Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is an Iranian religion and one of the world’s oldest continuously-practiced organized faiths, based on the teachings of the Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zaraθuštra in Avestan or as Zartosht in Modern Persian). It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology which predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good.
Zoroastrianism exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom known as Ahura Mazda (lit. ’Wise Lord’) as its supreme being.
The unique historical features of Zoroastrianism, such as its monotheism, messianism, belief in judgement after death, conception of heaven and hell, and free will may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Islam, and the Baháʼí Faith.
With possible roots dating back to the 2nd millennium BCE, Zoroastrianism enters recorded history in the 5th century BCE. It served as the state religion of the ancient Iranian empires for more than a millennium, from around 600 BCE to 650 CE, but declined from the 7th century CE onwards as a direct result of the Muslim conquest of Persia (633–654 CE) which led to the large-scale persecution of the Zoroastrian people. Recent estimates place the current number of Zoroastrians in the world at around 110,000–120,000 at most, with the majority living in India, Iran, and North America; their number has been thought to be declining.
The most important texts of Zoroastrianism are those contained within the Avesta, which includes chiefly the writings of Zoroaster known as the Gathas, as well as poems within the Yasna that define the teachings of Zoroaster, which serve as the basis for worship. The religious philosophy of Zoroaster divided the early Iranian gods of the Proto-Indo-Iranian tradition into ahuras and daevas, the latter of which were not considered to be worthy of worship. Zoroaster proclaimed that Ahura Mazda was the supreme creator, the creative and sustaining force of the universe through Asha, and that human beings are given a choice between supporting Ahura Mazda or not, making them ultimately responsible for their choices.
Though Ahura Mazda has no equal contesting force, Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit/mentality), whose forces are born from Aka Manah (evil thought), is considered to be the main adversarial force of the religion, standing against Spenta Mainyu (creative spirit/mentality). Middle Persian literature developed Angra Mainyu further into Ahriman, advancing him to be the direct adversary to Ahura Mazda.
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Additionally, the life force that originates from Ahura Mazda, known as Asha (truth, cosmic order), stands in opposition to Druj (falsehood, deceit). Ahura Mazda is considered to be all-good with no evil emanating from the deity. Ahura Mazda works in gētīg (the visible material realm) and mēnōg (the invisible spiritual and mental realm) through the seven (six when excluding Spenta Mainyu) Amesha Spentas (the direct emanations of Ahura Mazda).
Zoroastrianism is not entirely uniform in theological and philosophical thought, especially with historical and modern influences having a significant impact on individual and local beliefs, practices, values and vocabulary, sometimes merging with tradition and in other cases displacing it.
The ultimate purpose in the life of a practicing Zoroastrian is to become an ashavan (a master of Asha) and to bring happiness into the world, which contributes to the cosmic battle against evil. The core teachings of Zoroastrianism include:
Following the threefold path of Asha: Humata, Hūxta, Huvarshta (lit. ’good thoughts, good words, good deeds’).
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Practicing charity to keep one’s soul aligned with Asha and thus with spreading happiness.
The spiritual equality and duty of men and women alike.
Being good for the sake of goodness and without the hope of reward (see Ashem Vohu).
Facts about Zoroastrianism?
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- Zoroastrians believe there is one God called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and He created the world.
- Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some Westerners wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom.
- Ahura Mazda revealed the truth through the Prophet, Zoroaster.
- Zoroastrians traditionally pray several times a day.
- Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary.
- The Zoroastrian book of Holy Scriptures is called The Avesta.
- The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
- The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
The Younger Avesta – commentaries to the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.
Zoroastrians are roughly split into two groups: