Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for...
Fire in the fire temple, burning allegedly for 1000 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zoroastrianism is an Ancient Persian religion founded around 1200 BCE by Zarathustra.

Its sacred scripture is the Avesta, which has some affinities with the older Hindu Rig Veda. The Avesta portrays an eternal struggle between pure goodness and evil, personified by Ahura Mazda (Good) and Angra Mainyu (Evil).

Fire is taken to be holy and a perpetual flame is maintained by temple priests who wear masks to prevent polluting the fire with their breath. This notion of spiritual pollution is especially important to Zoroastrianism.

Jamsheed K. Choksy suggests a complex interplay among biological, psychosocial and spiritual factors when outlining the Zoroastrian belief that ritual space is pure, as opposed to impure or “polluted” normal space.

Access to ritual spaces had never been equally available to all the faithful, irrespective of gender and class, especially because of considerations relating to purity and pollution. In Zoroastrian society, a wide range of items categorized as pollutants–from bad thoughts, false words, and harmful deeds to bodily fluids when released–are ascribed power to vitiate the efficacy of rituals paces, rites performed herein, and participants. So direct access to performances within pure space was and is generally restricted to duly initiated, purified members of the hereditary male clergy during propitiatory rituals, and to purifiers and candidates for cleansing during purificatory rituals. In the absence of priests, male and female members of the laity–especially religiously learned individuals–may perform basic rites.¹

The Muslim conquest of Iran in the 7th century threatened the extinction of Zoroastrianism but the religion has survived in limited numbers with the Gabars of Iran and Parsees of India.

¹ Jamsheed K. Choksy, “To Cut off, Purify, and Make Whole: Historiographical and Ecclesiastical Conceptions of Ritual Space” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 2003: 21-41), p. 30.

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