Fire Temple

This posting is a continuation of the Citadel of Glory discussion.

Having now read much of A. J. Carnoy’s Paradise of the East — Paradise of the West, which I received due to the graciousness of Dr. Josef Chytry at the University of California, I can now speak a little more confidently about Carnoy’s Kár-i-farn conjecture.

One interesting point that Carnoy makes is that the place name “Califerne” in the Song of Roland may have been a hybridization of the construct Kár-i-farn and the theocratic title Caliph. What Carnoy does not discuss is the possibility that the word Kár as spoken by an Arab may have sounded much like “Kál” to an early Frenchman, whose deep ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds were perhaps quite unlike the sharp, shallow ‘r’ and ‘l’ of an Arab or a Persian. Carnoy’s Kár-i-farn could have very easily been modified by the French without any hybridization whatsoever.

Unfortunately, Carnoy does not appear to claim that he had ever read of the construct Kár-i-farn; rather, he appears to argue that the construct was probably used because it appears to be an obvious construction:

Il serait naturel que les légendes concernant les feux divins, les paradis sur les montagnes, les oiseaux merveilleux qui les gardaient ou les transportaient se soient localisées sur la montagne de Kár ou de Kár-í-farn (“Kár du farnah”) comme on a dû l’appeler.

Here’s my rough translation:

It would be natural that the legends concerning divine fires, the paradises on the mountains, and the marvellous birds which kept them or transported them were located on the mountain of Kár or Kár-i-farn (”Kár of the farnah”) as one had to call it.

Carnoy does not appear to provide any evidence that anyone ever actually used the construct, so we must continue to wait for it to appear. Let’s not hold our breath.

That said, I happen to believe that the construct Kár-i-farn is even more likely than Carnoy contends. In my town, there is something called a fire temple. To be precise, it is called a “Dar-e-Mehr” (or Dar-i-Mihr), from the Farsi for “House of Fire” or “House of Light” (I say “Farsi” rather than “Persian” because the term has obvious Arabic influence). I find it quite noteworthy that Dar-i-Mihr can easily be translated to Kár-i-farn. Mihr and farn(ah), do, after all, carry quite compatible meanings. The actual fire in the district of Kár was even called Farnbag, roughly meaning “Light of God”. As for Dar and Kár, the former is an Arabic word for “house”, and the latter appears to be a Persian root that derives from the Sumerian word for “fort”, and appears to have evolved into a more general meaning akin to “edifice”.

Carnoy appears to think that the construct Kár-i-farn would derive from the name of the district Kár, but it seems to me that the inverse would be more likely: could Kár-i-farn have once been used as a term for “fire temple”?

… And regardless of etymology, wouldn’t Karefarnah be an appropriate name for the Golden State? “Land of Sun Worshippers?” “Temple of Fire”?

Citadel of Glory

The name “California” appears to go back far beyond Montalvo’s Las Sergas de Esplandian. This should not surprise us, for Montalvo’s novel implied that the name was well-known when it was published ca. 1510. The word apparently occurred in the 11th Century epic poem the Song of Roland, at a point in the poem where a Christian army had just been defeated by a Muslim army. In the poem, California was spelled “Califerne”, but that spelling may reflect poetic license, as it occurs at the end of a rhyming stanza. The following citation is provided to illustrate the rhyme:

Morz est mis nies, ki tant me fist cunquere
Encuntre mei revelerunt li Seisne,
E Hungre e Bugre e tante gent averse,
Romain, Puillain et tuit icil de Palerne
E cil d’Affrike e cil de Califerne.

Lynn Townsend White Jr., a California historian, made the following observation about the legendary country of Califerne:

To them [the Spanish conquistadores] California was a land of Orient with fantastic attributes which have been somewhat clarified by a learned authority on Iranian mythology, A. J. Carnoy. Califerne, he asserts, is the Persian Kar-i-farn, “Mountain of Paradise.” On this mountain dwelt enormous birds, half eagle and half lion, in the West generally called griffins.

I have not read Carnoy, nor have I ever heard of Kar-i-farn in any other connection, so I must remain skeptical, but I can put its constituent words together. For me, Kar-i-farn does not translate to “mountain of paradise,” but rather something like “citadel of glory”. Perhaps that’s close enough.

To be more specific …

The word “kar” means something akin to “edifice” in Persian. The same word in Sumerian and Assyrian meant “fortification” or perhaps “citadel”. One may wonder how “kar” could morph to “kal”, and one would be justified, but consider that the Arabic word for fortress or citadel is “qal`ah”.

The word “farn” or “farnah” is an old form of the Persian word “farr” or “farrah”, which means “glory”, as in the glory of God, or the divine splendor of the sun.

It is no surprise to hear griffins spoken of in connection with ancient Persia. The guardians of the Persian Empire were great statues of griffins called “Homa”, sometimes referred to as the “Guardians of the Light”. It would make sense for these “Guardians of Light” to inhabit a “Citadel of Glory”, but I have not yet been able to corroborate Carnoy’s account.

Was California named after a heavenly paradise out of an ancient Persian myth? Is the California condor thus related to the Homa of ancient Persia through legend and myth? The jury is still out, and may remain out for some time.