Christian groups that get it right also, and have identified them as Persian Kings, or Persian astrologers and occassionally Zoroastrian priests.

I have to agree with the history written in history books in both Europe and America - The three "magi" as you are calling them - were Astrologers- at THAT time they were know as "Chalodeans" or "KELDANĪ" as we call them... They were the first nation on earth to base their science on astrology and to use it as basis for mostly everything - medicine, education, government system, entertainment - you name it - Cheldeans exist today as a separate nation... Only now they have signed a mutual agreement with the Assyrians and procliaming themselves OFFICIALLY as ONE nation - "Cheldo-Assyrians"... Mostly the Cheldeans - which lived in todays Northern Iraq and between the to lakes of Wan and Ormiye have emerged into the Kurdish nation - which are today an Arian people... Like most people of Iran - except the Azeri...
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 04, 2005 5:42 pm    Post subject: OPENING THOUGHTS ANCIENT SOLSTICE ARCHITECTURES Reply with quote


Gift Idea For Holiday Season









Let's start with the science. The Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June -- by three million miles. Pretty much irrelevant to our planet. What causes the seasons is something completely different. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top frozen in one off-kilter position. Astronomers have even pinpointed the precise angle of the tilt. It's 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This planetary pose is what causes all the variety of our climate; all the drama and poetry of our seasons, since it determines how many hours and minutes each hemisphere receives precious sunlight.

Most of us have known something about this since grade school. What fascinates me about it is how we figured it out in the first place, especially before the advent of satellites and space travel. I haven't studied astronomy enough to understand fully how we came to know this. The axis is, after all, an imaginary line. But here's an eloquent perspective on that question from a Candlegrove visitor. Pretty basic stuff.

Solstice means...
Such precision we have about it now! Winter solstice is when...
...because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore:

The daylight is the shortest.

The sun has its lowest arc in the sky.

Interested in more about the science and math? Analemma When it's winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is directly overhead at noon only along the Tropic of Capricorn, on which lie such places as Sao Paulo, Brazil, southern Madagascar, and areas north of Brisbane, Australia.

Celebrated among the ancients as a turning point. No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

It's a charming theory. But who knows how accurate it is? Cultural anthropology has advanced a lot in the last 50 years!

Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration. Solstice celebrations: universal & perhaps much older than we know.

There's much new scholarship about Neolithic peoples and their amazing culture. For example, it now looks as though writing is much more ancient than we earlier thought -- as much as 10,000 years old.
Neolithic peoples were the first farmers. Their lives were intimately tied to the seasons and the cycle of harvest. I'm certain they were attuned to the turning skies.

Scholars haven't yet found proof that these peoples had the skill to pinpoint a celestial event like solstice. Earliest markers of time that we've found from these ancient peoples are notches carved into bone that appear to count the cycles of the moon. But perhaps they watched the movement of the sun as well as the moon, and perhaps they celebrated it -- with fertility rites, with fire festivals, with offerings and prayers to their gods and goddesses.

And perhaps, our impulse to hold onto certain traditions today -- candles, evergreens, feasting and generosity -- are echoes of a past that extends many thousands of years further than we ever before imagined.


"Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

--Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas

The ancients:
huge efforts to observe the solstices
An utterly astounding array of ancient cultures built their greatest architectures -- tombs, temples, cairns and sacred observatories -- so that they aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many of us know that Stonehenge is a perfect marker of both solstices.

But not so many people are familiar with Newgrange, a beautiful megalithic site in Ireland. This huge circular stone structure is estimated to be 5,000 years old, older by centuries than Stonehenge, older than the Egyptian pyramids! It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on winter solstice.

The light illuminates a stone basin below intricate carvings -- spirals, eye shapes, solar discs. Although not much is known about how Newgrange was used by its builders, marking the solstice was obviously of tremendous spiritual import to them. Here's more on this incredible ancient site.

Maeshowe, on the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, shares a similar trait, admitting the winter solstice setting sun. It is hailed as "one of the greatest architectural achievements of the prehistoric peoples of Scotland."

Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. The blossoming field of archaeoastronomy studies such sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Recent research into the medieval Great Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa (also known as the "African Stonehenge") indicates a similar purpose. In North America, one of the most famous such sites is the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built a thousand years ago by the Chacoans, ancestors of the Pueblo people. Even cultures that followed a moon-based calendar seemed also to understand the importance of these sun-facing seasonal turning points.

And now a book, The Sun in the Church reveals that many medieval Catholic churches were also built as solar observatories. The church, once again reinforcing the close ties between religious celebration and seasonal passages, needed astronomy to predict the date of Easter. And so observatories were built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. Typically, a small hole in the roof admitted a beam of sunlight, which would trace a path along the floor. The path, called the meridian line, was often marked by inlays and zodiacal motifs. The position at noon throughout the year, including the extremes of the solstices, was also carefully marked.


A linguistic puzzle.
The rebirth of the sun.
The birth of the Son.
Christmas was transplanted onto winter solstice some 1,600 years ago, centuries before the English language emerged from its Germanic roots. Is that why we came to express these two ideas in words that sound so similar?


A family fertility ritual from Romania.
You may have heard of apple wassailing, the medieval winter festival custom of blessing the apple trees with songs, dances, decorations and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility. Here's another, more obscure tradition that most certainly predates Christmas, and was probably once a solstice ritual, because it is so linked to the themes of nature's rebirth and fertility. In Romania, there's a traditional Christmas confection called a turta. It is made of many layers of pastry dough, filled with melted sugar or honey, ground walnuts, or hemp seed.
In this tradition, with the making of the cake families enact a lovely little ceremony to assure the fruitfulness of their orchard come spring. When the wife is in the midst of kneading the dough, she follows her husband into the wintry garden. The man goes from barren tree to tree, threatening to cut each one down. Each time, the wife urges that he spare the tree by saying:
"Oh no, I am sure that this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this day."


Winter solstice in many cultures.
Winter solstice was overlaid with Christmas, and the observance of Christmas spread throughout the globe. Along the way, we lost some of the deep connection of our celebrations to a fundamental seasonal, hemispheric event. Many people--of many beliefs--are looking to regain that connection now.
I gain inspiration from the universality of the ancient idea--winter solstice celebrations aren't just an invention of the ancient Europeans.

Native Americans had winter solstice rites. The sun images at right are from rock paintings of the Chumash, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Solstices were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice celebration lasted several days.

In Iran, there is the observance of Yalda, in which families kept vigil through the night and fires burned brightly to help the sun (and Goodness) battle darkness (thought evil).

Winter solstice celebrations are also part of the cultural heritage of Pakistan and Tibet. And in China, even though the calendar is based on the moon, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi, "The Arrival of Winter." The cold of winter made an excellent excuse for a feast, so that's how the Chinese observed it, with Ju Dong, "doing the winter."

I'm certain there are other examples...I'm just starting to collect them. Candlegrove visitors have told me of celebrations among the Hopi and Iranians, among others. Know of any others you'd like to share?

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season?

The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. It commemorates an historic event -- the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year. As a symbolic celebration of growing light and as a commemoration of spiritual rebirth, it also seems closely related to other observances.


In song
The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

Now, where do you suppose the first couple of lines of this carol came from?
There is a whole series of medieval English carols on the subject of the rivalry between the holly and the ivy. In many of them, the holly and ivy symbolized male and female, and the songs narrated their often rowdy vying for mastery in the forest or in the house.

And the next time you find yourself in a store, getting annoyed at incessant repetitions of "the Carol of the Bells," consider this: it's a remnant of the pre-Christian winter solstice celebration in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian carol called "Shchedryk" has the same melody as the Carol of the Bells, but different English words. The word "Shchedryk" means the "Generous One". It refers to the god of generosity, the Dazh Boh - the Giver God, which is the sun. I learned this fascinating fact from a Candlegrove visitor (a beautiful, thoughtful essay, don't miss it!).


A time of magic.
In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination--foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.

In Russia, there's a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.
The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.

In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-togehter. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along, as well.

In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.

And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So keep those candles burning!


