Experience Description

The Ardā Vīrāz Nāmag,

An Ancient Mazdean Journey into the Hereafter

Contributed by Jonathan

The Ardā Vīrāz Nāmag, an old Mazdean eschatological narrative, probably dating from the 9th century and written in Pehlevī (an extinct Iranian language), recounts the otherworldly journey of a man who, after drinking a ritual substance, leaves his body and journeys into Paradise and Hell. This particular narrative is a very late Mazdean version of the text passed down orally for many generations, and if it is tampered with embellishments and interpolated elements of religious doctrine, it appears to display core elements of a near-death experience. Here I will translate into English a few passages from the French translation by Tardieu (1984).

Three hundred years after Zoroaster had spread the True Religion in the world, the narrator says that the Evil Spirit led Alexander the Great astray, leading him to bring severe tyranny, war and sickness over the land of the Arians. Alexander ordered the execution of many priests, wise men, saints and believers, and spread discord and hatred among the people. Having fallen to a state of confusion and sadness, a group of priests called an assembly to choose a man who would travel to the land of the dead to bring back the teachings of the True Religion into the world of the living. They selected seven men who were most righteous in their conduct and belief, and asked these men to choose one amongst themselves for this task. A man named Vīrāz was chosen. Here the ritual begins:

And Vīrāz washed his head and his body and put on new clothes. He perfumed himself with a delicate perfume. On an appropriate bed were spread new and clean sheets, on which he sat. Then the priests gave him three golden cups filled with wine. One for good thought, one for good speech, and another for good action. After having drunk these three cups, Vīrāz lied down and the priests and his seven sisters-wives prayed around him for seven days. And the soul of Vīrāz went out of his body to the Peak of the Law (the name given to the mountain, which according to Mazdean cosmology is located at the centre of the world) and the Chinvat Bridge. After seven days, the soul of Vīrāz came back and re-entered his body. Vīrāz got up as one who wakes up from a pleasant sleep, joyful and having dreamy thoughts. And when his seven sisters-wives, the priests, and the Mazdeans saw Vīrāz, they were joyful and happy. And they said, ‘You came back safely from the land of the dead to this land of the living!’ And when Vīrāz saw the priests come to him to pay him homage, he said, ‘To you, the peace of the Lord Ahura Mazda (the Supreme God of the Mazdeans) and of the Ahahraspands.’ And the priests said, ‘Welcome to you, Vīrāz, messenger of the Mazdeans, peace be upon you! And you, tell us exactly everything that you saw!’ And they ordered a scribe to come and write everything that he said in detail. Vīrāz said, ‘On the first night Srosh (the Messenger of the Gods) and the god Adur came to me and said, 'You are welcome, just Vīrāz, even though your time has not come yet to be here.' And I said, 'I am a messenger.' And then the triumphant and holy Srosh and the god Adur took my hand. A first step for good thought, a second step for good speech, and a third step for good action. I advanced towards the Chinvat Bridge, created by Ahura Mazda, the Protector and All-Mighty. As I went forward, I saw souls of the departed who said, 'Good comes to whoever does good to others!' that is to say, 'Good is the one who by his goodness brings good to others!' And during the first three nights, he experienced such bliss and serenity beyond all the happiness he has known in the [material] world, such that there never was a man in the world who experienced such serenity, contentment and happiness. At the dawn of the third day, the souls of the just were strolling in a fragrant garden. And this fragrance seemed more delicate than all the delicate fragrances that ever entered his nose during his life, and the perfume came from the direction of the gods. And his own D'na (note that the word D'na later became the word for religion in Arabic = al-Din) and his own actions appeared before him in the shape of a young girl, beautiful and of a pleasant form, lovely of heart and soul, with such a luminous form that she was very attractive to see and desirable to contemplate. And the souls of the just asked this young girl, 'Who are you, you who are the most beautiful of the beautiful girls of the world?' And she who was his own D'na and his own actions, answered, 'I am your actions, young man of good thoughts, good words, good actions, and of good religion. It is because of your resolve and of your action that I am tall, good, fragrant, splendid and pure as you see me. I was strong, and you made me even stronger. I was beautiful, and you made me even more beautiful. I was precious, and you made me even more precious. I was sitting in a high rank, and you made me sit in an even higher rank. I was honored and you made me even more honored, by these good thoughts, by these good words, by these good actions of yours.

The rest of the text describes, in very moralistic and physical terms, the state of good people in Paradise and of bad people in Hell, which corresponds to the way they lived. The encounter with the D'na is duplicated in a negative form with an ugly hag who embodies the bad thoughts, bad words, and bad actions of the one who failed to live according to the True Religion in this life.

Here are other similar accounts from other ancient Iranian sources:

On the first night, the soul feels as much joy as all that it had felt in life. At the end of the third night, the dawn appearing, it seems to the soul of the faithful one as if it were brought amid meadows and breathing in sweet scents.

It seems as if a wind were blowing from the region of the south, a fragrant wind, more fragrant than any other wind in the world. And it seems to the soul of the faithful one as if he were inhaling that wind with the nostrils.

‘Whence does that wind blow, the most fragrant wind I ever inhaled with my nostrils?’ As that wind blows on him, his own D'na appears in the form of a maiden, fair, resplendent, white-armed, and as fair as the fairest things in the world.

And the soul of the faithful one says to her, inquiring, ‘What maid are you, who are the fairest maid I have ever seen?’ And she, being his own D'na, answers him, ‘Truly, youth of good thoughts, good words, and good acts, of good inner self, I am your very own D'na.’

‘Everybody did love you for that greatness, goodness, fairness, fragrance, victorious strength and freedom from sorrow in which you now appear to me. So you, O youth of good thoughts, good words, and good acts, of good inner self did love me for that greatness, goodness, fairness, fragrance, victorious strength and freedom from sorrow in which I now appear to you.

‘I was lovely and you made me still lovelier. I was fair and you made me still fairer. I was desirable and you made me still more desirable. I was sitting in a high place and you made me sit in a still higher place, through this good thought, through this good speech, through this good act of yours.’

First, the soul of the faithful advances a step into the Paradise of Good Thought. Second, he advances a step into the Paradise of Good Words. Third, he advances a step into the Paradise of Good Acts. Fourth, he advances a step into Endless Light (From the Hadhokht Nask).

One life, a man's good actions, so that he will be free of guilt. Pious and meritorious as long as he lives does not hurt even the demonic creatures. Without fear of anything so that, without interval they obtain, and at whatever time he dies girl angels will come to meet him with flowers and speak thus to him:

‘Fear not, righteous soul. Come forward, step forward to the Paradise of Light. Receive joy. Step forward to the fragrant, wonderful Paradise where there is eternal joy.’ And his own D'na, as a wondrous, divine princess, a virgin, will come before his face, immortal, with flowers on her head. She herself will set him on his way to Paradise (Manich'an fragment).

And on the fourth day at dawn [the soul] will reach the high and terrible Chinvat Bridge, to which everyone comes, just or wicked. When then the soul of the just man crosses that bridge, his own good acts will come to meet him in the form of a girl, more beautiful and fairer than any girl in the world. (From the Menog-i Khrad).