Heathenism (Paganism)

Heathenism was established on the basis of primitive religions as a totality of all polytheistic beliefs. The heathenism beliefs of the population of Azerbaijan date back to antiquity and cover different national faiths beginning from animism, fetishism, the religion of totem, and shamanism up to beliefs in the single God. Philological and ethnographic researches make it possible to create a picture of Heathenism on the country’s territory. Archeologists discovered big stone idols in Khinisli, Daghkolani, Chiraghli, anthropomorphic statues in Ismailli, and clay sculptures in Mingechevir regions of Azerbaijan. It is also possible to face examples of religious beliefs in the epics of Dada Gorgud.

The ceremonies connected with Heathenism were primarily presented in the form of synthesis, which did not differ that much from others, influenced one another, and participated conjointly in the formation of the system of moral values of the local population through supplementing each other. The worship of dead forefathers, rocks and trees (maple, oak, etc.), natural phenomenon, and celestial bodies was vital in ancient Azerbaijan. Strabon reported worshipping the Sun, the Moon, and the Sky in ancient Albania. The oak tree, known as Tanri khan (the ruling God), was worshipped and sacrificed horses. Movses Kalankatvasi reports that Albanian rulers fought against Heathenism while spreading Christianity and cutting away the trees that served as idols.

Like other eastern countries, the beliefs in the constituency of the Universe of four main elements – earth, air, water, and fire were widely spread among ancient Azerbaijanis. Fire-worship was also established on the basis of such beliefs. The fire was thought holy and worshipped by most people residing in Azerbaijan.

People believed in the ability of fire to destroy meanness and lowness and to purify people. The fire ceremonies survived up to the present and the holiday of Novruz show the strength of traditions of fire-worship in Azerbaijan.

A temple of fire is the praying house of fire worship. The temples of fire-worshippers existed in Gazaka, the religious centers of Atropatena, Baku, Shamakhi, and Lankaran. A temple of fire located in Surakhani was erected in the 18th century for fire-worshippers coming from India. Though the fire-worship of the Caucasus Albania was persecuted by Christianity, it managed to survive. However, with the appearance of Islam in Azerbaijan, the fire-worship gradually lost its importance and sank into oblivion.