Peter's Science and Religion Pages
Not being a Zoroastrian scholar, major sources are "The World's Religions", Lion Publications 1982 and a radio interview on ABC radio.
About 3000 BCE, somewhere east of Europe, a group of Indo-European tribes split up.
Some went North West and settled in Scandinavia, some went South and settled in Greece and Italy, some went East to Persia and India.
The group that went East called themselves the Aryans (noble ones).
The first wave went through northern Persia in about 2000 BCE (where a few settled) and into NW India, where they overthrew the Indus Valley civilization. The second wave about 1500 BCE settled in Persia.
Zoroaster (or Zarathushtra) was born in Persia about 1500 BCE, a descendant of the first wave of Aryans.
He was married and had a number of children. He was both priest and prophet.
When he was about 30, he had a series of visions and was inspired to preach his new message. He was rejected at first and forced to leave home. Then Vishtap, the king of a small region in NE Persia became a convert and Zoroasters teaching became the official religion of the kingdom. Eventually it spread though all of Persia and was for 1000 years the official religion of a major world empire.
Zoroasters teaching survives in 17 Gathas (hymns).
It is a personal religion as
Each person (male of female) has a responsibility to choose between good and evil.
Each person will be self-judged after death on how they exercised their choice.
Those whose good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad will go to the "house of song", regardless of their social status.
Those whose bad thoughts, words and deeds outweigh their good will go to the "house of deceit", again regardless of their social status.
The Wise Lord Ahura Mazda (later Ohrmazd) is the wholly good Creator of everything. He created the Sun, Moon, Stars; the World, mankind and animals. The World and man were created to aid God in his battle with Evil.
Ahura Mazda is not responsible for evil in the world. This is due to the Destructive Spirit Angra Mainyu (later Ahriman). He has opposed God from the beginning. His nature is violent and destructive, and he created the demons and rules in the "house of deceit". The world is then a battlefield where good and evil clash. At the end of time evil will be eliminated and everyone will redeemed. The earth will then be restored to its original perfection.
God also made a number of Spirits, the Amesha Spentas (Bounteous Immortals). These are:
Vohu Mana Good Mind
They are also ideals to which the righteous should aspire.
Each of these protects and is represented by one of the six creations: cattle, fire, earth, metal, water and plants.
The seventh creation is mankind itself, the representative of God and present at the rite in the person of the priest.
Since creation is good, it is a persons duty to care for and enjoy that creation, for "misery drives away the divine." A person must keep both spiritual and physical sides in balance. Marriage and children are good, and so is increasing wealth. To remain single is sinful, and so is promiscuity. A person should not fast to exalt the spirit above the body, nor should one be gluttonous to exalt the body above the spirit.
Fire is a focus of rites and devotions because it is the visible representation of Ahura Mazda. A "fire temple" has a sacred flame made from 16 different types of fire in a "sanctum sanctorum" (holy of holies). It is on a stone pedestal and in a Silver brazier. One of the types of fire that must be involved is one started from lightning (this must be verified by two Zoroastrians) and it can purify other types of fire e.g. the fire of corpse burning. The fire in some sancta sanctora in India have been burning continuously for over a 1000 years.
Zoroastrians do not accept converts and so is a hereditary religion. The rite of initiation is putting on a white cotton shirt and a cord. The shirt is a symbolic armour to remind one of the battle against evil.
In dress, the "cord" is a symbol of the priesthood that cares for the flame. Even though men and women are equal, only men can be priests because women are ritually (but not morally) unclean at their menses and so cannot tend the flame. (Though controversially there are some hints that very early on, women were involved with the priesthood.)
The wife cleaning the home; rites associated with birth and marriage; standards of personal hygiene etc are all part of the cosmic battle between good and evil. There is also a sacred bread and wine ceremony. Zoroastrianism is not dogmatic or prescriptive as the individual is responsible or their own decisions.
The dead are washed and placed in clean but old clothes (wastefulness is a sin) and then placed in a "tower of silence" open to the sky so that the vultures can clean up things (30 min). On the third day the sun bleached bones are reduced to dust and swept into a pit then money is given to a charitable cause. This method of disposal is ecologically sound as it does not pollute fire and the air (such as in burning) or the earth (in burial) or water (disposal at Sea). It applies equally to all without regard to wealth or status.
Cyrus was a Zoroastrian. In 559 BCE he became king of a small region in Southern Persia called Anshan. In 550 BCE he seized the kingdom of the Medes, then the fabulously wealthy king of Lydia in Anatolia. In 539 BCE he took over the Babylonian Empire. Thus in 20 years he moved from petty king to ruler of the worlds largest empire. His dynasty was called the Achaemenids after a legendary ancestor.
The men of the priestly tribe of the Medes were called Magi. They acted as royal chaplains and spread Zoroastrianism throughout Persia.
Alexander the Great (Alexander the Vandal to the Persians) conquered the Achaemenids in 331 BCE and his Greek successors in the Syrian region were called the Seleucids. (The Ptomelies were Alexander's successors in Egypt.)
A native Persian dynasty called the Parthians, expelled the Seleucids. The Parthians collected the traditions of Zoroaster into a book called the Avesta.
The ruler of a SW province of Parthia rebelled and took over the empire. The new dynasty was named after a legendary ancestor, Sasan. The Sasanians ruled until the Islamic colonisation.
In the 900s a small band of the faithful (called the Parsis) left Persia for India where they multiplied.