Archive for July 2013

The Stories of the Courtesan Across Cultures and Times   1 comment

Chapter 2 Part B

Zoroastrianism’s Influences

“The sky, metal, wind and fire are male, the water, earth, plant and fish are female… the remaining creation consists of male and female….”

The Bundahisn  ( a  Zoroastrian collection of texts on Cosmology)

Introduction:

1.”Zoroastrianism has always depended on words, and literacy is a sacred duty for a Zoroastrian. Though very very few Zoroastrians know Avestan ( the language of  the Holy Book ‘Zend Avesta ‘ ) , all of them revere the Avestan language and say their prayers in it, relying on transliterations to read it aloud, and translations for their own understanding. Zoroastrians know that Avestan, even if they do not understand it, carries more than just text and information. It has gathered a wealth of spiritual power over three and a half thousand years, an intangible but very perceptible grandeur. It simply would not be the same if all the prayers were translated into Gujarati, Persian, or English – though often, at modern ceremonies, translations are read after the ceremony is concluded. The Avesta has been preserved through millennia of hardship by the devotion of priests and people who kept it alive in memory, sacred words preserved in linguistic amber until the modern era when their code was cracked. This preservation of the original words of Zarathushtra, and the words of those who came after him, is perhaps the foremost miracle of the entire Zoroastrian tradition.”

2.”Because of the fact that the revelation of the doctrines of resurrection, angels, Satan, and the Messiah comes late (In the Old Testament)  or even in the intertestamental period in early Judaism, scholars have frequently traced these ideas to Zoroastrian influence exerted upon the Jewish people after the Babylonian exile. Moulton examined these points in detail and concluded that they were “not proven.” The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has reopened the discussion, due to the presence of marked “Zoroastrian” influences in the Qumran literature. Some of the most striking parallels to Jewish-Christian eschatology can be shown to be very late developments in Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, it would not do violence to a high view of inspiration to admit that God could have used Zoroastrianism as a means of stimulating the Jewish mind to think on these subjects even as he used Hellenism to prepare the Jewish mind for the Christian revelation (witness Saul of Tarsus). The magi (“wise men”) of the birth narrative may have been Zoroastrian priests.”

1. and 2.  taken from http://www.religioustolerance.org

Here follows a series of quotes which reflect on Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest organised religions in the world, which pre-date Judaism, Christianity and Islam. What does it have to say about sacred sexuality? We’ll look at basic beliefs, rituals, festivals, and then onto gender relationships and sacred sexuality.

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in Iran, until the Arab invasion, where it was gradually replaced by Islam (www.hinduwebsite.com)
Background to Zoroastrianism

Quote 1 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)

“The religion was founded by Zarathushtra in Persia — modern-day Iran. It may have been the world’s first monotheistic faith. It was once the religion of the Persian empire, but has since been reduced in numbers to fewer than 200,000 today. With the exception of religious conservatives, most religious historians believe the the Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs concerning God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, the virgin birth of the savior, the slaughter of the innocents, resurrection, the final judgment, etc. were all derived from Zoroastrianism”.

This may have been one of the first religions to move away from the Mother Goddess/Goddesses worship. Let’s look at a little more at the details:

Zoroaster/Zarathusra  is said by some sources ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com, for example) to have probably  lived around 12000 BC ( The Bronze Age) or even earlier, in Iran.  He is said to have shifted religious practices of the pastoral communities moving around the plain lands, from ritualistic purity to ethical purity/consciousness , and from polytheistic forms to a monotheistic form, while maintianing some polytheistic elements, suggest hinduwebsite.com.

There appears to be a link between Zorosatrianism and Hinduism, because the people of these religions, shared an Indo-European heritage of language and customs, spreading from right across Europe and Asia (Caucasus, Iran , Afghansitan and finally the Indian subcontinent), as they travelled ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). The Indo-European language family, to this day, incorporates the majority of European languages (mainland Europe, including the languages of UK and Eire,  Russia, the Caucasus, Greece, Iran and a vast variety of languages and dialects in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, not forgetting the languages of the Roma “Gypsies”).

