Zoroastrianism, pronounced zawr oh AS tree uh nihz uhm, is a religion founded between 1400 and 1000 B.C. by a Persian prophet named Zoroaster. Zoroaster is the Greek form of the Persian name Zarathustra, which means He of the Golden Light.
Beliefs. Zoroastrianism teaches a belief in one god, Ahura Mazda, who created all things. Devout people must seek and obey Ahura Mazda, who will judge everyone at the end of worldly time after their bodies have been resurrected.
The heart of Zoroastrianism is the belief in a battle between good and evil. Zoroaster taught that the earth is a battleground where a great struggle is taking place between Spenta Mainyu, the spirit of good, and Angra Mainyu, the spirit of evil. Ahura Mazda calls upon everyone to fight in this struggle, and each person will be judged at death on how well he or she fought. Each person should be dedicated to fighting for good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.
Zoroaster composed several hymns called Gathas that were collected into a sacred book known as the Avesta. These hymns are the only record of what Zoroaster believed, in his own words.
Some scholars believe that traces of Zoroaster's theology can be found in the concept of Satan as the personification of evil (Angra Mainyu). They also find similarities between the Zoroastrian belief in Fravashirs (guardian spirits) and the angels of Western religions.
History. Little is known of Zoroaster's life. Scholars believe he lived between 1400 and 1000 B.C. in what is now northeastern Iran. But Zoroastrian tradition teaches that he lived between the early 600's and the mid-500's B.C. He left his home in search of religious truth. After wandering and living alone for several years, he began to have revelations at the age of 30. In a vision, he spoke with Vohu Manah, a figure who represented the Good Mind. In the vision, Zoroaster's soul was led in a holy trance into the presence of Ahura Mazda.
In the years after his revelations, Zoroaster composed the Gathas and spread the teachings of Ahura Mazda. Zoroaster's conversion of Vishtaspa, a powerful ruler, strengthened the new religion. According to the Avesta, Zoroaster was assassinated at the age of 77.
Zoroastrianism thrived in Persia from about 550 to 330 B.C., when the religion seems to have lost some of its vitality. The Muslim conquest of Persia in the mid-A.D. 600's led to a further decline in the practice of Zoroastrian rites and rituals. However, several groups continued to observe the religion's traditions. These groups have carried the faith into the present in Iran, India, and other countries. In India, the followers are called Parsis. Modern Zoroastrians read from the Avesta, practice traditional purification habits, and attend rituals at fire temples. Fire is important in Zoroastrianism as a symbol of Ahura Mazda.