Thursday, September 27, 2007

Zoroastrianism / Mazdaism Ahura Mazda Zarathustra (Zoroaster) aša (asha) / arta
Overview of the Angels Amesha Spentas · Yazatas Ahuras · Daevas Angra Mainyu
Avesta · Gathas Vendidad The Ahuna Vairya Invocation Fire TemplesZoroastrians Dēnkard · Bundahišn Book of Arda Viraf Book of Jamasp Story of Sanjan Zurvanism Calendar · Festivals Marriage Eschatology Zoroastrians in Iran Parsis · Iranis • • • Persecution of Zoroastrians
Index of Related Articles
Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht). Mazdaism is the religion that acknowledges the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, proclaimed by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all (God). Mazdaism is also widely known under its ancient Iranian name Mazdayasna, meaning "the worship of wisdom".
As demonstrated by Zoroastrian creed and articles of faith, the two terms are effectively synonymous. In a declaration of the creed — the Fravarānē — the adherent states: "…I profess myself a devotee of Mazda, a follower of Zarathustra." (Yasna 12.2, 12.8)
Some scholars have suggested that Zoroastrianism was where the first prophet of a monotheistic faith arose with its largest centers in India and Iran. For details, see adherents below.


There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator and to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
Ahura Mazda's creation - evident as asha, truth and order - is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict (see #3 below).
Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster's concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end (cf: Zoroastrian eschatology). In the final renovation, all of creation - even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to "darkness" - will be (re)united in God.
In Zoroastrian tradition, the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu, the "Destructive Principle", while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda's Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or "Bounteous Principle" of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that Ahura Mazda is eminent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made his ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated seven "sparks", the Amesha Spentas, "Bounteous Immortals" that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each "Worthy of Worship" and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of Creation. Basic beliefs
Although older (see Zoroaster for a date), Zoroastrianism only enters recorded history in the mid-5th century BCE. Herodotus's The Histories (completed c. 440 BCE) includes a description of Greater Iranian society with what may be recognizably Zoroastrian features, including exposure of the dead. (See Towers of Silence).
Perhaps more importantly, The Histories is a primary source of information on the early period of the Achaemenid era (648330 BCE), in particular with respect to the role of the Magi. According to Herodotus i.101, the "Magi" were the sixth tribe of the Medians (until the unification of the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, all Iranians were referred to as Mede or Mada by the peoples of the Ancient World), who appear to have been the priestly caste of the Mesopotamian-influenced branch of Zoroastrianism today known as "Zurvanism", and who wielded considerable influence at the courts of the Median emperors.
Following the unification of the Median and Persian empires in 550 BCE, Cyrus II and later his son Cambyses II curtailed the powers of the "Magi" after these had attempted to seed dissent following their loss of influence. In 522 BCE, the "Magi" revolted and set up a rival claimant to the throne. The usurper, pretending to be Cyrus' younger son Smerdis, took power shortly thereafter. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Persians, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).
According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown by Darius I in 521 BCE. The "Magi", though persecuted, continued to exist, and a year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (named Gaumata), had a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempt a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.
Whether Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian is subject to debate. It did however influence him to the extent that it became the non-imposing religion of his empire, and its beliefs would later allow Cyrus to free the Jews from captivity (and allow them to return to Judea) when the emperor took Babylon in 539 BCE. Whether Darius I, though certainly a devotee of Ahura Mazda (as attested to several times in the Behistun inscription), was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since a devotion to Ahura Mazda was (at the time) not necessarily an indication of an adherence to Zoroaster's teaching.
