Ancient Persian faith was a polytheistic faith which corresponds about to what is recognized today as old Persian mythology. It an initial developed in the region known as higher Iran (the Caucasus, central Asia, south Asia, and West Asia) but came to be focused in the area now well-known as Iran in ~ some point around the 3rd millennium BCE.

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This an ar was already inhabited through the Elamites and also the civilization of Susiana whose beliefs are believed to have actually influenced the later advance of Persian religion. The Persians arrived as part of a massive migration which included a number of other people who referred to themselves as Aryans (denoting a class of people, no a race, and essentially definition “free” or “noble”) and included Alans, Bactrians, Medes, Parthians, Scythians, and also others. The Persians resolved near the Elamites in Persis (also given as Parsa, contemporary Fars), which is wherein their surname comes from, and spiritual rituals to be instituted shortly after.


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How the at an early stage Persians worshipped their god is unknown except that it associated fire and outdoor altars. It is believed to have resembled modern-day Zoroastrian rites in plenty of respects. Engravings from the Achaemenid Persian realm (c. 550-330 BCE) recommendation the kings" religious beliefs – i beg your pardon may have actually been the early polytheistic belief or the later Zoroastrian monotheism – and religion continued to play a main role in the later Parthian empire (247 BCE-224 CE) and, to a much greater degree, in the Sassanian empire (224-651 CE) which do Zoroastrianism the state religion.

When the Sassanian realm fell come the invading Muslim Arabs in 651 CE, Persian religion was suppressed and adherents one of two people converted, left the region, or continued the faith in secret. Zoroastrianism survived the conversion efforts, however, and is still exercised in the modern-day day when the early polytheistic belief was relegated to myth and lore. The contemporary religion well-known as the Baha"i Faith, regularly referenced together a “Persian religion”, arisen from one Islamic sect recognized as Babism and also has no straight historical link to the spiritual systems of ancient Persia.


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The early on Faith

The polytheistic belief of the Persians was centered on the clash that positive, bright forces, which kept order, and also negative, dark energies that motivated chaos and strife. The Persian pantheon to be presided end by Ahura Mazda, the all-good, all-powerful creator and sustainer the life, who gave birth to the various other gods. Ahura Mazda developed the world in seven steps start with skies (though in part versions it to be water). The purpose, the seems, to be the manifestation of global harmony, but this to be thwarted by the evil spirit of Angra Mainyu, Ahura Mazda"s cosmic opponent.


The conflict in between Supreme good & Ultimate evil was the heart of the early on religion & virtually all superordinary entities dropped on one next or the other.

The skies was created very first as an orb that could hold water, and the waters were climate separated from each other by earth, which to be planted with vegetation. When this to be done, Ahura Mazda created the Primordial Bull, Gavaevodata, who was soon after killed by Angra Mainyu (also well-known as Ahriman). Gavaevodata"s corpse was brought to the moon and its seed purified and, with its death, the then gave birth to all various other animals.


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The an initial human to be then created, Gayomartan (also offered as Gayomard, Kiyumars), who was for this reason beautiful the Angra Mainyu had to kill him. His seed to be purified in the soil by the sun, and from it grew a rhubarb plant, which came to be the an initial mortal couple – Mashya and also Mashyanag. Ahura Mazda offered them souls v his breath and also they lived in harmony with each other and also the world until Angra Mainyu whispered to them the he was their true creator and Ahura Mazda to be the deceiver. The couple believed this lie and fell native grace, afterwards left come live in a human being of disorder and strife.

They could choose to live well, even under this conditions, by adhering to the truth of Ahura Mazda and turning away native the enticements that Angra Mainyu. This conflict in between Supreme great and Ultimate angry was the love of the beforehand religion and almost all the supernatural entities associated with the belief fell top top one side or the other (the exceptions gift genies and faeries) through humans also forced to make the exact same choice. The earliest vision of life-after-death to be of a dark kingdom of shadow which the soul relocated through, its presence dependant top top the prayers and also memory of the living, until it crossed a dark flow where an excellent souls to be separated from the bad.


