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Zoroastrianism /ˌzɒroʊˈæstriənɪzəm/, also called Mazdaism and Magianism, is an ancient Iranian religion and a religious philosophy. It was once the state religion of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires. Estimates of the current number of Zoroastrians worldwide vary between 145,000 and 2.6 million.
In the eastern part of ancient Persia more than a thousand years BCE, a religious philosopher called Zoroaster simplified the pantheon of early Iranian gods into two opposing forces: Ahura Mazda (Illuminating Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu (Destructive Spirit) which were in conflict.
In Zoroastrianism, the creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil originates from him. Thus, in Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil (druj) trying to destroy the creation of Mazda (asha), and good trying to sustain it. While Ahura Mazda is not immanent in the world, his creation is represented by the Amesha Spentas and the host of other Yazatas, through whom the works of God are evident to humanity, and through whom worship of Mazda is ultimately directed. The most important texts of the religion are those of the Avesta, of which a significant portion has been lost, and mostly only the liturgies of which have survived. The lost portions are known of only through references and brief quotations in the later works, primarily from the 9th to 11th centuries.
In some form, it served as the national or state religion of a significant portion of the Iranian people for many centuries. The religion first dwindled when the Achaemenid Empire was invaded by Alexander the Great, after which it collapsed and disintegrated and it was further gradually marginalized by Islam from the 7th century onwards with the decline of the Sassanid Empire. The political power of the pre-Islamic Iranian dynasties lent Zoroastrianism immense prestige in ancient times, and some of its leading doctrines were adopted by other religious systems. It has no major theological divisions (the only significant schism is based on calendar differences), but it is not uniform. Modern-era influences have a significant impact on individual and local beliefs, practices, values and vocabulary, sometimes merging with tradition and in other cases displacing it.Terminology
The Oxford English Dictionary attests use of the term Zoroastrianism in 1874 in Archibald Sayce's Principles of Comparative Philology. The first surviving reference to Zoroaster in English scholarship is attributed to Thomas Browne (1605–1682), who briefly refers to the prophet in his 1643 Religio Medici. The Oxford English Dictionary records 1743 (Warburton, Pope's Essay) as the earliest reference to Zoroaster. However, his image is identified in Raphael's "School of Athens" by Giorgio Vasari in 1550, so knowledge of his philosophy had evidently percolated into the Italian Renaissance.
The term Mazdaism /ˈmæzdə.ɪzəm/ is a typical 19th century construct, taking Mazda- from the name Ahura Mazda and adding the suffix -ism to suggest a belief system. The March 2001 draft edition of the Oxford English Dictionary also records an alternate form, Mazdeism, perhaps derived from the French Mazdéisme, which first appeared in 1871. The Zoroastrian name of the religion is Mazdayasna, which combines Mazda- with the Avestan language word yasna, meaning "worship, devotion".
In English, an adherent of the faith commonly refers to himself or herself as a Zoroastrian or as a Zarathustrian. An older, but still widespread expression is Behdin, meaning "follower of Daena", for which "Good Religion" is one translation. In the Zoroastrian liturgy, the term Behdin is also used as a title for an individual who has been formally inducted into the religion in a Navjote ceremony.Distinguishing characteristics Basic beliefs
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Zoroastrians believe that there is one universal, transcendent, supreme god, Ahura Mazda, or the 'Wise Lord'.(Ahura means 'Being' and Mazda means 'Mind' in Avestan language). Zoroaster keeps the two attributes separate as two different concepts in most of the Gathas and also consciously uses a masculine word for one concept and a feminine for the other, as if to distract from an anthropomorphization of his divinity. Some Zoroastrians claim Ahura Mazda as the uncreated Creator to whom all worship is ultimately directed, thereby formulating a panentheistic faith with a transcendent divinity, widely believed to have influenced the theology of the Ismaeli branch of Islam. Other Zoroastrian scholars argue that since Zoroaster's divinity covers both being and mind as immanent entities, it is better described as a belief in an immanent self-creating universe with consciousness as its special attribute, thereby putting Zoroastranism in the pantheistic fold where it can be easily traced to its shared origin with Indian Brahmanism. In any case, Ahura Mazda's creation—evident is widely agreed as asha, truth and order—is the antithesis of chaos, which is evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
The religion states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster's concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism. Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over the evil Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all of creation—even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to "darkness"—will be reunited in Ahura Mazda, returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time, a savior-figure (a Saoshyant) will bring about a final renovation of the world (frashokereti), in which the dead will be revived.
In Zoroastrian tradition, the "chaotic" is represented by Angra Mainyu (also referred to as "Ahriman"), the "Destructive Principle", while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda's Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or "Bounteous Principle" of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that transcendental Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula, Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu. As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated the Amesha Spentas ("Bounteous Immortals"), that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each "Worthy of Worship" and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation.Other characteristics
In Zoroastrianism, water (apo, aban) and fire (atar, adar) are agents of ritual purity, and the associated purification ceremonies are considered the basis of ritual life. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, water and fire are respectively the second and last primordial elements to have been created, and scripture considers fire to have its origin in the waters. Both water and fire are considered life-sustaining, and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire (which can be considered evident in any source of light), and the culminating rite of the principle act of worship constitutes a "strengthening of the waters". Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom.
While the Parsees in India have traditionally been opposed to proselytizing, probably for historical reasons, and even considered it a crime for which the culprit may face expulsion, Iranian Zoroastrians have never been opposed to conversion, and the practice has been endorsed by the Council of Mobeds of Tehran. While the Iranian authorities do not permit proselytizing within Iran, Iranian Zoroastrians in exile have actively encouraged missionary activities, with The Zarathushtrian Assembly in Los Angeles and the International Zoroastrian Centre in Paris as two prominent centres. As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement.
