How did Zoroastrianism begin?
Zoroastrianism began in Ancient Persia (what is now Iran) when the prophet Zarathustra or Zoroaster was inspired to teach and preach to others when his peaceful society was being torn apart by warring tribes. He saw this as a struggle between good and evil. His followers are called Parsis. This name was given to the followers of Zarathustra when they had to flee Persia to avoid persecution by Muslim rulers in the ninth century AD.
The Parsis went to India which is where most of the Zoroastrians are today (about 150,000).
What do Zoroastrians believe?
Zoroastrians believe in one God called Ahura Mazda. They believe Ahura Mazda created the world and everything in it. The enemy of Ahura Mazda is the evil spirit Angra Mainyu. It is believed that one day the forces of good will defeat the forces of evil and restore the world to the state of perfection it was originally.
It is believed that people have to choose between good and evil. If the good deeds outweigh the bad they believe they will go to heaven by way of crossing a bridge. If the evil outweighs the good, they believe they will fall off the bridge and into hell.
What symbols are of great importance to Zoroastrians?
Fire is the most sacred symbol. It is at the center of Zoroastrian worship. Places of worship are called fire temples. Fire represents righteousness and truth. In Zoroastrian temples, a fire is always kept burning by priests who watch over.
Purity is also very important to Zoroastrians. White is used as a symbol for purity. Zoroastrians pray with a special white belt called a kustis. It symbolizes being bound to their religion and their community. Zoroastrians always where a white undershirt called a sudreh as a symbol and reminder of purity. When Zoroastrians die the kustis and the sudreh are placed on top of their bodies on a white sheet, another symbol of purity. Any form of decay like rust or rotting is avoided since this is the opposite of purity. For this reason Zoroastrians do not cremate or bury their dead. They do not want to pollute or add decay to the earth. Instead they place dead bodies in circular stone towers called "towers of silence". The birds of prey come and eat the decaying bodies.