the oldest known form of the languages in the Iranian part of the Indo-Iranian
language family, part of the Indo-European language family. Avestan is named for the
Zend Avesta, the sacred scriptures of the Zoroastrians in which it
appears. The early form of Avestan is so similar to Vedic Sanskrit that the main
difference between them is the alphabet in which they are written, and the shift
of s to h in Avestan. This similarity means
that they date to a similar time, although both languages could have been used
for later compositions (Sanskrit still is). The composition of the Avestan
scriptures was once held to have been in about 587 BCE, the date of the earliest
inscriptions of the Persian kings. This date was also the date set for the time
of Zarathustra but it was based on attempts to equate the dates of real world
events with the legendary history of the Old Testament of the Bible.
This incorrect assumption caused the dates of these compositions to be dragged
forward so that they have traditionally been dated much too recently by western
scholars. Hopefully as archaeologists and historians get a better understanding
of actual history, they can date these compositions better.
Although Sanskrit and Avestan are essentially the same language, the
religions of Avestan and Sanskrit are so different that it is easier to treat
them as separate entities. Zoroastrianism, the religion that is associated with
the Iranian branch of the language family, has a number of features that make it
different from the standard Religion of the Indo-European-speaking people. One of
the differences between them is the division of the original pantheon of Indo-European deities into two groups: the
Ashuras, or deities of the Sun versus the Devis with
Indra, deities associated with grain fields and the moon. This division is
referred to as the Pandemonium, since the Sanskrit speakers demonized all
or most of the Gods of the Zoroastrians and the Avestan speakers demonized all
or most of the Gods of the Sanskrit speakers. [fuggle26]
Table of Contents
Iranian Language Family
Brief Timeline and Geography
Mage Priesthood (Magi)
Iranian Language Family
The part of
the language family that includes Avestan has a series of time dialects, Avestan
(the oldest), Old Persian, Middle Persian or Pahlevi and modern Persian or Farsi
and Tajik. It also includes closely related languages from further north and
east such as Khotanese, Sogdian, and Bactrian, which last group are all archaic
languages with no modern counterpart. Modern languages include Ossetic, Pashto
and northwest Iranian: Parthian, Baluchi, and Kurdish.
Western Iranian Languages
Avestan is the oldest of these
languages and is found in the Zend Avesta. The oldest written copies of
Zoroastrian texts are no earlier than 1400 CE, although the compositions
probably date to at least as early as 1000 BCE. The oldest datable
writing in this language family, called Old Persian, consists of the cuneiform
inscriptions of the Persian kings, of which the earliest is about 587 BCE. A
later form of this language continued to be used at the time of the Sassanian
Kings who were also Zoroastrians. The Sassanian kings ruled large areas of the
Steppes, Mesopotamia, parts of India, Anatolia, and parts of the Middle-east.
Baghdad, the capital of Persia, was eventually conquered by Muslims beginning in
600 CE and conversion to Islam was a more or less gradual process, which is
nearly complete since the government of Iran actively persecutes those
Zoroastrians still residing in that country. A small population of Zoroastrians
lives in several different countries (mainly India and several English-speaking
countries) and they still use the ancient forms of these languages in their
religious activities. The Persian language continues to be used in its modern
form Farsi, where it is the language of the Muslim population of modern day
Iran. Unfortunately, Iran is currently a godforsaken hellhole so it is
impossible for anyone to travel there and study the ancient sites and relics.
Also, don’t hold your breath waiting for any scholarship to come out of there.
East Iranian Languages
kingdom centered around Samarkand, and was an important trading center on the
Silk Road, as well as an important viaduct for the spread of new religious
ideas. This area is now part of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Manuscripts in
Sogdian are known for various religions including Buddhism, Nestorian
Christianity, Manicheanism and Zoroastrianism. These sources are not normally
useful for the study of Proto-Indo-European religion but they do include some
myths which later show up in Celtic sources.
