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Zoroastrian

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

Mazdayasna [the correct name] or Zoroastrianism [a name derived from its famous prophet Zoroaster], is both a religion and a mystic system.  It combines both a set of moral precepts [the religious aspect] with a set of beliefs about the nature of the spirit realm, a spiritual path and methods of attaining spiritual experience.  It is one of the oldest mystic systems, but it has also suffered tremendously from adaptation and loss, due to the changes that have taken place in the unsettled, sometimes violent, regions in which it was found.

Other names

 

Zoroastrianism is also called Mazdayasna, Zarathustraism, Mazdaism, and Magianism, or Yazdânism amongst the Kurds.  The Zoroastrian name of the religion is Mazdayasna, which combines Mazda- with the Avestan language word yasna, meaning "worship, devotion".  The term Mazdaism is derived from using Mazda- from the name Ahura Mazda [Wise Lord] and adding the suffix -ism to suggest a belief system.

The Parsis  are one of two Zoroastrian communities located in South Asia. The other group are the Iranis.  The word پارسیان, pronounced "Parsian", i.e. "Parsi" in the Persian language literally means Persian.  According to the Qissa-i Sanjan, Parsis migrated from Greater Iran to Gujarat and Sindh between the 8th and 10th century CE to avoid persecution.  The long presence of the Parsis in the Gujarat and Sindh areas of India distinguishes them from the smaller Zoroastrian Indian community of Iranis, who are much more recent arrivals, mostly descended from Zoroastrians fleeing the repression of the Qajar dynasty and the general social and political tumult of late 19th- and early 20th-century Iran. 

 

The Iranis remain culturally and linguistically closer to the Zoroastrians of Iran, in particular to the Zoroastrians of Yazd and Kerman. Consequently, the Dari dialect of the Zoroastrians of those provinces may be heard among the Iranis.

The Parsis have gained a reputation for their high levels of education and widespread influence in all the countries in which they now live.  A lot of cricketers and film actresses in Bollywood are Parsis.  They have played an instrumental role in the economic development of India over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including Tata, Godrej, Wadia families, and others.  Freddie Mercury of Queen was a Zoroastrian, born Farrokh Bulsara on 5 September 1946, he came from Stone Town, in the Sultanate of Zanzibar - now Tanzania and you will notice that Tanzania is not in the list below.  Meher Baba (Merwan Sheriar Irani; 1894–1969), on this site was an Indian mystic magician and a Parsi.

Current followers

 

The total number of currently practicing adherents of Zoroastrianism is unknown.
A 2004 estimate gives a range of 124,000 to 190,000, roughly half of them in India (the Parsi and Irani groups).

One of the problems for Zoroastrianism today, is that the traditionalists generally do not allow conversion to the faith. Therefore, for someone to be a Zoroastrian, they must be born of Zoroastrian parents. Some traditionalists recognize the children of mixed marriages as Zoroastrians, but clearly with this tradition, the numbers are more likely to fall.

The figures below come from Wikipedia and are based on ethnographic research on the number of Parsis and other Zoroastrian ethnoreligious communities. But the figures are based in some cases on locally taken census data and there are countries where minority ‘religions’ and especially mystic groups are severely persecuted, as such the estimates may be a total fabrication.  There may be far more Zoroastrians than we think!

Country

Population

Percent Population

India

69,000 NOTE 1

0.006

United States

45,000 NOTE 6

<0.5

Iran

25,000 NOTE 4

0.03

Afghanistan

10,000 NOTE 7

0.031

Canada

5,000 NOTE 8

0.014

Pakistan

5,000

0.003

Singapore

4,500

0.087

United Kingdom

4,100   NOTE 8

0.007

Australia

2,700  NOTE 8

0.012

Persian Gulf Countries

2,200

0.005

Azerbaijan

2,000 NOTE 2

0.022

New Zealand

2,000  NOTE 8

0.045

Germany

300   NOTE 8

<0.001

World

c. 138,000

19 ppm

 

 NOTE 1  INDIA - Zoroastrians are found in the whole of India, but mostly in Gujarat and Maharashtra.  Based on the 2001 census, there were 69,601 Zoroastrians in India.  The Indian census of 1981, counted over 71,630 Zoroastrians. More approximate estimates give the figure at about 100,000.

NOTE 2:  AZERBAIJAN - The number of followers in Azerbaijan can be traced back to Sassanid suzerainty over the Caucasus, when active attempts were made to promote Zoroastrianism with considerable success; it was prominent both in the pre-Christian Caucasus and modern-day Azerbaijan.  The acceptance of Christianity in Georgia (Caucasian Iberia) saw the Zoroastrian religion there slowly but surely decline, but as late the 5th century AD it was still widely practised as something like a second established religion.  As such there may be more pockets here as well.

