Zoroaster the Prophet of Ancient Iran

Zoroaster the Prophet of Ancient Iran

“Turn yourself not away from three best things: Good Thought, Good Word, and Good Deed.” 

Zoroaster (active 1st millennium B.C.) was a prophet of ancient Iran and the founder of the Iranian national religion. Zoroastrianism is ranked with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam among the higher religions originating in the Middle East.

The dates given for Zoroaster by ancient and modern writers differ considerably. The more sober authors have placed him between 1000 and 600 B.C. The latter date conforms to the tradition of the Zoroastrians themselves, who regard Zoroaster as having revealed his religion 258 years before Alexander the Great conquered Iran in 331 B.C. The main sources for the life and career of Zoroaster are the Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians, the oldest and most reliable source; later Zoroastrian literature, among which Denkart, an encyclopedic work in Middle Persian, stands out; and non-Zoroastrian works, which include Persian, Arabic, Armenian, and classical histories.


Zoroaster was known among the classic writers chiefly as the initiator of the Magian belief and was regarded as a great sage. The Magians were a priestly class of ancient Iran and were the repository of Persian religious lore and learning. Zoroaster is first mentioned by a Lydian historian of the 5th century B.C. Plato mentions Zoroaster in Alcibiadesin connection with Magian teachings, and Plutarch gives a summary of Zoroaster’s religious doctrine and cosmology.

The Gathas

Only the earliest part of the Avesta was composed by the prophet himself. This portion is called Gathas (Hymns). The other parts, which include hymns, prayers, litanies, and religious law, were written over a period of perhaps several centuries. The dialect of the Gathas is slightly different from the rest of the Avesta and somewhat more archaic. The language of the Avesta has long been dead. Ambiguities in a number of Avestan passages have given rise to differences of interpretation and have made some aspects of the prophet’s life the subject of heated controversy.

Zoroastrian priests perform a fire ceremony and prayers to honor the dead at the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Adherents to the ancient Persian religion are debating whether to accept converts or to recognize the children of mixed marriages as a way to boost the waning congregation numbers.

Recent work by Martin Schwartz and Almut Hintze tends to discount this theory, as the linguists show that the Gathas are not the work of an academic writing in a dead language; they show all the signs of poetry composed and recited in an oral tradition, similar to the heroic poetry of Homer or the Rig-Vedas. These studies would confirm the earlier date for Zarathushtra.

Again, no one knows how Zarathushtra died, allegedly at age 77. Many legends, and Zoroastrian tradition, say that he was killed, while praying in the sanctuary, by a foreign enemy of the king. But there is no holiday commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet, as there would be in other religions (Christianity, for instance) and other Zoroastrian traditions, and scholars, say that Zarathushtra died peacefully.

“Doing good to others is not a duty. It is a joy, for it increases your own health and happiness.” 



His birthday is celebrated on March 21, as part of the Persian New Year Festival.

Ancient alien theorists believe Zarathustra was the son of an alien god named who went by the name Ahura Mazda in this scenario. Scholars believe Zoroaster was a priest and a prophet. Linked to the Magi, he was considered a magician. His spiritual influences have always affected human thought and reasoning; his goal, to show humans their connection to one source of light and consciousness.

Ahura Mazda (also known as Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hormazd, and Aramazd) is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda is described as the highest deity of worship in Zoroastrianism, along with being the first and most frequently invoked deity in the Yasna. Ahura Mazda is the creator and upholder of Asha (truth). Ahura Mazda is an omniscient, but not an omnipotent God, however Ahura Mazda would eventually destroy Evil. Ahura Mazda’s counterpart is Angra Mainyu, the “Evil spirit” and the creator of Evil who will be destroyed before Frashokereti (the destruction of Evil).

Ahura Mazda first appeared in the Achaemenid period under Darius I’s Behistun Inscription. Until Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was worshiped and invoked alone. With Artaxerxes II, Ahura Mazda was invoked in a triad, with Mithra and Apam Napat. In the Achaemenid period, there are no representations of Ahura Mazda other than the custom for every emperor to have an empty chariot drawn by white horses, to invite Ahura Mazda to accompany the Persian army on battles. Images of Ahura Mazda began in the Parthian period, but were stopped and replaced with stone carved figures in the Sassanid period.