Khotanese, or the Saka language was used by the Saka kings,
(usually called Saka kings in India, and Kushan kings in the west). The more
substantial Khotanese texts are Buddhist, but early coins of the Saka kings
represent and name Gods and Goddesses of the Greeks, Romans, Zoroastrians and
Indians. This religious diversity was destroyed by the Muslim conquest in the
Ossetic, spoken to the north in what used to be the Soviet
Union, has a rich literature of folktales, called the Nart Sagas, some
of which tell old Indo-European myths.
Some speakers of East Iranian languages continued as Pagans or Zoroastrians
until recently, but since the 1800’s, most have been forced to convert, at least
nominally, to Islam. Many of these groups were decimated during the Stalinist
regime and some are being targeted by Muslim zealots even now.
These languages make up a third group,
intermediate between the Indian languages related to Sanskrit and the Iranian
languages related to Avestan. Spoken in the forested mountains of Kashmir,
Pakistan and Afghanistan, these languages preserve a very conservative culture
and oral literature. They include the Nuristani group (originally called the
Kafir languages); the central group spoken in Chitral, and the eastern group
which includes Shina and Kashmiri. Many of the people were forcibly converted to
Islam in 1895, but some retain their religious traditions. #histgeog
Brief Timeline and Geography
- 1000 BCE or earlier, Zarathustra wrote the Gathas, (once thought to be 587
BCE by western scholars, based on Biblical history)
- 9th to 6th centuries BCE, Medes ruled, known only from brief references in
- 559-330 BCE, Old Persian cuneiform on the tombs of the Achaemenid kings, a
few metal objects, and a few clay tablets including one with an administrative
text in the Persepolis Fortification Archive, see the article An Old Persian Administrative Tablet by Matthew Stolper
and Jan Tavernier, which is a pdf file and takes a while to download. At
Persepolis, over 30,000 cuneiform tablets or fragments have been found, but many
have not been published because of Islamic hostility toward the older culture.
The Persians used mainly Elamite and Aramaic (Syriac) language and writing for
- 330 BCE, Alexander of Macedon conquered Persia and introduced some Greek
ideas: coinage, political organization, and alphabetical writing on papyrus
- 1st millennium BCE to the present (especially c. 200 BCE-200 CE). The
Scythians, Khotanese (known as Kushan kings in the west and Saka kings in India)
and the Ossetes, are often grouped together but this is not very accurate.
- Scythians are referred to in ancient literature (e.g. Herodotus, Roman
classical sources, medieval Al-Bîrûnî), but they are not usually linguistically
identifiable and probably do not represent an ethnic unity.
- Saka or Kushan kings are known from references and a few coins with
inscriptions throughout Gandarva (Afghanistan), and the Indus River valley from
about 200 BCE -200 CE.
- Khotanese is known from manuscripts of around 1000 CE, mostly Buddhist
- Ossetic first became known in the west through travelers’ tales and
eventually folklorists in the 1800’s. The folklore and religion have been
published mainly in Russian sources.
- 247 BCE to 226 CE, Parthian Arsacids in Armenia, with a coinage that shows
an archer in a square. Because they used papyrus for writing, after the Greek
manner, literary texts have not survived.
- 224 CE - 651 CE, Sassanian kings, Zoroastrians, and the Mandean religion
with music singing the praises of King Khosrau
- 4th to 8th CE, Sogdians, with Bactrians to the north, important cultures at
the time of the Silk Road, but eventually forced into Islamic conversion.
- 5th CE, White Huns or Hephthalites invade
- 651 CE, Muslim destruction of Baghdad, forced conversions of Zoroastrians in
many areas. By 1000 CE, some moved to India.
