With its origin dating back to the 6th century BCE, Zoroastrianism is one of the worlds oldest continuous religions in the world. Under the banner of the various expansive Persian empires, Zoroastrianisms influence once spread from India all the way to Greece. The amount of influence Zoroastrianism had on the Abrahamic religions is a hotly debated topic. Similarities such as monotheism, the battle between good and evil, existence of heaven and hell, resurrection, belief in angels and of a messiah are present in both sides. The extent of Zoroastrian beliefs on the other monotheistic religions has yet to be quantified or agreed upon, yet the similarities are striking.
Zoroastrianism began when a prophet named Zoroaster united the pantheon of Persian gods into a condensed monotheism with only one deity, called Ahura Mazda (meaning illuminating wisdom). Zoroaster promoted the belief of dualism, which is that good and evil are in a fight against each other and that good will eventually triumph. One of the tenets of Zoroastrianism is that one should actively participate in life through good deeds, good words, and good thoughts. A practitioner is expected to help in the fight against evil through these means. The power of free will is also exalted, as it the purity of body and spirit.
An interesting concept of Zoroastrianism is the belief that the mortal body is not the first or final state of being. Instead, your soul and guardian angel, fravashi, are separated when you are born. Your guardian angel will look after you as you experience your mortal life. The fourth day after you die, your soul and fravashi reunite and use the experience of the mortal world to continue the battle against evil in the spiritual world.It is a very purpose driven religion in which humans have the choice to further the cause of good in their mortal life or choose to ignore the cause and go to hell. However hell is not eternal and purely for punishment. It is more meant for reforming souls so they can join others in heaven.
Some practices of Zoroastrianism are truly unique. One practice is burial by exposure. Instead of burying their dead underground, Zoroastrians instead leave the corpse of the body on top of an open temple, called a tower of silence, to decompose by exposure. This practice is done because Zoroastrians believe in purity of the land and water, and burying bodies in the land is considered to be damaging the purity. They also believe that fire is the conduit of spiritual wisdom, hence fire is a very important part of Zoroastrian ritual. Religious building are called fire temples, because they hold the fire which is used for religious ceremonies. Certain fire temples have had continuous fires burning for many decades. On the flip side, water is also viewed as sacred. It is the source of wisdom to which fire is the conduit.
The modern day Zoroastrian population is relatively small. The largest populations exist in India and Iran, with estimates ranging around a hundred to a couple hundred thousand in total. Despite the reduction in numbers, the influence of Zoroastrianism is still pervasive. Certain practices have been incorporated into the major religion Islam over the centuries. Despite being heavily persecuted in the past, Zoroastrians have received some protection as a minority religion in Iran by being guaranteed one seat in parliament.