NOTE 3UZBEKISTAN - Although Uzbekistan is not mentioned in this table, there appears to be reason to support the view that a Zoroastrian population of unknown number exists here too.  In Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan, resistance to Islam required the 9th-century Arab commander Qutaiba to convert his province four times. The first three times the citizens reverted to their old religion. Finally, the governor made their religion "difficult for them in every way", and turned the local fire temple into a mosque.  The cities where Arab governors resided were particularly vulnerable to such pressures, and in these cases the Zoroastrians were left with no choice but to either conform or migrate, many appear to have migrated, to areas with ‘a more amicable administration.’

 

NOTE 4IRAN - Among the migrations resulting from persecution were those to cities in or on the margins of the great salt deserts, in particular to Yazd and Kerman, which remain centres of Iranian Zoroastrianism to this day. Yazd became the seat of the Iranian high priests during Mongol Il-Khanate rule, when the "best hope for survival [for a non-Muslim] was to be inconspicuous."  In the 16th century, in one of the early letters between Iranian Zoroastrians and their co-religionists in India, the priests of Yazd lamented that "no period [in human history], not even that of Alexander, had been more grievous or troublesome for the faithful than 'this millennium of the demon of Wrath'."  Communities are known to exist now in Tehran, as well as in Yazd, Kerman and Kermanshah.  On a more positive note, as of 2011, the Tehran Mobeds Anjuman announced for the first time in its history that women ordained in Iran and North America could be mobedyars, meaning women mobeds (Zoroastrian priests).

Iran's figures of Zoroastrians have varied enormously; the last census (1974) before the revolution of 1979 revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians. Zoroastrian groups in Iran say their number is closer to 60,000. Although there may not appear to be many people admitting to be Zoroastrians in Iran, many aspects of Zoroastrianism are present in the culture and mythologies of the people, not least because Zoroastrianism was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent for a thousand years. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remained part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian language-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs, but also because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shāhnāme, which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

NOTE 5  TAJIKISTAN - At the request of the government of Tajikistan, UNESCO declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th anniversary of Zoroastrian culture", with special events throughout the world. This somewhat implies there is a population of Zoroastrians there too.

NOTE 6  USA  In recent years, the United States has become a significant destination of Zoroastrian populations, holding the second largest population of Zoroastrians after India.

 

NOTE 7  AFGHANISTAN - Over 10,000 adherents remain in the Central Asian regions that were once considered the traditional stronghold of Zoroastrianism, i.e., Bactria (see also Balkh), which is in Northern Afghanistan; Sogdiana; Margiana; and other areas close to Zoroaster's supposed homeland.

NOTE 8OTHER WESTERN COUNTRIES - The establishment of an Islamic Republic following the Iranian revolution of 1979 posed many setbacks for Iran's religious minorities. Since that time many Zoroastrians, aided by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society program, have emigrated to the US, as well as to Canada, Australia, and the UK. Together with the issues of out-marriage and low birth rates, this is leading to a steady decline in Iran's Zoroastrian population.

It may be worth noting that Zoroastrians were once in France, I quote “The troubadours never recovered from the Albigensian Crusade, which was called against a ‘Zoroastrian and Buddhist-influenced heresy’ that was popular in Occitania, especially in the city of Albi.”

NOTE 9 CHINA - In the late 1700s, the Zoroastrian migrants to India, the Parsis, started to re-establish their historic trade links with China and in doing so set up a settlement in China. There may still be Zoroastrians in China, despite the cultural revolution.  According to John Hinnells in The Zoroastrian Diaspora, Hong Kong, had about 120 Zoroastrians in the 1980s.

NOTE 10 EAST AFRICA - In the 1830s and 1840s, Parsis expanded their trade links to colonies in the British empire including Aden, and East Africa. After 1870, the Parsis settled in significant numbers in East Africa, especially Nairobi and Mombasa. Again some may remain.

History

Many traits of Zoroastrianism can be traced back to the culture and beliefs of the prehistorical Indo-Iranian period, that is, to the time before the migrations that led to the Indians and Iranians becoming distinct peoples. In other words, Zoroastrianism is an ‘Ancestor’ belief system.  Zoroastrianism consequently shares elements with the historical Vedic religion that also has its origins in that era. Zoroastrian "scripture" together with the Vedas, thus represent some of the oldest texts of any mystic system.  These two groups of sources also represent the oldest non-fragmentary evidence of Indo-European languages.

There is a common thread in the use of the term daiva  (Indo-Iranian) and the Avestan daeva and Sanskrit deva, related to the Latin deus, meaning “heavenly” – a god.  Ahura is the Avestan equivalent of Sanskrit asura, an Intelligence.  There is also a similarity to the Old Norse æsir.  Zoroastrianism is based on contrast and expressed in the opposition Asha–Druj (order-chaos), which goes back at least to Indo-Iranian times, for the Veda knows it too, as ṛta-druh.

