The Sakas Part ten

October 10, 2019 by  

Michael McClain

Ehsan Yarshater elaborates on the above:
“A variety of fabulous creatures who are either helpful or harmful to man are known in the Iranian myths. They are also met in the Avesta, the Pahlavi books, and the folk epics of Persian literature. Important among them, and conspicuous in the Shah Namah and in Persian literature is the Saena bird, Avesta: “Saena ​Meregha”, Pahlavi: “Sen=murv,” Persian: “Simurgh”, mentioned in the Avesta and elaborated in the Pahlavi books. Its resting place, according to Yasht XII:17, id on the fabulous tree which is in the middle of tjr Vourukasha Sea and which bears the seeds of all plants and healing herbs. It is by the bless beating of the Simurgh’s wings that the seeds of this tree are scatters, to be carried by the wind and rain over all the earth.
In the Shah Namah the Simurgh is depicted as a huge eagle with magical powers, which has its nest on top of a huge mountain. It rears Zal and helps Rustam defeat Isfandiyar. It is not certain however, whether this is the same bird as described in the Avesta. Since the legends of Zal and Rustam are probably of Saka origin, and in any event from a different region than the birthplsce, it is likely either that two different miraculous birds coalesced in name or that different myths were attached to the same bird in different regions…”
It is obvious that the Avestan Saena Meregha, the Pahlavi Sen-murv, Persian Dimurgh is the prototype of the “solitary bird” of Suhravardi and St. John of the Cross and of the “solitary falcon of Hafiz. Hafiz’s Royal Falcon does indeed share some of the properties of the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross. The Royal Falcon of Hafiz is a high flying bixand high nesting bird that perches in the highest places, It is also a doplyary bird that usually dors bot tolerate the presence of those even of its own species.
Could Hafiz have been the inspiration for St. John of the Cross and his solitary bird? However, in the case of the solitary bird, St. John of the Cross is much closer to a Persian mystic who lived well before the time of Hafiz, and with whose writings Hafiz was almost certainly familiar. So, in the case of the solitary bird, it would appear that both St. John of the cross and Hafiz were inspired by a certain Persian Sufi of whom we shall now speak.
The Simurgh also figures in two of the treatises of Suhravardi, i.e., (Treatise of the Red Intellect and (Treatise of the Shrill Cry of the of the Simurgh. In this last treatise, Suhravardi says of the Simurgh:
“All colors are from him, but he himself has no color”
Thus, Suhravardi’s Simurgh posses at least one of the properties of the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross.
Indeed, it is in the works of Suhravardi that one finds what is by far the most exact prototype of the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross. Suhravardi tragically died young, being born in 1153 and dying in 1191. Suhravardi was not only a great mystic, but also a great philosopher, though not so well known as his fellow Persians avicenna and al Ghazzali. An exposition of the philosophy of Suhravardi would take up too much space (huge tomes have been written concerning the philosophy of Suhravardi) and would lead us very far astray from our main topic. A most excellent introduction to the philosophy of Suhravardi may be found in Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhravardi, Ibn Arabi by Seyed Hossein Nasr; for those who read French, I recommend En Islam Iranien: Aspects Spiritels et Philosophies, Volume II, Suhravardi et les Platoniciens de Prtse by Henry Corbin. In his treatise, The Language of the Ants, Suhravardi includes a tale concerning a nightingale, another concerning a hoopoe, and one concerning a peacock. By its nature, the nightingale shares one property with the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross, i.e., it sings softly and sweetly. However, with this one exception, the bird mentioned in. The Language of the Ants have none of the properties of the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross, so they need not concern us here. It is Suhravardi’s Simurgh, which we have mentioned before, which id of course of interest, as it would appear to be the inspiration of both the Royal Falcon of Hafiz and the solitary bird of St. John of the Cross. We shall begin with what Suhravardi says concerning rhw Simurgh in The Red Intellect:
“The Simurgh has its nest at the top of the Tuba tree, at dawb rge Simurgh leaves its nest and spreads its wings over the earth.
I said to the old man, I have heard that Zak was raised by the Simurgh and that Rustam was able to kill Isfandiyar with the Dimmurgh’s help.
