First, I want to thank the many readers who contributed ideas on my last post about the future direction of this blog. Right now my inclination is to follow Bruce Siegel's suggestion and post less often, while still keeping the focus on the paranormal. I also think Roger Knights had a good idea about reposting older material, though I don't plan to do so on a regular basis. Julie Baxter had good thoughts about Leslie Flint and other psi phenomena that have not been treated thoroughly, or at all, in this forum. I think Eric Newhill is right in saying that political discussions become too contentious; and there are plenty of political sites already.
I'm no doubt overlooking a lot of other people who made valuable contributions. The bottom line is that I appreciate all your input.
And yes, I am open to guest posts. This has been my policy for a while, so please don't be shy about taking me up on it.
This new post is on a subject that I admittedly know little about. Until recently the only thing I'd read about Zoroastrianism was Gore Vidal's historical novel Creation, which takes place during the so-called Axial Age and features Zoroaster's (fictional) grandson as the narrator. It's a good book, but I read it years ago and don't remember it very well. Recently, however, I did some online research into Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, and the religion he founded, which predates Christianity by at least 500 years and which was a major belief system in the ancient world. Zoroastrians practice their faith to this day, though in greatly reduced numbers.
Two things in particular interest me about Zoroastrianism. The first are certain obvious similarities to Christianity, and the second are parallels with modern spiritualism, including some of the speculations that I've offered right here.
I'll start with the Christian parallels. I should point out that I'm deriving most of this information from the Wikipedia entry on Zoroastrianism, which seems to be well-sourced. As always when dealing with Wikipedia, some skepticism may be advisable, since the quality of the entries varies tremendously, and the content is constantly changing.
According to Wikipedia, Zoroaster was drawing water from a river for use in a ritual when a spiritual being appeared to him and allowed him to see God. In Matthew 3:16, Jesus was undergoing baptism in a river when the spirit of God descended on him like a dove.
Afterward, Zoroaster encountered six other spiritual beings who taught him the rest of what he needed to know; only after this did he begin his ministry. After his baptism, Jesus is said to have gone off into the desert for an extended period, during which he saw visions and overcame temptations, before commencing his ministry.
Zoroaster acquired only one follower in his homeland and found success only after traveling abroad. Jesus acquired no followers in his home village and reportedly said (Mark 6:4) that a prophet is without honor in his own town.
Zoroaster taught that there is only one God, that God is entirely good, that the various pagan gods are inferior heavenly beings (many of them demons), and that man's free will is (at least partly) responsible for his pain and suffering in what would otherwise be a paradise on earth. All these views are consistent with Christianity and also with Judaism, which was developing into its modern form during the Axial Age.
Zoroaster taught that the forces of chaos and order were perpetually in conflict, and that our free will allows us to choose which side to take. It is the individual's responsibility to choose rightly. The darker forces will eventually mount a final assault at the end of days, but will be decisively defeated by a savior-figure who will be born of a virgin. After their defeat, the dead will be raised and restored to earthly life, this time with immortality. Needless to say, all of this is strongly reminiscent of Christianity.
The parallels I've selected may make it seem as if the two belief systems are virtually identical, but that's only because I have cherry-picked the most interesting similarities. I could have selected other details highlighting notable differences between the two faiths. For instance, Zoroastrianism emphatically rejects asceticism and monasticism, insisting that the purpose of life on earth is to participate in life and gather experiences, not to shut oneself off in a monastic cell or to deprive oneself of any experience, including physical pleasure. Zoroastrianism also rejects spirit-body dualism, conceiving of both earth and heaven in similar terms. In these respects, Zoroastrianism is arguably similar to Gnostic Christianity, but not to Christianity as generally practiced today.
Still, it would be hard to argue that even orthodox Christianity was not, at the very least, influenced by Zoroastrianism in its formative centuries.
What about modern spiritualism? Zoroastrianism holds that the individual soul preexists earthly incarnation. During this pre-birth phase, the soul is joined with its guardian spirit. While incarnated on earth, the soul is separated from its guardian, which watches over it and attempts to protect and guide it when possible. After death, the soul is reunited with its guardian spirit, achieving wholeness again.
This is pretty similar to the spiritualist idea that the individual soul is an extension of a higher self or oversoul, from which it detaches during its period of earthly incarnation and to which it returns after the incarnation is complete.
After death, Zoroastrianism tells us that souls are judged according to their thoughts, words, and actions while on earth. Souls that pass the test will enjoy paradise, but with the caveat that continuing spiritual struggles can be expected even in postmortem existence. The ongoing battle between order and chaos is apparently not limited to this physical plane.
Souls that fail the test of judgement are relegated to a hellish sphere of existence – but not for purposes of punishment and not for all eternity. Instead, the sojourn in hell is temporary, and the purpose is to reform the soul. Ultimately this process must prove successful; it is the destiny of every soul to be reunited with its guardian spirit (= higher self) and with God.
The Zoroastrian concept of God transcends gender. God is called Ahura Mazda, a name that connotes both male (Ahura = Lord, masculine) and female (Mazda = Wisdom, feminine). It can be translated as Wise Lord. Yet God, for all his/her power, is not omnipotent. This idea of a less-than-omnipotent God has led some commenters to classify Zoroastrianism as a form of pantheism in which God/consciousness emerges from a self-creating universe, although this seems to be a later interpretation and probably not the original idea.
I find it interesting that as we go back in time to a comparatively early stage of religious development, we find a number of ideas that match up quite well with spiritualist teachings today: a pre-incarnational existence for the soul; separation from and reunion with a higher self; a division of the spiritual world into heavenly and hellish spheres, with the hellish spheres intended as temporary way stations for the moral improvement of the soul; a God that is neither male nor female, is not omnipotent, and may be immanent, not transcendent; a universe that is still a work in progress, with the balance between systemic order and chaos determined by the choices of individual incarnated beings.
Again, I don't want to exaggerate the parallels. There are certainly differences. For example, many people in the spiritualist community embrace reincarnation, but Zoroastrianism rejects reincarnation except in the limited sense of the resurrection of the dead after the final judgment.
Even so, the similarities are at least worth looking at.
Oh, and for the dog lovers out there: the dog is sacred in Zoroastrianism. This in itself strikes me as a pretty good recommendation of the religion.