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Later - possibly before Zoroaster yet probably ~ - the afterlife was reimagined to incorporate a final judgment top top the Chinvat bridge (the span between the living and the dead), one"s actions weighed in a celestial balance, and also the principle of heaven and also hell. If one determined the path of truth, one would live fine and, after death, find paradise in the house of Song; if one chose to listen to Angra Mainyu, one would live v strife, confusion, and also darkness, and, in the afterlife, would be dropped right into the hell known as the house of Lies.

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Faravahar in ~ Persepolis
Napishtim (CC BY-SA)

The heart Ahura Mazda had actually breathed right into the first pair was immortal and, together a gift, required to be cared for. Ahura Mazda noted the human being with whatever they needed and also only wanted one thing in return: that they care for their souls by listening to his counsel and defending the worths he stand for. The meaning of person existence, then, to be making the choice to honor the gift or repudiate it v a selfish and also willful adherence to Angra Mainyu and also his pretty, but ultimately false, promises.

Humans had actually been given complimentary will and each person had actually to choose, on their own, which route to follow and how to live a life. Come assist people in do the best choice, as well as protect them indigenous the dark forces, Ahura Mazda developed the remainder of the pantheon the the gods and, amongst the many popular, were:


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Hvar Ksata – god the the full sunRashnu – an angel; the righteous referee of the deadVerethragna – the warrior god who fights against evilVayu – god that the wind who chases away evil spiritsAtar – god the the divine aspect of fire; personification the fireHaoma – god that the harvest, health, strength, vitality; personification the the tree of the very same name whose juices lugged enlightenment

Rituals centered on the four elements, starting with fire (which to be kindled top top an out altar) and also ending v water (which was honored as a life-giving element) in the presence of air and also standing top top the earth. The four cardinal points were additionally acknowledged. There were no holy places in early Persian religion simply as there were none later in Zoroastrianism since it was thought the gods to be everywhere and also immanent and also no structure could or must contain them.

Fire was central to the faith in symbolizing great - the actual presence of the god Atar - but earth, air, and also water were likewise deeply respected as sacred emanations indigenous the can be fried god. Although the Greeks asserted the Persians worshipped fire and the elements, this is no true; they venerated the divine power who developed the elements.

Zoroaster

The ancient Persian religious beliefs was one oral legacy – it had no composed scripture – and so all that is recognized of the in the current day originates from works created after the revelation of the prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra) in between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It appears that the veneration of countless gods expanded to prayer of one"s ancestors, and also a priestly course (later well-known as the magi) officiated at rituals and recited everything sacred messages were required. Return there was no temple, there to be a religious bureaucracy and hierarchy with a chief priest and also lesser priests to who people lugged offerings in return because that prayers and healing.


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The priestly course was amongst the highest of the Persian social system and also were wealthy sufficient to have the ability to offer significant loans on i m sorry they got interest. There to be also, no doubt, a market for statuettes and amulets of miscellaneous gods or entities worn because that protection simply as there remained in Mesopotamia and Egypt. That is no surprise, therefore, that when religious reform was first suggested, it to be not received well by the clergy.

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Headdress Detail, Rock-Cut tombs of Qizqapan
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)
Very small is known of Zoroaster"s life. He is said to have been born the noble Persian parents – Pourusaspa and also Dughdova – in east Persia and also have had 4 brothers. He to be a member that the priestly class and most likely began his studies fairly young. At the age of 30, he obtained a revelation native the supreme divine being in the kind of a being of light who appeared on the financial institution of a river and also identified itself as Vohu Manah, the embodiment of an excellent Thought, great Words, good Deeds and usually analyzed as “good purpose”.

Vohu Manah to be a straight representative that the One True God, Ahura Mazda, who revealed come Zoroaster the the previously understanding of religious beliefs as exercised by the magi to be incorrect. Over there was only one god, Ahura Mazda, and also Zoroaster would certainly be his prophet.


