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The Zend Avesta, Part I (SBE04), James Darmesteter, tr. [1880], at


Hair and Nails.

Anything that has been separated from the body of man is considered dead matter (Introd. V, 12), and is accordingly supposed to fall into the possession of the demon and to become the abode of death and uncleanness. Therefore, hair and nails, as soon as cut off, are at once the property of Ahriman, and the demon has to be driven away from them by spells, in the same way as he is from the bodies of the dead. They are withdrawn from his power by

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the recital of certain prayers, and by being deposited in the earth inside consecrated circles, which are drawn around them as an intrenchment against the fiend (see above, p. 122, n. 1).

This chapter, which has given full scope to the ironical humour of many, is an invaluable document in the eyes of the mythologist, as he finds in it, if not the origin and explanation, at least the oldest record of world-wide superstitions. Not only in Bombay, but all over the world, people are found who believe that hair and nails are weapons in the hands of the evil one. The Esthonians, on the shores of the Baltic, take the utmost care not to drop the parings of their nails on the ground, lest the devil should pick them up, to make a visor to his cap, which will give him full power to injure men, unless the sign of the cross has been made over them 1. The Gauchos in the Chilian pampas fear to throw their hair to the winds, but deposit it in holes dug in a wall 2. In Liége good people are advised not to throw away their hair, nor to leave it in the teeth of the comb, lest a witch take hold of it and cast a spell over them 3.


1. Zarathustra asked Ahura Mazda: 'O Ahura Mazda, most beneficent Spirit, Maker of the material world, thou Holy One! Which is the most deadly deed whereby a man increases most the baleful strength of the Daêvas, as he would do by offering them a sacrifice?'

2 (3). Ahura Mazda answered: ‘It is when a man here below combing his hair or shaving it off, or paring off his nails drops them 4 in a hole or in a crack 5.

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3 (6). ‘Then for want of the lawful rites being observed, Daêvas are produced in the earth; for want of the lawful rites being observed, those Khrafstras are produced in the earth which men call lice, and which eat up the corn in the corn-field and the clothes in the wardrobe.

4 (10). ‘Therefore, O Zarathustra! whenever here below thou shalt comb thy hair or shave it off, or pare off thy nails, thou shalt take them away ten paces from the faithful, twenty paces from the fire, thirty paces from the water, fifty paces from the consecrated bundles of baresma.

5 (13). ‘Then thou shalt dig a hole, a disti 1 deep if the earth be hard, a vîtasti deep if it be soft; thou shalt take the hair down there and thou shalt say aloud these fiend-smiting words: "Out of him by his piety Mazda made the plants grow up 2."

6 (17). ‘Thereupon thou shalt draw three furrows with a knife of metal around the hole, or six furrows or nine, and thou shall chant the Ahuna-Vairya three times, or six, or nine.


7 (19). ‘For the nails, thou shalt dig a hole, out

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of the house, as deep as the top joint of the little finger; thou shalt take the nails down there and thou shalt say aloud these fiend-smiting words: "The words that are heard from the pious in holiness and good thought 1."

8 (24). ‘Then thou shalt draw three furrows with a knife of metal around the hole, or six furrows or nine, and thou shalt chant the Ahuna-Vairya three times, or six, or nine.

9 (26). ‘And then: "Look here, O Ashô-zusta bird 2! here are the nails for thee: look at the nails here! May they be for thee so many spears, knives, bows, falcon-winged arrows, and sling-stones against the Mâzainya Daêvas 3!"

10 (29). ‘If those nails have not been dedicated (to the bird), they shall be in the hands of the Mâzainya Daêva so many spears, knives, bows, falcon-winged arrows, and sling stones (against the Mâzainya Daêvas) 4.

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11 (30). 'All such sinners, embodiments of the Drug, are scorners of the law: all scorners of the law are rebels against the Lord: all rebels against the Lord are ungodly men; and any ungodly man shall pay for it with his life 1.'


186:1 Cf. infra, 'Thou shalt chant the Ahuna-Vairya,' &c., §§ 6, 8, 9.

186:2 Cf. infra, §§ 5, 7.

186:3 Mélusine, Recueil de Mythologie populaire, publié par H. Gaidoz et E. Rolland, Paris, 1878; pp. 79, 549, 583. To the same train of ideas seems to belong the Eddic myth of Naglfar, the fatal ship wrought out of the nails of the dead, which is to take the crew of the demon to the shore of the earth when the last day of the world is come (Gylfaginning, 51).

186:4 Without performing the requisite ceremonies.

186:5 Doubtful.

187:1 A disti = ten fingers. A vîtasti = twelve fingers.

187:2 See above, X1, 6; the choice of this line was determined by the presence of the word plants in it: man was considered a microcosm, and every element in him was supposed to come from a similar element in nature, to which it was to return after death, and whence it was to come back again at the time of the resurrection: his bones from the earth, his blood from the water, his hair from the trees, his life from the fire (Bundahis XXXI, Ulamâi Islâm); an old Aryan theory, traces of which are also to be found in India (Rig-veda X, 16, 3), in Greece (Ilias VII. 99; Empedocles, fr. 378; cf. Epicharmus ap. Plut. Consol. ad Apoll. 15), and in Scandinavia (Edda, Grimnismal 40).

188:1 Yasna XXXIII, 7. There is here only a play upon the word sruyê, 'is heard,' which chances to be homonymous with the dual of srva, 'nails of both hands.'

188:2 'The owl,' according to modern tradition. The word literally means 'friend of holiness.' 'For the bird Ashôzusta they recite the Avesta formula; if they recite it, the fiends tremble and do not take up the nails; but if the nails have had no spell uttered over them, the fiends and wizards use them as arrows against the bird Ashôzusta and kill him. Therefore, when the nails have had a spell uttered over them, the bird takes and eats them up, that the fiends may not do any harm by their means' (Bundahis XIX).

188:3 See above, p. 137, n. 1. The nails are cut in two and the fragments are put in the hole with the point directed towards the north, that is to say, against the breasts of the Dêvs (see above, p. 75, n. 2). See Anquetil, Zend-Avesta II, 117; India Office Library, VIII, 80.

188:4 Repeated by mistake from § 10.

189:1 See preceding Fargard, § 18.

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