Zarathustra is thought to have been born in 628 BC although the date is disputed (some linguistic studies place it as early as 1200 BC). He was originally a priest for Mithraism, the local polytheistic religion but he became disillusioned. He is said to have had a religious vision when he was about 30 years old, and for the next decade travelled throughout Persia preaching. The established religious authorities disapproved of his teachings. He forbade the hedonistic rites that accompanied animal sacrifice but preserved the ancient cult of fire worship.
He eventually settled in the land of King Vishtaspa (Chorasmia - the modern Iranian province of Khorasan), who embraced the new teachings and had his people adopt the new religion. Zoroastrianism is considered an early influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and was one of the first monotheistic ("single god") religions.
The teachings consider that good and evil are separate entities at war with each other. Ormuzd is the god of good, creation and truth. Ahriman is the god of evil destruction and lies. Both are ultimately descended from the main deity, Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord").
The holy book of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta. This includes the hymns of Zarathustra (known as the Gathas, from which most of his biographical information comes), liturgical texts and prayers.
Little is known of the personal life of Zarathustra except that he had at least one child, a daughter called Pouruchista ("Full of Wisdom"). Before he began preaching he is said to have spent years in the wilderness communing with God before his first vision, in which Vohu Manah came to him in the form of a huge Angel. His first converts were his immediate family. Similar stories would later be told about Jesus and Mohammad. He died at the age of 77 after spending the final 30 years of his life living in the royal court writing.
Parsees are found mainly in Iran, Pakistan and India. They believe in the eternal fight between good and evil. When a person does good, they help the forces of good in their fight, and vice versa. Parsees worship fire as a symbol of god. Non believers are never allowed into their temples. A Parsee who marries outside the faith is no longer a Parsee. They believe in the purity of the elements; they will nor bury or cremate their dead (because it pollutes the earth and air respectively). Instead they leave the bodies on towers of silence where they are picked clean by vultures.
Sayings attributed to Zarathustra:
"Be good, be kind, be humane, and charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong."
"Doing good to others is not a duty, it is a joy, for it increases our own health and happiness."
"When you doubt, abstain."
Part of a hymn written by Zarathustra:
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A brief explanation of the religion.