- 1100 CE, Shah Namah composed in Persian by Firdausi, continues
Indo-European Gods and myths, but historicized in accordance with Islamic
- c. 1200 CE Al-Bîrûnî wrote Athar-ul-Bakiya or the Chronology of
- 14th century CE, oldest actual manuscripts in the Avestan language. Along
with the rest of the main Zoroastrian scriptures, these were produced in
The geographic range of the Zoroastrian
religion has often varied widely from the range of the Iranian family of
languages. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion or has strongly affected the
religions of speakers of other language groups including the Germanic speakers,
the Armenians, the Albanians, and possibly Jews and Arabs (considering both
groups as speakers of Semitic languages as well as monotheists). It is sometimes
said that Zoroastrianism affected the Slavic version of Indo-European Paganism, at least through the influence of some Asian groups such as
the Tatars who ruled large sections of Russia for centuries, but this does not
appear to be the case. Slavic speakers in the west maintained a fairly standard
Indo-European Paganism as a folk religion. On the other hand, many speakers of
Iranian languages were followers of a wide variety of religions, including
Manicheanism, Mandeanism, Gnosticism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and
traditional Indo-European Paganism. #zreligion
are often called Ghebirs or Parsis. Ghebir is the word used in Iran by Muslims
and means “infidel” while Parsis (Parsees) is the word used in India and means
“Persians” though it has been a while since they came from Persia--about a
thousand years. Both words are considered inappropriate and the people generally
refer to themselves as Mazdeans, meaning followers of Ahura Mazda. I have used
the word Zoroastrian throughout this article because it is well understood in
English and because I wish to use a specifically religious term.
Although it is believed that the earliest religion among the Persians was a
form of the Proto-Indo-European religion similar to European Paganism, there is
little evidence to show this. The earliest religion for which we have
substantial information is the Zoroastrian religion and this religion continued
to be the dominant religion in large areas of Mesopotamia, Anatolia (Turkey),
and a wide area east, north and even west of the Black Sea, until the
introduction of Islam.
The Zoroastrian religion differs substantially from what can be reconstructed
as the Proto-Indo-European religion. Of course, like other great religions that
persisted for a long time, Zoroastrianism has changed greatly over the years,
but a few general points of comparison can be made.
Zarathustra or Zoroaster, whoever he was, seems to have been the source of
the only set of new ideas in the history of the world, unless he got them from
the Egyptian pharaoh Akhnaton (Amenhotep IV, died 1357 BCE?), the first
eccentric monotheist. This idea has some support based on the use of a winged
solar disc which was the emblem of the Pharaoh Akhnaton in Egypt and which also
appears in the art of the Zoroastrians in Persia, eventually with a human body
added to represent Farquard (often understood as the emblem of Zarathustra).
While Egyptian art has been widely borrowed by many people in many times and
places, the juxtaposition of this specific symbol and the ideas related to it
cannot be a coincidence and indicate some sort of access to common ideas. The
Zoroastrian view of the world was that there would be a battle between the
forces of good and the forces of evil, after which the world would cease to
exist in its present form and a new world would be formed. This dualistic and
eschatological concept was completely foreign to the Indo-European way of
thinking which was more balanced and realistic and saw time as existing in the
form of cycles. It will be noticed that the Zoroastrian view corresponds closely
to ideas expressed in Jewish history and prophecy in the Bible and for that
matter the views of the Essenes, writers of the Qumran scrolls and to later
Christian beliefs. It is believed that Zoroastrianism is the source of these
ideas, which presumably the Hebrew-speaking people picked up in Babylon.
Zarathustra invented a new set of deities in the form of the Amesha Spentas,
seven beneficent beings who were essentially personified virtues, while the
usual Indo-European pantheon of mainly natural phenomena was discarded. Later
the older Indo-European pantheon was reintegrated into Zoroastrian religion, but
usually in an altered way, since some of the standard Indo-European deities were
demonized in the Pandemonium. Because of these historical changes, the
correspondence between Zoroastrian deities and other Indo-European deities is
not very close (see Pantheon below).