Farsi , Old Persia and Avestan are language cognates of Sanskrit. It has been said, for example, Avestan and Sanskrit  were very similar in sound and grammar ( www.hinduwebsite.com) . These early worshippers of an ancient pre-Zoroastrianism-Hinduism religion were nature worshippers, and no doubt, included a Mother Goddess , in their polytheistic pantheon. Thus, Zoroastrianism in its early stages was similar to some forms of Hinduism. In the next section on Hinduism and scared sexuality, we will list the similarities, to get a context.

So in terms of world religions, Zoroastriansim is, say http://www.hinduwebsite.com,  extremely important. It an actual bridge not only between Hinduism and itself, but with other religions ( such as the Abrahamic religions). With Hinduism, we later have its offshoot, Buddhism. So Zoroastrianism is a real bridge between East and West ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com).

Further more, the Holy book , the Zend Avesta, was written in Early Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism, and http://www.hinduwebsite suggests that Zoroastrianism shares similar ideas/doctrines with Hinduism.

Quote 2  ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)

‘The Zorastrian holy book is called the (Zend) Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. The latter represent the basic source of the religion. The Gathas are abstract sacred poetry, directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice and individual choice between good and evil. The Gathas have a general and even universal vision.
At some later date (most scholars say many centuries after the death of Zarathustra), the remaining parts of the Avestas were written. These deal with laws of ritual and practice, with the traditions of the faith. The Zoroastrian community is sharply divided between those who would follow mostly (or exclusively) the teachings of the original Gathas, and those who believe that the later traditions are important and equally divinely inspired.”

As mentioned earlier, the follower of this religion has to choose between good and evil, to avoid committing sin. We can clearly see how Judaism would have or could have used some of the philosophical /spiritual concepts of Zoroastrianism: belief  and worship of one God, social justice, individuals focusing on righteous morality and ethical behaviour, and not committing sin. The concept of the Devil,  heaven and hell, judgement day , the resuurection of the dead ( all existent in Zoroastrianism belief system)   are seen in the next quote, and may have been profound influences  on three Abrahamic faiths. Note also, the story of the Virgin birth. The one difference is Zoroastriansim believes staying in heaven or hell is temporary, since one is reincarnated and re-born to start the life cycle again, and to be judged again , on Judgement Day ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Reincarnation is a belief of Hinduism.

Quote 3 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)
” Zoroastrian Beliefs:

Beliefs include:
A single god Ahura Mazda who is supreme. Communication between Himself and humans is by a number of Attributes, called Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals. Within the Gathas, the original Zoroastrian sacred text, these Immortals are sometimes described as concepts, and are sometimes personified.

One school of thought promotes a cosmic dualism between:

An all powerful God Ahura Mazda who is the only deity worthy of being worshipped, and

An evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda.
“The resulting cosmic conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity who is required to choose which to follow. Evil, and the Spirit of Evil, will be completely destroyed at the end of time. Dualism will come to an end and Goodness will be all in all.

Another school of thought perceives the battle between Good and Evil as an ethical dualism, set within the human consciousness.

Asha is a form of righteous, an all encompassing, natural law.

Legends, which are probably not those of Zarathushtra’s original teachings are:

After death, a person’s urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika consisting of Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into Heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to Hell.

The universe will go through a total of three eras:

Creation;

The present world where good and evil are mixed. People’s good works are seen as gradually transforming the world towards its heavenly ideal;

A final state after this renovation when good and evil will be separated.
Eventually, everything will be purified. Even the occupants of hell will be released.

A Saoshyant (savior) will be born of a virgin, but of the lineage of the Prophet Zoroaster who will raise the dead and judge everyone in a final judgment. This is a theme that is seen in many world religions.”
Quote 4  ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)

“Zoroastrian Practices:

Their worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies.

