Note: The following material is a compilation of random notes scribbled in preparation for a class presentation in a seminary course re: world religions. The presentation topic assigned concerns death, resurrection and judgment in Zoroastrianism. Basically, the subject is Zoroastrian eschatology. No, I am not a Zoroastrian sympathizer (one never knows these days). I am no aficionado of relativistic religious pluralism either. There are beyond strange groups out there who already have that one covered. I am, however, a student, and as such I normally find it interesting to take a critical peek at other religions. If not for intellectual reasons, then for purely missional ones.
Zoroastrians had a pretty serious problem with evil. Specifically, evil as the alien contaminate of physical things. This contamination manifested most profoundly in dead bodies. Dead bodies were contaminated by a particularly ferocious evil known as “Corpse Demon,” or Druj Nasu. The Corpse Demon not only contaminated the dead body with evil, but anything and everything that came into contact with the body was contaminated too. So, this was a pretty big problem for Zoroastrianism. Why? Well, you can hardly bury a Corpse Demon infested body in the earth because you would contaminate the earth! You can hardly burn it, lest you contaminate the fire. So, an ingenious method was devised, to take care of Corpse Demon infested bodies. The only remedy for Corpse Demon removal was animals; specifically, corpse-eating dogs and birds. You see, dogs and birds would scare away the Corpse Demon while it ate away at dead flesh. Zoroastrians would build what was called “Towers of Silence” in which they carefully tied the corpse by its feet and hair. Theses Towers were circular structures by which the bodies were exposed to vultures and dogs. The bodies were tied and sort of suspended in the air so the dogs and birds could chew away at it, but not carry the bones away. The bones needed to be retained, for ritualistic purposes that could happen only after the Corpse Demon was expelled. So, that is how Zoroastrians understood and dealt with death and the dead.
So, what happens to people after this process? What happens to the person after he/she dies and the Corpse Demon is expelled, and their bones are properly buried? What happens?
Well, what happens next really depends upon how the person lived their life. Zarathustra taught that “The Beautiful Song” (i.e., Heaven) awaits good people; “The Evil Song” (i.e. Hell) awaits people who were not so good and/or rejected Ahura Mazda for false gods. So, as is the case with all monotheistic religions, there is one way, and diverging from this way is the difference between Heaven and Hell. One needed to carefully care for the “Six Powers of the Soul,” to keep them from becoming contaminated by evil. The “Six Powers of the Soul” are: work, speech, thought, reasoning, memory and intellect. So, one could fail in this lifetime to care for his Six Powers, by not doing good works, or worshiping the one true god (Ahura Mazda). This is the Zoroastrian drama of life and existence.
This eschatological drama finds its culmination at what is called, in Zoroastrianism, “The Chinvat Bridge.”
On the fourth day after death, the soul leaves what is left of the body and travels to The Chinvat Bridge. There it starts the cross over, via the bridge, of course.
So, here is how the Chinvat Bridge works: The dead begin crossing the Bridge, in an attempt to get to Heaven. Those who lived a good life find the bridge to be very wide, as wide as seven spears. These people travel into Heaven; a beautiful, pleasing scent filled, light, and happy Heaven. Those who sided with evil in life discover a different bridge; it is actually moving, or turning sideways, and the side offered to them is as narrow as a razor’s edge. The evil people cannot stand upon the edge and fall straight into hell; a stinking, rotten, pain infested and filthy Hell.
There is a final judgment too, of the entire universe. Angra Mainyu, or “The destructive Spirit,” is defeated in a final battle with Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda’s victory includes flooding the world with molten metal, thus purging it from all evil. Too, a brand new universe will come into being.
According to wikipedia: Small Zoroastrian communities still exist in India, Pakistan, and Iran. Zoroastrian communities can also be found in major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora.