Anahita, Mother of Deity in Ancient Iran

Persian Journal, Iran
Nov. 3, 2004

Anahita, Mother of Deity in Ancient Iran
Nov 3, 2004, 14:15

Mutual love between mother and child is an instinct found in almost all
living creatures, even the very primitive species. This instinct is all
the more prominent in human being, the most sophisticated of creatures,
expanding to social dimensions. From this standpoint, mother, as a
symbol of affection, fertility and creation, could be regarded as the
first god men have worshiped.

It seems that the worship of mother started since the concept of family
and being born from a common ancestor was formed. Among men, the
concept of family in its social meaning dates back to the caved welling
era, i.e. when the Neanderthals took refuge in caves as a result of the
third Ice Age, where it emerged eventually as homo sapiens after
undergoing an evolutionary period. During this time, some 30,000 years
ago, man discovered fire, warming up his cave. The number of caves and
their internal space was limited and could host a limited number of
men. Therefore, the concept of family bonds and bloods ties, which
already existed as an instinct in other species, was intensified,
eventually emerging as a social requirement.

Competition over dwelling in warm caves was a solid reason for
primitive men not to admit non-related primitive men to their caves.
Only family members with a common birth ties to a common ancestor were
permitted to enter the caves. This ancestor could only be the mother,
because at that time, sexual behavior among men was a natural and
non-social one, only the strongest males in the cave being allowed to
procreate, a behavior which is necessary to produce healthier offspring
and is practiced among many species of animals and particularly
mammals. Therefore, cave-dwelling women could have several husbands
during their fertility period, so that tracing family ties through
males was impossible. Thus being attributed to a family tree leading
back to the mother was the permit to live in the cave, which in turn
translated into survival. This was adequate reason to turn the
mother/child instinct into a sacred belief in a common ancestor.

Paleontology confirms the theory suggesting that the mother goddess was
the first divinity to be worshiped. The earliest relics showing signs
of religious beliefs among primitive tribes are statuettes of mother,
depicting her in large buttocks and breasts, signifying feminine
characteristics, or girls arrived at puberty and ripe for marriage.

The elapsing of thousands of years has meant that modern science has
not yet penetrated the depth of the secrets of mother goddesses in the
early stone ages. However, there exists a lot of information about the
quality of the sanctity of mother goddesses in later historical
periods, the oldest of which have been found in Susa, Iran. The
documents which have been found in the form of tens of mother goddess
statuettes date back to early 4th millennium, BC. The number and the
age of these statuettes gives good reason to suggest that the origin of
mother goddess was the Iranian Plateau, whence the tradition of
worshiping these goddesses have expanded throughout the world as a
result of the migration of Aryans.
With the ending of the Ice Age and the shifting of men’s habitat from
caves to foothills and the discovery of agriculture the tradition of
worshiping mother goddess was continued, with mother goddess surviving
as the origin of fertility, the goddess of family, the goddess of
procreation and later the goddess of agriculture and productivity.

In Susa, south of Iran, mother goddess was worshiped at least since
early 4th millennium BC, with numerous statuettes of her found in the
area. The tradition of worshiping the mother goddess spilled over to
Mesopotamia, where it continued for thousands of years to come.
Iranian-origin Sumerians were skilled astronomers, attaching each of
the gods to certain star or planets. The mother goddess was sometimes
attributed to the moon and some times to Venus. The reason behind this
duality lies in the tradition of incest, which was not only allowed,
but also sanctified in ancient Iran. According to this tradition which
dates back to the cave dwelling period, the kings and noble men of Iran
had to marry their close relatives, the offspring of such marriages
enjoying priority to inherit the crown. The same tradition was observed
among the divinities, so much so that the ancient goddesses appear
alternately as the mother, the sister or the wife of the masculine god,
having different ranks.
That is why Anahita, the Iranian goddess, sometimes appears, as mother
earth and the goddess of fertility and birth, and sometimes as Venus,
the goddess of music, love, jealousy and coquetry. Nahid is alternately
the wife, the sister or the mother of god. However, when she is the
wife and mother of god, her symbol is the moon, and when she represents
the goddess of love and music, the planet Venus. An Armenian myth says:
“the devil knew that if the god had intercourse with his mother, the
sun would be born, and if with his sister, the moon would be born.”
Sumerians were a seafaring people, their ships trafficking in the
Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, it is very likely that they promoted the
worship of mother goddesses in the Mediterranean coats of Europe and
North Africa. Or perhaps the goddess made its advent with the expansion
of the Aryan race and its migration to India, Central Asia and central

In any case, historical evidences show that in the late 3rd millennium
BC, worshiping mother goddesses was common in Iran, India, Central
Asia, Mesopotamia, Syria, North Africa, and Europe.

