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Zoroastrianism, An Analysis
There is one distinct religious traditions that spans further into the past then Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This religion also greatly influenced the practices, rituals, and beliefs these three religions and many others beyond comprehension as a result. That religious tradition is - Zoroastrianism. What is Zoroastrianism? Where did it originate from? Why did Zoroastrianism “stick” with people and how has it survived this long?
The Zoroastrian religious faith is known by many names: Zarathustraism, Mazdaism and Magianism. It is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions, based in Greater Iran. Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Greater Iran from 600 BCE to 650 CE, including the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian Empires. In English, an adherent of the faith is commonly called a Zoroastrian or a Zarathustrian. An older expression still used today is Behdin, meaning "follower of Daena", for which "Good Religion" is one translation. However, now those who know of the faith refer to the followers of the faith, fondly, as the “people of the flames”.
The main characteristics of the Zoroastrian faith are messianism, the Golden Rule,that a heaven and hell exist along with our world, and that all of creation was created with free will. It is here that we find these characteristics influenced other religious systems, including Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity, and Islam. In Zoroastrianism, the main purpose of life is to “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you” or rather, “to only practice goodness”. Some of the keys “mantras” within the religious faith include: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”, “there is only one path and that is the path of truth”, as well as “do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, then all beneficial rewards will come to you”. Living a good, moral life and to be a good influence onto the world and future generations are strong points which many followers of the faith try to observe within their day to day lives. Zoroastrianism could be considered an indigenous religion in that its practitioners do not collectively gather within an institutional “home” such as a church but rather Zoroastrian practitioners do tend to gather in groups around a large fire in order to pray to their god. However this is not something that is mandated or common within the religious faith. It's a solo practitioner wanted to pray in private then they would be more than welcome to do so. One singular common trait all practitioners of Zoroastrianism share is that in order to pray or worship their god they must do so with fire lit somewhere within their vicinity. It is because of this fire that their entire religion exists. In their native homeland of Iran there is still a 2000-year-old flame that burns from the original Sparks that the founder of Zoroastrianism, Zoroaster, reflected and prayed upon.
Not unlike Judaism and Christianity, Zoroastrianism has roots within the same mother land surrounding the geographical location of the garden of Eden which lays theoretically within the land of Iran between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which are believed to have been present within Iran at one point in time. For now, however, that theory it is almost unknown. Similar to indigenous religions, Zoroastrianism does not have any published collections of written works in which its followers consider holy. The only important text of the Zoroastrian religion are those of the Avesta which includes the writings of Zoroaster known as a Gathas. The Gathas are a new dramatic poems that define the religions ideals and the “Yasna” which would be considered the Scriptures of the Zoroastian religious faith. Although these are written works by the founder of the religion, they're not necessarily considered works that are holy or ethereal in nature. The people who practice this religious faith - although very spiritual and very passionate are also very practical when practicing their faith. Even though they try to learn from the past, they take hope and pride in and that of their children. This is how any written works of the religious faith do not rise higher than that of the religious rituals, practices, and beliefs; to the Zoroastrians or “people of the flames”, a text is an object to learn from not to worship.
Unfortunately Zoroastrianism was a gradually marginalized or otherwise almost completely absorbed by Islam from the seventh century onwards with the decline in the Sasanian Empire. It is with this realistic decline in Zoroastrianism that we see many Islamic practices almost assimilated into the Zoroastrian faith; Islam practices such as the Sharia Law. However the Islamic opinion that “there is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet” is exclusively something that only practitioners of Islam hold finally on a religious level. Followers of this OS sure he and religious faith still, after 2000 years, hold that their god, Ahura Mazda, is the only true God.
