IntroductionSome time in the history of the universe, no one is quite surewhen, there was born a man. This man would eventually be the first tofound a monotheistic religion. The name of this man is Zoroaster; thename is actually a corruption of Zarathushtra.
Zoroaster’s birth date,along with whether his religion is actually monotheistic, is a subjectof great debate. The opinions concerning his birth, and consequentlyabout the beginning of this great religion, range from as early as 6000years before Plato to as late as 500 B.C.E.
In any case he was bornsomewhere in Iran, although whether in the East or West is alsoarguable. In the early writings the people belonging to this religionare called Zarathustris; the system he taught is called Mazdaism. Thepresent day followers are called Parsees. Zoroaster removed themultiplicity of deities from religion and created a faith in whichthere were two, or perhaps, one God.
All other higher beings wereregarded as demons, or evil spirits. No one knows for sure thedifferent stages of popularity that Zoroastrianism experienced. We doknow that at the time of Darius I, 558?-486 B.C.
E., it was protected byroyalty. Later, however, Zoroastrians were continually chased by themembers of the Islamic religion through Kathiawar in India, and Surat,and finally they settled again in Bombay. The universe is thebattleground.
The opponents are Mazda Ahura, later to be known asAhura Mazda, and Anra Mainyu, later call ed Ahriman. Ahura Mazda isthe good force and the bad is Ahriman. The battle will last till AhuraMazda defeats Ahriman in the year 12,000 (we are now presumably around11,500). This is the world and its future in accordance withZoroastrian beliefs.
ZoroasterZoroaster had a very non-conforming mind and was forced to fleehis parents’ house without his parents’ consent because of the rebukinghe gave to those who sacrificed cattle or drank intoxicating haoma. Hefled to the mountains and gave himself to God. Sometime between theages of thirty and forty an angel appeared to him and brought him tothe throne of the highest God, Ahura Mazda. After this occurred, theprophet tried for twelve years to convert people, but to no available.
During this period many visions were revaled to him. A milestone inthe progression of the religion occurred when Zoroaster convertedVishtaspa,the king of Persia. He also converted the king’s son,brother, counsellor, and grand vizier. Zoroaster married, along withtwo other women, the counsellor’s daughter.
Zoroaster was killed atthe age of seventy-seven by Ardshataspa, a neighboring prince, whoinvaded Vishtaspa’s capital. According to the Parsees, Vishtaspa isthe father of Darius, who reigned from 521-485 B.C.E.
Another viewholds that Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander the Great; hewould have therefore lived between 570 and 500 B.C.E. The Greeks tendto place him six thousand years before Plato.
Ahura Mazda, while notnecessarily discovered by Zoroaster, was found on an inscription datingaround 714 B.C.E. In ancient Persia, before Zoraoster’s reforms,religion was polytheistic.
Zoroaster objected to these dieties andreferred to them as demons. Many of the rituals and Gods that heremoved were later reinstated due to the fact that the people werestill emotionally attached to them. We can see this from the fact thaton the epigraphs of Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358 B.C.
E.) the Mithrasand Anahita, ancient gods, are mentioned. Temples and images of Godwere also introduced into the religion at a later date.Zoroastrian BeliefsThe Zoroastrian religion is based on the fundamental concept of aconstant battle of good against evil.
The good is represented by AhuraMazda while the bad is represented by Ahriman. Ahura Mazda created thisworld as a trap for Ahriman. Human beings draw Ahriman into thisworld; he will jump at any chance to cause others to do evil. He willthen be entering Ahura Mazda’s world, and when people choose good overevil voluntarily this will weaken Ahriman to the point where he can bedestroyed.
It is hard to reconcile the two opposing views on thedieties in the Zoroastrian religion. The claim is made that thereligion is monotheistic; it is also alleged that the opposing forcesin the world, good and evil, are represented by two equal gods. Modernday Parsees resolve the contradiction by explaining that Ahura Mazdahas always and will always stand above all. Anra Mainyu, or Ahriman,was only created due to an evil thought that once entered Ahura Mazda’shead.
The real opponent of Ahriman is Spenta Mainyu, the good spirit.The world is divided into three sections. The upper world is bathed inlight, the earth is divided into seven sections, and the underworld isa dark place. The forces of good and evil will do battle for thetwelve thousand years of the world’s total existence.
In thebeginning, as Ahriman attempts to kill Ahura Mazda, he is stopped andpulled away. Both of the Gods agree to a period of peace that willlast 9,000 years. During the first three thousand years Ahura Mazdacreates angels, good spirits, and Frava shis. These Fravashis are theoriginal heavenly images of men living in the upper world.
