Equinox, Ostara, Norouz and other worldwide celebrations welcome spring

Springtime tree branches covered in pink blossoms

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

MONDAY, MARCH 20 and TUESDAY, MARCH 21: Across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are looking toward spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient phenomenon fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz.
  • For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme throughout is joy in the promises of new life; a specific joy that comes with the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans reflecting on the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

THE NORTH WELCOMES SPRING (VERNAL EQUINOX)

On March 20 at 10:29 UTC, the 2017 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Green shoots sprouted grass in container, tied with pink ribbon, sitting on brown half-wall seat

Spring sprouts for Norooz. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year, many families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

A BAHA’I NEW YEAR: NAW-RUZ

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and that fast is broken for Naw-Ruz: the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

Wire basket of differently-colored, natural eggs

Eggs are a common symbol of springtime. Photo by woodleywonderworks, courtesy of Flickr

A PAGAN AND WICCAN SPRING: OSTARA

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Categories: Baha'iInterfaithInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Norooz: Zoroastrians mark ‘New Day’ with symbolic table, legendary king

Small round table with wine glasses filled with fruits, puddings and sprouted beans

A Norooz table set with haft-sin items. Photo courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JULY 19, and SUNDAY, AUGUST 18: The International Day of Noruz arrived in March, but for the world’s Zoroastrians, the greatest festival of renewal doesn’t come until summer—today, for those following the Qadami (ancient) calendar, and in approximately one month, on August 18, for those following the Shenshai calendar. Among the world’s oldest major religions, Zoroastrianism predates the Abrahamic religions and began with Zoroaster, a Persian prophet living in the 2nd century BCE. Today, Zoroastrians are scattered across India, Iran and numerous other countries, and New Year’s Day is met with much joy. (Learn more from the Heritage Institute.) Just as life on earth is continually renewed, so Zoroastrians believe—particularly on Norooz—that friendships, home and self must also be renewed, and this symbolism extends to the frashno-kereti, or future resurrection of righteous souls.

Note: Spellings vary greatly, with Norooz, Nawruz and Noruz being among the most popular. In Persian or Farsi, now means “new” and ruz means “day,” thus today is “new day.”

Preparations for Norooz—officially, Jamshedi Noruz—begin weeks prior, with extensive house cleaning and the sprouting of seeds for the haft-sin table. On New Year’s Day, family and friends gather around a table set with seven items whose names begin with the sound “s” or “sh,” and each of these items represent renewal, growth, or the bitterness and sweetness of life. Items customarily include green sprouts, pudding made from sprouted grain, vinegar, apples, garlic, sumac seasoning and small fruits.

THE LEGEND OF KING JAMSHID AND THE SERVICE OF JASHAN

Most of Iran celebrates Noruz as a secular holiday in March, but Zoroastrians trace religious roots—and a king named Jamshid, which earns their holiday the popular name, “Jamshedi Noruz.” Jamshid ushered in Iran’s first golden age, and according to legend, he invented most of the arts and sciences on which civilization today is based. He is credited with construction of the ancient city of Persepolis. (Learn more from the Smithsonian.) Legend has it that when Jamshid reached the zenith of his rule, the day came when his throne was raised into the air and he flew through the sky. This day, the first of the month of Farvardin, would become Nawroz. Today, adherents hold a jashan religious service in the days following Noruz.

NEWS: TOWER OF SILENCE, ANCIENT FIREPOTS & A VETERAN JOURNALIST

Controversies continue as Zoroastrians around the globe struggle to keep their traditions alive: in Mumbai, acres surrounding the Towers of Silence are facing threats from encroaching development. The Towers of Silence serve as deep, circular wells where decomposing bodies are left to the sun and vultures—in keeping with Zoroastrian philosophy of honor for the natural elements. Once a relatively remote area, the site now is more of a protected historical park and nature preserve in the midst of urban sprawl. Not surprisingly, tensions arise around preserving this unique ecosystem and sacred site. Read more in this article from the Mumbai Mirror.

Zoroastrian structures continue to play a vital role in modern societies, as is shown by a recently announced screenwriters’ contest centered around Baku, the capital and largest city in Azerbaijan. The oldest center of the world’s oil industry, Baku is renowned for the Flame Towers skyscrapers, shaped as such to symbolize the city’s history of Zoroastrian fire worshiping. Several fire temples still exist in the bustling city.

