Armenian Mythology the Nation’s History 1
The Armenian mythology is a fertile mixture over the centuries combined between indigenous traditions with imported ideas from neighboring cultures and migrating peoples. The legends and stories helped to explain the nation’s origins and recall remarkable historical events such as wars and invasions.
Origins & Inspirations
Armenian mythology originated in ancient Indo-European traditions, specifically Proto-Armenian, and integrated Hurro-Urartian, Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Greek beliefs and deities, such as Zoroastrianism, with deities such as Aramazd, Mihr, or Anahit, besides, Assyrian traditions, such as Barsamin, by the way, there are traces of native traditions, such as Hayk or Vahagn and Astghik. The Urartu civilization was a unique mix of indigenous, Hurrian, Mesopotamian gods and symbolism. The Pantheon was headed by the trinity of Haldi (god of war), Teisheba (god of storms), and Shivini (the sun god). They were the principal beneficiaries of sacrifices and temples built on their honor. There were others, as attested by a 9th-century BCE inscription discovered in a niche in the mountains near the capital Tushpa (Van). The list, inscribed in duplicate, mentions 79 gods.
There are elements in the Armenian mythology similar to the Egyptian one too, clearly seen in Shivini, who was represented as a kneeling man holding a winged solar disk, which was likely inspired by the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra. The close cultural relations between Urartu and Assyria are also illustrated by the Urartian application of the Assyrian ideograms for the gods Adad and Shamsh to their gods Teisheba and Shivini. The Tree of Life (tsarrn kenats in Armenian),- a religious symbol and is drawn on walls of fortresses and carved on the armor of warriors- another element from Mesopotamian art, appears in diversified media, typically with a figure standing on either side of it and making offerings. Over time the oral and ancient myths spun together were recorded in texts and perpetuated orally by lyre-playing bards, which in turn, preserved by even later writers. For instance, a portion of an ancient poem recorded by the 5th-century CE historian Movses Khorenatsi describes the birth of the sun god Vahagn from a reed in the sea. Unfortunately, though, and despite the best efforts of writers in Late Antiquity, without extended textual evidence from ancient Armenia itself and only an impoverished archaeological record, much of Armenian myth and religion remains unknown or unexplained.
Basic information about Armenian pagan traditions was preserved in the works of ancient Greek authors such as Plato, Herodotus, Xenophon and Strabo, Byzantine scholar Procopius of Caesarea, as well as medieval Armenian writers like Movses Khorenatsi, Agathangelos, Eznik of Kolb, Sebeos, and Anania Shirakatsi, as well as in oral folk traditions.
Christianity and its influence
When Armenia accepted Christianity in the 4th century CE, it was not only the temples that were destroyed but also the songs and poems about the old gods and heroes that the people sang. There are only rare segments of these songs and poems, segments that witness great spiritual wealth and the power of creation of these people, and these alone are sufficient reason enough for recreating the temples of the old Armenian gods. Ancient myths and beliefs transformed to abide more closely to Christian beliefs. Biblical characters took over the functions of the archaic gods and spirits. For example, John the Baptist inherited certain features of Vahagn and Tir, and the archangel Gabriel took on elements of Vahagn.
Hayk & Bel
One of the unique contributions Khorenatsi made to Armenian history was his narrating of the foundation myth of the nation. The story of Hayk “Haik” and Bel places the origins of the Armenian people as the descendants of the biblical Noah via his son Japheth. Hayk, a descendant of Japheth and noted archer, rebelled one day against Bel the evil and repressive Babylonian tyrant and returned to his homeland around Mount Ararat in ancient Armenia, where it was thought Noah’s ark had come to rest at the end of the great flood. Bel followed Hayk and his relations so that a mighty battle followed in which Bel was killed. Hayk then gave his name to his descendants, the Hay people, and the name of the region of Armenia in the Armenian language, Hayasa.
The legend of Shamiram, is probably based on the Assyrian queen Semiramis (r. 811-806 BCE), another historical enemy of the Armenians. One day Shamiram falls in love with the handsome Armenian king Ara but, he shows no interest in the queen and returns to his country. Shamiram’s army then follows Ara and, despite orders that no harm should come to the Armenian king, he is killed by a stray arrow. Semiramis then tried to find consolation in wandering the lands of Ara’s kingdom. Eventually, she decides to build a city near Lake Van where she will spend the summer months away from her home capital of Nineveh. Once the splendid new city is finished, she took Ara’s body back to her palace where it was kept at the top of a tower so that supernatural dogs (Aralezk) might be called to lick him back to life. In one version the dogs perform their miracle and Ara lives once again, but in Movses' version, unfortunately, the dogs never come and so Shamiram, to save face with her people now that the gods have forsaken her, is forced to parade a look-alike to the dead Ara.
Anahit the pagan Goddess
Anahit’s name is widespread and commonly used in Armenian communities around the world. From Armenian history classes to erotic Aphrodite-inspired art, she is considered the mother of Armenian paganism. The bronze head of the seductress, displayed at the British Museum today, is often the only symbol used about her.
Her statue was used for healing powers: The Anahit temples, which were found mostly in Armenia’s Artashat region, were known to welcome the sick and the ill, as it was believed that Goddess Anahit would help them heal and recover.
Pokr Mithra also, called Mihr, according to the oral tradition is a god who was thought to live in a cave that will only open at the end of Time. Inside the cave, He sits holding an orb of justice and is served by a raven while he awaits the coming of the Apocalypse. He was also associated with light and truth.
He has a portal carved into the rock face of the acropolis at Van named after him, the Gate of Mithra (Mheri durrn). It is expected that Mithraism was passed from Persia to the Roman world via legionaries fighting in ancient Armenia during the Parthian Wars of the 1st century CE.
The roots of celebrating Vardavar, an annual Armenian water holiday, return to Astghik, the Armenian pagan goddess of fertility, love, skylight, beauty, and water. Known as Vahagn’s devoted lover, her temples were located in Artamet, Van, as well as in Ashtishat/Taron, Mush. Her name means “little star”, one story tells of her habit of bathing in a stream each night. On one occasion a group of local young men, eager to glimpse the naked goddess, lit a fire on a hill to see her better.
The goddess foiled the plan by causing a great mist to settle over the area, which hence acquired the name “Plain of Mush” after the Armenian word mshoush, meaning mist.