The Iranian Creation myth is fascinating for an approach that somehow bridges several different cultures. It is the Zoroastrian story of Ormazd and Ahriman. Incidentally, fans of the latest Prince of Persia game on the PS3 and Xbox360 got a taste of this myth from that game. While not completely accurate, it’s still entertaining and fun.
So, creation begins with light from the god Ormazd. Ormazd is the god of light, intelligence, goodness, wisdom, etc. However, this light proves to be disruptive to Ahriman the god of darkness, ignorance, and evil. He was resting comfortably in the chaos before creation, but Ormazd messed all of that up, so he’s cranky.
Ormazd goes on to create all manner of things, including all of the cosmological standards: earth, moon, stars, sun, other gods, and life. Ahriman also has the power to create, but everything seems to be a parody of what Ormazd makes in order to destroy or corrupt creation. Essentially Ormazd is responsible for all that is good in the world, while Ahriman creates everything evil. Ahriman even goes so far as to create an evil version of woman, complete with special, feminine evils, in order to corrupt the humanity that Ormazd created. This is eerily like a version of the Garden of Eden from the Bible, which is not surprising given the proximity of Iran and Israel (on a global scale, at least).
What I find truly fascinating about the Iranian myth is the blending of the monotheistic with the polytheistic. Polytheism ruled the ancient world. Japan, China, India, Russia, Babylon, Egypt, Africa, Greece, Norse countries (including Germanic), Gaul, Celtic countries, Native Americans, South Americans, and more all have large numbers of gods in their pantheons. Some of them have a ridiculous number of gods, and I don’t use that number lightly as we’re talking about several hundred if not a few thousand.
The Persian myth, though, while not monotheistic, is very close to it without suffering from the same innate logical problems of it. Monotheism was very difficult to understand in the ancient world for a couple of reasons, which many medieval authors struggled with in regards to the early Christian Church.
One: How can one deity have all of the power and knowledge to do everything? Naturally, humans identify with people doing certain jobs. It’s logical and makes sense. One deity that is all powerful is both abstract and inhuman.
Two: If there is only one ostensibly benevolent creator god, then where did all of the bad stuff in the world come from, and why would a benevolent god do that to people? This is a concept that still hasn’t been resolved as people quickly decry “Why did God let this happen.”
But we aren’t here to examine those questions, merely to point out that the Persian creation, by having two main deities, sidesteps all of those difficulties while not suffering from the enormous bloat in their pantheon as their neighbors.
They also have an almost knowing, sidelong wink at all of the other cultures. Ormazd is the god of light, knowledge, and goodness, traits highly valued by the Persian people who went on to make a list of scientific discoveries almost as impressive as that of the Greeks. So the Persians, in viewing their neighbors, probably smirked and wondered why everyone was making it so complicated with such a long list of gods to cloud everything. To them, so many gods would be the work of Ahriman to confuse matters. And by having a deity of ignorance, darkness, and evil like Ahriman, they neatly avoid much of the difficulties of monotheism.