Darius I and later Achaemenid emperors, though acknowledging their devotion to Ahura Mazda in inscriptions, appear to have permitted religions to coexist. Nonetheless, it was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism gained momentum, and a number of the Zoroastrian texts (that today are part of the greater compendium of the Avesta) have been attributed to that period. It was also during the (later) Achaemenid era that many of the divinities and divine concepts of proto-Indo-Iranian religion(s) were incorporated in Zoroastrianism, in particular, those to whom the days of the month of the Zoroastrian calendar are dedicated. That religious calendar, which is still in use today, is itself (to some extent) an Achaemenid-era development. Those divinities, the yazatas, are present-day Zoroastrianism's angels. (Dhalla, 1938).
Almost nothing is known of the status of Zoroastrianism under the Seleucids and Parthians who ruled over Persia following Alexander the Great's invasion in 330 BCE. According to later Zoroastrian legend (Denkard, Book of Arda Viraf), many of the Zoroastrian sacred texts were lost when Alexander's troops destroyed the royal library at Persepolis subsequent to the taking of the city. Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca historia (completed c. 60 BCE), which is to a great extent an encapsulation of earlier works, appears to substantiate Zoroastrian legend (Diod. 17.72.2–17.72.6). According to one archaeological examination, the ruins of the palace of Xerxes bear traces of having been subjected to fire (Stolze, 1882). Whether a vast collection of (semi-)religious texts "written on parchment in gold ink" as suggested by the Denkard actually existed remains a matter of speculation, but is in all likelihood untrue. Given that many of the Denkards statements-as-fact have since been established as untrue, among scholars, the tale of the library is widely accepted to be a fiction. (Kellens, 2002)
When the Sassanid dynasty came into power in 228 CE, they aggressively promoted the Zurvanite form of Zoroastrianism and in some cases persecuted Christians and Manichaeans. When the Sassanids captured territory, they often built fire temples there to promote their religion. The Sassanids were suspicious of Christians not least because of their perceived ties to the Christian Roman Empire. Thus, those Christians loyal to the Patriarchate of Babylon — which had broken with Roman Christianity when the latter condemned Nestorianism — were tolerated and even sometimes favored by the Sassanids. Nestorians lived in large numbers in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan during this period.
A form of Zoroastrianism was apparently also the chief religion of pre-Christian Caucasus region, or at least was prominent there. During periods of Sassanid suzerainty over the Caucasus, the Sassanids made attempts to promote the religion there as well.
Well before the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Remains of Zoroastrian temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang, and according to some scholars,
Many Zoroastrians fled, among them several groups who eventually migrated to the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. According to the Qissa-i Sanjan "Story of Sanjan", the only existing account of the early years of Zoroastrian refugees in India, the immigrants originated from (greater) Khorasan. The descendants of those and other settlers, who are today known as the Parsis, founded the Indian cities of Sanjan and Navsari, which are said to have been named after the cities of their origin: Sanjan (near Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan) and the eponymous Sari (in modern Mazandaran, Iran). (Kotwal, 2004)
In the centuries following the fall of the Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrianism began to gradually return to the form it had had under the Achaemenids, and no evidence of what is today called the "Zurvan Heresy" exists beyond the 10th century CE. (Boyce, 2002) Ironically, it was Zurvanism and Zurvan-influenced texts that first reached the west, leading to the supposition that Zoroastrianism was a religion with two deities: Zurvan and Ahura Mazda (the latter being opposed by Angra Mainyu).
Today, the number of Zoroastrians is significantly lower than it once was, but the religion is alive. Over the centuries, adherents of the faith have dispersed in all directions, but greater concentrations of Zoroastrians may still be found on the Indian subcontinent and in Iran.


