Israel Post Issues Cyrus Declaration Stamp

The article below entitled Israel features Cyrus Declaration, several nations honor Magna Carta” appeared in the Linn’s Stamp News and Insights website on May 15, 2015. Kindly note that the pictures and accompanying captions seen below did not appear in the original Linn’s Stamp News and Insights article.


Recent stamps commemorate two historic charters: the Cyrus Declaration of 538 B.C. and the Magna Carta of A.D. 1215. Israel pictures the Cyrus Declaration, also known as the Cyrus cylinder, on an 8.30-shekel stamp issued April 14.


The Cyrus Declaration Stamp Sheet (Source: Israel Post).

In announcing this stamp on its website, the Israel Post stated:

In 538 BCE king Cyrus made a public declaration granting the Jews the right to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.”

The biblical book of Ezra begins with the king’s decree. The tab, or label, attached to the stamp includes a portion of Ezra 1:3, “Anyone of you of all His people … and let him go up to Jerusalem.”

Cyrus Koresh Kourosh street in Jerusalem

When History goes beyond Politics: Koresh or Cyrus street in Jerusalem. There is currently no street named Cyrus or Koroush in Tehran, the capital of Iran today (for more see here…). There is also an “Iran” street in Israel; see also “Iranian Schindler who saved Jews from Nazis“.

The stamp pictures the cylinder, which was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam during a British Museum archaeological excavation in 1879 in Babylon.

The British Museum, in a press release announcing that the cylinder would be displayed in five museums in the United States in 2013, explained its significance:

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands … ”

Iranian Jews 2011

Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu). For more see “Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud“.

Pic2- Zoroaster

John Palmer: Zoroaster – Forgotten Prophet of the one God

The article below by John Palmer “Zoroaster – forgotten prophet of the one God” first appeared in The Guardian on July 13, 2010.

John-PalmerJohn Palmer is a former European editor of the Guardian and former political director of the European Policy Centre. He is visiting practitioner fellow at Sussex University’s European Institute and a member of the governing council of the Federal Trust (Photo Source: The Guardian).

Kindly note that the embedded photographs and captions below do not appear in the original article in the Guardian; these have been cited in Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division, Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, University of Southern California and the University of Yerevan (Iranian Studies Department).


The tiny world wide communities of Zoroastrians are no doubt pleased to get any mention in Cif belief – even if it is only to provide alphabetical balance to a list starting with the Bahá’ís. Even those who take a close interest in the more exotic or esoteric of religions tend to have a vague grasp on what the followers of the ancient Persian (or maybe Bactrian) prophet, Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) – born around 800 BC – actually believed. This is a great pity since even a non-believer must be impressed with the evidence of how the religious ideas first expressed by Zoroaster were fundamental in shaping what emerged as Judaism after the 5th century BC and thus deeply influenced the other Abrahamic religions – Christianity and Islam.

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”. For more on this topic see: Archaeologists uncover Zoroastrian Links in Northwest China 

Born at a time when the peoples of the Iranian plateau were evolving a settled agriculture, Zoroaster broke with the traditional Aryan religions of the region which closely mirrored those of India, and espoused the idea of a one good God – Ahura Mazda. What became known eventually in the west as Zoroastrianism was also the first to link religious belief with profound attachment to personal morality. In Zoroastrian eschatology there is much which has become familiar from reading the Jewish and Christian testaments: heaven, hell, redemption, the promise of a Sashoyant (Messiah), the existence of an evil spirit Ahriman and – most striking of all – the prospect of a final battle for the salvation of man at “the end of time” between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman leading to the latter’s final defeat.

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCO[Click to Enlarge] The main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. For more on these sites see: Zoroastrian and Mithraic sites in the Caucasus

The main contact between westerners and Zoroastrians came in India where they were known as Parsees (Persians), descendants of those who took part in a large scale migration from Persia after the Muslim conquest of that country. Zoroastrians were held (quite wrongly) to worship fire because they kept a permanent flame in their temples. Some even questioned whether they were monotheists at all because Ahriman was referred to as an evil “god”. But all the Abrahamic religions have also struggled to explain “evil” in the world which is why they gave Satan an important role.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy. Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans. For more information see: Dr. Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster – The First Universalist

The first encounter between the ancient peoples who developed historical Judaism and the Persian religious ideas of Zoroastrianism seems to have come either during or shortly after the captivity in Babylon. It was the Persian king of kings, Cyrus, who liberated the Hebrews from Babylon and one of his successors, Darius, who organised and funded the return of some of the captives (probably along with many Persians) to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah and Ezra also reorganised the traditional religion of the Judaeans and Israelites. What emerged was a stricter monotheistic version which was consistent with basic beliefs of the Persian imperial religion – Zoroastrianism.

Saint_Augustine_Portrait“St. Augustine of Hippo in his Study” as portrayed in 1480 by Sandro Botticelli (Source: Public Domain). Interestingly, St. Augustine had been a Manichean for 9 years until his conversion to Christianity in the aftermath of Emperor Diolectian’s edict (284-305 CE) condemning the Manicheans. Despite his conversion, it is believed that St. Augustine’s Manichean past influenced his later Christian writings. For more information on Manichean beliefs, see: Mani: Forgotten Prophet of Ancient Persia

Those who might doubt how Persian imperial policy so decisively shaped what we know as Judaism should reflect on the remarkable and first ever declaration of belief in one, universal God by the biblical writer known as “Second Isaiah” during this period. Indeed Isaiah describes King Cyrus as a “Messiah” and the chosen instrument of Yahweh. Interestingly there is evidence that the Persian imperial policy towards the religion of their subject peoples – to allow the traditional name of their gods to be retained but to revise the religions themselves in the image of Zoroastrianism – was also applied in Babylon and Egypt as well as Palestine.

