Some time in the history of the universe, no one is quite sure

when, there was born a man. This man would eventually be the first to

found a monotheistic religion. The name of this man is Zoroaster; the

name is actually a corruption of Zarathushtra. Zoroaster’s birth date,

along with whether his religion is actually monotheistic, is a subject

of great debate. The opinions concerning his birth, and consequently

about the beginning of this great religion, range from as early as 6000

years before Plato to as late as 500 B.C.E. In any case he was born

somewhere in Iran, although whether in the East or West is also

arguable. In the early writings the people belonging to this religion

are called Zarathustris; the system he taught is called Mazdaism. The

present day followers are called Parsees. Zoroaster removed the

multiplicity of deities from religion and created a faith in which

there were two, or perhaps, one God. All other higher beings were

regarded as demons, or evil spirits. No one knows for sure the

different stages of popularity that Zoroastrianism experienced. We do

know that at the time of Darius I, 558?-486 B.C.E., it was protected by

royalty. Later, however, Zoroastrians were continually chased by the

members of the Islamic religion through Kathiawar in India, and Surat,

and finally they settled again in Bombay. The universe is the

battleground. The opponents are Mazda Ahura, later to be known as

Ahura Mazda, and Anra Mainyu, later call ed Ahriman. Ahura Mazda is

the good force and the bad is Ahriman. The battle will last till Ahura

Mazda defeats Ahriman in the year 12,000 (we are now presumably around

11,500). This is the world and its future in accordance with

Zoroastrian beliefs.


Zoroaster had a very non-conforming mind and was forced to flee

his parents’ house without his parents’ consent because of the rebuking

he gave to those who sacrificed cattle or drank intoxicating haoma. He

fled to the mountains and gave himself to God. Sometime between the

ages of thirty and forty an angel appeared to him and brought him to

the throne of the highest God, Ahura Mazda. After this occurred, the

prophet tried for twelve years to convert people, but to no available.

During this period many visions were revaled to him. A milestone in

the progression of the religion occurred when Zoroaster converted

Vishtaspa,the king of Persia. He also converted the king’s son,

brother, counsellor, and grand vizier. Zoroaster married, along with

two other women, the counsellor’s daughter. Zoroaster was killed at

the age of seventy-seven by Ardshataspa, a neighboring prince, who

invaded Vishtaspa’s capital. According to the Parsees, Vishtaspa is

the father of Darius, who reigned from 521-485 B.C.E. Another view

holds that Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander the Great; he

would have therefore lived between 570 and 500 B.C.E. The Greeks tend

to place him six thousand years before Plato. Ahura Mazda, while not

necessarily discovered by Zoroaster, was found on an inscription dating

around 714 B.C.E. In ancient Persia, before Zoraoster’s reforms,

religion was polytheistic. Zoroaster objected to these dieties and

referred to them as demons. Many of the rituals and Gods that he

removed were later reinstated due to the fact that the people were

still emotionally attached to them. We can see this from the fact that

on the epigraphs of Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358 B.C.E.) the Mithras

and Anahita, ancient gods, are mentioned. Temples and images of God

were also introduced into the religion at a later date.

Zoroastrian Beliefs

The Zoroastrian religion is based on the fundamental concept of a

constant battle of good against evil. The good is represented by Ahura

Mazda while the bad is represented by Ahriman. Ahura Mazda created this

world as a trap for Ahriman. Human beings draw Ahriman into this

world; he will jump at any chance to cause others to do evil. He will

then be entering Ahura Mazda’s world, and when people choose good over

evil voluntarily this will weaken Ahriman to the point where he can be

destroyed. It is hard to reconcile the two opposing views on the

dieties in the Zoroastrian religion. The claim is made that the

religion is monotheistic; it is also alleged that the opposing forces

in the world, good and evil, are represented by two equal gods. Modern

day Parsees resolve the contradiction by explaining that Ahura Mazda

has always and will always stand above all. Anra Mainyu, or Ahriman,

was only created due to an evil thought that once entered Ahura Mazda’s

head. The real opponent of Ahriman is Spenta Mainyu, the good spirit.

