By Caroline Jeffers
There once existed in the vast deserts of Persia a majestic bird
with lovely plumage. Because of its bright spirit, it was called the
Huma (for Hu means spirit). It circled the skies, and would burst
into flame to be reincarnated from the ashes. Its song was more
captivating than that of the sirens, and it was rumored that should
one be fortunate to have the Humas shadow pass over them, they would
become a ruling monarch.
Now in those days, the Persians—led by King Cyrus—had been at war
with Croesus, the king of Lydia. (This is the same Croesus of whom
they speak when they say "richer than Croesus.") The Persians
besieged Sardis, and plundered the Lydians; they made off with the
legendary gold of Midas that flowed through the river Pactolus; and
all of the allies of Lydia became petrified of Cyrus. It was after
these events that the Persians began to enjoy a life of luxury. And
no one benefited from this more than Mithredath.
Mithredath was a soldier from the city of Parsa (that is,
Persepolis) and he reaped the rewards of the Lydian wars. Although
wealthy and respected, Mithredath was ambitious, and longed for
One night, Mithredath lay in his tent and watched the moon shine
above. He had recently celebrated a festival, and was in high
spirits from the wine he had drunk. Although content, when he fell
asleep, he was visited by the demon of desire, Aka Manah.
Aka Manah was a rival of Vohu Manah, the guardian of animals. But
Aka Manah was evil, and wanted to become king over Persia. Knowing
about the Huma himself, he schemed to get Mithredath to capture the
bird and bring it to him. And so Aka Manah decided to visit
Mithredath in a dream.
"Mithredath! Mithredath!" Aka Manah called out to him.
"I am here," Mithredath replied. "Who are you?"
"I am Aka Manah," the demon slyly introduced. "I know that you are a
wealthy man, and I know that you want more than what you have. And I
want to give it to you, but you must earn it."
"Aka Manah? Dont you mean you are Vohu Manah?" Mithredath asked
"No, I am Aka, not Vohu," the demon replied.
"Leave me alone then! You are an evil spirit, and I will not be
tempted by you!" Mithredath declared.
"But dont you want more in your life? Arent you of all the Persians
most worthy of honor and praise?" Mithredath paused, so Aka Manah
continued. "If you can help me, then I will help you." After another
moment, Mithredath asked:
"So what do you want me to do?"
"There is a bird that circles the desert, living forever named the
Huma. If its shadow passes over you, then you have been anointed as
king. I want you to capture it, and bring it to me, so it can anoint
me king. Afterwards, we will kill the bird so it cannot make a king
out of anyone else, and I may reign forever. If you do this for me,
then I will reward you with whatever you desire."
These last words echoed through the mind of Mithredath as he woke
up. Unsure of himself and the dream, he decided to consult the
Chaldean Belteshazzar, who knew about such things. (The Chaldeans
were well known for their studies of the heavens and dream
interpretation, and many would come to them seeking their advice.)
Belteshazzar spent his days meditating under the
tallest date palm by the oasis; it was here he revealed the fortunes
of the Bedouin nomads, Persian messengers, and any other traveler
who happened to pass him by; and it was here that Mithredath found
him at noon.
Belteshazzar hummed a song to himself while he
drew water from the oasis. Mithredath approached him and asked: "Are
"I am," the Chaldean replied. "And who might you
"I am Mithredath. I am a soldier for King Cyrus,
and I was wondering if you could interpret a dream for me."
"Its what I do best," Belteshazzar said, and so
Mithredath relayed the dream to him. When he finished, Belteshazzar
closed his eyes and paused thoughtfully.
"This dream is an omen," he finally decided. "And
not a good one. Aka Manah wants to become king, and he wants to kill
a pure spirit to do so."
"But he wants to reward me for it," Mithredath
said. "And it is rumored that anyone who so much as glances as the
Huma will experience happiness beyond measure. Why shouldnt I?"
Belteshazzar scowled at him.
"You are a fool and a dreamer if you think you
can capture such a bird, and even if you do, this demon wants you to
kill it. Is it not written that anyone who slays such a bird will
die in forty days? Truly I tell you, do not do what Aka Manah wants
or you will surely perish."
But Mithredath was too caught up in his fantasy
to pay heed to the words of Belteshazzar. He stormed away from the
Chaldean, and instead set out to track the great bird.
