What Religion is Zoroastrianism?

What religion is Zoroastrianism? It is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) in ancient Iran around 3500 years ago. Zoroastrian theology and rituals had a major influence on other religious traditions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Though once the dominant creed of Iran where it was founded and India where adherents later migrated, the Zoroastrian population worldwide is now estimated to be between 125,000 to 200,000 people at most.

What are the Core Beliefs and Practices of Zoroastrianism?

The central tenets of Zoroastrian theology and related rituals that guide follower’s lives include:

Monotheism

  • Zoroastrians are monotheistic, worshiping one supreme transcendent creator god called Ahura Mazda meaning “Wise Lord.” Attempts are made to please this God by following the path of Asha – truth and order.

Dualism

  • The world is a battleground between the forces of good named Spenta Mainyu led by Ahura Mazda against an evil force of chaos known as Angra Mainyu. These opposing forces battle within the hearts, minds and actions of humans as well.

Free Will

  • Human beings have free will to choose between good and evil through each moral action, word and decision. Choosing the path of truth ultimately aligns with Ahura Mazda.

Eschatology

  • The path of good and evil eventually leads to a final cosmic battle called Frashokereti where good ultimately prevails as evil is vanquished. There is a resurrection of the dead in the renewal and purification of the physical world thereafter.

Scriptures

  • The central sacred texts are the Gathas, thought to be authored by Zoroaster himself as divine revelations. Other key scriptures include the later Avesta and Zand commentaries forming the Zoroastrian equivalent of the Bible guiding worship.

Ritual Purity

  • Ritual purity codes for temples, worship and personal behavior emphasize the sacredness of nature elements like earth, water and fire which are celebrated ceremoniously.

Some key elements of modern Zoroastrian devotional life and clergy are summarized below:

Zoroastrian Devotion/ClergyDescription
TemplesFire temples are places of worship, pilgrimage and ritual ceremony led by priests. Fires represent purity and truth.
Prayer5 mandatory prayers a day focusing on light, purity and Doa Tandorosti (prayer for civic welfare).
ClergyPriests (Mobed) trained full-time in liturgy, texts and rituals. Maintain temple fires and perform ceremonies.

Most adherents of this ancient yet living religion reside in India or Iran though diaspora communities preserve traditions worldwide.

How Does Zoroastrian Theology Relate to Western Monotheism?

As one of humanity’s first organized faiths centered on a single creator god, Zoroastrianism was highly influential on later Western monotheisms despite marked differences on key doctrines:

God Conception

  • Judaism, Christianity and Islam appropriated Zoroastrian style monotheism focused on one omnipotent God over previous polytheisms. But their God concepts developed distinctly around revelation texts and law.
  • Zoroastrian monotheism sees God as more abstract with worship focused on maintaining order, purity and truth rather than following divine commands or law.

Scripture and Revelations

  • Zoroastrian scriptures are based on the inspired hymns and divine visions of its prophet Zoroaster. But later Western faiths more strictly define canonized prophetic texts as the unquestioned word of God.
  • No single prophet gains the same status as Moses, Jesus or Mohammad who recite the singular word of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Eschatology

  • Zoroastrian influenced teachings about a future apocalypse, judgement day, resurrection and afterlife shape Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the stark dualism of two competing primordial forces of good and evil remains unique to the Indian religion.

So while bearing marked similarities as monotheistic faiths upholding principles of righteousness, Zoroastrian theology and practice sustains clear distinctions from the Western appropriations by Abrahamic traditions they impacted.

What Sacred Texts Do Zoroastrians Recognize?

The key Zoroastrian holy scriptures which preserve revelations and liturgy fundamental to religious practice originate from two main eras and sources:

The Gathas

  • Believed composed by Zarathustra himself around 1200 BC, the Gathas contain hymns praising Ahura Mazda and promoting truth and wisdom transcending ritual formalism. They form the core Zoroastrian prayer book.

Younger Avesta

  • Created over a thousand years after the Gathas, texts like the Vendidad focus more on ritual purity practices, taboos and demonology which grew to supplement older scripture. The Haptanghaiti and Yasht hymns are also vital.

In addition, the Zand commentaries give exegesis on scripture while the Denkard corpus covers history, doctrines and traditions. So while the Gathas form the inspiration, later Middle Persian works help canonize practice.

How Does Zoroastrianism Compare with Ancient Religions It Influenced?