James Tissot - Journey of the Magi

The Sumerian connection

There is also a close link with very early Mesopotamia – principally the Sumerians. This places its roots well before 2000-3000 BC.  This link is known because of the Magi.  According to Herodotus i.101, the Magi were the sixth tribe of the Medians and were the magicians and priestly caste of the Mesopotamian-influenced branch of Zoroastrianism today known as Zurvanism.   Zurvanism is now regarded as an extinct branch of Zoroastrianism, whether this is true or not we cannot tell, as the political situation makes it impossible to know for certain.  But Zurvanism is important.  Zurvan is the Ultimate Intelligence who created the two contrasting ‘twins’, Ahura Mazda [white] and Angra Mainyu [black].

State religion

Zoroastrianism enters recorded history, in the 5th-century BCE. It served as the state religion of the pre-Islamic Iranian empires from around 600 BCE to 650 CE and became for a while, the state religion of

  • The Achaemenid Empire (c. 550–330 BC) -  founded by Cyrus the Great.  It became the largest empire of ancient history, spanning at its maximum extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east.  Although there are no inscriptions left from the time of Cyrus about his religion, the fire-altars found at Pasargadae, as well as the fact that he called his daughter Atossa, name of the queen of Vishtaspa (Zoroaster's royal patron), suggest that he may have been a Zoroastrian.  Darius I (522–486 BC) and his successors, however are known to have worshipped Ahura Mazdā (The epithet mazdā, means “wise,” or all wise).  It is important to put this another way - the Zoroastrian Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent was the largest ancient empire in recorded history at 8.0 million km2 (480 BCE).  The influence of Zoroastrianism was thus much larger than we may realise even today.  Look at the map and you will see it even covered Palestine and Jerusalem.
    A great God is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Darius king, one king over many, one lord over many"
  •  
    The Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 AD) – was also known as the Arsacid Empire. Its latter name comes from Arsaces I of Parthia who, founded it in the mid-3rd century BC.  In consequence of Alexander’s conquest, the Iranian religion was almost totally submerged by the wave of Hellenism. But then the Iranian religion gradually emerged again. In Commagene in the middle of the 1st century BC, gods bear combinations of Greek and Iranian names: Zeus Oromazdes, Apollo Mithra, Helios Hermes, Artagnes Herakles Ares. The first proof of the use of a Zoroastrian calendar, implying the official recognition of Zoroastrianism, is found some 40 years earlier at Nisa (near modern Ashkhabad in Soviet Turkmenistan).
  • The Sasanian Empire (224 to 651 AD) - known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr, was the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam.  The Sasanian Empire was founded by Ardashir I.  Two persons are recorded, in different sources, as helping to establish Zoroastrianism under the first Sāsānians: Kartēr and Tansar. Whereas Kartēr is known through contemporary inscriptions, most of which were written by himself, Tansar (or Tosar) is only remembered in later books. The latter tell us that Tansar, an ehrpat, or theologian, undertook the task, under Ardashīr’s command, of collecting the sacred texts and fixing the canon. Kartēr, who was already active under Ardashīr I but more so under Shāpūr states that he restored the “Mazdean religion . . . in the land of non-Iran reached by the horses and men of the king of kings.” Under Hormizd he was made “magupat of Ormazd,” a term apparently created for him and meaning “chief of the Magians of Auramazda.”
Sassanian Empire 621 A.D

Kartēr sounds to have been the most destructive to the belief system.  Bahrām II named Kartēr “Saviour of the Soul of Bahrām,” elevated him to the rank of the “grandees of the realm,” and gave him the additional titles of “judge of the empire,” “master of rites,” and “ruler of the fire of Anahit-Ardashīr at Staxr and of Anahit the Dame.” Promoted to the apex of his career he then proceeded to persecute “Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Nasoreans, Christians, Maktaks [Mandeans, Manichaeans], and Zandīks.” - Narses (293–302).  It was under Bahrām V (420–438 AD), that the title magupatān magupat (chief magus of the chief magi) was created. Not a good sign.

The earliest record of the name of Cappadocia dates from the late 6th century BC, when
it appears in the trilingual inscriptions of two early Achaemenid kings, Darius I and Xerxes.

One major loss of continuity and knowledge came about when Alexander the Great's troops invaded Persepolis and subsequently destroyed the royal library there.  According to later Zoroastrian legend (Denkard and the Book of Arda Viraf), many sacred texts were lost. Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca historica, which was completed circa 60 BCE, substantiates this (Diod. 17.72.2–17.72.6).

As one can see there is a lot of room here for distortions of names and attributions in the belief system, as a consequence of the disruptions and discontinuities, but there is also room for hope, as there are clearly trails that have been left, as long as one can follow them.

The time of persecution

 

Zoroastrianism was suppressed from the 7th century onwards following the Muslim conquest of Persia.   Islām won a decisive victory at al-Qādisīyah in 635 over the armies of Yazdegerd III, the last Sāsānid. Islām, in principle, tolerated the ancient religion, but conversions by persuasion or force were massive in many provinces. During this period and later, Zoroastrian buildings and books were destroyed in Persia, but also places further afield, for example many Zoroastrian traders were executed, even in places as remote as China, where many were killed during the Guangzhou massacre.