Mithredath spent a full month wandering the
regions around Persias capital city of Pasargadae. "Since the king
dwells here, the Huma must lurk around here as well," he reasoned,
"and sooner or later, it must show itself."
But the Huma did not reveal itself. As more and
more time went by, Mithredath grew anxious to the point of despair.
Frustrated with the thought of losing out on his reward, he realized
that he would need to seek more advice. It was then that Mithredath
thought of his uncle, Sandanis--a wise man with silvery hair who had
seen many years. "For surely, he can help me," Mithredath thought.
Exhausted though he was, Mithredath began to trek
through the burning sands to a little village of tents where he knew
his uncle dwelled. Night had fallen by the time he arrived, and the
stars overhead seemed to wink at him.
Sandanis was in his tent, preparing to go to bed
when Mithredath walked in. Mithredath initially tried to hide,
feeling guilty for intruding on Sandaniss sleep, but his uncle waved
"Mithredath! What brings you to this end of the
desert? Sit down wont you?" Sandanis asked cheerfully, beckoning for
him to sit in a chair by the bed..
"Im looking for the Huma," Mithredath said while
taking a seat. Sandanis raised his eyebrows.
"Trying to become king are you?" His uncle seemed
to laugh as he said it; he lit a candle which dimly lit up the tent.
"Im not trying to become king; Aka Manah is,"
Mithredath explained. "But no matter how hard I search, I have seen
no sign of it." Sandanis was quiet for a moment and seemed to
contemplate something briefly. Finally, he sighed and said:
"The bird has not appeared because it has no
need. The Huma only comes out to anoint a king--which Persia already
has. If you want to find the bird, you should wait until next week
when Cyrus throws a banquet for his son, Cambyses. Cyrus surely
intends his oldest son to succeed him—"
"And the banquet is the most likely time for the
Huma to appear!" Mithredath finished, feeling a renewed sense of
excitement build up in him; Sandanis eyed him wearily.
"Mithredath, the Huma is a bird of a divine
origin; it does not do a man well to think that he can manipulate
the will of his creator," Sandanis said. "Abandon this endeavor of
yours, and do not allow yourself to be deceived by this evil spirit
But once again, Mithredath paid no heed to the
advice given to him. Convinced at last that he knew where to locate
the bird, he headed back to Pasargadae with a net slung over his
A week later, when the moon became nothing but a
smiling sliver, King Cyrus held a banquet in honor of his oldest
son, Cambyses. All of the noblemen of Persia attended, and it was
here that Cyrus announced that his son would succeed him as king.
The Huma had been circling over the crowd who had
attended, its fiery plumage glowing in the sun. Upon glimpsing it in
the distance, Mithredath was immediately filled with unmeasurable
joy: Pleasure seemed to course through him like cold water from an
oasis and his heart swelled with happiness. In his excitement, he
raced forward, hoping to catch up with the bird.
But the Huma saw him running forward in pursuit. Disgusted, it
extended its flaming wings, swooped off, and concealed itself in the
branches of a tree so as to not cast a shadow below.
When Mithredath caught up, he eagerly looked up at the prize above
him. The bird was out of reach of his arrows, and he knew that it
would not willingly leave its spot. But Mithredath was cunning, and
prepared to set up a net to catch the creature.
After he set the net, Mithredath waited patiently beneath the tree,
smiling at the Huma. Even as the day grew on and the sun burned his
face, he remained perfectly content in his state of hope.
But as the day wore down and the shadows stretched across the dunes,
Mithredaths joy began to fade. He stood up and began to circle the
tree, calling out to the bird; but the Huma made no response. Drunk
in his jubilee, he threw fistfuls of sand up in hopes of getting the
birds attention; he whistled and pranced about the trunk, but
nothing changed. With the sun setting on the horizon, Mithredaths
despair and desperate longing got the better of him. He pleaded with
the bird in desperation, but much to his dismay, the sun set and the
shadows disappeared. The happiness brought on by the Humas
appearance was replaced with anger.
"Stubborn bird," he snarled. "You will have to come down
eventually." Mithredath fell asleep at the base of the tree, where
he had another dream.