Sacred Scriptures of the Zoroastrians
Avesta, the sacred scriptures of the Zoroastrians, were produced over a
very long period of time. While the sacred scriptures of the Zoroastrians are
not considered complete, and some parts are known to have been lost, they are
certainly extensive and they give the sacred liturgy and the exact wording for
many ancient rituals. Zoroastrians still use them in their rituals. Among those
still in existence are:
Gathas, statements of philosophy by
Zarathustra, the founder of the religion
Yashts, hymns of praise
for the deities, including some mythological narratives
Vendidad, later rituals and purity laws produced during the Arsacid
There is also a mass of folklore and narratives produced during the
Much of this material is available in print and on the Internet, in the
original languages and often in English translation. See the References for
publications and links to web pages. #zpanth
created a new set of deities, really seven personified virtues, to be the
objects of worship in his invented religion. These are called Amesha
Spentas or “Blessed Spirits.”
• Ahura Mazda, with a later form
Ormuzd, a form of the Indo-European God *Aeusos
although somewhat modified
• Arta-Vahista ‘Righteousness, Order of Things,
Truth’ later Ardibehest. This name is given as Asha-Vahista in published
sources, but the Zoroastrians call her Arta-Vahista in their prayers
Vohu-Manô, later called Bahman
• Khshathrya-vairya, later Shahrêvar, male,
representing domestic animals
• Spenta-Ârmaiti, later Spendârmat, female,
representing the earth
• Haurvatât, later Khordâd, female, representing
• Ameretât, later Murdâd, female, representing plants
The Yazatas are replacement deities in later
forms of Zoroastrianism. Zarathustra demonized a number of the Proto-Indo-European Gods and Goddesses including Indra,
Durga, and the Devis. Understanding this Pandemonium is essential for clear insight into the
religion of the Zoroastrians and the Proto-Indo-European religion among each of
the language groups. Eventually the deities of the Proto-Indo-Europeans reappear
among the Zoroastrians, either because they were felt to be needed or because
Zoroastrianism did not take hold fully everywhere. This is apparent as early as
the Persian king Artaxerxes, who is named after Arta, his favorite Goddess. The
name of the Yazatas is interpreted as “those that ought to be praised” though
the word is cognate with Devtas or Deities. They include the sun, moon, stars,
hearth fire, cow(s), wind, earth and waters or rivers. The Yazatas appear in the
Yashts, later Zoroastrian hymns of praise, some of them with narratives which
correspond to the myths of the other Indo-Europeans. Many Zoroastrian deities
can be equated with the Proto-Indo-European deities according to their
characteristics but the names do not correspond exactly. For example *Pria is
replaced by Anahita and *Durga is replaced by Drvaspa. The displacement and
replacement of various Proto-Indo-European Gods by Zoroastrian deities caused
many changes in the pantheon, but the changes can be reconstructed.
Some of the major Yazatas (later called Yazads, or Izads)
• Mithra, later form of name, Mihr, (later identified with the sun
in Roman religion, e.g. Mithras)
• Anahita ‘night’ with later forms Anahid
• Drvaspa, protector of horses
• Yima Kshaita, the first
mortal and a Culture God, later Jamshid and eventually Jems, described in more
detail in the article about *Yama.
• Mâhya, the Moon, later Mâh
‘Plenitude’ see *Pleto
• Vâta ‘wind’ later form of name Bâd
Eventually Zarathustra himself was raised to divine status.
Zoroastrians also acknowledge the power of some bad deities (demons), but
they do not offer them worship or praise. Among them are Angra Mainu, later
Ahriman; Drug ‘deceit’; and the Daevas, later called Divs, who are devils or
demons, see *Devi.
The Zoroastrians seem to have been iconoclastic,
since there are hardly any images of their deities, although there doesn’t seem
to be any specific statement prohibiting their representation. One exception is
that Artaxerxes had images of Anahita made and distributed and there is a relief
at Naqsh-i-Rustam which represents Anahita investing King Narse with a
beribboned ring, a sign of kingship. Another image of Anahita appears at
Taq-i-Bostan where she carries a water jug. Little clay images of her are known
from archaeological digs north of the Black Sea. Some of the Zoroastrian
deities, including Ahura Mazda and the Yazatas eventually appear on Kushan coins
where they may have contributed to Indian religion and iconography and
subsequently Hindu religion.
