Zoroastrianism is perhaps the world oldest continuing non-pantheistic religion. The founder of Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra, preached around 600 BCE a second monotheistic religious message that is recorded. Much of this is found in the central collection of religious texts, Avesta.
Inside the History of Religion the teachings of Zarathustra has been used in order to explain the development of the three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there has never been proven any clear examples of influence between the belief systems.
Zoroastrianism is also called Zarathustrism, Mazdaism and Parsism. Parsism is the term used today among the believers in India, the largest Zoroastrian society of today. Modern Zoroastrianism counts about 150,000 believers in India, 50,000 in Iran, and perhaps 50,000 in the rest of the world.
The cult of Zoroastrianism is focused on battling the evil, and the principal symbol in this battle is the sacred Fire. The most important place of worship is the temple of fire. Here a fire burns as a symbol of the holiness of Ahura Mazda.
The veneration of the spirits of the dead is also important in both cult and ethics, and in the orthodox religion, believers are strongly occupied with the hereafter. The believer must beware of demons, i.e. contamination, and this is central in their consciousness and daily acts. The right behaviour is marked with having the good in mind with your thoughts, your sayings and your acts.
There are 5 daily prayers, and ablutions are performed in front of all of these. The believer becomes religiously active from the age of 7. When a believer dies, his body brought up on the Tower of Silence, where the corps shall be eaten by vultures, so that neither fire nor earth becomes contaminated. But there are graveyards for the believers in Iran, but these represent a part of the cult that is influenced by the dominating religion of the region, Islam.
Zoroastrianism is to some extent a monotheistic religion, in the sense that there is a supreme god, Ahura Mazda, that is central in all cult. Yet, the existence of lesser divine beings dilute this image. Even the the power that opposes Ahura Mazda, the evil Ahriman is a challenge to the monotheism of Zoroastrianism, since Ahriman to a large extent is an important force in cosmos.
To the "pantheon" of Zoroastrianism (the "pantheon" is one of great differences, where no power can compare to Ahura Mazda), belong the jazatas. The jazatas are elements that are venerable, like the sun, the moon, Haoma, as well as Mithra and the Amesha Spentas.
The cosmology of Zoroastrianism is one of dividing time into three periods. In the first of these, he original one, everything was perfect. In the second, the present one, evil is active. In the third and last, perfect goodness will be restored.
Human beings can through the help of Ahura Mazda reach the stage of total liberation from the worldly existence. In such a situation life becomes healthy, filled with power and dominated by bliss. And more, the influence of the evil is extinguished. When human beings reach such a stage the divine order has total influence on the world.
But the teachings of Zarathustra was more than just spiritual. He showed great interest in increased and bettered exploitation of the earth: forests should be opened, land cultivated, and vermin exterminated.
The believers marry inside the family, occasionally between relatives as close as brother and sister.
(Around 600 BCE) Iranian prophet, founder of the religion Zoroastrianism. He is in many contexts called Zoroaster.
There are several conflicting stories about Zarahustra, and many of these are to young to be historically acceptable. In short, we do not have an ideal starting point in order to understand who Zarathustra was, where and when he lived.
More serious of course is the fact that researchers have big problems finding out how much of the teachings and theology of Zoroastrianism that is from Zarathustra himself.
There is good reason to believe that Zarathustra lived and worked in Eastern Iran, considering the language used in the gathas, religious texts. We learn that Zarahustra was of the lineage of Spitama. He worked as a sacrifice priest but held a low social status.
Zarathustra's teachings can be seen in connection with old Iranian cult of sacrifice, where he fought the ancient sacrifice of murder, where life comes from the repetition of the cosmogonic murder. Zarathustra did not go against the institution in itself, but he shaked his time with opposing the traditional intentions with the sacrifice.
AVESTA The collections of scared texts in Zoroastrianism.
For a long time the texts of Avesta was orally transmitted, and came not to be written down before 6th century BCE, which is about 1,000 years after they first started to be used. The origin of the term Avesta is unclear, but could probably be translated with 'foundation' or 'texts of praising'.
The original Avesta was made up of 21 sections, nasks. Only one nask is intact to the full extent — the Vendidad.
Only parts of the content of the original Avesta has survived into modern times, and most of the information we have now possess comes from the religious historical work of Denkart of the 9th century.