Wailing Wall-JerusalemThe West Wall in Jerusalem. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild the Hebrew temple. It is believed that approximately 40,000 did permanently return to Israel. For more discussion on this topic see: Retort to Daily Telegraph article against Cyrus the Great

Some claim that a belief in monotheism in Judea developed a little before the Babylonian conquest and exile. But although there is evidence for a centralisation of the different Canaanite-style cults into the worship of Yahweh in the capital – Jerusalem – over this period the most which can be said was that a form of monolatry, a belief in one God for a particular people had emerged.

5-Tomb of EstherThe tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, northwest Iran. External view (left) and the interior of the tomb (right). For more see: Response to Spiegel Magazine’s attack on the Legacy of Cyrus the Great

The Persian influence on Judaism was powerful and long lasting. Certainly the profound belief in the end of days exhibited by the Dead Sea Scroll communities in the immediately pre-Christian era and indeed the images employed by the Christian evangelist, John, in his Apocalypse, display a clear continuity of influence.

Iranian Jews 2011Iranian Jews praying during Hanukkah celebrations on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran (Source: Wodu). For more on this topic see: Professor Jacob Neusner: Persian Elements in Talmud

What – at the very least – were the deep affinities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism goes a long way to explain what over the centuries were the close and friendly relations between Persians and Jews. The influence of 20th century religious-political ideologies have poisoned that relationship. Perhaps a greater acknowledgement by Jews, Christians and Muslims of their Persian Zoroastrian inheritance would be a step to improving those relationships.


The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globe

Dr. Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster – The First Universalist

The article below by Dr. Ken R. Vincent discusses the ancient prophet Zoroaster and his impact on human theology and the world’s major religions.

Dr Ken R VincentDr. Ken R. Vincent’s writings all contain a strong undercurrent of Universalist thought. In his book The Magi: From Zoroaster to the Three Wise Men, he compares the religion of the Magi (Zoroastrianism) to Christianity and shows the parallels of Universal Restoration in both faiths. 

Kindly note that the article below contains pictures and captions that do not appear in Dr. Vincent’s original posting of the article.


1. Zoroaster, the Prophet of the Magi

Once upon a time, before wisdom was confined to books, Shamans of the “Great Spirit’ anticipated an afterlife for their peoples. But the earliest existing expression of the Universalist idea of an afterlife where God saves ALL people can be found in the revelation of Zoroaster, Prophet of the Magi. Truly, it is one of many profound influences that Zoroaster’s new religion had on the subsequent development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Known as Zoroaster by the Greeks and Zardust by the Arabs, he is properly called Zarathustra by the followers of the religion he founded. (Since he is best known in the West by the Greek name Zoroaster, that name will be used in this paper; interestingly, the Greek name “Jesus” also became favored over the Hebrew “Yeshua.”)

According to the Holy Book of the Magi, Zoroaster was born in eastern Iran and lived from about 660 BCE to 583 BCE. Like Moses (who is thought to have lived between 1600 and 1200 BCE), there is virtually no corroborative historical evidence for his life outside the religious writings. Most scholars place Zoroaster’s life earlier in history (as long ago as 1200 – 1800 BCE), mainly due to the ancient Eastern Persian language he used to compose his Hymns (Gathas).

Zoroaster’s parents were middle-class, and his father was probably a horse or camel trader as well as a priest.  He was married and had children. His major revelations occurred at age 30 after he, like Jesus, went into the wilderness to seek God. After this experience, he was inspired to say that:

God declared to me that silent meditation is the best for attaining spiritual enlightenment” (Y43.15).

The Holy Book of the Magi relates how Satan tempted him in the wilderness with a promise of a 1,000-year rule. He preached for ten years without success, after which he converted his cousin, the rest of his family, and King Vishtaspa.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globeA detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans.
2. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism

Once Zoroastrianism was adopted by the kings of Persia, the religion spread throughout the Persian Empire. The Magi, who at that time were priests of the old pagan religion in western Iran, accepted and taught the new religion of Zoroaster; some believe that Zoroaster himself was a Magus of the old religion prior to his divine revelations. His Hymns to God (Gathas), about the length of the Gospel of Matthew, were first recited orally and eventually written into the Holy Book of the Magi (Avesta). We know that he was assassinated by a rival priest at the age of 77 years. While Zoroaster claimed no divinity for himself, later traditions created miraculous stories that were characteristically attached to persons held in high esteem in the ancient world. A fond tradition claims that Zoroaster laughed (instead of crying) at birth!

In the religion of the Magi, humanity has free will to choose between good and evil, and we are required to be active participants with God in the eventual defeat of evil. The core beliefs are often summarized succinctly in the phrase:

Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.”