“Yes”, said the old man, “it is true.”
“How was that?”, I asked.
(Note: the following is based on incidents in the Shah Namah of Firdausi, the Persian national epic.)
“When Zal was born, his hair and face were white (he was an albino). His father Sam ordered him cast into the wilderness, and his mother, who had suffered much pain in giving birth, agreed when she saw that her son was hideous to behold. So Zal was cast into the wilderness. It was winter and cold, and no one expected him to live long, but a few days later his mother recovered from her pain and began to have compassion for her son. She said: Let me go at once to the wilderness and see how my son is.’ When she came to the wilderness she saw her son beneath the Simurgh’s wing. He saw his mother and smiled, and his mother took him up in her arms and nursed him. She was to take him home, but she said, ‘I cannot return home without learning how Zal survived these few days.’ She put him back where he had been beneath the Simurgh’s wing and hid herself nearby. When night fell and the Simurgh left the wilderness, a gazelle came to Zal and suckled him. When had fed, the gazelle sheltered him either own body so that no harm might come to him. His mother rose, took her son from the gazelle and carried him home.’
‘What is the mystery in that?’, I asked. I asked the same thing of the Simurgh,’ said the old man. ‘It (the Simurgh) said: ‘Zal was born under the sign of the Tuba tree. We could not allow him to perish. We gave the gazelle’s foal to the hunter and placed compassion for Zal in the gazelle’s heart so that it would tend him by night, while by day I took him under my wing.’
‘What about Rustam and Isfandiyar,’ I asked.
‘When he returned home wounded, his father Sam humbled himself before the Simurgh. Now the Simurgh has a characteristic such that if a mirror or something like that be held up to it, any eye that looks into the mirror will be dazzled. So Zal had a breastplate made with iron and polished. This he placed on Rustam and on his head a polished helmet. He also covered his horse with mirror. Then he sent Rustam into the battlefield opposite the Simurgh. Isfandiyar was forced to come face to face with Rustam, and when he drew near, the rays of the Simurgh fell on the breastplate and mirrors, the reflection from which pierced Isfandiyar’s eyes and dazzled them. He could see nothing. Since he had never experienced anything like that before, he imagined that he had been wounded in both eyes, fell from his horse and perished at the hand of Rustam. The “two feathered shaft’ they talk about must be the Simurgh’s two wings.’
I asked the old man if he thought there was but one Simurgh in the world. “He who knows not supposes it to be so”, he said. ‘Otherwise, at every instance a Simurgh must come from the Tuba tree to the earth, and the one that is on the earth, the other must simultaneously cease to exist. That is, at every minute a Simurgh comes while the one that is here disappears; just as one is coming toward the earth, the other is going from the Tuba. 
The following is from Suhravardi’s treatise titled: The Simurgh’s Shrill Cry. “ It will not be detrimental to recall, by way of an introductory preface, something of the bird ‘ s condition and place of habitation. Those who have been illuminated have shown that every hoopoe that abandons his nest in springtime and plucks h is features with his beak and sets off for Mount Qaf who renounces the material world) will fall under the shadow of Mount Qaf within the span of a thousand years “One day with your Lord is a thousand years of those which you compute.” (Qur’an XXII: 47) These thousand years, in the calendar of the people of Reality, are but one dawning ray from the Orient of the Divine Realm. During this time, the hoopoe becomes a Simurgh whose shrill cry awakens those who are asleep.”
“The Simurgh’s nest is on Mount Qaf. His cry reaches everyone, but he has few listeners; everyone is with him, but most are without him, you are with us, and you are not with us.
You are like the soul; hence you are not apparent
The ill who totter on the brink of dropsy and consumption are cured by his (the Simurgh’s shadow, and it causes various symptoms to vanish. The Simurgh flies without moving and he soars without wings. He approaches without traversing space. All colors are from him, but he himself has no color. His nest is in the Orient, but the Occident is not void of him. All are occupied with him, but he is free of all. All are full of him, but he is empty of all. All knowledge emanates and is derived from his shrill cry, and marvelous instruments such as the organ have been made from his thrilling voice Since you have not seen Solomon, what do you know of the birds; language?
