The Basics of Zoroastrianism

Close up of the the Fire Temple Jewish Stone in Iran

Eric Lafforgue / Art in All of Us / Getty Images

Zoroastrianism is arguably the world’s oldest monotheistic religion. It is centered on the words of the prophet Zoroaster and focuses worship upon Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. It also acknowledges two competing principles representing good and evil: Spenta Mainyu (“Bounteous Spirit”) and Angra Mainyu (“Destructive Spirit”). Humans are intimately involved in this struggle, holding off chaos and destruction through active goodness.

Acceptance of Converts

Traditionally, Zoroastrians do not accept converts. One must be born into the religion in order to participate, and marriage within the Zoroastrian community is strongly encouraged although not required. However, with the number of Zoroastrians in steady decline, some communities are now accepting converts.

Origins of Zoroastrianism

The prophet Zarathushtra—later referred to by the Greeks as Zoroaster—founded Zoroastrianism roughly between the 16th and 10th centuries BCE. Modern scholarship currently suggests he lived in northern or eastern Iran or nearby such as in Afghanistan or southern Russia. Older theories placed him in western Iran, but those are no longer widely accepted.

Indo-Iranian religion in Zarathushtra’s time was polytheistic. While details are scarce, Zoroaster probably elevated an already existing deity into the role of supreme creator. This polytheistic religion shares its origins with the ancient Vedic religion of India. Thus, the two beliefs share some similarities such as the ahura and daevas (agents of order and chaos) in Zoroastrianism compared to the asuras and devas who compete for power in Vedic religion.

Ahura Mazda as Supreme Creator

Modern Zoroastrianism is strictly monotheistic. Ahura Mazda alone is to be worshiped, although the existence of lesser spiritual beings is also recognized. This is in contrast with other times in history where the faith might be characterized as duotheistic or polytheistic. Modern Zoroastrians recognize monotheism to be the true teachings of Zoroaster.

Humata, Hukhta, Huveshta

The overriding ethical principle of Zoroastrianism is Humata, Hukhta, Huveshta: “to think good, to speak good, to act good.” This is the divine expectation of humans, and only through goodness will chaos be kept at bay. A person’s goodness determines their ultimate fate after death.

Fire Temples

Ahura Mazda is strongly associated with both fire and the Sun. Zoroastrian temples keep a fire burning at all times to represent Ahura Mazda’s eternal power. Fire is also recognized as a powerful purifier and is respected for that reason. The holiest temple fires take up to a year to consecrate, and many have been burning for years or even centuries. Visitors to fire temples bring an offering of wood, which is placed in the fire by a masked priest. The mask prevents the fire from being desecrated by his breath. The visitor is then anointed with ash from the fire.


Zoroastrians believe that when a person dies, the soul is divinely judged. The good move on to the “best of existences” while the wicked are punished in torment. As the end of the world approaches, the dead will be resurrected into new bodies. The world will burn but only the wicked will suffer any pain. The fires will purify creation and purge wickedness. Angra Mainyu will either be destroyed or made powerless, and everyone will live in paradise except perhaps the extremely wicked, which some sources believe will continue to suffer endlessly.

Holidays and Celebrations

Different Zoroastrian communities recognize different calendars for holidays. For example, while Nowruz is the Zoroastrian New Year, Iranians celebrate it on the vernal equinox while Indian Parsis celebrate it in August. Both groups celebrate Zoroaster’s birth on Khodad Sal six days after Nowruz. Iranians mark Zoroaster’s death on Zarathust No Diso around December 26 while Parsis celebrate it in May.

Other celebrations include the Gahambar feasts, which are held over five days six times a year as seasonal celebrations.

Each month is attributed to an aspect of nature, as is every day of the month. Gan festivals are held whenever the day and month are both associated with the same aspect, such as fire, water, etc. Examples of these include Tirgan (celebrating water), Mehrgan (celebrating Mithra or the harvest) and Adargan (celebrating fire).

Notable Zoroastrians

Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen, and actor Erick Avari are both Zoroastrians.