The prophet Zarathushtra, or Zoroaster, founded Zoroastrianism, also known as Mazdeism. Zarathushtra declared that one god — Ahura Mazda, the “Wise Lord”— is the only eternal deity and is qualitatively above all others. However, Ahura Mazda is assisted in governing the world by the seven “Amesha Spentas”, the “Beneficial/Holy Immortals”. Chief among them is Spenta Mainyu, Ahura Mazda’s Holy Spirit. The seven, in turn, are assisted by a large number of deities called yazatas, “ones worthy of worship.” They may sometimes be understood as gods, but not in the same way as Ahura Mazda. They are more like aspects or attributes of Ahura Mazda, such as righteousness, devotion, and health.
1. Spenta Mainyu: The Zoroastrian Holy Spirit
Spenta Mainyu, or the spirit or wisdom of Spenta, represents life and the embodiment of goodness and light. In Zoroastrian mythology, he is the protector of all things and beings; from the sky, to the water, earth, plants, and children who have not yet been born. By means of this Holy Immortal, God gives long life and the blessings of happiness to those who follow the path of purity and truth. God himself is actually the supreme father, the creator, and the sustainer of all other Holy Immortals.
Ahura Mazda is the father of other deities, particularly the two twin spirits, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu. Spenta Mainyu (the spirit of good deeds) battles against his adversary Angra Mainyu (the “foul spirit”). Their characteristics were chosen by themselves: one chose good and life, while the other chose evil and death. Also on the side of evil and disorder are the daevas. These hostile spirits created the Druj or world of lies and deception. Zarathushtra strongly objected to the worship of the daevas, also found in Hinduism as good deities.
Seeking the path of Spenta Mainyu and choosing the three basic principles of good speech, action, and thought brings a person closer to Ahura Mazda. To fulfill his servitude to Ahura Mazda, followers should do what they can with good faith in Spenty Mainyu.
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In the Zoroastrian religion, the main characteristic of God is a benevolent or creative spirit. This characteristic belongs exclusively to God, but the other manifestations are also divine, and man can participate in each of them. Their effects are tools that bring God closer to man and man to God.
2. Asha: Justice, Truth, and Righteousness in the Zoroastrian Tradition
The created world is a constant battlefield between the forces of Asha and Druj, opposite manifestations seen as truth and lies. Asha or Asha Vahishta has a broad meaning and is one of the essential concepts in the Zoroastrian religion. Asha means truth and correctness, but its deeper meaning is the eternal law established by Ahura Mazda, according to which every action has a reaction, and every good or bad deed has its own reward or antidote. In other words, the crystallization of the existing order in nature is called Asha. It is said that Asha is the deity of fire and has the power of fire.
Zoroastrians have often been regarded as “fire-worshippers,” but this is misleading. Fire indeed plays an integral part in the Zoroastrian ritual as a symbol of purity, God’s wisdom, and light. Fire (and also water) have been a very important aspects of Zoroastrianism since its very beginning. Fire and temples remained fundamental to the faith. Their temples have an element of fire inside and water outside. Many temples also feature cypress trees, a traditional symbol of eternity. Today, even many Christian graveyards have cypress trees present for the same reason.
Asha is assisted by Ordibehesht, one of the first-class angels of Ahura Mazda, also known as God’s seven-fold fire. He stands against injustice in the world, and his followers are called Ashoon. He is not only the protector of this world’s moral and natural order. He fights against the destructive and disharmonious creations of the devil, but he also maintains order in hell and is careful not to torment the people of hell more than they deserve. In Iranian mythology, he is the counterpart of Indra, the spirit of apostasy. In the battle with Indra, deities such as Mehr, Sorush, and Nariosang help him.
3. Vohoo Manah: Good Deeds
Good words and good deeds come from good thoughts, which are inspired by Vohoo Manah, one of the first creations of Ahura Mazda. Humans form their own thoughts, and thoughts make us human beings. Different kinds of thoughts make different kinds of beings: one may be a human, a saint, or an angel, but also one may become an animal, a sinner, or a demon. A being is a thought manifested in words and deeds. Vohoo means good thoughts and character, one of God’s manifestations, attributes, and titles. It is mentioned in the famous prayer against Ahriman, the manifestation of all evil. Terrified Ahriman fell into the darkness and remained unconscious for three thousand years.
Zarathushtra says that whoever turns to Ahura Mazda (takes the right path or Asha) and obeys him will achieve perfection and immortality through the work of good thoughts. Through good thoughts, people follow the right path and achieve perfection and immortality. This is how a man can share in God’s nature. Man’s religious duty is to be one with the ultimate source or creator.
