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Zoroastrianism is a religion that began with a philosopher known as Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, in ancient Persia. There are around 150,000 followers of Zoroastrianism today, mainly living in India and Iran. Like other monotheistic religions, Zoroastrianism asserts that there is one creator, God.
Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, taught about the Creator God, Ahura Mazda, meaning "Lord Wisdom." Polytheism, or the worship of many gods, was common in Persia during the time of Zoroaster, who condemned this practice.
In Zoroastrianism, there are thought to be two opposing energies in each person's mind. The positive energy is called Spenta Mainyu, and creates goodness in people, while the negative energy, Angra Mainyu, creates evil in people and prevents the world from being perfect. Zoroaster taught that all people are free to choose between Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, and that people are responsible for their own actions.
By their actions, followers of Zoroastrianism believe that they can make themselves perfect. If a person chooses the path of goodness, Zoroastrians think that they can not only make themselves perfect but help to make the world perfect. By making the world perfect, they can create a heaven on Earth. Conversely, by people choosing the path of evil, they are creating a true hell on earth.
In Zoroastrianism, fire is seen as sacred, the symbol of truth, and of the energy of creation. Fire is viewed with respect, and each Zoroastrian temple has a flame burning in their temples. Zoroastrians tend to pray in front of a fire or other source of light, to focus their mind on Ahura Mazda, or the Creator God. Sometimes Zoroastrianism is thought to be a fire-worshiping religion, but fire is only a symbol of truth.
Zoroastrians also believe it is important to keep the earth, fire, water, and air pure and unpolluted. The dead are not buried or cremated, as this would either contaminate the earth, or waste fuel for fire. Therefore, in Zoroastrianism, the dead are traditionally placed in "towers of silence," high-walled, isolated buildings that are open at the top. The bodies decay and the bones are later buried in pits.