The Miraculous Origins of Zoroastrianism

  December 31, 2023   Read time 3 min
The Miraculous Origins of Zoroastrianism
The Persian prophet Zoroaster (the name is the Greek form of the Persian Zarathustra) probably lived in the mid-late second millennium bc.

Zarathustra is one of the first of the prophets of the world’s major religions and while the place of his birth is subject to speculation—from Yazd, Kirmān, and today’s Sīstān—most scholars believe he came from Central Asia and most likely from what is now called Kazakhistan.

Although many areas of Iran have claimed him, Zarathustra was probably born in what was then northeastern Persia, roughly where the boundaries of modern Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan meet today. Persia—which eventually stretched from the prairieland of Russia and the Caspian Sea westward to the Greek Empire and south toward modern Pakistan—had not yet become an empire.

From the Avesta, the Zoroastrian holy book, the names of Zarathustra’s mother, Dughda, and his father, Pourushasp, of the Spitama clan are known. Tradition has it that Zarathustra was born in their home on the banks of the Daraja River. His followers celebrate his birthday on the sixth day of the fi rst month, Farvardin (March– April) on the Zoroastrian calendar. The Spitamas were a pastoral people who probably raised and traded horses.

Zarathustra himself, however, was apparently drawn to religion from an early age. The Gathas he composed suggest that he knew the religious traditions well and had been trained as a priest.According to the later legendary Zoroastrian tradition, the coming of Zarathustra was foretold long before his birth. The creatures of the earth and the saints of the heavens had spoken of it from the beginnings of the world. The heavenly glory that would pass to Zarathustra came from the sun, moon, and stars into the home of Zarathustra’s mother, Dughda, even before her birth, starting an ever-burning fi re on the hearth. When Dughda was born, she glowed with light. Evil powers tried to convince Dughda’s father that the light around her showed she was a sorceress.

He sent her away from his home, but in her new home she met Pourushasp, who was to be her husband. As Dughda and Pourushasp were walking Dughda saw and admired a plant. Pourushasp picked it for her and carried it home. It was a haoma, the sacred plant of Zoroastrian ritual. Inside was hidden Zarathustra’s guardian spirit, or fravahi, which would join him at birth. In this way the divine spirit came into their home. Zarathustra was born soon afterward, surrounded by light. As a newborn baby he laughed and he spoke to Ahura Mazda, dedicating his life to the Wise Lord.

Zoroastrian legend says that evil spirits set out immediately to destroy this child that would conquer them. They persuaded the evil local chieftain that the radiant infant was a demon. The chieftain laid the child on a pile of fi rewood and tried to light it, but the fi re would not burn. Then he put the baby in the path of stampeding oxen, but the fi rst ox stood over the baby and protected him. Zarathustra was put into the den of a wolf whose cubs had been taken away, but instead of harming him the wolf cared for him.

The theme of Zarathustra’s special relationship with animals recurs, underscoring his protection of them from animal sacrifi ce. Zarathustra survived other trials as a baby and child, always protected by his own essential goodness and righteousness.

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