Religious texts

Main article: Avesta Scripture
The texts of the Avesta are complemented by several secondary works of religious or semi-religious nature, which although not sacred and not used as scripture, have a significant influence on Zoroastrian doctrine. They are all of a much later date - in general from between the 9th and 12th centuries - with the youngest treatises dating to the 17th century. Some of these works quote passages that are believed to be from lost sections of the Avesta.
The most important of these secondary texts (of which there some 60 in all) are:
The use of the expression Zend-Avesta to refer to the Avesta, or the use of Zend as the name of a language or script, are relatively recent and popular mistakes. The word Zend or Zand, meaning "commentary, translation", refers to supplementaries in Middle Persian not intended for use as theological texts by themselves but for religious instruction of the (by then) non-Avestan-speaking public. In contrast, the texts of the Avesta proper remained sacrosanct and continued to be recited in Avestan - which was considered a sacred language.
In a general sense, all the secondary texts mentioned above are also included in the Zend rubric since they too often include commentaries on the Avesta and on the religion.

The Dēnkard "Acts of Religion" in Middle Persian
The Bundahishn "Primordial Creation" in Middle Persian
The Mēnog-ī Khirad "Spirit of Wisdom" in Middle Persian
The Arda Viraf Nāmag "Book of Arda Viraf" in Middle Persian
The Sad Dar "Hundred Doors or Chapters" in Modern Persian
The Rivayats or traditional treatises in Middle and Modern Persian Other texts
Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism and thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.
Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta 'Holy Words'. Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, religious duty, but which can also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue. The metaphor of the 'path' of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the 'Good/Holy Path', and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the 'Pathfinder'.
Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan - inherent to Ahura Mazda - and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more subtle and nuanced, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or 'uncreation', evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply 'the lie' (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in His role as the one uncreated Creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of 'druj' which is 'nothing', anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the "supreme benevolent providence" (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1)
In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (humans and animals both) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction. Throughout the Gathas, Zoroaster emphasizes deeds and actions; and accordingly asceticism is frowned upon in Zoroastrianism. In later Zoroastrianism, this was explained as fleeing from the experiences of life, which was the very purpose that the urvan (most commonly translated as the 'soul') was sent into the mortal world to collect. The avoidance of any aspect of life, which includes the avoidance of the pleasures of life, is a shirking of the responsibility and duty to oneself, one's urvan, and one's family and social obligations.
Thus, central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose between the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, or to give up this duty and so facilitate the work of druj. Similarly, predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life.
In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin. Zoroastrian morality is then to be summed up in the simple phrase, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta in Avestan), for it is through these that asha is maintained and druj is kept in check.
Through accumulation, several other beliefs were introduced to the religion, that in some instances supersede those expressed in the Gathas. In the late 19th century, the moral and immoral forces came to be represented by Spenta Mainyu and its Satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda respectively. Although the names are old, this opposition is a modern western-influenced development popularized by Martin Haug in the 1880s, and was in effect a realignment of the precepts of Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), which had invented a third deity, Zurvan, in order to explain a mention of twinship (Yasna 30.3) between the moral and immoral. Although Zurvanism had died out by the 10th century, the critical question of the "twin brothers" mentioned in Yasna 30.3 remained, and Haug's explanation provided a convenient defence against Christian missionaries who disparaged the Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) for their 'dualism'. Haug's concept was subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, thus corroborating Haug's theory and the idea became so popular that it is now almost universally accepted as doctrine.
Achaemenid era (648–330 BCE) Zoroastrianism developed the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, personal and final judgement, all of which are only alluded to in the Gathas. Yasna 19 (which has only survived in a Sassanid era (226–650 CE) Zend commentary on the Ahuna Vairya invocation), prescribes a Path to Judgement known as the Chinvat Peretum or Chinvat bridge (cf: As-Sirāt in Islam), which all souls had to cross, and judgement (over thoughts, words, deeds performed during a lifetime) was passed as they were doing so. However, the Zoroastrian personal judgement is not final. At the end of time, when evil is finally defeated, all souls will be ultimately reunited with their Fravashi. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a universalist religion with respect to salvation.
In addition, and strongly influenced by Babylonian and Akkadian practices, the Achaemenids popularized shrines and temples, hitherto alien forms of worship. In the wake of Achaemenid expansion, shrines were constructed throughout the empire and particularly influenced the role of Mithra, Aredvi Sura Anahita, Verethregna and Tishtrya, all of which, in addition to their original (proto-)Indo-Iranian functions, now also received Perso-Babylonian functions.
Although the worship of images would eventually fall out of favour (and be replaced by the iconoclastic fire temples), the lasting legacy of the Achaemenids was a vast, complex hierarchy of Yazatas (modern Zoroastrianism's Angels) that were now not just evident in the religion, but firmly established, not least because the divinities received dedications in the Zoroastrian calendar, thus ensuring that they were frequently invoked. Additionally, the Amesha Spenta, the six originally abstract terms that were regarded as direct emanations or aspects or 'divine sparks' of Ahura Mazda, came to be personified as an archangel retinue.
Some Zoroastrians believe in the future coming of a Messiah-like figure known as the Peshotan. This too is a modern syncretic development, and is frowned upon by more conservative Zoroastrians.

