It was 1942 and I was an assistant professor of Persian Mysticism at the University of Chicago. Following the untimely death of my mentor, Dr. Davood Dumi, I was chosen to be the Iranian-American cultural attache on a diplomatic mission with former Republican presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie, to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza, to promote Roosevelt’s “one world” policy.
I spoke Persian, Arabic and English but, as I would later learn, my Zoroastrian faith had been one of the principal reasons for my selection for the mission. Having fled Iran as a child, Roosevelt took a liking to my “quaint air of persecution” and was uncomfortable sending an “Islamist heathen” [sic] to do his diplomatic work. Meanwhile he intimated to me that “the zealotry of an American-born mystic makes my dead feet sweat.” He entertained the notion that we, “the children of Zoroaster,” being of a more ancient tradition, were somehow purer versions of Christians, the holotypes of what true monotheists should be. Roosevelt shared my interest in Persian Mysticism and told me to wire him any discoveries.
1941 had been a tumultuous year for the country of my birth. In the Summer of 1941, the Nazis broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by launching an attack on Soviet Forces in Eastern Poland during Operation Barbarossa. The Nazi betrayal drove Stalin to join forces with the Allies and put the then-Shah and father of Mohammad Reza, Reza Khan, an outspoken admirer of Hitler, under the knife. Reza Khan had supported the German industrialists in control of the Iranian railroads, and the Allies wanted the railroads to ship supplies through Iran to the Soviet Union. The Allies moved swiftly to secure their interests, and in August 1941 the Soviets invaded by land from the North and the British by sea from the Persian Gulf. The Iranian military in the face of the Allied bombardment of Tehran panicked en masse, destroyed their uniforms and surrendered before seeing any combat. When Reza Shah learned of the mass surrenders, he beat his generals with a riding crop and had to be restrained from personally executing all of his top brass.
The Allies forced the abdication of Reza Shah and installed his son, Mohammad Reza, in his place. Reflecting the insecurity that his ruthless father had bred in him, Mohammad took the title Shahanshah or King of Kings, and Ayramehr, Light of the Aryans. It was Mohammad’s dream to create in Iran a “Great Civilization” and introduced social and economic reforms as well as implementing rapid industrialization.
Before any of the “one world” business could commence, the Shah asked me personally to set up a jaunt in an aeroplane for him and Willkie. It would be the Shah’s first flight. The Shah’s Prime Minister objected to the flight on the grounds that he knew Willkie to be a dirty man with uncontrollable flatulence. The Shah believed it would show weakness to cancel the trip over a “matter of bowels,” and flying became one of the Shah’s favorite pastimes. Straight away after the flight, the Shah had me secure the services of an American pilot to teach him how to fly. These small gestures curried favor with the King of Kings and I was given unfettered access to all the scholarship of Tehran.
After Willkie’s departure I agreed to stay on as a goodwill envoy between the Americans and Iranians. The mission gave me time to venture abroad in the country to pursue one of my intellectual curiosities, Persian Astrology. Near the end of his life, the Persian Mystic Poet, Rumi, reportedly had discovered a new zodiac that would become the template for divination at a time when, according to the scripture: “man can pull the Sun down to Earth.” This phrase tortured the aged Sufi, and he famously played himself at chess while he argued the theology of the matter: “But God already pulls the Sun down to Earth every night.” “No, but it must be the work of man.” “But perhaps it is a metaphor.” This is as far as his discussion went. Rumi made numerous predictions based on this new zodiac, about Persia’s destiny, about crop yields, marriages and kidney stones; but, the failure of the divinations cost him in repute and many considered him a caricature of extreme old age. Rumi determined that the time had not yet come and never documented the new astrology because it was rife with pagan symbols and the iconography of ancient gods. He feared even a mention of the zodiac might make him apostate in the eyes of his rivals.
But as with many things in life, real answers come years later. Rumi left no trace in his volumes of where I might go searching for this new zodiac; however, one of his scribes and biographers had the good fortune of inheriting the care of Rumi’s closest confidant, a grey parrot named Cyrus. Cyrus outlived Rumi by twenty years and, while Cyrus had lost the capacity of speech following Rumi’s demise, and instead did wail mournfully from dawn until dusk. Cyrus uttered one phrase in his sleep that the scribe had noted in the marginalia of Rumi’s biography: “Saint Thaddeus.” It was an odd saying for the pet of a Muslim mystic to utter and I decided to research the origin. Of the few Christian structures still standing in Iran was a monastery bearing the name of Saint Thaddeus. So in the Spring of 1943 I undertook the long overland voyage to the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus in the most wild and remote province of West Azerbaijan. The monastery resembled the architecture of Armenian churches with its thick masonry and conical towers. More fortress than holy place. I did not need to search long. Emblazoned there in the apse of the church was a byzantine mosaic of an oak tree with autumnal foliage. Underneath the tree sat a man. One would be tempted to identify Jesus but the man wore the orange robes of a buddhist monk. Around the man there was a ring of the heavens and twelve symbols of the new zodiac.
– Dr. Ben James, PhD, PsyD, PsyThd, ThD, PhD TTM