Zoroaster’s name for God is “Ahura Mazda” which means, “Lord of Life and Wisdom” or simply “Wise Lord.” This can be compared to the literal translations of the names for God in Hebrew Scriptures: “Yahweh” which means “I AM” and “Elohim” which means “God“. For Zoroaster, God is wholly good; God unconditionally and totally loves all his Creation and all humanity – always. God is not angry, jealous, or vengeful; God would never tempt humans into doing evil. We are made of the essence of God and are cherished by God. Fasting, celibacy, and the austere life have no place in the religion of the Magi; one is simply directed to BE LIKE GOD – Do Good and Oppose Evil. (Christians may recall that in Matthew 5:48, Jesus also commands us to be like our heavenly Father.) Because all creation is sacred, it is also humanity’s duty to protect creation and not defile it or pollute it. (In a very real way, Zoroaster was the first environmentalist!)

Zarathustra-Tomb-China-2Archaeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have discovered major Zoroastrian tombs, dated to over 2,500 years ago. (Caption and Photo Source: As noted in the China News report: “This is a typical wooden brazier found in the tombs. Zoroastrians would bury a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. The culture is unique to Zoroastrianism…This polished stoneware found in the tombs is an eyebrow pencil used by ordinary ladies. It does not just show the sophistication of craftsmanship here over 2,500 years ago, but also demonstrates the ancestors’ pursuit of beauty, creativity and better life, not just survival. It shows this place used to be highly civilized”. For more on this topic, see here…

God is opposed by an evil force called “The Demon of the Lie” which Zoroaster described as “that which is not and never was” — almost as if he saw the devil as a vacuum. Satan is responsible for all death, destruction, decay, and darkness. Satan has no physical presence on Earth but does have the ability to corrupt God’s creation. However, Satan is dim-witted and disorganized and can be defeated by the Good!

Pic2- ZoroasterA drawing of Zoroaster that was made by a Manichean initiate at Dura Europus (Source: Clioamuse); for more on the creed of Mani, see here…

Like Christianity, the religion of the Magi has a concept of the Holy Spirit as being the part of God that is present with us on the Earth. God is both immanent (present) and transcendent (other). It is the Holy Spirit or Mentality of God (Spenta Mainyu) that counters the Evil Spirit or Mentality (Angra Mainyu). In the words of Zoroaster:

Through his Holy Spirit
And his Sovereign mind,
Ahura Mazda will grant
Self-realization and immortality
To him whose words and deeds
Are inspired by righteousness,
Moral courage and Divine Wisdom.” (Y47.1)

3. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of God as Light

Both the ancient Magi and the modern followers of Zoroaster see God as Light, the oldest non-anthropomorphic conception of God. God is the light above us, around us, and within us. For Zoroaster, the contrast between light and darkness is always a metaphor for the conflict between Good and Evil. In speaking of the God of the Magi, the 3rd-century Greek philosopher Porphyry said:

God’s body is Light, and His Spirit Truth.”

In more modern times, Einstein saw all matter as frozen light, and physicist Stephen Hawking stated:

When you break subatomic particles down to their most elemental level, you are left with nothing but pure light.”

Sometimes observers of this religion from ancient to modern times have mistaken the Magi for fire worshippers because of the “eternal flame” present in all of their temples. However, the fire has never been worshiped; the flame of the fire represents LIGHT, their symbol for God.

Yazd-Tower of SilenceAn ancient Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd (Source: The Heritage Institute).

4. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of a Final Judgment

Concepts of the afterlife in the religion of the Magi are almost identical to those of Christianity. Joseph Campbell suspects direct borrowing of the ideas of the Magi by Dante in his vivid descriptions of a multi-layered Heaven and Hell. According to Zoroaster’s vision, each human soul is required to face judgment on the “Bridge of Judgment.” If there is a preponderance of good deeds, the soul is allowed to pass over a wide bridge to Heaven on which the good deeds meet him or her in the form of a beautiful 15-year-old girl. The soul of the saved asks:

Who are thou, for I have never seen a young girl on Earth more beautiful or fair than thee? In answer, the young girl replies, “I am no girl, but thy own good deeds.”

If the human soul contains a preponderance of evil deeds, a young girl “who has no semblance of a young girl” comes to meet it, and the soul of the damned says:

Who are thou? I have never seen a wench on Earth more ill-favored and hideous than thee.” In reply, the ill-favored wench says, “I am no wench, but I am thy deeds – hideous deeds – evil thoughts, evil words, evil deeds, and evil religion.”

Unlike Dante whose Limbo is for the righteous who are not Christians, Limbo in the religion of the Magi is for those whose good deeds and bad deeds are in equal balance. The Hell of the Magi is not eternal but only a temporary detour while you “shape up” and the evil in you is purified. Zoroastrians, like other Universalists, believe God is too good to sentence humans to Eternal Hell. Some modern minimalist scholars dispute the fact that Zoroaster was a Universalist and say that Universal Salvation came into Zoroastrianism later; however, as Mary Boyce points out in Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, the religion was definitely Universalist many years before Christianity when the 4th century B.C. Greek, Theopompus stated that:

Zoroaster prophesies that some day there will be a resurrection of all the dead. In the end Hades shall perish and men (people) shall be happy …”

Baku Fire Temple-UNESCOThe main fire altar at the Atash-kade (Zoroastrian Fire-Temple) of Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) (Picture Source: Panoramio). This site is now registered with UNESCO as a world heritage site. For more on Zoroastrian and Mithraic temples in the Caucasus, see here…

5. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Angelic Beings

In the religion of the Magi, the Archangels – called the “Bounteous Immortals” – are very powerful, as you can tell from their names: “The Good Mind“, “Righteousness“, “Divine Power“, “Universal Love“, “Perfection“, and “Immortality.” Interestingly, half are male and half are female. They were created by God and with the Angels serve as a link of communication between humanity and God. Additionally, they are manifestations of the characteristics present in men and women of good will – those that each of us needs to integrate into our lives in order to serve God. For instance, good men and women manifest the characteristics of the Archangel of the Good Mind, while evil people are beset with the Evil Mind. The Archangels have been called deities erroneously by some scholars. Some scholars maintain that Zoroaster’s original conception was that of highly abstract Archangels which represent mere aspects of God. Tradition and, more importantly, followers of the modern Zoroastrian religion interpret them literally as Archangels. The Magi also believed that there were Earth Angels of which the prophet Zoroaster was one. Dr. J. J. Modi sees parallels between the Christian angel Michael and the Zoroastrian angel Mithra, as well as between the Christian angel Gabriel and the Zoroastrian angel Sraosha.

Ostia_Antica_TauroctonyA Roman version of the statue of Mithras “Bringer of Light” in a Mithraic temple in Ostia, Italy (Consult, Hinnels, 1988, pp.83). Note the opening on the ceiling just above Mithras, allowing the sun rays to “illuminate” the god. Mithras in Iranian mythology is the bringer of light and justice as well as a manifestation of the eternal sun (Picture source: Public Domain). For more on Mithras, see here…

The name of Mithra may sound familiar to Westerners because of a heretical cult during Roman times that extended as far west as England. This “mystery religion” (which allowed only men) worshipped Mithra as a god, and its popularity is said to have rivaled the early Christian movement. Curiously, Mithra’s birthday is December 25, a date adopted later by the Christian Church for Christmas in its effort to discourage participation in this pagan celebration. Mithra is still worshipped as a god in India. However, in the orthodox religion of the Magi, Zoroastrians consider Mithra “only” an Angel and not even an Archangel! Sophy Burnham, author of A Book of Angels, credits Zoroaster with the development of the concept of angels. Before their contact with the Magi, the Hebrews often refer to the messengers of God as simply men (as in Genesis 18 when three men, one of whom is God, appear to Abraham). After their contact with the Magi, Judaism and later Christianity and Islam have a well-developed system of Archangels and Angels.

Mithras-LegacyMithras’ Enduring Legacy? (Left) Mithras at Taghe Bostan, Western Iran; (Middle) Deo Sol Invictus, Italy; (Right) The Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, New York. For more on Mithras, see here…

6. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Universalism

Both a spiritual afterlife of the soul and a physical resurrection at the end of time are concepts of Zoroaster. Humanity can fall prey to evil, but after “purification” in Hell, ALL are saved at the end of time. When the victory over evil is complete, the end of time will come where nothing ever dies or decays, and there is no darkness – only LIGHT.

In the spirit of Universalism, Zoroaster tells of future Saviors possibly coming from different nations:

Indeed such shall be the Saviors

Of the countries who follow

The call of Duty by good thoughts

Because of their deeds

Inspired by righteousness

In accord with your command

O Mazda, they certainly have been marked out

As smiters of wrath.” (Y48.12)

Historical JesusThe historical Jesus as reconstructed by modern anthropologists (see BBC Report…). 

7. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Dualistic Good Versus Evil

One ongoing issue in Zoroastrianism present since antiquity is the debate between those who interpret Zoroaster’s understanding of God as “ethical dualism” (monotheism) and those who maintain the concept of “cosmic dualism” (God and Satan co-exist). Although Zoroaster was very sure that God is wholly good and that man is free to choose good or evil, his teachings were unclear about the source of evil in the world. That is, if God the Creator is all good, where does evil come from? Those supporting ethical dualism (monotheism) would answer that evil originates in the mind of humanity and is the byproduct of creation; because the Universe is incomplete and unfinished, there is a capacity to alter the status quo. That is why humanity must be active in helping God to overcome evil. The Zoroastrian scholar and modern-day believer, Prof. Farhang Mehr, sees Zoroaster as a pure monotheist who taught ethical dualism rather than cosmic dualism.

Throughout the long history of this religion, the concept of cosmic dualism has been more widely accepted; that is, a belief that good comes from God and that evil comes from Satan, although God is Eternal and Satan is not. Interestingly, this same concept of cosmic dualism is used throughout the New Testament by both Jesus and St. Paul, although the monotheism of Christianity is never doubted. Satan is a very real and powerful being to Jesus; he is tempted by Satan in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). He asks:

How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25-26, Mark 3:23-24, Luke 11:17-18).

In Ephesians 6:11, Paul writes:

Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Ravenna3WiseMenThe Three Wise Men as depicted in Ravenna (Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Italy (Source: Public Domain). Note the European depiction of Partho-Sassanian Iranian dress, caps and cloaks. 


The proponents of cosmic dualism feel comfortable with modern-day “Process Theology” which expresses the idea that God cannot bestow free will and remain all powerful. A concept in modern physics that may reinforce the reality of cosmic dualism is that “a little chaos” is present in every atom of the Universe.