The parts of Avesta which still exists are organized as 5 groups of texts:
Jasna. To this group belong the gathas. The Jasna is made up of 72 chapters, and is the most important text collection for the religious rituals. In the Jasnas all divine powers are called, and the technique on how to prepare the Haoma is explained.
Visprat. Calling of all divine powers.
Vendidad -- Vendidad is the only part of the Avesta, the collection of holy texts in Zoroastrianism, that is fully preserved to our time.
The Vendidad is marked by repetitious phrases, formulas, and intricate regulations on purity. The Vendidad includes the long night-office ritual in Zoroastrianism, which shall protect against demons, the inhabitants of darkness.
This ritual is only performed by the priests, and the laity only participates with covering of the costs, even if they are allowed to attend. This ritual is performed from midnight until about 07.00. The entire sacred text of Vendidad is read during this ritual. Vendidad is often used as a synonym for the night-office.
Yasht -- 21 Zoroastrian hymns to individual divine beings that are eligible for veneration, like Mithra, Bahram and Haoma. Many of the laity learns the Yasht by heart.
In the Yasht there are descriptions on how to obtain certain favours, as well as instructions on how a believer can ask for help from the divine powers.
Khorde Avesta. A book used principally by the laity, containing prayers and formulas of blessings.
The evil power in the Avesta, the collection of religious writings in Zoroastrianism.
Ahriman is ethymologically the Middle Persian form of Angra Mainyu, one of the two twin-spirits created by Ahura Mazda. Ahriman chose evil consciously, and by this act he created death. The central subject of Zoroastrian teaching and theology is the constant ongoing battle between Ahriman and Ahura Mazda.
AHURA MAZDA The supreme god in Zoroastrianism.
While there are historical sources indicating that Ahura Mazda comes from indo-iranian religions, where there were two categories of gods, ahuras and daivas, Ahura Mazda only appears in connection with Zoroastrianism, the religion that has its origins in the preaching of Zarathustra, around 600 BCE.
Ahura Mazda is not the only god in the universe of Zoroastrianism, and he is not the sole creator of the world. Ahura Mazda is the father of two twin spirits, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu. The former is the holy spirit, the latter the destructive one and is also known as Ahriman. It appears that Ahura Mazda came to be identified with Spenta Mainyu.
The conceptions of Ahura Mazda changed dramatically over time, probably with an orientation away from the dualism of early Zoroastrianism, into monotheism. It was relatively soon considered that Ahura Mazda had created heaven and earth, and that he was the creator of social structures, protector of kings and all righteous people.
The other deities belonged to the same pantheon from where it is believed that Zarathustra once had taken Ahura Mazda and defined him into an elevated position. These other deities were now considered to be the creation of Ahura Mazda. This is to some extent a monotheistic view, where exisitence is only credited to one god only. Yet the world is administered through the powers of several other gods.
A plant (the twigs are being used) that is used in Zoroastrianism to reach intoxication, and through this the divine power, that is called the same: Haoma.
Haoma was by Zarathustra redefined as the power that renews life, but in spiritual terms. Haoma is to a large extent a divine power with a proper existence, something we see particularly in older Iranian religions. Haoma can punish people who do not honour him, with sterility. For those who do honour him, Haoma offers healing remedies.
Eternal divine beings in Zoroastrianism, entities that bring blessings and comfort.
The Amesha Spantas are in the Avesta presented as aspects of Ahura Mazda. With each of their functions, the Amesha Spentas constitute Ahura Mazda to his full.
GATHA Part of the Avesta, which is believed to be the work of Zarathustra himself. The gathas contain meditations, sermons, and exhortations. The gathas are recognized for their more archaic language than what is found in the Avesta.
Zarathustra mentions only one out of the many gods in the Iranian area of those days, Ahura Mazda. But the gathas are all the way through dealing with divine beings and their relationsship to Ahura Mazda. Moreover, they contain hymns to the highest lord as well as to the other divine beings. The content is made up of questions and demands, and Zarathustra tries to enter a dialogue to receive enlightenment and instructions, as well as benefits to help him in his battle with his enemies.
The four most common gathas are Ahunavar, Airyema ishyou, Ashem vohu, and Yenhe hatam. These are difficult to translate, and even the believers have only vague ideas about the exact content. It is said that Ahura Mazda pronounced the Ahunavar, which resulted in 3,000 years of dominance over the evil spirits. It is this gatha that Zarathustra also used to protect himself from the evil forces.