THE mythology of the Indians and the Iranians has given a wide extension to the conception of a struggle between light and darkness, this being the development of myths dating back to Indo-European times and found among all Indo-European peoples. Besides the cosmogonic stories in which monstrous giants are killed by the gods of sky or storm we have the myths of the storm and of the fire. In the former a heavenly being slays the dragon concealed in the cloud, whose waters now flow over the earth; or the god delivers from a monster the cows of the clouds that are imprisoned in some mountain or cavern, as, for example, in the legends concerning Herakles and Geryoneus or Cacus (1). In the second class of myths the fire of heaven, produced in the cloud or in an aerial sea, is brought to earth by a bird or by a daring human being like Prometheus.
All these myths tell of a struggle against powers of darkness for light or for blessings under the form of rain. They were eminently susceptible of being systematized in a dualistic form, and the strong tendency toward symbolism, observable both in old Indian (Vedic) and old Iranian conceptions, resulted in the association of moral ideas with the cosmic struggle, thus easily leading to dualism.
The recent discoveries in Boghaz Kyoi and elsewhere in the Near East have shown that the Indo-Iranians were in contact with Assyro-Babylonian culture at an early date, and there  are many reasons for believing that their religious ideas were influenced by their neighbours, especially as regards the group of gods known in India as the Adityas, whose function is to be the guardians of the law (Sanskrit rta Avesta asha) and of morality (2).
Now, Babylonian mythology could only confirm the Indo-Iranians in their conceptions concerning the cosmic battle against maleficent forces or monstrous beings. Thus Assyro-Babylonian legends tell of the fight between Tiamat, a huge monster of forbidding aspect, embodying primeval chaos, and Marduk, a solar deity. As Professor Morris Jastrow suggests (3), the myth is based upon the annual phenomenon witnessed in Babylonia when the whole valley is flooded, when storms sweep across the plains, and the sun is obscured. A conflict is going on between the waters and storms on the one hand, and the sun on the other; but the latter is finally victorious, for Marduk subdues Tiamat and triumphantly marches across the heavens from one end to the other as general overseer.
In other myths, more specifically those of the storm, the storm is represented by a bull (4), an idea not far remote from the Indo-Iranian conception which identifies the storm-cloud with a cow or an ox. The storm-god is likewise symbolized under the form of a bird, a figure which we also find in Iranian myths, as when an eagle brings to the earth the fire of heaven, the lightning. Similarly in Babylonian mythology the bird Zu endeavours to capture the tablets of Fate from En-lil, and during the contest which takes place in heaven Zu seizes the tablets, which only Marduk can recover. Like the dragon who has hidden the cows, Zu dwells in an inaccessible recess in the mountains, and Ramman, the storm-god, is invoked to conquer him with his weapon, the thunderbolt (5).
1. TYPICAL REPRESENTATION OF MITHRA
Mithra is shown sacrificing the bull in the cave. Beneath the bull is the serpent, and the dog springs at the bull's throat, licking the blood which pours from the wound. The raven, the bird sacred to Mithra, is also present. On either side of the god stands a torch-bearer, symbolizing the rising and the setting sun respectively, and above them are the sun and the moon in their chariots. This Borghesi bas-relief in white marble, now in the Louvre, was originally in the Mithraeum of the Capitol at Rome. After Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, Fig. 4.
2. SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF MITHRA
This bas-relief, discovered in 1838 at Neuenheim, near Heidelberg, shows in the border, round the central figure of the tauroctonous deity, twelve of the principal events in his life. Among them the clearest are his birth from the rock (top of the border to the left), his capture of the bull, which he carries to the cave (border to the right), and his ascent to Ahura Mazda (top border). The second scene from the top on the border to the left represents Kronos (Zarvan, or "Time") investing Zeus (Ahura Mazda) with the sceptre of the universe. After Cumont, The Mysteries of Mithra, Fig. 15.
