Celestial Bodies


The ruin of Persepolis at sunset.

The religions of Ancient Iran ascribed to the sun, moon, and the stars tremendous power and often outright divinity, as well as influence over certain aspects of life. In Zoroastrian tradition, however, the sun, moon, and stars were always deemed subservient to Ahura Mazda. 

The Sun

The sun took on many roles as the most prominent figure in the sky. It was considered a central authority over the stars and planets due to its ability to occupy the daytime sky alone. This authority was best demonstrated at dawn and dusk, when the sun seemingly commands the movement of stars across the sky. To the Manichaeans, who regarded stars as demonic forces, the sun was an "intercessor" capable of reining in evil and safeguarding creation. Zoroastrians, meanwhile, tended to view the sun and its intense light as a purifier, constantly cleansing the world.


A silver plate depicting the Moon Goddess, Mah, and her chariot as well as the star goddess Tishtrya, ca. 7th century CE

The Moon

The moon's movements and phases were tracked and documented by the astronomers of Ancient Iran, resulting in the creation of a lunar calendar. Like ours, this calender was used to organize time and mark the seasons. The lunar calendar of Sasanian Iran was especially relevant when it came to predicting agricultural yields and animal and human fertility.

The moon itself was associated with both light and water. It was seen as the distributor of health and growth to plants and crops. Zoroastrian teaching holds that Mah, the Moon Goddess, helped Ahura Mazda create the beneficent animals, such as the zebu bulls that are shown pulling her chariot on this late Sasanian silver dish. In Manichaean tradition, the moon served as a gathering spot for the ascending light particles harvested from the material world. Christians, by contrast, starkly warned against the veneration of the moon and all astral bodies.


Astronomers in Ancient Iran carefully noted the differences in the size, brightness, and motion of the stars. Zoroastrian scholars divided the stars into two distinct "ranks" according to their location, magnitude, and apparent "height." The most revered were those that made up the glittery arm of the Milky Way, imagined as a road built by the legendary King Kayus to encircle the heavens. The individual stars which make up that road were, in the Zoroastrian tradition, the holy warriors who fought against demonic forces in the eternal cosmic battle between Ahriman and Ahura Mazda.

The rest of the stars populated the so-called "lower" level of the heavens, and while they were considered less exalted, they had the greatest impact on the earth and humanity. This area of the sky formed a cosmic battleground, where twelve constellation signs of the Zodiac and a number of other special stars struggle against invading demonic stars. This squad of stars had several members, each presiding over a different quadrant of the sky and possessing unique divine powers.

  1. Haftoring (Ursa Major) guarded the entrance to hell and blockaded it with the help of guardian spirits. Each of his seven stars corresponded to the seven continents in Zoroastrian religious thought.
  2. Polaris was the high general of the stars due to his seemingly unchanging position in the sky. Together with Haftowrang, he kept the earth in place.
  3. Tishtrya (Sirius) was the patron of atmospheric and oceanic waters. She was regarded as the "judge and overseer" of all stars and appears prominently in the arts of Ancient Iran.
  4. Fomalhut doubled as a member of the Pisces constellation and was seen as a sort of assistant to Tishtrya. His responsibility was to safeguard the oceans.
  5. Vega, the final member of this elite group, was the guardian of Ancient Iran's mountainous borders, and repelled demons from them. He was also considered a deity worth calling on to cure a disease or sickness.

Saturn and Jupiter at a "conjunction," when the apparent distance between them is at its shortest

The Planets

The planets, especially Jupiter and Saturn, provided the basis for many of the horoscopic predictions. The unique paths of Jupiter and Saturn caused them to "conjoin" in certain constellations regularly: every twenty years, the two planets will appear in the same constellation twelve consecutive times. Their movements were further analyzed and categorized based upon the distance between them as well as the constellations' apparent association with the four Zoroastrian elements (fire, earth, air, and water). The cyclical nature of their behavior allowed Sasanian court astronomers to make predictions and advise their clients.

Celestial Bodies