ORIGINS OF BELIEF AND AFTERLIFE
Zarathustrianism, also known as Zoroastrianism, originated in Persia and was founded by the prophet Zarathustra, who may have been an agrarian living ca. 628 - 551 BCE. Zarathustra was a member of the Aryan race, heeding from Iran, which is the ancient name of Persia, and it is derived from the root "Arya" or Aryan, the Indo-European branch of peoples who settled in that land. Zarathustra rejected the polytheism of contemporary Persian religion in favor of a strict dualism between the principle of absolute good, Ahura Mazdah and the principle of absolute evil, Ahriman. The two opposing principles conducted a cosmic battle for souls, personified by their aspects-Spenta Mainya and Angra Mainya, the Holy Spirit and the Destructive Spirit.
Under the Persian Empire, Zarathustrian religion spread to much of the Near East, and both its strict monotheism and its prophetic tradition, as well as Persia's role as the liberator of Israel from the Babylonian Captivity, appealed greatly to many Jews. Therefore it is not surprising that Zarathustrianism exerts more and more influence upon Judaic thought in religious literature dating from 539 BCE and later. When Alexander the Great conquered Persian possessions and beyond from 334 to 323 BCE, a great degree of cultural diffusion occurred in the sphere of influence of the new Hellenistic world, and Zarathustrian ideas began to make more and more of an impact on the beliefs of the Mediterranean world. Because Palestine was in the sphere of influence, a number of Zarathustrian ideas also entered Judaism indirectly through Hellenistic culture.
This was the environment into which Jesus, a Galilean, appeared during his projected life span of ca. 4 BCE to ca. 30 CE. His religion incorporated many Zarathustrian elements from both contemporary Judaism and from Hellenistic thought. He incorporated the Zarathustrian-inspired doctrine of the coming "Dominion of God" as the core of his teachings. It is no surprise, therefore, that when compared to one another Christianity and Zarathustrianism share an uncanny number of parallels. Many Christian concepts were actually derived from Zoroastrian Aryan ideas. Concepts such as heaven and hell, God and the evil adversary Ahriman, the coming of the Saviour or Saoshyant born of a virgin, the end-time purge of the world by Fire followed by the resurrection of the dead (Ristakhiz), the making fresh of the world (Frashogard) and the final battle between good and evil leading to the final defeat of evil.
Zarathustra revealed that life in the physical world was a battle between good and evil, and man would either cross the "Chinvato Peretu" or the sword bridge after death, and reach Heaven, or fall from it and go to the abode of the evil one. In the final days there would be a battle between good and evil, evil would be vanquished and the world would be purified by a bath of molten metal. Mazdah would then judge the world, resurrecting the dead and His Kingdom would be established on earth.
The "Vendidad" is one of the ancient scriptures of the Zoroastrians, actually called the
"Vi-daevo-dat" or the law to fight against evil. In the first "Fargad" or chapter, the Golden Age of the ancient Aryans is outlined with their greatest king, "Yima Kshaeta" banished old age and death. Then, the ice age broke on the ancient home and the Aryans were forced to migrate. The book chronicles the journey of the Aryans until the time of Zarathustra, and is the equivalent of the bible.
Zarathustra's songs are called the "Gathas" which linguistically may be older than the Vendidad scriptures. The Gathas are written in an ancient Avestan dialect. This is a sister language to Sanskrit of India, and Greek and Latin of the West. The reason is, the common ancestors (common to the ancient Iranians, Ancient Indians, Greeks, and Europeans) were one and the same - the Indo-European or Aryan peoples.
All Zoroastrian Scriptures are sacred, including the Gathas, Yashts, and the Vendidad. One prays all of them in the Fire temples, before the Sacred Fire, and they have immense spiritual power, their very utterance in the sacred Avestan language serving to further righteousness and fight evil.
RITES OF WORSHIP AND MORALS
Ã‚Â· The observance of the Laws of the Vendidad is an important pillar of the Zarathustrian religion. This includes the concept of menstrual seclusion (the woman is in a state of impurity during menstruation and must stay away from all religious objects including the household fire, and also stay away from her husband during those days) and the dreaded impure state of 'Nasu' the corpse is in after death, only touchable by the Nassesalars (corpse-bearers) who may then be purified by ritual means. The Vendidad also carries strong moral injunctions against the acts of homosexuality and prostitution, prohibiting these immoral acts.
Ã‚Â· The marrying of Zarathustri man or woman, may be to a Zarathustri only- as commanded in the Vendidad, to preserve the spiritual strength of the Aryan Mazdayasni religion, and the ethnic identity of the Zarathustri Aryans. For the Zarathustri, ethnic identity and religion are synonymous, as declared in the Vendidad by Ahura Mazdah Himself. Although proud to be Aryans, Zoroastrians also believe that all races in the world are created by God and are equal - a true sign of the real ancient Aryan's nobility and tolerance.
Ã‚Â· All religions are equal in stature. Converting from one religion to the next is assuming that one is greater than the other, and is a violation of this belief.
Ã‚Â· All Zoroastrians must wear the Sudreh-Kusti: the Sudreh is a white cotton "shirt"; the Kusti is a woolen "tube" worn around the waist on top of the Sudreh. Both are specifically designed and have deep spiritual significance. The tying of the Kusti is a part of the basic daily prayers of a Zoroastrian.
Ã‚Â· Zoroastrian prayers are only to be recited in the sacred language of Avesta, whose words are "manthric", in that they are "thought" or "holy" words of Ahura Mazdah and have more meaning and power than their mundane, literal translation. Some people today mistakenly recite the prayer's translation in their own language, i.e. English, which nullifies any spiritual effects.
