Zoroastrianism is among the oldest religions of the world. Many Westerners erroneously label Zoroastrians as fire worshippers. According to Zoroastrianism, there is one God called Ahura Mazda, or Wise Lord. Once one of the largest religions, it is currently one of the smallest religions. A quarter of a million Zoroastrians exist throughout the world.
History of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism was founded in Persia (ancient Iran) around 3500 years ago by the prophet Zoroaster, or Zarathustra. Zoroaster was born into a polytheistic religion similar to early Hinduism in Northeast Iran or Southwest Afghanistan. He had a wife and six children. He rejected the polytheistic religion and disapproved of its animal sacrifices and use of intoxicants. When he was thirty, he saw God in a vision. Zoroaster was a changed man and started spreading the teachings of the one and only God. The people and officials were not receptive to Zoroaster. He was having a difficult time so he moved to the more accepting land of King Vishtaspa where his ideas were accepted as the official religion. Zoroaster eventually died. In the meantime, Zoroastrianism spread to Western Iran and became an established religion. It was the official religion of Persia from 600 BC to 650 AD.
At the center of Zoroastrianism is God or Ahura Mazda, the creator of the world. Some religions, like Christianity, refer to mankind as God's children; in Zoroastrianism, however, humans are God's helpers. The positive and wise choices of man will push evil away and God's Paradise will then be set up on Earth. Zoroastrianism encourages its followers to think good thoughts, speak good words, and perform good deeds. Zoroastrianism believes in the family and community. It does not believe in celibacy. The religion also encourages taking an active role in improving society. Zoroastrians avidly donate to social and educational charities and believe that all people are equal. Zoroastrianism is frequently mistaken for a fire-worshipping religion. The truth is that Zoroastrians worship God and consider natural elements to represent features of God. Fire, fore example, represents the wisdom of God. The holy book of Zoroastrianism is The Avesta, which contains the Gathas, or the seventeen hymns by Zoroaster, and the The Younger Avesta, which includes commentaries, myths, ritual descriptions, and more.
According to Zoroastrianism, followers can pray as often as they like. Followers pray while facing a source of light like the sun or fire which symbolize the energy or wisdom of God. Traditional Zoroastrians pray several times a day. This is a custom that starts early in life. When they are seven years old, Zoroastrians must go through an initiation ceremony. They are given a scared shirt and cord. They are to wear the shirt and tie the cord around it three times symbolizing the Zoroastrian belief in good words, thoughts and deeds. They pray as they untie and retie the cord. They may also wash their hands as a purification ritual before praying. Communal worship usually takes place around the time of a festival or a ceremony marking a stage of life. Fire is always part of a ceremony.