A Brief Look at Zoroastrianism

By Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - http://stephaniecavanaugh.com

Image by Andres F. Uran

Image by Andres F. Uran

Mythologies, religions, and gods have evolved alongside mankind throughout history and Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions among them. It made its appearance in history somewhere between 1,500-500 B.C. and had a substantial influence on all three Abrahamic faiths; namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A few of the stories that cross-pollinated these Abrahamic faiths that of the three wise men, the North Star, and the birth of Jesus.

Zoroastrianism originated in Central Asia among Iranian tribal groups and its name is derived from Avestan Zarathushtra, but it is also sometimes referred to as Mazdaism, a name derived from the supreme god Ahura Mazdā (Skjaervo 2011, 1). As Skjaervo highlighted, it later “moved south onto the Iranian Plateau” and Zoroastrianism “became that of three great Iranian empires, the Achaemenids (550–330 BCE), the Arsacids/Parthians (247 BCE–224 CE), and the Sasanians (224– 650)” (2011, 1). The sacred texts of Zoroastrianism are that of the Avesta and these texts were birthed from a long history of oral compositions which transcended shifts in spoken language as tribes migrated, all the while largely maintaining its content and general integrity (Skjaervo 2011, 3). 

There are many interesting beliefs and rituals within Zoroastrianism. The Avesta speaks of the god Ahura Mazdāand a universe constructed on polar divides. It describes a “battle between good and evil” between the “worlds of gods and living beings”(Skjaervo 2011, 8). These worlds consist of one of thought versus one of the living or “with bones” (Skjaervo 2011, 8). Skjaervo described these two worlds as worlds which “oscillate between the states of good and evil, light and darkness, health and sickness, life and death, and, in this two-by-two scenario, all things in the universe, including gods and men, belong in one or the other camp in the conflict” (2011, 8). It was further believed that sacrificial offerings to Ahura Mazdā would strengthen the likelihood that good would overcome evil. These polar concepts are to a large degree described as a struggle between order and chaos or lightness versus darkness. In a similar vein to the Abrahamic faiths, Zoroastrianism also includes the belief that upon death, a judgment will occur which determines one’s place in either Heaven or Hell. This judgment is based on the balance of a person’s good thoughts, good words, and good deeds compared to those of the opposite nature.

Today, there are only around 200,000 followers of Zoroastrianism and they mostly reside in India, Iran, and the vicinity (Calabasas Online Tutoring 2016). In  A Brief Overview of Zoroastrianism,Zoroastrianism is described as “one of the few surviving religions on earth that appears suicidal” and this suicidal tendency is tied to two critical issues: converts are almost never accepted (outside of a Zoroastrian’s own children) and marriage is only permitted to another Zoroastrian (2016). This creates a highly unfertile environment for the continuation or spread of the faith and it is estimated to reach extinction in the very near future.


References:

Calabasas Online Tutoring. 2016. A Brief Overview of Zoroastrianism. Accessed July 8, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=xlWKusYj8uU.

Skjaervo, Prods Oktor. 2011. Spirit of Zoroastrianism. New Haven, UNITED STATES: Yale University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=3420826.


About the Author:

20141219_195035_1.jpg

Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh is a writer, podcaster, artist, and nonprofit operations director. She currently resides in Houston, Texas, where she works to help the local refugee community and the general population navigate the job search arena. She is currently working toward a degree in Middle Eastern studies.

Interests, ever-evolving: photography, painting, art, science, medicine, astronomy, yoga, travel, the world, culture, language, education, politics, women's rights, human rights.