Tag Archives: Pagan

Zoroastrianism: disappearing religion of Persian empire

Zoroastrianism, once the official religion of the Persian empire, is now one of the smallest religions in the world. The New York Times reported in 2006 that there were less than 190,000 Zoroastrians worldwide. Zoroastrianism is one of the monotheistic religions and has existed for more than 3,500 years. The religion was one of the most powerful religions for over 1,000 years. The central ideas of Zoroastrianism are summed up as “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds”

Zoroastrians believe in one God who they call Ahura Mazda which translated to the Wise Lord. They believe that he is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, impossible for humans to conceive, unchanging, the creator of life and the source of all goodness. They believe that he created the world. Zoroastrians believe that God’s truth was revealed through Zoroaster.

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Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in Iran during a time when most religions had multiple gods. Zoroaster was considered a family man. He was married and had three sons and three daughters. Zoroaster had a vision at tumblr_lsu0mdDVQu1qlziglo1_400age 30 while he performed a bathing ritual for pagan purification. He saw a shining being on the shore made of light. It was revealed to him as Vohu Manah which means the Good Mind. The vision transformed Zoroasters life and faith. He spent the rest of his life trying to teach others his new views.

The holy book is called the Avesta. This book contains the Gathas, which are 17 hymns that are thought to be written by Zoroaster. It also contains The Younger Avesta which is a book of commentaries on older writings that contains myths and stories.

The religion focuses on the idea of dualism. They believe in the existence and complete separation of good and evil. There are two types. Cosmic dualism focuses on the opposing forces in the universe while moral dualism focuses on the opposing forces in the mind. The cosmic dualism is a battle between good (Ahura Mazda) and evil (Angra Mainyu) in the zoroastrianism-was-the-religion-during-most-of-the-persian-empireuniverse. Examples of this are life and death, and day and night. One cannot exist without the other. Moral dualism is the battle between good and evil within man. Zoroastrians believe that humans all have free will and that we make choices to either follow evil (druj) or good (asha). Following druj will lead to a life of misery and condemn you to Hell while a life of asha leads to happiness and Heaven. Through every choice evil can be eliminated. Although these opposing forces exist, Zoroastrianism believes that humans are ultimately good and that good always wins over evil.

Fire is important to Zoroastrianism because they believe in the elements and that fire represents God’s light and wisdom

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Zoroastrian worship takes place in a Fire Temple called Agiary. They pray several times a day. Most Zoroastrians go through a purification process of washing the hands before prayer. Zoroastrians should pray while facing the sun because it is symbolic of divine light.

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When Zoroastrians turn seven they have a Navjote, or an initiation ceremony. During the initiation children receive a shirt, called a sudreh, and a cord, called a kusti. By this time children should already know the daily prayers and should engage in the ceremony rituals.

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Zoroastrian weddings have two stages. The two stages are the signing of the marriage contract and a service of feast and celebration that lasts between three and seven days. Both the bride and the groom dress in white to show purity.

Zoroastrians are world known for their ritual DSC_5002of “laying out the dead.” They believe that once someone stops breathing the body becomes impure because death is a work of evil. They do not believe in contaminating the world with dead bodies. Instead, Zoroastrians lay out the body in a tower called dokhma, which is translated as “Tower of Silence.” The bodies are then exposed to the sun and eaten by birds.

 

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Unitarian Universalists: leaders in marriage equality

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Gay marriage is nothing new for Unitarian Universalists. Two female Unitarian ministers got national media attention in 2004 after illegally marrying gay couples without marriage licenses.

Unitarian Univeralism is an open-minded, individualistic approach to religion that grew out of the Protestant Reformation which began in Poland and Transylvania in the 1560s. There are about 800,000 Unitarian Universalists worldwide and 225,000 in the United States. Most Unitarians blend concepts from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and other humanistic and pagan, earth-centered religions. Unitarianism is a movement that is heavily influence by the ideas of Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Other famous Universalists include Sylvia Plath and John Quincy Adams.

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Unitarians are a highly tolerant group of people who are accepting of others beliefs. They believe that everyone is free to search for the meaning of life and come to conclusions in their own way. They stress that followers should seek truth and meaning through intellect and life. Unitarians believe that religions should be “broad, inclusive, and tolerant.”

