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The Beliefs and Principles of the Manichaeans

 From among the Iranian religions Manichaeism was the most prominent dualistic faith since the most important principles of this religion were belief in: a) The two eternal sources of creation viz. Light and darkness, and b) The Three Millenniums of the past, present and future. The views of Manichaeism on creation, the universe, its end, and the forces that influence the whole process are very detailed and complicated, a brief account of which is as follows:

In the past, before the creation of the universe, originally, the realms of Light and darkness were entirely separate from each another. The realm of Light was on top and infinite from the three directions of east, north, and west, while the realm of darkness was at the bottom and infinite from the three directions of east, south, and west. The Lord of the realm of Light is “Pedar-e Azamat” (lit.: Father of Grandeur) who possesses wisdom, understanding, intelligence, thought, and patience. His other five qualities are compassion, faith, loyalty, justice, and insight and all his qualities are eternal. In the realm of darkness, too, there are five eternal qualities of smoke or dense fog, destructive fire, fatal wind or storm, slime or muddy water, and darkness. When these eternal qualities of darkness mixed together, Ahriman emerged in the form of a demon with the head of a lion, the body of a dragon, the wings of an eagle, the tail of a fish and with four legs. He paraded in the realm of darkness and swallowed everything and began invading the surrounding areas including the north; and since there was no barrier between the boundaries of Light and darkness, he suddenly saw the glittering of the light and got attracted to it and, thus, decided to ascend to the realm of light and invade it. “Father of Grandeur” realized Ahriman’s intention through his wisdom and perception and decided to prevent him from invading the realm of Light and disturbing its peace at the cost of his own life, or as the Manichaeans put it, with his own “self”. For this purpose he emanated a being from his own self who came to be known as “Mādar-e Zendegi” (lit.: Mother of Life). “Mother of Life” called the first human being to life in order to be sent to confront Ahriman. In order to do this, the First Man summoned his five sons viz. air, water, fire, wind, and light into life. Each of these five sons is the manifestation of a part of the illuminating essence of the First Man who served the Father of Grandeur as his weapons in his war with Ahriman. The First Man wore the air, the water, and the light as his armor, wrapped himself in wind and held the fire in his hand like a mace and descended to the realm of darkness. Ahriman, on the other hand, armed himself with the five elements of darkness viz. the storm, the destructive fire, the slime, the fog, and the darkness and encountered the First Man. When the First Man realized Ahriman’s greed to swallow the light, he surrendered his sons to him to quench his beastly desires and to prevent him from invading the realm of light. In this way, the elements of darkness devoured the elements of light and in the primal war between Light and darkness invaded the First Man, who was defeated and besieged by darkness. However, this defeat and siege in the realm of darkness resulted in the principle of “Unison” which is ultimately supposed to lead to human salvation. What has been devoured by darkness is part of the essence of Light and even though it is suffering in this captivity it has not forgotten its essence of Light. On the other hand, having gained the satisfaction of victory and of capturing the elements of Light, darkness made every effort to keep it its prisoner. The primal war waged by the First Man against Ahriman and the captivity of his sons in the realm of darkness was, in fact, a deliberate move on the part of the Father of Grandeur in order to penetrate into the heart of darkness, by sacrificing parts of his light, and to ultimately defeat it forever.

Following the primal war, the defeated First Man fell unconscious into deep darkness. However, on gaining consciousness he began to shout and ask for help to be liberated from the world of darkness. The Mother of Life heard his cries and requested Father of Grandeur to enter into action in order to save him as well as the dispersed parts of light from the captivity of darkness. Thus, Father of Grandeur created another group of Izadān. He first summoned into being, “Doost Roshanān” (lit.: The Friend of Light), who brought into being “Bannāye Bozorg” (lit.: The Great Architect), who in turn called to life, “Ruh-e Zendeh” (lit.: The Live Soul). In the Middle Persian texts, “Bannāye Bozorg” and “Ruh-e Zendeh” have been referred to as “Naushahr Āfarin Izad” and “Mehr Izad” respectively. In order to ensure peace in the realm of light (or the old paradise), at the time of the separation of Light and darkness and the gradual liberation of the rays of light, the Great Architect or “Naushahr Āfarin Izad” built a new city called “Behesht-e Jadid”(lit. The New Paradise) so that the rays of light that got liberated moment by moment could gather in it. At the same time, in order to save the First Man, “Mehr Izad” approached the boundaries separating Light and darkness and let out a loud cry in order to gain knowledge of his place of captivity. The First Man heard his cry and replied him in a similar manner. This call by the “savior” and the response of the “captive” that refer to “invitation” on the part of God and “acceptance” on the part of man, have manifested in the form of two Izads called “Kherushtak” and “Padvākhtak”. In Manichaeism, the Vojud-e Mesāli (the Universal Soul) constitutes the very foundation of the invitation to salvation and the acceptance of this invitation. After discovering the place of captivity of the First Man Mehr Izad plunged into the realm of darkness and extended his right hand towards him, and holding on to his hand, removed him from darkness. Following this incident the First Man returned to the Paradise of Light or his original homeland along with Mehr Izad. He was the first captive as well as the first one to be liberated and is the paragon of the sufferings as well as the liberation of the creations of the realm of light who are captives of the darkness of their bodies and the material world. Similarly, on acquiring awareness and getting to know of their origin, the souls of all human beings rise above the darkness of the material world and are, thus, guided to Paradise with the help of Ruh-e Zendeh and Mother of Life.

