Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi Zoroastrian parents in the British Protectorate of Sultanate of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania).
Mercury’s family practiced the Zoroastrian faith, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. Zoroastrianism had a profound influence on Mercury’s life and music career.
What is Zoroastrianism?
Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in ancient Iran around 3500 years ago.
Some key beliefs and practices of Zoroastrianism include:
- Belief in one supreme deity called Ahura Mazda
- Reverence for the elements of fire, water, earth and air
- Emphasis on moral choice between good and evil
- Ritual purification and prayer several times a day
- Use of temples called ‘Fire temples’ with eternal flames representing purity
Over the centuries, Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on other world religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, there are estimated to be around 190,000 Zoroastrians worldwide, with the majority living in India and Iran.
Origins of the Zoroastrian Faith
According to Zoroastrian tradition, the prophet Zoroaster lived in eastern Iran or nearby Central Asia. He had a divine vision of the one true God, Ahura Mazda, and began teaching a new faith in opposition to the polytheistic religion of the ancient Iranians.
Zoroaster taught that there was an eternal struggle between good and evil. He called on people to choose morality and righteousness through good thoughts, good words and good deeds.
Key texts of Zoroastrianism include the Gathas – hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself. Later scriptures are the Middle Persian Denkard and the Avesta – a collection of sacred texts.
Core Beliefs and Practices
Some of the core beliefs and practices of Zoroastrianism include:
- Monotheism – Belief in one supreme God called Ahura Mazda, or Wise Lord. He is completely good, eternal, and the creator of all other things.
- Dualism – Zoroastrians believe in two opposing forces – good and evil. This cosmic conflict influences human behavior and choices.
- Moral choice – Humans have free will to choose between good and evil. They should always strive for goodness, truth, justice and order.
- Afterlife – The human soul is eternal. The souls of the righteous go to heaven while evil souls are punished in hell.
- Purification – Ritual washing and maintaining purity of the body are important Zoroastrian practices. Fire and water symbolize purity.
- Fire temples – Zoroastrians worship in temples before a sacred fire, representing Ahura Mazda’s light. Some fires have reportedly been burning for centuries.
Zoroastrian Influence on Other Faiths
As one of the earliest monotheistic world religions, Zoroastrianism strongly influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam:
- Judaism – Zoroastrianism introduced key ideas like monotheism, messianism, heaven/hell and a final judgment day that were adopted by Judaism.
- Christianity – Christian concepts of God vs. Satan and angels vs. demons may derive from Zoroastrian dualism of good vs. evil.
- Islam – The Islamic idea of prophets born with divine messages reflects the role of Zoroaster. The concept of hell where sinners are punished also has origins in Zoroastrian eschatology.
So while Zoroastrianism has few adherents today, its core theology profoundly shaped the monotheistic religions that came after it.
Freddie Mercury’s Zoroastrian Upbringing
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents from the former British colony of India. His family practiced Zoroastrianism and Freddie Mercury was raised in the faith.
Mercury’s Zoroastrian Family Background
The Parsis are Zoroastrians who fled to India from Persia starting around the 8th century AD to escape religious persecution by Arab invaders. In India, the Parsis became a small but successful community under British colonial rule.
Mercury’s parents were Bomi and Jer Bulsara, who had roots in Gujarat, a center of Parsi culture in India. They had married in India in 1945 before moving to Zanzibar around 1947.
Mercury’s father Bomi worked as a cashier for the British Colonial Office in Zanzibar. The Bulsaras lived a comfortable middle-class life and were able to send Mercury to top private schools as a child.
Young Freddie’s Experiences with Zoroastrianism
In 1954, Mercury was sent to study at St. Peter’s English boarding school in Panchgani, India. At the age of 8, his parents had him formally initiated into the Zoroastrian faith in a navjote coming-of-age ceremony.
Even thousands of miles from home, Freddie remained connected to his family’s Zoroastrian heritage. He attended prayer meetings and fire temple services in Panchgani and Mumbai. School friends remember Mercury wearing the sacred girdle and undershirt called a sudreh and kusti.
After finishing school in India in 1963, Mercury reunited with his family who had fled the Zanzibar Revolution for Middlesex, England. There, the Bulsara family continued practicing their Zoroastrian faith and Freddie Mercury remained actively involved.
Later Life Connections to Zoroastrianism
Even after gaining fame as lead singer of Queen, Mercury maintained close ties to the Zoroastrian community. His family and Zoroastrian friends were an anchor during his highs and lows in life.
In 1975, Mercury celebrated his birthday at a London Zoroastrian center where his mother cooked a traditional Parsi meal. Well into the 1980s, he wore a Farohar pendant – an ancient Zoroastrian symbol of good thoughts, good words and good deeds.
When Mercury passed away in 1991, he was laid to rest in a Zoroastrian funeral ceremony in London attended by over 35 Parsi priests. His grave remains unmarked per Zoroastrian tradition.
Influences of Zoroastrianism on Mercury’s Life
While Freddie Mercury achieved worldwide fame, he stayed close to his Zoroastrian roots. His faith shaped both his personal identity and public persona.
Impact on His Name and Identity
- Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara, picking his stage name ‘Freddie’ while at boarding school in India.
- ‘Mercury’ was chosen as his surname both for its rock star sound and its echo of the messenger god Mercury in Roman mythology.
