Chapter 15




The interior of the temple was lighted with innumerable lamps, suspended from the ceiling, of bronze and of the simplest workmanship, like everything which pertained to the worship of Auramazda. In the midst, upon a small altar of black stone, stood a bronze brazier, shaped like a goblet, wherein a small fire of wood burned quietly, sending up little wreaths of smoke, which spread over the flat ceiling and hung like a mist about the lamps; before the altar lay a supply of fuel--fine, evenly-cut sticks of white pine-wood, piled in regular order in a symmetrical heap. At one extremity of the oblong hall stood a huge mortar of black marble, having a heavy wooden pestle, and standing upon a circular base, in which was cut a channel all around, with an opening in the front from which the Haoma juice poured out abundantly when the fresh milkweed was moistened and pounded together in the mortar. A square receptacle of marble received the fluid, which remained until it had fermented during several days, and had acquired the intoxicating strength for which it was prized, and to which it owed its sacred character. By the side of this vessel, upon a low marble table, lay a huge wooden ladle; and two golden cups, short and wide, but made smaller in the middle like a sand-glass, stood there also.

At the opposite end of the temple, before a marble screen which shielded the doorway, was placed a great carved chair of ebony and gold and silver, raised upon a step above the level of the floor.

It was already dark when the king entered the temple, dressed in his robes of state, with his sword by his side, his long sceptre tipped with the royal sphere in his right hand, and the many-pointed crown upon his head. His heavy black beard had grown longer in the three years that had passed, and flowed down over his vest of purple and white half-way to his belt. His face was stern, and the deep lines of his strong features had grown more massive in outline. With the pride of every successive triumph had come also something more of repose and conscious power. His step was slower, and his broad brown hand grasped the golden sceptre with less of nervous energy and more unrelenting force. But his brows were bent, and his expression, as he took his seat before the screen, over against the altar of the fire, was that of a man who was prepared to be discontented and cared little to conceal what he felt.

After him came the chief priest, completely robed in white, with a thick, white linen sash rolled for a girdle about his waist, the fringed ends hanging stiffly down upon one side. Upon his head he wore a great mitre, also of white linen, and a broad fringed stole of the same material fell in two wide bands from each side of his neck to his feet. His beard was black and glossy, fine as silk, and reached almost to his waist. He came and stood with his back to the king and his face to the altar, ten paces from the second fire.

Then, from behind the screen and from each side of it, the other priests filed out, two and two, all clad in white like the chief priest, save that their mitres were smaller and they wore no stole. They came out and ranged themselves around the walls of the temple, threescore and nine men, of holy order, trained in the ancient chanting of the Mazdayashnian hymns; men in the prime and strength of life, black-bearded and broad-shouldered, whose massive brows and straight features indicated noble powers of mind and body.

The two who stood nearest to the chief priest came forward, and taking from his hands a square linen cloth he bore, bound it across his mouth and tied it behind his neck in a firm knot by means of strings. Then, one of them put into his left hand a fan of eagles' feathers, and the other gave him a pair of wrought-iron pincers. Then they left him to advance alone to the altar.

He went forward till he was close to the bronze brazier, and stooping down, he took from the heap of fuel a clean white stick, with the pincers, which he carefully laid upon the fire. Then with his left hand he gently fanned the flames, and his mouth being protected by the linen cloth in such a manner that his breath could not defile the sacred fire, he began slowly and in a voice muffled by the bandage he wore, to recite the beginning of the sacrificial hymn:

"Best of all goods is purity. Glory, glory to him Who is best and purest in purity. For he who ruleth from purity, he abideth according to the will of the Lord. The All-Wise giveth gifts for the works which man doeth in the world for the Lord. He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to Ahura."

[9]

[Footnote 9: Probably the oldest hymns in the Avesta language.]

Then all the priests repeated the verses together in chorus, their voices sounding in a unison which, though not precisely song, seemed tending to a musical cadence as the tones rose and fell again upon the last two syllables of each verse. And then again, the chief priest and the other priests together repeated the hymn, many times, in louder and louder chorus, with more and more force of intonation; till the chief priest stepped back from the fire, and delivering up the pincers and the fan, allowed the two assistants to unbind the cloth from his mouth.

He walked slowly up the temple on the left side, and keeping his right hand toward the altar, he walked seven times around it, repeating a hymn alone in low tones; till, after the seventh time, he went up to the farther end of the hall, and stood before the black marble trough in which the fermented Haoma stood ready, having been prepared with due ceremony three days before.