Stepping back millennia, three ancient firepot bases were recently unearthed in a southern Iranian province, representing, experts say, architecture of the Sassanid era. The items were crafted for use at a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Zoroastrian numbers are slowly decreasing worldwide, and headlines last month covered the death of a well-known devotee: cricket reporter Dicky Rutnagur. After having learned the game in India, Rutnagur went on to report on it for decades, spending 40 years with the Daily Telegraph. Rutnager died at age 82.

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Categories: International Observances

Equinox springs with Nowruz, Naw-Ruz, New Year

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Noruz_New_Year.jpgDepiction of an Iranian family celebrating Nowruz around the Haftsin table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commonshttp://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0320_chart_of_Equinox.jpgWEDNESDAY and THURSDAY, MARCH 20 and 21: Spring has sprung as the planet passes through the vernal equinox. For millions of families around the world, this also marks the New Year usually called Nowruz or Naw-Ruz. Spellings in English vary widely but the roots are the same—deep in the cultures of the region now known as Iran. More than 3,000 years ago in that part of the world, Zoroaster pointed his followers toward patterns of celestial movement.

Today, versions of this New Year’s tradition are celebrated by Zoroastrians, Sufis, Ismailis, Alawites, Baha’is—and others. In 2010, the United Nations recognized that these religious and cultural communities are minorities around the world, often persecuted or in the midst of other conflicts. So, the UN declared an International Day of Nowruz and called on all who observe the holiday to celebrate with a focus on peace and goodwill.

A GLOBAL ‘NEW DAY’: Though rooted in Iran and Persia, Norouz is now experienced throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and with festivals in North America, Europe and Asia. The Iran Heritage Foundation will host its annual Norouz Gala in London this year, while the House of Iran Nowruz Celebration will take place in San Diego; Chicago will host its own annual Nowruz Parade, and the Iranian Association of Boston will host a New Year’s bash. (Get an overview at Asia Society. Kids can get an age-appropriate breakdown of global Noruz at Asia Society Kids.)

HOW OLD IS NOWRUZ? Some texts point to Nowruz celebrations nearly 15,000 years ago, although the exact origins are impossible to confirm. (Wikipedia has details.) Nonetheless, the Shahnameh (a poem regarded as the national epic of Iranian culture) dates Nowruz back to the reign of Jamshid—a mythical Persian king who saved mankind from a winter so harsh that it was destined to kill every living creature. Legend has it that the king constructed himself a throne of gems and that, when the harsh winter had passed, he had demons raise him from the earth to the heavens. The world’s creatures gazed at King Jamshid in wonder, calling this the “New Day,” or Nowruz.

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Noruz_Haftsin_Table.jpgA portion of a Haftsin tableIRANIAN NOWRUZ: For families observing these ancient customs, preparations have been underway for weeks! Just days ago, the children of Iran wrapped up pre-Nowruz traditions by parading through the streets in burial shrouds (while begging for candy from neighbors), in imitation of the ancient Iranian ritual of mourning the end of life at the end of the year.

THE HAFTSIN TABLE: Once again, English spellings vary widely in describing the symbolic table setting for the Persian New Year: Haftsin and Haft-Seen are among the renderings you’ll find. Wikipedia has settled on Haft-Seen as its standardized spelling. These gorgeous table settings often feature eggs, fruit and cakes—and the seven “S’s.” The Haftsin table, which varies slightly by region, contains seven objects that begin with the Persian sound of “s”: senjed (dried fruit); sir (garlic); serkeh (vinegar); sonbol (hyacinth flower); sekkeh (coins); sazbeh (green wheat sprouts); and samanau (sweet pudding).

Following 12 days of visits to family and friends, the 13th day commences as a day to picnic in the country. Nicknamed “the lie of the thirteenth,” it’s popular to tell white lies on the 13th day of Norouz, similar to the Western April Fool’s Day.

WORLDWIDE BAHA’I CELEBRATION OF NAW-RUZ

Baha’is approach this holiday in a different way. Regular readers of this column will recall that Baha’is have been engaged in a 19-Day Fast. On the evening of March 20, Baha’is gather with family and friends for an elaborate Now-Ruz dinner. Learn more from Wikipedia or the Baha’i Library Online. (And Naw-Ruz is currently fixed on March 21 for Baha’is outside of the Middle East.)

