It was in the smallest of the villages in Babylonia that we first heard the prophecy. Senbi and I had stopped to refresh the horses, tired as they were pulling us along. Our chariot, gift of Nippur, had served us well and no trouble had come to us that we could not outrun. But it took its toll on our steeds and so we paused again to refresh ourselves. The village had a few mud brick houses and the obligatory temple, or House of the Gods as they called it here. There was no palace though, no headsman or soldiers. When we stopped a local farmer bid us welcome and invited us into his home where we drank fresh beer and shared bread and broth. News from the south was payment enough for this kind stranger, and we tarried as his excitement over hearing Senbi’s stories provided us with more provisions. As the day wore on the other villagers stopped by and listened until by evening it was as if we were at a festival or a feast.
During the talks one woman spoke of the end of the world and of the coming new age. We had talked about the collapse of the old ways and the people of Babylonia often thought that there was no hope for a better future. But this woman spoke of a God who would come to save the world. In fact he was already here, he had taken the form of a man and lived as a beggar outside of Assur awaiting for the one day, just one day, when all people across the world would perform the sacred rites and sacrifices in the proper manner. If for one day the whole world could follow the wishes of the Gods then the beggar would reveal himself as the Saoshyant, the redeemer who would bring about a new creation. It was heady fare for we had drunk much beer and I thought little of it at the time. But the next day when we left that kind village the word Saoshyant ran around inside of my head. It seemed familiar to me. And when we passed through more villages we heard the same prophecy. I was determined to find this beggar, this Saoshyant, when we arrived at Assur.
We had followed the Tigris for many weeks and passed through the mighty city of Babylon when the story of the Saoshyant changed. No longer were the tales of a beggar outside Assur, but of an old man who lived in an abandoned House of the Gods in nearby Dur-Kurigalzu. That was the abandoned fortress of an ancient king of Babylon and it was known for its mighty ziggurat. A visit was in order, a few days extra to our journey was a price I was willing to pay gladly.
The trail to the fortress was clear and the road smooth. The chariot carried us quickly and before long we could see the mighty ziggurat in the distance. It rose to the heavens in defiance of the cthonic entities who keep mortal man chained to the ground. It loomed on the horizon for many hours before we arrived at the abandoned city. We could see smoke rising at the south of the mighty building and while Senbi shouted out greetings to any unseen watchers I steered us to this sign of civilisation.
There at the base of the mighty tower to the sky was the man I had come to see. Old indeed, his face showed the signs of at least one lifetime lived in this harsh world. His clothes were thick and dyed a deep crimson, his hair long, grey and unkempt. As we approached he stood from the fires he was tending and waited for us. I slowed the horses, left Senbi with my spear in the chariot and walked towards him.
“Greetings old man, I am Goliath of Gath and come seeking the Saoshyant.”
He regarded me carefully. He was still, as though he were a statue of a God, his eyes the only part of him that moved. I could tell that it was not weakness that kept him so steady, but a calmness of spirit. Finally his lips moved.
“Greetings to you Goliath. I may be able to help you with your search. But come, let us sit first, share a meal and you can tell me why you seek the Saoshyant.”
I sat down and introduced Senbi to the old man, but he quickly waved him away.
“We have much to talk about, but it is good that you have this friend of yours here. A bull must be procured for a ritual, and it would be wise if your companion were to go and find this animal while you and I talk.”
Senbi had only just sat down and sighed as he uncrossed his legs and brought himself to his feet. He looked at me with his eyebrows raised.
“Sure thing Goliath, I’ll just wander this deserted town and see if there’s an exceptionally convienent bull around. Save some food for me though.”
Senbi walked away shaking his head and I turned back to the old man. His eyes were fixed on me again.
“Speak then, tell me why you seek the Saoshyant.”
I started to tell my tale then, of my encounter with the witch of Endor, and my search for my father. I told him of the tales we had heard around Babylonia and through it all he asked no questions, merely nodded or grunted from time to time. Eventually I completed my story and awaited his response.
“I can tell you right now that your search for your father is ultimately unimportant. I can tell you that it matters not which God gave you life but it only matters how you spend your time. But telling you this would achieve nothing. You must experience the revelation. We will perform a ritual and perhaps it will lead you to the truth about your origins. But beware, for there is always the possibility that you will instead experience the lie. Truth and lie, these are the things which pervade the world. On the one side is the shining truth, the followers of Ahuramazda who bring goodness to the world. On the other is the lie, the followers of Ahriman, the brutal, the cruel, the evil. War has raged between Ahuramazda and Ahriman since the creation of the world, and it will only end with the triumph of the Truth!
“I had once thought that I would help lead that final victory. In my youth I thought that I was the Saoshyant, the saviour of the world. But no, look, I am an old man now and will die soon enough. Maybe one day the Saoshyant will come, but I doubt I will live to see it. Perhaps you are the one the world is waiting for? In any case, the choice is there for us all, we can help our fellow man, become an Ashavan – a champion of truth. Or we can succumb to pettiness, to bitterness, to evil and to the lie.
“Come, it is time to prepare for the ritual. Your friend will return soon and we must be ready. I will explain all that needs to be done.”
We stood and the old man took me to an empty patch of dirt on the ground. Together we scored a large circle into the land and while he collected a bowl of water and some plants I made a fire pit in the circle and found some good wood for burning. It took some time, and during this the old man explained what would happen during the ritual. We would be replaying the creation of the world, and the spirits of the world would be drawn close to us. It was dangerous, but I knew I had to face the truth eventually.
