Zaratusztrianism and European culture

The concepts of hell, heaven, purgatory, or faith in the existence of the messiah, are the foundations of the Christian religion. In turn, the idea of the free will of man and the golden ethical principle (do not do anything unpleasant to others) are inscribed in European culture regardless of religion. Did you know that all these concepts have their origin in an ancient, now barely smouldering religion, which for nearly 1000 years was the leading religion of the world?

So it is Zaratustra

The compilation of Nietzsche’s ideas as expressed in Zaratustra’s words has nothing to do with the philosophy proclaimed by this legendary prophet. The book “Tako rzecze Zaratustra” is a philosophical treatise, a collection of Nietzsche’s thoughts. The historical Zaratustra, or rather: Zaratustra lived more than 1000 years before Christ in northern Iran or Afghanistan.

Zaraturasztra describes as the first human life as the struggle of truth and lies (do you notice a similarity to today’s struggle between good and evil in the Christian soul?). The human aspiration should be to reach and maintain the truth (aša) in his life. The workshop emphasized the importance of man’s free will and his responsibility for his own actions.

The path of the human soul from birth to death is represented by one of the most famous symbols of Zarathistriah – Faravahar. It can be seen on every Zaratshtrinian temple and is also worn in the form of a pendant, even by Iranian Muslims. Faravahar has become a symbol of Iranian culture and is worn regardless of religious beliefs. This is additionally surprising considering the fact that Islam forbids to present the image of god, people and animals in art.

Fire worshipers

Zaratusztrianism is often associated with the cult of fire. This is only partly true. Zaratuszttrians believe that both water and fire represent purity. Both of these elements are present in purification ceremonies and during Zaratusztrian feasts. Water and fire were the last and most important elements created during the creation of the world.

Fire is the medium through which wisdom can be achieved. Water is the source of this wisdom. Fire and water are present in every temple of the Town Hall. Water is often represented by a pond in the courtyard of the temple.

The fire for the dormitories has a special value. Although the pure fire was contaminated by the evil Angra Mainju, who added smoke to it, the smoke does not mix with the fire itself, it escapes upwards and the flames always remain perfectly clean. A fire that burns for over 100 years has the power to heal and fulfill requests. The caterers therefore do not extinguish the fire after the celebrations, but keep it in a sacred place. By this special care for the flame, the Zaratusztrians have been recognized as worshippers of the fire.

It is fascinating – fire worshippers managed to keep the fire going despite wars, invasions and religious changes. In moments of danger, they fled with fire even to neighboring Azerbaijan, just to avoid letting it go out! Currently, inside the temple, the flame is visible to visitors.

The story of this flame is truly remarkable. It burned continuously for 700 years to be moved to Azerbaijan for another 3 centuries at the time of danger. It returned to Yazd in 1474 and has been burning continuously in the temple of fire ever since. Let us count – 700 years in Iran, 300 years in Azerbaijan, another 500 years back in Yazd. This fire has not extinguished for 1500 years ! The cult of fire is something unique in the whole world.

The concept of sin does not exist in the Satanthustrianism. However, the concept of “dirtiness” is similar to it. The human soul can be dirty through contact with the “dirty” creatures of the Angra Mainju (evil spirit). The dirtiness can concern thoughts, but also food and people. Hence the regulations on the permitted way of dressing or eating (to this day in Judaism there is the concept of kosher, halal is what is permitted in the Islamic world).

Towers of silence

The cult of fire distinguishes the townsmen and adds mystery to this religion. The most shocking thing is the cult of chastity and the related rules of burial of the dead.

Death is also unclean and can cause dirt. Human corpses are one of the most dirty things. They cannot be buried in a land that is clean, it would cause it to become dirty. They cannot be burned either – after all, fire is one of the cleanest things in the town hall! Zaratusztrians use 3 methods to bury the dead:

  • Towers of silence (dakhma)
  • Stone tombs built above ground
  • Concrete tombstones in which the body of the deceased is closed, without any contact with the ground

Concrete tombstones in which the body of the deceased is closed, without any contact with the ground.

Towers of silence is the most shocking, although almost unused, method of burying the dead. The body was taken to the tower and left there until the birds pecked the meat to the bone. The sun-whitened bones were then thrown into special wells where, in a warm climate, they were decomposed to ashes. The two towers of silence are still located on the outskirts of Yazd in Iran.

After burying the dead, families gathered every month in the buildings at the foot of the tower of silence (khaiele). They left food for the dead and prayed for them. I remind you that zaratusztrianizm preaches heaven and the afterlife.

The third burial method is currently being practiced. The bodies are sunk in concrete graves embedded in the ground. The cemetery is “alive”. During my visit many people came to meet with their families and pray for the dead. There are also modern khaieleas, i.e. rooms where families meet and remember their relatives. It is not uncommon to eat in them. The tradition is somewhat similar to the Mexican feast of the dead, where families eat and drink on the graves of their loved ones.

Zartushtrianism still alive

How many zaratusztrian still practice their religion? Until recently, I would say: less and less. However, the current actions of ISIS fighters against the Kurds have made them turn to the beliefs of their ancestors. Religion sentenced to extinction is beginning to revive.