Prayers are recited as the faithful enter the “spiritual springtime.” Baha’is who fasted adhered to the words of Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’l-Baha: “Fasting is the cause of awakening man.” Feeling refreshed, Baha’is follow the Now-Ruz dinner by suspending work and school to celebrate a day of Baha—that is, splendor, glory and the Day of God. While commemorating prophets and figures of the world’s major religions, Baha’is spend the additional 18 days of their first month of the year feasting, dancing and playing music. (Access Naw-Ruz prayers here.)

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Noruz_Zoroastrian.jpgZoroastrian mythology tells that at the spring equinox, the perpetually fighting bull (earth) and lion (sun) are equal. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsZOROASTRIAN NOWRUZ

Founded by an astronomer, the Zoroastrian religion began thousands of years ago and many credit it as the starting point of modern Nowruz celebrations. Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) pointed out the movement of the sun toward Aries—which thereby signaled the spring equinox and new season of regeneration—and followers across Western and Central Asia participated in Nowruz for centuries. (Learn more from the Heritage Institute.)

The ancients offered their god, Ahura Mazda, seven trays of symbolic objects that represented such virtues as truth and justice; the tradition continues today in elements of the Haft-Seen table. Of notable difference between the Zoroastrian Iranian Haft-Seen table and the Muslim/Iranian table is the presence of wine: “shin” was changed to “sin” with the Islamic disapproval of sharab, or wine. Zoroastrians today continue to place wine on the Nowruz table, along with a copy of the sacred book, a picture of Zarathustra, coins, fruits, sprouts, a mirror and a bowl of goldfish. The original, pre-Persian table also included milk, nectar and compote.

PAGAN / WICCAN OSTARA

As the northern hemisphere welcomes the onset of spring, modern Pagans and Wiccans celebrate Ostara. Themes of renewal and new beginnings are lifted up as adherents commemorate the sacred marriage of the Sun God and the young Maiden Goddess. (Wicca.com has more.) Stories tell that the Maiden Goddess conceives and that springtime symbols, such as the rabbit and egg, symbolize her fertility. Most Pagans and Wiccans partake in leafy greens, sprouts and dairy foods during this festival, participating in activities that emphasize the beauty and bounty of nature.

NOWRUZ ROUNDUP: NEWS AND RESOURCES

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Nowruz_food.jpgTraditional dishes on a Nowruz tableHungry for a taste of Persian cuisine? Try a recipe for Persian New Year’s Soup, courtesy of epicurious. The recipe’s author, esteemed food writer Louisa Shafia, will also be releasing The New Persian Kitchen next month: check out this interview for her firsthand take on Persian culture, the role of food in holidays like Norouz and the challenges of keeping tradition alive in the Diaspora.

In Los Angeles, the Persian community will kick off the New Year with a cause: the Midnight Mission homeless shelter. After handing out clothes and toys, the Persian community will underwrite Midnight Mission’s meal service for 13 days—the number of days the holiday lasts in Iran.

Across the world in Shiraz, Iran, volunteers have cooked 220 kg of samanoo for distribution to the needy. The sweet paste, used for the Haftsin table, is made of germinated wheat and traditionally cooked by women in an all-night gathering.

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Categories: Baha'iFaiths of IndiaInterfaithInternational Observances

Is December 21 the Mayan end of the world?

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-1217_Celebrating_the_Mayan_Apocalypse.jpgCLICK ON THIS COLLECTION OF MAYAN-RELATED IMAGES TO VISIT THE NASA PAGE EXPLAINING THE ERRORS THAT LED TO THIS ANXIETY.END OF WORLD NEWS FLASHES
FROM SPIRITUAL WANDERER,
GLEE, THE VATICAN, NASA
AND THE NEW YORK BAR SCENE
AS WE ALL COLLIDE WITH
SOLSTICE, YULE, SOYAL, YAIDA
SATURNALIA & PANCHA GANAPATI

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21: At 11:12 a.m., the Sun reaches its highest point relative to the Earth’s equator—a moment when the ancients said the Sun seemed to stand still. Thus, Sol (Latin for Sun) and sistere (to stand still).
But the big question in 2012 is:
Will the world end?

All we can say at ReadTheSpirit online magazine is: Thank goodness for friends like Spiritual Wanderer Rodney Curtis, who sent cheery family greetings to our magazine offices just in time to give us hope on the verge of the Mayan Apocalypse! Like millions of other Americans, we had watched the new Mayan-themed holiday episode of the TV series Glee—in which two worried teenagers decide to get married even though they are still in high school. If the world does end on December 21, these kids reason, at least they will have a few days of wedded bliss.