There were pockets of survival, notably in Persis, the ancient centre of the Achaemenian and Sāsānian empires. Books were produced to save the essentials of the religion from a threatened disaster. Zoroastrians, called Gabars by the Muslims, survived in Iran as a persecuted minority in small enclaves at Yazd and Kerman.

Iranians rebelled against Arab invaders for almost 200 years; in Iran this period is now known as the "Two Centuries of Silence" or "Period of Silence".

Wikipedia

Under Abbasid rule, Muslim Iranians , who by then were in the majority, increasingly found ways to taunt Zoroastrians, and distressing them became a popular sport. For example, in the 9th century, a deeply venerated cypress tree in Khorasan (which Parthian-era legend supposed had been planted by Zoroaster himself) was felled for the construction of a palace in Baghdad, 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away. In the 10th century, on the day that a Tower of Silence had been completed at much trouble and expense, a Muslim official contrived to get up onto it, and to call the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) from its walls. This was made a pretext to annex the building. Another popular means to distress Zoroastrians was to maltreat dogs, as these animals are sacred in Zoroastrianism. Such baiting, which was to continue down the centuries, was indulged in by all; not only by high officials, but by the general uneducated population as well.

Escape to India

From the 10th century onward, groups of Zoroastrians emigrated to India, where they found asylum in Gujarāt. Their connection with their coreligionists in Iran seems to have been almost totally broken until the end of the 15th century. Re-established in 1477, the connection was kept up chiefly in the form of an exchange of letters until 1768. Under British rule, the Parsis, who previously had been humble agriculturists, started to enrich themselves through commerce, then through industry. They became a most prosperous and “modern” community, centred in Bombay. Formerly they had adopted the language (Gujarati) and the dress of their Hindu milieu. Later they adopted British customs, British dress, the education of girls, and the abolition of child marriage. From the 19th century on, they were able to help their less favoured brethren in Iran, either through gifts or through intervention with the government.

Zoroaster

 

Some of Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of the Iranian Prophet Zoroaster, also called Zarathustra. The name Zoroaster is a Greek rendering of the name Zarathustra. He is known as Zartosht and Zardosht in Persian and Zaratosht in Gujarati.

Zoroaster's name in his native language, Avestan, was probably Zaraϑuštra. In Avestan, Zaraϑuštra is generally accepted to derive from an Old Iranian *Zaratuštra-; The element half of the name (-uštra-) is thought to be the Indo-Iranian root for "camel", with the entire name meaning "he who can manage camels".  This may seem something of a joke unless one realises that a camel is a symbol – two humps, twin mountains, twin horns – enlightenment. A person who has gone through the eye of the needle.

The visions

Legend states, that at the age of thirty, Zoroaster had a spiritual experience – a vision - whilst entering the Daiti river “to draw water for a Haoma ceremony” [note that this may have symbolic associations which have nothing to do with plants or drugs]; when he emerged, he received a vision of Vohu Manah. After this, Vohu Manah took him to six other radiant beings.  In effect, Zoroaster had a number of visions in which he saw his spirit helpers and during each vision he asked questions, the answers were then incorporated into the existing belief system.

What is known is recorded in the Gathas—part of the Avesta, which contains hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself. Zoroaster worked as a priest and had a wife, three sons, and three daughters.

Place of birth

There is no agreement on where he was born.

Wikipedia
Shahrastani (1086–1153) an Iranian writer  from present-day Turkmenistan, proposed that Zoroaster's father was from Atropatene (also in Medea) and his mother was from Rey. Arabic sources … consider Azerbaijan as the birthplace of Zarathustra. By the late 20th century, most scholars had settled on an origin in Eastern Iran. Gnoli proposed Sistan, Baluchistan (though in a much wider scope than the present-day province) as the homeland of Zoroastrianism; Frye voted for Bactria and Chorasmia; Khlopin suggests the Tedzen Delta in present-day Turkmenistan. Sarianidi considered the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex region as "the native land of the Zoroastrians and, probably, of Zoroaster himself." Boyce includes the steppes to the west from the Volga.

Birth date

There is no agreement on when he was born.

The Gathas, said to be written by Zoroaster, are written in the Old Avestan language which is very similar to the Sanskrit of the Rigveda, a collection of early Vedic hymns. For both texts to have a common Indo-Iranian origin, it is implausible that the Gathas and Rigveda could have been composed more than a few centuries apart, thus scholars have suggested that Zoroaster had to have lived much earlier than the 6th century BC proposed by some scholars.  A date of 11th or 10th century BCE is sometimes considered among Iranists, who in recent decades found that the social customs described in the Gathas roughly coincide with what is known of other prehistoric peoples of that period. 

handing over responsibility?........

Or even earlier.  Maybe he even knew Krishna, perhaps he was Krishna [I jest].  It is worth noting that only the much later theologically constructed texts, give later dates.  And these had political motives.

