For centuries, Zoroastrianism was the leading religion of Persia (now Iran) before the modern Islamic religions came to be. Zoroastrianism is thought to be founded in 6th century BC by Zarathustra. Zoroastrians follow the sacred text called the Avesta; it is their "Book of the Law."
Zarathustra was a Persian prophet, when at age 30 claimed to have had visions of God. Zarathustra called God Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism quickly became the "official" religion of Persia, but came to an abrupt end in 637 AD at the time of the Muslim invasion. There are an estimated 2.6 million practicing Zoroastrians in the world today.
In Zarathustra's visions, he was taken up to heaven, where God, Ahura Mazda, revealed his opponent. Where Ahura Mazda stood for good, his opponent Aura Mainyu stood for evil. After revealing his opposite, Ahura Mazda told Zarathustra to return to earth and tell all humans to choose between him (Ahura Mazda) and Aura Mainyu.
Zarathustra preached to the people that they must take part in this decision to exercise their proper use of free will and choice. Zarathustra taught the people that they were free to choose between right and wrong, honesty and dishonesty, good and bad, etc. This causes Zoroastrianism to be a very ethical religion: Those who do more good than evil, go to heaven. Those who do more evil than good, go to hell. "Hell" according to Zoroastrianism, has several levels, corresponding to the level of wickedness one does in the course of their lifetime. In addition to heaven and hell, there is an "intermediate stage" (comparable to Purgatory) for those who have equal good and bad deeds.
We can see that a lot of these ideas and ideals seem to have carried themselves down to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Things such as Heaven, Hell, the Messiah figure, etc. show up in many religions today.
Zoroastrian Practices and Rituals
Zoroastrian's have some very interesting and unusual practices that they practice regularly. To modern Zoroastrians, coming of age is a very important point in life. This is celebrated at age seven in India, and age 10 in Persia. The subject receives a sadre (shirt) and a kusti (girdle) which they are to wear for the rest of their lives.
In Zoroastrianism, there are two main types of "purification." Ablution, padyab or nahn, and bareshnum "a complicated ritual performed at special places with the participation of a dog (whose left ear is touched by the candidate and whose gaze puts the evil spirits to flight) and lasting several days." One might purify to increase their well being, to help abolish sins, or just as a holy practice.
This religion also...