IF I SEEK US
Modern Myth Articles
THE BIRTH OF VAHAGN: [*]
Copyright © 1977 by Robert H. Hewsen
Heaven and Earth were in labor
From the stems mist arose
He had fiery hair
Given the location of the Armenians upon the high plateau overlooking Anatolia, Iran and the Semitic world, it is not at all surprising to find that the pre-Christian Armenian pantheon was an amalgam of various religious concepts drawn from among those of the people around them. Thus, while some of their deities were manifestly Iranian in origin - Aramazd, Anahit, Tiur, and Mihr (Mithra) others were obviously of Semitic provenance - Nane, Astghik (Astarte), and Barshamina (Ba'al Shamin).(1)
There was one figure, however, who was peculiarly Armenian; a national god, as it were, known as Vahagn. Reduced by Christian Armenian historiography to the level of a king (son of Tigranes I and father of Aravan),(2) he was originally the Armenian equivalent of the Indo-Iranian Vrtrahan or Verethraghna(3) and, thus, was part of the Indo-European legacy which the Indo-European speaking component of the Armenian people brought with it as it migrated through Anatolia to its ultimate homeland on the Armenian plateau. Indeed, Vahagn's name appears to be composed of elements related to the Sanskrit vah "to bring" plus agni "fire". Vahagn is thus simply the "bringer of fire".(4) In this capacity he may be equated, then, with the Greek Prometheus and the Vedic Matarisvan, both of whom stole the fire of Jupiter (i.e. from Zeus, in the first instance and Dyaus Pitar in the second).
Now, in time -- we are told by the Vedas -- the fire which Matarisvan stole became the god Agni and this is significant because Velikovsky has already identified Agni with the planet Venus(5) and had connected the myth of Prometheus with the fall of Naphtha from the same body.(6) The assimilation of Vahagn to the Mazdean Verethraghna supports this identification of Vahagn with Venus, for Verethraghna, in his capacity as patron of fire, is connected with the worship of the flaming naphtha fields of the Apcheron Peninsula (now in Soviet Azerbaidzhan but long in the territory of the ancient Persian Empire). These fields, of course, could be nothing more than the naphtha which Velikovsky believes to have fallen from Venus.(7) (All of this would seem to point to Vahagn as being a personification of the planet Venus, an identification possibly further supported by the fact that Lucifer, which means "light-bringer" in Latin, is likewise used to translate one of the Hebrew names (Helel) for the same planet.)
In the Armenian sources which have come down to us, Vahagn appears both as a national hero and as a god of war.(8) In the first century B.C. the Orontid dynasty of neighboring Commagene, a house of Armeno-Iranian origin, called Vahagn Artagnes (i.e., the Avestan Verethraghna) and assimilated him to both Herakles (Hercules) and Ares (Mars).(9) That Vahagn was a god of war, however, need not imply that he should be identified with Mars, for Athene, a goddess identified by Velikovsky with the planet Venus, was also a war deity. Clearly the Armenians of Orontid times had come to see the planet Venus/Vahagn as a male figure and so gratuitously identified his war-like qualities with those of Mars, a male rather than a female god of war.
Further support for the idea that Vahagn represented the planet Venus may be drawn from the fact that Vahram, the Avestan Verethraghna (and, thus, Vahagn), is capable of assuming the shape of a bull, which in ancient times was sacred to both Jupiter and Venus but never to Mars.
Later, we find Vahagn as the third deity of the Armenian pantheon after Aramazd (the Iranian Ahura Mazda, father of the gods), and the mother-goddess Anahit.(10) Invoked by the Armenian kings as a god of courage, he was also known as a conqueror of dragons and, indeed, Vishapakhagh "reaper of dragons" is his most common title.(11)
But there is yet one aspect to Vahagn which differs from the others and which reveals that the Vahagn just described is -- in his capacity of god of war -- being assimilated to something else: Vahagn, as already noted by Ananikian, was the lover of Astghik (Ishtar/Astarte, i.e., the planet Venus), whose assimilation to Aphrodite/Venus would render her lover Vahagn an equivalent of Ares/Mars!( 12) That this did not simply result from a false identification of Vahagn with a male god of war may be seen from the fact that Vahagn, as we have already noted, formed a triad with Aramazd and Anahit - the latter of whom was identical with the Persian goddess Anahita whose name was one of those used by the Persians for the planet Venus. If Anahit was Venus, Vahagn must have been something else. (Mars, too, may also be endowed with Vahagn's title "Reaper of Dragons" since, according to Velikovsky, the planet Mars acted upon Venus to help bring that body under control.)
