Monday, October 14, 2019

Of black dragons and blind idiot gods, part II: Az

Part 2 now of the following 4-part series on my idiosyncratic beliefs about “ultimate reality”:

As mentioned previously, each entry in this series will start off by describing the “primary” entity as I have come to understand it from various sources, and then provide some tie-ins re: why, beyond the “A” and the “z,” I interpret these as all being essentially one being, albeit with three distinguishable facets.

Note about the entry below: as we’re now moving on to a being that originates in a specific culture, rather than in fiction, it seems worth pointing out that I am not a religious specialist in Zoroastrianism, with much of what follows coming more from Michael Ford’s Luciferian take on the demons of that pantheon than from academic/primary/etc. sources.  One should thus keep in mind that what follows is presented primarily because I find the narrative in question, whatever its ultimate true source, to be an apt fit with my beliefs, vs. no claim is being made as to its adequacy in educating anyone about any “real” beliefs pertaining to Zoroastrianism.

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Az is the female consort of Ahriman, the ultimate evil being/principle in the dualistic religion of Zoroastrianism.  The name is related to a word that means “to strive,” and she is accordingly associated with avarice, lust, gluttony and other such vices that orient one’s attention toward carnal matters in neglect of religious ones. 

In addition to being Ahriman’s most intimate associate and mother of all subsequent demons (whom she in turn teaches to mate with one another and/or incestuously breeds with), Az is also said to be Ahriman’s “weapon” by which he corrupts the world.  Interestingly though, the story goes that Ahriman’s downfall is prophesized to entail Az consuming everything he holds dear and ultimately he himself; he foresees this outcome, yet takes up the “weapon” anyway because it is “of his own essence” and he is thus unable to do otherwise.  

These last few details strike me as raising a question or two about who’s really the most powerful demonic force in that particular pantheon.

On the occult side of things, some additional connections involving Az include:
  • Luciferian Michael Ford associates her with Lilith, which makes sense inasmuch as both dark ladies are said to be the consorts of the ultimate evil of their pantheons, mothers of demons, and corrupters of humanity with a notable emphasis on lust + rejection of the traditional subjugated-female role.
  • V.K. Jehannum associates her with Semjaza from the Book of Enoch, the leader of the Watcher-angels who descend to earth, have relations with human women and then reveal forbidden knowledge to their wives.  It seems relevant to note that the other primary antagonist of this episode is named Azazel, and that he is blamed the most for messing up God’s creation via teaching humans how to make weapons and cosmetics, a.k.a. encouraging ambition and violence among men, and vanity and lust among women.  These fallen angels being male is of little consequence re: potentially detracting from connections to Az, since she is said to switch genders readily, having done so as part the “sex ed” lesson she gave to her demon horde. 
  • Buddhists in regions adjacent to Zoroastrianism’s traditional turf use a word of the same root as Az’s name to translate the term trishna, which refers to desire/thirst/craving, but is also the name of one of the three daughters of Mara, the “devil” of Buddhism.  These three daughters are the female demons who famously tried to tempt the Buddha while he was meditating to achieve enlightenment.

On the philosophical side of things, Az strikes me as a mythological personification of Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live, described very aptly in that encyclopedia article as “an endless striving and blind impulse with no end in view, devoid of knowledge, lawless, absolutely free, entirely self-determining and almighty.”  The pessimistic conclusions that Schopenhauer drew from this – the world being beyond good & evil, intrinsically frustrating/futile, and hence better to withdraw from – are then consistent with the conclusions Buddhism draws with regard to the same force/tendency.

As with Azathoth, I grasp this is unlikely to sound like an attractive entity to many readers.  The appeal I would argue for is similar though, inasmuch as one might well look at the natural world and conclude that it does rather appear to be one big, mindless, seething mass of eating, mating and death.  Should one not then, if one values “undefiled wisdom,” affirm this via proposing an entity whose qualities reflect this reality?  

On a somewhat more constructive and thus reassuring note, however, one might also point out that if Az is associated with indulgence, and I argued elsewhere that the LaVeyan conception of indulgence should be understood as going beyond the merely animalistic, then in turn, Az represents not just animalistic fulfillment, but striving for fulfillment of any kind whatsoever.  This understanding would then situate her as potentially benevolent from a LaVeyan Satanic standpoint. 

I say “potentially” because the LaVeyan formula is not only “indulgence, not abstinence” but also “indulgence, not compulsion,” and I do not see the latter distinction evident in the way Az is conceptualized.  One might thus envision a somewhat “frenemy”-like relationship between her and the individual Satanist, wherein the interests of both are united in terms of seeking indulgence, but diverge inasmuch as Az’s vivacity excludes both self-control and wisdom.  Ironically, it would then seem to follow that the Christian notion of needing to resist the Devil’s temptation turns out not to be entirely irrelevant to the Satanist, as one must develop self-discipline and self-understanding in order to be able to enjoy the gifts that Az offers.  Giving in to any and every desire she presents, on the other hand, is liable to lead to destruction of oneself and/or one’s loved ones.

