With that out of the way, let’s give the Zarathushti Faith a nice, big, Project Conversion welcome and look into what I’ll get into this month.
To begin with, I’ll walk around looking like this:
This is a topi or prayer cap. As with many faiths, head coverings are an essential piece of religious gear that typically symbolize humility. In the Zarathushti tradition, the topi serves two purposes: 1) the crown of the head is the location of the Lahian, a Center of spiritual knowledge. A constant temperature is needed here to maintain balance and creative thought. 2) There are many influences, both physical and spiritual, that interact with our bodies and soul (Urvaan). These include everything from the sun’s rays to negative thoughts and spirits. The topi then serves as a selectively porous membrane to filter good material from negative.
Keep in mind, my explanation here is very basic and I am still trying to wrap my mind around many concepts. If you’re interested in going much, much deeper, visit this Parsi website. Zarathushtis are enjoined to wear a head covering at all times–not just during prayer. Many are electing not to wear the topi due to social pressure via Western style and influence. I will wear the topi at all times.
There are many prayers. Many, many prayers. Part of the reason I didn’t make a post on Day 1 was because I spent most of the day trying to discern what prayers are said when and how and…there’s a prayer one should do before and after visiting the bathroom. Exactly. So where do you begin?
Mentors are awesome. My Mentor, who is the former editor of Fezana Journal, a publication that serves Zarathushtis across the United States, helped me to understand that while all of the prayers are important, only a few are actually required or Farajyat. She recommended that I start each day with the Padyab-Kushti prayer and end the day with the same to get me through the month. It’s pretty long, so I won’t write it out here. For details on all prayers, go to this site. The source material for many if not all prayers comes from the Gathas and Avesta. More on that later.
Here I am reciting the Kushti prayer at 5:30 this morning. All prayers are performed either after a shower or ritual ablution. There are several parts which include the Ahsem Vohu (invocation of Asha) and the Ahunwar (most sacred manthra of the Faith). The latter segments are short and can be found at www.avesta.org. Notice that I am reading the prayers from a page. In most cases, prayer is performed while standing with hands together (common prayer position) if you are a Parsi, and hands out in front with palms facing you if you’re from Iran. Different flavors. I love it.
There are other, more important aspects of the Kushti prayer that I cannot perform. This includes the tying and untying of the kushti (sacred thread made of lamb’s wool) around the waist over the sacred under-shirt called the sudreh. I cannot stress enough the importance of these two items. They are given to a young Zarathushti during an initiation ceremony and worn for life. For me to even wear a substitution would be a great insult to the faith. As you all know, I’m not here to insult or intrude upon anyone; but to learn and come to a higher level of respect for those around me. Therefore, I will not wear these items.
Here are a few images for your reference.
Zarathushti homes also have common religious features. Among them is an altar. Light in general and fire in particular are powerful symbols of the divine (Ahura Mazda). In fact, Zarathushti places of worship are refered to as “fire temples.” Zarathushtis are dedicated to knowledge and the defeat of evil and ignorance. Light then, symbolizes the displacement of evil by the warmth and illumination that comes from both the grace and power of Ahura Mazda and the work of mankind. The three-fold call to action of all Zarathushtis are “Good thoughts, Good words, and Good deeds.”
My Mentor recommend a simple altar for me, the center of which is a candle that remains lit so long as someone is home:
From left to right, the altar includes: a flower to represent Ahura Mazda’s creation. Top-center: an image of Prophet Zarathushtra, candle, a picture of my departed grandfather.
Not every altar is the same. In fact, many homes have only a hearth in which to stir the holy flame that is to burn continuously. My Mentor said that keeping a photo of special ancestors on the altar is not only a source of comfort, but reminds us to pray for them and to remind us of their spiritual presence in our lives. My grandfather was a Baptist minister and died when I was four years old. I don’t remember him physically, but I have always felt a spiritual bond between us.
So, this should get us started. It’s only the tip of the iceberg folks. The first week is always the most difficult because I must shed the garments of my previous religion and dive right into the next. Of course the first week of every month deals with rituals and practices, so stay tuned for more details and thanks for reading along.