The God of the Magi is Universal, and Zoroaster was the first to proclaim this truth. In the words of the Persian (and Zoroastrian) King Darius:

I am King of all the Nations by the will of God.”

In the words of Zoroaster, God is supreme:

“When I held you in my very eyes

Then I realized you in my mind, O Mazda,

As the first and also the last for all Eternity,

As the Father of Good Thoughts,

As the Creator of Righteousness

And Lord over the actions of life.” (Y31.8)

Darius_In_ParseA relief of Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE) at Persepolis (Source: Public Domain); Darius was the third monarch of The Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BCE).

8. Zoroastrianism’s Influence on World Religions

Although the Persian Empire fell to Alexander (331 BCE), the Magi continued to be very influential throughout the Middle East and the Western World, and the religion of the Magi continued as the primary religion in the middle east until the Moslem conquest (642 CE). The Magi were prized as teachers of great wisdom and power, and Zoroaster remained a highly respected figure.

Of course, Zoroastrian ideas have been enormously important to subsequent religious thought. Many scholars contend that it was Zoroaster’s cursing of the Hindu gods that initiated the break between the religious approaches of the East (Hindu, Buddhism) and those of the West (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes, the imagery of the “Sons of Light” and “Sons of Darkness” is a direct borrowing from the Religion of the Magi. Six hundred years after the Moslem conquest, the Sufi Mystic, Attar of Nishapur, wrote:

We are the Eternal Magi, we are not Muslims.”

MagiZoroastrian magi from Kerman during the Jashne Sadeh ceremonies (Source: Heritage Institute).

The Cypress slender Minister of Wine in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a Magi. Omar Khayyam once said he wore the belt of a Magi because he was ashamed of his Islam.

Zoroaster taught that God loves us all and that, after evil is finally defeated, ALL humanity will be saved at the end of time, although those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will need to be “purified” in Hell before joining God in Heaven.

The following example illustrates the views of Zoroaster concerning Universal Salvation:

If you understand these laws of happiness and pain

Which Mazda has ordained, O mortals,

(There is) a long period of punishment for the wicked

And reward for the pious

But thereafter eternal joy shall reign forever.” (Y30.11, emphasis added)

9. References

Boyce, M. (1984). Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 

Burnham, S. (1992). A book of angels: Reflections on angels past and present and true stories of how they touch our lives. Ballantine Books. 

Mehr, F. (2003). The Zoroastrian tradition: An introduction to the ancient wisdom of Zarathushtra. Mazda Pub.  

Modi, J. J. (2010). A catechism of the Zoroastrian religion. Nabu Press. 

Vincent, K. R. (1999). The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men. North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke Tawus

The Lalesh Temple and Ceremonies of the Yezidi Kurds

The term “Yazidi” is often incorrectly confused with the Arabian name “Yazid“. The term is originally “Yazdi” derived from Iranic “Yazata” broadly meaning “Angels”, hence the prime Zoroastrian spiritual entity term “Ahura-Mazda“, terms for surviving Iranic cults in Kurdistan known as the “Yazdan” (lit. cult of Angels), and the surviving name of “Yazd” for the city of that name in Iran today. There are various mystical orders that have theological ties to the “Yazdi” or “Yazidi” such as the “Yar-esan” and the Qaderi clans of Western Iran. The Yazidis are an ancient community, concentrated in northwestern Iraq but also found in Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Yezidi Kurds-12-Youths 1950sYazdi or Yazidi youth in the 1950s in Lalesh (

The holiest Yazidi or Yazdi site is the Temple of Lalesh, situated in a valley near Dohuk in Nineveh Province (roughly an hour and a half drive outside of Erbil in northern Iraq). This is an ancient cultural and theological site with strong ties to ancient Iranic religions such as Zoroastrianism and ancient cults such as Mithraism and Zurvanism. The movement however also features interesting ties to Christianity and Islam and welcomes their holy books into their theology.

 Yezidi Kurds-5-lales-piraEntrance portal to the Temple of the Yazdis or Yazidis at Lalesh (

The Yazidi or Yazdi religion is believed to have its origins as late as the 11th century, however it is generally agreed that the faith has derived much of its theology from the ancient Zoroastrianism religion of pre-Islamic Iran. From what is known, the Yazidi or Yazdis do not have or write holy books like the Abrahamic faiths; they tend to pass on their traditions in an oral fashion with stories, poems and songs. Interestingly one cannot simply convert to the Yazidi or Yazdi religion; one can only enter this by having been born into the faith.

Yezidi Kurds-2-Yezidi-khatunExcellent depiction of a Khatoun at an ingress into the Temple in 1907 ( The term Khatoun in this cultural context designates a matriarch; ancient cults such as Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Yazdism as well as the ancient Zoroastrian faith, have often held men and women in equal regard, especially with regard to learning and leadership roles (for more see here).

The Yazidis are expected to engage in a six-day pilgrimage (minimum once a lifetime) to Lalesh to visit the tomb of Sheikh Adi and other holy sites. Sheikh Adi is the primary figure of the religion of the Yazidis.

Yezidi Kurds-8-plan of lalesDetailed architectural plan of the Mausoleum at the Temple at Lalesh (

Yazidis also engage in a yearly pilgrimage for the local autumn Festival or “Feast of the Assembly“.

