Zoroastrianism was founded by Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster) between 8000 and 2500 years ago. He lived in northeast Persian (Iran) near the border of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and was born on the banks of the Daraja River. He is considered by some to be the world’s First Prophet and is credited with the invention of the concept. Zarathustra faced few difficulties when it came to gaining adherents to his new religion, and quickly amassed a great number of them in the early days.
Zarathusa composed the Zoroastrian holy hymns called the Gathas, seventeen of which remain today. However, scholars believe that many more were written by him that were lost in the ages.
The holy book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta. When people refer to the Zend Avesta, they mean the Avesta plus the later commentary added during the Sassanian Dynasty of Persia (226 BCE to 651 CE). The Gathas of the Avesta were said to have been divinely inspired, and Zarathustra received a total of seven visions from the Amesha Spentas (“Beneficent Immortals,” or sometimes rendered as ArchAngels).
Ahura Mazda is the supreme god of Zoroastrianism. The god of Goodness and Light, he is mainly symbolised with fire. There exists conflict between him and Angra Maiyu (Ahriman), who is the arch-nemesis “The Lie”.
Zoroastrians believe that every human is born with a Fravahi, a Guardian Spirit, which helps a person distinguish Right from Wrong. However, since humans have Free Will, they have a choice. This means that actively choosing Right is entirely up to each person themselves. Although operating in the same domain, the Fravashi are distinguished as being different from conscience. They both exist in a psychic region that is mysterious and profound, because although the Right and Wrong are learned from the teachings of this religion, big moral decisions such as murder and theft are condemned by religions of all backgrounds and thus are different.
Originally, Ahura Mazda created only a spiritual world, Menog. However, the Fravashis pleaded that Ahura Mazda give the world physicality so that they would become capable of action. Although Ahura Mazda warned them that through the creation of a material world, Evil and Death would enter into Creation, he later relented and altered Menog so that it became Getig, the physical world we live in.
The Amesha Spentas, or Beneficent Immortals, were originally envisioned by Zarathustra as attributes of the supreme god Ahura Mazda, but over time Zoroastrians began imagining these ideas in bodily forms. For example, Kshathra Vairya, the spirit of Strength and Dominion, can also be interpreted as the positive trait of natural leadership able to be inwardly cultivated by humans.
Other attributes-turned-deities include: Conscience, Victory, Wind, Rain, as well as a few local geographical features, like mountains or rivers. The Haoma, a plant sacred to Zoroastrians, is also personified as a deity.
Zoroastrianism incorporated older religions into its belief system. Mithra, an ancient pagan god from the pre-Zarathustra days, became known as the deity of Heavenly Light.
The concept of Good and Evil is debated in the religion. Some say it existed before the beginning of the material world, while others say that it is absent from the rest of Creation, and exists only in the human heart.
The Renewal Of The World is the correct Zoroastrian term for The End Of The World. They believe that at that time, the dead will rise and the wicked shall be purified and all will live in peace and harmony. Before that blessed event can occur, there is to be an end to the battle of Good versus Evil. The Good Forces will be led by three Saviors known as the Sashoyant. During or after battle, the world will be destroyed by fire, and according to Zoroastrian scholars (Sherpa), “molten metal will cover the Earth like water. The Righteous will wade through, but the unrighteous will be consumed by it.” Originally, the Saoshyant was a term that applied only to the followers of Zarathustra who thought this event was at hand; later, the term Saoshyant switched over to the messianic interpretation it has today.
In Zoroastrianism, each person possesses an eternal, individual Soul. Everything they think, say and do over the course of their lifetime comprises their soul. At dawn the third day after death, the Soul will meet the three judges: Mithra, Sraosha, and Rashnu. The Soul will then pass to the Chinvat Bridge, where it will meet its Daena (personal guide), which represents their conscience. If the person is deemed to have been good, the Deana will be beautiful with sweet breezes caressing the Soul as it crosses the Chinvat, which will remain broad and easy for them to cross. However, if the person is deemed evil, the Deana will be a grotesque, foul-smelling hag and passage over the Chinvat Bridge will be impossible due to its narrowing, causing the unfaithful to fall and plummet into Hell, which is below the Bridge.
