Origin of Zoroastrianism
The origin of Zoroastrian religion is shrouded in mystery. The ancient inhabitants of the Persian region were Aryan nature worshipers who venerated a series of deities known as ‘Daevas’. Above these minor deities were higher Gods among which the most important and popular was ‘Mitra’, the God of light, benefactor of cattle and upholder of loyalty and obedience. Part of these Aryans migrated into India which explains why many of the Gods and practices of Vedic Hinduism and the ancient Persians are the same.
History of Zoroastrianism
There was a revival of Zoroastrianism in the 3rd century A. D. under the Sassanid rulers of Persia. When they were conquered by Muslim warriors in the 7th century, followers of Zoroastrianism were eventually forced to convert to Islam or flee the country. Many followed their ancient kinsmen to India where they were known as Parsis. When the British arrived they favoured the Parsi because they were not encumbered with the caste system or food taboos and because they valued education. The Parsi became leaders in education, business, and finance.
Zoroaster, Founder of Zoroastrianism
Zoroaster’s birth date is uncertain. Tradition says, he was pre-existent and born of a 15 year old virgin in 660 B.C. Many marvels accompanied his birth. His name, Zarathustra Spitama, indicates he was born into a warrior clan that was connected with the royal family of ancient Persia. At the age of 15, he put on the ‘Kusti’, a sacred string belt symbolic of his passage into manhood as a member of his religion. He spent years, partially in solitude, searching for answers to religious questions. At the age of 30, Zoroaster had a vision of the angel Vohu Mana, who appeared to him and told that there was only one true God, Ahura Mazda and that he was to become the prophet of Ahura Mazda. During the next 10 years, Zoroaster had many other visions in which each of the archangels of Ahura Mazda appeared and revealed further truth to him.
He began preaching this new revelation but with no success. The turning point came when he met the Aryan King Vishtaspa. The king put all of his power behind the propagation of the faith. Zoroaster became a leader in the nation and got married. He had 3 wives and was the father of 6 children. The next 20 years was spent vigorously promulgating the faith among Persians and fighting two holy wars in its defence. During a war with the Turanians, an enemy soldier found the 77 year old prophet tending the sacred flame in a fire temple and killed him.
Teachings of Zoroaster
Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of Zoroaster. Zoroaster taught that Ahura Mazda was the one true God and the nature Gods or daevas his people worshipped were false gods. Ahura Mazda reveals himself to man through 6 modes, of which 3 were masculine and 3 were feminine in nature. Together with Ahura Mazda they compose 7 sources of reality.
The masculine immortals are:
1. Asha (knowledge of the law of God)
2. Vohu-Mana (love)
3. Kshathra (loving service)
The feminine immortals are:
1. Armaiti (piety)
2. Haurvatat (wholeness or perfection)
3. Ameretat (immortality)
The inclusive name of Zoroastrian scriptures is ‘Avesta’ (knowledge) and it is divided into five main parts:
i. Yasna (worship)
ii. Gathas (Psalms)
iii. Vendidad (law agains demons)
iv. Yashts (worship hymns)
v. Khorda-Avesta (litanies and prayers)
In Zoroastrianism, there are a limitless number of angels. Zoroaster taught there were two spirits emanating from Ahura Mazda and are said to record each person’s good and evil deeds. One is ‘Spenta Mainyu’, the Beneficent Spirit; the other is ‘Angra Mainyu’, the Evil Spirit. These spirits or forces exist and operate much like the Yin-Yang of Taoism.
Zoroastrianism teaches concern for good thought, good word and good deed as expressed in truthfulness, chastity, justice, compassion, care of the soil and natural elements, charity, education and service.
Beliefs of Zoroastrianism
In Zoroaster’s eschatology, if the preponderance of his life has been good the soul goes to Paradise; if evil it is sentenced to Hell. The descriptions of hell by Zoroastrianism is suited to the sins of the person and filled with revolting horrors. These souls will abide in heaven or in hell until the final consummation of the world established by Ahura Mazda. Before the end of the world, there will be three saviours who will come at intervals of 1000 years. At the end of the age Ahura Mazda will wipe out every trace of the evil work of Angra Mainyu. The souls from hell will be brought up and purified and will join the resurrected souls of the righteous and the world will enter a new cycle of perfection where no one will grow old or decay and Ahura Mazda will reign supreme.
Customs in Zoroastrianism
Their worship consists mainly in prayers requesting assistance in living righteous lives. They may offer sandalwood to be burned in the sacred fire which burns eternally in their temples. At the age of 7 in India and 10 in Iran, the young Zoroastrian is received into his faith with the investiture of a sacred shirt (sade) and the sacred thread (kusti) and he must wear them the rest of his life except when bathing. There are ceremonies for all of the important points of life. At death, the body dare not contaminate earth, fire or water so it is placed in a Dakhma (tower of silence) where it is eaten by vultures or beasts of prey or may be buried in a stone casket lined with lead.
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