Despite competition, Zoroastrian theology synergized with certain elements of ancient pagan faiths, while critiquing idol worship:

Mithraism

  • The popularity of the Zoroastrian angel Mithra starting in the 1st century BCE led to Mithraism – a Roman mystery religion focused solely on this deity gaining influence throughout the empire.

Zurvanism

  • This relative of Zoroastrianism that arose around the 4th century BCE is focused on the supreme power Zurvan, who transcends both Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. Adherents practiced greater cosmological dualism.

Hinduism

  • As a fellow Indian religion addressing cosmic struggle between good and evil, Hinduism has significant theological overlaps with Zoroastrianism in areas like the immortal soma plant used in ritual contexts by both faiths during the early days of the subcontinent.

Yet Zoroaster himself argued against the worship of daevas (“demons”) tracing to old Irani polytheistic gods which Hindus would uphold in village tradition. And the prophet critiqued blood sacrifice. So the shift from paganism to monotheism brought needed updates.

What Are Some Zoroastrian Religious Festivals and Rituals?

Around the annual cycle focused on the Zoroastrian calendar, some key holy days tying to the religion’s ancient Iranian roots in addition to more universal celebrations include:

Nowruz – Persian New Year

  • Marking the Spring Equinox in harmony with nature around March 21st, Joyous celebrations of renewal across Persian and Zoroastrian communities honor Ahura Mazda through shared feasts, offerings and reflections on righteous living.

Tirgan – Honoring Tishtrya

  • In July, the ancient festival of Tirgan venerates the angel Tishtrya who brings life-giving rains. Rituals petition the mythic being for prosperity, circulating water and mirror gazing.

Mehergan – Harvest Thanks

  • Occurring in October when the winter crops are secure, Mehergan is a harvest festival for communal rejoicing and expressing gratitude to Ahura Mazda along with the spiritual entities who helped bring bounty to fruition.

In addition, the six seasonal festivals called Gahambars honoring cosmic creation remain integral to the annual renewal cycle and communal bonding.

Conclusion

Emerging from the singular vision of Iranian prophet Zarathustra over three millennia ago, the monotheistic creed bearing his influences remains alive across global diaspora communities preserving ancient yet dynamic traditions. As one of humanity’s first organized faiths focused on the struggle between primordial good and evil through ethical living aligned with a single creator, the resonant teachings of ancient Zoroastrianism can be seen seeded within later Western appropriations. From the abstract godhead of Judaism to eschatological battles between righteousness and wickedness in Christianity and Islam, traces of the ancient Persian creed endure renewed.

Yet the indigenous religion brought by migrations to India also bridges the Hindu traditions it encountered through shared rituals, iconography and respect for the Dharmic battle within each soul. As an interface between Middle Eastern monotheism and South Asian pluralism, Zoroastrianism brings ethical clarity to the question of why bad things happen to good people in this world. Through the lens of righteous words, deeds and thoughts aligned with the cosmic order named Asha, one makes meaning of suffering and injustice.

While small in numbers globally, the outsized impact of ancient Iran’s lasting monotheistic export richly colours other faiths inheriting strains of its world-embracing vision uniting the purpose behind all creation through righteousness and ritual. From Nowruz global solidarity to the promise of ultimate victory against evil, may the seeds of Zoroaster enlighten all.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Zoroastrianism

Do Zoroastrians accept converts into their religion?

Historically Zoroastrians did not accept converts believing their faith is ancestral and ethnic in origin. Parsi communities who migrated to India epitomize this insular tendency. However reformer groups in the 20th century began questioning this exclusivity, accepting those genuinely drawn by doctrine.

Why do Zoroastrians expose their dead rather than cremating or burying them?

Leaving bodies atop open Towers of Silence for excarnation by birds of prey avoids contaminating the sacred elements of earth, fire and water with decay. This ritual practice aligns with spiritual purity codes.

Do Zoroastrians uphold principles of non-violence in line with other Dharmic faiths?

While ritual blood sacrifice is taboo, like sister Indian religion Hinduism, Zoroastrianism permits force used defensively or judiciously in the cosmic struggle of good against evil. So complete non-violence is not upheld when combating wickedness.

What sacred symbols are important within Zoroastrianism?

The Faravahar winged disc representing one’s purposeful spiritual journey is a prominent icon. Fire and circles also symbolize purity, wisdom and unity with the bounds of creation itself in line with Ahura Mazda’s truth.

Why do women play peripheral roles in formal Zoroastrian worship?

While the faith upholds general gender equality, menstrual taboos tied to purity practices that prevent fire temple entry marginalize women from priestly leadership. Reform movements argue this contradicts the egalitarian spirit of doctrine.

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