Yezidi Kurds-18-CeremonyThe Yazidi faithful engaging in their “Festival of Eid al-Jamma” (photo taken on 7 October, 2010 & displayed the International Business Times).

Note the image of a large black snake on the wall in the above photo. One legend narrates this as having been once alive, and causing havoc among the local residents of the sanctuary. Sheikh Adi then intervened and transformed that snake into its present solidified form as it tried to climb up the same wall it is now transfixed in. Yet another tradition narrates that it was Sheikh Adi’s companion, Sheikh Mend, who transformed himself from human form into this black snake. Sheikh Mend had done this to repel the Haweri Kurdish tribe who were attempting to force the Yazidis to convert to the Islamic faith.

Yezidi Kurds-15-CeremonyYazidis lighting candles outside the Lalesh temple in celebration of the Yazidi New Year (photo taken on April 17, 2007 & displayed the International Business Times). The Yazidis celebrate the ingress of light into the world.

The Yazidi theology of creation is of interest, especially given its parallels with Zoroastrianism and other ancient Iranic faiths. In the Yazidi version of creation, God created the universe and entrusted its welfare to seven angels. The prime angel or “Yazata” of the seven angels is “Malak Tawous” (Persian: Malek Tavoos), broadly translated as “Lord/king Peacock”. In Yazidism this is a Yazata that has been incarnated in the physical realm in the body of a peacock.

Yezidi Kurds-4-Meleke TawusMetalwork representing the spiritual entity Malak Tawous (

The peacock has held a special significance among Iranian peoples since antiquity and is well represented in the arts during the pre-Islamic and post-Islamic periods.

Yezidi Kurds-16-Kurdish danceLocal Yezidis engage in the traditional Kurdish dance outside the Lalesh temple (photo displayed the International Business Times).

The Yazidis have had to contend with several persecutions in history. Their very existence has been threatened up to modern times, notably by the former Saddam Hussein regime and more recently by pan-Muslim ideologues.

4-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony

Professor Mary Boyce: Ādur-Gushnasp

The article below by the late Professor Mary Boyce on the ancient Ādur-Gushnasp Fire-Temple in Iran’s Azarbaijan province was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1983 and last updated on July 22, 2011.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006; Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-) as well as venues such as the Civilization Fanatics Center and

Ādur-Gushnasp is an Ātash Bahrām, that is, a Zoroastrian sacred fire of the highest grade, held to be one of the three great fires of ancient Iran, existing since creation. Note that Bahram is the the God of War and Victory.


ĀDUR GUŠNASP, an Ātaš (Atash) Bahrām (see Ātaš in Encyclopedia Iranica), that is, a Zoroastrian sacred fire of the highest grade, held to be one of the three great fires of ancient Iran, existing since creation (see further in Encyclopedia Iranica under Ādur Burzēn-Mihr). The name Gušnasp, presumed to be that of the fire’s unknown founder, means “Stallion.” The fire was installed somewhere in Media at an unknown date, presumably in the late Achaemenid or Parthian period.

Celebration-Azar Goshnasp[Click to Enlarge] -مراسم جشن آذرگشسب در اتشکده ای در آذربایجان- Celebration ceremonies at Ādur-Gushnasp in Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Photo forwarded to by Ms. Kimia Behzadi on November 23, 2013 – original photo by Sima Mehrazar). This is the Gahanbar ceremony in which the “Lork” has received holy Avestan prayers, and is now being distributed among the congregation. Iran’s pre-Islamic cultural traditions have endured across the centuries.

It was probably in early Sasanian times that the fire was first classified by Persian scholastics as that of the warrior estate, to which the kings themselves belonged. The priests of Ādur Gušnasp seem to have skillfully promoted the royal connection thus created for their fire and to have enhanced is dignity by fashioning legends which linked its founding with the earliest days of Zoroastrian tradition. This they probably did partly in rivalry to Ādur Burzēn-Mihr, the fire of conquered Parthia. Thus in Bd. 18.12 it is related that Ādur Gušnasp, like the other great fires, used once to move freely about, giving its protection to the world; but when Kay Ḵosrow the Kayanian was “destroying the image-shrine of Lake Čēčast, it settled on the mane of his horse, dispelling darkness and shadow, and shedding light, until he had destroyed the image-shrine. In that same place, upon Mt. Asnavand, he established fire-altars. For this reason it is called “Gušnasp,” because it settled upon the mane of his horse (asp).” It is plainly impossible to extract any precise historical facts from this legend; but it certainly suggests that at some time, possibly in the late Parthian period, a powerful iconoclast had the images of yazatas destroyed in some great Median shrine, and that Ādur Gušnasp was installed triumphantly in their stead. There is no means of knowing whether it was before or after this that the Median priests annexed the whole of the early Zoroastrian tradition, from the pagan Kayanians down to the prophet himself, for their own province, transferring it thus from northeast to northwest Iran. So Lake Čēčast (Av. Čaēčasta) was identified with Lake Ormīa (Bd. 12.3) and Mt. Asnavand (Av. Asnavant) too was said to be in Azerbaijan (Bd. 9.29), while Ādur Gušnasp was declared to be:

“…at the deep lake Čēčast of warm water which is opposed to the dēvs. Know that the Religion became manifest even there” (Zand ī Vahman Yašt, ed. B. T. Anklesaria, Bombay, 1957, 6.10).