Members are dedicated to a three-fold path, as shown in their motto: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”

Members can pray at home instead of going to a temple if they wish.
Zoroastrians use three calendars: Shenshai, Qadimi and Fasli. On 1992-MAR-21, the spring equinox and first day of the Zoroastrian year, all three calendars coincided. This is an event that only occurs only once every 120 years. Many Zoroastrian organizations recommended that the membership switch to the Fasli Calendar on that day. This has been reasonably successful.
As noted elsewhere:
Zoroastrians do not generally accept converts.

Many Zoroastrians actively discourage and do not recognize inter-faith marriages.
They do not proselytize”

( references for this:

Laurie Goodstein, “Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling,” New York Times, 2006-SEP-06, at: http://select.nytimes.com/
“Zoroastrian Calendar,” at: http://www3.sympatico.ca/)

Quote 5: Festivals and Fire Ceremony

“Today’s Zoroastrians (Parsis) practice an important coming of age ritual, in which all young Parsis must be initiated when they reach the age of seven (in India) or 10 (in Persia). They receive the shirt (sadre) and the girdle (kusti), which they are to wear their whole life.
There are three types of purification, in order of increasing importance:
padyab, or ablution
nahn, or bath
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.
The Zoroastrian system of penance entails reciting the patet, the firm resolve not to sin again, and the confession of sins to a dastur or to an ordinary priest if a dastur is not obtainable.
The chief ceremony, the Yasna, essentially a sacrifice of haoma (the sacred liquor), is celebrated before the sacred fire with recitation of large parts of the Avesta. There also are offerings of bread and milk and, formerly, of meat or animal fat.
The sacred fire must be kept burning continually and has to be fed at least five times a day. Prayers also are recited five times a day. The founding of a new fire involves a very elaborate ceremony. There are also rites for purification and for regeneration of a fire.
Zoroastrian burial rites center on exposure of the dead. After death, a dog is brought before the corpse (preferably a “four-eyed” dog, i.e., with a spot above each eye, believed to increase the efficacy of its gaze). The rite is repeated five times a day. After the first one, fire is brought into the room where it is kept burning until three days after the removal of the corpse to the Tower of Silence. The removal must be done during the daytime.
The interior of the Tower of Silence is built in three concentric circles, one each for men, women, and children. The corpses are exposed there naked. The vultures do not take long—an hour or two at the most—to strip the flesh off the bones, and these, dried by the sun, are later swept into the central well. Formerly the bones were kept in an ossuary, the astodan, to preserve them from rain and animals. The morning of the fourth day is marked by the most solemn observance in the death ritual, for it is then that the departed soul reaches the next world and appears before the deities who are to pass judgment over it.
Festivals, in which worship is an essential part, are characteristic aspects of Zoroastrianism, a faith that enjoins on man the pleasant duty of being happy. The principal festivals in the Parsi year are the six seasonal festivals, Gahanbars, and the days in memory of the dead at year’s end. Also, each day of the month and each of the 12 months of the year is dedicated to a deity. The day named after the month is the great feast day of that particular deity.
The New Year festival, Noruz, is the most joyous and beautiful of Zoroastrian feasts, a spring festival in honour of Rapithwin, the personification of noonday and summer. The festival to Mithra, or Mehragan, was traditionally an autumn one, as honoured as the spring feast of Noruz.

Men and Women: Their roles in Zoroastrianism

Quote 5: ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com:  Gender equality in Zoroastrianism,  written by Jayaram V )

“Zoroastriansm… does not discriminate between men and women. Leaving aside the differences with regard to religious observances and role responsibilities, both sexes are treated equally in religious texts. Both male and female have equal importance, protecting the sanctity and divinity of the world. There is no such argument that male children are necessary to the deliverance of parents in the ancestor world (nor indication of preferential treatment of boys: my words).

