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An Introduction to Zoroastrianism: History and Practices

Zoroastrianism image

The world can feel like a chaotic and scary place. People yearn for something greater than the mundane concerns of daily life.

They seek answers to the big questions about why we’re here, where we’re going, and what it all means.

Whether you’ve heard whispers about Zoroastrianism or are completely in the dark about this ancient faith, you might be wondering:

What is Zoroastrianism?

Where did Zoroastrianism come from?

These questions—and more—will be answered in this guide on Zoroastrianism.

What is Zoroastrianism?

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest religions.

The name comes from Zoroaster, believed to be the religion’s founder.

Zoroastrianism was once the state religion in Persia.

Today, there are approximately 100,000 Zoroastrians worldwide.

Practitioners of Zoroastrianism, or Zoroastrians, believe in one god, Ahura Mazda.

The name means “Wise Lord,”

  • Ahura: Sky
  • Mazdah: Light

Each has its own meaning.

Ahura Mazda is also considered the sun god.

Zoroastrianism is a polytheistic religion.

It is characterized by the dualism of good and evil, but the triumph and supremacy of good is fixed.

We do not know exactly what Zoroaster's teachings were today, as the scripture Avesta is extremely difficult to understand.

The Zoroastrian Faith

The central belief of Zoroastrianism is that there exists a battle between two opposing powers.

One is represented by Spunta Manyu, who heads the supreme deity Ahura Mazda.

The other is represented by the evil spirit called Anla Manyu.

When both are aware of each other's presence,

  • Ahura Mazda: life/truth
  • Anla Manyu: death/falsehood

They chose them each.

Afra Mazda image

After all, the battle is inevitable...

Ahura Mazda realized it and created the battlefield and the world.

Meanwhile, Anla Manyu attacked the following:

  • Turn the earth into desert
  • Turn the oceans into salt water
  • Wither plants
  • Kill humans and animals
  • Pollute fire

However, through his tireless efforts, Ahura Mazda transformed the decay, evil, pollution, and other evils spread by Anra Manyu into something good.

Doctrines of Zoroastrianism

The most important ritual in Zoroastrianism is the Rite of Gratitude.

This ceremony is believed to bring peace and order to the material and spiritual worlds.

Zoroastrians express their gratitude for being alive by participating in this rite, and they also offer thanksgiving in the ritual.

The rite of initiation into Zoroastrianism takes place between the ages of 7 and 12.

Zoroastrian worship takes place in a place of worship called the "Temple of Fire".

The temple is off-limits to non-believers.

Before entering the place of worship, believers purify their hands and faces and perform a prayer ceremony.

They then remove their footwear, enter the building, and proceed to the sacred fire, where they offer worship to the sacred fire by applying its ashes to their faces.

The Zoroastrian funeral is a bird or wind burial, which is rare today.

In this type of burial, the body is not buried, but left in a field or other place where it is left to fade away or to be eaten by birds or other natural causes.

Sometimes facilities are set up for this purpose.

The Zoroastrian scripture "Avesta" taught that the greatest virtue was a consanguine marriage in which one communes with one's parents, children, and siblings.

In ancient Persia, which was under the influence of Zoroastrianism, consanguineous marriages between parents, children, and siblings were performed without distinction of class, such as royalty, monks, and commoners.

Who is Zoroaster?

There are many unknowns about Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, and the establishment of Zoroastrianism.

There are various theories as to where Zoroaster was born and the following theories as to when he was active.

  • Before 1,000 B.C.
  • 1,000 B.C. to 6th century B.C.

He reformed proto-Iranian polytheism and founded a new religion (proto-Zoroastrianism) based on dualism and eschatology with added ethical elements.

Once born into a priestly family, Zoroaster began his wanderings at the age of 20.

He claimed to be a messenger of the revelation of the one God, Ahura Mazda.

Zoroaster image

This world is a battleground between good and evil.

This is how he preached to the people.

It is said that Zoroaster was buried in ancient Balkh in northern Afghanistan, which is believed to be the birthplace of Zoroastrianism.

This place has been considered sacred by Zoroastrians.