DĒN (Av. daēnā, trisyllabic in Old Av., disyllabic in Young Av.; Mid. Pers. dēn; NPers. dīn), theological and metaphysical term with a variety of meanings: “the sum of man’s spiritual attributes and individuality, vision, inner self, conscience, religion.”

In the Gathas daēnā (which is only “ahuric”) denotes “vision, conscience, individuality.” Stanley Insler (p. 69) suggests “conception,” which is, however, irrelevant to the theological or metaphysical connotations of daēnā; for instance, “their own soul and their own inner self (hardly to be read “conception”; Insler, p. 271) did vex them” (Y. 46.11). In Middle Persian dēn is defined as xēm “character, conscience” and xēm as xōg “nature, habit” (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, II, p. 511; Shaked, p. 70). It is maintained that Ohrmazd first and foremost created xēm and dēn (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, II, p. 499; Shaked, p. 50), dēn clearly standing for “conscience, inner self.”

In the sense of religion dēn (weh-dēn “the good religion,” māzdēsn dēn “the religion of Mazdā worship”) is a brilliance from the nature of Ohrmazd; its principle is the mind/thought of Axw, Ahū (q.v.; “the supreme lord”), and its manifestation is the recitation and practice of the holy words (mānsr), which itself is the mean (paymān; Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 326; de Menasce, 1973, pp. 309-10). The essence of the Mazdean religion is the wisdom of Ohrmazd, with knowledge and action (kunišn) as its essential elements; its purpose or function is to purify (ms.: heal) the mixed (i.e., Ahriman-ridden; see AHRIMAN) creation (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 329; de Menasce, 1973, p. 313) by conquering and destroying the adversary (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 351; de Menasce, 1973, p. 331). The religion is God’s wisdom, His word (logos), the substratum par excellence of the principle of creation, the holy words of the religion, the divine Ahunwar (q.v.), who gives the world its being and maintains its existence. In the fashioning of Wahman “the good mind” the religion dwelt with him (Bundahišn, tr. Anklesaria, p. 19, chap. 1.53). Ahura Mazdā (q.v.) created man with his vision (daēnā; Y. 46.6). The bond of religion (paywand ī dēn), which denotes “adopting a righteous religious authority in time and not deviating from his authority,” is one of three bonds (the others being paywand ī gēhān “the bond of the world” and paywand ī frašegird “the bond of the renovation”) that men should observe (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, II, p. 492; Shaked, p. 36). In the domain of government the Mazdean religion, the supreme spiritual power, and royalty, the temporal power, are twins, for sovereignty is essentially religion and religion sovereignty: Royalty (xwadāyīh) is founded on the religion and the religion on royalty, and the exaltation of Iranian royalty (ērīh xwadāyīh) cannot be separated from submission to the Mazdean religion (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 47; de Menasce, 1973, p. 65). The omniscient Mazdean religion is likened to a mighty tree with one trunk (the mean), two main boughs (action and abstention), three branches (good thoughts, good words, and good deeds), four small branches (the estates of the priests, warriors, husbandmen, and artisans), five roots (the lord of the house, the village headman, the tribal chieftain, the ruler, and the highest religious authority, the representative of Zoroaster on earth, Zarathuštrōtom), and above them all the head of all heads (sarānsar), the king of kings, the ruler of the whole world (Škand Gumānīg Wizār 1.11; de Menasce, 1945, p. 24; Zaehner, 1956, p. 86).

In the Avesta (q.v.) daēnā in the sense of “conscience” is one of the five spiritual faculties, together with axw “vital strength,” baoδah “perception,” urvan “soul,” and fravaši “the everlasting and heavenly tutelary of material beings” (Y. 26.4).

Dēn is not only divine wisdom but also its emanation as innate human wisdom (āsn-xrad), a principle with far-reaching implications, for all beneficial knowledge thus of necessity falls within the compass of dēn. This important feature is apparent not only from the contents of the Avesta, which is a miscellaneous accumulation encompassing both the words of the Prophet and the authoritative pronouncements of the ancient fathers of the faith, but also from various explicit interpretations in Middle Persian literature. According to the Dēnkard (q.v.; ed. Madan, I, p. 335; de Menasce, 1973, p. 318), “all wise words uttered in virtue of the innate wisdom (āsn-xrad), whether by the people who were before the advent of the Mazdean religion or by those who had come afterward and were ignorant of the good religion, are in conformity with the revelations of the dēn.” Dēn is thus the totality of all sagacious knowledge of mankind because this knowledge encompasses the diffusions of the innate wisdom, the essence of Ohrmazd. In the account of the history of the Mazdean scriptures given in the Dēnkard (ed. Madan, I, p. 415) it is said that “all wise words spoken by the religious authorities, throwing light on religious precepts, [are] an exposition of the Avesta, even though they had not derived them from any revelation of the Avesta” (for a full account of this passage, see Shaki, 1981, p. 121). On this point it is declared in Dādestān ī dēnīg (q.v.; chap. 89; West, p. 258) that the customs and laws of the holy rulers who lived before Zarathustra in Xwanirah, for example, Yawišt ī Fryān, Gōbadšāh, and Pešōtan, contributed to the advancement of the dēn, that is, Mazdean wisdom. In a significant sentence in the Dēnkard (ed. Madan, I, p. 411) “the incorporation of every knowledge in the Mazdean religion and its safekeeping (ms.: endurance)” are mentioned.