The counter of Vishtaspa marks the climb of the acceptance of the monotheistic Zoroastrian belief over the early polytheistic belief.

Zoroaster began preaching this revelation and also was instantly rejected and also persecuted. A sect the the clergy recognized as the karpans was specifically hostile as were another group, less plainly defined, the kawis. These to be members that the noble priestly class who witnessed this brand-new teaching together a hazard to your status and sought to quiet it swiftly. Zoroaster was forced to flee his home however would not renounce his faith.

He traveled to the court of the king Vishtaspa where he questioned ultimate truth and the nature of divinity v the clergymans of Vishtaspa"s court. Although, follow to the accounts, he verified his claims, Vishtaspa was no pleased and also had the imprisoned. When in jail, Zoroaster cure Vishtaspa"s favourite horse, that had come to be paralyzed, and also the king not only released him but became his an initial notable convert. The conversion of Vishtaspa point out the rise of the accept of the monotheistic Zoroastrian faith over the beforehand polytheistic belief.

This brand-new faith was started on five principles:

The supreme god is Ahura MazdaAhura Mazda is all-goodHis eternal opponent, Angra Mainyu, is all-evilGoodness is evident through an excellent thoughts, an excellent words, and great deedsEach separation, personal, instance has totally free will to select between great and evil

The earlier gods, such as Mithra and Anahita, were steeling to spirituality emanations from Ahura Mazda and also other entities to be reassigned as well. The ide of the Chinvat leg was taken from the earlier faith whereby the newly dead had actually to cross a dark flow by boat, and the procedure was well-known as the cross of the Separator. In Zoroastrianism, this became a leg which narrowed for those that were condemned and also became sharp as the edge of a razor, while because that the justified souls it would open and become large and easy to cross. Zoroaster also kept the vision that the two dogs that guard the bridge and welcome the justified while roar at the condemned and also the point of view Suroosh, guide and also guardian of the souls that protects them as they cross, and Daena, the divine Maiden, who comforts the souls that the dead when they arrive at the crossing.

The world, follow to Zoroaster, was alive through benevolent and also malevolent spirits – the ahuras and the daevas – and also one should guard against the impacts of the an adverse while responding come the positive. Finally, it to be one"s very own responsibility come live a life of fact instead of one based upon lies and, if one honored one"s creator, one would certainly live a full, productive life and also enjoy paradise after ~ death.

Even if one failed in ~ this, however, one"s punishment in the home of Lies was no eternal. A messiah would come – the Saoshyant (“One that Brings Benefit”) who would usher in the Frashokereti (End that Time) i beg your pardon would bring reunion of all souls with Ahura Mazda and also everyone would certainly be forgiven. Angra Mainyu would certainly be defeated and everyone would certainly live in bliss in the agency of their creator, and those castle felt they had lost come death, forever.

Zoroaster continued preaching this new understanding till his fatality at the age of 77. Follow to early on accounts, he died of old age after a life that devotion to his god while later works insurance claim he to be assassinated by a devotee the the old religion.

Achaemenid empire & Zorvanism

In 550 BCE, Cyrus the an excellent (r. C. 550-530 BCE) started the Achaemenid empire after a collection of conquests and gave many thanks for his success come Ahura Mazda. Because Zoroastrianism was long developed in the region at this time, at an early stage scholars instantly assumed that Cyrus to be a Zoroastrian, however this is not necessarily so. Contemporary scholarship has actually revised this opinion due to the fact that Ahura Mazda was plainly invoked prior to the increase of Zoroastrianism as the Supreme divine being among many others in the same way the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (the Great, r. 1279-1213 BCE) referred to as upon Amun together the king of the gods. The invocation of Ahura Mazda by Cyrus, therefore, does not mean he to be a Zoroastrian, even though the could.