An even more interesting point is the evidence found about the
worshiping of such a goddess in South America, implying that probably
Sumerian seamen had discovered the New Continent eons before
Christopher Columbus. Evidence supporting this suggestion is a monolith
stone called the Gate of the Sun in Tiahunaku. According to the myth
imprinted on the slab, a golden ship descended from the stars, carrying
a woman named Oriana. Her mission was to become the earth’s
grandmother, who returned to the stars after giving birth to 70
earthling children. The concepts of worshiping the sun and the moon and
mother goddesses and the figures on the slab are all Persian and
Sumerian concepts, making such a resemblance unlikely without any

The oldest statuette of mother goddess found in Europe, in Austria,
dates back to the 3rd millennium, BC. Another similar statuette found
in Moravia shows a mother goddess holding her breasts up with her large
hands. In Greece, too, the mother goddess was worshiped as a
birth-giving goddess through the entire Neolithic period.

The close connection between the mother goddess and the moon, and
worshiping her which has been found all over the world shows a
correspondence between the lunar month and the menstruation period of
women, i.e. 28 days. This significant resemblance which basically
indicates the passage of time in ancient times before the discovery of
astronomy and invention of the clock has contributed to the relation
between the two creatures, and that is one reason why women are
described as the moon. In later historical periods, religions that in
some way worshiped the mother goddess continued to use the lunar
calendar, in contrast with religions based on the worship of the sun.

The Iranian mother goddess was also worshiped in the east, including
India. Anatolian mother goddesses too had many temples. According to a
Roman historian, noble girls were asked to practice prostitution in
such temples before getting married. This tradition which was current
also among Venus worshipers of Egypt has its roots in the group
marriages of the matriarchal aroid mentioned earlier. A statuette of
Venus with a dolphin has been found in Tunisia.

The tradition of worshiping Venus was also widespread in ancient
Arabia, where 360 gods and goddesses were adored. Venus’s special day
of the week is Friday and the form of this goddess is a cube, which is
the sacred form for Arabs.
In addition to the very ancient relics found in Susa, Girschmann
discovered a statuette of a mother goddess in the Gian mound near
Nahavand in 1931. He relates the object to 2,500 years ago.

In the Chaghagavaneh mound near Eslam-abad Gharb, a 7-cm mother goddess
statuette was found which dates back to 2,900 years ago. The figure is
headless and naked, resting her hands on her stomach.

On bronze objects found in Lorestan, dating back to the first
millennium BC, figures of mother goddesses are seen. These objects are
usually copper or bronze clips, bearing a circular plate at the end,
with the imprint of the head of the mother goddess. Also in the
southern and western parts of Iran several examples of such objects
with the figure of the mother goddess have been found. The most
fascinating example is a clay statuette 18.13-cm high, decked with
emerald earrings, bracelet and necklace. This goddess is fully
comparable to the Anahita of later periods. The statuette is kept at
the Philadelphia museum. In the Gorgan region of Iran, the oldest such
relics have been found, dating back to 5,000 years ago.

On Achaemenid coins, the head of Nahid is seen in a halo of light. Also
in Achamenian scripture, mention is made of Anahita, alongside with two
other gods, namely Ahuramazda and Mehr, and perhaps they could be
regarded as mother and child, just as in Christianity, the trinity is
made up of God, Virgin Mary and Jesus (sun) Christ. The fact that the
words Mehr and sun both mean the sunlight reflects the connection
between the two religions.

Worship of Anahita continued in the Sassanid period. In one of the
tablets in Naqsh-e Rostam, near Persepolis, the Sassanid king is
depicted receiving the kingdom ring from Nahid. On metal vessels of the
Sassanid era too, hundred of Nahid figures can be seen.

After, the occupation of Iran by Moslem Arabs, the ritual of respecting
woman and mother and the sanctity of Nahid continued in different
forms. However, it became a secret creed, reflected in Iranian culture
and literature, particularly in the sophist poetry.

On the other hand, the indispensable bond between Nahid and music and
love has found manifestations in Iranian sophism.
The relics of the mother goddess in Iran are numerous and diversified
some of, which are located in remote mountains, indicating the secret
nature of the ritual.
Bridges in different parts of the country reflect the relation between
Nahid and water.