Thus, we find ourselves faced with an apparent contradiction. Vahagn, as bringer of fire and as Verethraghna, would appear to represent the planet Venus, while, as a god of war and reaper of dragons he seems to be a personification of the planet Mars.(13) While such duality is not uncommon in world mythology, it arouses our suspicions that the myth of Vahagn may originate in confused folk memories of two catastrophes, i.e., the one caused by the near approach of Venus c. 1500 B.C. and the other by the near approach of Mars some eight centuries later.(14)
With all this examined, the time has come to consider the opening fragment of the ancient Armenian epic which stands at the head of this article and which is all that has come down to us of what must have been a magnificent poetic work. Chanted to the accompaniment of the lyre by the bards of Goghtn even in the Christian era, this oldest example of Armenian verse deals with the birth of Vahagn.(15) An extremely evocative fragment, it has considerable significance for those familiar with Velikovsky's work and for the entire subject of “natural revolution", the term Velikovsky prefers to "catastrophism".
1) "Heaven and the earth were in labor" refers in Armenian to the pangs of childbirth, but also suggests a cosmic catastrophe involving simultaneous cataclysms both in the heavens and upon the earth, i.e., neither a celestial phenomenon nor an earthquake but some sort of combination of both.
2) "And in labor was the crimson sea," shows the ocean's involvement in the disaster and recalls the waters reddened with blood Or turned to blood in this catastrophe which Velikovsky associates with the approach of the planet Venus (c. 1500 B.C.). The word dzirani is based on the word dziran "apricot" and means literally “apricot-colored". Armenian apricots are a rich orange often blushed with maroon like a peach.
3) "The waters of the sea had reddish (or reddened) reeds," suggests the same blood-red aspect of the waters. Here the word is kannrik, which means specifically "reddish".
4) "From the stems mist arose; from the stems flames arose" suggests the reeds in the water were aflame from some intense heat which also caused the water to give off steam.
5) "And through the flames a youth ran forth". The youth here refers to Vahagn, who is called patenekik, a diminutive of patenak "child", i.e., "little child," but the reference to his beard, two lines below, suggests "youth" as a more accurate translation. This line suggests that Vahagn/Venus or Vahagn/Mars appeared in the midst of a great cataclysm involving the heaven, the earth, and the sea, all three of which, as we have already noted above, gave birth to the Vedic Agni. The planet Mars is called Hrat in Armenian "the fiery one" based on hur "fire."
6) "He had fiery hair, and even his beard was aflame" could be a description of either Venus or an atmospherically distorted appearance of Mars when each made a close approach to Earth.(17)
7) "And his eyes were little suns." Velikovsky postulated that Mars came close enough for its two moons to be visible but this could be a description of surface eruptions on the face of Mars, itself. More likely, though, it is merely a poetic description for the same was said of the eyes of Agni, Horus, and other deities.
The above seven suggestions are merely an attempt to interpret the birth of Vahagn-Mars-Venus in accordance with the theory of "natural revolution" involving celestial catastrophes as put forth by Immanuel Velikovsky. Have we here, indeed, merely a mythological account of "the miraculous birth of the one universal fire stolen from the sun" as Ananikian suggests, or is it in reality, a description of two great catastrophes blended into one and rendered in the only terminology which the survivors were able to use? A thorough examination of the mythologies of all nations for similar accounts in reference to the various local gods of war may well provide fruitful supports for Velikovsky's hypotheses in regard to the activities of both Venus and the red planet.(18)
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. M.H. Ananikian, Armenian Mythology in the series Mythology of All Nations (New York, 1925; reprint, 1964).
2. Moses of Khoren (Movses Khorenatsi fl. Seventh-eighth century?), History of Armenia (Patmutyun Hayots) (Tiflis, 1913), 1. 3 1.
3. C. Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History (Washington, 1963) 109 n. 168.
4. Aram Raffl, Armenia: Its Epics, Folk-songs, and Medieval Poetry in Zabelle Boyajian's Armenian Legends and Poems (London, 1916; New York, 1958), 139; Ananikian, 42-46; Toumanoff, ibid.
5. Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, (N. Y., 1950), 133-134. Cf. also Dwardu Cardona, Cows, Caste and Comets, 35-36 --(unpublished Anthology manuscript) where he offers further support for this contention.
6. Velikovsky, ibid., 5 7; Cardona, ibid., 74-8 1.
7. Cardona, ibid.
8. According to Agathangelos (Agat'angeghos, fl. Fourth Cent.?) History of Armenia (Patmutyun Hayots) (Tiflis, 19 14), ch. 114, Vahagn was a favorite deity and his shrine at Ashtishat (literally "place of sacrifices”), located near the present town of Mu in Turkish Armenia, was one of the eight paramount shrines in pre-Christian Armenia. According to Moses of Khoren (I.31), Vahagn was the founder of the Armenian priestly caste, and the princely house of Vahavuni, hereditary high priests of Armenia and owners of the temple-state of which Ashtishat was the center, were descended from him. For all this cf. Toumanoff ibid. 109, n. 168; Ananikian, 42.