His food is fire, and whoever binds one of his feathers to his right side and passes through fire will be safe from burning. The zephyr is from his breath; hence lovers speak their hearts’ secrets and innermost thoughts with him.
These words are that have been shriven here are but a puff of breath emanating from the Simurgh, an incomplete account of his proclamation.”
In the works of St. John of the Cross, as in much Persian Sufi Poetry, the solitary bird represents the soul, which has achieved the heights of mystical ecstasy, as Otto Spies has noted:
“Suhravardi’s Simurgh stands for the Sufi who has passed all the stages on the road and reached his goal.”
So far, both Suhravardi and St. John of the Cross us e the Simurgh or solitary bird (which the Simurgh is) in the same way as many Sufis and Christian mystics.
I f you will recall, St. John of the Cross describes solitariness as one of the characteristics of the mystical bird. Another characteristic of the mystical bird of St. John of the Cross describes solitariness as one of the characteristics of a mystical bird.
Another characteristic of the mystical bird of St. John of the Cross is that: “Ordinarily sets itself very high, and thus the spirit at this stage sets itself in the highest contemplation.”
All the Persian Sufis – al-Bistami, Attar, al-Ghazzali, Rumi, Hafiz are at one with St. John of the Cross on this point; that their birds symbolize the soul in the highest contemplation: here all mystics agree.
The solitary bird of St. John of the Cross, like the mystical birds of the Sufis, achieves a wisdom beyond all merely human reason: “Transcending far all temporal lore” as St. John of the Cross says in Coplas del Exstasis.
The solitary bird of St. John of the Cross “Is unknowing of all things, for it knows God only, without knowing how.”
Said Suhravardi in reference to the Simurgh “All knowledge emanates and is derived from his shrill cry.”
One property which St. which St. John of the Cross attributes his solitary bird is, at first glance, rather curious “The beak is turned always towards the place from which the wind comes: and thus, the spirit here turns the beak of the affections towards the place from which the spirit of love, which is God comes. It must put its beak into the air of the Holy Spirit, which is its (the Holy Spirit’s) inspiration, so that in so doing, it may be more worthy of the Holy Spirit’s company; St. john is a bit more precise than most of the Persian Sufis when he says that his solitary bird must raise its beak “Towards the place from which the breeze blows”
To the wind of the Holy Spirit.
and: To St. John of the Cross, the wind of the spirit is: obscure tidings of God” from the Holy Spirit. Henry Corbin has noted that in Islam the mystical bird is at times associated with the Holy Spirit.
Says Suhravardi in. The Sirnurgh’s Shrill cry: “The morning zephyr is his (the Simurgh’s) breath.” It is obvious that the Simurgh, in Avestan “Saena Meregha” the Pahlavi “Sen-Murv” is the prototype of the “solitary bird of Suhravardi and St. John of the Cross and of the “Royal Falcon” of Hafiz.
There is much more that could be said concerning the many affinities between Suhravardi and St. John of the Cross, but we lack the space here, and the Simurgh of Suhravardi and the “solitary bird” of St. John of the Cross is perhaps the most striking example. The reader may now be asking how the influence of the Sufis and the Shi’a Imams reached St. John of the Cross. At this time there is no answer. In these pages, we have noted that the Celtic influences in the Kievan Rus’ chanson de geste “Song of Igor’s Campaign” are far too close and numerous to be “mere coincidences” yet no one knows how said influences reached Kievan Rus’: forvx various reasons Vladimir Nabokov’s theory of the “Viking bridge” is not believable nor acceptable.
By a huge margin, the Sufi and Shi’a Imam influences is the works of St. John of the Cross are far too close and numerous to be “mere coincidences”.: attempts to discover “intermediate works” have all failed for a simple reason; in each and every case the works of St. John of the Cross are more similar to the originals than to the “intermediates”.
As a personal anecdote, when Pope St. John Paul II made his first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, among the gist’s given to him by the local archbishop was a copy of an essay of mine on St. John of the Cross and Sufism. Some months later I received a letter of thanks and congratulations for said essay from the Vatican.
Many topics have been dealt with in the present essay; of necessity, all have been dealt with very briefly. I hope that the readers will be encouraged to do further research on said topics.
to be continued


Comments are closed.