We can also find another unique religious key element within the Zoroastrian religious faith in that a philosopher founded the religion. This philosopher was known, as previously mentioned, as Zoroaster, who lives in the barren wilderness of Iran at the conception of religion. He then divided early Iranian gods by creating a religion of his own; one that revolves around fire. In Christianity fire can be seen as something that provides light as well as something that also symbolizes hell. However, in Zoroasrianism, fire is seen as something good, bright, life-sustaining and mysterious. Even in Islam, a religion that gathered many believes from that Zoroastrianism, views fire as that which is a vessel in which angels from Heaven are born into our world. Why than does Christianity have such a negative Image attached to that of a flame? Perhaps it is because early Christians viewed anyone who was not like themselves or did not believe in early Christian principles to be evil. There is not much known about the emergence of Zoroastrianism or why it needed to be created. Many scholars believe the People of Iran and the ancient land practice religions that included worshiping many gods at once. This would've made the Zoroastrian faith a singular religious innovation. Prior to practice, within religion, many people worship multiple gods with each god symbolizing certain human traits or natural events. After the emergence of Zoroastrianism, we can then begin to see the emergence of other monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Not unlike these three religions, the Zoroastrian religious faith encourages it's participants to actively participate in religious rituals, practices and beliefs. The religion states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay. This participation is a central element Zoroaster’s concept that creatures were made to have free will.
Further still, Zoroastianism believes that good will always prevail over evil. The religion even believes that there will come a point when the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. During this final renovation of all creation, even the soles of the dead that were initially banished “to the darkness” or what we commonly known as hell we'll be reunited with Ahura Mazda (God) in return to life in an undead form. This belief that the world will end, is a common belief that many Christians hold to be Armageddon. How is it that these two religions, from so far away from each other within history, have such similar views on coming of the end of the world? The answer is simple. This shared belief as well as many others shared beliefs within the Abrahamic religion’s our simply because all three religious traditions our from relatively the same geographical location. It is here that we find knowledge is easy to spread when people are seeking to do business with other people in faraway lands. Zoroastrianism has been far overshadowed by religious practices of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. There is, however surprisingly, almost 2.6 million followers of the religion still in modern times. In modern Zoroastrian tradition, people practice in what is known as a “fire temple” which could be anything from a cave to a campfire within a village. In Zoroastrianism, in tradition Life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born the soul of an individual is still united with its guardian spirit which has existed since God created the universe. During life the guardian spirit accident guardian and protector of the person (what we know to be a Guardian angel in a Christian society). On the fourth day after death the soul is reunited with its guardian spirit in which the experiences of life in a material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world. For the most part, Zoroastrianism does not believe in reincarnation, at least not in the sense that Buddhism believes in reincarnation. Also just the same as an indigenous religion, Zoroastrian theology includes a duty to protect nature. Many scholars claim that this religious faith is the worlds first ecological religion. Opposing scholars have argued that since the protections are part of ritual they stem from theology rather than ecology
In Zoroastrianism, in tradition Life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born the soul of an individual is still united with its guardian spirit which has existed since God created the universe. During life the guardian spirit accident guardian and protector of the person (what we know to be a Guardian angel in a Christian society). On the fourth day after death the soul is reunited with its guardian spirit in which the experiences of life in a material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world. For the most part, Zoroastrianism does not believe in reincarnation, at least not in the sense that Buddhism believes in reincarnation. Also just the same as an indigenous religion, Zoroastrian theology includes a duty to protect nature. Many scholars claim that this religious faith is the worlds first ecological religion. Opposing scholars have argued that since the protections are part of ritual they stem from theology rather than ecology
Zoroastrianism a religion of positivity which supports the enlightenment of an individual, Community, as well as the community within nature. Why were people drawn to practice this religious faith? It is simply because the religious faith supports and encourages them as well as provides them hope but they Will one day be reunited with their god. It also encourages people to think about the future of their family in the future of the community by encouraging good thoughts good actions and good outwardly practices which would affect others.
Boyce, Mary (2007), Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London: Routledge,
Foltz, Richard (2008),“Is Zoroastrianism an Ecological Religion?”, Concordia University
Malandra, William W. (2005), "Zoroastrianism: Historical Review", Encyclopaedia Iranica, New York: iranicaonline.org
Moulton, James Hope (1917), The Treasure of the Magi: A Study of Modern Zoroastrianism, London: (repr. 1997)
A collection of poetry by author Sarah Schwartz with selected essays.
© 2017 Sarah Schwartz