During thenext three thousand years the Fravashis come down to earth. There theylead a perfect sinless life. Anra Mainyu is angry because of theadvantage he sees the Ahura Mazda has gained over him in preparationfor the final battle. He tries to bring evil to the world, but he isrendered powerless by the sacred Ahunavairya formula that Ahura Mazdautters.
In the next three thousand years Anra Mainyu invades theworld. He kills the early man and animal and disperses demonsthroughout the world. However a human couple arises from the seed ofthe early man and a cow from the seed of early animal. These beingsare mixed and must choose between the good and evil that now inhabitsthe world.
The final three thousand year period begins and Ahura Mazdasends Zoroaster down to the world. Zoroaster had been in fravashi, orspiritual, form since the beginning of the second period.After Zoroast er’s death, every thousand years till the end ofthis three thousand year period, a prophet will arise. This prophetwill come from a virgin who is fertilized by remnants of Zoroaster’sseed, which is preserved in a lake.
The prophet will bring about animprovement in society for a short period of time. The last of theseprophets, Saoshyant, or “helper”, will bring about a resurrection ofthe dead. The final fight will then occur and the death of Ahriman willtake place. All evil will disappear and the world will be cleansed bya fiery stream of metal which will bring about a completetransformation, or Frashokereti.
Ahura Mazda will rule over allforever.Zoroastrian LiteratureThe main source for the teachings of Zoroaster is the Avesta.These are the only writings which come directly from Zoroaster and arewritten as if spoken to him by God Himself. Due to the fact that theIranians couldn’t write, all this information was passed down orally;this, in part, led to the eventual loss of this material.
Around thefifth century an Avestan alphabet was created for this purpose. Thesedocuments date back to 1323. The Gathas are sacred literature whichare difficult to translate and are believed to inclu de rituals,prayers, hymns, visions of God, His purposes, and prophecies. TheGathic portions of the Yasna were preserved by being included in theYasna writings which involved the worship process of every day.
Theyounger Avestan parts of the Yasna were being written throughout allthe centuries eventually having seventy-two sections. These containedmany topics and protected the basic Gathic texts. Some of the ExtendedAvesta was taken from the Yashts which were hymns addressed to thelesser divine beings and were very poetic. These were written in theAvestan dialect.
The Gathas on the other hand, were memorized due totheir holiness.The Vendidad were written in the late younger Avestan period. Theyincluded laws on purity and on fighting evil. The Visperad is anextension of the Yasna and the Vendidad.
They dealt with the sevenholy days of faith. The Nayesh and Goh were prayers recited, on theaverage, eight times a day. They were for priests as well as laypersons. Some were directed at certain forces of nature and were saidless frequently.
The Khorda, or Little Avesta, is a book of commonprayers. Each Khorda had the same prayers but in different orders. Theywere previously memorized and only said by priests, but now, becausethey are printed, are said by everyone. The Great Avesta is groupedinto twenty-one nasks, or books.
They were last written in the sixthcentury and contain all the previous works and much more. Theyincluded the life and legends about the prophet, the religiousdoctrine, the end of days, law, creation of the world, and science.These were placed in all the temples, but during the Islamic period allthe temples were destroyed and not a copy remains. A book, theDenkard, has a detailed summary of these works in Pahlavi and it seemsthat the Extended Avesta took a quarter of the whole canon.
The onlyreason that the Pahlavi survived is because they were used extensivelyand therefore known by heart, and priests made copies of them at theirhouses.Zands, or intrepertations, on the Avesta have always been written.The old ones are included with the Avesta. This continued until thefourth century when the Sasanians, the last Zoroastrians to rule Iran,c hanged the language to Middle Persian, or Pahlavi.
The ones writtenin this Pahlavi language are the only ones that fully remain of theZand and so are considered the Zand. The Yashts are the only part ofthe Avesta not to have a Zand written together with it. The Pahlaviworks were written as if being said aloud. Because of this free styleof being written they were changed or added to freely by futurepeople.
In subsequent times the Zoroastrian community was verypersecuted and they were lowered to a group of poor and intellectualyisolated people. They reduced the writings to the basics and much oftheir writings are simply copies of previous texts. They also lefttheir Pahlavi writings for the more current Persian. As the religiouscommunity moved about they translated their writings into many of thedifferent languages of the places where they were residing at thattime.
Not much was added and even the writings they retained werecopied with mistakes. In later times, from the fifteenth to eighteenthcenturies, because of the split in the Zoroastrian communities, onebeing in Iran and the other in Persia, the writings were not veryfrequent. The writings basically consisted of Parsi questions to theirIranian counter parts, usually about law and purity, and the answers.These writings were known as the Persian Rivayats.
