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Zoroastrianism

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New Year's Day and the importance of light in Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrian rituals are conducted before a sacred fire. Some outsiders believe that they actually worship fire. This is not true. They regard fire as a symbol of their God, and they cherish the light that it produces. Light is seen as energy, a natural force that is powerful and necessary for survival.

Hannah M.G. Shapero "...a visual artist deeply devoted to Zoroastrian scholarly studies" writes:

"Noruz is the Iranian New Year, which is celebrated each year at the Spring Equinox, around March 21. It is the most important holiday in the Zoroastrian calendar, and brings with it a wealth of symbolism, history, myth, and joyous festivities. There are many layers of meaning to Noruz: astronomical, mythical, historical, ritual, and spiritual."

"The word Noruz, in Persian, means "New Day," and the primal origin of the festival is in the universal rhythms of Earth and nature. In the "temperate" zones of the Northern Hemisphere, including Iran, the spring equinox signals the beginning of warmer weather and the growing season. In ancient Iran, it was the time to begin plowing fields and sowing seeds for crops. The equinox also marks the moment when, in the twenty-four hour round of the day, daylight begins to be longer than night."

"From its earliest origins Zoroastrianism has honored these natural rhythms and cycles, both with agricultural festivals and with cosmic commemorations of yearly astronomical events. The world, fashioned by the Wise Lord, shows forth the divine in all aspects of nature, and that divine Immanence is honored in festivals like Noruz, in which divine symbolism is joined with a celebration of the renewal of the earth in spring."

"In Zoroastrianism, light is the great symbol of God and Goodness, whether in the light of the sun or in the sacred fire. The Spring Equinox and the lengthening of the days is thus a symbol of the victory of Light over the cold and darkness of winter." 1


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2020-AUG-06: The membership decline in the Zoroastrian religion:

Shawn Walker, writing in The Guardian, said that the Zoroastrian community in India are referred to as Parsis. He discussed the funeral of his grandfather:

"In the days after the funeral, it struck me with some sadness that my grandfather, who had spent almost a century devoted to the Zoroastrian faith, would be the final Parsi in his family line. The faith he preached, ... became the dominant religion of Persia for more than a millennium, until the advent of Islam in the seventh century. Some Zoroastrians who refused to convert fled [Persia, now called Iran] , and ended up in Gujarat in western India, where they became known as Parsis after their Persian origins. They built new temples to house their sacred fires, which were tended to by priests and could never be extinguished. ..."

"The rigorous tribalism kept the small community alive and distinct for more than a millennium, but in today’s world, the same intransigence is killing it off."

Jehangir Patel, has edited the community’s monthly magazine, Parsiana, for almost 50 years. He said:

"You’ve seen four weddings and a funeral – well, for Parsis, it’s four funerals and a wedding."

When he finally retires, he fears the magazine will simply close, as more of its readers are dying off each year. India’s Parsi population shrank from 114,000 in 1941 to 57,000 at the last census in 2011. Projections suggest that by the end of the [21st] century, there will be just 9,000 left.

The traditional Zoroastrian belief is that when a person dies, they are placed on top of a structure called a dakhma to be eaten by vultures. A Zoroastrian high priest, Khurshed Dastoor, commented on the belief of many Zoroastrians that if a person is cremated after death, they will go to Hell. He said:

"This is where we’ve gone wrong as a religion. ... The improvement of your soul, ideas, the kindness you show to people, to help educate and show charity to your family, your whole community and all of society -- this is how we should measure a good Zoroastrian."

Commenting on the membership decline, he said:

"... to be honest, I doubt we can make a difference. I don’t see any optimistic future." 2


 

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Books on Zorastrianiam:


Information websites:

  • The Ancient Iranian Cultural & Religious Research & Development Center maintains a Canadian website to promote the teachings of Zarathushtra. See: http://www.ancientiran.com

  • Avesta -- Zoroastrian Archives is an extensive resource of Zoroastrian information at: http://www.avesta.org/avesta.html

  • Internet Sacred Text Archive: Zoraoastrianism," contains online editions of the three volume Avesta series, as well as the five volume Pahlavi series at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/

  • Parsis, Iranis, Zarathushtis -- ALL under one roof," has "everything ... from food to Zoroastrian studies and from Charities and baby names to Business and Youth !" See: http://zoroastrians.net/

  • World of Traditional Zoroastrianism describes the tenets of the religion, and has articles on history, prayers, doctrines, rituals, and the sin & harm of interfaith marriages. See: http://www.zoroastrianism.com/

  • The Zarathushrtian Assembly is "... a non-political religious corporation established with the aim of studying and disseminating information on the Divine Message of Zarathushtra and promoting the Zarathushtrian Fellowship." See: http://www.zoroastrian.org

  • Zarathustra is "Dedicated to promoting the Spiritual Philosophy of Zarathushtra & Zoroastrianism." See: http://www.zarathushtra.com

  • The Zoroastrian Association of Shiraz promotes the Zoroastrian religion, teachings and culture to the world at: http://shiraz.freeservers.com/ 

  • The marriage ceremony of the Parsis is described at: http://www.avesta.org/

  • Zorastrian Kids Korner is a website designed for children. It discusses basic Zoroastrian beliefs, famous Zorastrians, and includes games, crafts and prayers. See: http://www.zoroastriankids.com/

References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today. 

  1. Hannah M.G. Shapero, "Noruz, The Fire of Spring," at: http://www.vohuman.org/
  2. Shaun Walker, "The last of the Zoroastrians," The Guardian, 2020-AUG-06, at: https://www.theguardian.com/

Copyright © 1996 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2020-AUG-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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