Belief in brief: Zoroastrianism

A section of faith facts
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Predating Christianity and Islam, Zoroastrianism has existed for nearly 3,000 years and now faces a threatening decline in followers.

At its peak, the ancient religion drew 40 to 50 million followers, but numbers have dwindled to no more than 190,000 members worldwide. Many fear the extinction of this ancient religion. Missouri is home to a small Zoroastrian organization, the St. Louis Zoroastrian Community, which boasts about 40 congregants.


The monotheistic ideals of Zoroastrianism were a product of the Indo-Iranian prophet Zorathustra, or Zoroaster in Greek, who introduced into mainstream Indo-Iranian religion the notion of one God, Ahura Mazda, meaning “wise lord.” The Zoroastrians lived from Rome and Greece to India and Russia until experiencing persecution during the eighth through 10th centuries from the expanding Muslim population, which sought to convert the Zoroastrians. Some Zoroastrians refused to convert and scattered in the hopes of finding refuge. Some followers found themselves in Bombay seeking the religious freedom established by the British, receiving the new name Parsi, which means “Persian.” Parsis now make up the majority of the Zoroastrian population.

Beliefs and traditions

Followers of the religion believe that everyone has the right and the ability in life to freely choose between good, “Spenta Mainyu,” and evil, “Angra Mainyu.” Relying on the “Avesta,” their holy book, Zoroastrians believe in a final Judgment Day, in which depending on one’s chosen path, believers will gain admission into heaven or condemnation into a hell-like environment. Contributing to the religion’s declining membership, the Zoroastrian belief in free will prevents its followers from proselytizing, and to be recognized as a Zoroastrian, a child must be born to two Zoroastrian parents. There is also a strict restriction on conversion.

Sources: “Zoroastrians keep the faith, and keep dwindling,” New York Times; “Zoroastrianism” by Cyrus R. Pangborn; Encyclopedia Britannica; St. Louis Zoroastrian Community

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