Winter solstice this year.
Winter solstice for 2005 will occur at 10:35 am PST on December 21. If you want to be precise about it, please be sure to correct for your time zone. Planning for upcoming seasons? Here's a chart through 2020, but it's based on Universal Time, so you'll need to adjust it for your time zone.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2006 9:20 pm    Post subject: Merry Yalda - The Iranian Christmas Reply with quote

Merry Yalda
The Iranian Christmas


December 21, 2001
The Iranian

Lecture at the Colorado Persian Society on December 20, 2001.

First of all let me apologize for my harsh voice that is punctuating my words and sentences with a mixture of dry coughs and hard breaths. It is the same old Winter again, difficult and miserable, and I have been invaded by its invisible army of cold weather that comes, conquers your body and puts you under house arrest for a few days. In these last two days I have been talking, or perhaps I should say "praying", to the Iranian Sun God, Mithra, who is supposed to defeat this invisible enemy and bring back the warmth and health of better times. I, of course, have used cold medicine as well, just to be on the safe side. You never know which one will be more effective, prayer or medicine. So, it's always better to use a mixture of them!

The interesting point is that we, Iranians, did not use to think of a God called Mithra. Many of us had not even heard of his name. But, for more than 20 years Iranians all over the world have been getting together at a night such as tonight and celebrating his mythical birth. Celebration aside, I would like to say a few words about this strange and highly significant socio-cultural phenomenon in the contemporary history of my country.

During the last 23 years, millions of Iranians have been driven out of their motherland due to political, social and economic hardships. And it has been during this long period of exile that we have begun a new search for our roots -- not because we are now living as aliens in new habitats but because we have become emphatically stricken by an alien version of Islam in our own land. The coming to power of a certain stratum of Shi'ite clergy in Iran and its forceful imposition of what it sees as "Islamic rules" has created a certain psychological upheaval in all of us, forcing us to remember a far-away past when Iran was an independent empire with its own home-brewed religion(s). We have been reminded that our great country was invaded, conquered and in many ways, raped by the new Muslim converts from the Arabian Peninsula some 1400 years ago. The Islamic Revolution seems like a re-run of that catastrophe!

All through these centuries, we have not accepted that we became Muslims because of the defeat in the hands of Arabs. First and foremost, we have resisted in adopting Arabic as our language -- unlike other South Eastern Muslim nations (from Syria and Iraq to all of North Africa) who accepted Arabic as a fact of life, losing their language and, thus, their ancient identities. We still read the Qoran, the Muslim holy book, in its native language, Arabic, and do not understand it. We say our prayers to Allah in Arabic and hardly know what we are saying to the Almighty! We have transformed Arabic Islam and invented many Persian versions of it that suit our own native needs and concerns, none of which are accepted by the rest of the Muslim world.

In fact, the history of Iran and Iranians during the last 1400 years could be read as the history of Iranian resistance towards the prevalence of Arabic culture and traditions. This history has had its periods of inactivity, as well as many periods of high active endeavors. There are many historical names we still give to our children that signify such historical struggles. For example, the two Persian names of Baabak and Afshin remind us of the bloody resistance movements led by those great men against Arab domination of Iran. Our great poet, Ferdowsi, was able to preserve our Persian language single-handedly through his masterpiece, Shaahnaame, merely by emphasizing the non-Arabic traits of our history and culture. Poets, thinkers and mystics like Haafez, Mowlaanaa and Sa'di, were instrumental in giving new and humane interpretations to many brutal and uncivilized traditions that were imposed on a country with 3,000 years of pre-Islamic history.

And their endeavors were based on their reference to a heritage that was given to them by their fathers and mothers under the watchful eye of a hostile political force that burnt libraries, changed historical facts and fabricated whatever necessary to convert a nation to a completely alien culture. And 23 years ago we faced one of these moments of high history. The brand of Islam advocated and implemented by the ruling clergy in what came to be known as the Islamic Revolution was not one of the home-brewed Iranian versions of Islam, but a brutal and bloody version that claimed to be the true Islam of Prophet Mohammad himself. One, of course, could embark on negating this claim by studying Islamic history and showing the discrepancies that might be hidden in the former. And many scholars have been doing so. But, on a national and popular scale, the result of our experience with the Islamic Revolution was the onset of a fresh search for finding something mysterious, something that could be called "Iranianism".

