|F Worship: a Zoroastrian perspective]
WORSHIP — is man’s way of paying homage to the Creator and recognising and venerating the worthiness of the divine essence which pervades all the creations beneficial to man. So, early man’s worship was instinctively directed to those natural elements that nurtured him . . . the sky, the waters, the earth, the plants, cattle and fire as also the sun, moon and stars-in the heavens. But man also feared these elements for sometimes for no reason they seemed to turn against him. His worship consisted, therefore, in revering and fearing the divinities or ‘gods’ who seemed to be
controlling these events.
This was the nature of worship into which Zarathushtra was born; somewhere in the region of the South Russian steppes — some 3,500 years ago.
Of these natural elements fire was most venerated as it provided warmth, light and was necessary to cook man’s food. Survival depended on it.
This reverence for fire exists in the hearts of those who are the followers of Prophet Zarathushtra even today. The Zoroastrians are perhaps best known by the term ‘fire worshippers’. Zarathushtra extended the worship through gratitude of fire into a deeper understanding. He recognised that fire is the very energy of life; the disregard of which
meant destruction and death. The proper ritualistic care and nurturing of the fire in the fire temples of the Zoroastrians even today is a living testimony to this concept. The priest attends to and feeds the temple fire with aromatic wood and prayer at five regular intervals round the clock — a symbolic reminder for the need to maintain discipline
and fragrance in life. And most important — not permitting the sacred fires in the temples to die out, is symbolic of keeping the life energy of creation dynamic. The ethical concept of Order and Truth was introduced by Zarathushtra to be the very nature of fire (just as the sun — the great ball of fire — unwaveringly regulates nature). Ahura Mazda is Wisdom, Light and Truth — the Creator of all that is good. The Zoroastrian standing in the presence of fire in the temple reflects upon and pays homage to Ahura Mazda and lights a lamp committing his actions in life towards banishing the darkness, ignorance and the lies that beset him and the world.
In the Zoroastrian calendar there is a day and month dedicated to Adar (Fire) when Zoroastrians all over the world especially turn their thoughts to the worship of the life-giving creation of Ahura Mazda. The other 29 days of the calendar are dedicated to the other creations and thus serve to remind the Zoroastrian of his duty towards and his
worship of the divine beings (Amesha Spentas & Yazatas) who are embodied in each and every living creation . . .forming the environment.
If by ‘worship’ man is made aware of ecology and the importance of keeping the environment wholesome, then perhaps early man was more keenly an ecologist than modern man is today!
An ancient Zoroastrian ritual called the Jashan, performed even today, is a living testimony to the conscious awareness that man’s survival depends on the preservation of the wholesomeness of his environment. That the balance and purity of the physical world is closely linked to the spiritual goal of Ahura Mazda — which is to promote the absolute harmony and wholesomeness in matter, mind and spirit. In the Jashan ritual the seven creations of Ahura Mazda (sky, water, earth, plant, animal kingdom, man and fire) are all represented in a physical display of ritual items — the sky being represented by the metal accoutrements, the water by water in a beaker, the earth represented by the carpeted
ground upon which all the items of ritual are placed, the plant kingdom is represented by the flowers and fruit, the beneficent animal is represented by milk or butter; the two officiating priests represent man and of course the fire is represented by the fire which burns throughout the ritual fed by sandalwood and incense. Thus this physical display
is offered with specific prayers to the spiritual counterparts, the Amesha Spentas — who in turn, it is believed, bless the offerings. The fruits thus blessed are then shared by the celebrants. The performance of this ritual through the awareness of man and prayer clears the air as it were of the disturbing forces of evil which harass and endanger the good creations.
This conflict of good vrs. evil has puzzled man over the centuries. Today man is arrogant enough to question God and asks Him why He does not ‘do something’ to eradicate all the discomforts abounding in the world He created!
Zarathushtra too questioned at length the problem of good and evil and through his revelation proclaimed:
‘Yes, there are two fundamental spirits, twins
which are renowned to be in conflict. In thought
and in word, in action, they are two: the better
and the bad...
(Yasna 30 vr.3)
All Zoroastrian rituals, worship and prayers are based on this profound doctrine of two opposing forces operating in the world.
Between the ages of 7 and 11, all young Zoroastrians are initiated into the Faith through the performance of the Navjote (new birth) ritual. The children are introduced to the concept that they are now to be responsible Ashavans (bearers of Truth) and must endeavour to live their lives in accordance with Ahura Mazda’s goal of achieving perfec:ion. The initiate is made to understand the great need to be wary of the forces of evil. By the wearing of the sacred vest (the sudreh — garment of the Good Mind) and the sacred cord wound round the waist (the Kusti — the direction finder) the child from now on consciously protects the body and mind against the onslaught of evil. The prayers
relevant to the Kusti ritual are significant — in that they emphasise the need to further good thoughts, words and actions in order to vanquish all that is misleading and evil.
There is no doubt that all religions teach the value of good thoughts, words and actions but for the Zoroastrian who has understood the message of Zarathushtra there is that knowledge and belief that since God’s Spirit has an Adversary the whole purpose of creation is to overcome everything that is negative — emphasising man’s role in life being to work for God rather than the other way around.
for Zoroastrian Studies (UK)
Tina Mehta would like to draw readers’ attention to Zoroastrianism — an Ethnic Perspective, Khojeste Mistree, a recent illustrated text book for schools. It is available from Watkins, 19 Cecil Court, WC2N 4HB, or from Tina Mehta, 2 Harrowby Court, Harrowby St., W1H 5FA (Editor)