Ritual Equality: Can Women Become Mobeds As Per Zarthushti Tenets?
By Mrs. Pervin Mistry
Recently, some Zarthushtis in North America have started a debate as to why women are not initiated as mobeds in our religion. They give various arguments in the guise of "progress", "reform" and so-called "righteous freedom of choice" that prove that these individuals have not really thought about what they want and how their claim can be justified.
Any Zarthushti who has reverence for Ahura Mazda will never rebel against His Infinite Intelligence. Is Ahura Mazda a sexist to create men and women differently? Sex equality in ordaining mobeds may not be what Ahura Mazda in His Wisdom has so Willed. Nature itself has not created men and women identical.
Women are certainly equal to men in dignity and respect but women are not and they cannot be biologically identical to men. Women can and do attain the spiritual heights any man can, but the difference is in manifesting the outcome of the sacred rituals which rigid purity demands. Women, biologically, are unable to maintain ritual purity and therefore, ritual equality in ordination is spiritually wrong.
The goal of rituals is to unite the physical with the spiritual. If women are allowed to perform sacred rituals during their biological cycle, inevitably, adverse effects will be the outcome of these improper, deceptive rituals as the presence of the excreted blood would not affect the union of any impure physical condition to the Divine Spirit which is pure. Can there be ritual purity in the midst of bodily impurities? No! No communion with the Divine can be established through blood, “druj-e nassu”; but, in sorcery, blood is one of the essential requirements to fortify and unite with the dark forces of Nature. Centuries ago, cults of priestesses existed, mostly in Europe. These were replaced by revealed religions. Human and other sacrifices are banned in all revealed religions since the ensuing blood attracts the negative influences of the lower elementals or nature spirits. Sorcery and witchcraft are effectually solemnized through blood which is the magnetic agent to attract the dark forces of nature.
As Zarthushtis we must accept biological differences with grace and wisdom, instead of questioning the traditional way our rituals have been performed since countless millennia. Ignoring Nature's Laws is not civilized education but barbaric ignorance! Have we forgotten faith and obedience as virtues that are absolutely essential to wisdom? To say women can and should become mobeds is to display stark ignorance about the rules of ritual requirements and also physical hygiene.
Please note that our religion pays the highest importance to PURITY, purity of body, mind and soul! It's a fact of Nature that our body starts to decompose as soon as the vital circulation stops. Even when we are alive, any blood and excretion that is severed from the vital circulation within the body, immediately becomes impure and injurious to the health of others. The excreted blood pollutes not only the surrounding air but also the aura of every individual within a certain radius. This is because blood contains iron which is magnetically charged. Aura is also magnetic. The magnetic emanations from the aura and more specifically from the eyes and the fingertips of a woman in menses are so potent that they penetrate and influence the electro-magnetic auras of individuals within a certain radius. Justifiably, the ancients considered a woman in her biological cycle as "contaminated" because there is a magnetic link established between individuals during close proximity, touch, or in the act of any giving and taking. The Bible mentions an episode wherein a woman who was hemorrhaging touched the hem of Lord Jesus’ robe which made him exclaim, “who touched me, my glory is gone”! Meaning, his spiritual aura became contaminated and spiritual glory or ‘vision’ was temporarily gone. The reason for the biological cycle to commence is because no life was created. As soon as an embryo begins life in the womb, the biological cycle stops. It is an issue of life versus non-Life, and our religion teaches Life to be a Divine Creation. Life is sustained by light, heat, energy and vitality; whereas non-life is the outcome of the dark forces by which decomposition begins.
In most religions women are forbidden to attend religious events or come in contact with sacred objects when they are in their biological cycle. The laws of purity have been mentioned in the Book of Manu and in the Islamic and Jewish Codes of Purity as well. Purity is the pivot around which our religious doctrines are established. Ritual purity is one of the most essential and fundamental of our doctrines as stated in the Vendidad.
The main argument which the misguided Zarthushtis advance in favour of initiating women mobeds is this: Ahura Mazda is both male and female; there are Amashaspands and Yazatas who are both male and female, therefore, women can and should become mobeds!
The gullible fall for this argument. Therefore, it is crucial that our gullible youth and adults be made aware that the concept of "sex" differentiation does not exist where Amashaspands, Yazatas and Ahura Mazda are concerned! It is we, the humans, who are possessed of physical bodies of flesh, blood and bones who have sex differentiation. It is ridiculously improper to assign Amashaspands, Yazatas and Ahura Mazda human qualities and human biology!
