What is the Zoroastrian Religion?

What is the Zoroastrian Religion?


Zoroastrians have been around for over 2,000
years. Their influence can be found in Christianity
and Islam, and they bring you cultural relics like the zodiacs. Today, we’re going to go deep in our Human
history, maybe further back than we’ve ever gone so far on Step Back and tell the story
of this ancient and endangered religion. I’m Tristan Johnson, and this is Step Back
History. Zoroastrianism is old. Super old. It comes from modern-day Iran and has its
origins with a significant religious reformer named Zarathustra from around the 6th century
BCE. Outside of Iran, Zarathustra typically goes
by the name Zoroaster, so for the rest of this video, I will use that. It’s the Greekification of his name. The religion is a strange overlapping mix
of monotheism and dualism, and because of this, it’s suspected that it influenced Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam. Zoroastrianism had a massive impact on ancient
Greek society. Greeks often saw the world as a sort of combat
between forces of order and chaos, and this comes from Zoroastrianism. It also exported astrology with the twelve
signs of the zodiac you know today. In western history, the Zoroastrians also
have an association with magic. The term mage comes from Zoroastrian words
for their clergy. It also has a lot of relevance to the Abrahamic
religions. Elements of the life of Zoroaster pop up in
the life stories of prominent figures in Judaism and Christianity such as Balaam, Baruch, Ezekiel,
Nimrod, Seth and even Jesus! Now Zoroastrianism isn’t and wasn’t ever
focused on its monotheism like Islam and Judaism are, but it seems it was an attempt to unify
people behind the worship of a singular god they call the Wise Lord, or Ahura Mazda. They believed that there were more gods a
long time ago, but this has fallen away over the literal millennia. They still have minor deities that they won’t
go so far as to call gods, but kinda are and aren’t. Another prominent feature of Zoroastrianism
is a concept in religious studies called dualism. It’s when a religion believes the world
is made up of two opposed principles that are the centre of all existence. For Zoroastrianism, these are the forces of
order and chaos. They believe Ahura Mazda created spirits of
order and chaos and that their battle is the defining conflict of existence. They think Humans, with their capacity for
free will, can choose between these two aspects, and so in living an ordered, good life are
part of this epic struggle. Part of this good life includes a little bit
of ecology. Their scripture calls for the protection of
water, earth, fire, and air, and many interpret that as a desire to maintain the ecosystem
of the planet. We don’t know much about the time of the
founding of Zoroastrianism. It’s far enough back that their language
has a name like Indo-Aryan, where we just know that there is some language between two
others we know of later. This was also a time where Iran worshipped
early drafts of the Hindu gods. So, many of the core figures and practices
of Zoroastrianism come from old proto-Hindu ones. Enter Zoroaster. Not a ton survives about him, but he was a
significant reformer, creating some form of religious turmoil in the Achaemenid Empire
where this took place. He lived somewhere in eastern Iran and seemed
not to make a big splash while he was alive. Either that or the Achaemenids of his time
sought no reason to write about him. Zoroastrianism didn’t emerge as a real force
for a few centuries. The first mention of Zoroastrianism in a history
book is… the Histories. A Greek text by a historian named Herodotus. So the religion took hold sometime before
the mid-5th century BCE. Historians suspect King Darius I to be the
first Zoroastrian leader of the Achaemenid empire. He made references to worshipping Ahura Mazda,
but this doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a follower of Zoroaster. However, many Zoroastrians today use a lot
of texts dated to this period, and even still use a calendar from it. So this was at least a growing age for the
religion. Zoroastrians claim there were many more writings
in this period, but that they were lost when Alexander the Great conquered the region,
and some archaeological evidence seems to back this up. The invasion of Alexander appears to have
caused the growing religion to scatter under a wave of Greek religion. Nearly all the Iranian deities disappeared
for centuries. It wasn’t until the first century BCE that
the gods began returning, meshed with the Greek ones. You had gods with names like Zeus Oromazdes,
Apollo Mithra, or Helios Hermes. Though it looks like Zoroastrianism moved. One piece of evidence comes from a formalised
Zoroastrian calendar from around the same time but found in modern day Turkmenistan. It implies that in this period, some of the
Zoroastrian texts had formalised, and with the religion it grew out of mostly dead, it
could now come into its own. Zoroastrianism grew in this region to become
the dominant religion. I’m skipping a lot of the history of antiquity,
