Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Demon of Death

As I am a historian of ancient cultures, I know the intricacies of the belief systems too. In the Sorcerer’s Secret, which was set in ancient Persia, I found it difficult to convey the ordinariness of the belief in the Demon of Death. People believed that when a person died, a demon immediately possessed the body. The demon was stronger in relation to how good the person had been in life. In other words, the more virtuous a person, the stronger the demon. Why? The Avesta, the Zoroastrian scripture explains that the demons can’t attack a good person while he or she is alive. They want a person’s soul, but at the time of death, a good person is taken to Heaven. When the demons eagerly enter the body, they find it empty, and like an enemy army that lays siege to a city and then finds that the king has escaped, they rage about in anger. When the demons enter the body of a bad person, they find the soul, the “king,” and they are satisfied.
Dead bodies were thought to be teeming with evil spirits. The Demon of Death was so powerful that it could enter the body of a living person who approached or touched a dead body. The only way to stop it was by the use of specially trained dogs. Dogs had the power to dispel the demon by their vision. This was called “sag-did,” being seen by a dog. Persians believed that dogs had an extra set of eyes by which they could see demons and cast them out. I will write more about dogs later.
The body thus teeming with evil, could not be buried into the earth, or burned by fire, as these were holy elements. Instead, they were placed on the “Towers of Silence,” or daxmas, elevated platforms where hundreds of vultures waited to devour the flesh of the dead. This could be accomplished in a matter of minutes, depending on the number of birds. Being accustomed to feedings of human flesh, these birds waited expectantly. I have actually seen this sight and believe me, it was quite like I described it in my book. Again, truth can be stranger than fiction.

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