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This same argument has been applied to later rulers of the Achaemenid empire such together Darius ns (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE) and Xerxes ns (r. 486-465 BCE) although, v these and also later monarchs, it seems an ext likely they were Zoroastrian. Praises come Ahura Mazda appear in artwork, decrees, and dedications, notably at Darius I"s good city of Persepolis and also in the renowned Behistun engraving but, in maintaining with the Achaemenid Empire"s policy of spiritual tolerance, the confidence of the royal residence was not applied on the populace. Every faith was welcome in the Achaemenid Empire and people were permitted to believe and worship as they pleased.

The encouragement of independent religious thought and also expression offered rise come the so-called "heresy" that Zorvanism so late in the Achaemenid Period. Zorvanism emerged directly from Zoroastrianism however differed from that significantly. In Zorvanism, the supreme deity was Time (Zorvan) that had created the twin deities of Ahura Mazda and also Angra Mainyu. Ahura Mazda was still the creator however was no longer an uncreated, all-powerful being. In this system, Ahura Mazda and also Angra Mainyu were totally equal in power, locked in a cosmic struggle which, also so, Ahura Mazda would ultimately win.

Zorvanism & the Sassanians

Zorvanism developed further under the Parthians - who decentralized government encouraged freedom of spiritual expression – but was totally realized under the Sassanian Empire. The Sassanians made Zoroastrianism the state religion yet did not restrict the activities of various other faiths, and also it seems, plenty of of the upper class were actually Zorvanites but, since the two solution so very closely resembled each other, the is daunting to say through certainty.


Sassanian kings clearly supported Zoroastrianism & to be the first to go Zoroaster"s teachings come writing.

The upper-class association through Zorvanism stems mainly from their propensity toward a fatalistic vision that life – in ~ odds with the developed pre-eminence the freewill in Zoroastrianism – which known the prominence of Time in all facets of life and also how powerless people were in the confront of it. The ide of que cera, cera - “what have to be, will be” – best expresses the Zorvanite watch which would certainly be occurred later in Persian art and poetry.

Whatever affect Zorvanism might have had actually on the monarchy, or Sassanian culture generally, the Sassanian kings plainly supported Zoroastrianism and were the first to go Zoroaster"s teachings to writing. Previously, the contents of the scripture now known as the Avesta were memorized and transmitted orally. The very first Sassanian king, Ardashir i (r. 224-240 CE) sustained the plan of created scripture as did his boy and successor Shapur i (r. 240-270 CE) though the occupational was no completed until the regime of Shapur II (309-379 CE) and not fully realized in a final type until the power of Kosrau ns (531-579 CE). By the end of Kosrau I"s reign, the Avesta and other functions pertaining come Zoroastrian belief, practice, and also values to be codified in written form for the many part.

Christianity & Islam

Although the Christian faith was tolerated, and also even encouraged, under the Sassanians, believer did no return the favor and also viewed Zoroastrianism as an evil device worshipping a false god. Toward the end of the Sassanian Period, Christians put out the fires in the out Zoroastrian Fire holy places – the altars on i m sorry the fire of the god to be to constantly burn – and preached against the faith, urging human being to instead accept the “true faith” the Christianity.

By this time (4th century CE), Zoroastrianism had already influenced the advance of Christianity via Judaism through concepts such as a single supreme god, the meaning of human free will and also an individual duty for salvation, a referee after death, a heaven and hell, a messiah and an end-time, and also a supernatural adversary an adherent have to resist. These influences would later be instrumental in the advancement of Islam via Christianity and also Judaism but, in both cases, Zoroastrian inspiration and example were no acknowledged and also the belief was rather denigrated and also demonized.

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After the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 CE, Muslims destroyed the fire holy places or changed them with mosques, burned the libraries, and Zoroastrians were persecuted or eliminated if they would certainly not convert. Plenty of Zoroastrians fled the region for security in India, whereby there continues to be a big Zoroastrian community to this day, while rather either died for their belief or converted. Presently, Zoroastrian areas continue to flourish in numerous different countries, maintaining the worths of among the oldest, and also certainly most original, spiritual faiths in the world.