An Overview of
Zoroastrianism

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An Overview of
Zoroastrianism

[Source: www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/]

Zoroaster Zoraster
(aka Zarathrustra)

Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago.

For 1000 years Zoroastrianism was one of the most powerful religions in the world. It was the official religion of Persia (Iran) from 600 BCE to 650 CE.

It is now one of the world's smallest religions. In 2006 the New York Times reported that there were probably less than 190,000 followers worldwide at that time.

  • Zoroastrians believe there is one god called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and he created the world.
  • Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some Westerners wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents Ahura Mazda's light or wisdom.
  • Ahura Mazda revealed the truth through the Prophet, Zoroaster.
  • Zoroastrians traditionally pray several times a day.
  • Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary.
  • The Zoroastrian book of Holy Scriptures is called The Avesta.
  • The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
    • The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
    • The Younger Avesta - commentaries to the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.
  • Zoroastrians are roughly split into two groups:
    • The Iranians
    • The Parsis (a group of Iranians who fled Iran as refugeesin the 10th century in search of somewhere to practice their religion freely)

Beliefs

Dualism

What does it mean?

Zoroastrian dualism is probably one of the most debated aspects of Zoroastrianism in the West. So what does it mean?

Dualism in Zoroastrianism is the existence of, yet complete separation of, good and evil. This is recognised in two interconnecting ways:

  • Cosmically (opposing forces within the universe)
  • Morally (opposing forces within the mind)

Cosmic dualism

Cosmic dualism refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe.

It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not Ahura Mazda's equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes Ahura Mazda's creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. Ahura Mazda created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this.

With cosmic dualism we have life and death, day and night, good and evil. One cannot be understood without the other. Life is a mixture of these two opposing forces.

Moral dualism

Moral dualism refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of mankind. Ahura Mazda's gift to man was free will; therefore man has the choice to follow the path of Evil (druj - deceit) or the path of Righteousness (asha - truth). The path of Evil leads to misery and ultimately Hell. The path of Righteousness leads to peace and everlasting happiness in Heaven.

As with cosmic dualism, we have the polarity of happiness and sadness, truth and deception and so on but with an emphasis on choice. This choice is crucial as it determines whether we are the helper of Ahura Mazda or the helper of Angra Mainyu. When all of mankind chooses the former over the latter, evil will finally be defeated and Paradise on earth will be realized.

In practice, modern Zoroastrianism has a positive outlook. It teaches that Mankind is ultimately good and that this goodness will finally triumph over evil. This could be seen as a retrenchment from the faith's original purity of dualism.

Humanity

Daily prayers

Zoroastrian beliefs can best be summed up by the maxim: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds

Zoroastrians try to live their daily lives by this creed.

At the age of seven, Zoroastrians are given a sudreh (shirt) and kusti (cord) as part of an initiation ceremony. These garments are considered sacred. They tie the kusti around the sudreh three times to remind themselves of 'Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds'.

From then on, Zoroastrians traditionally perform this ritual with prayers several times a day.

Family and community

Zoroastrianism is a home and community oriented religion. There is no tradition of monasticism or celibacy. Zoroaster himself was a family man and most worship happens in the family home.

Zoroastrianism is also about action. Zoroastrians work towards improving the local community and society in general. They tend to give generously to charities and are often behind educational and social initiatives. The Parsi community in India is particularly known for its industrious contributions to Indian society.

Man and Ahura Mazda

Unlike some religions where man is Ahura Mazda's child or servant, in Zoroastrianism man is considered more as Ahura Mazda's helper. Through man's positive choices, evil will be eradicated and Ahura Mazda's Paradise on Earth will be established.

Men and women, rich and poor, and young and old are all seen as equal. One only surpasses the other through their righteousness.

Zoroastrian beliefs about Ahura Mazda

One God

Zoroastrians believe in one god, called Ahura Mazda (meaning 'Wise Lord'). He is compassionate, just, and is the creator of the universe.

Ahura Mazda is:

  • Omniscient (knows everything)
  • Omnipotent (all powerful)
  • Omnipresent (is everywhere)
  • Impossible for humans to conceive
  • Unchanging
  • The Creator of life
  • The Source of all goodness and happiness

Ahura Mazda is worshiped as supreme. Zoroastrians believe that everything he created is pure and should be treated with love and respect. This includes the natural environment, so Zoroastrians traditionally do not pollute the rivers, land or atmosphere. This has caused some to call Zoroastrianism 'the first ecological religion'.

Fire Temple Exterior of a fire-temple ©

Zoroaster and Ahura Mazda

Zoroastrians believe that Zoroaster is the prophet of Ahura Mazda. Zoroaster himself is not worshipped, but through his teachings man can become close to Ahura Mazda by following the path of truth and righteousness (asha).

Zoroaster's Vision

At the age of thirty, Zoroaster had a divine vision whilst bathing in a river during a pagan purification rite. On the bank of the river he saw a 'Shining Being' made of light[1] who revealed himself as Vohu Manah ('Good Mind').

Vohu Manah led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda (Ahura Mazda) and five other radiant beings, which are called the Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals). This was the first of a number of visions in which Zoroaster saw Ahura Mazda and his Amesha Spentas; during each vision he asked many questions. The answers given to Zoroaster are the foundations of Zoroastrian religion.

Amesha Spentas, who are they?

Amesha Spentas translates as 'Holy Immortals'. Just as light rays are emanated from the sun but are not the sun, so the Amesha Spentas are emanated by Ahura Mazda but are not Ahura Mazda. These emanations are seen as the divine attributes of Ahura Mazda. They helped Ahura Mazda fashion the world and each is associated with a particular aspect of creation.

Western scholars have likened the Amesha Spentas to the Archangels in Christianity. This is not strictly correct as they also represent spiritual attainments. Zoroastrians believe that man can know Ahura Mazda through his Divine Attributes.

The six Amesha Spentas are:

  • Vohu Manah - Good mind and good purpose.
  • Asha Vahishta - Truth and righteousness.
  • Spenta Ameraiti - Holy devotion, serenity and loving kindness.
  • Khashathra Vairya - Power and just rule.
  • Hauravatat - Wholeness and health.
  • Ameretat - Long life and immortality.

Good and Evil

In Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda has an adversary called Angra Mainyu (meaning 'destructive spirit'). Angra Mainyu is the originator of death and all that is evil in the world.

Ahura Mazda, who is perfect, abides in Heaven, whereas Angra Mainyu dwells in the depths of Hell. When a person dies they will go to Heaven or Hell depending on their deeds during their lifetime.

It is generally accepted by those who discount the Torah and Apostolic Scriptures that in “the Abrahamic religions,” the concepts of Heaven and Hell, as well as the Devil, were heavily influenced by Zoroastrian belief.

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[1] “… Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2Cor. 11:9-19) Compare this to the “revelation experiences” of Mohammed and Joseph Smith. [RETURN]

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:20 AM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)