Apart from these considerations, the miscellaneous contents of the encyclopedic Dēnkard attest to the omnifarious nature of the dēn. It is to be noted that the term dēnkard itself resolves into dēn-kardag, in which kardag (from the root kun- “establish, prescribe, enact”) means “orthodox traditional law, teaching; sunna” pronounced by the ancient teachers of the religion (pōryōtkēšān; see Shaki, 1978, pp. 291-92). Hence Dēnkard denotes “traditional teachings and expositions of the Mazdean wisdom (dēn),” that is, everything that has been incorporated in the dēn by virtue of its merit, including such foreign teachings as Greek and Indian philosophy and sciences. Ādurbād ī Ēmēdān (q.v.), the last redactor of the Dēnkard, described the book aptly as dēnkard nibēg kardag ast ī az wisp-pēsīd dēn paydāgīh: “The scripture of the Dēnkard is a book of orthodox expositions revealed from the omniscient Mazdean dēn (wisdom)” (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, I, p. 405; de Menasce, 1973, p. 379). The generally accepted description of the book as “acts of the religion” therefore reflects a misapprehension; it should, rather, be described as the “compendium of Mazdean wisdom.”

Dēn, the deification of the religion, and the deities of space (Gāh) and time (Zamān) are the three divine instruments of creation, as assistants of Ohrmazd (Bundahišn, tr. Anklesaria, p. 40, chap 3.12). The yazatā Daēnā is a daughter of Ahura Mazdā and Ārmaiti (q.v.; Y. 17.16), but, according to an inscription found at Arebsun in Anatolia, she is the sister and wife of Ahura Mazdā (Boyce, Zoroastrianism II, p. 275). In the Dēn yašt (q.v.; Yt. 16) Daēnā praises the deity (Razišta) Čistā (q.v.), embodiment of “the most true wisdom,” which impregnates the Mazdean religion.

The daēnā/dēn represents a person’s deeds (kunišn), his inner self. In the Pahlavi commentary on Yasna 26.6 daēnā is glossed by kunišn “deed” (Y. 45.2, 48.4, 51.21). The fathers of the faith considered dēn to be “that which one always does” (Dēnkard, ed. Madan, II, p. 473; Shaked, p. 14); because “of thoughts (menišn), words (gowišn) and deeds (kunišn) it is the deed that counts (on the day of reckoning), for words are unreliable, thought unascertainable, but deeds are palpable, and (it is) by deeds that men are judged” (Čīdag handarz ī pōryōtkēšān 24-26; Kanga, p. 24). On the day of judgment the soul of a dead man, at the dawn after the third day, goes along the path created by time for both the just and the wicked to the Činwad bridge (see ČINWAD PUHL; Vd. 19.29), created by Ahura Mazdā, where he is met, according to his deserts, either by a beautiful maiden or by a hag, the personification of his deeds, his inner self (Daēnā/Dēn), a name used by the Prophet for this eschatological figure (Y. 31.20).

A full account of the personification of the daēnā “inner self” as a woman is first given in Haδōxt nask (2.11): When a just man dies after the third night “his own daēnā appears in the form of a maiden, beautiful, queenly, white-armed . . . as beautiful as the most beautiful of creatures . . . (proclaiming) . . . ‘Youth of good thought, good words, good deeds, good inner self (daēnā) I am your very own inner self (daēnā; azəm tē . . . ahmi . . .yā hava daēna xᵛaepaiθe.tanvō).’” The concept of this female figure is a relic of the pagan past, a myth recounted in the Vīdēvdād (19.30), according to which when the soul of a just man reaches the Činwad bridge “there comes that beautiful one, strong, fair of form, accompanied by two dogs at her sides. She comes over the high Hara and takes the souls of the just over the Činvad bridge . . . to the ramparts of the invisible yazatas” (Boyce, 1984, p. 80).