Zoroastrianism is a highly ethical religion because of the struggle to choose between good and evil, Ahura Mazda or Angra Mainyu. Zoroastrians are taught that humans are free to choose between Right and Wrong, Truth and Lie, Light and Dark, etc., and that the choices they make would ultimately affect their destiny and their eternal afterlife. In the battle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, which has raged for over 12 000 years, Ahura Mazda is said to always have had the upper hand.
Belief in the afterlife is taught, and it is determined by the balance of Good and Evil deeds, words, and thoughts. If Good outweighs the Evil, the afterlife achieved is heaven. If the Evil outweighs the Good, then that soul is sent to hell. Hell has different levels dependent on the severity of the person’s actions. When the person dies, the soul goes on a journey on the Chinvat Bridge, along with the guardian spirit. The bridge will widen if the person has done righteous deeds, and goes to heaven. If it narrows, then the person committed evil deeds, and they fall down into Hell below. They also believe in angels/demons, resurrection of the body, and a messiah figure.
The Zoroastrian creed is “Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds.” They recite this creed while tying their kutsi around the sudreh three times, one for each statement. This ritual is practised several times a day with prayer.
The sacrality of fire is one of the most noticeable features of Zoroastrianism. Mnay of their tmples have fires that have been burning continuously for hundreds of years. These consecrated fires often contain fires from as many as sixteen different sources. Of the sources, one has to be lightning, which is seen as fire sent directly from the supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, god of Goodness and Light.
Similar to Muslims, Zoroastrians divide their day into five periods; at the end of each period a Zoroastrian will pause to recite the appropriate prayer from their holy book, the Avesta.
Divining the future is a Zoroastrian practice that is ritually performed by a early priests who would imbibe the juices of the sacred Haoma plant mixed with milk to obtain visions.
In the Avesta, the priestly codes, the prayers, and the teachings of Zoroastrianism (the story of how the early Iranians, an Aryan people, came down out of Southern Russia in search of grazing lands and settled the Iranian plateau) are found. Also listed in the Avesta are “the 72 Names Of Ahura Mazda” which include: The Sustainer, The Maintainer, The Creator, and The Nourisher. These are ritually memorised and committed to memory by many of the adherents.
Traditionally, Zoroastrians follow a holy calender. However, as the few remaining practitioners have become dispersed (most now live in India as the Parsis), there exists three Zoroastrian calenders. This means that their Holy Days fall on different days of the year dependant on which calender is used. There are seven main festivals, with the most important being Navruz, the celebration of fire and Truth. The other six festivals are the Gahambars, which are linked to the agricultural cycle.
There is also a movable ceremony, Jashan, that can be used any time of the year to commemorate weddings, house-warmings, or other times of gratitude and happiness.
In the past, some ceremonies of Zoroastrianism called for imbibing bull’s urine. Currently, pomegranate juice is substituted.
In Zoroastrianism, where there is belief in free will, the Navjote ceremony is held when a child becomes old enough to begin taking responsibility for their own actions. The age for this varies by region, and is held when the child is between the ages of seven and fifteen, dependant on region.
All Zoroastrians are required to wear a ceremonial thread around their body, the Kusti, at all times. Special knots on the thread are tied and untied during certain prayers.
The Dakhma, or the Tower Of Silence, is one important aspect of traditional Zoroastrianism. This is a building constructed without a roof to which the dead are taken to be devoured by vultures. Since early Zoroastrians viewed death as the most unclean thing imaginable, they abhorred the idea of burying bodies, and because fire was considered holy, they refused cremation as well. Hence, the Dakhma was created. Inside a Dakhma, males corpses are separated from female ones, and bodies of children from those of adults. Another aspect of the death ritual in traditional Zoroastrianism is that a dog is brought to the dead body to look upon the face of the corpse. This is done to verify death and also to drive away evil spirits.
