Armenians' pre-Christian beliefs, religions, cultures, and mythologies are complicated systems that were formed at different stages of the formation of the Armenian people. This system was formed on the basis of beliefs, mythological ideas, and cults of the early Indo-European tribes, later, on the influence of those kindred and nations who merged with the Armenian ethnic group.
The development of religion in Armenia can be divided into 3 stages- the beliefs, characteristic for primal tribes, the beliefs of the early state formations, religion, and mythology, characteristic for developed state formations.
Primal people deified natural phenomena and objects, as well as connections between people and nature. The spiritualization of mountains, water, celestial bodies, the appropriation of human qualities to animals, belong to this period. So, the Armenian mountains were brothers, Ararat and Aragats were sisters, Taurus and Zagros were snakes and vishaps(dragons). The Sun was represented as a bird with a ring in its beak, or it was a young boy or a girl. Milky Way was a trail of milk or stolen hay, etc. Totemism appeared when tribes associated the origin of their tribe with objects of nature - animals, plants, and so on. For example, Sanasar and Baghdasar from "Sasunci Davit" epic, arose from the water, the princely family of Artsruni from an eagle, the Medes(relative nation) were associated with vishap (for example, Ajdahak).
For Armenians, objects of worshiping were such natural elements as fire, water, mountains, plants. Water and fire almost always represented twins, brother and sister. The fire was considered holy, which later grew into the cult of the hearth. In the later period of the religious formation, the fire was included in the system of the Armenians official pagan religion, and even in the form of Trndez it passed to the Christian religion.
The cult of water is associated with megalithic monuments "Vishapakars", which were put next to water sources. These monuments are still preserved in different regions of Armenia.
At first, Armenians formed their ideas about the world which consisted of 2 parts- Sky and Earth, then it consisted of 3 parts- Sky, Earth, and Sea or Underworld. This is sometimes portrayed as a tree or a mountain, which rises from a sea or an ocean. The tree or mountain rises from the centre of the World and becomes an axis, which connects the Underworld, Sky, and Earth. This is also reflected in the legend of the flood and Ararat. The animation and deification of Sky come from the times of the common Aryan's (Indo-European) past, where the Sky is opposed to the Earth and the Underworld. Time is personified as an old man who sits on the top of a mountain and holds balls of black and white threads that symbolize night and day. Sunrise is represented as a virgin who chases away the darkness of the night, and the night is a witch who holds black snakes in its hands and follows the sun and the day's light.
A human soul was often represented in the form of a bird, a shining ball that came out of the human body when he/she died. According to ancient beliefs, the soul could leave your body either permanently or temporarily- it could travel to different places, even to the other world, after which it could come back. Our soul has this kind of "journey" when we sleep.
Death was represented first as the spirit of Anak in the form of a dog, and then in the form of God- Tir or Grogh(Writer), who during birth predetermined the way and day of people's death, and during epidemic wrote the names of those, who had to die.
Exactly, based on these early beliefs and cults, in the period of the formation of the Armenian ethnos and the early state structures, mythology and religious cults were formed.
It's worth to mention that Aryan (Indo-European civilization) before the beginning of decay into several ethnic groups it always had a Single God Creator and his children- the spirits of the elements and various human manifestations (by mistake, they also began to be called gods). Also, the first people belonged to God's children, who were sometimes mistakenly deified, approximately the way now Jesus or the virgin Mary are defied. Efforts to clean ancient religion from the changes, which had got into it, were made several times, even by Zarathustra.
Returning to the theme, during the period of the tribal society destruction and the formation of early state forms, tribal deities and cults were formed among Armenians and tribes living in the Armenian Highland. The earliest Armenian deity is Torgom- the ancestor of Armenians and kindred tribes, who is also the grandson of Abet- son of Noah. Descendants of Torgom were Hayk, Aram, and Kartlos (ancestor of Georgians). Hayk and Aram are the deified ancestors of Armenian peoples. The name Hayk is associated with the self-designation of Armenians- hay and the 2nd name Aram is associated with the name of Armenians in different languages(armen,armens).
