Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Persian Angel of Fire and Justice

Zoroastrianism, my specialty in religious studies, is the first monotheistic religion, preached by the prophet Zarathushtra about 1200 BCE. That date is very uncertain, but the antiquity of the religion is genuine and even more amazing, it is still practiced among a small population in Iran, India, and in diaspora places around the world.

The "classic" Zoroastrian theology has one God, Ahura Mazda, all good, who is opposed by a separate spirit of evil, Angra Mainyu or "Ahriman." This is the characteristic dualism of good and evil in Zoroastrian teaching. Whether that dualism is expressed in terms of cosmic spiritual beings, or in the constant tendency of people to do evil, is a matter of debate and choice.

In Zoroastrianism, God is transcendent, but is represented in the created material world by personified Attributes, and later by re-purposed ancient Persian sub-divinities. The personified Attributes are lofty, stately beings, somewhat abstract, with no stories told about them. They are the symbols for how God interacts with the world.

In traditional Zoroastrian teaching, there are seven Attributes, also known as "Amesha Spenta," or "Bounteous Immortals." Each has a physical symbol and each has a moral virtue to represent. This one is ASHA VAHISHTA, which means "Best Truth." Portrayed as a male figure, ASHA is the guardian of Fire, and his moral virtue is Justice.

From 1996 to 2000, I did iconographic paintings of all seven Immortals. This is the first one I did, in 1996. I cast the Seven in the colors of the rainbow, starting with red, for fire. I used patterns from Persian textiles in the "robes" of the figure, and the face and crown come from Persian imperial carvings. The general style I used in these paintings is a mix of Art Deco, abstract Modernism, and ancient Persian motifs.

This is the week before NoRuz, the Persian New Year, which is on March 21, the first day of Spring. In honor of NoRuz I will post all seven Zoroastrian Immortals, one by one, throughout the holiday.

ASHA VAHISHTA is acrylic on illustration board, 8" x 14", November 1996.


Tristan Alexander said...

I have always loved these and think they are amazing designs and ideas. When are you going to do the representation of Evil?

Pyracantha said...

Tristan: Many people have asked me the same question, when I am going to do the representation of Evil. This deserves a serious answer.

I believe that art is magic, and that making a painting is a magical act. Whatever you portray comes to life in a certain way. Perhaps not physically, but definitely mentally, and it becomes part of our spiritual world which is all around and inside us. To paint something is to invoke it and make it more and more real, whether it's an apple, a building, or a beautiful boy.

So if I were to paint the spirit of Evil, and use my best powers to paint it and make it a well-done painting, it would invoke Evil, the Hostile Spirit, and thus bring more evil into the world. We can not afford that. If I were to make Evil beautiful and attractive, that would make things even worse. If I were to make Evil horrible and repulsive, I would be too obvious, because Evil is often not that way at all, it gains its power from a false sense of beauty and righteousness.

Therefore I have consciously chosen not to aid Evil in the world by making its picture. Pretty devils are still devils, and I think my energies should be spent in the support of goodness.