The Zoroastrian religion lays tremendous emphasis on morals and ethics. A Zoroastrian is expected to make a conscious effort every moment of his or her life, to reject all forms of evil and the lie – in thought, word and deed and endeavour at all times to walk on the path of Asha (truth and righteousness).
Asha is the Law Immutable, the Law Eternal, the Cosmic Law of Order and Harmony on which the entire Universe is based. It is through Asha that Ahura Mazda created the universe and it is through Asha that mankind will attain perfection and be one with Ahura Mazda. In the Hoshbam prayer we aspire, “Through the best Asha, through the highest Asha, may we catch sight of Thee (Ahura Mazda), may we approach Thee, pay we be in perfect union with Thee”.
It is only by walking on the path of Asha that man can attain union with his maker. The colophon to the Yasna is quite explicit on this point, “There is but one path, that of Asha, all other paths are false paths”.
According to Zoroastrianism, it is the sum total of a man’s thoughts, words and deeds which will determine the fate of his soul in the other world – it is these thoughts, words and deeds, good or bad, which will lead his soul either to he gates of heaven or to the pathway of hell.
The Zoroastrian scriptures enumerate a number of virtues, which a Zoroastrian should aspire and endeavour to cultivate and imbibe, and a number of vices from which he should guard himself and struggle to keep away.
Some of the virtues (not necessarily in the order of importance) are as follows:
- Unflinching faith, devotion and love for Ahura Mazda and His prophet, Zarathushtra;
- Offering the Faraziyat (obligatory) prayers and thanking Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spentas and Yazatas for Their Grace and Bounty;
- Observing and upholding all the tenets and traditions of the religion and community,
- Speaking the Truth always. According to Herodotus, the Persians laid great stress on speaking the truth, riding a horse and archery and this formed the basic education for all Persian children. According to Yasna 31.19 “A truth-speaker receives honour and is a master without fear”, while according to the Sarosh Yasht Hadokht, “By speaking true words we receive many victories;
- Moderation in matters of food, drink and other worldly pleasures. Neither fasting nor gluttony and neither celibacy nor lechery is desirable;
- Charity and love for all human beings. Zoroastrianism does not look down upon acquisition of wealth. In fact, wealth is seen to be fundamentally positive, provided it is put to judicious use and used for the well being of others. According to Yasna 43.1 “He is a good man through whom goodness reaches other persons in all places. God gives such persons greatness;
- Industry and honest toil. According to Yasna 46.12 “those who make the world prosperous through good thoughts and honest endeavours are those who live a virtuous life in good thoughts. The Visperad (7.1) also praises, “industry and courage.” Conversely according to the Visperad (18.2), “a man who is idle is worthy of hell”;
- Keep a promise at all cost. In fact Yasna 61.3 strongly advises, “keep away from a covenant breaker and from one who tampers,”
- Aspire for higher knowledge and acquire wisdom under a proficient teacher;
- Respect ones elders and superiors. “He who does not show respect to an elder will never receive honour” (Yasna 29.6);
- Honesty and integrity in ones dealings in this world;
- Forgiveness, mercy and tolerance- According to the Denkard, a good Zoroastrian must strive to make enemies his friends; purify the sinful and make the ignorant well-informed;
- Sincerely atone for ones sins (committed knowingly or unknowingly) by doing patet.
And now for the vices from which a Zoroastrian should guard himself and struggle to keep away:
- Anger and jealousy- According to the Yasna 49.4 “Those who promote wrath and jealousy are of evil intellect;”
- Greed and idleness- Yasna 16.8 warns “Keep away from the greed of a wicked man”,
- Arrogance-Little knowledge, power and wealth could makes a man arrogant. Arrogance leads to other vices and the road of ruin. The Ardibehest Yasht warns us to “keep away from these who have arrogant thoughts”;
- Sloth – In the Atash Niyayesh 5.11, we pray “I sleep for the third part of a whole day (i.e. eight hours). May God give me no more sleep so that I can wake up on time.”;
- Foul language – The Denkard consider use of foul or abusive language as a sin equal to telling lies;
- Petty and unwarranted quarrels, arguments and violence;
- Bad company and literature;
- Malice and vengefulness;
Zoroastrians believe that everyone is equal: “Men and women, rich and poor, and young and old are all seen as equal” (BBC).
