Epic World: Which Gods were Venerated in Ancient Armenia
Aramazd was the Supreme God for the Armenian people, the creator of heaven and earth, the Father of all other gods. He was called “Aramazd the Great and Brave” whose main sanctuary was in one of the ancient Armenian religious centers, Ani-Kamakh. The ancestral mausoleum and treasure of the Arshakuni dynasty kings were also kept there.
Anahit, Aramazd’s daughter or wife, was the most beloved and adorable goddess. She was the mother goddess and was depicted with a child in her hands, covered with a typical Armenian headscarf to the shoulders. She was called “Anahit the Great lady”, the mother of wisdom and decency, people’s philanthropist, the Glorifier of the Armenian nation. They believed that the Armenian land existed and would still exist thanks to her. The Armenian kings were requesting her patronage when going to make war. As a mother, Anahit was the holy reflection of purity, harvest and fertility. Together with Aramazd and Vahagn, she comprised the holy Trinity of the Armenian pantheon. Cult Anahit was broadly spread and beloved in ancient Armenia. Her temples were built in the Ekeghyats province, Taron, Vaspourakan, Armavir and Artashat. Anahit’s temple in the Ekeghyats (Eriza) province was the most remarkable. The rich and prominent people were sending their daughters to that temple and only after it they could get married. Anahit’s golden statue was placed in Eriza, that’s why she was also called Golden Mother (Ոսկեմայր, նաև ոսկեծղի, Ոսեկահատ). They people always putting fresh made wreaths under her statue. The statue was so big, that when Marc Antony in 34 attacked the Eriza region, his soldiers broke apart the golden statue of Anahit, divided it into parts and took it to Rome. One of those soldiers organized a dinner in honor of Augustus. When the latter asked about the statue, the soldier answered that he had organized the dinner thanks to a sold small part of the golden statue.
The third god of the Armenian pantheon was Vahagn – a tawny and a bright young boy with blonde hair, flaming beard and sparkling eyes. He was born when the Heaven, the World and the Sea were having cerebral pains. As soon as he was born, he starts fighting with black and wild dragons, frees the universe from the threat of devastation. Vahagn was the Armenian god of storm and lightning of whom the kings and generals were praying bravery. Vahagn’s main sanctuary was located in Ashtishat - the holy center of Ancient Armenia. Later on Vahagn was humanized by the people and was considered the third son of Tigran the Great.
Astghik, the goodness of love and water and whose cult was associated with the planet Arusyak (Venera), was Vahagni’s lover. Her temple was in Ashtishat and was called “Vahagn’s room”. She was meeting there with her lovely Vahagn. Their marriage was considered to be holy: thanks to that marriage, it started raining and that gave the people more products. They were portraying Astghik as a naked and swimming beautiful girl. She was swimming in the river Euphrates every night. Those boys who were in love with Astghik, were hiding on the mountain Daghonats of the Region Taron and were making fire to see and admire the beautiful goddess, swimming in the river. However, every night Astghik was covering the Taron valley with fog not to allow a foreigner to see her. According to one of the latest myths, Asghik is Noy’s daughter. After the flood and Noy’s arriving in Armenia, three of Noy’s sons become the rulers of the world – Zrvan, Titan and Habetoste. When they separate the whole world between each other, Zrvan attempts to make his sons rulers of the lands. Titan and Habetoste revolt against their older brother Zrvan and start making war with him. Titan occupies part of Zrvan’s lands. Astghik interferes and asks the brothers to stop the fights. Titan and Habetoste agree to stop, however they place a condition: to kill all the future born sons of Zrvan in order not to allow them to rule forever. They agree. After the killing of two of Zrvan’s sons, Astghik feels sorry and asks the soldiers to leave alive Zrvan’s other sons and send them to the west, to the mountain Olimpos (Dyucynkec in Armenian). Then Astghik makes an order to build the castle of Astxnaberd, for the security of her brother Zrvan. Further, it was called Mokats castle. In addition to Ashtishat, there were temples in honor Astghik in the nearest regions of Vana lake, Artamet, Andrevatsiq and Artashat. They were presenting Astghik holy roses and pigeons. Astghik’s day was celebrated in the middle of summer with great ceremonies and rituals. The day was called Vardavar and up to now it is celebrated by the people. During the celebration, the people were presenting each other roses, were leaving doves fly and were watering each other.