At whatever epoch these identifications were made, they can hardly have found acceptance outside western Iran during the overlordship of the Parthians, who were the natural guardians of the traditions of the northeast.

Takhte-Suleiman-OverviewAn excellent overview of the site of the site of Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) (Picture Source: Iran Atlas). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army).  

It seems probable, therefore, that one should attribute to the Sasanian period—a time of western Iranian ascendancy—an extension of Ātaš nīāyeš 4 or possibly the creation of this whole section of the prayer. Its opening lines, with their invocation of “Fire, the son of Ahura Mazdā” and of Xvarənah, were understood by the Persian priests to be an invocation of their fire Ādur Farnbāg. There follows abruptly the invocation of Kavi Haosravah, the lake of Kavi Haosravah, Mt. Asnavant, and Lake Čaēčasta. The Medes and Persians, it is plain, almost never committed the sacrilege of adding anything new to the Avesta, so that to introduce the actual names of Ādur Farnbāg or Ādur Gušnasp into an Avestan prayer was impossible. Instead, it seems, these lines were put together from familiar Avestan elements, in such a way as to convey to all those conversant with their legends that these were invocations of the two great sacred fires. In the following section of the prayer a brief invocation of Mt. Raēvant is sufficient to include Ādur Burzēn-Mihr in a triple supplication. All this is made clear by glosses to the Pahlavi translation, in which each of the fires is explicitly named. Further, and still more audaciously, a commentator on Ātaš nīāyeš 4 adds that:

“…it was this Ādur Gušnasp which lamented and cried for help before Ohrmazd.”

Ādur Gušnasp appears to be thought of here as representing the totality of fires, which, like all else belonging to the invisible creation, must have been reluctant to be created again in the physical state and so be exposed to defilement and danger of extinction; and presumably Ādur Gušnasp was thus singled out because its name linked it with the creatures of Vahman, represented originally by the Uniquely-Created Bull, which wailed and complained before Ohrmazd (Y. 29).

Farrokh-Late-Sassanians-Magi-Shahrbaraz-Queen-Boran[Click to enlarge] A reconstruction of the late Sassanians at Ādur Gušnasp or Shiz (Takht e Suleiman in Azarbaijan, northwest Iran) by Kaveh Farrokh (painting by the late Angus Mcbride) in Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-. To the left rides a chief Mobed (a top-ranking Zoroastrain priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

Of the actual history of Ādur Gušnasp more is known than of the other two great fires, for two reasons: First, its temple in Azerbaijan was not far from the western frontier of Iran and so attracted the notice of a number of foreign visitors. Second, the Sasanian kings accorded it favor from the early 5th century onward; as a result, it won frequent mention in the latter part of the royal chronicle (the Xwadāy-nāmag) and in the Šāh-nāma (where it is also called Āḏar Ābādagān). Where Ādur Gušnasp was first installed is uncertain; but some time before A.D. 400, it seems, it was transferred to a site in Azerbaijan of exceptional beauty and fittingness, known in Islamic times as Taḵt-e Solaymān, but presumably named by the Median priests Mt. Asnavand. This is a hill formed by mineral deposits from a spring which wells up within it, so that its flat top holds a lovely lake high above the level of the surrounding countryside. Here a new temple was built for Ādur Gušnasp; and the royal connection of the fire was so successfully fostered that it became the custom in the later Sasanian period for each king to make a pilgrimage there on foot after his coronation (though the accounts in the Šāh-nāma suggest that the monarch walked only from the base of the hill itself, in token of deep reverence). Royal gifts were lavished on the shrine; and the legend was naturally evolved that the first monarch to enrich it was Kay Ḵosrow himself, coming to pray there with his grandfather Kāvūs for help against Afrāsīāb (see Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, V, p. 1386.2228-37).

Takhte-Suleiman-10[Click to Enlarge] An excellent view of the edge of the lake at Ādur-Gushnasp (Photo Source: Public Domain).

There are several references in the epic to visits to the fire by Bahrām V (A.D. 421-39), who is said to have spent the feasts of Nowrūz and Sada there (Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, VII, p. 2205.1599-1602) and, on another occasion, to have entrusted to its high priest an Indian princess, his bride, to be converted to the faith (ibid., VII, pp. 2249-50.2385-91). Ṯaʿālebī (Ḡorar, pp. 559-60) relates how, when Bahrām returned from his campaign against the Turks, he bestowed the ḵāqān’s crown on the shrine and gave his wife and her slaves to it as servitors. Subsequently Ḵosrow Anōšīravān is said to have visited Āḏar Gošnasp before setting out on a campaign (Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, VIII, p. 2339.500-09), and later he bestowed on the fire-temple a vast amount of treasure out of tribute received from Byzantium (ibid., VIII, p. 2446.2379-86). His namesake Ḵosrow Parvēz also prayed at Āḏar Gošnasp for success in battle (ibid., IX, p. 2768.1634-41 ) and later gave a rich share of spoils to the sanctuary (ibid., IX, p. 2797.2160-67). Nor, plainly, was it only kings who made their petitions and offerings there, for in the Ṣaddar Bondaheš 44, which is concerned with: “praying for one’s wants,” it is prescribed that when praying for the restoration of eyesight, one should vow “I shall make an eye of gold and send it to Āḏar Gošasp” (44.18; ed. D. N. Dhabhar, Bombay, 1909); or, if one wishes a child to be intelligent and wise, “I shall send a present to Āḏar Gošasp” (par. 21).

