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Index / Religions /
Iranian religions

1. Societies and Cultures
2. Central ideas
a. Supernatural beings
b. Dualism
c. Cosmology
d. Rituals
e. Human nature
Iranian religions

Religions that originate with the peoples of the Iranian plateau and its borderlands. Effectively this stretches into large regions of Central Asia. The centre of the region is the modern state of Iran.
Most notable among the religions are Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Zoroastrianism still exists, but now only with a quarter of a million adherents. Its main importance, seen from a general point of view, is by its influence on Judaism, then Christianity and eventually Islam. Manchaeism is a dead religion, but is often called the first world religion, stretching at its most from Spain to China.
There is a connection between Iranian religions and Indian, a history of migrations bring these two important lands closer than their geographical distance.
The main sources to Iranian religions are Achaemenid royal inscriptions; and the Avesta, the sacred scriptures of Zoroastrianism.

Societies and Cultures
Larger Iran covered two culture and ethnic zones, Scythia to the north and southern Iran. The main influences on Schythia was Indo-Aryans and Mesopotamia as well as indigenous Western Iranian culture. Ethnic and cultural interaction with Mesopotamia and the rest of the Middle East increased with the Median Empire (8th-6th centuries BCE).
The earliest social structures of Iran we know of had the society divided into 4 basic classes: priests; nobles; farmers and herdsmen; and artisans.

Central ideas
The concept of Iranian religions, as if there are decisive common categories, can be deceptive. Research has proven there there were no unified collection of myths. Iranian religion as such is often attributed to Zoroastrian sources, but finding out what are uniform Iranian ideas and what are new developments here often leads researchers into fragile reconstructions and even simple guessing.
Religion and politics were closely connected in 1st millenium BCE, the kings were understood as rulers by the will of god.

Supernatural beings
The earliest form of Iranian religions was one of a rich pentheon, mostly male gods, but also a wide array of goddesses. Deities could represent natural phenomenon, social norms or institutions.
Among the central ideas of Iranian religions were the faith in yazatas, which was a certain category of gods or angels. Yazatas were either ahuras and daevas. Daevas were easily the most dangerous and evil of the two, but not with all religious ideas. Ahuras were largely the good categories of deities.Each ind ividual, clan or tribe worhsipped one or more of these divinities, as protective spirits. There was a recognition of other yazatas, and a common understanding of the hierarchy of these.
Early ahuras were Ahura Mazda, who would be the supreme god of Zoroastrianism, and Mithra, who would survive long as a very popular god, even outside Iran.

Dualism was a central theme to Iranian religions, the contrast and conflict between the god and the bad. The dualism has been Iranian religions main export, and is a fundamental value to Christian theology, and to some extent Islam, especially in some of its modern variants, like Islamism. The concept of dualism was not limited to the realm of supreme beings, but was used for the world as well, even animals were defined as either beneficent or noxious.

The oldest reconstructed myth about the creation of the world, has two primordial twins, in which one kills the other, and uses his dismembered body to create the world: the skull for the sky, the flesh for the earth, the bones for mountains and so on.

The main type of rituals with the Iranians were open-air, not with temples. The central ritual was known as yazna, a highly stylized festive meal as if the deity was present. The purpose of this ritual was communion with the deity.
Fire was an important religious symbol, a sacred element as well as deity. Fire was burnt temples, the burning wood had to be free of pollution, and should never go out or be extinguished.
Haoma, the divine drink, appears to have been of a narcotic substance. It was often drunk in rituals.
The most important festival of the years was that of the New Year, which is still very popular with Iranians.

Human nature
Human nature was with Iranian religions defined as something positive, human beings have free will.

By Tore Kjeilen