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E Abadi, Consultant Economist & Researcher
E Abadi, Consultant Economist & Researcher

Bas-Relief

Zervanism:

another Aryan faith

In prehistoric times Aryan tribes were constantly moving from ice-covered lands to warmer climates where they could settle down. On their way in the silence of the wilderness, wondering under shining stars, in highlands or woods, they developed principles and ideologies that answered their questions about nature and life or at least helped them simply bear the immensity of the universe and the questions that it raised in their minds. As some tribes reached the land they ultimately called Eran (the land of the Aryans) they settled there permanently. The location of Eran, today's Iran, in the middle of everywhere, from the Mediterranean to China, led to the emergence of various creeds and religions, some of which spread to all the rest of the world and left remarkable impressions on human beings and played significant roles in the development of human civilizations in general. Some remain prominent even today, like Zoroastrianism, but some like Mithraism are only known by those who take a keen interest in history of religions, and some are almost forgotten, like Zurvanism or Zervanism, yet survive in parts of the world in a form remote from the original.

Zoroastrianism holds that there is Good (Ahura Mazda) and there is Evil (Ahriman), two powers that are in constant struggle. Whatever happens that harms the world and human beings is done by Evil, and whatever happens that is good and pleasing is the doing of Good or Ahura Mazda.

Most other religions that were in direct contact with Zoroastrian Iranians, tended to believe in one god, a Unity. These were, therefore, in confrontation with Zoroastrianism and ultimately weakened it; most notably Judaism and Islam (For further details on Zoroastrianism see Events, Issue No 4).

During Sassanid Era (224-652) there emerged a faith that was probably a reaction by Zoroastrianism to monotheistic religions. The faith flourished during the Sassanid Era but it had originated in earlier times. It became ultimately known as Zervanism (or Zurvanism) for it believed "Zervan" (time) to be "Ekran" (endless). For Zervanists time was god and the ultimate controller of all. Time cannot have a creator. It does not have a beginning nor will it have an end. Even in Zoroastrian writings Zervan has been mentioned and even in places Zoroaster has been ordered by Ahura Mazda to hold Zervan holy and great.

From all the evidence at hand it appears that no particular person developed the idea of Zervanism; no one acted as a leader or a prophet, but that the idea gradually emerged and was accepted by certain people. This belief reconciled the idea of a single god on the one hand and the belief in the Good and Evil of Zoroastrianism on the other, as both Good and Bad were considered to be simply "fetuses that lay in the womb of time". Perhaps in this way they could put at peace the conflict between Zoroastrian Duality and the concept of a Monotheism, time being considered as the "father" of both Good and Evil.

Old Iranian statue Some European scholars maintain that, because in Zoroastrian ideology there were Good and Evil existing concurrently and in parallel, there was a need for a superior being, endless time or space who fathers the two.

Zervanism prevailed most strongly in the western parts of Iran (where it still survives today in some remote form) and even penetrated the Greek civilization. The power of Zervan was connected to the movement of the stars which determined and measured passage of time.

Zervanism resulted, finally, in the emergence of the idea that existence is hierarchical, with the material world occupying the lowest level. This is the world of the tangible, of time and space. The highest level is the spiritual level, the supernatural. And each stage is born from a higher stage.

Some scholars hold that Zervanism is a modified form of Zoroastrianism that appeared during the Sassanid Era. It was opposed to orthodox Zoroastrianism, which had become dualistic in doctrine. According to Zervanism, time alone is limitless, eternal and uncreated, and the source of all things.

Elsewhere, Zervan is seen as the god of time and fate. But in later writings Zervan is the father of both Ormozd or Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, perhaps a result of the contact between Zoroastrianism and Greco-Babylonian astrological speculations as Zervanism had its stronghold in western Persia, on the Babylonian border.

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