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Traditional Zoroastrianism:
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The Parsis

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Iran: ancient religious sites and modern Zoroastrians
Iran: ancient religious sites and modern Zoroastrians


Persian Prophet Zoroaster
Persian Prophet Zoroaster


Zoroastrian Temple of Yazd, Iran. Photo: GFDL.


Parsi ceremony of initiation. Photo: GFDL.


The Parsees are the descendants of an ancient religion (Zoroastrianism). It began in Persia and is now confined to parts of Iran, Pakistan and India.

This religion believes in the eternal fight between good and evil. When you do good, you help the forces of good in their fight, and vice versa. Parsees worship fire as a symbol of god. Non believers are never allowed into their temples.

A Parsee who marries outside the faith is no longer a Parsee. They believe in the purity of the elements; they will not bury or cremate their dead (because it pollutes the earth and air respectively). Instead they leave the bodies on towers of silence where they are picked clean by vultures!


The religion was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek; Zarthosht in India and Persia). Conservative Zoroastrians assign a date of 6000 BCE to the founding of the religion; other followers estimate 600 BCE. Historians and religious scholars generally date his life sometime between 1500 and 1000 BCE on the basis of his style of writing.

He lived in Persia, modern day Iran. Legends say that his birth was predicted and that attempts were made by the forces of evil to kill him as a child. He preached a monotheism in a land which followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion. He was attacked for his teaching, but finally won the support of the king. Zoroastrianism became the state religion of various Persian empires, until the 7th Century CE.

When Muslim Arabs invaded Persia in 650 CE, a small number of Zoroastrians fled to India where most are concentrated today. Those who remained behind have survived centuries of persecution, systematic slaughter, forced conversion, heavy taxes, etc. They now number only about 18,000 and reside chiefly in Yazd, Kernan and Tehran in what is now Iran. The Canadian 1991 census counted 3,190 Zoroastrians in that country. The actual number is believed to be much higher. According to the Fezana Journal survey, published quarterly by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America, there are about 11,000 Zoroastrians in the United States, 6,000 in Canada, 5,000 in England, 2,700 in Australia and 2,200 in the Persian Gulf nations.

Zoroastrianism is "monotheistic", but with a "dualistic" System: Only one loving God, Ahura Mazda, the creator, who had 2 sons: One choose "Good", the other choose "Evil" (Angra Mainya, Ahriman), the destructive principle of greed, anger, and darkness (the Satan of Christianity)... there is a constant fight between Good and Evil, but at the end, in the year 2,600 AC Good will triumph, there will be a "Final Judgment", the dead will be resurrected, and there will be a Paradise on earth.

The priesthood is hereditary, and the "sacred fire" is used in purification rituals in "fire temples", as the Fire-Altar shown... eventually, the priests practiced magic, divination astrology...Every man has to choose good or evil: If he chooses "good", after death he will go to Eternal Heaven. Those who choose "evil" will go to Hell, but despite the terrors, there remain opportunities for the soul to escape if it undergoes reform. It had influence on Christianity and Islam, with the monotheistic view, Heaven, Hell, Judgment...The "dead"... "vultures": The Sun and earth are sacred, so much that the dead can not be buried on earth... the Parsis in Bombay, place the dead on the top of 3 "towers of silence" set in gardens on a hill, where vultures consume the flesh, because death is caused by the devil and the corpse is evil... Jainism have the same thoughts and practices on the dead.

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