but later on, a new empire in Iran called the Sasanian Empire adopted it and spread
it with their conquests between the third and seventh centuries CE. This is the peak of Zoroastrian prominence. It was all downhill from here. Muslim Arabs conquered the Sassanids in the
7th century. They became part of the massive Umayyad Caliphate,
and Islam began to flourish in Iran. The Muslims tolerated Zoroastrianism, but
there was a lot of conversion in this period to Islam. Zoroastrians tried to revolt against this
rule, incurring more and more persecution. They also were Dhimmi, or non-Muslims living
in a Muslim state, which means they kept their rights and way of life, but they paid the
Jizya, a tax on non-Muslims. Zoroastrians produced many books to save their
knowledge from the threat of destruction and survived as a persecuted minority in small
pockets of Iran. Some Zoroastrians left Iran in the wake of
the conquest and emigrated to India. They settled in a region called Gujarat, and
until the 15th century stopped talking to the Zoroastrians back in Iran. They began to adapt to Indian and Hindu forms
of dress and adopted the Gujarati language. When the British arrived, they took British
customs and clothing and made a big deal about how super monotheistic they were. Many of these Indian Zoroastrians involved
themselves in commerce and grew wealthy under British rule. Starting in the 19th century, they began to
use this wealth to help their Iranian lost family. The religion continued to decline in numbers,
and though they still exist today, are an extreme minority. Estimates put that there are less than 200,000
Zoroastrians around today and that number is dropping. So, let’s talk about some of their religious
practices. Zoroastrian religious ceremonies feature fire. It’s used as the symbol of their faith. It’s a purification symbol. They believe it is the medium for insight
and wisdom. Water is also considered very important as
the source of that wisdom. Children are initiated into the religion between
the ages of seven and 10. Part of that involves receiving some ceremonial
clothing. They also have many purification rituals,
one of which requires a dog to perform. They call their main ceremony the Yasna. It’s a ceremony wherein they sacrifice sacred
liquor (they used to do blood but decided to put that one to sleep) recite from their
holy text called the Avesta, and give offerings of food to the sacred fire. The sacred fire must be kept burning. There are rituals for refuelling the fire
performed five times a day, and if it does go out, there is yet another ritual for reigniting
the flame. Zoroastrians have some interesting rituals
when it comes to death. The corpse is first visited by a dog five
times a day. They bring a fire in, and it’s kept burning
until three days after the body has been removed. The corpse must be removed during the day,
and brought to the dakhma, or the tower of silence. Here, the corpse is exposed to the elements
naked where vultures devour the body in about two hours. The bones left over after bleached by the
sun are swept into a central well. On the fourth day after death, they believe
the soul has found the next world and appeared before the deities for judgement. This is when the solemn remembrance events
happen. Ok, let’s cleanse our pallet by talking
about holidays! Happiness is a core part of a good life for
Zoroastrians, so festivals are essential. They have six seasonal celebrations, and a
year-end day of remembrance for the dead. Each day of the month and each of the months
is also named after a deity. When the day and month are the same deities,
there’s a feast for that deity. The biggest one is their new year’s festival
called Noruz. Zoroastrians have a belief that relies heavily
on combatting evil and maintaining life. Maintaining life means many Zoroastrians believe
that farming and procreating are essential duties for everyone. There’s also historically a tendency towards… Consanguinous marriages, a fancy word for
incestual marriage. Probably an inspiration for the Targaryens
from Game of Thrones. They also have a firm belief in redemption. They have three rituals for purification and
redemption for sins. So there you have it. Zoroastrianism, a very old, very complex,
and pretty unique faith that is a strong contender for one of the oldest living religions today. There is a lot I had to leave out due to time,
so if there’s more you know leave it in the comments. Otherwise, look down for some cool tidbits. Hey folks, if you liked this video be sure
to mash that subscribe button down there and push the bell notification, so you know when
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not about Zoroastrianism, so please share this video with the curious people in your
life. I’d also like to thank these magical people,
especially Don and Kerry Johnson for their support over on Patreon. If you want to see Step Back videos early,
then go to patreon.com/stepbackhistory and check out the perks available there. The theme song is made by 12 Tone. Thanks for watching and come back soon for
some more Step Back!

60 Replies to “What is the Zoroastrian Religion?”

  1. My family is Afghan and the name we use to describe the Zoroastrians is literally “Fire Worshippers” but I’m not sure if this is a pejorative or not. There doesn’t seem to be any malice behind it but I simply don’t know since anyone I ask will of course respond saying it’s not.

  2. I had this inside joke in my history class because we had to read a (translated) inscription from a Persian king and every other sentence was “By the Might of Ahura Mazda”

  3. Persian culture still has some remnants of its Zoroastrian past, including their calendar and a few holidays such as Nowruz. Great Video!

  4. Shot in the dark and nothing to do with the topic but do you have any idea what the relation is between the etruscans, the germanics and the norse since they called their gods by similar names? Aisar, Æsir. Etruscan, Norse.

  5. Tha magic wands wizards often use in fantasy…seems to also be from Zoroastrianism, as are the silly hats and robes.
    I find this whole religion so fascinating!

  6. I like the Shaun reference 😀 I always found it to be such a cool religion it has the ancient Indiana Jones type feel to it.

  7. Noruz is still celebrated in Iran even among Muslims, and there is a huge misconception among Muslims that Zoroastrians worship fire while they don't.

  8. Those Space Marine references with "Order and Chaos" were pretty clever, especially since one major Chaos Space Marine in 40k is named after the Zoroastrian evil spirit, Ahriman (or Angra Mainyu) who was originally seen as Ahura Mazda's evil counterpart but is now seen as merely a product of him due to the whole "we're totally Monotheistic" thing.

  9. I used to get Zoroastrianism and Gnosticism mixed up all the time when I was younger. (I blame anime and JRPGs) I am such a massive nerd that when I create worlds for my RPGs I tend to try and be unique with my real world inspirations, and end up on deep culture and religions dives because of it. My foundations of my knowledge of Zoroastrianism comes from a time when I wanted to make my Dwarves Persian inspired. On top of that when I play Shadowrun (Cyberpunk near future earth with magic.)I tend to take a race,ethic group, or religion and make it a cornerstone of that character, ESPECIALLY if they are a mage, since magic in that setting is powered by belief.

  10. I know what the purpose of the dog visiting the corpse is. Lab report! The religion itself gained a boost in popularity (rebirth) with the movie 2001: a Space Odyssey and the hit instrumental song 'Also sprach Zarathustra".

  11. Zoroastrians worship Ahuras (Ahura Mazda being the main one), who are opposed by the Daevas, whereas Ancient Hindus worshiped Devas, who are opposed by Asuras (linguistically we know the words are connected, it's not an accidental similarity). It's sorta like the Hindus and Zoroastrians were fan groups cheering for opposing teams lol..

  12. Thanks for covering that topic! 🙂

    Zoroastrians at least in modern Iran, have changed their burial customs – nowadays, they mostly encase their dead in some form of concrete in cemeteries that somewhat resemble those of the Abrahamic religions. That way, the dead body can still not spoil the pure earth but isn't left out in the open (which is illegal nowadays, and sounds rather repulsive to non-Zoroastrians, which is a big concern in environments like Iran). Also, that kind of vultures is basically extinct in those regions, so it wouldn't work as intended, anyway.
    They also emphasise that Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion with a holy book, for obvious reasons.

  13. Triston, you make engaging, informative and entertaining videos, thank you for all the work you put into your channel and keep up the amazing work!

  14. Learned about Zoroastrians after reading a fiction series by Jacqueline Carey. Fascinating belief system, and I enjoy the style in which they are presented here. Thank you for taking the time.

  15. Fascinating. I'm definitely one of those people who know "of" the religion but not "about" it at all. I also didn't know that it was apparently the source of inspiration for several parts of Game of Thrones. Not just the Targaryen marraige practices, but also the whole Song of Fire and Ice thing (chaos/order), and Azor Ahai/R'hllor (Ahura Mazda). And obviously the whole religion behind R'hllor, being based on purification and fire ceremonies, etc. Very cool.

  16. "Lesser deities that are not gods"
    Dualism between Chaos and Order
    Purification rituals involving water

    Sounds like Catholicism took a lot from this

  17. India and China s population exceed 2.5 billion.
    Please don't burn the dead boldies, already this globe is polluted the north and south Pole icebergs have started to melt . Many islands will be inundated soon.
    Natural disasters are increasing.
    Please protect environment for the future generations.
    Bury the dead,,, this will fertilise the earth.
    Thank you.

  18. Zoroastrians were an enterprising people from a successful society that fell to a foreign ideology…I used to believe they flourished in India cause of who they were…where is the evidence that they flourished under the British and not before that…Zoroastrians were never discriminated in India…I live in Gujarat and quite a few of my friends are Zoroastrians, we call them Parsi (Hindi for people from Persia)…There numbers are on the decline because they do not consider the descendants of their daughters as Zoroastrians when they marry into non Zoroastrian families…However the same isn't true for males marrying non Zoroastrian girls…

    Any way, you mentioned Zoroastrians flourishing under the British Raj…can you point me to the source/article/book…if you do than you have my thanks…

  19. Nonsenses, Zoroastrians NEVER used blood in any ceremonies. Corpses visited by a dog??? Incestuace marriages????
    You are rehashing nonsense that our enemies used to prosecute us. Your video is plain wrong and offensive.
    Sir you have a responsibility to know the basics before you speak in front of a camera. Shame on you.