- But in his private life, close friends and family always called him by his given name, Farrokh – reaffirming his Persian heritage.
- Zoroastrian dualism between good and evil emerges in songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” with its dark drama of damnation contrasted with heavenly salvation.
- Mercury’s penchant for balancing extremes in life, from humility and generosity with excess and extravagance, reflects Zoroastrian values of moderation.
- The grandeur of Queen’s music videos and Mercury’s live performances are reminiscent of solemn Zoroastrian religious rituals.
Vocal Style and Lyricism
- Mercury’s ability to sing in a sweeping operatic tenor expresses the Zoroastrian view of music as divine art that uplifts the soul.
- Lyrics alluding to living passionately in the moment in songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now” resonate with the Zoroastrian emphasis on moral freedom.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” haunting existential questioning of one’s life path recalls Zoroastrian ideas of profound introspection.
So while Freddie Mercury reached unprecedented heights of fame and stardom, the quiet wisdom of his Zoroastrian upbringing remained close to his heart throughout his life.
Table: Timeline of Major Events in Freddie Mercury’s Zoroastrian Life
| Year | Event | |-|-|-|
| 1946 | Freddie Mercury born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents in Zanzibar | | 1954 | Sent to St. Peter’s boarding school in India and underwent Zoroastrian navjote initiation ceremony | | 1963 | Graduated from St. Mary’s boarding school; Family fled Zanzibar Revolution and emigrated to England | | 1970 | Joined the band Queen which would later achieve global fame | | 1975 | Celebrated birthday at London Zoroastrian center with Parsi food cooked by his mother | | 1980s | Often wore ancient Zoroastrian Farohar symbol pendant | | 1991 | Passed away and given traditional Zoroastrian funeral ceremonies in London |
Freddie Mercury on His Zoroastrian Faith
Although notoriously private, Freddie Mercury did make a few public statements about his Zoroastrian background and its importance in his life:
On His Parsi Heritage
In a 1972 radio interview, a young Mercury discussed his cultural roots:
“I was born in Zanzibar, which is now Tanzania, and I went to India at an early age which I think helped me a lot because I was born into a Parsee family.”
“Parsis are basically Persian refugees who landed in Gujarat, India, about 1000 or 12000 years ago. I’m very proud of being Parsi.”
On His Zoroastrian Initiation
In a magazine interview, Mercury described his navjote ceremony at age 8:
“Yes, I was circumcised at the time as all Parsi boys are. I wasn’t scared because I was so young. My parents were there, so it was a party really.”
“I had to say a prayer in the temple before I was allowed to wear the sudreh and kusti.”
“I’ve still got my kusti that I was given. I put it on whenever I visit a temple.”
On the Importance of His Faith
“My mother was very strong as far as religion was concerned…She instilled in me a lot of moral values, being a Zoroastrian.”
“Those early years in India and my Parsi background really had a huge influence on my personal life in later years.”
“In many ways, I do still identify as a Zoroastrian even if I don’t officially practice anymore.”
Freddie Mercury seldom publicly discussed his childhood religion. But it’s clear from his remarks that Zoroastrianism deeply shaped his principles, values, and identity.
In conclusion, Freddie Mercury’s little-explored Zoroastrian background was a key influence in his life.
Raised in a Parsi family whose roots stretched back centuries to Persia, Mercury was inducted into the ancient Zoroastrian faith as a child. Zoroastrianism’s theology of good versus evil and emphasis on moral choices impacted Mercury. He maintained his Zoroastrian identity and ties to his heritage even at the height of his fame with Queen.
When he passed away prematurely, Mercury chose to have traditional Zoroastrian death rites, reaffirming his lifelong connection to the religion into which he had been born. While the whole world knew him as a rock superstar, Mercury’s private Zoroastrian beliefs were an integral part of who he was.
FAQs about Freddie Mercury’s Religion
Freddie Mercury’s little-known Zoroastrian background often raises many questions. Here are answers to 5 of the most frequently asked questions:
Was Freddie Mercury Muslim?
No. Although Mercury was born in Zanzibar and spent time in India, he was not raised Muslim. His parents were Parsis – Zoroastrian immigrants from Persia (modern Iran) who had settled in India. Mercury was born into and practiced the Zoroastrian faith.
What religion were Freddie Mercury’s parents?
Both of Mercury’s parents – Bomi and Jer Bulsara – were Parsi Zoroastrians. They had married in India and emigrated to Zanzibar for work before later settling in England to escape political turmoil in Zanzibar.
When did Freddie Mercury convert to Zoroastrianism?
Mercury was born into a Zoroastrian family, so he never converted to the faith. At age 8 he underwent his navjote initiation ritual in India where he formally entered Zoroastrianism by receiving religious clothing and reciting prayers.
Did Freddie Mercury remain a Zoroastrian?
Yes, Mercury considered himself culturally Parsi and Zoroastrian his entire life. Though not a regular templegoer in his rock star years, he maintained ties to boyhood Zoroastrian friends. At his request, Mercury had a Zoroastrian funeral when he passed away.
What Zoroastrian symbols did Freddie Mercury wear?
Mercury often wore a pendant shaped like a Farohar – an ancient Zoroastrian symbol of good thoughts, words and deeds. He also continued to wear the sacred undershirt and girdle called sudreh and kusti that he first received at his childhood initiation.