‘The Love of Animals and the Holiness of the Dog’ In Zoroastrianism by Ardeshir Fahramd
In today’s Iran, some ruling clergy teach that the love of animals, and especially fondness for dogs is a decadent, Western value. Unfortunately, stray dogs are killed and abused. My purpose in this article is to show that that the love of pets/dogs is an ancient, revered tradition of the original Iranians; an ancient virtue, and a common Indo-European value that must be honoured.
Ehtirám-I sag; or “great respect for the dog;” is a command among Zoroastrians. In Zoroastrianism, the dog is regarded as an especially benevolent, and virtuous creature, which must be fed and lovingly taken care of. The dog is praised for loyalty, intelligence, and having special spiritual virtues.
Dogs receive a striking degree of attention in the “legal” (dâtîc) books of the Avesta, notably in the “Vi-dêv-dâd” and the “Dvâsrôb” or the 16th Nask/Volume of the Avesta, the contents of which are known from Dênkart (q.v.) 8. Detailed prescriptions for the appropriate treatment of dogs are found in the Vi-dêv-dâd (one of the legal Avestan scriptures), especially in chapters 13, 14, and 15, where the faithful are required to assist dogs, both domestic and stray, in various ways. Help or harm to a dog is equated with help and harm to a human. In Zoroastrianism, responsibility towards dogs is repeatedly linked with responsibility toward humans.
In the Hüspârâm Nask, the proper quantities of food are listed for man, woman, child, and the three kinds of dogs (Dênkart 8.37.1).
In Vi-dêv-dâd 13.28 it is enjoined that a dog is to be given whole milk, hearty bread, and other dairy products, staple articles of the diet of farmers.
In Sad-Dar/hundred doors 31.1 it is enjoined that “whenever people eat, they should keep back three morsels from themselves and give them to a dog or pet,” and this was the general practice in the Irani and Parsi communities down into the present century (Boyce, Stronghold, PP. 143, 145 n. 11). It is also a major sin if a man harms a dog by giving it bones that are too hard and become stuck in its throat, or food that is too hot so that it burns the dog’s throat. In Zoroastrianism, Giving bad food to a dog is as bad as serving bad food to a righteous human.
A sick dog or animal is to be looked after as carefully as a sick person (Vi-dêv-dâd. 13.35). A homeowner is required to take care of a pregnant dog that lies near his/her home until the puppies are six months old (Vi-dêv-dâd. 15.45). If the homeowner does not help the dog and the puppies come to harm as a result, “he/she shall pay for it the penalty for wilful murder;” because the Spiritual Blaze, or Fire of GD watches over a pregnant dog as it does over a mortal woman.” (Vi-dêv-dâd. 15.19.) The believers are required to take care of a dog with a damaged sense of smell, to try to heal the dog, “in the same manner as they would do for one of the faithful.”
The killing of a dog is considered to lead to damnation and extreme evil luck.
According to Vi-dêv-dâd, and in traditional Zoroastrian practice, dogs are allotted funerary rites analogous to humans. One of the places where Earth suffers most is where the bodies of men and dogs are buried (Vi-dêv-dâd. 3.8). If a dog dies in a house, fire/flame is to be taken out of that house, as when a human dies (Vi-dêv-dâd. 5.39-40), and the dog’s body is to be carried like a human to a place of exposure to the elements (Vi-dêv-dâd 8.14).
A dog’s gaze is considered to be purifying and to drive off daävás (demonic powers) and Nasü; the demon of rot, decay, and naught. Sag-did, or literally, “dog’s sight,” is a Persian or Zoroastrian term, and refers to a funeral practice in which a dog is brought into where the deceased is laid, so that the dog can “cast gaze” on the dead. There are various spiritual benefits thought to be obtained by the ceremony. It is believed that the original purpose was to make certain that the person was really dead, since the dog’s more acute senses would be able to detect signs of life that a human might miss. A “four-eyed” dog, that is one with two spots on its forehead, is preferred for sag-did. The dog used for this task is ideally “brownish-golden with four eyes/two flecks of different-colored hairs just above the eyes; with golden ears” (zairitəm chathrü chashməm, spaätəm zairi.gaöshəm; Vi-dêv-dâd. 8.16).
In Vi-dêv-dâd 19.30, two dogs are said to stand at the chinvat or ‘illumination bridge’, by the female figure of Daäná/insight, who there addresses the soul, and in Vi-dêv-dâd 13.9, these are called the “passage-protecting, or pəšü.pâna dogs or spâna.”
In Zoroastrianism, dogs/pets are fed in commemoration of the deceased person. A portion of the food offerings for the deceased is always given to a dog or pet (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 143-44, 158; Modi, pp. 404, 350). During the three days after death, if there are no house dog/pets, a stray is given food for the soul’s sake at every mealtime, and then, in Zoroastrian villages of Iran, once a day outside the house for the next thirty to forty days (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 153 and n. 30, 158).