From the mid-nineteenth century and on the Parsis prosperedgreatly. This brought about an increase in the amount of literature.The literat ure was written in many languages including Gujarat (one ofthe previous places of residence) and English. These consisted mainlyof the religion’s beliefs and observances.
The Zoroastrian religionmakes an abrupt turn at this point and changes from its previous highlyorthodox religion and writing. The society is hurt and confusedbecause of a sudden plunge into modernity. The society searched fornew ways to explain the older writings. The writing is transformedinto one writing influenced by the beliefs of many of the surroundingreligions including Christianity and Hinduism.
Some writings simplytalk of a belief but advocate no actual observance requiring anyactions. Into the twentieth century the writings decrease and show agreater influence by the Muslims.Zoroastrian HistoryFrom around 550-330 B.C.
E. the Iranian tribes left the steppeswhere they had been previously living and conquered and moved intomodern-day Iran. The eastern Iranians brought the Zoroastrian faith tothe western Iranians, the Meads, and the Persians. It became thereligion of the Achaemenian empire.
The Avestan writings, however,remained in the eastern dialect. Alexander slaughtered many of theZoroastrian priests thereby also harming the transmission of thetexts.The Asacids, from north-east Iran, later established the secondIranian empire. The empire was called the Parthian empire.
The fewwritten records they had indicated a tolerance of the Zoroastrianreligion. This empire ruled from approximately 144 B.C.E.
through 224C.E. The Sasanian period was from 224 to 651 C.E.
By this timeZoroastrianism had returned to many of the things that Zoroaster hadtaken out at the beginning of the religion. They had gone back totheir old ways of sacrificing, drinking haoma, and believing in morethan one God. However, even as the orthodoxy of the religion declined,its popularity increased to the greatest point in its history.After the fall of t his empire Persia was converted to Islam.
About fourteen thousand remain in Iran today. The others eitherconverted or moved to India, where different religions were moretolerated. The Zoroastrians there are called Parsees, and most livearound Bombay. They number about 150,000.
They have greatlyprospered, and probably owe this to their honesty and generosity. EthicsZoroaster based his concept of good and evil on the things thathappened to be good and bad for the people of his time. Animals whichwere used for cattle bearing were considered good and created by AhuraMazda. On the other hand, animals which were harmful to cattle werecreated by Ahriman.
Large families were praised, and any attempt tostop sex from having children was forbidden. The main purpose of man isalways to make good decisions and to fight with Ahura Mazda against theforces of Ahriman. Life after DeathCadavers are unclean and therefore should not be allow ed to touchthe holy fire and earth. The Zoroastrians have devised a way ofdealing with this in which they place the dead bodies on dakhmas, thetowers of silence.
Certain people who have received this position byinheritance, as it is unholy, bring the bodies into these towers. Onceplaced on the towers of silence the bodies are devoured by vultures ina matter of hours. Water is then poured over the bones and is run intothe sea. Modern ways of dealing with the dead are by placing them intocement containers or by burning with electricity.
Spiritually, after a person dies, his body remains in the area inwhich he died for three days. After this his conscience appears to himin the form of a woman. If the person had a bad conscience the womanis ugly; if he had a good conscience the woman is beautiful. The womanthen takes him over a bridge called the Chinvat Peretu, theaccountants’ bridge.
If the person led a good life he walks over thebridge into paradise; if he led a bad l ife he falls to hell. If theperson is not evil nor good he reaches the intermediate kingdom,Hamestakans, which is between paradise and hell. After the end of theworld is reached, the spirits will be returned to their bodies and itis only then that their final fate will be decided.ConclusionIn conclusion I think that the following observation correctlysummarizes the enduring contributions of Zoroastrianism.
It is aninspired ideology which is based upon three beli efs: there is a battlebetween good and evil, there will be an end to the world together witha final divine judgment and the purification of earth, and there is aparadise, a perfect society in heaven. These ideas have had farreaching effects upon other religions and people. Zoroastrianism hasbrought a concept of a sense of the religious meaning of history alongwith a stronger monotheism and ethics. It has removed the religiousidentification with nature and states of consciousness.
There are those that believe that the Ancient Hebrews only adoptedthe concepts of a resurrection of the dead, an end to the world, and afinal judgment, once they came into contact with the Zoroastrians. Allof these ideas are presently important to the Jews, Christians, andMuslims. We can all see how far reaching and important the Zoroastrianreligion has been on the evolution of the important religions out ofwhich most modern civilizations have evolved.