Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since our last Spotlight on Religion, but now it’s time for the next one — Zeroastrianism! (I have no idea how to pronounce that, by the way.)
Religion: Zeroastrianism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic (which means you believe in only one God) religions. It was founded before Islam and Christianity in the sixth century BC, though it holds many of the same beliefs. It was founded by a prophet who, like most prophets, thought he saw visions of God (or, as he called it, Ahura Mazda). His name was Zarathustra. Zeroastrianism used to be a huge religion, one of the largest in the world, but in recent years the number of followers has dwindled down, now at only 140,000.
Where it is Practiced: Zeroastrianism was founded in Persia, but over the years it has made its way down to India, where the religion is called Parsiism and the majority of the followers live. Now, besides India, people practicing Zeroastrianism can be found in Iran, the US, Afghanistan, the UK, Canada, Pakistan, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Beliefs: The core of Zeroastrianism is good and evil. The two representatives of these concepts are Ahura Mazda (good) and Aura Mainyu (evil). If you spend your life doing good and being good, you will go to heaven with Ahura Mazda and you will be guided there by a beautiful woman. If the bad you have done in your life outweighs the good, you will be taken to hell, guided by an ugly old woman. There are many different levels and degrees of hell depending on how good you’ve been during your lifespan. In Zeroastrianism you are given free choice, and you will either be rewarded or punished for what you chose to do. All of these beliefs and more can be found in their sacred texts, the Avesta, which translates to “The Book of Law.”
Practices: Today, the practices of Zeroastrians (or Parsis) have several important practices, including a coming of age ritual, penance, ceremonies, sacred objects, festivals, burial rites, and much more. In the coming of age ritual, children are either 7 or 10 (depending on whether they study the form from either India or Persia). They are initiated into the religion and receive either a shirt and a girdle which they are supposed to wear their whole life. Penance is very much like the Catholic version of confession, where you confess to a priest, but first must recite the patet, whereas Catholics recite the Act of Contrition. The chief ceremony is known as the Yasna, which is basically a sacrifice of sacred liquor and celebrated before the sacred fire (which is left burning at all times), and recitation of large portions of the Avesta. There are six seasonal festivals in Zeroastrianism, the most important of which is the New Years Festival. Lastly, burial rites are very important to Parsis. A “four-eyed” dog (a dog with spots above each eye) is brought before the corpse and brought back five times a day, which goes on for three days. This is thought to expose the dead.
References: I got my information from these places: http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm and http://globalgoodgroup.com/blog/2011/12/17/three-awesome-world-religions-you-didnt-know-existed/