Friday, June 10, 2011

Zoroastrianism (No relation to the Legend of Zorro)



There are many things in life that I tend to like simply because they have incredibly cool names. The Zoroastrianism is one of them. I first learned about this religion when I took a Comparative Religions class in high school and found it fascinating. I was then reintroduced to it when I took classes that had to do with the Near East and their religions. So for all of you out there who have no clue what I’m talking about (or simply want to learn more) here is Zoroastrianism in a nut shell.
So first you should know that Zoroastrianism is extremely old. It was estimated to be started around 1500 BCE by Zarathushtra and it is based on the Avesta, ancient scriptures. It is also a monotheistic religion, which back then was something that was rare (besides of course Judaism). Zoroastrianism started as a simply spiritual expression of a group of people in Persia, (which is modern day Iran) who called themselves people of righteousness (asha). These people had enemies, a polytheist majority which they referred to as the People of the Lie (druj).
The Avesta was destroyed by Alexander the Great and was reportedly written by Zarathushtra himself. In the 13th century part of the Avestra were found and pieced back together to be read. It was written in old Iranian, and contains four main parts. The Yansa which is the oldest component containing mostly songs, the Vispred, the Yashts (hymns of praise) and the Videvdat which is a collection of purification rituals.
The image above is the symbol of Zoroastrianism called the Faravahar. It depicts a man emerging from a disk flanked by wings spread wide. It has been commonly accepted as the symbol of Zoroastrianism since the nineteenth century, when the term “Faravahar” was first applied to it. However, the Zoroastrians have been using the image for more than 2000 years. Some non-Zoroastrian Persians (Iranians) also use the symbol as a representation of national pride (About.com). Some of you Whedon fanatics (like me) might recognize that this symbol was used in the show Angel when "the Beast" was trying to blot out the sun.
In its origins, Zoroastrianism began with a single divine spirit, Ahura Mazdah who created the heavens and the earth. Gradually, six deities were named as aspects of Ahura Mazdah which were names the Amesha Spentas. As time went on, these aspects of the single god were personified in many texts, (somewhat like archangels). Like many other religions, especially Native American ones, these gods all had opposing evil spirits who they constantly fought. The leader of these evil spirits was known as Ahriman. They believe we exist in the third of four stages of existence, and that when the fourth stage arrives, Ahura Mazdah will defeat Ahriman and good will prevail.
As mentioned before the Zoroastrians believed in opposing sides, this is known as dualism and there are two kinds: Moral and Cosmic. Cosmic dualism Cosmic dualism refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe. It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God's equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God's creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this (BBC Religions).
Like I’ve mentioned in my previous post about the Native American Religions, cosmic dualism has these notions life and death, day and night, good and evil. These notions cannot exist without one another. Balance has to be maintained by these like many other religions also believe.
Moral dualism refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of mankind itself rather than in the deities. Man has the ability to choose whether he wants to go down the path of good or evil. The path of Evil leads to misery and ultimately Hell. The path of good leads to peace and everlasting happiness in Heaven (not unlike Christianity). Like with cosmic dualism, we have the opposing notions but with an emphasis on choice. This choice is crucial as it determines whether we are the helper of Ahura Mazda or the helper of Angra Mainyu. When all of mankind chooses the former over the latter, evil will finally be defeated and Paradise on earth will be realized. Modern day Zoroastrianism has a very positive outlook unlike its ancient followers. It teaches that Mankind is ultimately good and that this goodness will finally triumph over evil (BBC Religions).
Zoroastrianism had some influence on Judaism, and consequently, Christianity over the years. It was became the official religion in Persia until 650 CE when Islamic Arabs invaded Persia and many of the Zoroastrian followers fled to India. An estimated 140,000 people still practice Zoroastrianism today. Most of its followers are in India, but several remain in Iran, and even some have spread across to North America.
Now obviously that is a very summed up look at Zoroastrianism as a whole, but hopefully you get the picture. It is easy to see parallels to other religions and practices (I know shocker, me an anthropologist comparing cultural beliefs) simply because it was around before most religions and like mentioned above, influenced many religious beliefs. So what started out as just a really cool sounding religion to me, opened up my eyes to see just how similar most religions are at their core.

References:
About.com
BBC Religions
Ancient Mythologies (ancientmythologies.com)

3 comments:

Cora said...

Thanks for the information! I've been curious about this religion since I ran across it over 10 years ago =)

{ T G L } said...

I also find Zoroastrianism really fascinating, especially so because it helps me understand some of the historical influences on my Judaism. The community is very small and I really hope that they can survive, grow and prosper. There are some uniquely modern Zoroastrian perspectives being developed in the USA. I also like their focus on 'good deeds, good words and good thoughts'. Like Judaism, there is a focus on living ethically in the Here and Now.

I am not quite sure if you could term historical Zoroastrianism monotheistic though, since their dualism was so central to their faith. But of course, they are henotheist, meaning that they chose willingly to serve the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda) exclusively.

Anyway, thanks for an interesting post on a little-known faith community!

Blessings,
This Good Life

The Writing Revolutionary said...

Since I am a Whedon fan, I don't remember noticing the symbol when the Beast was trying to block out the sun.

Also, this post was extremely enlightening. Thank you for the post!

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