  20. Your presentation of Zoroastrian divinity and traditions contains some errors which result from references you have used. You must study the Gathas of Zoroaster to learn about the pristine teachings. If you present your postal address, I can provide and mail you a copy of the new translation.

  21. It's very interesting that children are initiated into the religion when they are 7, because in European paganism children are "weaned" at 7. This makes sense because both of these religions have the same indo european root.

  22. UR = "GOD" in ancient Sumerian language
    AHURA = "God" in Persian , the Persianized of the word "UR"

    The Zoroastrian winged disc also existed in ancient Sumeria.

  23. Does anyone else feel like Zoroastrianism is an exceptionally "human" religion? Pretty much the entire "Good vs. Evil" concept in fiction is has the exact same message:

    Good can only triumph over evil if mankind chooses good over evil.

  24. Fun fact: Rollercoasters were actually not named after zoroaster. Seriously though, Idk why your channel isn't more popular. You're always unbiased and accurate. Thank you for your videos man. Much appreciated. God bless ✌️🙂

  25. A fairly good account, but for a few details. 1. There isn't much text on the religion, simply because script didn't exist at the time, and when it was adapted & "scripted" Alexander (the Hate) demolished much of it. As a Zoroastrian born in India, (living in the US) I can assure you that while people "fret" that this religion will "die out"m it has not, will not – fade perhaps, but not die out. Zoroastrians know how to live & let live, while keeping their identity intact, accepting, respecting & even embracing other faiths – Because FREE WILL is what Zoroaster taught. There are opposing factors, we have the free will to choose. Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds are encouraged & the essence of the religion. I see the need for a Spiritual blog, (I have a Wellness one & touch on the Spirit) to let people know that Religion (the taboo word with many today) doesn't mean spiritual, and vice versa, but while it is contaminated by human bias, it has it's merits. I LOVE Hinduism because it makes a lot of scientific spiritual sense to me, but I also like aspects of other faiths, and embrace what is good. Like Faith in Mother Mary. I hope to explain & explore the good of many religions in my writing, because I haven't just "read about it", I've lived (among) it – In India The Land of Spirituality – Thanks to the Hindus, others were and are encouraged to worship. There are the bigots there too, but considering the population, Indians are a wonderful blend of various faiths, that co-exist in peace. I'm saddened by the closed minded Christians (protestants mainly) when it comes to religion in the US, who misrepresent Christ, and are nothing like the Prince of Peace. Ok enough said – Thanks for sharing – Shine On- Ushta-te!

  26. so in islam there is five times prayer in a day and in zoroastrian u have 5 time refuiling of the sacred fire a day. Is there a relation between two?

  27. Zoroaster = Zaros from Runescape ,

    Zamorak = Alexander the Great trying to destroy the evidence for Zoroastrianism by mixing Persian/Kurdish god names up with Greek names …..

    Zamorak = Muslims , again to do the same thing Greek/Macedonian empire did….

  28. Thanks for the vid man. Zoroastrianism also had a influence that went beyond the Abrahamic religions and Iranian history and culture. It was also the majority faith of the Sogdians (A historical people that used to live around modern Central Asia) who were the bosses of the Silk Road. The Sogdian communities and their faith spread not just in Central Asia but also in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even to Xian, the capital of Tang Dynasty China. Many of the earliest Buddhist missionaries to China were from the Silk Road and were Parthian or Sogdian (From areas the Sasanian Empire and Zoroastrianism reigned surpreme). It's even been speculated that there was a quasi-Zoroastrian influence on early Chinese Buddhism. It's all fascinating and it's a shame that Zoroastrianism is such a overlooked religion.

  29. You left out the central tenant of it. Which is that there is a gigantic war between the gods (lead by Ahura Mazda and Ahriman), where everyone must choose a side, Zororasteian or not, and that there will be a gigantic battle to decide the fate of the Universe, and the loser is tortured for all eternity. Ahura Mazda did not create both opposing sides. The 'chaos' side is uncreated, and so not part of Mazda, or all that is good. Ahura Mazda is also not all-powerful, but most of his duties are delegated to other deities when interacting with humans.

  30. Go on a tour of the world's religions with this whole series! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNh7QNRUVp0&list=PLnpoOo7lhNnG64vN6y07lLqQzYaiNDqwK

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