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Armenian Pagan Past

2012-02-20

Not much is know about pre-Christian Armenians, however there are old legends telling that before adopting Christianity as a state religion, Armenians were pagan. Armenian mythology was strongly influenced by Assyrian traditions and Zoroastrianism with pagan gods like Aramazd, Mihr, the god of sun and heaven. His main worship was located in Bagaharich. The pagan temple of Garni was Mihr's worship. Anahit was a pagan Armenian goddess of love, beauty and water. The ancient sculptures sculptured her without clothes, as beautiful young women during swimming were usually naked. The celebration in her honor took place in June and was called Vardevar. It is still celebrated in Armenia by pouring water on each other. There are also some traces of native traditions, such as Hayk or Vahagn and Astghik.

Ancient Armenians were worshiping many cults (mostly the cult of ancestors), heavenly bodies (the cult of the Sun, the Moon cult, the cult of Heaven) and some animals (lions, bulls). The main subject of belief were the gods of the Armenian pantheon. The head of the gods was the common Indo-European god Ar, then Vanatur. Due to the influence of the relations with Persians God the Creator was renamed Aramazd, and later during the times of Hellenistic influence, he was identified with Zeus.

Among the worship of the sacred animals there was the bull. According to the ancient legend Ervand and Ervaz were born after a relationship of a woman and a bull. There was also deer (from the Bronze Age, there are many pictures and statues associated with the cult of the mother goddess and, later, with the Christian Mother of God), bear, cat and dog.

It is believed that ancient Armenians also worshiped fire, which was possessed by Armenians as a venerable heirloom long before they were influenced by Zoroastrianism. The belief in fire was so deeply rooted that some Christian authors call the pagan Armenians ash-worshippers, as for them fire was the substance of the sun and of the lightning. Fire gave heat and light, thus it had to be respected. Even today lighting a candle or a fire still bears some meaning, and requires care and respect. People believed that an impure fire had to be rejected and a purer one lit instead of it. They would even swear by the hearth-fire just as they would swear by the sun. To pagan Armenians fire was a means of keeping evil spirits away. While taking a bath at night, Armenians would scare away the evil spirits of the lake or pool by casting a fire-brand into it, and the man who was harassed by an obstinate evil couldn't think of any other powerful method of getting rid of the spirit than to strike fire out of a flint. In Armenian there are two words for fire. One is hur, en equivalent of the Greek pur, and the other krak, which originates like the other Armenian word jrag, that means candle, and comes from the Persian word cirag.

However, Armenians were the first in the history to adopt Christianity in AD 301. The roots of the Armenian Church date back to the 1st century. According to tradition, the Armenian Apostolic Church was founded by two of Jesus' twelve apostles – Thaddaeus and Bartholomew, who preached Christianity in Armenia between AD 40–60. Hence the name of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

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