In Iran, Indra is practically excluded from the pantheon, being merely mentioned from time to time as a demon of Angra Mainyu. Trita, on the other hand, is known as a beneficent hero, one of the first priests who prepared haoma (the Indian soma) (8), the plant of life, and as such he is called the first healer, the wise, the strong "who drove back sickness to sickness, death to death." He asked for a source of remedies, and Ahura Mazda brought down the healing plants which by many myriads grew up all around the tree Gaokerena, or White Haoma (9). Thus, under the name of Thrita (Sanskrit Trita) he is the giver of the beverage made from the juice of the marvellous plant that grows on the summits of mountains, just as Trita is in India (10).
Under the appellation of Thraetaona, son of Athwya (Sanskrit Aptya), another preparer of haoma (11), he smote the dragon Azhi Dahaka, three-jawed and triple-headed, six-eyed, with mighty strength, an imp of the spirit of deceit created by Angra  Mainyu to slaughter Iranian settlements and to murder the faithful of Asha ("Justice"), the scene of the struggle being "the four-cornered Varena," a mythical, remote region. Like the storm-gods and the bringers of fire, Thraetaona sometimes reveals himself in the shape of a bird, a vulture (12), and later we shall see how, under the name of Faridun, he becomes an important hero in the Persian epic. His mythical nature appears clearly if one compares the storm-stories in the Veda with those in the Avesta. All essential features are the same on both sides. The myth of a conflict between a god of light or storm and a dragon assumes many shapes in Iran, although in its general outlines it is unchanging. In Thraetaona's struggle the victor was, as we have seen, connected with fire. Now fire itself, under the name of Atar, son of Ahura Mazda, is represented as having been in combat with the dragon Azhi Dahaka:
"Fire, Ahura Mazda's offspring,
Then did hasten, hasten forward,
Thus within himself communing:
Let me seize that Glory unattainable.
But behind him hurtled onward
Azhi, blasphemies outpouring,
Triple-mouthed and evil-creeded:
Back! let this be told thee,
Fire, Ahura Mazda's offspring:
If thou holdest fast that thing unattainable,
Thee will I destroy entirely,
That thou shalt no more be gleaming
On the earth Mazda-created,
For protecting Asha's creatures.
Then Atar drew back his hands,
Anxious, for his life affrighted,
So much Azhi had alarmed him.
Then did hurtle, hurtle forward,
Triple-mouthed and evil-creeded,
Azhi, thus within him thinking:
Let me seize that Glory unattainable.
But behind him hastened onward
Fire, Ahura Mazda's offspring,
Speaking thus with words of meaning:
 Hence! let this be told thee,
Azhi, triple-mouthed Dahaka:
If thou holdest fast that thing unattainable,
I shall sparkle up thy buttocks,
I shall gleam upon thy jaw (13),
That thou shalt no more be coming
On the earth Mazda-created,
For destroying Asha's creatures.
Then Azhi drew back his hands,
Anxious, for his life affrighted,
So much Atar had alarmed him.
Forth that Glory went up-swelling
To the ocean Vourukasha.
Straightway then the Child of Waters,
Swift of horses, seized upon him.
This doth the Child of Waters, swift of horses, desire:
Let me seize that Glory unattainable
To the bottom of deep ocean,
In the bottom of profound gulfs." (14)
Although much uncertainty reigns as to the localization of the sea Vourukasha and the nature of the "Son of the Waters" (Apam Napat), the prevalent opinion is that they are respectively the waters on high and the fire above, which is born from the clouds.
The Avesta's most poetical accounts of the contest on high are, however, not the descriptions of battles with Azhi Dahaka, but the vivid pictures of the victory of Tishtrya, the dog-star (Sirius), over Apaosha, the demon of drought (15). Drought and the heat of summer were the great scourges in Iranian countries, and Sirius, the star of the dog-days, was supposed to bring the beneficent summer showers, whereas Apaosha, the evil demon, was said to have captured the waters, which had to be released by the god of the dog-star. Accordingly we find the faithful singing:
"Tishtrya the star we worship,
Full of brilliancy and glory,
Holding water's seed and mighty,
Tall and strong, afar off seeing,
Tall, in realms supernal working,
 For whom yearn flocks and herds and men
When will Tishtrya be rising,
Full of brilliancy and glory?