Principal beliefs
Some major modern Zoroastrian precepts:

Equalism: Equality of all, irrespective of gender, race, or religion. However, in Bundahishn it is told that Negroes are of demonic origin and that they were created by the evil Zohak. (Bundahishn, XIVB.)
Respect and kindness towards all living things. Condemnation of the oppression of human beings, cruelty against animals and sacrifice of animals.
Environmentalism: Nature is central to the practice of Zoroastrianism and many important Zoroastrian annual festivals are in celebration of nature: new year on the first day of spring, the water festival in summer, the autumn festival at the end of the season, and the mid-winter fire festival.
Hard work and charity: Laziness and sloth are frowned upon. Zoroastrians are encouraged to part with a little of what would otherwise be their own.
Loyalty and faithfulness to "family, settlement, tribe, and countries." Zoroastrian precepts

The symbol of fire: The energy of the creator is represented in Zoroastrianism by fire and the sun which are both enduring, radiant, pure and life sustaining. Zoroastrians usually pray in front of some form of fire (or any source of light). (It is important to note that fire is not worshipped by Zoroastrians, but is used simply as symbol and a point of focus, much like the crucifix in Christianity. For details, see Fire temple)
Proselytizing and conversion: Parsi Zoroastrians do not proselytize. In recent years, however, Zoroastrian communities in both Iran, Europe and the Americas have been more tolerant towards conversion. While this move has not been supported officially by the priesthood in Mumbai, India, it has been endorsed by the Council of Mobeds in Tehran.
Inter-faith marriages: As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement of the religion itself. Some members of the Indian Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) contend that a child must have a Parsi father to be eligible for introduction into the faith, but this assertion is considered by most to be a violation of the Zoroastrian tenets of gender equality, and may be a remnant of an old legal definition (since overruled) of Parsi. However, to this day, some priests will not perform the Navjote ceremony - i.e. the rites of admission into the religion - for children of mixed-marriages, irrespective of which parent is a non-Parsi. This issue is a matter of great debate within the Parsi community, but with the increasingly global nature of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, such opinions are less vociferous than they previously were.
Death and burial: Religious rituals related to death are all concerned with the person's soul and not the body. Zoroastrians believe that on the fourth day after death, the human soul leaves the body and the body remains as an empty shell. Traditionally, Zoroastrians disposed of their dead by leaving them atop open-topped enclosures, called Towers of Silence, or Dokhmas. Vultures and the weather would clean the flesh off the bones, which were then placed into an ossuary at the center of the Tower. Fire and Earth were considered too sacred for the dead to be placed in them. While this practice is continued in India by some Parsis, it had ended by the beginning of the twentieth century in Iran. In India, burial and cremation are becoming increasingly popular alternatives. Other distinguishing characteristics
Small Zoroastrian communities are found in India, Pakistan, Iran, as well as major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora. Zoroastrian communities comprise two main groups of people: those of Indian Zoroastrian background, who are known as Parsis (or Parsees), and those of Iranian background.

Main article: Zoroastrians in Iran In Iran
Main article: Parsis, the Zoroastrians of the Indian subcontinent.
Subsequent to the fall of the Persian Empire, after which Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam, many Zoroastrians fled to other regions in the hope of preserving their religious tradition. Among them were several groups who migrated to Gujarat, on the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. The descendants of those refugees are today known as the Parsis.
In contrast to their co-religionists elsewhere, in India the Zoroastrians enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from other religious communities. From the 19th century onward, the Parsis gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British colonialism which favored certain minorities. As such, Parsis are generally more affluent than other Indians and are stereotypically viewed as among the most Anglicised and "Westernised" of Indian minority groups. They have also played an instrumental role in the economic development of the country over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.

In South Asia
There is some interest among Iranians, as well as people in various Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in their ancient Zoroastrian heritage; some people in these countries take notice of their Zoroastrian past. In fact, UNESCO (at the instigation of the government of Tajikistan) declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture," with special events throughout the world.

In Central Asia
In 1996, the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated to be "at most 200,000" (Melton, 1996:837). India's 2001 Census found 69,601 Parsi Zoroastrians. In Pakistan they number 5000, mostly living in Karachi. North America is thought to be home to 18,000–25,000 Zoroastrians of both South Asian and Iranian background. Iran's figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely; the last census (1974) before the revolution of 1979 revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians.
Few (if any) adherents remain in the Central Asian regions that were once considered the traditional stronghold of Zoroastrianism, i.e. Bactria (see also Balkh) which is in Northern Afghanistan, Sogdiana, Margiana, and other areas closest to Zoroaster's homeland.
In the Indian census of 2001, the Parsis numbered 69,601, representing approximately 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay). Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only about 23,000 or 0.002% of the total population of India. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labelled a 'tribe'.
Despite the above evidence to the contrary, the "World Christian Encyclopedia" claims Zoroastrianism to be the fastest growing religion in the world, at 2.68% over 1990–2000.

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