Then, in a loud voice, he intoned the chant in praise of Zaothra and Bareshma, holding high in his right hand the bundle of sacred stalks; which he, from time to time, moistened a little in the water from a vessel which stood ready, and sprinkled to the four corners of the temple. The priests again took up the strain in chorus, repeating over and over the burden of the song.

"Zaothra, I praise thee and desire thee with praise! Bareshma, I praise thee and desire thee with praise! Zaothra, with Bareshma united, I praise you and desire you with praise! Bareshma, with Zaothra united, I praise you and desire you with praise!"

Suddenly the chief priest laid down the Bareshma, and seizing one of the golden goblets, filled it, with the wooden ladle, from the dark receptacle of the juice. As he poured it high, the yellow light of the lamp caught the transparent greenish fluid, and made it sparkle strangely. He put the goblet to his lips and drank.

The king, sitting in silence upon his carved throne at the other extremity of the temple, bent his brows in a dark frown as he saw the hated ceremony begin. He knew how it ended, and grand as the words were which they would recite when the subtle fluid had fired their veins, he loathed to see the intoxication that got possession of them; and the frenzy with which they howled the sacred strains seemed to him to destroy the solemnity and dignity of a hymn, in which all that was solemn and high would otherwise have seemed to be united.

The chief priest drank and then, filling both goblets, gave them to the priests at his right and left hand; who, after drinking, passed each other, and made way for those next them; and so the whole number filed past the Haoma vessel and drank their share till they all had changed places, and those who had stood upon the right, now stood upon the left; and those who were first upon the left hand, were now upon the right. And when all had drunk, the chief priest intoned the great hymn of praise, and all the chorus united with him in high, clear tones:

"The All-Wise Creator, Ahura Mazda, the greatest, the best, the most fair in glory and majesty,"

"The mightiest in his strength, the wisest in his wisdom, the holiest in his holiness, whose power is of all power the fairest,"

"Who is very wise, who maketh all things to rejoice afar,"

"Who hath made us and formed us, who hath saved us, the holiest among the heavenly ones,"

"Him I adore and praise, unto him I declare the sacrifice, him I invite,"

"I declare the sacrifice to the Protector, the Peace-maker, who maketh the fire to burn, who preserveth the wealth of the earth; the whole earth and the wisdom thereof, the seas and the waters, the land and all growing things, I invite to the sacrifice."

"Cattle and living things, and the fire of Ahura, the sure helper, the lord of the archangels,"

"The nights and the days, I call upon, the purity of all created light,"

"The Lord of light, the sun in his glory, glorious in name and worthy of honour,"

"Who giveth food unto men, and multiplieth the cattle upon the earth, who causeth mankind to increase, I call upon and invite to the sacrifice,"

"Water, and the centre of all waters, given and made of God, that refresheth all things and maketh all things to grow, I call upon and invite."

"The souls of the righteous and pure, the whole multitude of living men and women upon earth, I call upon and invite."

"I call upon the triumph and the mighty strength of God,"

"I call upon the archangels who keep the world, upon the months, upon the pure, new moon, the lordship of purity in heaven,"

"I call upon the feasts of the years and the seasons, upon the years and the months and days,"

"I call upon the star Ahura,[10] and upon the one great and eternal in purity, and upon all the stars, the works of God,"

"Upon the star Tistrya I call, the far-shining, the magnificent--upon the fair moon that shineth upon the young cattle, upon the glorious sun swift in the race of his flight, the eye of the Lord."

"I call upon the spirits and souls of the righteous, on the fire-begotten of the Lord, and upon all fires."

"Mountains and all hills, lightened and full of light."

"Majesty of kingly honour, the Majesty of the king which dieth not, is not diminished,"

"All wisdom and blessings and true promises, all men who are full of strength and power and might,"

"All places and lands and countries beneath the heavens, and above the heavens, light without beginning, existing, and without end,"

"All creatures pure and good, male and female upon the earth."

"All you I invite and call upon to the sacrifice."

"Havani, pure, lord of purity!"

"Shavanghi, pure, lord of purity!"

"Rapithwina, pure, lord of purity!"

"Uzayęirina, pure, lord of purity!"

"Aiwishruthrema, Aibigaya, pure, lord of purity!"

"Ushahina, pure, lord of purity!"

"To Havani, Shavanghi and Vishya, the pure, the lords of purity most glorious, be honour and prayer and fulfilment and praise."

"To the days, and the nights, and the hours, the months and the years and the feasts of years, be honour and prayer and fulfilment and praise before Auramazda, the All-Wise, for ever and ever and ever."[11]

[Footnote 10: Ahura, Jupiter. Tistrya, Sirius.]

[Footnote 11: Partly a translation, partly a close imitation in a condensed form of Yashna I.]