Every where you look, tongue-in-cheek anxiety is rising—including the trend-setting New York City bar scene where “Last Call” will take on a whole new meaning this week. At least that’s true according to a report in the New York Daily News.

VATICAN ‘RUBBISHES PREDICTIONS’

Things are getting so crazy that the head of the Vatican Observatory was forced to weigh in—via the Vatican-run newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. You can Google the original Rome-based report, but it’s much more colorful to read British newspaper reports on Father Jose Funes’ assurances. The Vatican astronomer rubbishses such reports!

NASA SAYS:
LOOK AT YOUR OWN CALENDAR!

Father Funes is not alone, among serious scientists. NASA has posted a page explaining away Mayan anxieties with a very practical way of pointing out the error that produced these fears: Simply look at your own calendar! NASA writes, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then—just as your new calendar begins again on January 1—another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”

AND, GO ASK THE MAYANS

That’s what HarperOne did—three years ago—in publishing The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012. Talk about an ultimate Spoiler Alert! This comes from page 2 of the book, written by Guatemalan author and Mayan spokesman Carlos Barrios:

Just as the world did not end in the year 2000 at the start of the new millennium, it won’t end with the advent of Job Ajaw in 2012. An unfounded fear was created before based the new millennium by religious leaders who based their theories on misguided interpretations of ancient religious texts and predictions made by famous prophets. The same fear is rising again. The true guardians of our tradition have never been consulted about this date, but we are here to say: December 21, 2012, will not be the end of the world or the end of humanity. In fact, it will be the start of a period in which harmony, undersanding, peace and wisdom can reign.

Note that Job Ajaw is one of the Mayan cycles of time that, according to Barrios, last thousands of years. So, December 12, 2012, is an auspicious date in the Mayan cosmic calendar—but it actually carries optimistic predictions of a global movement toward a more “harmonious natural order” between “Earth and humanity,” Barrios writes. Our Recommendation: Click on the book cover and order a copy from Amazon now. If you do it today, you should get your book well before December 21. The 356 pages are packed with a fascinating introduction to Mayan culture—plus enough intriguing chapters on “Mayan Signs” to rival your favorite volume on Nostradamus.

SERIOUS CONCERNS AMID THE FUN

As Americans, we love to scare ourselves silly—and the world apparently loves to be scared by American movies and television shows. That’s what happened a few years ago when John Cusack and a wild-eyed Woody Harrelson starred in the special-effects-laden 2012: We Were Warned. If you’re planning a Solstice party, you might grab a copy of the film, turn down all the lights and enjoy screaming with your friends.

But seriously—the world’s population is not as media savvy as most Americans have become these days. News reports from some regions of China and Russia say that 2012-disaster hysteria has gripped entire towns and, in some cases, institutions. Apparently, in one example, the inmates of a Russian women’s prison became so crazed with end-of-the-world rumors that officials had to bring in counselors to dispel the myths. If you’ve got lots of time to explore the wide range of 2012 predictions, Wikipedia has a truly engrossing page about the many facets of this frenzy. Again, bottom line: Wikipedia says any claims of a Mayan end-of-world prediction are a complete misreading of Mayan culture.

DECEMBER 21: THE SOLSTICE

Humans have been in awe of the Solstice throughout our entire history on the planet. No one knows the exact origins of Stonehenge, but the arrangement of enormous stones dates back at least 4,000 years. While the official UK guardians of the site restrict where visitors can walk around the great stones, the Winter Solstice is one day when greater freedom usually is permitted. While December 21 does mark the return of ever-lengthening daylight—ancient peoples recognized that months of deep winter and often famine were arriving with the year’s shortest day. It’s the sort of annual milestone that naturally makes humans fall to their knees in awe and prayer.

DECEMBER 21 AND YULE OR JUL OR JOL? OR SOYAL?

Modern pagans across the U.S. and northern Europe often celebrate various Yule (or Jul or Jol) customs. Most of these new “traditions” have been re-created in recent decades to approximate festivals that pagan groups say were once popular from what is now America across the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. A host of individual pagan organizations promote festivities, rituals and invocations to nature’s ancient spirits. While the history and authenticity of pagan rites can be debated, the timeless roots of this response to the Solstice still can be seen in the Zuni and Hopi communities of the American Southwest. In those cultures, the ceremonies are known as Soyal.