When, Oh, when, will springs of water
Flow again, more strong than horses?" (16)
Tishtrya listens to the prayer of the faithful, and being satisfied with the sacrifice and the libations, he descends to the sea Vourukasha in the shape of a white, beautiful horse, with golden ears and caparisoned in gold. But the demon Apaosha rushes down to meet him in the form of a dark horse, bald with bald ears, bald with a bald back, bald with a bald tail, a frightful horse. They meet together, hoof against hoof; they fight together for three days and nights. Then the demon Apaosha proves stronger than the bright and glorious Tishtrya and over comes him, and he drives him back a full mile from the sea Vourukasha. In deep distress the bright and glorious Tishtrya cries out:
"Woe to me, Ahura Mazda!
Bane for you, ye plants and waters !
Doomed the faith that worships Mazda!
Now men do not worship me with worship that speaks my name.
If men should worship me with worship that speaks my name, . . .
For myself I'd then be gaining
Strength of horses ten in number,
Strength of camels ten in number,
Strength of oxen ten in number,
Strength of mountains ten in number,
Strength of navigable rivers ten in number." (17)
Hearing his lament, the faithful offer a sacrifice to Tishtrya, and the bright and glorious one descends yet again to the sea Vourukasha in the guise of a white, beautiful horse, with golden ears and caparisoned in gold. Once more the demon Apaosha rushes down to meet him in the form of a dark horse, bald with bald ears. They meet together, they fight together at the time of noon. Then Tishtrya proves stronger than Apaosha and  overcomes him, driving him far from the sea Vourukasha and shouting aloud:
"Hail to me, Ahura Mazda!
Hail to you, ye plants and waters!
Hail the faith that worships Mazda!
Hail be unto you, ye countries!
Up now, O ye water-channels,
Go ye forth and stream unhindered
To the corn that hath the great grains,
To the grass that hath the small grains,
To corporeal creation." (18)
Then Tishtrya goes to the sea Vourukasha and makes it boil up and down, causing it to stream up and over its shores, so that not only the shores of the sea, but its centre, are boiling over. After this vapours rise up above Mount Ushindu that stands in the middle of the sea Vourukasha, and they push forward, forming clouds and following the south wind along the ways traversed by Haoma, the bestower of prosperity. Behind him rushes the mighty wind of Mazda, and the rain and the cloud and the hail, down to the villages, down to the fields, down to the seven regions of earth.
Not only does Tishtrya enter the contest as a horse, but he also appears as a bull, a disguise which reminds us of the Semitic myth in which the storm-god Zu fights under the shape of a bull, and which is an allusion to the violence of the storms and to the fertility which water brings to the world.
Finally Tishtrya is changed into a brilliant youth, and that is why he is invoked for wealth of male children. In this avatar he manifests himself
"With the body of a young man,
Fifteen years of age and shining,
Clear of eye, and tall, and sturdy,
Full of strength, and very skilful." (19)
This rain-myth was later converted into a cosmic story, and Tishtrya's shower was supposed to have taken place in  primeval times before the appearance of man on earth, in order to destroy the evil creatures produced by Angra Mainyu as a counterpart of Mazda's creation. Tishtrya's co-operators were Vohu Manah, the Amesha Spentas, and Haoma, and he produced rain during ten days and ten nights in each one of the three forms which he assumed an allusion to the dog-days that were supposed to be thirty in number. "Every single drop of that rain became as big as a bowl, and the water stood the height of a man over the whole of this earth; and the noxious creatures on the earth being all killed by the rain, went into the holes of the earth." Afterward the wind blew, and the water was all swept away and was brought out to the borders of the earth, and the sea Vourukasha ("Wide-Gulfed") arose from it. "The noxious creatures remained dead within the earth, and their venom and stench were mingled with the earth, and in order to carry that poison away from the earth Tishtar went down into the ocean in the form of a white horse with long hoofs," conquering Apaosha and causing the rivers to flow out (20).