Famous orientalist Archibald Sayce wrote <<The cult of Ara (single God who has no beginning) appeared in the Armenian Highlands, and then spread in the religion of many tribes and people of the Ancient World>>. At that period (about IV millennium BC.) Armenians, Georgians and all Iranians were a single nation.
Surely, it can be said that during the Prophet Hayk, religious perceptions had been already formed. Our ancestors created a weighty mythological religion, which spread to all four parts of the world from the country of Hayk or Aratta (the country Ararat, the ancient country of Armenians called by the Sumerians- Urartu also derived from Aratta) and got its development according to the ideas of a particular ethnic group. Sun-worshiping (the Sun and the fire in the hearth meant the Light of the Creator, who connected it with the Creator and filled it with power), the monophysite Armenian faith can be judged by the Old Testament, where Hayk is the fifth generation of Noah monophysite, and, as his descendant, inherited the title Mets Luys (Great Light) or Arev (the Sun) from him. In his turn, Hayk passed Monophysite teachings, as a symbol of the right to his descendants. According to Sumerian sources, the country where Hayk and his descendants ruled was also called the "land of immortals." The first mythological character who is looking for the “flower of immortality” in the Armenian Highland is Gilgamesh, and the last is Alexander the Great.
If you shortly present the mythological transitions according to Sumerian sources, it will be like this- the son of Ararich (the Creator) Ea Aya created a man and gave him the light. The descendant of Ea Aya-Adam became the bearer and keeper of the light idea and then passed this right to his descendants, who are known from the Sumerian culture as the eight rulers of the antediluvian period. During the Flood, the last ruler of Ubartutu handed Noah the title Mets Luys or Arev, who, in his turn, handed it to Hayk. After the battle of Hayk and Bel, Hayk handed the title to the son of Ubartutu- Aram. Hayk's victory newly claimed the antediluvian sun-worshiping religion and ensured the continuation of Ar civilization after the Flood and the “heart” formation of the civilization of the New Armenian state Hayq. For centuries, Armenians worshiped god Ar, but in a certain historical period, under the influence of many factors, including the influence of neighboring countries, the Armenian pagan religion was formed. But the form of Ar god hadn't been lost forever, he continued to exist in the forms of Haldi, Aramazd, Vahagn and Mihr. In the period of the Urartian or Van Kingdom, the mythology consisted of 70 deities (angels) and a Single God (the influence of the Assyrians, who originally adopted the religion from Aratta)- 35 male and 35 female and about one hundred saints. The mythology was headed by the supreme Trinity — Haldi, Theispas, and Shivini — the Single God and his two sides, nearly like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Armenian ancient religion entered a new stage of development in the period of formation and strengthening of the national state (VI– III centuries BC). After Zarathushtra cleared the ancient religion from layers, Armenians and other Aryan nations (Georgians, Medes, Parsis, ancestors of northern Hindus), who in fact were relatives to each other, began to return to the roots. From the end of the VII century BC, especially the Medes did their best. A new blackout stage, which promoted the adoption of Christianity by Armenia, arose during the period of Hellenism influence. During this period, the Armenian gods were “enriched” with the functions, which were inherent to the Greek gods.
But when the “foreign” gods forced out the local ancient gods, their forms developed in two ways- the form of the old god was preserved under the new name, in the second case the old god went to a lower level- the form of an epic hero.
Already formed pre-Christian religion of the Armenians consisted of nine main gods and other deities. The Armenian gods' cults were concentrated mainly in three regions of Armenia:
1. Bartsr Hayk (High Armenia), where there were temples dedicated to Aramazd, Anahit, Nane, Mihr, Barsham.
2. Taron, where the temples of Vahagn, Anahit, and Astghik were.
3. Ararat Valley, where the temples of Tir and Anahit stood.
Besides these main centres, there were also small centres.
