A Persian religion which sprung up in the Persian plateau roughly around the 7th century B.C.E. It reformed the more ancient Persian pantheon by retaining the ancient gods but offering them new roles. It was a dualistic religion where the ancient gods were classified into "good" and "evil" counterparts. The champion of good was Ahura Mazda and the champion of evil was Ahriman. The Zend-Avesta are the religion's holy texts.

    Zoroastrian cosmology, the Middle Eastern precursor of Islam, conceives the history of the world as a vast drama. In Infinite Time there existed Ormazd, who dwelt in the light, and Ahriman, who dwelt below him in the darkness. Ahriman crossed the Void which separated the two Beings and attacked Ormazd, who perceived that their struggle would last forever unless realized in finite terms. He made a pact with Ahriman limiting the duration of their struggle. Ormazd then recited the Ahuna Vairya, the most sacred prayer of the Zoroastrians. Ahriman, aghast, fell back into the abyss where he lay for another 3,000 years. During this time Ormazd called creation into being, first the spiritual creation including the Beneficent Immortals, then a corresponding material creation--sky, water, earth, plants, the Primeval Ox, and Primeval Man (Gayomart). Next, to the fravashis (preexistent souls) of men, Ormazd offered a choice between staying forever in their embryonic state and becoming incarnate in the physical world in order to secure his triumph over Ahriman (...gosh, that sounds like The Matrix); they chose birth and combat. Meanwhile Ahriman, in the Abyss, generated six demons and an opposing material creation.

    According to Zoroaster, during his life the world was soon to be consumed in a mighty conflagration. The Wise Lord's nemesis, Ahriman, the principle of evil, was a cosmic threat. This ethical dualism is rooted in the Zoroastrian cosmology, where in the beginning there is a meeting of the two spirits which choose "life or not life." Through his good deeds, the righteous person (ashavan) earns an everlasting reward, namely integrity and immortality. He who opts for the lie is condemned by his own conscience as well as by the judgment of the Wise Lord and must expect to continue in the most miserable form of existence, one more or less corresponding to the Christian concept of hell. Thus, the world is divided into two hostile blocks, whose members represent two warring dominions. On the side of the Wise Lord are the settled herdsmen or farmers, caring for their cattle and living in a definite social order. The followers of the Lie (Druj) are thieving nomads and enemies of order.
Sources:
Encyclopedia of hell / Miriam Van Scott (New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998)
Encyclopedia of heaven / Miriam Van Scott (New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998)

Zoroastrianism is a religion which was based in ancient Persia (which is modern day Iran). It both pre-dates Judaism and was present at the time of Judaism. Only roughly 200,000 Zoroastrians are around today, mostly in India, Iran, England, and the USA. Zoroastrianism is a dualistic religion, meaning that they believe in a tension between all good (Ahura Mazda) and all evil (Arihman). Time is about the battle between good and evil, and in the end good is bound to win.

The prophet Zarathustra told the people that the earth was made of fire, water, air, and earth, and all of those things were sacred. Its believed that people should maintain the purity of the elements and Zoroastrians have very strict rituals to do so. Fire represents the purity of Ahura Mazda, the ultimate good, and thus fire is very important to the religion.

For instance, they believe that dead bodies pollute the earth. There is an elaborate ritual for disposing of dead bodies. Bodies are put on top of a "Tower of Silence" where they are up high and birds can pick the bones clean. The bones are then buried once they are free from debris. Also, when women were menstruating they were believed to be polluting. They would be locked in a common room in the town where they would not be touched by light and could not pollute the earth.

The scriptures of the religion are called the Gathas, the most famous of which is Zendaresta. Zarathustra is called Zoarastar in Greek and is believed to the prophet sent to save the world. It was said that Zarathustra was able to survive fires, had been put in a basket and sent down a river and survived, and survived various other tests due to divine intervention.

The religion believes that humans are essentially pawns of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, but also have free will. There are Six Aspects of Goodness that Zoroastrians believe are essential to possess. They are righteousness, devotion, desirable dominion (making the world you live in better), wholeness, and immortality. The Magi are the high priests and are intermediaries for complex rituals. Often rituals were written in a complicated ancient language called Pahlaui which the priests could read and most others couldn't.

The followers of the Zoroastrian religion do not promote conversion, in fact there is a debate going on amongst current followers about whether that is a good idea. The religion has been considered elitist in the past, which is a problem now that its followers are dwindling. Traditionally, people cannot convert to the religion, both your parents must be Zoroastrians first before you may be one. There was a problem in England when the government realized that some Zoroastrians were basically resorting to getting Zoroastrian mail order brides because there was such a problem finding mates. This was mostly effectively curbed, but the religion may have to resort to letting Insiders in if it doesn't want to completely die out.

Source:
Lecture from UCF Dr. Stockdale ASH3222

Good thoughts, good words, good deeds” - the overriding tenet of the Zoroastrian faith.

Zoroaster in Greece, Zarathustra in Persia and Zarthosht in India, he was at any rate a religious reformer of ancient central and western Asia and is believed in some circles to have been the world’s first prophet. Thought to have lived in the north-east of the region around the sixth or fifth centuries BC, there is ongoing speculation which could pin his date of birth closer to 1200 BC, with the style of his writing used as evidence (some sources even claim his birth to have been in the 6000s BC). The third of five sons to a petty nobleman named Purushasa and his wife Dughdova, he became a priest during the early part of his life and was reputed for exhibiting great compassion.