If Zoroaster has lived in the 6th century BC, it would have made him a citizen of the early Achaemenid Empire.  But, if the Achaemenids ever heard of him, they did not see fit to mention his name in their inscriptions.  Religion under the Achaemenids was in the hands of the Magi, the same Magi who because of their mystic, magical astrological and astronomical powers knew of the existence of Jesus and came to visit him.  Herodotus also appears to have not known of Zoroaster’s existence.  He lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–c. 425 BC), a contemporary of Socrates.  But again, no mention of Zoroaster, even though he does mention the Magi.   

There are parallels here that can be made between Zoriastrianism and Christianity, and even Hinduism and Krishna.  Christianity has its foundations on the beliefs in the Bible, but those beliefs were given added impetus and focus via Jesus himself.  Similarly Krishna gave great focus and force to Hinduism and especially yoga.  The same may be true of Zoroastrianism, Zoroaster is, if you like, the Jesus or Krishna of this movement.  Interestingly, Zoroaster was killed for political reasons, somewhat like Jesus.  And Zoroastrian devotional art depicts the religion's founder with white clothing and a long beard, like Jesus.  Wikipedia – “A common variant of the Zoroaster images derives from a Sassanid-era rock-face carving. In this depiction at Taq-e Bostan, a figure is seen …. standing on a lotus”.  Like Buddha.

Belief system and concepts

Zoroastrianism rejects every form of asceticism, has no dualism of matter and spirit – all is spirit, it is just that some spirit is vibrationally ‘slower’ than other spirit, and sees the spiritual world as not very different from the natural one (the word "paradise", or pairi.daeza, applies equally to both).

The key concept – Contrast

 
 

Zoroastrianism encompasses the concept of contrast – black and white.  Without contrast, the universe does not change and it is change that creates the reality we perceive [and achieves the Great Work].

Thus there is a ‘black’ side symbolically and a ‘white side’. 

For every Intelligence there is a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’.  Astrology owes much to Zoroastrianism, as the system of contrasts built into all astrological systems is found in Zoroastrian teaching.

 

This necessary conflict between hate and love - forcing change, also forces activity and it is only activity that keeps the physical in existence.  In other words, analogously, as the software of the universe executes, forced into doing so by the opposing forces, the screen of the physical lights up.  It becomes the physical as we perceive it.  Stop the processing and the physical disappears – or if you like, stop the programs and the screen will go blank.

If or when White ultimately prevails over Black, time will end, because time is a consequence of physical existence.  Time is simply a log of the physical as it changes, thus if it no longer changes, no log and hence no time.

Ultimate Intelligence

The Ultimate Intelligence is not a ‘he’.  The description is as close as one can get to that of the Ultimate Intelligence – a spiritual force that encompasses all function – the complete system of the universe.  The name used is itself indicative of the definition - Ahura means "Being" and Mazda means "Mind" in the Avestan language, thus Ahura Mazda is the Ultimate mind.  And being mind, it is thus not physical but spirit.

The original system had Ahura Mazdā as the Ultimate Intelligence - the creator as it were of the Twin Spirits.  The alternative name for this as we saw is Zurvan.

But the adaptations that took place, resulted in the white side of the Ultimate Intelligence being  called Ahura Mazda, (Wise Lord).  The followers of the white side are then called ashavans.  These are opposed by dregvants, under the Destructive Spirit, Angra Mainyu. [later called Ahriman in the Bundahishn].  In this one has to see that these are aspects of the one Ultimate Intelligence.  Opposing forces playing chess with us as pawns in order to achieve the Great Work – the plan for the evolution of the universe.

Intelligence hierarchy

The system of the universe is then decomposed into sub-systems – groups of function such as the systems for Air, Water (apo, aban) and Fire (atar, azar).

The ‘white’ side of the Intelligence hierarchy is called the  Spenta Mainyu (Good Spirits, "Bounteous Immortals"). The black side is called Angra Mainyu.  There is a loose connection to good and evil, but it would be more correct to align the Spenta Mainyu with LOVE (and hence truth, justice, compassion, and order) and the Angra Mainyu with HATE (falsehood, deceit, chaos etc ). An alternative collective name is the Amahraspands.

Again, they are not separate forces, they are aspects.  Like people, they can love and hate.  So an Intelligence encompasses both sides, but they are brought into play as and when needed in execution of the Great Work

It is important to recognise that in many true mystic systems, like Zoroastrianism, people do not question the existence of ‘evil’ they recognise that destruction is a part of creation.  Hate acts like a goad to change, and one often cannot create anew until there has been destruction.  The entire system aligns with the Hindu idea of the Trimurti – creation [Love] and destruction [Hate]. 

According to the creation stories there are seven primary Amesha Spentas/ Angra Mainyu pairs and a host of other Yazatas, through whom worship of Mazda is ultimately directed.  The divinities, or yazatas, are simply a further breakdown of the tree of life, through to what a Christian, Jew or Moslem might call an ‘angel’.  The term also includes ‘gods’ – humans who have achieved the end of the spiritual path.

