The Crossing of the Chinvat Bridge

Background

Zoroastrianism is another Middle Eastern tradition of great influence on later faiths. Zoroastrianism was founded by a man named Zoroaster sometime during the tail end of the Bronze Age (circa 1500-1200 BCE). According to this monotheistic religion, the creator deity Ahura Mazda was the source of all that is good, and is engaged in a ceaseless battle with an evil deity named Angra MainyuAhura Mazda also demanded that humans follow his teachings and  live an ethical life; those who did ascended to Heaven, while those who did not went to hell. The document below, Judgement on the Chinvat Bridge, details the process by which three Yazata (which translates roughly as 'angels') Rashun, Mithra, and Sarosh judge the dead and determines their fate.

Questions for Consideration and Discussion

  1. According to this document, what happened to the souls of saved? What happened to the souls of the damned?


  2. Is the Zoroastrian notion of the afterlife depicted here more similar to the afterlife outlined in Gilgamesh or in the Negative Confession? Explain.


  3. Do any contemporary religions share elements of the theology outlined in this document? Explain.

The Crossing of the Chinvat Bridge

Put not your trust in life, for at the last death must overtake you;

and dog and bird will rend your corpse and your bones will be tumbled on the earth.

For three days and nights the soul sits beside the pillow of the body.

And on the fourth day at dawn the soul accompanied by the blessed Sarosh, the good Vay, and the mighty Vahram, and opposed by Astvihat the demon of death, the evil Vay, the demon Frehzisht and the demon Vizisht, and pursued by the active ill-will of Wrath, the evil-doer who bears a bloody spear, will reach the lofty and awful Bridge of the Requiter to which every man whose soul is saved and every man whose soul is damned must come. Here does many an enemy lie in wait.

 Here the soul will suffer from the ill-will of Wrath who wields a bloody spear and from Astvihat who swallows all creation yet knows no sating,

and it will benefit by the mediation of MIthra, Sarosh, and Rashun, and will needs submit to the weighing of his deeds by the righteous Rashun who lets the scales of the spiritual gods incline to neither side, neither for the saved nor yet for the damned, nor yet for kings and princes:

not so much as a hair's breadth does he allow the scales to tip, and he is no respecter of persons,

for he deals out impartial justice both to kings and princes and to the humblest of men.

And when the soul of the saved passes over that bridge, the breadth of the bridge appears to be one parasang broad.

And the soul of the saved passes on accompanied by the blessed Sarosh.

And his own good deeds come to meet him in the form of a young girl, more beautiful and fair than any girl on earth.

And the soul of the saved says, 'Who art thou, for I have never seen a young girl on earth more beautiful or fair than thee.'

In answer the form of the young girl replies, 'I am no girl but thy own good deeds, 0 young man whose thoughts and words, deeds and religion were good:

for when on earth thou didst see one who offered sacrifice to the demons, then didst thou sit apart and offer sacrifice to the gods.

And when thou didst see a man do violence and rapine, afflict good men and treat them with contumely, and hoard up goods wrongfully obtained, then didst thou refrain from visiting creatures with violence and rapine of thine own;

nay rather, thou wast considerate to good men, didst entertain them and offer them hospitality, and give alms both to the man who came from near and to him who came from afar;

and thou didst amass thy wealth in righteousness.

And when thou didst see one who passed a false judgement or took bribes or bore false witness, thou didst sit thee down and speak witness right and true.

I am thy good thoughts, good words, and good deeds which thou didst think and say and do. . . .'

And when the soul departs from thence, then is a fragrant breeze wafted towards him, a breeze more fragrant than any perfume.

Then does the soul of the saved ask Sarosh saying, 'What breeze is this, the like of which in fragrance I never smelt on earth?'

Then does the blessed Sarosh make answer to the soul of the saved, saying, 'This is a wind wafted from Heaven; hence is it so fragrant.'

Then with his first step he bestrides the heaven of good thoughts, with his second the heaven of good words, and with his third the heaven of good deeds, and with his fourth step he reaches the Endless Light where is all bliss.

And all the gods and Amahraspands come to greet him and ask him how he has fared, saying, 'How was thy passage from those transient, fearful worlds where there is much evil to these worlds which do not pass away and in which there is no adversary, 0 young man whose thoughts and words, deeds and religion are good?'

Then Ohrmazd, the Lord, speaks, saying, 'Do not ask him how he has fared, for he has been separated from his beloved body and has travelled on a fearsome road.'

And they served him with the sweetest of all foods even with the butter of early spring so that his soul may take its ease after the three nights terror of the Bridge inflicted on him by Astvihat and the other demons,

and he is sat upon a throne everywhere bejeweled. . . .

And for ever and ever he dwells with the spiritual gods in all bliss for evermore.

But when the man who is damned dies, for three days and nights does his soul hover near his head and weeps, saying, 'Whither shall I go and in whom shall I now take refuge?'

And during those three days and nights he sees with his eyes all the sins and wickedness that he committed on earth.

On the fourth day the demon Vizarsh comes and binds the soul of the damned in most shameful wise, and despite the opposition of the blessed Sarosh drags it off to the Bridge of the Requiter.

Then the righteous Rashun makes clear to the soul of the damned that it is damned indeed.

Then the demon Vizarsh seizes upon the soul of the damned, smites it and ill-treats it without pity, urged on by Wrath.

And the soul of the damned cries out with a loud voice, makes moan, and in supplication makes many a piteous plea; much does he struggle though his life-breath endures no more.

When all his struggling and his lamentations have proved of no avail, no help is proffered him by any of the gods nor yet by any of the demons, the demon Vizarsh drags him off against his will into nether Hell.

Then a young girl who yet has no semblance of a young girl, comes to meet him.

And the soul of the damned says to that ill-favoured wench, 'Who art thou? for I have never seen all ill-favoured wench on earth more ill-favoured and hideous than thee.

And in reply that ill-favoured wench says to him, 'I am no wench, but I am thy deeds,-hideous deeds,-evil thoughts, evil words, evil deeds, and an evil religion.

For when on earth thou didst see one who offered sacrifice to the gods, then didst thou sit apart and offer sacrifice to the demons.

And when thou didst see one who entertained good men and offered them hospitality, and gave alms, both to those who came from near and to those who came from afar, then didst thou treat good men with contumely and show them dishonour, thou gavest them no alms and didst shut thy door upon them.

And when thou didst see one who passed a just judgement or took no bribes or bore true witness or spoke up in righteousness, then didst thou sit down and pass false judgement, bear false witness, and speak unrighteously. . . .

Then with his first step he goes to the hell of evil thoughts, with his second to the hell of evil words, and with his third to the hell of evil deeds. And with his fourth step he lurches into the presence of the accursed Destructive Spirit and the other demons.

And the demons mock at him and hold him up to scorn, saying, 'What grieved thee in Ohrmazd, the Lord, and the Amahraspands and in fragrant and delightful Heaven, and what grudge or complaint hadst thou of them that thou shouldst come to see Ahriman and the demons and murky Hell? for we will torment thee nor shall we have any mercy on thee, and for a long time shalt thou suffer torment.'

And the Destructive Spirit cries out to the demons, saying, 'Ask not concerning him, for he has been separated from his beloved body, and has come through that most evil passage-way;

but serve him rather with the filthiest and most foul food that Hell can produce.'

Then they bring him poison and venom, snakes and scorpions and other noxious reptiles that flourish in Hell, and they serve him with these to eat.

And until the Resurrection and the Final Body he must remain in Hell, suffering much torment and many kinds of chastisement.

And the food that he must for the most part eat there is all, as it were, putrid and like unto blood.