Zoroaster was a figure who found himself cloaked in myth by the tribes he converted, each of which created its own mythology and claimed his descent from them: it was said that his birth had been foretold at the beginning of time, that he burst out laughing the moment he was born and the universe rejoiced with him, in addition to numerous miracles and feats. Zoroaster’s claim to enlightenment runs thusly: Drujs (demons) attempted to slay him when he was a child, but he was protected by Ahura Mazda/Ormazd, the principle of cosmic good. The Amesha Spentas (‘Holy’ or ‘Bounteous’ Immortals, depending upon translation) gifted him with numerous insights at the age of thirty. So armed, he was able to defeat the temptations offered by Angra Mainyu/Ahriman, the principle of cosmic evil. It is known that he faced some troubled in sowing his message amongst the myriad rulers of the region, although his opinion prevailed at a debate with priests of Mithras and he won the ears of many rulers. He was eventually murdered during prayer at the age of 77, probably in Bactria (modern Afghanistan).

Zoroaster had denounced the hitherto-prevalent worship of ancient gods (who were largely concerned with fertility and other matters of survival), preaching unity of purpose and conversion to a new religion based on adherence to concepts of good and evil. His faith could be described as monotheistic (as Zurvan Akarana - ‘Infinite Time’ - was the transcendent entity said to have given rise to the manifestations of both evil and good), although the emphasis on dualism slowly asserted itself. One Zoroastrian tradition states that Zurvan Akarana promised authority to his firstborn, leading Angra Mainyu to tear his way from the womb and sow an era of chaos which lasted several thousand years. Zoroastrianism dictated that there would be three eras the world would experience: creation (sometimes divided into two separate eras), dualism (the period of upheaval, the current era) and the final triumph of good (whereby Angra Mainyu would be defeated and even those consigned to hell would be released). The first thousand years of the latter era will supposedly see the forces of evil assault the world with renewed vigour. This myth can be interpreted as an explanation of history as being the battleground of divine forces. Interestingly, it was said after Zoroaster’s death that a Saoshyant (Saviour) would be born of a virgin of Zoroaster’s line, in order to dispense final judgement.

One moral issue with the dual nature of Zoroastrian worship was the question of Ahura Mazda’s omnipotence; if this was so, so the reasoning went, then he must have created (and therefore endorsed) evil. The retention of an inexplicable being like Zurvan Akarana (who was reputed to have created Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu in order to create universal conflict) circumvented this problem by placing the question beyond the reach of mortal thought or explanation. Zurvan Akarana himself is believed to have been one of the ancient deities whose ilk was shunned by the reformist religion and who paradoxically became known as a primal principle, beyond morality.

The Avesta (containing the Gathas - as much as one quarter of Zoroaster’s work, preserved in five hymns) is the Zoroastrian holy book. The addition (several centuries later, during Sassanian times) of the remaining parts (which deal with ritual and practice, where the former simply endorse veneration of God and stress individual moral choice), has split the faith into factions which dispute the question of whether these later additions were based on the same inspiration. The segments were added during a period of internal crisis - the decline of Zoroastrian faith and the waning of Sassanian Persia seemed to many an indication that either God had deserted them or that the religion’s teachings were false.

Ancient texts are usually vague about rituals, so most evidence comes from the assumption of modern Zoroastrianism’s adherence to ancient customs and from the Indian writer, Parsis. Prayer was strongly emphasised, but for different reasons than the communicative purposes of many other faiths - instead, the words themselves were believed to have power when spoken by a holy man, whereas printed words are themselves mute, or dead. The words are believed to passively evoke the presence of the forces they refer to, rather than specifically sending requests or summons. Sacrifice conducted with utter devotion was considered one of the holiest acts an individual could perform as it was seen to strengthen Ahura Mazda and proportionally weaken Angra Mainyu; this tradition was derived from long-standing Indian practices. Initiation into the faith took place at puberty and involved bathing, the drinking of gomez (cow’s urine, thought to be a purifying substance), the donning of sacred garments and priestly blessings. Symbolism was a factor in Zoroastrian rituals. All ceremonies took place before a fire (personified as the god Atar), which was a symbol of God (through links to purification) rather than an object of veneration in itself.

Zoroastrianism was the state religion of various Persian empires (and in various forms) until the 7th century CE/AD, with brief interruptions during Greek and Roman conquests of Achaemenid and Parthian territories, respectively. During the former, Alexander the Great burned Persepolis after a drunken revel in order to broadcast his successes, although some records (in Persian, Babylonian and Elamite) inscribed upon ruins survive. In modern times, Zoroastrianism is a small religion with 140,000 members (incepted into the faith via heredity, a practice now widely disputed). Its importance, though, far outweighs its current level of authority as it is credited with setting traditions which future religions birthed in the region (most notably Christianity, Islam and Judaism) followed, such as the emphasis on dualistic concepts of good and evil, the tradition of prophecy, the concept of miracles and the judgement of the soul. Muslim aggression towards Persia in 650 AD saw the widespread migration of Zoroastrians to India, where most now reside.




SOURCES:

Books:
Persian Mythology, John Hinnells
The World of Ancient Times, Carl Roebuck
Archaeology: the Definitive Guide, various authors.
The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Mythology, Rachel Storm.

Internet:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/zoroastr.htm
http://www.avesta.org/
http://www.ancientiran.com
http://www.livius.org/za-zn/zarathustra/zarathustra.htm

Zo`ro*as"tri*an*ism (?), n.

The religious system of Zoroaster, the legislator and prophet of the ancient Persians, which was the national faith of Persia; mazdeism. The system presupposes a good spirit (Ormuzd) and an opposing evil spirit (Ahriman). Cf. Fire worship, under Fire, and Parsee.

 

© Webster 1913.

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