Spirit of Serenity

Spenta Armaiti is one of the Amesha Spentas, the seven "Bounteous Immortals" of the Zoroastrian tradition. These are emanations of the one God Ahura Mazda, which are sometimes personified and sometimes considered as abstract concepts. Of all the Seven, Spenta Armaiti is perhaps the most difficult to translate and explain. The term Spenta is itself hard to translate into English; it means "increasing" or "growing" but with a connotation of goodness, holiness, and benevolence. Ali Jafarey translates it prosaically as "progressive." Armaiti is even more difficult to convey in English. Scholars of Avesta have rendered the name as "divine wisdom," "devotion," "piety," "benevolence," "loving- kindness," "right-mindedness," "peace and love," or even "service." Jafarey, using the later Persian word aramati or "tranquillity" as his model, translates Armaiti as "serenity." Thus his translation of Spenta Armaiti is "Progressive Serenity," a rather opaque term. Dr. Farhang Mehr has translated Spenta Armaiti with the more gracious "universal bountiful peace."

Whatever the translation may be, Spenta Armaiti was very important to Zarathushtra in his revelation. The Gathas are filled with references to Armaiti. And Armaiti in the Gathas has as many meanings as there are translations. Sometimes the prophet has used Armaiti as an independent being, sometimes as an abstract idea, and sometimes as an adjective or a description of a human virtue.

Here are some of the ways Armaiti appears in the Gathas of Zarathushtra, the core text of the Zoroastrian religion. I am using the Jafarey translation, so wherever he mentions Serenity, that is Armaiti.

Armaiti appears as an active agent, an independent being, in many passages. Two of the most interesting are in Yasna 28 (song 1), verses 3 and 7:

28.3: I shall likewise praise the Wise God (Ahura Mazda) and those for whom Serenity promotes the unconquerable dominion.

28.7: And you, Serenity, grant Vishtaspa (royal patron of Zarathushtra) his wish and mine, too.

Armaiti will also appear as a virtue, an aspect of the Good:

47.6: ...because with the growth of serenity and righteousness, it (God's spirit) shall convert many a seeker.

49.5:...every person who has linked his religion with good mind...is a person of serenity through righteousness.

Armaiti is something that should be chosen as part of the choice of the Good, a holy objective or goal:
32.2: The Wise God...has responded to them: "We have chosen the good and progressive serenity for you."
In this verse God Him/Herself chooses serenity for the human world.
44.7: This I ask you, tell me truly, Lord. Who fashioned precious serenity with dominion?
"Precious," in Avestan berekhdam, is more than once used as an epithet for Armaiti. Armaiti is often paired with Asha, or "righteousness," a fellow Amesha Spenta:
34.11: ...The sovereignty of Good Mind and serenity with righteousness promote steadfast strength and courage.

46.16... where serenity accompanies righteousness...

And, finally, Armaiti lives in the text as a fully personified being:
45.4: ...the good-working Serenity is his (God's) creation.
Here, the word "creation" is actually dugeda or "daughter," so that Zarathushtra is using a particularly human metaphor to describe the divine origin of Spenta Armaiti.

Here I am using the translation of Taraporewala, which makes this more clear:

31.12: "Directly through his Spirit, Armaiti appeals, for She stands by to solve his doubts."

Ichaporia translates this more simply as "his piety will overcome the doubt of his spirit." Jafarey chooses another possible translation which avoids the personification entirely, translating Armaiti here as a description rather than a person: "One enjoying serenity may ask himself: where will the two mentalities lead?"

The Avestan text, however it is translated, makes one thing very clear: Spenta Armaiti is a feminine entity. Of the seven Amesha Spentas, one (Spenta Mainyu) is beyond gender, three are male, and three are female - among them, Spenta Armaiti. This gender balance may be just a linguistic accident, the result of the genders of the various Avestan titles (actually, the male titles are linguistically neuter) but more likely it is not. Zoroastrianism from the beginning has recognized the feminine aspect of the divine. Though Zoroastrian culture eventually became as patriarchal as other ancient cultures, its spirituality always recognized what we moderns might call the "divine feminine", whether in the form of the female Amesha Spentas, or the re-adapted female yazatas such as Ardvi Sura Anahita or Ashi Vanguhi, the spirit of piety and prosperity.

In later Zoroastrianism, Spenta Armaiti becomes the patron of the Earth, the fertile land, and of sacred space. She is invoked when a new piece of land or a building is consecrated. In ceremonies, Spenta Armaiti is symbolized by the white sheet or pad that underlies all the other sacred objects, including the fire vessel: this designates the sacred space.

What does Spenta Armaiti really mean? Dina Mackintyre, a Parsi (married to an American) who specializes in Gatha interpretation, cites Spenta Armaiti as the embodiment of the virtues of service and loving-kindness. For Ali Jafarey, Armaiti is the serenity that comes with enlightenment. For Farhang Mehr, Armaiti is not only personal peace and love but peace among communities and nations as well, hence "universal bountiful tranquility." To quote from Mehr's THE ZOROASTRIAN TRADITION: "Spenta Armaiti... implies love without expectation of reciprocity and dutifulness without contemplation of reward. It denotes the universal brotherhood of man."

I will venture to add my own interpretation of Spenta Armaiti. The complex of meanings attributed to Armaiti in the Gathas seem to comprise what in our culture (and, perhaps in Zarathushtra's, too) are often said to be "feminine" virtues: love, service, kindness, serenity. This does not mean, of course, that men do not have these virtues. But in the gender-balance of the Amesha Spentas, these virtues are attributed to a feminine entity.

The object of Zoroastrian spirituality is to actualize the Amesha Spentas within oneself, and thus become closer and closer to God. This means learning and practicing the virtues of each Amesha Spenta, whether they are "masculine" or "feminine." In the pairing of Spenta Armaiti and Asha, there is a balance between the "masculine" Justice, Truth, and Law of Asha, and the "feminine" qualities of Service, Kindness, Devotion, and Serenity. It is this balance of virtues and Divine qualities that the Zoroastrian spiritual seeker should have as his/her goal.

kada mazda asha mat armaitish
jimat kshathra husheitish vashtravaiti
(Y. 48., song 13, verse 11)
When shall, Wise One, serenity with righteousness bring
peaceful dwelling and settlement through sovereignty?
(Jafarey translation)

Hannah M.G. Shapero

Copyright 1995, 1996 Hannah M.G. Shapero Republished by permission of the author.