Most of you may know Nietzsche’s famous book. Nietzsche uses Zarathustra as the narrator and submits his some aphorisms about his philosophical acquirement in this work. I have read the book several times and I was curious about this name and the connection between the aphorisms and Zarathustra. He was the prophet of one of the oldest religions. Which kind of a link can be between an atheist of modern times and a prophet of ancient times? To be honest, I couldn’t find the connection between them rather than imperious narration which handles the reader and the little similarity between Nietzsche’s übermensch and Zarathustra (I think an übermensch can be only a prophet) yet but while I am seeking a solution, I acquired a lot of interesting information about this religion and made some observations. Let’s get a deeper understanding of Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism and Zarathustra
Zarathustra is the founder of Zoroastrianism and the writer of the holy book, Avesta. There is no much information about him other than the narrative in Avesta. In fact, Avesta is a compound book which includes many other texts. These texts are differentiated according to their subject. For example, Yasna is about worship and rituals whereas Vendidad is an ecclesiastical text. It is thought that Zarathustra has been flourished in approximately 3000 years ago in the east of contemporary Iran. It is the oldest monotheistic extant religion and like Islam, it sprang as defiance of a polytheistic religion.
The birth of Zarathustra resembles the birth of Jesus. Both of their mothers were virgins when they gave birth to them. Mother of Zarathustra conceives him by a shaft of light.
Based on the Zoroastrian sources and legends, he was 30 years old when he declares himself as the prophet of the only God, Ahura Mazda.
Zarathustra goes down from the mountain with Avesta and the holy light and what’s more, he doesn’t have the sword of Jon Snow, the Lightbringer. 🙂
After a while, he infused his belief into Vishtasp (The father of Cyrus the Great) and Zoroastrianism became the official religion of Achaemenids in a short time. With the rise of the Achaemenid Empire, this new religion has spread from the Caucasus to the Nile.
Most of the people who have no sufficient knowledge assume that they are a worshipper of fire and they believe in fire. However, this is a weird thought as much as thinking that Muslims believe in a simple square building, Kaabe. On the contrary, they believe in Ahura Mazda, the creator soul and the god of wisdom, goodness, and light. It is a spiritual entity apart from sun and fire.
They use a veil when they are near the fire because they believe that the dirty breath of human can mess the purity of fire.
Zoroastrian morning prayer
On the other hand, Zoroastrianism is a dualist religion which consists of also an adversary god-like destructive entity, Ahriman. According to the narrative in Avesta, in the beginning, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman are in a struggle and the reflection of this struggle reflects upon the human beings. In this struggle, human should work for Asha(the right and order) and against druj(deceit and falsehood).
A description of the struggle between the wisdom of Ahura Mazda and the destructive power of Ahriman
Actually, they have a figure which summarizes the ethical concerns of Zoroastrianism, named as Farahavar. Farahavar can be thought like guarding angel in Christianity.
1- The head represents wisdom.
2- The three-layered feathers of Farahavar’s wings represent the three main point of the ethics of Zoroastrianism: Good thought, good word, and good deed.
3- The lower feathers also layered as three parts and they represent bad thought, bad word, and bad deed.
4-Farahavar has two loops stretching towards the opposite direction. These represent the streams of human in life. It means that we should look away from the evil and look forward to the good.
5- The ring held by Farahavar represents loyalty and faithfulness. Does that sound familiar? 🙂
6- The other hand of Farahavar is upward and it represents the struggle to thrive and against the evil.
7-The circle in the middle of Farahavar represents eternal life.
In 330 BC, Alexander the Great broke the last resistance of Achaemenids and captured Persepolis. He allowed his soldiers to loot the city and burned most of the copies of Zend Avesta with the gorgeous city of Persepolis. The Parsi fraction of Zoroastrians migrated towards India with a few copies of Zend Avesta and establish Mumbai there. Today, most of the Zoroastrian population live in India.
A painting on the burning of Persepolis
A Parsee fire temple in Mumbai
The ruins of Persepolis
The other catastrophe which Zoroastrians experienced is the expansion of Islam. Whereas, in Qur’an, there is a mention about Zoroastrians as “Mecusi” and their religion classified as a heavenly religion, afterward successor paid no attention to these verses and Umayyad dynasty classified these people as an infidel and made life difficult for them. Most of the Parsee population immigrated to India. Today, around 30000 Zoroastrians live under an Islamic state and they are carrying out their spiritual rituals relatively free except their burial ceremony. However, the reason behind that is, surprisingly, not depending on religious but ecological affairs.
A dakhma, also known as the tower of silence, in Mumbai
Soil, fire, and water are pure and holy elements in Zoroastrianism and the human body is thought as dirty. Therefore, they don’t bury or burn their corpses. They put them in dakhmas and wait for vultures to extinguish their corpses. However, with the decrease of the population of vultures, corpses couldn’t be extinguished, became composed and posed a danger for people around the tower. In Iran and India, these towers are not used anymore. Zoroastrians put their corpses into a concrete tomb now.
There is a kind of places around the dakhmas. In these adobe buildings, Pre-funeral rituals are carried out. (Yazd/ Cham)
The dakhma in Cham
Cypresses represent the eternal life and there are planted old cypresses around atashgahs.
An atashgah in Yazd
Walking on the water was also one of the miracles of Jesus.
The Zoroastrian population can drain away soon but they have a lot of impacts on other cultures and their belief systems. For instance, praying five times a day, call to prayer, ablution, head cover, facing a direction in prayer, and reading scripture in original languages are some of their commonalities in terms of rituals. In addition, there is also a narrative on Arta Viraf’s night journey to heaven like the Prophet Mohammed’s ascension. If we want to speak in contemporary Iran, the effect of Zoroastrianism on the Shi’a is more powerful and concrete. On the other hand, it also has commonalities with Christianity. Especially on miracles, Jesus and Zarathustra have a lot of common points. It can be said that the satan, the judgment day, heaven and hell are also fundamentally Zoroastrian figures.
Dante’s inferno description overlaps with Arta Viraf’s description.
Today, Iran is described as the opposite polar of the Western World. It is politically true but culturally wrong. People who stand behind the fog of mainstream media can think how can we similar to a Zoroastrian. For example, their impacts can be seen in our popular literature and cinema. Maybe you should read again Game of Thrones- Ice and Fire.
I think music is one of the remarkable indicators of culture and society. Zoroastrianism’s effect is reaching up to our popular culture. If I say that one of your favorite rock stars is a Zoroastrian, does it surprise you?
In an interview, Mercury’s sister says that “I think what [Freddie’s] Zoroastrian faith gave him was to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams.” He is a Zoroastrian and his first name was Farrokh Bulsara which he legally changed.
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
Thus spoke Zarathustra!
Cover Picture // http://looklex.com/e.o/slides/zarathustra01.jpg