The Zoroastrian God Mitra was picked up by Roman soldiers and widely
worshiped as Mithras in the Roman world with many images of him, however this
really has nothing to do with Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrian deities were also
absorbed by the Armenians and were still worshiped by them in some out of the
way places until recently. They also have a place in the folklore of many groups
including Armenians (even among those that were christianized), and speakers of
Persian and Arabic, even among Muslims. It seems that some Zoroastrian ideas,
especially eschatology (“end of the world” = Ragnarok) and the Pandemonium were
absorbed by Germanic-speaking people in the area around the Black Sea and then
transferred to the northwest of Europe. #mage
The Mage Priesthood was originally a tribe of Median
priests, according to Herodotus, Histories, I. 132 and these were the
source of the Mage priests or Magi among the Zoroastrians. Apparently they tried
at one time to revolt against Darius and this was unsuccessful and he killed
them, but the historical details are uncertain. In any case they remained an
essential element of Zoroastrian religion. Unlike most of the other
Indo-Europeans, Zoroastrianism had a fixed priesthood and a fixed liturgy which
not only was administered by priests who knew the long and complex prayers, but
according to the account of Herodotus, the participation of priests was required
for the offering and by extension the killing of any animal.
Some elements of Zoroastrian religion are thought to have developed later,
especially during the time of the Arsacid kings (247 BCE - 226 CE). The fire
temples, obsession with purity, and development of a class system that was
degrading to women and extremely hierarchical appear at this time, and have
counterparts in Indian religion. Purity laws, similar to the Jewish dietary
restrictions and Christian obsession with human sexuality, appear in the
Vendidad. This is a set of later Zoroastrian scriptures which have
detailed instructions on many rituals for the maintenance of purity. At this
time, the Zoroastrian priests were especially terrified at the thought of
contamination by menstrual blood and death (e.g. touching a corpse). These
obsessions also show up in the Laws of Manu which have a counterpart in
India. By the classical age, the Mage priesthood was considered very powerful
both in Persia and beyond. It is this prospect that apparently inspired the
development of the Jewish priesthood in Jerusalem.
The Mage priesthood had a number of characteristics in common with other
parasitic priesthoods such as the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, the
Brahminical priests of India, and for that matter, the Jewish priests in the
temple at Jerusalem, who were referred to as Pharisees, i.e. “Persians” meaning
Persian Jews. In Zoroastrianism, the priesthood was restricted (to men), they
were considered to have special “magical” or supernatural abilities which other
people did not have, and devotees were required to pay for the sacraments. It is
not certain if the last is true for Zoroastrians or not, though it is for the
others. A parasitic priesthood develops only when priests do no work except
religious rites which precludes them from supporting themselves by productive
work. This arrangement is accomplished by a very elaborate extension of a
complex and fixed liturgy and the development of obsessive-compulsive purity
laws which the priesthood then enforces. This is only possible in a hierarchical
society in which wealth can be collected and stored by one group, usually
connected to the court of a king. Such a development can only occur in material
cultures where there is storable wealth, either a commodity like wheat, or
actual money. In practice, the restrictions meant that it was necessary for
Zoroastrians to go and find a priest whenever they wanted to kill a chicken for
dinner. Most Indo-Europeans felt that they could manage this by themselves.
Today, Zoroastrian priests remain an important part of the Zoroastrian religion
and wield great power. The Zoroastrian priesthood remains extremely controlling
even in the United States. Arguments over the interpretation and application of
the purity laws have resulted in some conflict within the group of Zoroastrians
living in California.