Our younger generation, though not directly involved in that Revolution, had to face this problematic too. They had to accept their Iranian identity in the eyes of non-Iranian environments that encircled them and looked at them as foreigners. But, at the same time, Iranians had to prove to the world that what was being presented as Iranian culture by the zealot Islamic government is not what really Iranian. So, two generations, with two different agendas, were forced to search their common roots, hidden under the surface of a thick historical mishmash.

The onset of research for the understanding of our roots opens our eyes to ancient ways of seeing the world, including our true original "religion". But what am I saying? A religion yet again? Aren't we presently escaping the atrocities of a religious oligarchy? So why should we find refuge in the arms of another religion, one that is even older than the present one? To me, the fact of the matter is that there are always two kinds of religions in all societies. We can call them "natural religions" and "supernatural (or abstract) religions". Human societies all began with the natural one.

Natural religions are systems of interpreting the world around us and making its ever-repeating movements acceptable to our inquisitive brains, upon the limited knowledge and understanding we have in each historical period. In this process, elements of nature are first "personified". They come to be seen and begin to behave like human beings. And then, being much more powerful than the fragile man, they become regarded as super-persons who have their own independent agenda and affect human life in so many ways. We have to learn how to deal with these super powers that are ever present in our daily lives.

We have to attract their love, affection and emotions.To do so, we have to have affectionate and emotional relationships with them. We have to live with them in peace. We should not be afraid of them. In fact, they are all providing us with all we need for our existence. In a way, we are mixed with them, we are part of their world and it is our coexistence with them that can preserve life in peace and prosperity.

On the other hand, abstract religions are the result of a much later stage in the development of human societies. They reflect the advent of civil life in cities with central governments and complicated legal requirements. At the center of this new religious universe comes the shape of a single omnipresent and omnipotent God who has created us and wants us to live according to his rules and laws. This God is an abstract one who is not tangible through our senses and daily experiences. He talks to us in installments and through prophets, saints and, ultimately, the Church or the Mosque as the supposed embodiment of the sacred heritage of the religion.

Living under the rules of an abstract God is hard and difficult. These rules are against human desire for freedom of action and expression. And, then, once a religious institution becomes able to attain political power, a harsh drive towards uniformity and non-individuality begins. This is against human nature too. It is based on coercion and fear, threat and torture. And it ultimately forces its subject to find a way to curb its imposing might. This is always a high turning point of a history. This is that important historical moment when a nation begins to find a way out of deadlock by searching for its very old identity.

In recent times, we experienced such a situation nearly 100 years ago during the Constitutional Revolution. A 100 years before that, Iranians were pushed by their religious leaders into a war with their neighboring power, Russia. They were shamefully defeated and crushed by the might of a modernized Russian army. They lost vast areas of their country and found out that their God did not help them in their "holy war" (Jihaad) against Russian foes. This experience was the beginning of a search for a new national identity. Our intellectuals looked for something helpful amongst the scattered reminiscences of our pre-Islamic history and came up with a total package that could modernize Iran and give some kind of needed glory to it. Remember Malkam Khan? Mirza Agha Khan e Kermani? Taghizadeh? Sadegh Hedayat? Ahmad Kasravi? Nima Yushij? Pour-Davood? Go and read them and see what they are presenting in their writings. The important thing is that here again, what had come to our aid was our pre-Islamic heritage. And what I want to show you tonight is the fact that we again are resorting to the same heritage to find our new answers for our new problems.

All through our history, we have oscillated between the heritage of a natural religion developed by our forefathers and the rule of some abstract religion that has sprung out of the necessities of our civil life. It has delimited our freedom and tainted our lives with unnatural conditions. The important thing to note is that if the abstract religion has changed, say from Zoroastrianism to Islam, the natural religion has been intact, each time appearing in a new disguise to suit our new needs. In every historical period the abstract religion has done its best to annihilate this natural religion and delete it from the communal memory of us Iranians and, at each high historical moment, that natural religion has reappeared out of many ordinary traditions, rituals, and festivities that punctuate our daily lives to revive our hope for a better future.