This analysis is relevant to what I’ve at times claimed re: of the right-hand path religions, Buddhism is the one that I agree with the most.  More specifically, I agree with its first two Noble Truths re: life is inherently dissatisfactory and dissatisfaction is caused by craving, but I disagree with the rest of the Noble Truths formula (re: how to cease suffering by ceasing to crave) inasmuch as I choose to continue to wrench enjoyment from indulgence despite the first two Truths.  To me, LaVey’s talk of “undefiled wisdom” and “man as just another animal” imply just this sort of stance, i.e. one has one’s eyes open re: the more unpleasant aspects of the “dark force of nature,” yet nonetheless chooses to continue to affirm the world.  By contrast, right-hand path religions either have their eyes open to these same realities only to reject the world on that basis, or else keep their eyes closed and thereby convince themselves of sunnier ideas – i.e. the “spiritual pipedreams” which LaVey warns against.

As for Az and Azathoth being one thing, this claim is said to be made forthrightly by some influential occultists, such as Kenneth Grant.  But the detail most interesting to me on this front comes via literary reflections, specifically Lovecraft’s designation of Azathoth as “daemon sultan,” and the revelation that this designation is likely inspired via a reference to Beckford’s gothic novel “Vathek.”  The main character of that novel is a caliph who renounces Islam and makes an ill-advised deal with Eblis (Islam’s Devil) toward the end of fully gratifying all of his passions, in the course of which he enthusiastically commits a wide variety of moral transgressions.  Vathek’s insatiable thirst is then a theme of the novel on multiple levels, e.g. supernatural affliction of physical thirst; lust as a thirst that motivates his treachery toward his human and demon allies alike; thirst for knowledge; etc. 

One could argue that one should not make too much of the Vathek connection, as it is not as if Azathoth, as he is portrayed in the mythos, resembles the character that strongly.  One might then propose that the designation of “daemon sultan” may have appealed to Lovecraft for merely “problematic” reasons to do with his feelings about other races, rather than being all that revelatory of anything actually substantial to do with Azathoth. 

Nonetheless, the web of associations here could alternately invite one to associate many of the verbs used to describe Azathoth’s activities – e.g. “seething,” “bubbling,” “gnawing,” etc. – with the notions of “striving” and “thirst” associated with Az.  Moreover, what I said above about Az and compulsive indulgence is further reflected in the designation of Azathoth as the blind idiot god, and here the tie to Vathek becomes highly relevant, as upon full acquaintance with the plot of the novel, I think more than a few people might judge him to be not only degenerate in the extent to which he allows his passions to rule over him, but also rather stupid in many of his decisions.  Two seemingly disparate titles of Azathoth’s – “blind idiot” and “daemon sultuan” – are thus revealed to be interrelated with one another via Az’s key theme of unregulated desire.

A further Az-Azathoth-relating thought is that one could draw a parallel between the idea that one can only have a constructive relationship with Az if one cultivates certain Satanic virtues on one hand, and the idea that the world can only exist so long as Azathoth is kept from full activity by the music of his demonic flutists on the other.  In both instances, the force behind life itself is “an endless striving and blind impulse with no end in view, devoid of knowledge, lawless, absolutely free, entirely self-determining and almighty,” which, if allowed to go unrestrained, winds up being destructive of the world as we know it and of all that which might be enjoyable in that world if only a little moderation were practiced.

Now, at the same time as insights are to be had from equating these entities, insights can also be had by keeping them distinguished.  My thought here is that a primary distinguisher of the three components of the “dark trinity” I’m describing is with regard to their attitude toward the world as we know it.

On this front, we thus far have an indifferent creator in Azathoth, and an enthusiastic maintainer in Az.  Azathoth is “indifferent” inasmuch as he does not set out to create anything in particular, being instead rather like the Neoplatonic concept of The One, for whom the creation of realities outside of itself is simply an unintended overflow of its inherently-fruitful inner nature, or the Hindu concept of Brahman, which is said to create as spontaneously and unconsciously as a person breathes.  Az, on the other hand is “enthusiastic” inasmuch as she is that which strives to remain ever-in-existence and ever-grasping-at-more.  When destructive consequences follow in the wake of either entity, this seems to come about simply through an excess of the force that they represent, without entailing the notion that they intend to destroy existence because they hate it and want it to end.

This is not to say though that the force in question cannot nonetheless be characterized as hatefully and intentionally destructive in certain contexts.  And it is to those contexts that Azerate will speak, completing the picture with the addition of a monstrous destroyer.  But I will save the details of that for the next entry…