After Zarathushtra passed on and several centuries later, new texts were written, not by Zarathusthra, but by priests in this new era where there was Judaism ,Christianity, Islam. How do you formulate a niche, how do you protect yourself from others? So, these texts were written, the text called “Vendidad,” which is very different from what Zarathushtra had to say and are not his direct words.

In the Vendidad, there are other sorts of restrictions, lots of rules--for example, menstruating women are evil. You shouldn’t cut your hair and nails after dark. To me, as a Zoroastrian,they are a lot of mumbo-jumbo that I won’t accept, because these aren’t texts that came from our prophet, this is stuff that is man-made, manufactured, and patriarchal.
 
So we have people like me who will only look at the Gathas and will only draw inspiration from those texts. And then, there are others, like the folks in India, who will look at these later texts. People can justify their actions or their bigotry if they chose to, and that’s what’s happening now.
 
Does the priesthood have any binding authority over Zoroastrians regarding intermarriage?
 
We don’t have a Parsi pope or a figurehead or someone who makes all the decisions for us, and I personally think that that’s terrific. Zoroastrianism is all about the individual and about using your mind and making the right choices because we believe that you intuitively know when you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.
 
There’s a body in North America called NAMC, the North American Mobeds Council and (“Mobed” is the word for priest.). It’s a very democratically run group. And if through the electoral process a priest is picked who happens to be very progressive and things are fine for the community for the next four years; but if, unfortunately, someone more conservative is picked, then, it’s up to the individual to go seek out priests who are progressive and will perform these ceremonies.
 
How many Zoroastrians today will wind up marrying out of the faith? 
 
If we just look at North America, I would say there are about 20,000 Zoroastrians all tolled, and I would say half the young Zoroastrians in North America marry Zoroastrians and the other half do not.
 
And interestingly enough in India, too, that’s happening. A lot of young Indian Zoroastrians are marrying Hindus and Christians--whoever they fall in love with now. So, also, in India, the debate is becoming more interesting because the younger generation is questioning what their, parents and grandparents instilled and forced them to believe.
 
Films like mine help [Indian Zoroastrians] a little bit, because in India where it is so insular and they’ve just grown up among Zoroastrians, it’s nice to get a fresh perspective from a Zoroastrian, who has had more exposure to the larger world.
 
Was the film aimed at sparking debate among Zoroastrians on the contentious topics that you raise? Or was the purpose to educate non-Zoroastrians?
 
Honestly, I went into this film hoping for the wider audience. I wanted to reach out to Americans, our friends and neighbors. I wanted people who didn’t know anything about the faith to learn a little bit about it.
 
But, I know it’s a given that there is that Zoroastrian audience, you know, I’m sure family, friends and the 200,000 Zoroastrians in the world will be thrilled once I release it to them just because nothing is ever said or written about our community. But, that wasn’t my primary goal.
 
Have you had any concerns about airing Zoroastrians’ dirty linen in public?
 
The thought definitely crossed my mind. But, I’m a huge believer in honesty, and I also think that to make a film compelling, there has to be conflict. It’s what makes for change and change is what makes the world progress.
 
The conflict within our community is huge right now, because if this conflict doesn’t end, there may not be any Zoroastrians 75 years down the road. So, to do a film about Zoroastrianism and not talk about the fact that the numbers are dwindling and there’s a sense of excluding people I think would be a disservice. So, if it means that people know this conflict within our communities–so be it.
There’s conflict in all communities. And I just feel I took a brave step and was honest enough to tell it like it is. We’re not being disrespectful toward anyone. I tried to make sure that the tone of the film was not disrespectful toward either side.
 
Are you a practicing Zoroastrian?
 
I'm a practicing Zoroastrian. And I was born a Zoroastrian. Both my parents and my grandparents are Zoroastrians. However, having said that, I consider myself more of a spiritual person than a religious person, so I don’t know all the Zoroastrian prayers.
 
I try to stay away from a lot of the ritual because when I look at the Gathas, which were the actual texts of Zoroastrianism, it was so different then. Women, for example, were allowed to be priests in that time. We didn't worship fire, but fire is a very important symbol in Zoroastrianism. So, apparently, fires in Zarathushtra's times were external fires. Outside, there would be a gathering, and a man could lead the congregation or a woman could lead ,and it was a lot more egalitarian. And I think over the centuries, we have temples and we have a whole hierarchy and only men can be priests.
 
Do you find that people are surprised when you tell them you're Zoroastrian?
 
I don't talk about it too much. Recently, I find I have been just because of the film.
I was at a party recently and there was a young, hip group of filmmakers and I talked about my film. And the person next to me knew about Zoroastrians and was fascinated. It was like, “Oh, my God, you're a Zoroastrian and they actually exist and can I actually touch you to make sure you're here” kind of thing. It was funny and it was interesting. But, that is our reality.
 
We're 200,000 in the world. We're dying out. A lot of our scholars are fantastic people, but so into their scholarly pursuits that there's no PR or no sort of disseminating this knowledge. And at the end of the day, when I try to explain my faith--we are Zoroastrians, but we're really all the same. I mean, if you look at Zoroastrianism, at Judaism, at Christianity and, you look at the Seven Amesha Spentas, they became the Seven Archangels, and you look at dualism and that became heaven and hell later. So, we're all really connected.
 
Zarathushtra said that he didn't consider himself the last and only prophet. He acknowledged that there would be others--you know, that there would be a Moses and a Jesus and a Buddha and a Muhammad and that there would be other wise men who would repeat this story of monotheism and of being a good human being ultimately, which is what it's all about.
 
Are there aspects of contemporary Zoroastrian practice from which you feel alienated?
 
When I visit India, for example, I love going to fire temples just because they're beautiful ancient structures that have been around for centuries and there's a big, beautiful silver urn and this--you know, which is four feet high and there's a fire kept burning there, you know, 24/7 and there's--the best wood is used.
It's only sandalwood. It's very calm and peaceful and it's a great place to be just to maybe do some meditating or some thinking. But, it also bothers me when when I see these signs that say “For Zoroastrians only.” It seems to me like nothing that has to do with God or religion or spirituality should be exclusive. Ninety-nine percent of the fire temples in India have these signs outside them, unfortunately.
 
Do the exclusionary signs exist in the United States?
 
No, they do not because, first of all, in the United States, we really don't have these temples, per se. In New York City there's a group called ZAGNY, Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York. And we have a temple in Pomona in upstate New York. And that temple is actually an old Jewish synagogue that we bought. But, most of the space is used for classes. Once a month, young Zoroastrian families will bring their kids and there'll be some kind of religious instruction. The temples here are really not temples, per se. They're little prayer halls.
 
Is there any move for women to enter the priesthood?
 
There definitely is a push. And what ended up happening is again, the Zoroastrian priests in North America have started a program called the Para-Mobed program, which is the para-priest program. And women are certainly allowed to go through this program and learn the basic prayers and how to perform a marriage ceremony and a Navjote ceremony, which is a child’s initiation ceremony.
It's great to see that. I love to see a positive change.