Following the liberation of the First Man his sons or the five elements that where in fact part of his being and served as his weapons had to be liberated from the captivity of the demons and the elements of darkness. In order to accomplish this purpose, Mehr Izad created the material world and, thus, it can be concluded that according to Manichaeism the ultimate purpose for the creation of this world was to liberate the light that was in the captivity of darkness. Supported by his sons Pādeshāh Shokuh, Almās-e Noor, Fereshteh-ye Hāmel, Pādeshāh Eftekhār, and Pirāyeh-ye Tajalli, Mehr Izad managed to kill the leaders and commanders of the demons and created the ten skies from their skins, the eight earths from their flesh and residues, and the mountains from their bones and vested his sons with the responsibility of protecting and preserving the cosmos, the earths, and the mountains. Thereafter, Mehr Izad chained the remaining demons that he had in his captivity, in between the skies, and then began looking for and gathering the rays of light that had become dispersed in the realm of darkness. He then created the moon and the sun from the liberated and pure rays of light and the stars from the rays of light that were polluted with darkness. However, he needed more time and a more effective plan to be able to liberate the lights that were still imprisoned within the bodies of the demons. For this purpose he sought the assistance of Father of Grandeur who responded to his request by creating “Nariseh Izad” who in turn emanated twelve damsels of light (equal to the number of the houses of the zodiac). These damsels of light settled in the moon along with First Man while Mother of Life, Nariseh Izad, and Mehr Izad settled in the Sun. Nariseh Izad set the bodies of light in motion and with the rotation of the cosmos the orderly movements of the universe began. From the movement of the stars, the moon, the sun, and the twelve houses of zodiac was set up the function of extracting the small particles of light from darkness, purifying them, and transferring them to the realm of light. Similarly, the moon and the sun served both as purifying stations for the liberated rays of light as well as vehicles for transferring them to the New Paradise. It is for this reason that in the first fifteen days of each month the liberated rays of lights and the luminous parts of the souls of the dead believers pour onto the moon which is in the form of a crescent and gradually fill it and turn it into the full moon. From the fifteenth day onwards the rays of light are gradually transferred to the sun and the moon returns to its original crescent shape. The purified rays of light will ultimately move from the sun to the New Paradise and will stay there until the end of the “present cycle of time” and at the end of this period will be transferred to the main paradise.

The demons that were chained by Mehr Izad still had the elements of the rays that they had swallowed during their battle with the First Man in their captivity. To liberate these elements of light, Nariseh Izad first approached the female demons in the guise of an extremely handsome young man, on seeing whom the female demons aborted the elements of light out of excitement. Thereafter, disguised as a beautiful damsel he appeared before the male demons, who on seeing her, dropped their sperms that were mixed with the rays of light, on the earth. From these sperms grew the trees and the plants. The aborted fetuses of the female demons ate the buds and sprouts of these trees and plants and turned into terrestrial, marine, and aerial beings. Thus, the plants and the animals – including the first human pair – came into being from the assimilation of the sperm of the wicked demons and the captive rays of light. The luminous souls of the creations are transferred from one body to another through reproduction and they continue to remain in the captivity of darkness because Ahriman has deluded them with greed and has allured them into reproduction as a result of which the world is filled with man, or in other words, the “prisons of light”. Thus, in order to liberate the light that is captivated in human bodies it is necessary for them to refrain from reproduction.

The Manichaeans referred to this period of the assimilation of light and darkness as the “present cycle of time”. As per their belief the present cycle of time is characterized by the parallel phenomena of the assimilation of light and darkness as well as the gradual attainment of salvation. The present cycle of time shall come to an end when the “Great War” will take place. At the time of the Great War Mehr Izad’s sons who have been the guardians of the cosmos and the mountains will end their responsibility as a result of which the entire universe will be destroyed and a horrendous fire will start that will last for 1468 years. In this extensive and terrifying fire the created world, which is an assimilation of light and darkness will be destroyed and the rays of light will get liberated and will consequently ascend to the New Paradise in the forms of statues while the dark part of the world will turn into a round mass and will fall deep into a well in the lower world and will get buried there with a large rock sealing the well. At this point of time that marks the liberation of the rays of light from darkness the New Paradise and the Old Paradise will combine and the liberated rays of light will get to see Father of Grandeur. Subsequently, the third period or the “Future Times” will begin and light and darkness, which are two eternal essences, will return to their original states of being separated from one another while the total separation of these two will ensure safety, eternity, and permanent peace for the realm of light.



* source: Bagheri , Mehdi " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp. 585

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