In Zoroastrian tradition, life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born, the urvan (soul) of an individual is still united with its fravashi (guardian spirit), and which have existed since Mazda created the universe. During life, the fravashi acts as a guardian and protector. On the fourth day after death, the soul is reunited with its fravashi, in which the experiences of life in the material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world. For the most part, Zoroastrianism does not have a notion of reincarnation, at least not until the final renovation of the world. Followers of Ilm-e-Kshnoom in India believe in reincarnation and practice vegetarianism, two principles unknown to Orthodox Zoroastrianism.
In Zoroastrian scripture and tradition, a corpse is a host for decay, i.e., of druj. Consequently, scripture enjoins the safe disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the good creation. These injunctions are the doctrinal basis of the fast-fading traditional practice of ritual exposure, most commonly identified with the so-called Towers of Silence for which there is no standard technical term in either scripture or tradition. Ritual exposure is only practiced by Zoroastrian communities of the Indian subcontinent, where it is not illegal, but where alternative disposal methods are sought after diclofenac poisoning has led to the virtual extinction of scavenger birds. Other Zoroastrian communities either cremate their dead, or bury them in graves that are cased with lime mortar.History Origins
Zoroastrianism emerged from a common prehistoric Indo-Iranian religious system dating back to the early 2nd millennium BCE. According to Zoroastrian tradition, Zoroaster was a reformer who exalted the deity of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda, to the status of Supreme Being and Creator, while demoting various other deities and rejecting certain rituals.Classical antiquity
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Although older, Zoroastrianism only enters recorded history in the mid-5th century BCE. Herodotus' The Histories (completed c. 440 BCE) includes a description of Greater Iranian society with what may be recognizably Zoroastrian features, including exposure of the dead.
The Histories is a primary source of information on the early period of the Achaemenid era (648–330 BCE), in particular with respect to the role of the Magi. According to Herodotus i.101, the Magi were the sixth tribe of the Medians (until the unification of the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, all Iranians were referred to as "Mede" or "Mada" by the peoples of the Ancient World), who appear to have been the priestly caste of the Mesopotamian-influenced branch of Zoroastrianism today known as Zurvanism, and who wielded considerable influence at the courts of the Median emperors.
Following the unification of the Median and Persian empires in 550 BCE, Cyrus the Great and, later, his son Cambyses II curtailed the powers of the Magi after they had attempted to sow dissent following their loss of influence. In 522 BCE, the Magi revolted and set up a rival claimant to the throne. The usurper, pretending to be Cyrus' younger son Smerdis, took power shortly thereafter. Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Persians, Medes and all the other nations" acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herodotus iii. 68).The Behistun Inscription, Iran.
According to the Behistun Inscription, pseudo-Smerdis ruled for seven months before being overthrown by Darius I in 521 BCE. The "Magi", though persecuted, continued to exist. A year following the death of the first pseudo-Smerdis (named Gaumata), a second pseudo-Smerdis (named Vahyazdāta) attempted a coup. The coup, though initially successful, failed.
Darius I was a devotee of Ahura Mazda, as attested to several times in the Behistun inscription. However, whether he was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since devotion to Ahura Mazda was (at the time) not necessarily an indication of an adherence to Zoroaster's teaching.
Darius I and later Achaemenid emperors, though acknowledging their devotion to Ahura Mazda in inscriptions, appear to have permitted religions to coexist. Nonetheless, it was during the Achaemenid period that Zoroastrianism gained momentum. A number of the Zoroastrian texts that today are part of the greater compendium of the Avesta have been attributed to that period. This calendar is still used today, a fact that is attributed to the Achaemenid period. Additionally, the divinities, or yazatas, are present-day Zoroastrian angels (Dhalla, 1938).
According to later Zoroastrian legend (Denkard and the Book of Arda Viraf), many sacred texts were lost when Alexander the Great's troops invaded Persepolis and subsequently destroyed the royal library there. Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca historica, which was completed c. 60 BCE, appears to substantiate this Zoroastrian legend (Diod. 17.72.2–17.72.6). According to one archaeological examination, the ruins of the palace of Xerxes bear traces of having been burned (Stolze, 1882). Whether a vast collection of (semi-)religious texts "written on parchment in gold ink", as suggested by the Denkard, actually existed remains a matter of speculation, but is unlikely. Given that many of the Denkards statements-as-fact have since been refuted among scholars, the tale of the library is widely accepted to be fictional (Kellens, 2002)Late antiquity
When the Sassanid dynasty came into power in 228 CE, they aggressively promoted the Zurvanite form of Zoroastrianism and, in some cases, persecuted Christians. When the Sassanids captured territory, they often built fire temples there to promote their religion. After Constantine, the Sassanids were suspicious of Christians, not least because of their perceived ties to the Christian Roman Empire. As such the Persian Church (the Church of the East) officially broke with Roman Christianity, and was tolerated and even sometimes favored by the Sassanids.
A form of Zoroastrianism was also prominent in the pre-Christian Caucasus region (especially modern-day Azerbaijan). During the periods of their suzerainty over the Caucasus, the Sassanids made attempts to promote the religion there as well.
Well before the 6th century CE, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Remains of Zoroastrian temples have been found in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang. By the 13th century, the religion had faded from prominence in China. However, Zoroastrianism (as well as later Manicheism) may still have influenced elements of Buddhism, especially in terms of light symbolism.Middle Ages
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