The Beginnings and Traditions of Mehregan
There are many accounts as to the beginning of Mehregan. A few, different versions are listed below:
During the time when the Avestan calendar was used, the year began at the cold season. The Christian year also starting in the cold season, follows the same concept as the Avestan calendar.
Some scholars believe that the month of Mehr was the beginning month of the calendar year during the Achaemenian era. The Mehregan feast celebrated the beginning of a new year. Later, Mehregan was especially important for the people of southern Iran who considered it still to be their Norouz.
In some form or another, the feast day of Mehregan has always been honored for many hundreds of years in Iran. Mehr is also the time of harvest.
Mehr in Avestan is "Miora" and in ancient Farsi and in Sanskrit is "Mitra" and in Pahlavi "Mitr". In modern Farsi, it has become Mehr. Although it can be slightly confusing, it should be remembered the word "Mehr" has been used for a God, an angel, a symbol of the sun, as well as the seventh month of the Iranian calendar.
When the Indo-Europeans lived together, Mehr was considered one of the great Gods of that time.
During the Achaemenian period, the name of the God Mehr was mentioned many times on the stone carvings. The Achaemenian army always came behind a flag, depicting Mehr as the sun shining. Mehregan was celebrated in an extravagant style at Persepolis. Not only was it the time for harvest, but it was also the time when the taxes were collected. Visitors from different parts of the empire brought gifts for the king all contributing to a lively festival.
The ancient Iranians thought Mehr was responsible for love and friendship, contracts and covenants, and a representation for light. Later, Mehr was also considered as a symbol of the sun. There again, Mehr was considered to be a God of heroism and warfare. The Iranian soldiers were strong believers and had songs for Mehr. With expansion of Achaemenian Empire, the worship of Mehr was taken to other countries.
By the first century A.D., Mitraism was a familiar religion in Rome and gradually spread throughout Western Europe as far as the shores of the Black Sea and the North Sea. Many people converted to this Iranian belief, since it was religion of ethics, hope, courage and generosity. Archeological excavations throughout Europe and Iran's neighboring countries have uncovered the buried remains of many Mehr temples. Quite a number of the very old churches of Europe were built in the style of these temples.
Quite a number of Roman Emperors converted to Mitraism. One emperor, Julianus, became a devoted follower of Mitra, and decided to go to Iran to visit the country of his God. On route he was murdered. As he lay dying, he threw his blood towards the sun and said "this is my gift to you".
There are still many rituals, traditions, beliefs and prayers of Mitra that have survived the popularity of Christianity. Some of these can be found in the Christian religion, such as the holy day, Sunday. This is a day that was named after the sun i.e. Mehr. Some other Christmas traditions are described in the section on the celebration of Yalda.
In ancient Iran, after Zaroaster introduced his new religion, the high standing of Mehr diminished. Zaroaster made great changes to old Iranian beliefs. Among other changes, he banned animal sacrifices and abolished the worship of many Gods. Although Mehr was reduced in stature from a God to an angel, some of the rituals and traditions remained and were incorporated into services for Ahura Mazda.
Long ago, Mehregan was celebrated with the same magnificence and pageantry as Norouz. It was customary for people to send or give their king, and each other gifts. It was common for people to give presents that they personally liked themselves! Rich people usually gave gold and silver coins, heroes and warriors gave horses while others gave gifts according to their ability, even an apple. Those fortunate enough, will help the poor with gifts.
Gifts over ten thousand gold coins given to the royal court were registered. At a later time, if the gift-giver needed money, the court would then return twice the gift amount. Kings gave two audiences a year; one audience at Norouz and other at Mehregan. During the Mehregan celebrations, the king wore a fur robe and gave away all his summer clothes.
Many times, even today when a child is born on Mehregan, the parents will name the child with a name starting with "Mehr" such as MehrDokht or MehrDad or MehrBanu.
After the Mongul invasion, the feast celebration
of Mehregan lost its popularity. Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman
continued to celebrate Mehregan in an extravagant way.
For this celebration, the participants wear new clothes and set a decorative, colorful table. The sides of the tablecloth are decorated with dry wild marjoram. The holy book Avesta, a mirror and Sormeh Dan (antimony cellar) are placed on the table together with rose water, sweets, flowers, vegetables and fruits, especially pomegranates and apples. A few silver coins and senjed seeds (fruit of the lotus tree) are placed in a dish of pleasant smelling wild marjoram water. Almonds and pistachio are also used.
A burner is also part of the table setting for kondor (frankincense) and espand (rue seeds) to be thrown on the flames.
At lunch time when the ceremony begins, everyone in the family stands in front of the mirror to pray. Sherbet is drunk and then as a good omen, antimony is rubbed around their eyes. Handfuls of wild marjoram, senjed seeds and noghl (sugar plum) are thrown over each others heads while they embrace one another.
In some of the villages in Yazd, Zoroastrians
still sacrifice sheep for Mehr. These sacrifices are done on the
day of Mehregan and for three days afterwards. The sacrifice should
be done during the hours of sunlight. The sheep is placed on three
stones in the furnace, representing the good words, good deeds and good
thoughts, and barbecued. After this special ritual, the sheep, including
the skin and fat is taken to the fire temple'.
The fat is thrown on the fire to make the flames burn fiercely and then
the participants pray. This celebration continues for the next five
' - Fire Temples housed the perpetual flame, a central element in the Zoroastrian faith.
Originally extracted from "Norouz & other festivities in Iran", by Farshid Eghbal & Sandra Mooney, 1996, P. 75 - P. 81
Made available to Iran Online by Iranian Cultural Center of Orange County (1997)