Ã‚Â· A holy fire is kept in the temple as the symbol of Ahura Mazdah, and priests feed the fire with sandalwood and cedar and intone the ancient sacred Mathras (verses of praise) in the ancient Aryan Avestan language. The Mathric incantations have incredible divine potent power, a power used to fight evil. Also revered are the elements of God such as water, earth, wind, and the creations of God such as the Sun, moon and stars.
Ã‚Â· The Zoroastrian book of daily prayers is named "Khordeh Avesta" ("Selected" Avesta). It is a collection of prayers selected major Avestan works such as Yasna, Visparad, Vendidad, and the Yasht literature.
Ã‚Â· God has given each person an enlightened mind and they are free to choose a path, be it the path of good or evil, but must be willing to accept the consequences for their actions.
Ã‚Â· Each person is born into the religion that they were meant or "pre-destined" for; i.e. meaning that before birth, our Soul chooses the religion we are born into, the parents, the circumstances, etc.. Each religion is like a "prescription" for spiritual enhancement. It's an abstract concept and difficult to explain, but basically it means that if our Soul "needs" some particular kind of "preparation" to reach perfection (the ultimate goal for the Spirit), then it manifests itself as a human soul and is born into the required religion.
Ã‚Â· The day is divided into 5 definite time-periods or Gehs.
Ã‚Â· In the Zarathustrian religion, dead bodies are disposed of in a very interesting method. Other people who also follow this or a similar practice at one time or another include the ancient Druids, the Tibetans, and even the North American natives. The method is called the Dahkma-Nashini - i.e. utter destruction of the dead body which is considered most unhygienic and polluting, both physically and spiritually.
After a human being dies, according to the Vendidad- the evil spirit of putrefaction rushes on the dead body within about three hours after death, i.e. in the next Geh (division of time) immediately after the one he dies in. After this time, the dead body cannot be touched by anybody except special corpse bearers (Nassesalars) who live apart from the rest of society. Spiritually and physically, the dead body is most unclean at this time. The body is now bathed in the urine (Taro) of a special white bull - again an ancient Indo-European or Aryan method of purification. The clothes are destroyed and a new Sudreh-Kusti is tied on the body.
The body is now tied up in old Sudrehs, only the face is kept uncovered. Any person who touches the body at this time has to purify himself by taking the Nahan (religious bath) with Taro, which he has to pour on his body as well as sip of. The abhorrence the ancient Aryans had for the dead body and its polluting influence is stressed at every step of this ancient ritual. The special corpse bearers now put the corpse on a marble stone. Fire is kept alongside burning with sandalwood, and a Diva (lamp) is also lighted. The Dastur (Zoroastrian fire-priest) now comes and intones special prayers in the ancient language of Avestan.
By the evening or the morning of the next day, the Dasturs (priests) pray the Geh-Sarna ceremony. The soul wanders near the body for the first three days and is considered like a new-born child, very susceptible to the attack of evil spirits. The Geh-Sarna ceremony strengthens the soul and helps it to proceed on its way - it is thought that there have never been any ghosts of Zoroastrians because of the powerful effects of the ancient Avestan Mathras (verses of prayer). In fact, no pregnant woman is allowed to be present near the Geh-Sarna ceremony because of the fear that the powerful incantations may have an adverse effect on the unborn child ie. the soul that has recently attached to the child in the womb and is waiting to be born.
The members of the household then say goodbye to the departed for the last time (without touching the body). The corpse bearers carry away the body on a special iron bier (iron and stone cannot be polluted, wood can) from the prayer rooms and prepare for its final destruction. In the open, the body is placed on a stone slab and a dog is brought near to gaze on the face of the dead person. In Aryan tradition, The dog possesses divine sight, and has the power to see and chase away any evil spirits. The body is then placed by the bearers in a circular well shaped stone structure, called the Dakhma or more recently the "Tower of Silence". Stone is not polluted and so shields the good earth from the evil of putrefaction.
The sun and the vulture work systematically and hand-in-hand to destroy the dead body. The rain then falls and washes away the dried bones into the sea. As much as 1 year is allowed in the Aryan scriptures for this process, and this is contrasted to the burial process where the earth is polluted for at least 50 years, and lies shallow and unused for cultivation- for Zoroastrians the greatest worship of God is cultivation. Burial/burning of corpses are both considered wrong actions in the Vendidad. In an earlier Fargad (chapter), Mazdah says that they were actions dreamed up by the evil one and taught to humanity to mislead them to pollute the earth and the fire.
Sacred ceremonies then go on for 4 days. On the morning of the 4th day, by the rays of the rising sun, the soul of the departed person ascends and passes to the "Chinvato-Peretu", the Bridge that separates the spiritual (Minoi) world from the physical (Geti) world. There he meets his own conscience, in the astral form of a maiden. The maiden is as beautiful or as hideous as his own works in the world. The soul is then judged by the divinity Mithra and either passes on to Garodman, the abode of songs where Ahura Mazdah (God) awaits him or to drujo-deman, the abode of the evil one. There the soul waits until it is time for the Resurrection of all the dead and the final defeat and expulsion of evil from this world, when death, disease, hunger and thirst will be a thing of the past and God Himself will come down to the earth, assisted by the final Saviour (Saoshyant.)
The Zarathustrian (Zoroastrian) religion is an ancient, yet significant religion. It stresses purity and the battle of good against evil. Zarathustrian religion has had effects on everything from the basis of Christianity to Hitler's justification for attempting to create a perfect Aryan race. Without understanding this complex religion, it is hard to understand our own.