Zoroastrians worship in fire temples, where a sacred fire is kept burning to signify an eternal flame, and fire is always present during special prayers and ceremonies. While Zoroastrians are sometimes mistaken for fire worshipers, they do not worship the fire itself. Instead, fire represents God. Fire to a Zoroastrian might be comparable to a crucifix for a Catholic -- it is a visual symbol of a God that cannot actually be seen.
Zoroastrianism originated over 3500 years ago in ancient Persia and represents a religious shift in human history, when polytheism began to give way to monotheism. To Zoroastrians, God is known as Ahura Mazda, which means “wise lord.” Zoroastrians recognize a constant struggle between good, represented by Ahura Mazda, and evil, represented by God’s opposite, known as Ahriman.
In Zoroastrianism, fire is a symbol of God’s divine light. It represents luminosity. Luminous things such as the sun, stars and fire signify warmth and energy, which are also attributes of God. The divine spark, an outflow of the divinity of God that is believed to exist in all living creations, can also be seen in the symbol of fire.
The Illuminated Mind
To Zoroastrians, fire also represents wisdom and the illuminated mind. For centuries, illumination has been linked with physical light, intelligence and spiritual enlightenment. Zoroastrians recognize all three. Following the path of God, or Ahura Mazda, is believed to bring Zoroastrians closer to truth and enlightenment.
All natural creations of Ahura Mazda are believed to be pure. To Zoroastrians, purity is sacred. The need for purity is particularly evident in funerary rituals. Since death brings decay, which is contamination, corpses cannot touch the ground. If a corpse is to be buried, the grave must be lined to protect the ground. Cremation can also be problematic, because a body will contaminate the purity of fire. While most Zoroastrians now recognize the necessity of cremation, the preferred method has long been the sky burial, through which a body is placed into something called a tower of silence, or dakhma, where it can then be cleansed by the sun, the wind, vultures and birds of prey.
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