The Faravahar is one of the best known symbols of Iran and is often worn as pendant among Iranians, including Zoroastrians and Kurds and has become a secular national and cultural symbol.
The New Persian word فروهر is read as forouhar or faravahar (pronounced as furōhar in Old Persian). The Middle Persian forms were frawahr (Book Pahlavi: plwʾhl, Manichaean: prwhr), frōhar, and fraward (Book Pahlavi: plwlt’, Manichaean: frwrd), which was directly from Old Persian *fravarti-. The Avestan language form was fravaṣ̌i
Interpretations of Faravahar
The Persians kept no written records, besides administrative texts, which have survived save those from the Sassanian Empire. Although some writers in the present day encourage the belief that the Persians of the Achaemenid Empire wrote extensively, there is absolutely no evidence for this and, even if they did, whatever was written on papyrus scrolls or other flammable material went up in smoke when Alexander the Great burned Persepolis in 330 BCE.
Scholars generally agree that ancient Persian religion and history transmitted orally until they were written down by the Sassanians but after that empire fell to the Muslim Arabs in 651 CE, many of these texts were destroyed and among them, probably, were some which might have shed light on the original meaning of the symbol. Texts that survived the Muslim Arab purge, which were not rescued by the Parsees and others, would have had to then survive the later Mongol Invasion which destroyed more fire temples and more texts.
The interpretations of the symbol, therefore, have all come forward in the modern era, although most are based on ancient concepts.
One interpretation of the symbol is that it represents a fravashi – usually translated as “guardian angel” – which is the soul’s “higher self”. At birth, the soul (known as the urvan) enters the body at the direction of the fravashi so that it can experience the physical world and take part in the struggle between good and evil. Throughout one’s life, the fravashi would encourage the soul on the right path of following the light and resisting the lies of darkness and evil. After death, the urvan lingered by the body for three days and then traveled to the Chinvat Bridge – the span between the land of the living and the realms of the dead – where it was reunited with its fravashi who would assist it at the moment of judgment by the gods. The faravahar, in this interpretation, depicts this higher self who is there at one’s birth, protects one through life, and greets one at death as a helper and guide.
Farr or Khvarenah
Persian kings were thought to rule by the power of divine grace (farr) and divine glory (khvarenah). Mithra – whether understood as a god or as an avatar of Ahura Mazda – bestowed this grace on an individual who was worthy, one who would care for his people, honor the gods, and conduct himself in accordance with principles of goodness and right. Another interpretation of the faravahar is thought to be this concept. The disk and the wings would symbolize the divine grace and the figure in robes and tiara would be the king. When the king died – or proved himself unworthy – the grace was withdrawn and given to another. It would, in a sense, fly from one monarch to his successor.
The Fravashi of the King
The symbol has also been said to represent the guardian angel of the king who watches over him as long as he possesses the farr and remains in the good graces of Ahura Mazda. Included in this interpretation is that the figure in the symbol is Darius I and the wings, circle, etc., his fravashi. The iconography here is interpreted along the lines of the farr-interpretation except that, usually (when not inserting Darius I), the figure in the center is the fravashi – the guardian angel of the king – and those who support this interpretation claim that this is why the faravahar appears on buildings – such as those at Persepolis and Susa – associated with royalty and in king’s inscriptions.
Divinity in General and Royal Power
In keeping with the history of the winged sun disk from earlier cultures, the faravahar is also seen as simply representing royal power backed by divinity, just like the Ashur symbol of Assyria or the Horus disk from Egypt.
Personal Spiritual Power
In modern times, the symbol is sometimes divorced from its roots and interpreted by so-called New Age philosophical and religious adherents as a symbol of enlightenment. In this view, the symbol signifies the concept of leaving behind the confusion, traps, tricks, and weights of daily life to become a better version of one’s self. In this interpretation, the symbol is open to people of any religion – or none – who respond to the challenge of self-improvement on a spiritual level.