Heritage: Norooz



            In remembrance of Norooz and its evocation of the past, we take a measure of ourselves for the tasks yet to be done. Norooz is our legacy from the shepherds who lived in the meadows high above the Iranian plateau more than four thousand years ago. In their naturalistic religion, Norooz was an elegant metaphor for the advent of the vernal equinox. It has since grown to mean much more.  It is a metaphor for resurrection, communion with nature, and transubstantiation. It informed the Iranian myth of the first man, Gioumars, who was vanquished by the lucifugous archangel, Ahriman, only to give birth to the human race; and it recalls, as it does in Khayyam’s rubaiyat (quatrains), the theme of Firdusi’s myth of Siavosh, the beloved prince, who let himself be slain by Iran’s archenemy, Afrasiab, so that his blood may nourish the sacred plant.

Norooz was the rite of summer, the half-yearly season whose contrast with winter, the only other season, bespoke of the dualistic conflict in nature and in human affairs. Rather than offering a resolution of the conflict, Norooz annunciates the paradigm of an eternal dialectic cycle of light and darkness, virtue and vice. That is the foundation of our empirical rationalism, as in Manichaeiasm and in Ebn Sina’s (Avicenna’s) Hekmat Mashshai.  All the same, Norooz was also in veneration of our sun-god, Mitra. It is the promise of the ultimate victory of the Light, the ultimate union of all in the Light. And that is the premise of our sufism, as in Sohrevardi, Attar, and Molavi.

Norooz is the fusion of our symbiotic beliefs. At its altar, we spread both the Quran and the book of Hafez: one, the unbending scripture of the official religion; the other, the heretic hymns of our hedonism, determinism, and rebellious mysticism. Norooz is, thus, no more, and no less than the essence of our ethnicity. It is our angle of repose in this land of many cultures. Let us then exult in its glory, you and I. 


ThIS article, titled Salutations on Norooz, was written and presented in March 2001 at a gathering of the Iranian American community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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