“Children are advised to honor (sic) both mother and father equally”

So what does that mean regarding sex, sexuality, or even the concept of sacred sex?

Quote 5: Sacred Sex ( source taken from a Zoroastrian forum, but website name not known. It appears to have been taken down, but the quote is insightful. The  question was asked, whether one should only have sex within marriage, as in Islam ):

”  In the Gathas (what Zarathushtra taught) the word SEX is not even mentioned. What is right is what is ethically correct and thus good. What is wrong is what is ethically bad. What CONSENTING ADULTS do in the privacy of their rooms is up to them. We do not demonize sex. What is evil is to lie, cheat, steal, impose oneself or use your power over some one else, brake (sic)  your word, etc. And please do note that I capitalized consenting and adult above”.

So correct  sexual activity is dependant on what is ethically/morally right. But again, what is morally, ethically right?

http://www.hinduwebsite compiles a list from the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures, about moral/ethical (sinless) behaviour, which in many ways is similar to the Jewish/Christian 10 commandments: No cheating, lying, bearing false witness, no coveting etc ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com)

Sexual sins are listed as:  adultery, prostitution, same sex relationships, having sex with a menstruating woman, having sex with /being married to/ having children with a non- Zoroastrian ( taken from the Zoroastrian holy scriptures, Menog-i-Khard and the Denkard, http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Sounds familiar!

Some of these  could be punishable by death. So the Zoroastrian has the idea that “ethical” sexual intercourse was /is only to be within marriage, between male and female.  All else is not considered ethical, only sinful.  So we have seen the same arguments in Part A of this chapter, with the three Abrahamic religions.  So, the concept of sacred sex, between men and women is within marriage and http://www.hinduwebsite lists the requirements that a Zoroastrian husband must meet for his wife. It reminded me of some of the requirements a Jewish and Muslim husband must fulfil  to do  for his wife:

* Treat a wife well,

* Give her family a good bride price  (this is an interesting one, indicating a belief in the value of a woman in the household- a bride price is compensation. The brideprice is perhaps a remnant of goddess-identified values)

* Maintain physical and sexual intimacy with her

* Avoid when one can, marrying a second time ( for both male and female)

(Meno-i-khard, Chapter 5, book 18 – http://www.hinduwebsite.com)

Looking at the forum quote, it focused on consensual sexual activity, although I am not sure whether it is within or outside marriage.

But at the same time, as equal expectation of male and female in spiritual matters,  it appears women are still not to be trusted….

Quote 6 ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com)

“Zoroastrian scripture suggest that women are prone to temptations of evil and therefore should be kept under regular watch…. (women are expected to) cultivate the qualities of love, devotion… and perfection….”

Yes, that sounds familiar too!  Zoroastrianism believes that the material world is full of danger, moral , physical and spiritual, so one must be on alert, and always be ethical ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Demons and evil spirits, devil worshippers are some of the threats, mentioned in Zoroastrian cosmology.  It is implying though, women are more vulnerable.

The emphasis on doing the right thing for another person and in the community is very pervasive as the tenets of Zoroastrian beliefs, but then again, that is the case with most spiritual paths. However, people clearly fall very short of the ideals of embracing humanity and treating each other with justice and compassion.  Already, while sacred sexuality is preferably practised within a loving  marriage (male/female ) what if one is in a same sex, or expresses their sexuality in a different way?  This excludes so many people.

Sacred sex therefore, can perhaps be explored and discussed with far wider parameters, and we’ll be going there :).

Let’s look at Hinduism and Sacred Sexuality, next.

References

http://www.hinduwebsite.com ( a comprehensive collection of articles on religions such as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Lots of links and sources, worth reading more into)

http://www.religioustolerance.org

Zoroastrian forum, apologies for not being able to locate full website address/link.

Posted July 14, 2013 by zoraidagitana1965 in sacred sex