Aka Manah was whispering in his ear, telling Mithredath about the
rewards to come. The demon himself held an apparition of a crown
that seemed to grow stronger with every passing moment, and he kept
murmuring something under his breath that Mithredath could not
The murmurs eventually gave way to high pitched shrieks, and it was
then that Mithredath realized that his net had worked, and the Huma
had become ensnared.
Rubbing his eyes, he pushed himself to his feet—although he was
still not fully awake yet—and headed to the tangled mess of his
trap. Realizing his good fortune, Mithredath smiled and walked over
to retrieve the bird.
Before he could so however, a voice called out to him: "Mithredath,
stop! What are you doing?"
Mithredath looked up, and much to his surprise, he saw the angel
Vohu Manah standing on the plain before him looking alarmed; the
Huma let out a low, mournful note.
"What are you doing?" Vohu Manah demanded again.
"I have spent much time trying to find this bird so it can make Aka
Manah king," Mithredath answered, while kneeling next to the Huma to
get a better look at it.
"Why would you want to put an evil spirit on the throne? Does Persia
not already have a king?" Vohu Manah reasoned.
"But he promised to reward me!" Mithredath said.
"But why? Dont you have enough wealth on your own?" Vohu Manah said.
And as Mithredath looked at the Huma, the great bird trembled and
buried its beautiful head in its wings.
"You have tried to harm an animal, a creature of my domain," Vohu
Manah continued. "Did you think it would go unnoticed? Did you not
realize that anyone who kills a Huma will themselves die within
forty days? What good would it be for you to gain everything only to
die shortly after?"
Mithredath could come up with no response to this, but this hardly
mattered, as Aka Manah appeared on the plain as well. The Huma
continued to squirm inside the net.
"Bring the bird over here," Aka Manah said calmly. "And you will be
rewarded for all eternity."
"Mithredath, think this through carefully," Vohu Manah said, also
keeping a calm demeanor. "You have the power to put a demon on the
throne, and in doing so, you will bring about the demise of Persia."
"You are most worthy of honor and glory," Aka Manah egged on.
"There are other ways," Vohu Manah soothingly reassured, while
taking several careful steps toward him. Mithredath paused and
contemplated his options.
Aka Manah took a few tenacious steps towards Mithredath as well,
clearly not wanting his counterpart to become closer to Mithredath
and the Huma than himself. All the while, the majestic beast had
stopped thrashing and now looked up at the man.
When they were both only a couple of feet away, Mithredath pulled
out a single arrow; they both immediately stopped walking and fixed
their gazes on the arrow. Without saying a word, he Mithredath
sighed, and began to use the jagged point to cut through the net.
Aka Manahs eyes burned; Vohu Manah grew more relaxed.
"Vohu Manah will not give you anything," Aka Manah accused.
"I know, but this is the right thing to do," Mithredath said
And he pierced the arrow through the net and into the beautiful
The Huma immediately began to thrash around; Vohu Manah let out an
agonized wail that could barely be heard over the shrieks of the
bird. After several moments, the great creature stopped moving, and
then burned up before the man and two spirits; the demon and angel
looked shocked. Mithredath panted.
"Evil will never truly go away," Mithredath said weakly. "But that
does not mean you cannot banish it.
"What have you done?" Vohu Manah sobbed, while holding the empty net
with trembling hands.
"Traitorous human!" Aka Manah declared. But Mithredath, unfazed,
looked straight into his eyes.
"A demon must not sit on the throne of Persia," Mithredath said.
"And if preventing evil from ruling means the good must die with it,
so be it."
Aka Manah looked between Mithredath and the Vohu Manah. In a burst
of bright light, the demon disappeared, having no reason to stay.
Mithredath suddenly collapsed on the ground and gasped for air, and
Vohu Manah raced forward to cradle the dying man in his arms.
"I misjudged you Mithredath," the angel said softly. Mithredath
shook, although it was not cold.
"I misjudged Aka Manah," he replied plainly.
"You would not be the first, nor will you be the last."
"But we can only hope I suppose?" Mithredath said weakly. The angel
smiled, and Mithredath breathed his last in his arms. Vohu Manah
buried him in the sand, and a date palm grew over the spot where he
was buried. And although he did not receive any reward in his
lifetime, Mithredaths story lived on among the caravan traders.