Originally called Mazdaism, this belief included like other religions of the time several gods, it was polytheistic. However between 1200 and 900 BC, with the prophet Zarathustra, it evolved into a religion with a single god. It then took the name of Zoroastrianism. It was also the first cult that included as fundamental principles the notion of good and evil, paradise, hell and purgatory.
Zoroastrianism was the first monotheistic religion in history if we put aside the short-lived cult of Aten which took place 100 years earlier in Egypt. Very little is known of verified things about Zarathustra himself given the antiquity of the sources. We simply know that he lived in the northeast of present-day Iran. The principle of Zarathustra is that there is a holy spirit, Spenta Mainyu, the son of Ahura Mazdā the only Zoroastrian god, and an evil spirit Angra Mainyu. These two spirits are opposed, representing day and night, life and death. They both exist in every being. At first, Zarathustra’s doctrine was transmitted orally, like many others. Then the Avesta, a set of sacred texts, was written. But, of the original text, only a quarter has come down to us. This still represents the equivalent of a thousand pages. The most sacred texts of the Avesta are the seventeen Gathas or “sacred hymns” recognized as being written by Zarathustra himself. During his lifetime, he never claimed to be a prophet. For him, his message was simply dedicated to giving spiritual recommendations and directions. For Zoroastrians, God does not need worship, intermediaries and there is no promise, as in other religions, of being definitively doomed to hell when one commits bad deeds.
The Zoroastrian Doctrine
In the doctrine of Zoroaster, each person is answerable for his actions by virtue of the nature of his Fravahr which corresponds to Karma. The main maxim delivered by Zoroaster can be summed up in three words: Humata good thoughts, Hukhta good words, Huvarshta good deeds. These precepts are meant to help the Zoroastrian choose the right path. For Zoroaster, everything was based on “action” and “reaction”. For him, doing a good deed automatically generated a positive reaction. The reverse is also true. What Zoroaster proposes is to always choose the side of good knowing that man keeps the final choice without obligation. Ahura Mazda thus created man by leaving him his free will. For Zoroaster, man is the worker created by God to transform the world. Zoroastrians admit an afterlife. At the moment of judgment, if the good deeds prevail over the bad, the soul ascends to heaven by a bridge beyond which the Lord of Light (Ahura Mazda) awaits it and it is hell in the opposite case. But there is always a possibility of real redemption even for the darkest souls because for them when hell is purified, the kingdom of god will settle on earth.
The seven recommendations
For the followers of Zoroastrianism, there are only two paths to choose even if paradoxically each of them is anchored in each of us. That of following the holy spirit, Spenta Mainyu, or that of the evil spirit Angra Mainyu. To help choose the right path Zoroaster gave seven recommendations. You have to pray to a single god Ahura Mazda and do good around you thanks to the three precepts of conduct. The Zoroastrian must venerate the fire which is the only one of the four elements which must be nourished in order to continue to live, to fight against oppression by rejecting slavery and by promoting equality between men and women, respecting the forms of life. Indeed, animal abuse is considered a crime. It is also necessary to reject idolatry, because god resides in the heart of men and not in a sanctuary built by the latter. Finally, you have to cultivate your joy of living. Zoroaster insists on good humor, he recommends partying, being cheerful and laughing as much as possible. Under the Achaemenid dynasty, Zoroastrianism was still in competition with other religions. It will impose itself as the state religion of the Persians under the Sassanid Empire. Alexander the Great, during his conquest of Persia, will recover the texts which will subsequently influence Greek intellectuals and Western thought.