Nane, Aramazd’s daughter, the goddess of war, was the next goddess for the Armenian people, whose cult was closely related with the cult of Mother goddess Anahit. It was not accidental that her temple was situated near Anahit’s temple, in Til, Ekeghyats region. Up to now people call grandmothers “nane”, which shows that the goddess Nane was in close ties with the mother goddess.
Mihr, Aramazd’s son, Anahit and Nane’s brother, was the son and light god. His main temple was located in the Bagaharich village of the Derjan region. The ancient pagan temple of Garni was built as a temple to the sun god Mihr. Cult Mihr was broadly spread in Armenia. Every eight day of the ancient Armenian calendar was called by his name, while the seventh month – now February - was called Mehekan. Mihr’s name and memory are also mentioned in the Armenian epic poem “Deredevils of Sassoun”. According to it, Mher is Sanasar’s son. He was fifteen years-old when the famine increased in Sassoun. It turn out that a lion had appeared in the mountains of Sassoun which had closed the roads and did not allow to bring products to Sassoun. Being informed about the reasons of famine, Mher goes to fight with the lion the next day. The lion, after seeing Mher comes forward. Mher, being unarmed, goes forward to the lion, kills it, dividing into two parts, leaves it on both sides of the road and returns to Sassoun. Since then he was called Առյուծաձև Մհեր (has two meanings: 1.killer of the lion; 2.having the lion like image) They advise Mher to get married with the daughter of the king of Aghjala, Armaghan. When Mher leaves for there, he sees that all the people are wearing black clothes and crying. Mher asks them the reason of the mourning. It turns out that there is a monster in the cave near the town, which has closed the source of water hence the people have remained without it. In order to have water again, the people have to give the king’s daughter to that monster. That’s why the people are mourning. Every time the monster demands a girl, to open the source of water. It is already seven days that there is no water in the town. Mher heads to the cave and orders to bring the king’s daughter. When he reaches there, they bring the king’s daughter, wearing all black. When the monster notices the girl, it leaves the cave to eat the girl. Mher drags the sword, cuts the monster’s seven heads and rolls it down from the cave. People get happy, start drinking water. The king’s daughter dips her hand into the bloody water, hits on Mher’s back and returns back. When the king sees his daughter, he asks her how she escaped. The girl answers nothing. The king orders to bring there the killer of the monster and promises to marry him with his daughter. Many boys come to the king, saying that they have killed the monster. Armaghan realizes that they are lying and makes them return to their places. Then Mher comes. The king asks. “Is that you that escaped my daughter?” “Yes, it’s me” – answers Mher. “I have cut the monster’s seven heads with my sword”. The king does not believe him. When Mher decides to leave, Armaghan notices the print of her fingers on his back, comes up to Mher and introduces him to her father. “My father and king, this man escaped me. I should get married with him”. The father feels happy and gives Armaghan to Mher. The latter brings her to Sassoun. There is another myth. According to it, Armaghan is captured by the white monster which lives on the top of the mountain. Mher finds the place it lives, wakes the sleeping White monster up , frees Armaghan, brings her to Sassoun and marries with her.
Amanor and Vanatur
Amanor and Vanatur were among beloved and famous gods for the Armenians. Amanor, which means New Year in old Armenian, symbolized fertility. His day was celebrated at the end of August or at the end of July (ancient Armenian New Year, Navasard), when the fruits were already ripe. The celebrations were passing in one of the ancient Armenian holy centers, Bagavan. The sanctuary of Amanor and Vanatur was also situated there. While Amanor symbolized the New Year and new fruitage, Vanatur (hospitable) symbolized the shelter which was given to thousands of guests during Navasard. The last Armenian king Tigran built a sanctuary there and everybody could make sacrifices and stay there for a night.
Tir was the education, wisdom and science god. His sanctuary was located near old Artashat. It was the so called office of god Tir, which at the same time had functions of school or university where the priests were getting education. They were learning fortune telling, interpretation of dreams. That’s why Tir was also called “Dream reader”, as the priests were learning from him how to interpret dreams and what they mean. Those who were coming to the pilgrimage there, were getting information about their dreams by the assistance of Tir.
Spandaramet or Sandaramet was the underwater god and often was associated with the kingdom of dead or just with hell. Anciently, Spandaramet was identified with the Greek Baqos (the patronage of gardens and wine). Then he was considered to be the governor of the world, hell and abyss, Sandarametapet.
Source: “The Ancient Armenian Epic World”, Sargis Harutyunyan
Illustrations: Anaïs Chagankerian