The hierarchical social and religious structure that developed around the
Arsacid and then later Sassanian kings (224 CE - 651 CE) seems to have been
introduced into India and contributed to the rigidity of the caste system in
India. It also may have been the source of the degradation of women which
typifies Islam, and which is very noticeable in northern India, wherever Islam
Many modern Indo-European linguists, such as Durkheim, Dumézil and their
followers have argued that this hierarchical structure and controlling
priesthood were general to the Indo-Europeans and they reconstruct it to the
original Proto-Indo-European religion presumably dating back to 4000 BCE. This
not only does not seem likely, it does not even seem possible since the
Proto-Indo-Europeans were quite poor and practiced mixed farming (both livestock
and crops) and would not have been able to develop the sort of class system and
hoarded wealth that can be seen in cities and which would be necessary to
support a parasitic priesthood. The motive for this argument seems to have been
to try to find support for the goals and beliefs of Catholic fascism, one of the schools of thought that
still has a major place in studies of Proto-Indo-European religion, although it
is hard to believe that most modern Indo-European linguists actually support
this sort of a social agenda. #iranmyths
Many Indo-European myths can be found in some form in the ancient stories of the
Zoroastrians, which are sometimes told in the intermediate literature known as
the Yashts. While these function as hymns of praise, they sometimes include
narratives. The typical example is the Creation Myth of the Indo-Europeans which has been referred to many times because it is the
Indo-European myth that has been most widely recognized by other Indo-European
linguists, of those for which there is some actual evidence. Some Zoroastrian
myths found their way into medieval romances, such as the Shah Namah,
composed by Firdausi in 1100 CE. The earliest part of this text is supposed to
be a history of the kings of Persia, but it is actually a reprise of many
ancient Indo-European myths in the form of legends and pseudo-histories. See
Shah Namah in the references for the link and published sources. #zrituals
The rituals of the
Zoroastrians are roughly similar to the rituals of other Indo-Europeans, though
with a strong emphasis on fire worship. This can be ascertained based on
Zoroastrian scriptures, confirmed by reports in Herodotus, which often give
explicit instructions for them and these rituals are still continued today.
Modern Zoroastrians maintain considerable privacy and do not allow visitors in
their temples, but there is nothing particularly secret about what they do. They
keep a sacred fire burning and they use it to make offerings to the deities,
generally by offering food or incense, and by singing their praises. They also
partake of haoma, an inebriant similar to caffeine, though it may once have been
something with hallucinogenic properties.
Zoroastrians also pray five times a day to the Sun, in its several positions in the sky.
One exception to the general similarity with other Indo-European rituals is
the Zoroastrian practice of exposing the dead, in which corpses are left on the
top of tall pillars, called Towers of Silence, to be devoured by vultures. This
prevents the corpses, which are considered unclean, from coming into contact
with earth, air, fire or water, the four sacred elements. Such contact would be
detrimental to the work of Ahura Mazda in the battle against Ahriman at which
all Zoroastrians are required to assist.
It seems a little arrogant to try to characterize an entire religion but
“Good Thought, Good Word, Good Deed” is the basic mantra of the Zoroastrians and
they do try to rise above some of the hostility that has been directed at them
and are generally kind, hard-working, peaceable people.
It is impossible to resist adding that one of the most sacred animals among
Zoroastrians is the--hedgehog. This is because hedgehogs eat bugs. Bugs are bad
because they are considered to be the production of Ahriman, the force for evil
so by eating them, hedgehogs are doing the work of Ahura Mazda in preparing the
world for the final victory of good over evil. #zcalendar
The oldest calendar known
for Zoroastrians is reconstructed from the Avestan scriptures and is not a
festival calendar but consists of six seasons. These seasons are based on the
seasonal cycles of nature and agriculture which ruled life in the Iranian
highlands, including the time of the deer rut in the fall.
Information about the calendars of the people up along the Silk Road was
compiled by Al Bîrûnî in about 1200 CE in the Chronology of Ancient
Nations. This book gives the calendars and describes some of the festival
customs for speakers of various languages in the Iranian language family and is
often our only source of information on this topic. However, he was a Muslim and
rather unfriendly to the Zoroastrians he was describing. This book was published
in a translation by C. Edward Sachau and is available on Google books, see
References. The traditional way that the festivals were celebrated in Iran in
the 19th century is described in the books by Mary Boyce.
