Sunday, February 09, 2014

Mythical Animals: Simurgh (Simorgh) of Persia (Iran)



When I read translated excerpts of the Persian epic, “The Shahnameh (Shahnama): The Book of Kings,” by Abu’I-Qasim Firdawsi (Ferdowsi) (d. 1020-21), I encountered the mystical Simurgh (Simorgh). What drew me to this beast was that she had survived the destruction and rebirth of the world three times. I pondered what sort of wondrous beast could do this. In his writings, Joseph Nig, noted chronicler of mythical beasts, called this beast “the Wise Old Bird of the Ages.”

Described by the Persian as a beast of two natures (mammal and bird), the Simurgh was a devoted mother who both nurtured her young and several Kings of Persia. Mostly resembling an eagle, this beast also had the head of a dog, claws of a lion, and the tail of a peacock. In addition, her feathers had special healing properties.

From her perch on the Tree of Knowledge, the Simurgh would observe the affairs of humans in the world. Whenever she left the Tree, this beast would send out the seeds of goodness and wisdom. And when she landed back on the tree, the Simurgh would spread the seeds of life throughout the world.

Her ancient age and wisdom of being a mother, first attracted me to the Simurgh, since I was entering my “Cronehood.” My immediate impression of the Simurgh was of a wise old mother who cared for abandoned children and healed wounded people. Furthermore, she would guide people and teach them the ways of goodness. These aspects of the Simurgh helped me to settle into being a “Crone,” and accept my new role in life.

Later I read a translation of “The Parliament of Birds (Mantiq ut-Tayr)” by Farid ud-Din Attar (12th Century), a Persian Sufi poet. The focus of this mystical poem was the journey of several birds searching for the Simurgh, the Ruler of the Birds. As they travelled over seven valleys, some of the birds shed their undesirable qualities, while others went home. (These valleys were called “yearning,” “love,” “gnosis,” “detachment,” “unity of God,” “bewilderment,” and “selflessness and oblivion of God.”) Finally when they arrived at the place they believed that the Simurgh lived, only thirty birds remained. Now purified, these birds encountered the Divine in the being of the Simurgh. Afterwards, the birds realized that they were all the Simurgh, which also means (thirty (Si) birds (murgh)).

Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak (Professor at University of Maryland) writes that the birds were in the “all-embracing presence, a transcendent majesty speaking not just in silence but through silence.” He explains that “The Parliament of Birds,” expresses the heart of Sufism, when the individual merges into the “ocean of eternity,” the mystical ecstasy of the Divine. In this poem, the Simurgh becomes the catalyst for the transcendence of divinity.

For me, the Simurgh evolves from being a dispenser of wisdom to a being who sends life out into the world. Finally the Simurgh becomes the immutable essence of the Divine. As a Crone I would like to evolve like the Simurgh, though I could never be Divine. At the end of my days, I hope to be like the thirty birds. After the end of their mystic journey, they merged into the “ocean of eternity.” I hope to do the same after my journey to meet the Simurgh.
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Please note that since Iranian (Persian) does not have a Latin-based alphabet, I found several spellings for the same Iranian word. I used both the spellings used by Iranians and those more common to English speakers.

Works Used:

Allan, Tony, “The Mythic Bestiary,” Duncan Baird: London, 2008.

Karimi-Hakkak, Ahmad, “At the Sign of Simorgh: Mythical Birds and the Mystical Discourse in Persian Poetry,” Foundation for Iranian Studies, http://fis-iran.org/en/programs/noruzlectures/simorgh-hakkak,  2012.

Nigg, Joseph, “The Book of Dragons and Other Mythical Beasts,” Quarto: London, 2002.

---, “Simorgh, A Fabulous Mythological Bird,” “Tehran Times,” 27 June 2012, http://www.tehrantimes.com/highlights/99516-simorgh-a-fabulous-mythological-bird.

Vinao, Ezequiel, “El Simurgh for Piano and Electronics,” 1991-1992.

http://www.tloneditions.com/Ezequiel_Vinao_Simurgh_The_Conference_of_the_Birds.html

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon and Ash DeKirk, “A Wizard’s Bestiary,” New Page Press: Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2007.

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