Abortion- They believe that a soul has been formed when a women is four months and ten days pregnant and believe that abortion is murder.
Reincarnation- it is not believed in Zoroastrianism and is foreign/unknown to them.
Homosexuality- There is a line in the Vendidad that states that homosexuality is sinful/devil worshipping: “The man that lies with mankind as man lies with womankind, or as woman lies with mankind, is the man that is a Daeva [demon]; this one is the man that is a worshipper of the Daevas, that is a male paramour of the Daevas.” This means that they would be against it.
FUN FACT– they have major beliefs in the Humata Hukhta Hvarshta, which is “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
Could not find any reliable sources that talked about alcohol/drug use or suicide and capital abuse and the Zoroastrian view.
The main symbol in Zoroastrianism is the sacred fire. It must burn continually at the fire temple, and needs to be fed at least 5 times a day, along with the 5 prayers a day. Zoroastrians believe that fire purifies and also represents the presence of Ahura Mazda.
The Faravahar is the most common symbol in the Zoroastrianism. It reminds the adherents of their purpose in life and to live in the ways of Ahura Mazda.
(insert a pic of the faravahar)
The imagery of a disc with wings likely originated as a sun with wings. Later, a human torso was added to the symbol. The archer in a feathered robe represents Ashur, an Assryian god. Over time the image became a symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. Presently, the symbol is often used to depict a guardian angel, who would guide dead souls into the afterlife.
The Zoroastrian community is divided into two groups: the hereditary priests and the laity. The influential families are those that have members strategically distributed throughout the most important sectors of society, each prepared to support the other in order to ensure family prestige and status.
Politically, there is no supreme head of the Zoroastrians in Iran, which had Zoroastrianism as a state religion in the past. In each city, there is a Zoroastrian association known as the “Anjoman Zardoshtian.” Its governing members are elected by the community. Today the anjoman in Tehran, owing to its location, has developed a position of leadership; however, local affairs are handled by the local anjoman. In addition to these associations, each city has a youth club, which is mainly involved with sports and cultural activities. In Tehran, a Zoroastrian Women’s Association has also been established.
Government officials do recognize minority groups such as the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. They are permitted to sustain organizations, elect a representative to the Majlis (lower house of Parliament), maintain religious schools, and publish periodicals; however, they are restricted in political activities. Non-Muslims cannot reach command positions in the armed forces and cannot achieve policy-making positions in government.
The Zoroastrian community was formerly organized through priest rotation; now it is through appointments and by the influence of the anjoman structure. Formerly there was a katkhoda, a local political leader, and, at the highest level, the kalantar (magistrate) of the entire Zoroastrian community.
Social Control. Of concern to the Zoroastrian community are the ritual calendar, the upkeep of the priesthood, and conversion. There is also a conflict between the younger generation and the older one, which is more orthodox. The community is in transition, and the population is attempting to become Westernized.
Conflict. Boundaries have always been maintained between the various religious groups such as the Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is, especially under the Islamic government. One of the ways to alleviate intercommunal tension is to allow non-Zoroastrians to enter the fire temples. Muslims have been seen participating in the funerals of Zoroastrian friends.
In the past, because of strict Zoroastrian observance of the laws of purity, this was not permitted. Until 1885, the Zoroastrians were subject to various forms of persecution. They were not allowed to wear rings, and their girdles were made of rough canvas. Until 1895, they were not permitted to carry umbrellas or wear glasses or spectacles. Until 1896, they were forced to twist their turbans instead of folding them (Malcolm 1905, 45).