Being one of the oldest religions, Zoroastrianism was believed to have been founded over 3000 years ago in Iran by the Prophet Zoroaster and at one stage was arguably the strongest religion to exist. However, modern religions have far surpassed all ancient religions with recent reports indicating that followers of Zoroastrianism number fewer than 200,000. A sad state of affairs if you take a strong interest in the strength and survivability of ancient religions.
As with most monotheistic ancient religions, they each believe that their one true God created the world and with Zoroastrianism, the God Ahura Mazda, translating as ‘Wise Lord’, was their creator. Interestingly, the founder Zoroaster was born into a culture that worshipped polytheism (more than one god), living under a religion that was very similar to the grass root form of Hinduism. He rejected the religion he was brought up with and instead witnessed a divine vision of God during a purification rite, changing his view and opening up his eyes to a new world where only one god ruled.
These beliefs took time to take hold and at first followers were rather rare, however in time they did come. Perhaps it was due to the belief of Dualism, that good and evil existed? This was a common theme amongst ancient religions however there were some that renounced evil and swore that its existence was preposterous. Some accepted dualism, however in time there became a divide as to whether it existed in Cosmic or Moral form, Cosmic dualism being the belief of opposing forces in the universe as a whole and Moral Duality believing that good and evil only existed in the mind. Whether Duality existed or not, Zoroastrianism mainly centered around ‘good’ through thoughts, words and deeds, basing their lives on the following matra:
‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds’
Naturally their focus is on family and the community around them with nearly all worship taking place in the family home. From the age of seven, the children are given a sacred shirt and a sacred piece of cord, wrapping the cord around the shirt three times, mirroring the 3 mantras and symbolizing their journey into the Zoroastrian faith. Through adulthood, all members strive to improve their surroundings through hard work and donations to charities, pushing for educational excellence and social changes for the better – a true credit to modern society where we too often than not see destruction and social collapse.
It is thought that the religion’s success is partly due to the way in which worship and rituals are carried out, neither of which being forced on their members as to how each of these are carrried out. Traditionally, prayers are carried out throughout the day with a washing ritual occurring beforehand, however this is not mandatory, it is totally up to the individual but it is more common than not, becoming the epicenter of their praying process.
Marriage rituals hold a similar structure to traditional modern ways and beliefs, for instance upon marriage a contract is signed, much like the modern marriage certificate. A scarf is held over the couple’s hands, again this is still seen in modern ceremonies, however the Zoroastrian way of the rubbing together of crystallized sugar cones is not. Then follows feasts and celebrations which last much longer than modern beliefs, with the ancient way lasting several days.
Death rituals on the other hand do not bear as much of a likeness, with their dead being laid on a ‘Tower of Silence’ so as to be fully exposed to the sun’s rays and eaten by birds, with the now impure body able to be destroyed. This is due to their belief that the body has now been taken by Angra Mainyu, who is considered to be evil in their religion, and so contaminating the four elements is considered sacrilege. Western cultures often opt for cremation if the ancient burial method is not ideal.