Think for a moment about the power that is hidden in an ordinary but highly popular festivity called "Chaar-shanbe Suri". This last Spring, it made the religious rulers of Iran so furious that they had to put hundreds of young participants in jail. It is a powerful celebration because it is a ritual and a common social action that is not related to any abstract and institutionalized religion with its rigid rules. There is no sacred act or thing in it. It is not an act of worshipping fire. You make make a fire from bundles of thistle and thorns, then jump over them with joy and enthusiasm. You become mixed with an element of nature, dance with its flames and absorb its kind warmth. You do not think of an abstract God who is sitting on a thrown somewhere in Heaven and expects you to suppress your joy and behave in his ever lasting and expanding presence.

So, it is this unifying power of our ancient natural religion that has helped us preserve our identity and humanity all through this long history of wars, victories and defeats. Therefore, let us think about this unique source of cultural survival in some more details.

Historical facts show Iranians were a part of Aryan tribes that lived in the meadows of Central Asia. Some 8,000 years ago, due to natural causes still exposed to scientific debate, they began to move out of their habitats and scatter in all directions. Some of went to lands now known as the Far East. Some went to Indian sub-continent, some to present Europe and some, mostly Medes, Parthians and Parsies (together known as "Iranians), came to the Iranian plateau from both sides of the Caspian Sea, settling in present day Khorasan in eastern Iran and Fars/Pars in the south and Azarbaijan in the west. This process of immigration took more than 5,000 years until permanent settlement. Studies in ancient languages show that even after thousands of years, languages used by these variegated immigrant tribes have preserved a lot of common features. That is why we hear linguists and archeologists talk about Indo-European languages, with the "Iranian" languages branch being a major offshoot.

These Arian tribes brought along their natural religion with them too. That is why, for example, we can see the same natural gods in both Iranian and Indian mythologies. For Arian tribes, there existed a pantheon of natural gods, consisting of a god for every natural phenomenon. Amongst these natural gods, Mithra was considered the central figure. It represented the Sun, the source of life and growth. In contrast to Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula who were exposed to the deadly heat of an ever-shining sun that inspired them to conceive their gods. Aryan tribes were in love with the sun. It is not an accidental fact that the word "Mehr" (a later pronunciation for Mithra), has a double meaning in the Persian language. It means "sun" as well as "love". Mithra is the protector of life, loving emotions, relationships and contracts and the structure of the whole universe. And, on the earth, he is represented by the element of fire. In fact, Aryans were not worshipers of fire but esteemed it as a part of the sun whose real embodiment was the gracious Mithra.

In this relation, it is interesting to look at the story of Mithra's birth: The universe was cold, dark and condensed into a hard stone. And Mithra was born out of that germinal stone in the longest and darkest night of the year -- the winter solstice. The similarity of this myth with the story of discovery of fire narrated by Ferdowsi is also interesting. He says an Iranian mythological king made the first fire by pounding a piece of stone on a boulder. Here, too, fire is born out of the bulky and hard body of the stone.

The selection of winter solstice as the birth night of Mithra is also significant. The sun is born in the longest night of the year. With the coming of dawn, night is on retreat and days grow longer. Iranians called the first day of winter "Khorram Ruz" that meant "Happy Day". Thus, they believed that in the depth of darkness, there was light and in the depth of stone there was fire. You can follow this symbolism of natural elements all through Iranian culture and literature: Hope is born when you are totally desperate; Justice comes at the height of despotic atrocities.

The festivities of Mithra's birth are all based on the requirements of an agricultural community with natural means of survival. Summer is gone, the weather is cold and harsh, there is no work left to be done. It is time to gather around the warmth of fire during the long nights and talk about better days ahead. We can dance around the fire, sing songs, and feast on nuts, raisins and fruits. Then we go to sleep with the confidence that the sun, the great Mithra, is on his way to prevail the next day.

