AVESTA: VENDIDAD (English): Fargard 17. Hair and nails.

This digital edition prepared by Joseph H. Peterson, 1995; updated Jul 4, 2001.

Translated by James Darmesteter, from Sacred Books of the East, American edition, volume 3, New York, 1898.

Anything that has been separated from the body of man is considered dead matter (nasu), and is accordingly unclean. As soon as hair and nails are cut off, the demon takes hold of them and has to he driven away from them by spells, in the same way as he is from the bodies of the dead.

On similar views and customs in different countries, see Notes and Queries, 3rd series, X, 146; Aulus Gellius, X, 15, 15; Méusine, 1878, pp.79, 549, 583; L. de Rosny, Histoire des dynasties divines, 308.

FARGARD 17. Hair and nails.


1. Zarathushtra 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 offers up a sacrifice to the Daevas1?' 1. Any offense to religion is considered an offering to the Daevas, whose strength is thereby increased. See Yt5.95.
2. Ahura Mazda answered: 'It is when a man here below, combing his hair or shaving it off, or paring off his nails, drops them2 in a hole or in a crack3. 2. Without performing the requisite ceremonies.

3. Doubtful.

3. 'Then by this transgression of the rites, Daevas are produced in the earth; by this transgression of the rites, 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. 'Therefore, thou, O Zarathushtra! 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. 'Then thou shalt dig a hole, a disti4 deep if the earth be hard, a vitasti deep if it be soft; thou shalt take the hair down there and thou shalt say aloud these victorious words:
"For him, as a reward, Mazda made the plants grow up5."
4. A dishti = ten fingers. A vitasti = twelve fingers.

5. [at ah'yâi ashâ mazdå urvarå vaxshat.]

See above, Vd11.6; 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 had its counterpart in nature; the skin is like the sky, the flesh is like the earth, the bones are like the mountains, the veins are like the rivers, the blood in the body is like the water in the sea, the hair is like the plants, the more hairy parts are like the forests (Gr. Bund.) Cf. Rig-veda X, 16,3; Ilias VII, 99; Empedocles, fr. 378; Epicharmus ap. Plut. Consol. ad Apoll. 15; Edda, Grimnismal; 40.

6. '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. 'For the nails, thou shalt dig a hole, out 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 victorious words:
"The things that the pure proclaim through Asha and Vohu-mano6."
6. [ashâ vohû mananghâ ýâ sruyê parê magaonô.]

Yasna 33.7; understood (with a play upon the word sruyê 'is heard,' and 'nails of both hands') as: 'O Asha, with Vohu-mano, the nails of the pure [are for you].'

8. '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. 'And then:
"O Asho-zushta bird7! these nails I announce and consecrate unto thee. May they be for thee so many spears and knives, so many bows and falcon-winged arrows and so many sling-stones against the Mazainya Daevas8!"
7. [paiti: tê merekha ashô-zushta imå srvå vaêdhayemi imå srvå âvaêdhayemi imåse-tê srvå merekha ashô-zushta hyâre arshtayasca karetayasca thanvareca ishavasca erezifyô-parena asanasca fradaxshanya paiti daêvô mâzanyãn.]

'The owl,' according to modern tradition. The word literally means 'friend of holiness.' 'For the bird Asho-zushta 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 Asho-zusta 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' (Bundahishn XIX). The bird Asho-zusta is also called Bird of Vohuman (Saddar 14), both names being taken from the first words of the line quoted above.

8. See above, Vd10.14, note 13; Vd10.16, note 14. 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 Devs (see above, Vd7.2, note 1). See Anquetil, Zend-Avesta II, 117; India Office Library, VIII, 80.

10. 'If those nails have not been consecrated (to the bird), they shall be in the hands of the Mazainya Daevas so many spears and knives so many bows and falcon-winged arrows, and so many sling-stones (against the Mazainya Daevas)8. 8. Repeated by mistake from § 10.
11. 'All wicked, embodiments of the Druj, are scorners of the judge: all scorners of the judge are rebels against the Sovereign: all rebels against the Sovereign are ungodly men; and all ungodly men are worthy of death9.' 9. See preceding Fargard, § 18.