In his function of collector and distributor of waters from the sea Vourukasha, Tishtrya is aided by a strange mythical being, called the three-legged ass. "It stands amid the wide-formed ocean, and its feet are three, eyes six, mouths nine, ears two, and horn one, body white, food spiritual, and it is righteous. And two of its six eyes are in the position of eyes, two on the top of the head, and two in the position of the hump; with the sharpness of those six eyes it overcomes and destroys. Of the nine mouths three are in the head, three in the hump, and three in the inner part of the flanks; and each mouth is about the size of a cottage, and it is itself as large as Mount Alvand [eleven thousand feet above the sea]. . . . When that ass shall hold its neck in the ocean its ears will terrify, and all the water of the wide formed ocean will shake with agitation. . . . When it stales in the ocean all the sea-water will become purified." Otherwise, "all the water in the sea would have  perished from the contamination which the poison of the evil spirit has brought into its water" (21). Darmesteter thinks this ass is another incarnation of the storm-cloud, whereas West maintains that it is some foreign god tolerated by the Mazdean priests and fitted into their system (22).
Zoroastrianism, being inclined to abstraction and to personifying abstractions, has created a genius of victory, embodying the conquest of evil creatures and foes of every description which the myths attribute to Thraetaona, Tishtrya, and other heroes. The name of this deity is Verethraghna ("Victory over Adverse Attack"), an expression reminding us of the epithet Vrtrahan ("Slayer of Vrtra") of the mighty Vedic conqueror-god Indra. The vrtra, the "attack," is in the latter case made into the name of the assailing dragon Ahi, the Iranian Azhi.
Verethraghna penetrated into popular worship and even became the great Hercules of the Armenians, who were for centuries under the influence of Iranian culture and who called the hero Vahagn, a corruption of Verethraghna (23). He was supposed to have been born in the ocean, probably a reminiscence of the sea Vourukasha, and he mastered not only the dragon Azhi, whom we know, but also Vishapa, whose name in the Avesta is an epithet of Azhi, meaning "whose saliva is poisonous," and he fettered them on Mount Damavand (24). In a hymn of the Avesta (25) the various incarnations of Verethraghna are enumerated. Here he describes himself as "the mightiest in might, the most victorious in victory, the most glorious in glory, the most favouring in favour, the most advantageous in advantage, the most healing in healing" (26). He destroys the malice of all the malicious, of demons as well as of men, of sorcerers and spirits of seduction, and of other evil beings. He comes in the shape of a strong, beautiful wind, bearing the Glory made by Mazda that is both health and strength (27); and next he conquers in the form of a handsome bull, with yellow ears and golden horns (28).
 Thirdly, he is a white, beautiful horse like Tishtrya, and then a burden-bearing camel, sharp-toothed and long-haired. The fifth time he is a wild boar, and next, once more like Tishtrya, he manifests himself in the guise of a handsome youth of fifteen, shining, clear-eyed, and slender-heeled.
The seventh time he appears:
"In the shape of the Vareghna,
Grasping prey with what is lower,
Rending prey with what is upper (29),
Who of bird-kind is the swiftest,
Lightest, too, of them that fare forth.
He alone of all things living
To the arrow's flight attaineth,
Though well shot it speedeth onward.
Forth he flies with ruffling feathers
When the dawn begins to glimmer,
Seeking evening meals at nightfall,
Seeking morning meals at sunrise,
Skimming o'er the valleyed ridges,
Skimming o'er the lofty hill-tops,
Skimming o'er deep vales of rivers,
Skimming o'er the forests summits,
Hearing what the birds may utter." (30)
Then Verethraghna comes as "a beautiful wild ram, with horns bent round," and again as "a fighting buck with sharp horns." That these are symbols of virility is shown by the next avatar, the tenth, in which he appears
"In a shining hero's body,
Fair of form, Mazda-created,
With a dagger gold-damascened,
Beautified with all adornment.