When we refer to Celestial Beings as male and female, we merely refer to their attributes and NOT biology. Attributes are both human and divine. Tottering between the limited dual mentalities of a human mind, let us not degrade divine attributes and Divine Beings by imagining Amashaspands and Yazatas as possessing physical male and female forms. Shape and form do not apply to Divinities who are spirit and possess spiritual attributes. Do attributes or qualities have a form? To give physical shape and form to Divinities is to promote idolatry, which is totally reprehensible to Zarthushtrian teachings. In the Yashts, the Amashaspands and Yazatas are depicted as having magical and mythical forms. These forms are esoteric and mystic, and they reveal the divine attributes as suggested by the magical and mythical forms and qualities which are not of this world "worldly". However, spiritual ignorance leads some to attribute physical corporeal forms even to divinities! This cannot be construed as an argument in favour of initiating women mobeds!
In the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion, we worship Ahura Mazda as the Creator of all Creation, and therefore, we never ascribe to Him any definite shape or form but we worship Him through His entire Creation! Please, always bear in mind that Amashaspands, Yazatas and Ahura Mazda are SPIRITUAL BEINGS, devoid of any "sex" differentiation or any corporeal biological functions. Therefore, to say that women can and should become mobeds because the Amashaspands and Yazatas are male and female is nothing short of heresy! To give shape and form to Ahura Mazda is not a Zarthushti concept. It is akin to preaching devayasni! Ahura Mazda is Divine Spirit and does not need the confining physical bounds of male/female biology.
There are some Zarthushtis who quote the word “ahuranish” in support of women being intiated as mobeds. They translate “ahuranish” as “female Ahura Mazda”! Nothing can be further from the truth or nothing can compare with the obvious twisting of scriptures to accommodate heterodox views. Kangaji, an authority on translating the Avesta, translates this word “ahuranish”, as the “waters”, or “waters pertaining to Ahura Mazda” (Haftan Yasht, karda 4.3, pp. 181-182, Khordeh Avesta Ba Maeni, 1993, Published by the Trustees of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat Funds and Properties). As proven, the reference to “ahuranish” is to the sacred waters and to the Divine Yazatas in charge of the sacred waters who are all described as female Yazatas. Attention has to be drawn to the fact that Divine Beings are not associated with biological functions or form. It is the female attributes as well as the celestial waters of space and the earthly waters such as the rivers, seas and lakes that are referred to in this karda.
Indeed, there was a time in Iran, when after the Arab conquest, most of our mobeds and even behdin male members of our community were put to the sword. Under such dire circumstances, women were compelled to perform certain basic ceremonies. However, it has never been proven or accepted (due to the stringant rules of purity), that women ever performed the Pav Mahal or the Inner Liturgies such as the Ijeshne, Vendidad, Nirangdin ceremonies, or were initiated as navar and maretab to become mobeds. They may have helped to gather the "barsam" twigs and helped with the ceremonial preparations, but not the actual ceremony. Even today, in Iran, women do tend the fires of atashgahs, but these are not consecrated atash and there is no “bui” ceremony performed in these atashgahs. They are similar to the hearth fires Zarthushtis kept perpetually burning in their homes in not too distant past! The ladies as well as the men of the household tended these fires.
"Shayast la Shayast" was written under constraint for the bad times the Zarthushtis faced in Iran. During such difficult times, the "Shayast" reveals that a woman may perform ceremonies for children or for the dead. This proves that our mobeds and behdin men were not available (slaughtered), and when there was no male in the family and no mobeds available, perforce, women had to perform some mandatory ceremonies.
Also, in our prayers, we do remember the fravashis of both the male and the female departed. But again, please remember that fravashi is beyond any physical limitations of a physical body or human biology. Being divine, the fravashi transcends human biology. In our prayers, we remember the deeds of the departed, we do not revere their biological form that perishes and disintegrates at death.
I am a woman myself but I hardly think that these injunctions against women are “millennia old nonsensical arguments of a male-dominated priesthood”. These laws are neither discriminatory nor nonsensical but essential and immutable. As Zarthushtis, we must not give in to false assertions of “rights”. Moral rights include responsibility and it is our religious responsibility to safeguard the correct ethical, moral and religious choices by not giving in to the cry of “freedom to choose” when the choice is not in keeping with our religious doctrines.
“Sad Dar", volume 24 of the Sacred Books of the East (pg. 297), clearly defines a mobed "…as to that person, also, who performs the Bareshnum for mankind, it is necessary that he be a man." If women were mobeds in ancient Iran, “man” would not have been specified! If women were ordained as mobeds in ancient Iran, as some would have us believe, would not Pouruchisty have been ordained by Asho Zarathushtra? How many female disciples do we come across in the Gathas? The male disciples, each one, by name, are identified and were inducted into the Magha Brotherhood. But not a single female is mentioned by name who was a mobed in those days. Nor is there any proof, any evidence of a woman being ordained as a mobed through the initiation rituals of navar-maretab, ever, throughout the long and chequered history of our religion spanning millennia upon millennia!
Hope this will convince at least some in the Equal Status Group that ritual equality does not, and for very sound reasons, cannot exist in our religion.
Pervin J. Mistry
May 14, 1992.