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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Contents

Zoroastrian
Priesthood

The Role of Early Priests

Athravan and Magi

Dadgah - Courts

Common Law Conflict Resolution

Atash Dadgah

Priest as Judge - Dastur

Common Law vs. Royal Law

Modern Priests

Ervad or Herbad

Mobed

Dastur

Suggested prior reading:
» Zoroastrian Worship
» Zoroastrian Places of Worship


The Role of Early Priests

The Athravan and Magi

The page on Places of Worship discusses the development of community fire houses, the atash gah, and the developing role of the fire keepers, the athravan (later atharvan), as respected members of the community. In the west of ancient Iran, the role of the athravan was assumed by the magoi or magi [Avestan maga and moghu. Latin singular magus and plural magi].


Yazdi Priests 1800s
Priests from Yazd, Iran. 1800s

Strabo called the magi pyraethi or fire-keepers. He goes on to say "... they make incantations for about an hour, holding before the fire their bundle of rods (baresman) and wearing round their heads high turbans of felt, which reach down their cheeks far enough to cover their lips. "

Herodotus notes that the magi were one of six Median groups - a tribe that specialized in hereditary priestly duties and who assumed the duties of the athravan.

Since households came to the fire-houses or atash-gahs to light their home fires, the athravan or magi must have come to know the community members, as well as their successes and problems. The role of the athravan and magi developed into that of physicians and problem solvers.

Zarathushtra is sometimes referred to as an athravan in Zoroastrian religious texts. In any event, Zarathushtra used fire as the central symbol of his teachings, and the athravan and magi became Zoroastrian priests. In doing so they became bearers and keepers of the Zoroastrian spiritual flame as well. They immersed themselves in the quest for wisdom grounded in goodness.

Indeed, the magi were renowned for their wisdom beyond the borders of Iran. They were unsurpassed in their knowledge of philosophy, history, geography, plants, medicine and the heavens. The efficacy of their beliefs and faith was demonstrated in their actions. Their high moral standing, their wisdom, their ability to heal the sick and their years of learning made them legendary throughout the Middle East.

The fire-houses became places to resolve disputes. The athravan and magi, became keepers of common law, a role that is still reflected in the title of senior most priests today, namely, Dastur, or keeper and giver of the law. While the King and the King's court dispensed royal law, the other forms of law, law that concerned the daily lives of citizens - the common law and common disputes - came under the purview of the Dastur. This was a natural progression for individuals versed in ethical principles of Zoroastrianism, Asha, and the application of the principles in daily life. Some of the atash gah became known as the dadgah, or courts, and their fires were known as Atash Dadgah, the court fires. Today, the Atash Dadgah is a grade of fire described further in the page on Places of Worship.


Dadgah - Courts

Common Law Conflict Resolution

The keepers and maintainers of the community fires, the atharvans and magi would have come to know the community and its members very well. As they assumed their roles as priests of the Zoroastrian faith, they would also have been well-versed in the faith's moral and ethical code. The elder, more senior priests, would have gained positions of respect and authority in the community, and their assistance would have been sought in resolving conflict within the community.


Atash Dadgah

This author therefore proposes that some atash gahs evolved into common law courts (dadgahs in Persian), and that the fires they maintained came to be called the Atash Dadgah or court fire. If the fires these dadgahs maintained were lit only when the court was in session, Atash Dadgah would have come to mean a temporary fire, but a ritual fire that nevertheless continued to maintain symbolic importance as a symbol of Asha, the law of God, honesty, truth, justice, righteousness and wisdom. Today, Atash Dadgah continues to be the name used for temporary ritual fires, though Zoroastrians have lost the significance of the name, and refer to the Atash Dadgah incorrectly as a home fire.

The community level place of worship that uses the Atash Dadgah is today called a Dar-e Mehr or Darbe Mehr. Dar means the door and Mehr (the modern form of Mithra) means kindness, justice and compassion. Mithra is also regarded as the personification of these values and in this context, the guardian angel of the values.


Priest as Judge - Dastur

Further, the attendant fire keepers became common law community judges, or dasturs. The word dastur is the title given to the head priest of Zoroastrian temples and comes from the Pahlavi word dastabar meaning the upholder and promulgator of the law - the authority who resolved disputes between members of the community based on the moral principles of Asha in which the priests would have been trained.


Common Law vs. Royal Law

The common law administered by the dasturs would have been different from the royal law (promulgated by statute or edit) administered by the royal court and the king's designates (on occasion even the king). These royal courts called the darbar (or durbar), would when in session, also have been courts of appeal or courts of last resort. In Persian, dar means door and bar means admission or audience. Some feel the name of the Persian language in Afghanistan, Dari, comes from darbar, the court language of the Persian Sassanid dynasty (226 - 651 CE).

This author sees the possibility that the name Darbe Mehr may have evolved from Darbar-e Mehr, the Court of Mehr / Mithra or the Court of Justice, home to the Atash Dadgah, the Court Fire, and where a resident or visiting dastur would have resolved common law disputes based on the moral code derived from the principles and values of Asha and Mithra. In such an event, the Darbe Mehr would have served the dual function of a place of justice and worship.


Modern Priests

There are three principle levels of Zoroastrian priests, Ervad (in India) or Herbad (in Iran), Mobed and Dastur.


Dastur Dr. Firoze Kotwal
Dastur Dr. Firoze Kotwal

Ervad or Herbad

Ervad (in India) or Herbad (in Iran) is the title given to those priests who have completed the first level of training as a Navar. Ervads act as assistants to Mobeds and Dasturs and can perform the ceremonies of the outer circle - the Dron, Afringan (part of the jashan / jashne ceremony), navjote, wedding and other outer ceremonies (see the page Liturgical Ceremonies) performed outside the sanctum of the fire temple called the pavi.


Mobed

Mobed is the title given to a priest who has completed training as a Martab. Mobeds are called the upholders of religion and are trained to perform liturgies of the inner circle - the Yasna, Visperad, and Vendidad ceremonies (see the page Liturgical Ceremonies) that are only preformed within the pavi areas (the inner sanctums) of a temple. Both, Navars and Mobeds are subordinate to Dasturs.


Dastur

Dastur (from the Pahlavi Dastabar) as a title means the upholder and promulgator of the law - the authority (see Priest as Judge - Dastur above). Dasturs are high priests and in addition to being learned in the entire Avesta and proficient in conducting all the ceremonies, Dasturs are leaders, administrators, spiritual guides and teachers.

There is no initiation ceremony to become a Dastur as there is with the Navar and Martab - only a public jashan / jashne ceremony.

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Suggested prior reading:
» Zoroastrian Worship
» Zoroastrian Places of Worship


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