But a more specific attribution is provided by the symbolic Planets and the Elements. These associations are “only alluded to in the Gathas, and then so subtly that they are usually lost in translation”.  The following list can only be provisional and approximate:

Main concepts

  • Ahura Mazda [Zurvan] → ULTIMATE INTELLIGENCE.
  • Ohrmazd and Ahriman → CREATOR and DESTROYER [there is no maintainer in this system as there is in the Hindu/Yoga system]

Elements

  • Aša Vahišta → FIRE [Atar]
  • Xšaθra Vairya → AIR [Vayu]
  • Spənta Ārmaiti → EARTH [Zam]
  • Haurvatāt → WATER [Apas]

Planets

  • JUPITER Oromazdes or Ohrmazd-i-ab
  • MOON - Anahita
  • SUN  Mithra
  • MERCURY Tir-i-abaxtarig
  • MARS Wahram-i-ab
  • VENUS Anahid-i-ab
  • SATURN Kaywan

There was the added concept of SIRIUS – Tistar.  There were also equivalents for the Signs of the Zodiac.

The Masculine and feminine

a Parsi wedding

Just as there is a dark side and a light side to all Intelligences [and the Higher spirit], there is also a masculine and a feminine aspect.  This is the symbolic masculine and feminine, and is not defined sexually [see Masculine and feminine].  Zoroaster keeps the two attributes separate as two different concepts in most of the Gathas and also consciously uses a masculine word for one concept and a feminine for the other.  But essentially all Intelligences including the Ultimate Intelligence and the Higher spirit are androgynous – both symbolically masculine and feminine.

Higher spirit

The Higher spirit in Zoroastrian belief is called a fravashi (or guardian spirit), and the symbol is used in many representations for the system.  During life, the fravashi acts as a guardian and protector.  The urvan is the soul. 

For the most part, Zoroastrianism in all but India does not have a notion of reincarnation.  It appears that the more dominant religions in which Zoroastrianism has had to contend have bludgeoned the theologians into fudging the issue.  But, followers of Ilm-e-Kshnoom in India believe in reincarnation and practice vegetarianism, Zoroaster was himself a vegetarian.  This rather indicates that reincarnation was originally part of the belief system, especially since the Indian population these days is by far the largest proportion of followers and thus could maintain whatever were the original beliefs.

Asha

Asha is derived from Vedic thought and is defined as the laws of the universe.  Asha is the course of everything observable—the motion of the planets and astral bodies; the progression of the seasons; the weather, birth, death and so on.  In effect asha as spirit is the system of the universe, analogously the software that animates everything.  So asha can be broken down into sub-systems – the weather systems, plant systems, water systems and these can be further broken down into functions such as water can ‘freeze’. 

Spirit is thus ordered energy asha, whereas in both Vedic and Zoroastrian thought, chaos is unordered energy and in part is described by the term druj.

Stone relief from Housesteads showing the birth
of the god Mithras from the cosmic egg

Cosmic Egg

Ahura Mazda created the floating, egg-shaped universe in two parts: first the spiritual (menog) and later, the physical (getig).

On Destiny, the spiritual path and purpose

Great Work and Destiny - There is belief in the Great Work [please see definition] and Destiny.  Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta ("Holy Words"). The metaphor of the "path" of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the "Good/Holy Path", and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the "Pathfinder".  So here we have the name used by Zoroastrians for the Great Work - Daena.  A Pathfinder is one who seeks his or her Destiny.

Spiritual path - In Zoroastrianism, the purpose in life is to "be among those who renew the world...to make the world progress towards perfection". In other words, we all have a part to play in evolving the universe towards ‘perfection’, where the definition of ‘perfection’ is known to the Ultimate Intelligence.  The objective of the Great Work, in other words, is ‘perfection’.

The spiritual path is thus a very active one.  One does not lead a monastic self-indulgent life ‘trying to find yourself’ in Zoroastrianism, or meditating your life away, one cannot fulfil one’s destiny if one is sitting on the side-lines, gazing at one’s navel. The religion states that active participation in life [that is actions which will serve to fulfil one’s destiny] is necessary to both ensure happiness and to ‘keep chaos at bay’.

Fate

Fate is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act toward one another. Reward, punishment, happiness, and grief all depend on how individuals live their lives.

Free will

Zoroastrianism recognised the existence of free will, in that we have the ability to choose paths, they may even be the wrong one. BUT, there is just the hint in many texts that although Zoroastrianism may allow free will and allow the path we choose to be an entirely selfish one, the ‘guidance’ we get via conscience, pain and the apparent closing of doors on the path, may actually steer us in the direction we should be going anyway.   In effect, we will only be happy if we are doing the ‘right thing’, following our destiny.

Wikipedia
All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan—inherent to Ahura Mazda—and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda.

Purification and purgatory

In Zoroastrianism, water and fire are agents of ritual purity, and the associated purification ceremonies are considered the basis of ritual life. Water is, in all systems, the symbol of purification on the spiritual path, but fire is the symbol of purgatory and rebirth.  At one time, long ago, rebirth ceremonies – with all the true meaning of this term and inherent danger, must have taken place – but no more. 

