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The symbol of Zoroastrianism, depicting Farvashi, or Guardian Spirit.
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

Zoroastrianism, also known as Mazdayasna, is an ancient Iranian/Persian religion dating to at least as early as the 7th century BCE. It was the state religion of pre-Islamic Persia for more than a millennium, though it was replaced by Islam after the Islamic empire's conquest of the country. It is often considered to be the oldest still-extant monotheistic religion.


The earliest physical evidence of Zoroastrianism dates back to roughly 450 BCE,[1] though scholars suggest that the faith developed as an outgrowth of a proto-Indo-Iranian religion that existed as early as 4000 years ago. It was already a widespread religion during the Achaemenid era (550 to 330 BCE), as attested by the Behistun inscriptionWikipedia (circa 500 BCE), which references "the grace of Ahuramazda". Making the religious development more ambiguous, the process happened in stages divided by centuries - most of the Zoroastrian doctrine was only officially codified by the SasanianWikipedia government as late as the fourth century CE in order to counter the Roman embrace of Christianity.

Zoroastrianism's numbers were small after the Islamic conquest of Persia. However, as of 2004, there are approximately 150,000 Zoroastrians, most in Iran and in India where they are a constitutionally protected minority and are called "Parsis" or "Iranis" (after Persia or Iran, their original country); about 25,000 Zoroastrians still lived in Iran as of 2012.[2] An example of Zoroastrians appearing in Abrahamic culture are the Three Wise Men in the story of the birth of Jesus, who are widely suggested to have been Zoroastrian priests.[3] Several other Zoroastrians appear in biblical texts, such as King Cyrus, who freed the jews from Babylonian captivity.


Ahura Mazda Miata[note 1] is the Creator and the One God, and all that he has created is necessarily good. Mazda is transcendent, but his existence can only be experienced through the immortals, the Amesha Spentas. Along with the Amesha Spentas, there are the Yazatas, meaning "Ones to be Worshipped", many of whom were likely pre-Zoroastrian Iranian folk gods. Evil (expressed as an entity Angra Mainyu, and as a force of druj or "chaos") is the antithesis of the ordered creation. Note that these two beings actually have many names; the 2nd most commonly used ones are, respectively, Ahura Mazda, which can mean "All-Knowing Lord" and "Wise Lord" (changed to Ohrmazd in Middle Persian) and Angra Mainyu, which means "Destructive Mind" or "Spirit that is Destructive" (changed to Ahreman in Middle Persian).[5]

The religion is essentially the contest of goodness, truth, and order against chaos, the end result of which should be the eventual triumph of Good, bringing about the end of time with the subsuming of all creation into Ahura Mazda.

Though Ahreman and the Daevas are considered to be powerful, it is stated often by various middle Persian sources that they ultimately are weaker than Ahura Mazda, and Ahura Mazda is generally considered to be more powerful than Ahreman. Zoroastrianism states that upon the end of the world, a savior, or Saoshyant will be born of a virgin and lead the Yazatas into a battle with the Daevas. Then, two of the Amesha Spentas, Sraosha (Obedience) And Xshatra Vairya (Desirable Dominion) will melt all the metals of the world, and create a giant pool of Metal across the earth. The righteous will be safe, but the unrighteous will burn. This pool will eventually go through the Earth and reach Ahreman, whereupon it will kill him and end all Evil. Then, all people are brought back to life.

Amongst Religions, Zoroastrianism offers a uniquely strong incentive for good behavior, as it claims that your actions will strengthen one or the other god, who will then use that newfound power to spread more such deeds, thus causing a feedback loop. Good deeds empower Ahura Mazda, while bad deeds empower Ahriman.[note 2]

The Avesta is the main holy book in Zoroastrianism. The translations in the most widespread circulation are the English language and Farsi language versions, although it was originally in the Avestan language. Zoroaster composed the most important portion of this book, the Gathas.

Funeral rites[edit]

Water and fire are pure, and are used to establish areas of ritualized purity. Death is the realm of chaos (druj) - accordingly, the dead must never touch fire or the physical earth (though we'd like to note that this is usually the very first thing that happens when someone dies), so Zoroastrians place their corpses on constructed platforms (Towers of Silence) for vultures to pick clean. For this reason, one of the most horrible punishments in Persia was to be crucified and then have guards drive vultures away from your body until you've fully rotted.

Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam[edit]

According to ancient Jewish scripture, the Jews were released from exile in 538 BCE by Cyrus the Great, a Zoroastrian king. Either through that connection—trade routes established in the late 5th century—or through some other means, the Zoroastrian religion was responsible for spawning Judaism, in effect spawning Christianity, and eventually later spawning Islam.

  • Battle between Good and Evil - Up until the late 5th century BCE, Judaism did not really have a concept of a Good and Pure god battling an evil divine being. The god of the ancient Israelites was human-like, expressing a range of human emotions like anger, jealousy, and love. As a war god, he acted as an evil upon other tribes if they did not succumb to the Israelite demands (see, for example, Isaiah 45:7). Zoroastrianism introduces the one pure Good God, Ahura Mazda, and his battle against Angra Mainyu for human souls.
  • Good pure souls go to pairi daeza (now called "paradise"), where they live in eternal peace with Ahura Mazda. Before this, as in other faiths of the area, everyone, with no distinctions, ended in the same gloomy afterlife (Sheol).
  • There will be a god-made human savior for the people. Prior to 600 BCE, the notion of an anointed one (in Hebrew, Messiah) does not exist. Within Judaism, the concept of messiah takes on more and more deification in line with the Zoroastrian image of savior, known as a "Saoshyant" (moving from God's chosen, to "one with god in his soul", to "god as flesh") as time goes on.
  • After contact with the Zoroastrianism, the notion of angels and demons is refined. Angels are no longer just messengers of the gods, or some other 'race' of beings created by god, but are in fact a distinct part of the battle of Good and Evil, each having a counterpart in the other world.
  • Satan becomes an evil being and not just the adversary (Devil's advocate) of Job.
  • Each and every human being is embodied with their own personal spirit, the fravashi.
  • Eschatological writings begin after encounters with Zoroastrianism. Prior to this, the Israelite religion does not really contemplate an "end time"; certainly it does not suggest one of such epic proportions of a final battle of good and evil and day of judgement as later Christian writings will record.
  • Every person has the free will to choose between Good (Asha) and Evil (Druj).
  • At the end of the world, Evil will be defeated by Good after a great battle.

Possible resurgence[edit]

Though surveys on the global Zoroastrian population are sparse, some samples have suggested an increase of the religion among Iranian and Indian youth (mostly in the west),[6] in addition to Iranian citizens who have reportedly become disillusioned with Islam and have turned to other faiths (Zoroastrianism being among them).[7] Zoroastrianism also has had a reported surge among Kurdish populations, though these are small compared to Iranian and Indian populations in the west.[8][9][10]

Notable Zoroastrians[edit]

  • Queen frontman Freddie Mercury,Wikipedia born Farrokh Bulsara, who was originally from the British protectorate of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania).
  • Cyrus the Great
  • Darius the Great
  • Xerxes I
  • Babak Khorramdin
  • Bahram Aryana
  • Charles Debrille Poston

See also[edit]

  • Magi - Originally the term used for Zoroastrian priests, it has taken on a life of its own.


  1. The Japanese automobile marque MazdaWikipedia was indeed derived from both Ahura Mazda and the surname of the company's co-founder, Jujiro MatsudaWikipedia.[4]
  2. No word on how morally grey actions affect them, so the rationalist approach to this question would be to reassign our many typewriter monkeys to pulling infinite trolley levers until the clouds start to rain honey and/or human blood.


  1. The Histories, Herodotus, 440 BCE.
  2. Iran 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 2009.

    The Statistical Center of Iran estimates there are 25,271 Zoroastrians, who are primarily ethnic Persians; however, Zoroastrian groups report they have 60,000 members.

  3. Paul William Roberts, "Secret Lives of the Wise Men", 25 December 1995, The New York Times
  4. A Story Behind the Name of “Mazda”
  5. Ahura Mazdā, Encyclopædia Iranica.
  6. Amy DePaul, Zoroastrianism Rises in North America. Archived from The Wall Street Journal, 25 June 2020.
  7. Disenchanted Iranians are turning to other faiths. Archived from The Economist, 21 January 2021.
  8. Charlotte Bruneau and Kawa Omar, Zoroastrians make a comeback in northern Iraq, but still face stigma. Reuters, 30 September 2020.
  9. "درگاه ملی آمار > خانه". 
  10. Iran is young, urbanised and educated: census, AFP, The National