The daēnā of the bridge appeared in early Sasanian times in the inscription of Kerdīr at Sar Mašhad (KSM) as Kerdīr’s own dēn, leading his “ideal body” (hangirb “likeness”) over the Činwad bridge. The high priest, in his vision of the hereafter, related “and now comes a maiden, appearing from the east, and I have not seen a nobler woman than she” (KSM 35; Back, p. 452); “he who is righteous his own dēn leads him to paradise, and he who is wicked his own dēn leads him to hell” (KSM 29; Back, p. 445; Gignoux, 1968, ll. 42-43). The story is repeated in the Ardā Wīrāz (q.v.) nāmag (4.11; Gignoux, 1984, pp. 48, 157; Vahman, 1986, pp. 194-95), where the woman is said to be the personification of one’s own dēn and deeds (ān ī xwēš dēn ud ān ī xwēš kunišn), and in the Mēnōg ī Xrad (2.125; Nyberg, Manual, pt. 1, p. 73), where she introduces herself as the just man’s “good deeds.” According to the Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram (31.5) the dēn, personified as a beautiful woman, takes care of the soul of the righteous person in paradise, teaching it the speech of the spirits.

The two distinct referents of Daēnā, that is, the maiden of the bridge and the yazatā of religion, have led the majority of Iranists to posit two distinct nouns from the same root di- “see” (against which, see Nyberg, pp. 114 ff.). It is argued that the daēnā of religion represents “that which is seen or recognized (as the truth),” as against the daēnā as the maiden of the bridge, “who sees or recognizes (the truth)” (Lommel, pp. 150-51; Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, p. 238). It is thus suggested that there may be two pairs of Avestan words, daēnā/Daēnā “conscience/the maiden of the bridge” and daēnā/Daēnā “religion/the yazatā of religion” (Boyce, Zoroastrianism I, pp. 239-40). In Manichean Middle Persian dēn denotes “religion; the Manichaean community” (Boyce, 1977, p. 38).



(For cited works not found in this bibliography and abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”) M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Leiden, 1978.

M. Boyce, A Word-List of Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian, Acta Iranica 9a, 1977.

Idem, Zoroastrians, Their Beliefs and Practices, London, 1979.

Idem, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, Manchester, 1984.

P. Gignoux, “L’inscription de Kartīr à Sar Mašhad,” JA 256, 1968, pp. 387-418.

Idem, “Der Grossmagier Kirdīr und seine Reise in das Jenseits,” in Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin Emerito Oblata, Acta Iranica 23, Leiden, 1984, pp. 191-206, esp. 198, 200.

Idem, Le livre d’Ardā Virāz . . ., Paris, 1984.

S. Insler, The Gathas of Zarathustra, Acta Iranica 8, Leiden, 1975.

M. F. Kanga, ed. and tr., Čītak handarz ī pōryōtkēšān, Bombay, 1960.

H. Lommel, Die Religion Zarathustras nach dem Awesta dargestellt, Tübingen, 1930; repr. Hildesheim, 1971.

J. de Menasce, Škand-Gumānīk Vičār . . ., Fribourg, 1945.

Idem, tr., Le troisième livre du Dēnkart, Travaux de l’Institut d’Études Iraniennes 5, Paris, 1973.

M. Molé, “Daēnā, le pont Činvat et l’initiation dans le Mazdéisme,” RHR 157, 1960, pp. 155-85.

H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des alten Iran, tr. H. H. Schaeder, Leipzig, 1938.

J. C. Pavry, The Zoroastrian Doctrine of a Future Life, New York, 1929, pp. 28-48 (on the maiden of the bridge).

H. P. Schmidt, “Is Vedic dhénā- related to Avestan daēnā-?” in Monumentum H.S. Nyberg II, Acta Iranica 5, Leiden and Tehran, 1975, pp. 163-79 (for diverse unconvincing etymologies of daēnā proposed by various authors, see pp. 163-67).

S. Shaked, The Wisdom of the Sasanian Sages (Dēnkard VI) by Aturpāt-i Ēmētān, Persian Heritage Series 34, Boulder, Colo., 1979.

M. Shaki, “The Social Doctrine of Mazdak in the Light of Middle Persian Evidence,” Archív Orientální 46/4, 1978, pp. 289-306.

Idem, “The Dēnkard Account of the History of the Zoroastrian Scriptures,” Archív Orientální 49/2, 1981, pp. 114-25.

F. Vahman, “A Beautiful Girl,”in Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce II, Acta Iranica 25, Leiden, 1985, pp. 665-73.

Idem, Ardā Wirāz Nāmag. The Iranian “Divina Commedia", London, 1986.

E. W. West, Dādistān-ī Dīnīk, Pahlavi Texts 2, SBE 17, Oxford, 1882, pp. 2-276.

R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan. A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955 (see index p. 481 on various aspects of the dēn).

Idem, The Teachings of the Magi, London, 1956.

(Mansour Shaki)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 3, pp. 279-281