The world is divided into three sections. The upper world is bathed in

light, the earth is divided into seven sections, and the underworld is

a dark place. The forces of good and evil will do battle for the

twelve thousand years of the world’s total existence. In the

beginning, as Ahriman attempts to kill Ahura Mazda, he is stopped and

pulled away. Both of the Gods agree to a period of peace that will

last 9,000 years. During the first three thousand years Ahura Mazda

creates angels, good spirits, and Frava shis. These Fravashis are the

original heavenly images of men living in the upper world. During the

next three thousand years the Fravashis come down to earth. There they

lead a perfect sinless life. Anra Mainyu is angry because of the

advantage he sees the Ahura Mazda has gained over him in preparation

for the final battle. He tries to bring evil to the world, but he is

rendered powerless by the sacred Ahunavairya formula that Ahura Mazda

utters. In the next three thousand years Anra Mainyu invades the

world. He kills the early man and animal and disperses demons

throughout the world. However a human couple arises from the seed of

the early man and a cow from the seed of early animal. These beings

are mixed and must choose between the good and evil that now inhabits

the world. The final three thousand year period begins and Ahura Mazda

sends Zoroaster down to the world. Zoroaster had been in fravashi, or

spiritual, form since the beginning of the second period.

After Zoroast er’s death, every thousand years till the end of

this three thousand year period, a prophet will arise. This prophet

will come from a virgin who is fertilized by remnants of Zoroaster’s

seed, which is preserved in a lake. The prophet will bring about an

improvement in society for a short period of time. The last of these

prophets, Saoshyant, or “helper”, will bring about a resurrection of

the dead. The final fight will then occur and the death of Ahriman will

take place. All evil will disappear and the world will be cleansed by

a fiery stream of metal which will bring about a complete

transformation, or Frashokereti. Ahura Mazda will rule over all


Zoroastrian Literature

The main source for the teachings of Zoroaster is the Avesta.

These are the only writings which come directly from Zoroaster and are

written as if spoken to him by God Himself. Due to the fact that the

Iranians couldn’t write, all this information was passed down orally;

this, in part, led to the eventual loss of this material. Around the

fifth century an Avestan alphabet was created for this purpose. These

documents date back to 1323. The Gathas are sacred literature which

are difficult to translate and are believed to inclu de rituals,

prayers, hymns, visions of God, His purposes, and prophecies. The

Gathic portions of the Yasna were preserved by being included in the

Yasna writings which involved the worship process of every day. The

younger Avestan parts of the Yasna were being written throughout all

the centuries eventually having seventy-two sections. These contained

many topics and protected the basic Gathic texts. Some of the Extended

Avesta was taken from the Yashts which were hymns addressed to the

lesser divine beings and were very poetic. These were written in the

Avestan dialect. The Gathas on the other hand, were memorized due to

their holiness.

The Vendidad were written in the late younger Avestan period. They

included laws on purity and on fighting evil. The Visperad is an

extension of the Yasna and the Vendidad. They dealt with the seven

holy days of faith. The Nayesh and Goh were prayers recited, on the

average, eight times a day. They were for priests as well as lay

persons. Some were directed at certain forces of nature and were said

less frequently. The Khorda, or Little Avesta, is a book of common

prayers. Each Khorda had the same prayers but in different orders. They

were previously memorized and only said by priests, but now, because

they are printed, are said by everyone. The Great Avesta is grouped

into twenty-one nasks, or books. They were last written in the sixth

century and contain all the previous works and much more. They

included the life and legends about the prophet, the religious

doctrine, the end of days, law, creation of the world, and science.

These were placed in all the temples, but during the Islamic period all

the temples were destroyed and not a copy remains. A book, the

Denkard, has a detailed summary of these works in Pahlavi and it seems

that the Extended Avesta took a quarter of the whole canon. The only

reason that the Pahlavi survived is because they were used extensively

and therefore known by heart, and priests made copies of them at their


Zands, or intrepertations, on the Avesta have always been written.

The old ones are included with the Avesta. This continued until the

fourth century when the Sasanians, the last Zoroastrians to rule Iran,

c hanged the language to Middle Persian, or Pahlavi. The ones written

in this Pahlavi language are the only ones that fully remain of the

Zand and so are considered the Zand. The Yashts are the only part of

the Avesta not to have a Zand written together with it. The Pahlavi

works were written as if being said aloud. Because of this free style

of being written they were changed or added to freely by future

people. In subsequent times the Zoroastrian community was very

persecuted and they were lowered to a group of poor and intellectualy

isolated people. They reduced the writings to the basics and much of

their writings are simply copies of previous texts. They also left

their Pahlavi writings for the more current Persian. As the religious

community moved about they translated their writings into many of the

different languages of the places where they were residing at that

time. Not much was added and even the writings they retained were

copied with mistakes. In later times, from the fifteenth to eighteenth

centuries, because of the split in the Zoroastrian communities, one

being in Iran and the other in Persia, the writings were not very

frequent. The writings basically consisted of Parsi questions to their

Iranian counter parts, usually about law and purity, and the answers.

