The Immortals Thousand Faces

Metamorphosis in Persian Myths

Author: Mansour Rastgar Fasai/ Translated by: Mohammad Ali Haqshenas/ Photo by: Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art

Mythological gods can transform their body at any moment using their absolute power. In Greek mythology, Zeus sometimes turns into an old man and sometimes into a white bull. Hermes transforms into stone and Atlas into a mountain range. Hades makes himself invisible by wearing the ‘cap of invisibility’. In Persian mythology, too, the wise lord Ahura Mazda metamorphoses into many different forms: in the sky he is the sun and on earth he wears a cloth decorated with stars. Anahita, the goddess of waters, appears as a beautiful virgin lady who lives in the ocean. These are just a few instances of metamorphosis in Iranian mythology.

Defining Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis is defined as a total transformation of appearance, structure, substance or identity of an individual or a thing using supernatural powers. Such happenings are unusual at all times and beyond the realm of human power. In this way, an individual or thing may transform its appearance and find a new body. It is also possible that their appearance remains intact and they simply obtain powers that they lacked before. Examples include the metamorphosis of gods into humans, animals, plants or objects. There are very few physical or supernatural fields which do not involve metamorphosis and this proves both the greatness of mythology and of course also the boundlessness of the human imagination. In the realm of mythical metamorphosis, we may witness a transformation in the human environment. Humans create new and complicated myths about metamorphosis to accompany their belief in intricate spiritual and physical transformations: we narrate our stories using the language and vocabulary of myths. That’s why people create myths that accord with the environmental and climatic conditions of their region – whether in the arid lands of Africa, the coastlines of Greece or the lands of indigenous people. These myths can show many transformations, thereby showcasing the ancient mythical patterns of human culture.

Legends of metamorphosis in Iran begin from the point when the universe was created and then extend to gods, yazatas (astral divine beings), Ahriman (or Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit), animals, plants, inanimate objects, humans and beyond, to the afterlife. In this enormously vast arena everything can be recreated or find a new colour or body; nothing is destroyed, rather, everything continues its life in a new form…

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