Kutar Lecture Series - The Souls of Women in the Zoroastrian Afterlife

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6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings
Khalili Lecture Theatre
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About this event

Professor Antonio Panaino

A lecture in memory of Farrokh Vajifdar.

All are welcome. The lecture is followed by a reception and refreshments.

The Avestan doctrine of the post mortem has received a certain attention about the turn of the last century. In particular, Jean Kellens highlighted some aspects of the Mazdean tradition, which can be considered, at least on meta­pho­rical grounds, as “hierogamic”. As it is well known, very important is the meeting of the uruuan- (Pahl. ruwān ), i.e. the mobile masculine soul (which se­pa­ra­tes from the body), and the daēnā- (Pahl. dēn ), which represents the fe­mi­nine “soul-vision”. The latter embodies a visual synthesis of the past behaviour (thoughts, words, and deeds) performed in life by any dead person, whose ascent (or descent) to the afterlife abode is presented. Usually, this special eschatological meeting, whose spe­culative aspects will be briefly dis­cussed with particular reference to the concept of “double” or Doppelgänger , is usually (but erroneously) associated with the destiny of a dead male person, so that the question of the final destiny of women remains un­clear.

The present talk will show that the meeting of the uruuan- and the daēnā- cannot be im­me­dia­­tely interpreted simply as the union of the soul of a man with his femi­nine symbolic ‘reward’ (as if she were as similar to the popular representation of the huri of the Islamic af­terlife). The uruuan- and the daēnā- are actually just two parts of a more complex struc­tu­re of a person’s inner being. In other words, every person, men and women alike, has both of them, just as every man and women possess baoδah- (Pahl. bōy ) “perception, sense”, uštāna- (Pahl. uštān ) “au­to­nomous mobility, animation”, and a fra­uua­ši- (Pahl. frawahr ) “soul-preference (pre-existent and pro­tective)”. In fact, many Avestan and Pahlavi sources show that both men and women possess all these qualities as constituent components of their being.

It is argued that the absence of explicit references to the destiny of dead women, whose uruuan­s are going to meet their daēnās , was av­oided because of a sort of taboo, that probably started already in the framework of the Zo­ro­as­trian community. It was based on the image of a simple spiritual re-composition of the different parts (a masculine and a feminine one) of the perfect soul. In later time this trend was probably enforced under the impact of the adoption in the Islamic fra­mework of the virgin hu­ris in correspondence of the dēn as the reward for good men. This model pro­bably produced some confusion and concealed how this spiritual union was originally con­cei­ved within the Mazdean tradition. However, the fact that even in Islamic theo­logical debates, huris are not only female, but also male, shows that the original model was much more complex.

Contact email: SSPIZS@soas.ac.uk