The Armenians supreme god was Aramazd, who was characterized by the epithets “great” and “brave” and was considered the creator of sky and earth, the father of all gods, who gave fertility and abundance.
Anahit is the most honored goddess of Armenians, Aramazd's daughter or wife, she is characterized by the epithet “great.” People believed that due to Anahit Armenia existed, is existing and will always exist. Before the important enterprises, Armenian kings asked her for protection and health. As the mother goddess, Anahit was the sacred personification of motherhood and fertility. Together with Aramazd and Vahagn, they constituted the holy, divine trinity. Only the goddess Anahit had temples in all regions of Armenia, which confirms its important role and power of worship.
Vahagn (the Dragonborn)is the god of fire, thunder, and lightning. He was depicted as a young man with fiery hair, a fiery beard, and eyes that glow like the sun. Vahagn was born during a stormy fight of the universe from a scarlet reed. Immediately after birth, he fought and defeated dragons (vishaps) and saved the universe from the danger of destruction.
Astghik- the goddess of love and water, the beloved of the god Vahagn. The temple of the goddess Astghik in Ashtushat, where she met her lover, was called the “room of Vahagn”. The goddess was depicted as a wonderful naked beauty. Every night, she bathed in Euphrates River. Fascinated by her love, young people on Dohantz mountain in Taron, lit fire at night to see the bathing goddess, but every night Astghik spread the fog over Taron’s valley so that no one could see her.
Nane is the daughter of Aramazd, whose cult is closely connected with the cult of Anahit. Until now, people call their grandmothers Nane, which indicates her connection with the mother goddess Anahit and her great honoring among people.
Mihr is the god of Sky's light and sun, son of Aramazd. The only pagan temple in Armenia that has survived to our day- the Garni temple is dedicated to Mihr. The deeds and name of Mihr, with some changes, are preserved in "David of Sassoun" epic, represented by the Great and Small Mhers.
Tir is the god of wisdom, science, the clerk of the supreme god Aramazd. In the temple of Tir, priests studied science and wisdom, the majority of which were divination and interpretation of dreams.
Barsham - the cult of this god came to Armenia from Assyria. There's no information about his functions in Armenian mythology, but it is known that exactly from him, Vahagn stole the hay and scattered it across the sky (the Milky Way).
Spandaramet or Sandaramet- the underworld god.
Amanor and Vanatur are Armenian deities. Amanor is the god of the New Year. The rites dedicated to this god were performed in the days of the Armenian New Year- Navasard, which was celebrated in early August. Vanatur is the god of hospitality.
Demeter and Gisane are twin deities, deified ancestors by medieval traditions. Princes of Indians who rebelled against their king and found shelter in Armenia. The Armenian king Vagharshak granted them the principality of Taron, where, after death, they are deified, and depicted as dark-skinned and long-haired like the Hindus. The honoring of these deities is associated with water.
In the mountain range of the Armenian Taurus, on Nemrut mountain (height 2134 m), an ancient shrine and tomb built by King Antiox II Yervanduni (69-34 BC) are preserved. It is one of the largest preserved shrines not only in the Armenian Highland, but in the whole Ancient World. The shrine is dedicated to the pagan Armenian gods. In the centre, there are five statues in human forms - in a sitting position. In the central part sits the supreme God Aramazd with a height of 9 meters high. On the right sits the goddess Anahit, and Mihr is in the left. On one side of this trinity stands the statue of the shrine's builder - King Antiox, on the other side - the statue of God Vahagn. Although, with the coming of Christianity in Armenia, the pagan gods were overthrown and the temples were destroyed, but many gods converted to Christianity under different names and forms, or remained in legends and traditions, though sometimes they were presented under different names, as Mher from the "Sasna Tsrer" epic is Torgom, and Sanasar - Aram.