Zoroaster's Message to the People of Greater Persia

  February 03, 2024   Read time 3 min
Zoroaster's Message to the People of Greater Persia
Zarathustra arose as a prophet who strongly denounced the ritual practices of the warrior societies, the groups of young men who wandered the countryside in a state of drunkenness, stealing and slaughtering cattle and terrorizing people.

An outspoken reformer, Zarathustra fought against the cruel and bloody practice of animal sacrifi ce, the use of intoxicating herbs, and the excesses of the old religion that whipped young men into a frenzy and sent them into battle. Never afraid to speak out, he openly scorned the “mumbling” priests and sacrifi cers. Instead of ritual he demanded that people turn their hearts and minds to Ahura Mazda.

Zarathustra preached the notion of one true god, Ahura Mazda, who had created human life and all things visible and invisible. Along with all the things of the earth, two opposing forces were created. One force, Spenta Mainyu, the holy spirit, represented Truth and Goodness. The other, a destructive spirit that came to be called Angra Mainyu, represented the Lie. Zarathustra saw a world of ethical good in which people worked to maintain life by marrying, bringing up children, raising cattle, and farming. They would think good thoughts and do good deeds, turning away from evil and creating a peaceful, loving society. After death people would be judged according to how they had chosen to live their lives. It was up to humans to choose Truth over The Lie. He also taught that the world would end and that at that time the righteous would be saved and the evildoers would go down into the underworld.

For the fi rst 10 years of his mission Zarathustra traveled around preaching in the courts of local rulers. His efforts were unsuccessful. At the age of 40, after 10 years of preaching and teaching, Zarathustra fi nally made his fi rst convert. It was his cousin Maidyoimanha (also known asor Medyomah), the son of his father’s brother. This was an important milestone but Zarathustra himself wondered whether the struggle was worthwhile—in 10 years he had won only one person to the side of Ahura Mazda.

Meanwhile Zarathustra’s preaching had caused him many problems. He had angered the priests and teachers of the existing order. They denounced him and his message. Zarathustra fl ed and took refuge in the court of Kai Vishtaspa, King of the ancient city of Bactra (what is now northern Afghanistan). At fi rst he was not well received; for a time he languished in prison. As the story goes Vishtaspa had a favorite horse that had become paralyzed, its legs drawn up into its body. Zarathustra restored the horse to health and made converts of Vishtaspa, his family, and his court. One who accepted Zarathustra’s preaching from the start was Jamaspa, the kingdom’s prime minister, who was to become Zarathustra’s spiritual successor. By this time Zarathustra was 42 years old.

The conversion of Vishtaspa proved to be a turning point. With the king’s support and patronage Zarathustra was free to preach and spread his message, but even then things did not go smoothly. Rulers of the surrounding kingdoms attacked Vishtaspa in an attempt to get him to renounce Zarathustra’s way. Fortunately for Zarathustra and for Zoroastrianism, Vishtaspa and his sons were willing to fi ght for what they believed. Vishtaspa was forced to fi ght two wars in defense of Zoroastrianism. Vishtaspa’s army proved to be a formidable fi ghting force. His son Prince Asfandyar defeated attackers and signed new treaties across Persia. Zarathustra’s message spread.

Zarathustra preached that people should live in the real world, working, marrying, and raising families. The Gathas (13.98, 13.9) describe the wedding of Zarathustra’s youngest daughter, Pouruchista, to Jamaspa, the prime minister of Vishtaspa, as an occasion of much joy. In keeping with his belief that people should choose freely among the options in their lives, Zarathustra speaks to his daughter about Jamaspa’s good qualities but allows her to choose for herself. With the marriage of Pouruchista and Jamaspa a new generation of Zoroastrians began.

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