Zoroaster spoke of duality and ceasing balance at the end of time. He also spoke of a rival to Ahura Mazda, who was similarly uncreated. This rival was the Evil spirit, Angra Mainyu. One of Ahura Mazda’s objectives is to destroy Angra Mainyu and create a universe which is completely good. To achieve such a universe, Ahura Mazda initially offered Angra Mainyu peace, which Angra Mainyu refused. Ahura Mazda then set out to establish a spiritual army. One of his first acts was the creation of the seven Amesha Spentas, who were spirits to monitor and protect each of the seven creations

If both of these entities, or gods, were aliens, the result, as depicted in ancient writings tells the sorry of great battles in the sky by something that resembled space ships and is possibly linked to the creation of the ancient underground city Derinkuyu.


Early Years – Family

The name Zarathustra is a Bahuvrihi compound in the Avestan language, of Zarata- “feeble, old” and Usatra “camel”, translating to “having old camels, the one who owns old camels”. The first part of the name was formerly commonly translated as “yellow” or “golden”, from the Avestan “Zaray”, giving the meaning “having yellow camels”. The later Zoroastrians, perhaps embarrassed by their prophet’s primitive-sounding name, said that the name meant “Golden Light,” deriving their meaning from the word ‘Zara’ and the word ‘Ushers’, light or dawn. There is no doubt about Zarathushtra’s clan name, which is Spitama – perhaps meaning “white.” Zarathushtra’s father was named Pouruchaspa (many horses) and his mother was named Dughdova (milkmaid).


The Gathas contain allusions to personal events, such as Zoroaster’s triumph over obstacles imposed by competing priests and the ruling class. They also indicate he had difficulty spreading his teachings, and was even treated with ill-will in his mother’s hometown. They also describe familial events such as the marriage of his daughter, at which Zoroaster presided. In the texts of the Younger Avesta (composed many centuries after the Gathas), Zoroaster is depicted wrestling with the Daevas and is tempted by Angra Mainyu to renounce his faith (Yasht 17.19; Vendidad 19).

The Spend Nask, the 13th section of the Avesta, is said to have a description of the prophet’s life. However, this text has been lost over the centuries, and it survives only as a summary in the seventh book of the 9th century Denkard. Other 9th- to 12th-century stories of Zoroaster, as in the Shahnameh, are also assumed to be based on earlier texts, but must be considered as primarily a collection of legends. The historical Zoroaster, however, eludes categorization as a legendary character.


Zoroaster was born into the priestly family of the Spitamids and his ancestor Spitama is mentioned several times in the Gathas. His father’s name was Pourusaspa, his mother’s was Dughdova. With his wife, Huvovi, Zoroaster had three sons, Isat Vastar, Uruvat-Nara and Hvare Cira and three daughters, Freni, Pourucista and Triti. His wife, children and a cousin named Maidhyoimangha, were his first converts after his illumination from Ahura Mazda at age 30. According to Yasnas 5 & 105, Zoroaster prayed to Anahita for the conversion of King Vistaspa, who appears in the Gathas as a historical personage.

Zoroaster’s Career

A brief sketch of the prophet’s career, however, may be gleaned from the Gathas. In these metrical preachings Zoroaster appears as a human and plausible figure, devoid of many of the mythical and legendary details found in later literature. According to the Gathas, Zarathushtra (as Zoroaster is called in the Avesta), son of Pourushaspa and from the house of Spitama, is a preacher inspired by and in communion with his Lord, Ahura Mazda. He is distressed at the spread of wickedness and the neglect of truth. He tries to awaken his people to the importance of righteousness and warns them against following false leaders practicing animal sacrifice, mistreating the cattle, and permitting the drinking of Homa (an intoxicating drink) in the ritual. His exhortations, however, are not heeded. He meets with the indifference of his people and the opposition of the communities’ religious leaders. He puts his trust in his Lord, with whom he holds a number of discourses. He seeks the active help and guidance of Ahura Mazda and eventually succeeds in converting King Vishtaspa, who then accords him protection and support.