The situation with the modern festival calendar of the Zoroastrians is
somewhat complicated. There are two modern sects of Zoroastrianism and they
begin their calendars on a different day of the year. Furthermore neither of
these calendars fits with the one that is reconstructed as the calendar of
Sassanian times. None of these calendars are closely related to other
Indo-European calendar traditions, possibly because of the different climate and
certainly because of the somewhat different structure of the pantheon, which
having seven Amesha Spentas, also has seven major festivals or Gahambars (see
below). One similarity between the east and west is the tradition of Twelfth
Night which seems to have an equivalent in Zoroastrian calendar ritual. The
website for the Encyclopaedia Iranica gives a coherent explanation of
the various Zoroastrian calendars.
There are seven major seasonal feasts called
gahambars which are celebrated by the Zoroastrians. These names do not fit with
their present position in the solar year. The festivals are:
Gahambar (‘mid-spring’ feast)
Maidyoshahem Gahambar (‘mid-summer’ feast)
Paitishahem Gahambar (feast of ‘bringing in the harvest’) in late summer
Ayathrem Gahambar (‘bringing home the herds’) in the fall
Gahambar (‘mid-year’) winter feast
Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar (feast of ‘all
souls’ literally ‘coming of the whole group’) which falls in February or March,
preceding the New Year by as many days as it is celebrated
Nov Ruz (‘New
Year’) or Ashura is the Seventh Festival and now falls on the spring equinox. It
is celebrated by Zoroastrians as a festival dedicated to Ahura Mazda and by
Muslims in Iran as a secular holiday. A little information is given about the
traditional menu for the Gahambar at Ashura and these are very delicious foods.
Ashura is also the name for the New Year in the Islamic calendar but since
that calendar is strictly lunar, the Ashura festival rolls through the year,
falling in a different month each year. Gahambars are “festivals of obligation”
among Zoroastrians, meaning that everyone must attend. The word ashura is also
used in a number of countries for a council of elders although this excludes
women in Muslim countries.
Islamicization and Christianization
Zoroastrianism was absorbed into Islam
especially among Persian speakers, where it strongly affects the Shiite
religion. Some Zoroastrian customs remain such as the celebration of Nov Ruz,
the festival of the sun at the spring equinox, although modern Persian Muslims
celebrate this as a picnic. Some other elements of Zoroastrianism that were absorbed into Islam are described at the blog No Country for Women on the topic of
Pagan Arab Festivals by Taslima Nasreen. In addition, the star Sirius was worshiped as a protective deity
by the Zoroastrians; it later became the angel Sraosh in Muslim folklore. As
noted before, the Zoroastrian deities were historicized as early legendary kings
of the Persians; some modern Persians persist in believing that they actually
were kings and that this heightens the glory of Persian history.
was also christianized and many Zoroastrian Gods and Goddesses became Pagan saints in the Syriac Christian church, and from there they spread to
both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Mage priests
were christianized as the Three Magi (the Three Kings), based loosely on the
single reference to the Magi in the Bible (Matthew 2:1-12). The Magi
are supposed to have been present at the birth of one of the Christian Gods,
however they are mainly christianized forms of the Matronae, important Pagan
Goddesses in the area around Cologne, whom we would generally recognize as
Norns. During the Middle Ages they became an important object of Christian cult
with Twelfth Night (Jan. 6th) as their feast day.
This webpage is meant to give some
information about the history of Zoroastrianism because it is important for the
understanding of the Proto-Indo-European religion, the topic that I am studying.
It is not intended as a complete or in depth presentation of modern
Zoroastrianism and the views expressed are my own.