Both water and fire are represented within the precinct of the Zoroastrian fire temples. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire and the culminating rite of the principle act of worship constitutes a "strengthening of the waters". Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained.  But nowadays, all this is symbolic.  There appear to be no active methods to provoke rebirth experiences.

Moral foundation

In religious terms, Zoroastrianism is based on love, because it is love that is the creative force.  Its basic maxims, however, are very interesting and include:

  • Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta, which mean: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
  • There is only one path and that is the path of Truth.
  • Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

There have been interesting theological discussions over this.  There is recognition in Zoroastrianism that both hate and love exist, that hate as a destructive force is unavoidable, even necessary, because in some cases to create anew the old has to be destroyed.  But the natural tendency of most adherents to Zoroastrianism is to want to love, to be creators not haters.  Being a destroyer is not an enviable role as most destroyers come to an untimely and most unpleasant end, sometimes a gruesome and brutal end; are often miserably unhappy - tormented and even lonely; and live their lives without love.  As such, who in their right mind wants to be a destroyer?

One way in which this dilemma is solved is to abdicate responsibility for destruction to those higher powers that are there to achieve it.  This is relatively easy when the forces of destruction are natural such as tidal waves, or floods, meteors or earthquakes.  There is nothing that can be done anyway.  But what if the forces of destruction have to be partly man made?  Central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, and to give up the apparent moral duty and so facilitate the work of druj.  In effect, one aids destruction by letting it happen.  One is not a destroyer as such, but by doing nothing, destruction can proceed unhindered.

This is extremely advanced thinking, but one has to be very certain of the plan to dare to do this.  The Zoroastrians are not alone in this thinking, Lao Tsu for example continually stressed the need to go with the Tao, but as you can imagine, some interesting discussions take place here.

Ages of Man

There are some links, which appear to have been lost in the endless struggles, with the Vedic ages of man.  The Kali Yuga – the last age [see the Ancestors] is described, though the time period is not accurate [understandably given the upheavals].  In Zoroastrian eschatology, a 3,000-year struggle between good and evil will be fought, punctuated by evil's final assault. This is the Age of Conflict in the system of the Ancestors.  During the final assault, the sun and moon will darken and humankind will lose its reverence for religion, family, and elders. The world will fall into winter, and Angra Mainyu's most fearsome miscreant, Azi Dahaka, will break free and terrorize the world.  The final saviour of the world, is called Saoshyant, who will be born to a virgin impregnated by the seed of Zoroaster while bathing in a lake.  The concept of virgin birth is symbolic – please follow the link.

Sacred geography

All over Iran, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and the empire that was the Achaemenid Empire there are hills called Tepes. A vast number of them have been found to be archaeological sites.

At the time that the Achaemenid Empire was at its height, the Zoroastrian mystic system was its principle system/religion. Being a mystic system they shared symbolism with the Egyptian mystery system and the Sumerian Mesopotamian system, which may mean that all these tepes are crumbling ziggurats or pyramids, a sign of a once extraordinary system of inter-connected 'religious' mystic sites stretching over literally thousands and thousands of miles - all the way to India.

The Achaemenid Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great. It became the largest empire of ancient history, spanning at its maximum extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. This may mean that from around 5000BC [or even before] to the time of Islam, this area saw one of the most stunning mystic sacred geographies ever produced. All inter-connected, all containing ziggurats, pyramids, gardens and temples, all places where one could rest en route safely, soothed by sacred music and dancing girls. Places where one could also 'meet the spirits'.

We have provided a few examples of such sites, but there are actually hundreds.

A fanciful and rather fun picture to end on - like bees in a hive .... the matrix

References

In general we have used the early core texts rather than the later ones, as the earlier they are the more likely they are to reflect the mystic system, as opposed to the theological interpretations and changes.

The Avesta

The Avesta is a collection of texts compiled in successive stages until it was completed under the Sāsānians. It was then about four times larger than what has survived. It has 21 books, or Nasks , of which only one is preserved as such in the Vidēvdāt.  The Khordeh Avesta is the communal household prayer book, which contains the Yashts and the Siroza [see below]. The Khūrda Avesta, or Small Avesta, is made up of minor texts.

The Visperad

Visperad  or Visprad is the name given to a passage collection within the greater Avesta compendium of texts.  The standard abbreviation for Visperad chapter-verse pointers is Vr., though Vsp. may also appear in older sources.  The Visperad ceremony is then based on these.  It "consists of the rituals of the Yasna, virtually unchanged, but with a liturgy extended by twenty-three[a] supplementary sections." These supplementary sections are then the passages that make up the Visperad collection.

The Gāthās

 

The Gathas Avestan: Gāθās) are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra (Zoroaster) himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.  The 17 hymns of the Gathas consist of 238 stanzas, of about 1300 lines or 6000 words in total. They were later incorporated into the 72-chapter Yasna, which in turn is the primary liturgical collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta.