In later Zoroastrian literature, Zoroaster’s life becomes wrapped in marvels and miraculous events. In these sources he is presented as a native of Media in western Iran. Through Doghdova, his mother, he inherits Farnah, the Divine Glory, without which no Persian king or prophet could succeed. According to the seventh book of the Denkart, which gives an account of the miraculous birth and life of the prophet, Ahura Mazda himself intervenes in the selection of the essence of Zoroaster’s body and soul from celestial spheres.

Sorcerers and demons, perceiving Zoroaster as a threat to their interests, make several attempts on his life, but he is protected by Ahura Mazda and his aides, the Holy Immortals, who reveal to him the “Good Religion.” Harassed by his opponents, he flees to eastern Iran, where he converts the Kianid king, Vishtaspa, to his religion. He marries the daughter of Vishtaspa’s good vizier, Frashaoshtra, and gives his own daughter in marriage to Jamaspa, another good vizier of the King. A series of battles against the neighboring infidel tribes follows King Vishtaspa’s conversion, and Zoroaster is killed at an altar during one of these battles.

“With an open mind, seek and listen to all the highest ideals. Consider the most enlightened thoughts. Then choose your path, person by person, each for oneself.” 


Time and Place of Zoroaster

Agathius (6th century A.D.) was already facing the difficulty of determining the time of Zoroaster when he observed that the Persians said that Zoroaster lived under Hystaspes (Vishtaspa), but that it was not clear whether they meant Darius’s father or another Hystaspes. This question has continued into our own day. Whereas Samuel Nyberg placed Zoroaster in a remote period and among primitive people, Ernst Herzfeld (1947) insisted that he was related to the house of the Median kings and that his protector, Vishtaspa, was none other than Darius’s father. However, one must follow the convincing argument of W. B. Henning (1951), who upholds the authenticity of the Zoroastrian tradition and places Zoroaster in the court of a king of eastern Iran whose domain was eventually absorbed into the Achaemenid empire. This makes Zoroaster a contemporary of Buddha and Confucius.

As to the native land of the prophet, all the evidence in the Avesta, including geographical names, points to eastern Iran as the scene of Zoroaster’s activities. It is most probable that his alleged Median origin was a fabrication of the Magi.

Zoroaster’s Message

The Zoroastrian religion has gone through different phases, attracting in the course of time many elements from different sources. Among these sources are the pre-Zoroastrian religion of the Iranians and the ritualistic cult of the Magi, but the central element remains the message of Zoroaster himself. It was this message which shaped the new religion and afforded the Iranians spiritual comfort and cohesion for many centuries.


The most characteristic aspect of Zoroaster’s faith is belief in dualism. He conceived of two primeval powers active in the universe, Good and Evil. Our world is the scene of their conflict and admixture. The outcome of this conflict, upon which depends the destiny of man, is decided as much by man’s choice as by any other factor. The choice is between siding with Ahura Mazda and following the path of truth, or uniting with Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) and following the way of falsehood. In the fateful struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, it is man and his deeds which hold the balance. It is through the good thoughts, good words, and good deeds of pious men and women that the forces of Good eventually triumph. There will be a day of reckoning when those who have resisted the temptations of Angra Mainyu and have followed the dictates of the “Good Religion” will be blessed.

In assigning this choice to man, Zoroaster raises him to an exalted rank in the scheme of creation. Man’s noble position and his positive contribution to the triumph of righteousness is the second important characteristic of Zoroaster’s message. His religion is not affected by a notion of original sin or by ascetic tendencies. The raising of children and the planting of trees are stressed as meritorious deeds. Zoroaster’s kingdom of God is not necessarily a vision to be realized only in the hereafter.

Zoroaster, who seems to have reacted against a form of monotheism, reveals a striking and original way of thinking. From the Gathas we gain the impression of an impassioned preacher who strives for the material and spiritual well-being of his people. The success of his faith bears witness to the pertinence of his message for his people.

“One good deed is worth a thousand prayers.”