There are no standard set of beliefs or central creed so people from all kinds of religions can be Unitarian Universalists. In Unitarian Universalism whatever you believe whatever you feel is right. The very core of Unitarian Universalism is that you have the freedom to believe what you believe. Unitarians are extremely skeptical that one religion could possess the whole truth. Unitarians believe that religion should be a blending of two or more ideologies, although most Unitarians identify with the idea of the Holy Spirit. Unitarians promote the Seven Principles and Purposes:

9ee46b917e874f661379d94aa66424daThe inherent worth and dignity of every person;

  • justice, equity and compassion in human relations
  • acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
  • a free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  • the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
  • the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all
  • respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Although there is no central creed, all Unitarians support freedom and religious thought. Religious ideas must be based on rational thought and formed through the conscience, thinking and life experiences. All Unitarians must also be tolerant of others religious beliefs. Unitarians have differing views of God, but most identify with one of the following:

  • the principle that unites all things
  • the ground of existence
  • the source of original and ongoing creation
  • the ultimate good
  • the ideals and aspirations of humanity
  • a loving power with which human beings can have a personal relationship
  • the still small voice within each of us
  • a great mystery

Unitarians see no conflict between faith and knowledge. Most believe that religion and science are rooted in one reality. They also reject original sin and do not believe that humans have fallen from grace. Unitarians also do not believe that we must be dependent on God for salvation.

061113_banner550One central belief in Unitarian Universalism is the belief that religion should make a difference and that actions speak louder than words. For these reasons, many Universalists are strongly active in social justice issues, like equal rights for gay couples and gender equality, and community work. Unitarians use gender-inclusive language and concepts from a wide range of religious and philosophical traditions. The Unitarians were the first group of people to accept women ministers in 1904.

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Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey went to court in 2004 after becoming the first two ministers to be prosecuted in the United States for performing same sex marraiges. Both women were Unitarian Universalists. They were charged with multiple accounts of marriage without a license. The two women would have faced fines up to $500 and a year in jail, but the charges were dropped later that year.

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Wiccans: Double double toil and trouble

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A Fox News segment about the University of Missouri recognizing Wiccan holidays sparked controversy after many were offended by the words and attitudes of the Fox reporters. The same reporter later apologized after the news channel received many phone calls from upset viewers. Witchcraft. You see it in movies and your read it in books, but what are the Wiccans all about?

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Wicca is a modern, Pagan witchcraft religion that was developed by Gerald Gardner in the 20th century in England. Wicca is called “The Craft” or “The Craft of the Wise.” The name derives from the Old English masculine term for ‘sorcerers.’ The religion is derived from an ancient Pagan religion and is one of the many earth-based religions. The original religion was just called witchcraft until the 60s and 70s when the name Wicca came into use.

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While there is no authority figure, and most Wiccans believe in a deity that is largely unknowable that they call “The All” or “The One.” Most Wiccans worship a god and goddess called the mother goddess and the horned god. These two different gods are viewed as viewed as the two sides of a pantheistic godhead. The goddess is regarded as the Triple Goddess of the moon, stars, and fate. They also believe in a Horned God that is associated with forests, animals and the realm beyond death. These two god heads are also sometimes called the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. They are complementary opposites. They can be called the Divine Couple and are seen as both lovers and equals.

The religion is divided into different branches called “traditions.” Each tradition has its own organizational structure, but many traditions have a similar set of beliefs.

Wiccans celebrate rituals that involve direct encounters with the God or Goddess rather than through a priest. The Wiccan baptism is called a Wiccaning service, but unlike the Christian baptism, Wiccaning does not obligate the infant into the religion. Wiccans are encouraged to make their own decisions once they are old enough.

2560524620_cc391c6096They also celebrate initiation rituals when a person becomes a Wiccan. The rituals are performed by a Wiccan group called a Coven. These rituals can take many forms like casting of a circle or closing of the circle. The rituals can also include magic, spell casting, dance, readings and singing. Many rituals are used during celebrations which often take place during full moons. Rituals begins by casting a magic circle. Once the is made, Wiccans perform a seasonal ritual and prayers are said and rites are read. The rites often include a magical tools such as a athame, a wand, a pentacle, a chalice, candles, incense and a broom. When rituals are finished the Wiccans thank God and close the cirlce.

Wiccan traditions and celebrations follow the seasons. They have eight seasonal festivals called Sabbats and collectively called the Wheel of the Year. Wiccans also celebrate weddings called handfasting which is a European ceremony that involves tying the hands of the two people with ribbon. A common vow for Wiccans is “for as long as love lasts.”Wiccancalender

The number of Wiccans worldwide is uknown, but the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey estimated that there were about 134,000 American who identified themselves as Wiccans.

Most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. The High Priest Raymond Buckland said most Wiccans believe that they are reincarnated into the same species over time in order to learn lessons and advance spirituality. Wiccans believe: “once a witch, always a witch.”

“If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind and the rain.”

-Herbalist Carol McGrath (as told to her by an unidentified Native-American Wiccan)

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