The Angel Bahman helps people in this goal. Bahman is the firstborn of Ahura Mazda and sits on his right side and almost plays the role of his advisor. He is the supporter of the beneficial animals in the world, but he is also related to man and the good thoughts of man which manifests the Creator’s wisdom. Through good thought, one can come to know the true religion. Bahman brings good thoughts to people’s minds and guides them to the Creator. He also prepares a daily report of people’s thoughts, words, and actions. At the end of the world, people’s actions will also be recorded. After death, Bahman greets the souls of the pious and guides them to the highest part of heaven. Demons, who are enemies of Bahman, include Eishma (anger) and Az (wrong thinking), and above all, Akehmaneh (bad thought; or disorder).
4. Kshathra Vairya/Shathra: The Zoroastrian Concept of Power
This Holy Immortal seems to be the embodiment of a warrior because his primary duty is to guard metals. The duty of supporting the poor and needy has been assigned to Kshathra Vairya. The literal meaning of this expression is “desired mayor” or “ideal country” and it is closely related to the concept of good thought. He is the most abstract of all the divine beings and is the manifestation of God’s ability, glory, control, and power. In the heavenly realm, he represents divine rulership. On earth, he is the representative of the monarchy, which helps the empty-handed, the weak, and the poor, and conquers all evils, thus establishing the power and will of God. In Zoroastrianism, a trial by molten metal will test all people at the end of time, so it is said that God will reward and punish us in the afterlife through him. His main enemy is Savol, who represents bad government, chaos, and laziness.
In the Avesta, Shathra is referred to as “the eternal realm of Ahura Mazda,” “the indestructible land,” and “the path to heaven.” But war myths in Zoroastrian Iran have gone through deep transformations. Later in time, his role changed. In the Iranian epic the Shahnameh, war and warfare are not related to the gods but are among the issues related to heroes and warriors who spend their whole lives in conflict, hostility, and war with each other. In the meantime, it is only Shathra (also named Shahrivar) who steps on the scene as a guard and guardian of the royal throne and creates help through weapons to maintain peace and spread religion.
5. Armaiti: Zoroastrian Piety and Devotion
Armaiti is the guardian and goddess of the green earth and a sign of fertility and childbirth. She is considered the very old goddess of Esfand, the last month in the Iranian calendar. She is the protector and guardian of the earth and, at the same time, the embodiment of submission, piety, and worship. She is also connected to the last two Holy Immortals, Haurvatat (water) and Ameratat (plants). She is Mother Nature, the earthly cradle, a guarantee of fertility.
In some myths, Armaiti is the wife of Ahura Mazda. She is also connected to the dead, whose remains are returned to the earth. In this way, Armaiti seems to be an ancient deity, close to many other Indo-European religious traditions where the wife of the most prominent god is also a symbol of earth, fertility, and death. In Iran the last month, Esfand, is dedicated to her, which also reminds us of the cycle of life and death. Esfand is the last month of winter, followed by Nowruz, the first day of spring, and the Iranian New Year.
6. Haurvatat: The Zoroastrian Concept of Integrity, Wholeness, and Health
Haurvatat or Khordad means wholeness, integrity, and perfection and is a manifestation of the concept of health and salvation for human beings. She treads on water and brings freshness to plants. The associates of this Holy Immortal are the pious gods of Tishtar, Bad, and Forohar.
Her enemy is called Teriz, the demon of corruption and thirst, who poisons plants and animals. She is the guardian of water and stands next to Ahura Mazda’s right hand. Haurvatat has also been called the ruler of months, days, and years. In the Iranian calendar, the month of Khordad is dedicated to her.
7. Ameratat: The Zoroastrian Concept of Immortality
Ameratat means immortality. He grows plants and increases flocks of sheep. He tries not to wither the plants. His colleagues are Rashan, Ashtad, and Zamiyad. This Holy Immortal has a feminine aspect, and Zariz is his demonic enemy, a symbol of hunger and destruction. Essentially, Ameratat represents the stability and immortality of Ahura Mazda.
Ameratat is combined with Haurvatat. Zarathustra was adamant about seeing wholeness and immortality as two manifestations of Ahura Mazda which cannot exist separately. They also mix in their cosmological representation, as Ameratat cares for plants, and Haurvatat for water, fighting the demons of hunger and thirst. Because they represent food and drink, Zoroastrians believe talking while having a meal is disrespectful.