These writings were known as the Persian Rivayats.

From the mid-nineteenth century and on the Parsis prospered

greatly. This brought about an increase in the amount of literature.

The literat ure was written in many languages including Gujarat (one of

the previous places of residence) and English. These consisted mainly

of the religion’s beliefs and observances. The Zoroastrian religion

makes an abrupt turn at this point and changes from its previous highly

orthodox religion and writing. The society is hurt and confused

because of a sudden plunge into modernity. The society searched for

new ways to explain the older writings. The writing is transformed

into one writing influenced by the beliefs of many of the surrounding

religions including Christianity and Hinduism. Some writings simply

talk of a belief but advocate no actual observance requiring any

actions. Into the twentieth century the writings decrease and show a

greater influence by the Muslims.

Zoroastrian History

From around 550-330 B.C.E. the Iranian tribes left the steppes

where they had been previously living and conquered and moved into

modern-day Iran. The eastern Iranians brought the Zoroastrian faith to

the western Iranians, the Meads, and the Persians. It became the

religion of the Achaemenian empire. The Avestan writings, however,

remained in the eastern dialect. Alexander slaughtered many of the

Zoroastrian priests thereby also harming the transmission of the


The Asacids, from north-east Iran, later established the second

Iranian empire. The empire was called the Parthian empire. The few

written records they had indicated a tolerance of the Zoroastrian

religion. This empire ruled from approximately 144 B.C.E. through 224

C.E. The Sasanian period was from 224 to 651 C.E. By this time

Zoroastrianism had returned to many of the things that Zoroaster had

taken out at the beginning of the religion. They had gone back to

their old ways of sacrificing, drinking haoma, and believing in more

than one God. However, even as the orthodoxy of the religion declined,

its popularity increased to the greatest point in its history.

After the fall of t his empire Persia was converted to Islam.

About fourteen thousand remain in Iran today. The others either

converted or moved to India, where different religions were more

tolerated. The Zoroastrians there are called Parsees, and most live

around Bombay. They number about 150,000. They have greatly

prospered, and probably owe this to their honesty and generosity.


Zoroaster based his concept of good and evil on the things that

happened to be good and bad for the people of his time. Animals which

were used for cattle bearing were considered good and created by Ahura

Mazda. On the other hand, animals which were harmful to cattle were

created by Ahriman. Large families were praised, and any attempt to

stop sex from having children was forbidden. The main purpose of man is

always to make good decisions and to fight with Ahura Mazda against the

forces of Ahriman.

Life after Death

Cadavers are unclean and therefore should not be allow ed to touch

the holy fire and earth. The Zoroastrians have devised a way of

dealing with this in which they place the dead bodies on dakhmas, the

towers of silence. Certain people who have received this position by

inheritance, as it is unholy, bring the bodies into these towers. Once

placed on the towers of silence the bodies are devoured by vultures in

a matter of hours. Water is then poured over the bones and is run into

the sea. Modern ways of dealing with the dead are by placing them into

cement containers or by burning with electricity.

Spiritually, after a person dies, his body remains in the area in

which he died for three days. After this his conscience appears to him

in the form of a woman. If the person had a bad conscience the woman

is ugly; if he had a good conscience the woman is beautiful. The woman

then takes him over a bridge called the Chinvat Peretu, the

accountants’ bridge. If the person led a good life he walks over the

bridge into paradise; if he led a bad l ife he falls to hell. If the

person is not evil nor good he reaches the intermediate kingdom,

Hamestakans, which is between paradise and hell. After the end of the

world is reached, the spirits will be returned to their bodies and it

is only then that their final fate will be decided.


In conclusion I think that the following observation correctly

summarizes the enduring contributions of Zoroastrianism. It is an

inspired ideology which is based upon three beli efs: there is a battle

between good and evil, there will be an end to the world together with

a final divine judgment and the purification of earth, and there is a

paradise, a perfect society in heaven. These ideas have had far

reaching effects upon other religions and people. Zoroastrianism has

brought a concept of a sense of the religious meaning of history along

with a stronger monotheism and ethics. It has removed the religious

identification with nature and states of consciousness.

There are those that believe that the Ancient Hebrews only adopted

the concepts of a resurrection of the dead, an end to the world, and a

final judgment, once they came into contact with the Zoroastrians. All

of these ideas are presently important to the Jews, Christians, and

Muslims. We can all see how far reaching and important the Zoroastrian

religion has been on the evolution of the important religions out of

which most modern civilizations have evolved.