"No one who has ever read a stanza of [the Gathas] in the original will be under any illusions as to the labour which underlies the effort [of translating the hymns]. The most abstract and perplexing thought, veiled further by archaic language, only half understood by later students of the seer's own race and tongue, tends to make the Gathas the hardest problem to be attempted by those who would investigate the literary monuments."

The Yasna

All these texts are embedded in the Yasna, which is one of the main divisions of the Avesta and is recited by the priests during the ceremony of the same name, meaning “sacrifice.” The Visp-rat (“All the Judges”) is a Yasna augmented here and there by additional invocations and offerings to the ratus (lords) of the different classes of beings.  We  have a separate entry for the Yasna, please follow the link.

The Vidēvdāt

The Vidēvdāt, or Vendidad (“Law Rejecting the Daevas”), is a collection of texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta. It consists of two introductory sections recounting how the law was given to man, followed by 18 sections of rules.
The Vendidad's different parts vary widely in character and in age. Although some portions are relatively recent in origin, the subject matter of the greater part is very old. Its language resembles Old Avestan and it is thought to be a Magi (Magi-influenced) composition.  Some consider the Vendidad a link to ancient early oral traditions.  The writing of the Vendidad began - perhaps substantially - before the 8th century B.C.E.  The date of composition of the final version does not exclude the possibility that some parts of the Vendidad may consist of very old material. The first chapter is a creation myth, followed by the description of a destructive winter comparable with the great floods of various other mythologies. The second chapter recounts the legend of Yima (Jamshid).
In contrast, the 18 fargards which follow seem to be a sort of later add-on, although there are ‘spells’ described.  The name of the texts is a contraction of the Avestan language Vî-Daêvô-Dāta, "Given Against the Daevas (Demons)", and as the name suggests, the Vendidad is an enumeration of various manifestations of evil spirits, and ways to confound them. 

Yashts

 

The Yashts (Yašts) are a collection of twenty-one hymns in the Younger Avestan language. If we take the 4 elements, 7 planets and 12 signs of the zodiac, this gives 23 potential hymns.  But remove the elements [19] and add the two aspects of the Ultimate Intelligence and you do indeed have 21.  And indeed each of these hymns is intended to invoke a specific Zoroastrian divinity or concept. This looks very promising but sadly, the Yashts did not originally have titles. These were assigned at some time during the Common Era, and hence reflect the Middle Persian forms of the divinities' names and the names are meaningless.  Yasht chapter and verse pointers are traditionally abbreviated as Yt.  The word yasht derives from Avestan yešti, "for venerate"  and several hymns of the Yasna liturgy that "venerate by praise" are—in tradition—also nominally called yashts. These "hidden" Yashts are: the Barsom Yasht (Yasna 2), another Hom Yasht in Yasna 9-11, the Bhagan Yasht of Yasna 19-21, a hymn to Ashi in Yasna 52, another Sarosh Yasht in Yasna 57, the praise of the (hypostasis of) "prayer" in Yasna 58, and a hymn to the Ahurani in Yasna 68. Since these are a part of the primary liturgy, they do not count among the twenty-one hymns of the Yasht collection.

Other texts

Other texts include the following, although they occasionally contradict the earlier doctrines:

  • The Siroza enumerates the deities presiding over the 30 days of the month.
  • The Hadhoxt Nask (“Section Containing Sayings”) describes the fate of the soul after death.
  • The Bundahishn (“Primal Creation”), a cosmology.
  • The Mēnōk-i Khrat (“Spirit of Wisdom”), a lucid summary of a doctrine based on reason
  • The Book of Artāy Virāf, which describes Virāf’s descent into the netherworld as well as heaven and hell and the pleasures and pains awaiting the virtuous and the wicked.
  • The Dēnkart - A summary of the 21 books of the Avesta given in one of the main treatises written during the brief Zoroastrian renascence under Islām in the 9th century; the Dēnkart, the “Acts of the Religion.” It is written in Pahlavi, the language of the Sāsānians.
  • The Jāmāsp Nāmag, Jāmāsp Nāmeh, "Story of Jamasp" is a Middle Persian book of revelations. In an extended sense, it is also a primary source on Zoroastrian doctrine and legend. The work is also known as the Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg or Ayātkār-ī Jāmāspīk, meaning "[In] Memoriam of Jamasp".
  • Khwaday Namag  - Although the impression might be given that Islam absorbed nothing from the peoples it conquered, this would not be true.  In Khorasan in the northeastern Iran, a 10th-century Iranian nobleman brought together four Zoroastrian priests to transcribe a Sassanid-era Middle Persian work titled Book of the Lord (Khwaday Namag) from Pahlavi script into Arabic script. This transcription, which remained in Middle Persian prose (an Arabic version, by al-Muqaffa, also exists), was completed in 957 and subsequently became the basis for Firdausi's Book of Kings. It became enormously popular among both Zoroastrians and Muslims.

Observations

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