As the white-robed priests shouted the verses of the long hymn, their eyes flashed and their bodies moved rhythmically from side to side with an ever-increasing motion. From time to time, the golden goblets were filled with the sweet Haoma juice, and passed rapidly from hand to hand along the line, and as each priest drank more freely of the subtle fermented liquor, his eyes gained a new and more unnatural light, and his gestures grew more wild, while the whole body of voices rose together from an even and dignified chant to an indistinguishable discord of deafening yells.

Ever more and more they drank, repeating the verses of the hymn without order or sequence. One man repeated a verse over and over again in ear-piercing shrieks, swaying his body to and fro till he dropped forward upon the ground, foaming at the mouth, his features distorted with a wild convulsion, and his limbs as rigid as stone. Here, a band of five locked their arms together, and, back to back, whirled madly round, screaming out the names of the archangels, in an indiscriminate rage of sound and broken syllables. One, less enduring than the rest, relaxed his hold upon his fellow's arm and fell headlong on the pavement, while the remaining four were carried on by the force of their whirling, and fell together against others who steadied themselves against the wall, swaying their heads and arms from side to side. Overthrown by the fall of their companions, these in their turn fell forward upon the others, and in a few moments, the whole company of priests lay grovelling one upon the other, foaming at the mouth, but still howling out detached verses of their hymn--a mass of raging, convulsed humanity, tearing each other in the frenzy of drunkenness, rolling over and over each otter in the twisted contortions of frenzied maniacs. The air grew thick with the smoke of the fire and of the lamps, and the unceasing, indescribable din of the hoarsely howling voices seemed to make the very roof rock upon the pillars that held it up, as though the stones themselves must go mad and shriek in the universal fury of sound. The golden goblets rolled upon the marble pavement, and the sweet green juice ran in slimy streams upon the floor. The high priest himself, utterly intoxicated and screaming with a voice like a wild beast in agony, fell backwards across the marble vase at the foot of the mortar and his hand and arm plashed into the dregs of the fermented Haoma.

Never had the drunken frenzy reached such a point before. The king had sat motionless and frowning upon his seat until he saw the high priest fall headlong into the receptacle of the sacred Haoma. Then, with a groan, he laid his two hands upon the arms of his carved chair, and rose to his feet in utter disgust and horror. But, as he turned to go, he stood still and shook from head to foot, for he saw beside him a figure that might, at such a moment, have startled the boldest.

A tall man of unearthly looks stood there, whose features he seemed to know, but could not recognise. His face was thin to emaciation, and his long, white hair fell in tangled masses, with his huge beard, upon his half-naked shoulders and bare chest. The torn, dark mantle he wore was falling to the ground as he faced the drunken herd of howling priests and lifted up his thin blanched arms and bony fingers, as though in protest at the hideous sight. His deep-set eyes were blue and fiery, flashing with a strange light. He seemed not to see Darius, but he gazed in deepest horror upon the writhing mass of bestial humanity below.

Suddenly his arms shook, and standing there, against the dark marble screen, like the very figure and incarnation of fate, he spoke in a voice that, without effort, seemed to dominate the hideous din of yelling voices--a voice that was calm and clear as a crystal bell, but having that in it which carried instantly the words he spoke to the ears of the very most besotted wretch that lay among the heaps upon the floor--a voice that struck like a sharp steel blade upon iron.

"I am the prophet of the Lord. Hold ye your peace."

As a wild beast's howling suddenly diminishes and grows less and dies away to silence, when the hunter's arrow has sped close to the heart with a mortal wound, so in one moment, the incoherent din sank down, and the dead stillness that followed was dreadful by contrast. Darius stood with his hand upon the arm of his chair, not understanding the words of the fearful stranger; still less the mastering power those words had upon the drunken priests. But his courage did not desert him, and he feared not to speak.

"How sayest thou that thou art a prophet? Who art thou?" he asked.

"Thou knowest me and hast sent for me," answered the white-haired man, in his calm tones; but his fiery eyes rested on the king's, and Darius almost quailed under the glance. "I am Zoroaster; I am come to proclaim the truth to thee and to these miserable men, thy priests."

The fear they felt had restored the frenzied men to their senses. One by one, they rose and crept back towards the high priest himself, who had struggled to his feet, and stood upon the basement of the mortar above all the rest.

Then Darius looked, and he knew that it was Zoroaster, but he knew not the strange look upon his face, and the light in his eyes was not as the light of other days. He turned to the priests.