Takhte-Suleiman-3[Click to Enlarge]One of the structures at Takhte Suleiman (Picture Source: World Historia).

It is in keeping with the literary records that the ruins of Ādur Gušnasp should be the most impressive to survive of any Zoroastrian place of worship. To make the sanctuary inviolable the whole hilltop was enclosed by an enormously thick wall of mud-brick; and later (probably towards the end of the Sasanian period) another stone wall was built along the very rim of the hill, 50 feet high and 10 feet thick, with thirty-eight towers strung out along it, each within bowshot of the next.

3-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony in Azargoshasb Fire Temple–Mobed Sohrab Hengami -Mobed Mehrab Vahidi-Avesta[Click to Enlarge] The ancient Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple – Zoroastrian Mobads Sohrab Hengami and Mehrab Vahidi are engaged in the recitation of the Holy Avesta (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

The temple precinct itself was enclosed on three sides by yet another wall, being open on the south side to the lake; and excavation has revealed much of the groundplan of the great complex. The approach from the north brought one into a large courtyard, fit for the reception of many pilgrims; and from this a processional way led toward the lake. This included a square, domed room open to north and south, which was richly appointed, and may possibly have been used for prayer and ceremonial ablutions. It ended in a large open portico looking out over the waters. A covered way then led along the front of the building to an impressive series of pillared halls and antechambers, running south to north on the west side of the processional way; and at the northernmost end of these, it seems, was the sanctuary of Ādur Gušnasp itself, at first a flat-roofed, pillared structure of mud-brick, which was later replaced by a stone one with a domed roof. The walls of this sanctuary were adorned with a stucco frieze in high relief; and beneath the dome was found the three-stepped pedestal of a great fire-altar, and the base of its rounded, pillar-like shaft. Fragments of lesser altars and of ritual vessels have been unearthed in and near the pillared halls which led to the sanctuary, in which there was doubtless a constant activity of devotion, with offerings, prayers, and religious ceremonies.

4-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony[Click to Enlarge] The Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple. After the prayers are concluded, a “Damavaz” (a ceremony participants) holds aloft the censer containing fire and incense in his hand to pass around the congregation. As this is done, the Damavaz repeats the Avesta term “Hamazour” (translation: Let us unite in good deeds). Participants first move their hands over the fire and then over their faces: this symbolizes their ambition to unite in good works and the spread of righteousness (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

The great temple complex held numerous other rooms, including lesser shrines and the temple treasury, which must have housed many priceless gifts. No clearly datable objects have been found in the ruins earlier than the reign of Pērōz (A.D. 457-84); but a room by the main entrance yielded a store of over 200 clay sealings, among which were eighteen that bore the words:

“…high-priest of the house of the fire of Gušnasp” (mowbed ī xānag ī Ādur ī Gušnasp).

Takhte-Suleiman-Round Columns[Click to Enlarge] Round columns at Takhte Suleiman (Photo Source: Novice View).

In A.D. 623 the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, during his wars against Ḵosrow Parvēz, sacked the temple of Ādur Gušnasp, casting down its altars, setting fire to the building; and slaying every living creature there. The great fire itself was evidently carried off to safety, however, and later reinstalled. There may well be a memory of the destruction of Ādur Gušnasp’s shrine in the pseudo-prophecy contained in the Persian Zand ī Vahman Yašt (see Dhabhar, Rivayats, pp. 467, 469):

They will remove Ādur Gušasp from its place . . . on account of (the devastation of) these armies, Ādur Gušasp will be carried to Padašxwārgar.”

 5-Azargoshnasp-Gahanbar ceremony[Click to Enlarge] One of the participants at the Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

Once enthroned again in its temple on the hill, Ādur Gušnasp continued to burn there for many generations after the coming of Islam; but harassment grew, and the great fire had probably been extinguished by the end of the 10th or, at the latest, the early 11th century A.D. The ruins of its temple were subsequently quarried to build a palace on the hilltop for a local Muslim ruler.

Takhte-Suleiman-2[Click to Enlarge] One of the archways at Ādur-Gushnasp (Picture Source: World Historia).


See the bibliog. for Ādur Burzēn-Mihr. Add: M. N. Dhalla, The Nyaishes or Zoroastrian Litanies, New York, 1908.

The Persian version of Zand ī Vahman Yašt, ed. M. R. Unvala, Darab Hormazyar’s Rivayat II, Bombay, 1922, pp. 407-21; tr. B. N. Dhabhar The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others, Bombay, 1932, pp. 457-81.

For classical and Arabic references to Ādur Gušnasp, and the bibliog. of the excavations there up to 1969, see: K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin and New York, 1971, pp. 309-57.

R. Naumann and D. Huff, “Takht-i Suleiman,” Bastan Chenassi va Honar-e Iran 9-10, December, 1972, pp. 7-25.

R. Schneider, “Takht-i Suleiman, Bericht über die Ausgrabung 1965-1975,” Artibus Asiae 1975, pp. 109-204.

M. Boyce, “Iconoclasm among the Zoroastrians,” Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. J. Neusner, Part IV, Leiden, 1975, pp. 93-111.

D. Huff, “Recherches archéologiques à Takht-i Suleiman,” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1978, pp. 774-89.