Zoroastrianism has a small number of adherents at this time, but it is
probably the major source of the ideas that characterize the monotheistic
religions. It also has contributed in many large and small ways to many
cultures. The Zoroastrian religion continues today and the members are often
well educated and use the Internet extensively. For any descriptions of their
beliefs, customs or traditions, it is always possible to google it, or to ask on
a forum dedicated to that topic, because they are active on the internet. #zrefs
Sacred Scriptures of the Zoroastrians
• The Zend-Avesta, Part III, The Gathas and Yasnas and Misc. translated by L. H.
Mills, 1887. This is in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 31, series ed.
by F. Max Muller, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1887. Available at The Zend Avesta, Part III: (SBE 31) The Yasna,
Visparad, Âfrînagân, Gâhs and Miscellaneous Fragments translated by L.H. Mills .
• The Zend-Avesta, Part II, the Sirogahs, Yasts, and Nyayis, translated by James
Darmesteter. This is in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 23, series ed.
by F. Max Muller, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1895. Available as The Zend Avesta, Part II: (SBE 23) The Sîrôzahs, Yasts and
Nyâyis translated by James Darmesteter  on sacred texts.
• The Zend-Avesta, Part I is the Vendidad, translated by James Darmesteter. This
is in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 4, series ed. by F. Max Muller,
Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1895. Available on the internet at The Zend Avesta, Part I: (SBE 4) Vendîdâd, translated by James
Many more Zoroastrian texts are listed at:
• index page for Zoroastrian texts on Sacred-Texts.com
Other important texts available on the net are:
• Herodotus’ Histories in a Greek and English
dual edition. Section I.131 is especially about the Zoroastrians.
• Shah Namah by Firdausi, in the abridged version called Epic of
Kings translated by Helen Zimmern, on Sacred-texts. This is not an accurate
or complete translation but at least it is available on the internet.
• The Chronology of Ancient Nations by Al Biruni, or the
Athar-ul-Bakiya of Al Bîrûnî, translated by C. Edward Sachau, William
H. Allen and Co., London, 1879. Versions on the internet are:
A Chronology of Ancient Nations on Archive.org but it is not searchable,
and a version on Google books which I believe is searchable.
Secondary Sources on Zoroastrianism
Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion, readings from the Avesta and
Achaemenid Inscriptions, translated and edited by William W. Malandra,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN 1983.
ouvrage de Zoroastre, by Anquetil du Perron, published by N. M. Tilliard, Paris,
• A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism [in Iran], by Mary
Boyce, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977.
• Zoroastrians, Their Religious
Beliefs and Practices, by Mary Boyce, Routledge and Kegan Paul, New York,
Linguistic Resources for the Avestan Language
Avestan Grammar, by A. V. Williams Jackson, Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellshaft, Darmestadt, 1968.
• Avesta Reader by Hans
Reichelt, published by Karl J. Trubner, Strassburg, 1911.
Indo-European Comparative Dictionary by Stuart E. Mann, Helmut Baske,
Verlag, Hamburg, 1984.
Some excellent sites put up by
knowledgeable people which also have early texts are:
• Encyclopaedia Iranica at
• The Zarathushtrian Assembly at www.zoroastrian.org, an excellent site put together by
Ali A. Jafarey.
• Avesta--Zoroastrian Archives at www.avesta.org. This
website is put up by modern Zoroastrians and also has many texts.
General Indo-European References
Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes by Franz Bopp, translated by Michel
Bréal, Imprimerie Impériale, Paris, 1866.
• Indo-European and the
Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and
a Proto-Culture by Thomas V. Gamkrelidze, and Vjaceslav V. Ivanov, (Trends
in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 80, 2 Vol. Set), with Werner Winter, ed.,
and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i
indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995.
Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World by J.
P. Mallory, and Douglas Q. Adams, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture by J. P. Mallory, and Douglas Q.
Adams, Fitzroy Dearborn, London, 1997.
• Analecta Indoeuropaea by
Jaan, Puhvel (a collection of articles), published by Innsbrucker Beitrage zur
Sprachwissenschaft, Innsbruck, 1981.
© 2007, last updated 8/8/2017, at piereligion.org/avestan.html