Zoroastrian / Mazdayasnian Eschatology According to the Bundahishn

The Mazdayasnian conception of the hereafter, according to the Bundahishn, is as follows. When someone dies, their soul stays near their head (or where their head was when they died) for three nights, and the daevas try to harass them. The person thinks they may come back to life.[1] During the dawn after the third night, a breeze comes to them. If they were good, the breeze is extremely delightful and fragrant. If they were wicked, the breeze is extremely putrid, unpleasant, and terrifying.

Next, the souls of the individual are carried along a path. They are presumably moved along this path by the wind. The righteous man is first presented with the astral form of a fat, milkful cow. Then he is presented with the astral form of a charming, beautiful, and shapely fifteen-year-old virgin in white garments.[2] Then the astral form of an abundant garden appears. The soul asks these things who they are as they approach, recognizing that they seem to be the essence or source of all happiness. The astral bodies respond that they are the soul’s Din. This means that they are the formalization, the fruit, and reality of the person’s works on the earth.

If the soul is wicked, it is presented with the astral form of a dry, sickly and frightful cow, the presence of which afflicts the soul. A hideous and unshapely maiden appears, and her presence afflicts the soul with dread and horror. Then a garden appears which is dry, treeless, and comfortless, and this garden fills the soul with evil thoughts. The soul asks these things who they are as they approach, seeing that they are more horrible than anything they saw on the earth. The astral bodies respond that they are the soul’s Din. This means that they are the formalization, the fruit, and reality of the person’s works on the earth.

After being presented with its deeds, the soul is brought to the base of Mount Alburz. It walks up towards the summit, before which is a “sharp floor,” which is the Chinavat Bridge, identical with the Straight Path (Sirat al-Mustaqim) in Islam.[3] There is a judgment which takes place before the bridge which is not mentioned in the Bundahishn. The three angels of judgment, Mitha, Sraosha, and Rashnu, will judge the person’s deeds on Rashnu’s gold scale. The tipping of the scale will cause the individual comfort or sorrow. If it is tipped in their favor, the Chinavat bridge will be wide and they may cross it with their lovely Dîn. If they were a sinner, the bridge will be thin and sharp.

To return to the Bundahishn: the righteous man passes through[4] the sharp floor with the help of Farnbarg the Fire, who smites darkness, allowing the ascension to the peak. The soul is purified by the angels. Then the good wind takes his hand and carries him to his seat. The wicked man fails to pass through[5] the floor, and he has to walk upon it while being oppressed by his own wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. He falls into Hell, and witnesses every evil.

The appearance of the garden to the righteous has an active aspect. The virgin, after telling the righteous man who she is, guides him to a ladder of three steps, which are good thoughts, words, and deeds. The ladder leads to the garden, and this climbing of the ladder is identical with the passing through the sharp floor. Similarly, the wicked maiden who appears to the wicked man presents him with a sharp floor, which informs him that he has no choice but to walk upon it. The man will refuse to walk, until his deeds take on the form of a horrible wild beast which will frighten him into walking on the sharp floor. In three steps, the man will fall into Hell.

If someone’s good and evil deeds are equal, they go to purgatory, which is said to be “just like the earth.” Everyone will be assigned a place corresponding to their deeds, and they will sit.

I reckon the point on the path at which the sharp floor is encountered is what is called in other traditions Judgment Day, and the trip from death to the floor is the intermediate state, known in Islam as the barzakh or the grave. Everybody who dies before Judgment Day will have a long stay in the barzakh, whereas those who are on the earth when Judgment Day comes will not inhabit the grave at all, or if they do it will be very brief.

The age before Judgment Day is commonly known as the End Times. According to the Bundahishn, people in the last millennium of the end times will have decreased appetites, so that they will be sated for three days from a single meal. They will abstain from meat, then from milk and vegetables, and they will only drink water. The Saoshyant will then arrive, and raise the dead. This figure is the equivalent of the Messiah in Judaism, the Second Coming of Christ (as) in Christianity, and the Mahdi (as) in Islam. Thirty saints, fifteen men and fifteen women, will assist the Saoshyant in his renovation of the world.

Gayomard will be the first to be resurrected, and he will be followed by his children Mashye and Mashyane, and then everybody else. They will be raised from wherever they died as skeletons, and then the rest of their bodies will be regenerated. It will take fifty-seven years for all of the dead to be raised. After they are all resurrected, half of the light from the sun will be given to Gayomard (who is here a symbol of al-Insan al-Kamil) and half will be given to the rest of mankind. Then everybody will recognize their closest relatives, and everybody will stand up and assemble together. Everybody will see their good and evil deeds, and the righteous will stand out like white sheep among black sheep. The righteous will go to Paradise and the wicked will go to Hell, where they will remain for three days. This is definitely a symbolic number, presumably corresponding to thoughts, words, and deeds.

The entry into Paradise and Hell will be as follows. Fire and the angel Airyaman will melt the hills and mountains, which are said to be made out of metal. The molten metal will spill upon the earth like a river, and everyone will be made to pass through it, which will purify them. This metal is identical with the Chinavat Bridge, the “sharp floor.” The righteous will experience this metal as warm milk[6], and the wicked will experience it as molten metal. My interpretation is as follows: The milk is Paradise, and the molten metal is Hell. Molten metal has a dual symbolism; the malefic aspect is the obvious one, but metal is also a symbol of Kshathra, and the moltenness of the metal is the union of Asha and Kshathra, which means the rectification and perfectly harmonious reordering of Ahura’s kingdom.

Everyone shall be gathered together after the first stage of the hereafter and live in eternal peace and happiness, praising Ahura Mazda and the Ameshçpentas. Everyone shall be given an elixir of immortality[7] by Saoshyant, realizing Ameretat for them. It is said that those who reached a goodly age will be forty, while those who had not come of age will be fifteen. It is also said that everyone will be with their wives and children, but there will be no reproduction.

Ahura Mazda will seize Angra Mainyu and the daevas, and the angels will seize the daevas, and they will banish them into the abyss from whence they came. This will happen both physically and spiritually: Ahura Mazda will manifest Himself in the form of a man, Zot, and Sraosha will accompany Him in the form of Raspi. They will physically vanquish Angra Mainyu and the only remaining daeva, Az, by means of the Gathas. The evil dragon Gochihr will be roasted in the molten metal, and all of the reeking contamination in the earth will be purified. The hole through which Angra Mainyu entered Ahura Mazda’s creation will be sealed with the molten metal, and the link between Endless Light and the Abyss will be thus obliterated, and thus there will be no more admixture of Reality and Illusion, or Truth and Untruth.

[1]   This presumably does not apply to everyone.

[2]   The rewards of the righteous woman are not mentioned. This is a matter for further research.

[3]   According to one etymology, the word Chinvat is a combination of chinaeta (arrange or lay bricks) and vid (knowledge or recognition).

[4]   The word “through” probably means “across” here, and I have kept it only out of fidelity to the translation of the Bundahishn I have used.

[5]   Ibid.

[6]   It seems worth noting here that milk is a symbol of knowledge in Islam.

[7]   This elixir is presumably identical with the drinks described in the Qur’an and the hadith.

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