"Ye are unworthy priests," he cried angrily, "for ye are drunk with your own sacrifice, and ye defile God's temple with unseemly cries. Behold this man--can ye tell me whether he be indeed a prophet?" Darius, whose anger was fast taking the place of the awe he had felt when he first saw Zoroaster beside him, strode a step forward, with his hand upon his sword-hilt, as though he would take summary vengeance upon the desecrators of the temple.

"He is surely a liar!" cried the high priest from his position beyond the altar, as though hurling defiance at Zoroaster through the flames.

"He is surely a liar!" repeated all the priests together, following their head.

"He is a Magian, a worshipper of idols, a liar and the father of lies! Down with him! Slay him before the altar; destroy the unbeliever that entereth the temple of Ahura Mazda!"

"Down with the Magian! Down with the idolater!" cried the priests, and moved forward in a body toward the thin white-haired man who stood facing them, serene and high.

Darius drew his short sword and rushed before Zoroaster to strike down the foremost of the priests. But Zoroaster seized the keen blade in the air as though it had been a reed, and wrenched it from the king's strong grip, and broke it in pieces like glass, and cast the fragments at his feet. Darius staggered back in amazement, and the herd of angry men, in whose eyes still blazed the drunkenness of the Haoma, huddled together for a moment like frightened sheep.

"I have no need of swords," said Zoroaster, in his cold, clear voice.

Then the high priest cried aloud, and ran forward and seized a brand from the sacred fire.

"It is Angramainyus, the Power of Evil," he yelled fiercely. "He is come to fight with Auramazda in his temple! But the fire of the Lord shall destroy him!"

As the priest rushed upon him, with the blazing brand raised high to strike, Zoroaster faced him and fixed his eyes upon the angry man. The priest suddenly stood still, his hand in mid-air, and the stout piece of burning wood fell to the floor, and lay smouldering and smoking upon the pavement.

"Tempt not the All-Wise Lord, lest he destroy thee," said Zoroaster solemnly. "Harken, ye priests, and obey the word from heaven. Take the brazier from your altar, and scatter the embers upon the floor, for the fire is defiled."

Silent and trembling, the priests obeyed, for they were afraid; but the high priest stood looking in amazement upon Zoroaster.

When the brazier was gone, and the coals were scattered out upon the pavement, and the priests had trodden out the fire with their leathern shoes, Zoroaster went to the black marble altar, and faced the east, looking towards the stone mortar at the end. He laid his long, thin hands upon the flat surface and drew them slowly together; and, in the sight of the priests, a light sprang up softly between his fingers; gradually at first, then higher and higher, till it stood like a blazing spear-head in the midst, emitting a calm, white effulgence that darkened the lamps overhead, and shed an unearthly whiteness on Zoroaster's white face.

He stepped back from the altar, and a low murmur of astonishment rose from all the crowd of white-robed men. Darius stood in silent wonder, gazing alternately upon the figure of Zoroaster, and upon the fragments of his good sword that lay scattered upon the pavement.

Zoroaster looked round upon the faces of the priests with blazing eyes:

"If ye be true priests of Ahura Mazda, raise with me the hymn of praise," he said. "Let it be heard in the heavens, and let it echo beyond the spheres!"

Then his voice rose calm and clear above all the others, and lifting up his eyes and hands, he intoned the solemn chant:

"He, who by truth ruleth in purity, abideth according to the will of the Lord."

"The Lord All-Wise is the giver of gifts to men for the works which men in the world shall do in the truth of the Lord."

"He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to God."

"Best of all earthly goods is truth."

"Glory, glory on high for ever to him who is best in heaven, and truest in truth on earth!"

Zoroaster's grand voice rang out, and all the priests sang melodiously together; and upon the place which had been the scene of such frenzy and fury and drunkenness, there descended a peace as holy and calm as the quiet flame that burned without fuel upon the black stone in the midst. One by one, the priests came and fell at Zoroaster's feet; the chief priest first of all.

"Thou art the prophet and priest of the Lord," each said, one after another. "I acknowledge thee to be the chief priest, and I swear to be a true priest with thee."

And last of all, the king, who had stood silently by, came and would have kneeled before Zoroaster. But Zoroaster took his hands, and they embraced.

"Forgive me the wrong I did thee, Zoroaster," said Darius. "For thou art a holy man, and I will honour thee as thou wast not honoured before."

"Thou hast done me no wrong," answered Zoroaster. "Thou hast sent for me, and I am come to be thy faithful friend, as I swore to thee, long ago, in the tent at Shushan."

Then they took Zoroaster's torn clothes, and they clad him in white robes and set a spotless mitre upon his head; and the king, for the second time, took his golden chain from his own neck, and put it about Zoroaster's shoulders. And they led him away into the palace.




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