As a natural religion, Mithraism was not institutionalized. Rather itwas scattered and individualized. It was based on the unity of man and universe and the ability of the former to rediscover this unity through his love for Mithra. Mithra is the mother of all Eastern mystical faiths. Buddhism, Manicheism, as well as true Persian Erfan, are some of its many interpretations. But what makes it so relevant to our lives here in the West is the fact that Christianity, as we know it, is also a mixture of a primitive form of Christian faith and a highly developed version of Mithraism in the fourth century of the Christian calendar. This amalgamation took place in the Roman Empire.

Mithraism had never become the state religion of the Persian Empire. For more than a thousand years, Iranian kings refused to accept and adopt a state religion. Religion was seen as a personal and community-related matter. It as nothing to do with government. This, of course, does not mean that the king and his administrators did not have their own religious beliefs. But we see ancient kings praying to different gods worshiped by their peoples. Freedom of religion was the key to success in their empire building. Even the advent of the abstract religion of Zoroaster (Zartosht) in the Iranian plateau did not put an end to the prevalence of Mithraism amongst Iranians. It was only after the adaptation of Christianity by the Roman Empire that the Sassanid kings of Iran decided to unify their people under the banner of a state religion. Many brutal policies followed, which ultimately caused its demise in the hands of the Muslim-Arab invaders.

Meanwhile Iranian and the Roman empires were engaged in war more than 300 years, a war that inevitably brought them together and worked also as a cultural liaison between the two fighting nations. Mithraism crept into the Roman Empire in many ways but mostly through Iranian soldiers captured in battlefields. Soon it caught the attention of army leaders and worshiping Mithra and being a Roman soldier became one. Here, Mithraism was institutionalized and gained fixed rituals and ceremonies. What we read about Roman Mithraism is not the faith that existed in Iran.

At the same time, and outside the roman army barracks, a new religion was spreading amongst the mobs as well. It was the worship of the son of the Jewish God who came to be known as Jesus Christ. The idea was rejected by the Jewish authorities but was welcomed by the oppressed people. Within three centuries Christianity became so prevalent that Roman emperors were forced to accept Christianity as their state religion. This was to be different from what people had accepted in their hearts. It was to be a mixture of militant Mithraism and popular Christian faith with some other added ingredients from Greek mythology and even Egyptian history. There ensued an interesting process of unification by which Mithra and Christ became one. Mithra's birth night became the birthday of Christ and many of the Mithraic rituals were adapted as Christian ones.

I do not intend to go into details of this unification. The important thing I want to emphasize is the fact that we have embarked on a search for our true identity and have come up with a lot of information that's going to take our origins out of the Arabic/Muslim culture and put it as the source of that culture and civilization that was developed by Christian Europeans and Americans. We have discovered that our roots are the same, our languages belong to the same family and, now, our religious rituals, as far as they adhere to their natural frameworks and perspectives, come from the same source.

It is both surprising and delightful to look at Christmas trees and their decorations and remind ourselves that this is the same evergreen or Cypress tree (Sarv) our ancestors used to decorate in their cottages for the birth night of Mithra. This universality of our New Year festivities opens the door to a more humanistic and naturalistic perspectives. Every Sunday -- that is, the day of the Sun God! -- we should remember that it is really Mithra, the Arian-Iranian God of the Sun and love, who is also being worshipped in every Christian church.

Every Christmas, we should remind ourselves that it is Yalda again. During every Yalda we celebrate both the rebirth of the sun and the birth of a man who is supposed to have come for the salvation of human kind. This is the magic of cultural genetics at work. We are all from the same origin and same sequence of genes. We are a configuration of natural elements. A mixture of wind, earth, water and fire. And between two brackets of "ashes", it is the fire that symbolizes our life and well-being. Fire makes us and swallows us, we make fire and coexist with it. We are the created the and creator. As Mithra is.

Let me finish my words with a line of poetry by our great poet, Hafez, who, I believe, was a Mithraic thinker and artist. By the magic of his pne,, he reverses the cause-effect relationship between the Sun and the life of the human kind and writes:

Out of the hidden fire in my chest

The sun is just a flame

Keeping the sky ablaze.
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