Several days ago, I read an article on Iranian.com by Vida Kashizadeh [” Not that old hat again“] in which she made the statement: “in Zoroastrianism man is created by Ahura Mazda and woman (also snakes, lizards and frogs) by Ahriman.” I have studied Zarathushtra’s teachings in the Gathas (which are his own words) for more than 20 years, and, to a lesser extent, I have studied the later Zoroastrian texts as well. But I have never come across any Zoroastrian text which states that woman is created by Ahriman (Satan).
Zarathushtra named his daughter Pouruchista which means “full of illumined thought”. He could hardly have been a misogynist.
On the occasion of his daughter’s wedding, he gave this advice to all the brides and grooms who were then getting married: “Let each of you try to win the other with [asha]…” Y53.5 (Insler translation). “Asha” means truth, goodness, beneficence (generosity), what’s right.” Notice the equality in his advice. The guys had to make the same effort as the women.
On the same occasion Zarathushtra said to his daughter “Do thou persevere, Pouruchista … To thee shall He grant the firm foundation of good thinking and the alliance of [asha] and of wisdom… ” Y53.3 (Insler translation). According to Zarathushtra, “good thinking” “asha” and “wisdom” are attributes of Ahura Mazda — attributes of the divine which Zarathushtra thought his daughter capable of attaining, along with all the living.
In another part of the Gathas, Zarathushtra says: “Whoever, man or woman, does what Thou, O Mazda Ahura, knowest to be the best in Life, whoever does right for the sake of right, whoever in authority governs with the aid of the good mind… shall I with them cross the Bridge of Judgment.” Y46.10 (D. J. Irani translation).
An early Zoroastrian prayer starts with the words “Those men and women, both do we revere, whose every act of worship is alive with asha… ”. In an age when men worshipped gods by slaughtering animals (and possibly each other) in stone temples, Zarathushtra introduced the idea of men and women worshipping God in the temple of life by infusing His divine qualities into each thought, word and action. “… I shall always worship you, Wise Lord, with truth and the very best thinking and with their rule… ” Y50.4.
The equality of men and women in Zarathushtra’s original teachings is well recognized. Moulton, in his work “Early Zoroastrianism” (Lectures delivered at Oxford and at London, 1912) mentions the report of a foreign diplomat Tchang K’ien, who wrote in 128 BC that in Khorassan and Bactria he found two classes of population, the nomads, and the “unwarlike”. The “unwarlike” in Bactria who were agriculturalists, he describes as follows: “… there is no supreme ruler, each city and town electing its own chief. They pay great deference to their women, the husbands being guided by them in their decisions.” And Moulton concludes “… the agricultural population, dwelling among the nomads, reflects the features of the Gathas sufficiently well.” Early Zoroastrianism, page 85.
The freedom which women enjoyed in ancient Iran, though not necessarily “unwarlike” is also depicted in the Shahnameh where for example, Gordafarid, the daughter of a garrison commander was described as “well versed and unrivalled in the arts of warfare. When Sohrab laid siege to her father’s garrison, she challenged Sohrab to single combat, during which the tip of his lance caught her helmet, and her long hair streamed out as she rode, causing Sohrab to exclaim in astonishment: “If the women of Iran are so valiant, what must their men be like!”
Opinions differ as to when Zarathushtra lived — from 6,500 BC to 600 BC. Some scholars today, based on linguistic evidence, believe he lived around 1,200 BC. Others opt for 1,700 BC. Other than the Gathas, we have no historical records from his time period. So we don’t know what culture he lived in, except to the extent it is described in the Gathas. The Sassanian empire came into being around the 3d century AD. So you can see what a long period of time separated Zarathushtra and the Sassanians — to say nothing of the devastation and loss of knowledge which followed the invasion of Alexander the Macedonian.
In the long, long, history of Zoroastrianism many things have been said and done in Zarathushtra’s name which are very different from his teachings — sometimes the exact opposite of his teachings.
There is nothing in the Gathas about menstruating women (or snakes, lizards and frogs) being evil or a source of spiritual contamination. The only evil in the Gathas is the product of wrongful choices — lies, cruelty, injustice, tyranny, oppression, bondage. There is no Ahriman in the Gathas. We bring evil to life when we give it existence in thought, word and action. There is no double standard in the Gathas. There is no disparate treatment of men and women. Zarathushtra’s teachings apply equally to both — including his teaching of the divine within.
Vida raises a good point when she speaks of the dangers of not separating religion and the state. When church and state are one, religion becomes a social control mechanism instead of a way for an individual to live his life and relate to the Divine. Although King Darius the Achaemenian was a worshipper of Ahura Mazda, as the Behistun inscriptions demonstrate, he and the early Achaemenian kings kept religion and the state separate. The Sassanians did not.
Zarathushtra’s notion of religion is an individual thing. He requires each person, individually, to use his mind / heart to search for what is true and right and think it, speak it and do it. His religion is a system which allows us to grow, as our knowledge and understanding of what is true and right, grows. By contrast, the Sassanians priests’ notion of religion was prescriptive. They had a huge code of rigid fact-specific “do-s” and “don’ts” most of which had nothing to do with Zarathushtra’s original teachings. Most of their taboos, today, are obsolete and totally irrelevant. But the search for truth and what is right was relevant 3,000 years ago, when Zarathushtra taught it. It is relevant today. It will be equally relevant 3,000 years from now, and on to the end of time. (And beyond???).
About Dina G. McIntyre has practiced law in the United States since 1963, a member of the bar of all federal and state courts in Pennsylvania, as well as the United States Supreme Court. Dina, a Zoroastrian, has lectured on the teachings of Zoroaster at various conferences and seminars in the United States, Canada, England, India, Venezuela, and at the World Parliament of Religions. She is a prolific writer and frequent contributor to various Zoroastrian Journals and the following websites: Vohuman.org, Zarathushtra.com and Zoroastrian.net.