Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest active religions. It traces its origins to ancient Iran and Central Asia and to the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) with roots dating back to the third millennium BCE.
Zoroastrians believe there is one god called Ahura Mazda. Everything that Ahura Mazda created is considered pure and wholly good, and should be treated with love and respect, including the natural environment.
Two opposing forces
Dualism is the belief in the two opposing forces of Good and Evil. In Zoroastrianism, Good is represented by Ahura Mazda and Evil by Angra Mainyu.
Three material creations
Water, earth, and fire are sacred elements in Zoroastrianism. Fire is seen as a symbol of purity, and sacred fires are maintained in Fire Temples (agiyari or dar-e-mehr). Plants, animals and human beings are also seen as Ahura Mazda’s perfect creations and need to be protected.
There are three different Zoroastrian calendars – Fasli, Shahanshahi, and Qadimi. The Zoroastrian year is characterised by holy days, feasts and festivals, many linked to the seasons.
The primary collection of Zoroastrian religious texts is called the Avesta. Much of Avesta is made up of texts to be recited by the priests during the rituals. It also contains myths, stories, and details of ritual observances, as well as 17 hymns grouped into five sections, known as the Gathas. The Gathas are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. The Gathas form the core of the Zoroastrian act of worship, known as the Yasna.
Six spiritual creations
The spiritual creations, or Life-giving Immortals (Amesha Spentas) were made by Ahura Mazda from his own substance of light. They represent his own divine attributes and include:
- Vohu Manah – Good Thought
- Asha Vahishta – Truth, Order
- Spenta Ameraiti – Right-mindedness
- Khashathra Vairya – Power
- Hauravatat – Wholeness
- Ameretat – Immortality
Zoroastrians celebrate seven feast days, six of which are the gahanbars. The gahanbars are:-
- Maidyozarem – Midspring
- Maidyoshahem – Midsummer
- Paitishahem – Harvest-time
- Ayathrem – End of autumn
- Maidyarem – Midwinter
- Hamaspathmaidyem – All Souls
The seventh feast is Noruz, which is the Zoroastrian New Year celebration and occurs on the spring equinox.
Seven to twelve
Between the ages of seven and twelve is the time when a child undertakes the initiation ceremony of Navjote. The child is given a sacred sudreh (shirt) and kushti (belt). The kushti is tied around the sudreh, accompanied by prayers.
Zoroastrians traditionally perform this kushti ritual several times each day.
The Yasna is Zoroastrianism’s principal liturgy, involving the recitation of the Yasna texts. The Yasna texts are made up of 72 chapters, composed in the Avestan language.
In Zoroastrianism, there are 101 names for their god Ahura Mazda. The list exists in Persian, Pazand and Gujarati.
The names include yazat; harvasp-tavān; harvasp-āgāh; harvasp-hudā; abadah; awī-añjām; …well, you get the idea.
There are currently 167 fire temples in the world, of which the Udvada Atash Behram in Gujarat is the most sacred Zoroastrian fire temple, and the oldest continuous burning fire temple in the world.
There are fewer than 120,000 followers of Zoroastrianism, with the greatest number concentrated in India.
Box office sales of the film Bohemian Rhapsody almost total $1BN, making it the most successful music biopic. The subject of the film, Freddie Mercury, was raised within the Zoroastrian faith.
Find out more
- Visit the SOAS Department of Religions and Philosophies
- Discover the work of the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies
- Check out summer courses in Zoroastrianism
- Study BA Religion, Culture and Society
- Find out about postgraduate programmes in MA Religions of Asia and Africa and MA Iranian Studies
- Find out about the Multimedia Yasna (MUYA) project on Youtube
- Introduction to Zoroastrianism
- Zoroastrianism in the Ancient and Modern Worlds
- Zoroastrianism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
- Pahlavi Language