9. Toumanoff, ibid.
10. Agathangeghos, XII; Raffi, 128; Ananikian, 18.
11. Agathangeghos )Ul; Ananikian, 43.
12. While my assimilation of Aphrodite with Venus might very well be correct, and while according to the Classical authors it is, it is only fair to state that this is not the view of Velikovsky who identifies Aphrodite with the Moon (WIC, pp. 247, 250, 251 and 361). A considerable controversy surrounds this particular question (cL Peter James, "Aphrodite - The Moon or Venus?" Society for Interdisciplinary Studies Review, London, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1976).
13. The name Astghik means "little star" in Armenian and as Hoffman (cited by Ananikian, P. 39) notes, this can only be a translation of the Syrian Kaukabhta, a later designation for Astarte in her capacities as both a goddess and the planet Venus.
In the Armenian version of the Bible (fifth century), Vahagn's name is also used to translate that of Herakles (11 Maccabees iv. 19). He is also held by some to have been a sun god, however, and in this capacity he was thus a rival to the Semitic import Ba'al Shainin and to the Iranian Mihr, both of whom were celestial deities in their lands of origin (For Ba'al Shmnin as Venus cf. W.F. Albright Yahweh and The Gods of Canaan, N.Y., 1968, pp. 227ff.). This rivalry was expressed in a myth, the details of which have not come down to us but which would make Vahagn the lover of Astghik whose consort was Barshairnina.
This apparently contradictory identification of Vahagn with a solar deity becomes comprehensible when we recall that agni, Hindu god of fire, whose very name forms the second syllable of Vahagn's, shares it as well (Ananikian, 43). Bom of heaven, earth and water, Agni is ever youthful and has light-colored hair while Vahagn's hair and beard are aflame (ibid.). The Vedic Agni, too, like Indra and Vahagn, is a god of war and also a slayer of dragons. Putting all of this together with the references to Vahagn's birth from the sun and his appearance through reeds, Ananildan concludes by seeing Vahagn as a god of fire and lightning "bom out of the stalk in the heavenly (?) sea, with a special mission, among other beneficial missions, to slay dragons" (ibid., 46).
14. In Worlds in Coffision, Velikovsky remarks that "Ishtar of Assyria-Babylonia was in early times the name of the planet Jupiter; later it was transferred to Venus, Jupiter retaining the name of Marduk.
"Baal, still another name for Jupiter, was an earlier name for Saturn, and later on became the name of Venus, sometimes the feminine form Baalath or Belith being used, Ishtar, also, was at first a male planet, subsequently becoming a female planet" (p. 175).
15. This fragment is found in Moses of Khoren (I. 31) and has been given here in as literal translation as possible to the detriment of its poetic qualities. The Armenian text runs as follows:
Erkner erkin ev erkir
The text is clear enough in its meaning except that certain words (karpnrik, eghegnik patanekik, achkunk, and aregakunk) are dimunitive in form (from karmir, eghegn, patanek, achk, and aregak) which usually conveys a sense of endearment but which, ir this verse, could be, at least in some cases, taken quite literally. Accordingly, I have chosen to ignore the diminutive of patanek for the reason given in number 5 in my text, but have accepted it literally in connection with aregak, reading aregakunk' as "little star" which seems the logical sense of the passage.
16. Supra, n. 12.
17. Cf. Velikovsky, Ibid., 163-167 for descriptions of Venus; ibid., pp. 264-265.
18. For further information on Armenian paganism cf. Heinrich Gelzer, "Die Anfange der armenischen Kirche", Berichte der Königlichen Sachsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1895); A. Carriére, Les huits sanctuaires de l'Arminie payenne d'api6 Apthange et Moise de Chorene (Paris, 1899); Leo Alishan, Hayapatum (Venice, 1901): Sandalgian, Ifistoire documentaire de l'Armenie (Paris, 1917); Dum6zil, "Vahagn" Revue de l'histoire des religions (Paris, 193 8); Manuk Abegyan, Istorija drevnejarmjanskoi literatury (Erevan, 1948); Karst, Mythologie armeno-caucasienne et h6tito-asianique (Strasbourg/Zurich, 1948).
[*]. (This article is one of 22 essays contained in an Anthology presented to Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky on December 5, 1975, in honor of Dr. Velikovsky and the 25th anniversary of Worlds in Collision; it is our hope to publish the Anthology in its entirety. - The Ed.)
The author wishes to express his indebtedness to another contributor to this Anthology, Mr. Dwardu Cardona of Vancouver, British Columbia, who read this manuscript critically and without whose extensive contributions it would not have appeared in its present form.