Zoroastrian - Means of achieving spiritual experience - 12 Creating a sacred geography
Type of Spiritual Experience
There are numerous examples within the observations for Zoroastrianism of sacred geography. There are numerous examples of Tepes, there is Persepolis and Susa, Jajarm and the very intriguing site of Takht-i Rustam. The existence of all these sites indicates that at one time there was an extremely extensive network of sites that used sacred geography. Furthermore they were all connected. Even more interesting was that they appear to have been connected to the sites of other mystic systems and movements.
There are both physical connections between them but also cultural connections. The site of Persepolis, for example, appears to have borrowed ideas from the Egyptian mystic system and the Sumerian, or maybe it was the other way round. We have also seen that there were very clear links with the early Indian mystic movement. They were in agreement about the symbols, the layout of the spiritual world and the ‘cosmology’, what differed was the naming used, with numerous names for the same concepts, and the rich cultural and artistic fabric they wove around the concepts – the myths, the decoration, the art, the music, the dance, the clothes.
As a pattern of living it has a lot to recommend it, rich fulfilling and life enhancing cultural diversity via shared belief.
The importance of the trade routes
One might legitimately ask how these ideas travelled and were exchanged and the most obvious route is via the silk roads and the inns at which the traders and travellers stayed either overnight or while they conducted their trade. These were called caravanserais (from Persian كاروانسرا karvan + sara = caravan + court). In Mesopotamia, they were called khans (for instance, the caravanserai in Damascus was called Khan As'ad Pasha), while in Asia Minor (Turkey), they were called hans and kervansaraylar (for instance, the Agzıkara-han Kervansarayları).
The caravanserais were usually built a day's journey, about thirty to fifty kilometres, apart. Isidorus Characenus (Isidore of Charax) calls them Stations.
The caravanserais provided board and lodging, as well as courtyards for the animals and storage areas for their goods.
King Cyrus the Great, who, having found out what distance a horse could cover in a day, divided the roads into corresponding stages depending on the terrain, and at these stage junctions built stations consisting of stables and rooms, and where he stationed horses, couriers and a man in charge.
In some respect, therefore, these routes are part of the sacred geography. They and the caravanserai also provided an absolutely essential activity to obtaining spiritual experiences – they reduced threats.
Below is the section on caravanserais from Herodotus' Histories, Terpsichore 5.52 giving an account of the Persian Royal Road which ran from Sardes to Susa. The distance between the rest stations along the road varied depending of the terrain and the abilities of local beasts of burden. As can be expected, because of the animals, the distance between caravan stations (average 121 stades or 4 parasangs = 24 km.) was somewhat shorter than the average distance of a day's march by say a soldier (150 to 200 stades or 30 to 40 km.). A stade (length of a stadium is approximately 0.2 km in length). Herodotus notes two kinds of rest stations καταγωγαὶ σταθμῶν (katagogai stathmon) and σταθμοὶ καταγωγέων (stathmoi katagogeon), κατάλυμα katályma meaning accommodation.
A parasang (Farsang) is according to some references equivalent to about 6-8 km. and by others 3 1/2 miles, i.e. 5.6 km. perhaps an hour's travel by caravan.
We have also provided some more miscellaneous examples of the sacred geography used by the Zoroastrians.
A description of the experience
(Translation by George Rawlinson:) Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravanserais; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger. In Lydia and Phrygia there are twenty stations within a distance Of 94 ½ parasangs (approx. 570 km.). On leaving Phrygia the Halys has to be crossed; and here are gates through which you must needs pass ere you can traverse the stream. A strong force guards this post. When you have made the passage, and are come into Cappadocia, 28 stations and 104 parasangs bring you to the borders of Cilicia, where the road passes through two sets of gates, at each of which there is a guard posted. Leaving these behind, you go on through Cilicia, where you find three stations in a distance of 15 ½ parasangs. The boundary between Cilicia and Armenia is the river Euphrates, which it is necessary to cross in boats. In Armenia the resting-places are 15 in number, and the distance is 56 ½ parasangs. There is one place where a guard is posted. Four large streams intersect this district, all of which have to be crossed by means of boats. The first of these is the Tigris; the second and the third have both of them the same name, though they are not only different rivers, but do not even run from the same place. For the one which I have called the first of the two has its source in Armenia, while the other flows afterwards out of the country of the Matienians. The fourth of the streams is called the Gyndes, and this is the river which Cyrus dispersed by digging for it three hundred and sixty channels. Leaving Armenia and entering the Matienian country, you have four stations; these passed you find yourself in Cissia, where eleven stations and 42 ½ parasangs bring you to another navigable stream, the Choaspes, on the banks of which the city of Susa is built. Thus the entire number of the stations is raised to one hundred and eleven; and so many are in fact the resting-places that one finds between Sardis and Susa.
The source of the experienceZoroastrian
Concepts, symbols and science items
Science ItemsSacred geography
Sacred geography - altars
Sacred geography - ancient trees
Sacred geography - artificial hills
Sacred geography - beacons
Sacred geography - bridges
Sacred geography - citadel
Sacred geography - cities
Sacred geography - cliffs
Sacred geography - crack or crevice
Sacred geography - cross
Sacred geography - crossroads
Sacred geography - cursus
Sacred geography - enclosures and camps
Sacred geography - gardens
Sacred geography - islands
Sacred geography - isthmus
Sacred geography - ley lines
Sacred geography - mark stones
Sacred geography - mountain
Sacred geography - natural hills
Sacred geography - obelisk
Sacred geography - palace
Sacred geography - physical caves
Sacred geography - pole
Sacred geography - pyramid
Sacred geography - rivers and streams
Sacred geography - sacred grove
Sacred geography - water sites
Sacred geography - ziggurat
Activities and commonsteps