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341 PERSIA-LANGUAGE AND RELIGION.

refuge. At a time when Media under Astyages was going rapidly down into the bogs of

idolatry, the hardy race of Persians, still uncorrupted by luxury and by pageants

appealing to the senses, sustained the simple faith with earnestness and zeal. Monotheism

was accepted. One God, over and above nature, was believed in and worshiped. To him was

ascribed such titles as the "Lord of Heaven," the "Maker of Heaven and Earth." The

religious idea was dominant. Even in affairs of state there was a strict and outspoken

recognition of Ahura-Mazdao as the supreme ruler of the world. The great kings prayed to

him as the giver of life and victory.

Still, the lesser powers of nature were recognized as divine. It was beyond the genius

even of Zoroaster to grasp the idea of the absolute unity of the universe. It was admitted

that there was a pantheon of minor deities. These might properly be prayed to, or appeased

with sacrifices, Or adored in worship. The unequivocal supremacy of Ahura-Mazdao was the

essential principle. That being granted, it was not impious to cry out to the lesser gods.

It is impossible to say at what precise period in Persian history the doctrines of dualism

began to gain a foothold. Certain it is that they were not of the original system. Their

introduction marks the beginning of that degeneration which has characterized every

religion in the world under the refinements of theology. As already said in the history of

Media, the Zoroastrian priests came by and by to discriminate the evil powers of nature

from the good, and unable to realize the existence of a higher law which includes in its

beneficence the presence of evil as a necessary element in the problem of the world, they

adopted the expedient of personification and set up a catalogue of devils. It was one of

the bad evolutions of depraved ingenuity.

As in the case of the early Medes, the worship of the Persians consisted in prayers to

Ahura-Mazdao and the good spirits who assisted him in the government of mankind. Another

part of the ceremony was the chanting of solemn gathas, or hymns, in praise of the deity.

Sacrifices were offered

both to please and to appease the majesty of heaven, and Soma was worshiped as the best

gift of the gods. In yielding religiously to intoxication man entered into the divine

moods and spirit.

Of the Persian temples not very much is known. It is possible that the square towers,

already described in the chapter on the architecture of the Achaemenians, may have been

edifices for the worship of the deities.1 The form of the altars before which Ahura-Mazdao

was approached in prayer is determined from the sculptures on the tombs. They had in

general the shape of a mushroom. The bottom consisted of three diminishing squares. On

these was set a stone cube with openings through the center, and this was surmounted with

a hemispherical dome. The height of the whole was four or five feet.

Of living sacrifices the horse, as the noblest creature, was preferred. Cattle, sheep, and

goats were also offered, and it is too apparent that human beings sometimes bled before

the altars. Such sacrifices, however, are said to have been rare, as they were certainly

against the nature and spirit of the Zoroastrian faith.

Of idols properly so-called the Persians had none. The Zendavesta everywhere denounces

idolatry as contrary to the religion. Symbols, however, were permitted. The most popular

emblem was that of Ahura-Mazdao, the same being a winged circle, sometimes bearing a human

figure in the center. This famous symbol is thought to have been copied from the

Assyrians, with whom it stood for Asshur. The sign is seen occupying a prominent place in

nearly all the Persian sculptures, especially on the face of the rock tombs where the

kings were buried. At a later date, when the worship of Mithra, the sun- god, was

introduced from the system of India, that deity was honored with a symbol of the great orb

over which he presided, the same being in the Persian sculptures a plain disk and not a

four-rayed circle like that been on the monuments of the Ninevites.

In the account given in Book Fourth of 1 See Book Sixth, p. 324.