Senbi returned then, leading a small white bull with one hand and holding his sandals in the other.
“OK, you got me. This place is holy, I mean, a bull like this just happens to be wandering around unattended? The gods sure do like you Goliath. I hope the gods like your friends too.”
I smiled and took the bull from him.
“I am about to enter a ritual. Watch me carefully my friend, help the old man if things get dangerous. Help me too if things get really dangerous.”
The old man looked at me and I stepped into the circle, leading the bull with one hand. In the other hand I held a bowl full of a strange potion the man had made out of the plants. We were sacrifices, sacred offerings as the gods themselves were sacred offerings. Mithras the Bull. Soma the Plant. Gayomard the Man. All had died and been reborn as the animals, plants and people of the world. The old man stepped into the circle and kindled the fire. Agni the sacred flame was with us. He took water from the bowl and sprinkled it over me. Apis the water god was with us. He reached down and took some earth. He rubbed the earth onto the bulls flanks. Prithvi the earth godess was with us. Finally he handed me the stone knife. The stone was the stone of the dome of the sky. It was sharp, as sharp as the lightning of Indra, the thunder god who slew the dragon Vritra. The old man stepped out of the circle. I drank the sacred Soma and my head started to burn. I turned to the bull and drew the stone knife along its neck. My head swam. The power of the gods was upon me.
I felt the gods presence in the circle and I cannot be sure if they had changed the world or merely changed my understanding of it. The sky had become a deep purple and the ziggurat moved backwards and forwards across the city. The old man was talking to me but I did not understand his words. Was he speaking an ancient tongue? Or had I transcended, no longer able to hear directly the voice of a mortal? His face was lopsided and started to melt. Everything felt dull one moment, and sharp the next. It was then that I became aware of the noise, quiet at first, a hissing, like a snake, that swelled and became like the rushing waves of the sea. The dead bull was moving. Then I realised that it was something inside of the bull that moved. Its flesh rippled and I backed away. I gripped the stone knife in my hand, blood drying between my fingers.
The snake exploded out of the bull’s stomach, raw flesh splattering over me as its gaping maw filled my vision. I twisted to the side and rolled across the ground. Thunder echoed around me. The snake turned, it was fully out of the bull now and I wondered how it had ever managed to fit inside. It was immense, larger than the bull, larger than any animal I had ever seen. It reared up and stood twice as tall as a man. I watched it, waiting for it to strike again. I knew then as surely as I have known anything that this was my enemy, that I must fight this evil. Was this the Ahriman that the old man had talked of?
Fangs glistened in the unreal light. The snake pulled back its head and struck but I was ready for it. Once again I dove to the side and then brought the knife up into the snake’s body. Except the knife had changed. No longer a piece of flint it was now a bolt of lightning and it burned its way into the belly of the snake. It screamed in agony, the sounds of a dying man. I stabbed again and again with the lightning bolt and the thunder rolled around me. I tasted blood on my tongue and could feel water on my skin as it started to rain. I do not know how long I struggled with the dying beast, but at the end I was on my knees in the mud, exhausted, with the rain running down my face and the charred remains of the snake in front of me.
As I drew ragged breaths a calmness spread across me. My body had been pushed to its limits but I started to feel detached from it. I focused on my breath and an awareness came upon me of the connectedness of everything. I was the bull and the snake I had slain, I was the rain on my face, I was the mud on the ground, I was the sun in the sky, I was the man Goliath. All was one, but I cannot explain the feeling any more than I can explain colour to a blind man. I remember the sense of freedom and of understanding, I remember the feeling that everything would be good in the end. I thought perhaps that this was a message from Ahuramazda, Lord of Truth. Then I heard the voice.
“You fight well Goliath. You fight with an inner strength.”
There was no source to this voice, it was all around and within me. I could make no answer, my tongue refused to move and my mind could form no response.
“I have seen many who fight as you do. Indra, Marduk, Assur, Adad, Baal, Yahweh, Theus the list goes on and on. They are my children, the thunder gods who bring war and battle to the people of the world. That is my hope for you too Goliath. The world is a shadow of its former self, you have seen it yourself. Cities lie in ruins, people are afraid to travel, kings watch the skies for the portents of their downfall. No one seeks to build any more. It is time to end this world and begin again and you will be an agent of this glorious rebirth. Your destiny awaits my son. You know the truth now. I, Ahriman, am your father.”
I could barely make sense of the words, my head was spinning so fast. The world was turning and I could no longer feel my connection to all things. I felt sick, hot and cold at the same time. I stood and tried to speak but my legs were weak and I collapsed onto the ground. All was lost, all became black as night.
When I awoke Senbi was beside me. My muscles ached but my sickness had passed. The smell of cooking meat was strong but did not turn my stomach. I sat up and Senbi brought me some water. I drank greedily and thanked him.
“So, how you feeling big guy?”
“I am unsure. I had such knowledge when I walked with the gods and now it fades from me like a dream. Wait, I remember one thing, the name of the old man! Where is he? Where is Zoroaster?”
“No idea, halfway through the ritual he sent me to get some berries that he said would help you recover. When I got back he was gone. I fed you the berries though, I think they worked, they made you throw up a lot. So did you find what you were looking for?”
“No. Maybe. I spoke to a god who could be my father. But he is the Lord of Lies so how can I ever know? The old man was right, whoever my father is will not determine my destiny nor my actions. Even if I am a son of evil I will still strive to be an Ashavan.”
My search for my father was a search for truth. And I wasn’t finished looking yet.