IRANIAN DEITIES ON INDO-SCYTHIAN AND SASSANIAN COINS
The god bears bow and arrows, and his representation as female is probably due to imitation of the Greek Artemis. From a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Huviska. After Stein, Zoroastrian Deities on Indo-Scytbian Coins, No. X.
2. KHSHATHRA VAIRYA
The deity "Desirable Kingdom," who is also the god of metals, is appropriately represented in full metal armour. From a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Huviska. After Stein, Zoroastrian Deities on Indo-Scythian Coins, No. XI.
This goddess is evidently modelled on the Greek Tyche ("Fortune") and has been held to be the divinity Ashi. The name, as given on the coin, seems to mean "Augmenting Righteousness," and in view of the reference to Haurvatat and Ameretat as "the companions who augment righteousness" (ashaokhshayantao saredyayao, Yasna, xxxiii. 8-9), the Editor suggests that Ardokhsho may be one of these Amesha Spentas, probably Ameretat, the deity of vegetation. From a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Huviska. After Stein, Zoroastrian Deities on Indo-Scythian Coins, No. XVI.
4. ASHA VAHISHTA
In every respect except the name this deity is represented precisely like Mithra. From a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Huviska. After Stein, Zoroastrian Deities on Indo-Scythian Coins, No. XVII.
5. AHURA MAZDA
The conventional representation of Ahura Mazda floats above what appears to be a fire temple, rather than an altar, from which rise the sacred flames. From a Parthian coin. After Drouin, in Revue archeologique, 1884, Plate V, No. 2.
6. FIRE ALTAR
The altar here appears in its simplest form. From a Sassanian coin in the collection of the Editor.
7. FIRE ALTAR
The altar is here much more elaborate in form. From a Sassanian coin in the collection of the Editor.
Of interest as showing the appearance of a Fravashi ("Genius") in the flame, and as representing the king as one of the guardians of the fire, although strictly only the priests are permitted to enter Atar's presence. From a Sassanian coin. After Dorn, Collection de monnaies sassanides de ... 7. de Bartholomaei, Plate VI, No. i.
Yet even this is not all, for we are also told that
"Be they men or be they demons,
Verethraghna, Ahura's creature,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Breaketh battle-hosts in pieces,
Cutteth battle-hosts asunder,
Presseth battle-hosts full sorely,
Shaketh battle-hosts with terror.
Then, when Verethraghna, Ahura's creature,
Bindeth fast the hands behind them,
Teareth out the eyeballs from them,
Maketh dull the ears with deafness
Of the close battle-hosts of the confederated countries,
Of the men false to Mithra [or, belying their pledges],
They cannot maintain their footing,
They cannot oppose resistance." (32)
The poetic inspiration of this hymn has made it interesting to quote it at some length, especially as it shows the concentration in the person of the genius of victory of many features belonging to the old myths of contests on high.
This story was apt to have many replicas. Beyond those mentioned here Persian mythology possessed several more, such as the story of Keresaspa, who smote the horny dragon or the golden-heeled Gandarewa (33) and whose exploits have been made the subject of an extensive narrative in the Shahnamah, as will be set forth later on.
Iranian mythology, being essentially dualistic, contains numerous other contests, such as the overpowering of Yima, the king of the golden age, by Azhi Dahaka, the killing of the primeval bull by Mithra, the battle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu in the first times of creation, the war waged by Zarathushtra, the prophet, against the tenets of the  demons, and the same struggle at the end of the world by the future prophet Saoshyant.
All this will be considered in subsequent chapters, and all this, according to certain mythologists like James Darmesteter, is the perpetual repetition (with some modifications) of the struggle in the storm-cloud between the light and the darkness. That conclusion is obviously exaggerated, although it is very likely, and very natural also, that features borrowed from the famous myth have penetrated into those other battles which are, each of them, incidents of the great dualistic war between the two creations. It is this conflict that we are now going to follow from the time of creation to the renovation of the world at the end of this period of strife.
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