THE REST OF THE WORLD: SATURNALIA, YALDA and PANCHA GANAPATI

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-1210_Ganesh_for_Pancha_Ganapati.jpgAn illusration from the Hinduism Today guide to Pancha Ganapati. Click this image to visit the magazine’s free download page.Most American churchgoers are aware from annual TV specials, news media and even occasional sermons that the date of Christmas is related to the Solstice—and ancient Christian efforts to replace the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia with something more appropriate to their faith. Catholic pilgrims to the Vatican, for example, also like to tour the ruins of the Roman Forum where the Temple of Saturn once stood—the ancient focus of Saturnalia in the imperial city. (Wikipedia has much more about Saturnalia.)

Solstice taps into the world’s deepest spiritual traditions—one of which continues to blossom from Persia, now dominated by Iranian Muslims. However, that branch of Persian culture still expressed in the Zoroastrian faith and the ancient Roman-era mystery religion known as Mythraism still marks the Solstice festival of Yalda. (Once again, Wikipedia has an entry.) The mythology revolving around Yalda focuses on the other-worldly power of light. Candles and sweet fruits are part of enduring Yalda customs.

Finally, Hindus in the U.S. have tried to promote their own Christmas alternative, known as Pancha Ganapati: That’s now a five-day festival from December 21 to 25, focused on the elephant deity Lord Ganesh—and on promoting harmonious time among Indian families who find themselves with time off work, school and other commitments. Wikipedia has a page on this, but the best source of information is a free, full-color PDF you can download and print from Hinduism Today Magazine.

The colorful Hinduism Today introduction to the festival begins with these words: Think of this as the Hindu Christmas, a modern winter holiday full of family-centered happenings, but with five days of gifts for the kids, not one. From December 21 to 25 Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of culture and new beginnings. Family members work to mend past mistakes and bring Ganesha’s blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, a wider circle each day: family, friends, associates, culture and religion.

AND NOW—we have truly circled the globe, sketched the many-faceted traditions that will surface in hopeful displays of light at the Solstice. Aren’t you less worried, now?

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: ChristianFaiths of IndiaInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Zoroastrian: Praise life & death on Ghambar Paitishem

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_912_Zoroastrian_vulture.jpgVultures, vital to Zoroastrian funeral rites, are nearly extinct in some areas of India. Devotees find possible hope in a new proposal. Photo in public domainWEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12: Followers of the world’s first major monotheistic religion mark Ghambar Paitishem today, or the festival celebrating the creation of the earth and the harvesting of the winter crop.

Beyond Nowruz—New Year—six seasonal festivals divide the year for Zoroastrians, including today’s Paitishem. For these festivals, believed to have been instituted by Zoroaster, communities gather for a shared meal and conversation. (Learn more from the Heritage Institute.) It’s customary for families to donate food anonymously, and for devotees to leave the community meal with a bag of dried fruit and nuts for good fortune.

Since its origins thousands of years ago, Zoroastrianism has met its share of obstacles. Through the centuries, the faith’s strict code forbidding “outsider” converts has shrunk the numbers of followers. This code now is interpreted with some leeway, as leaders fear the ancient religion’s extinction.

ZOROASTRIAN CRISIS: VANISHING VULTURES

Also, for the past three decades, Parsi Zoroastrians in India have encountered some unique yet crucial problems with their funeral rites: Requirements to expose the deceased to birds and natural elements for disposal have become all but impossible, given the vanishing population of vultures and spikes in human population. (Zoroastrians view burial or cremation of bodies as pollution.)

National Public Radio reports that a drug given to Indian cattle killed vultures that fed on them. By 2007, the number of vultures in Mumbai had crashed by 99 percent. Eager to keep up their rituals, Zoroastrians brought in solar concentrators to speed up dehydration on their Tower of Silence, but conditions became so hot that even smaller birds were scared away. Problems surmounted, but luckily, hope is in the future: After successes at several bird reserves, a recent proposal has suggested the creation of a vulture sanctuary in Doongerwadi. Optimists hope the vulture population will bounce back and, therefore, help to retain ancient Zoroastrian ways.

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Categories: International Observances

Zoroastrian: Conserve water! It’s Gahambar Maidyoshem

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_612_Zoro_water.jpgPhoto in public domainFRIDAY, JUNE 29: Give thanks today for something you may take for granted: water.
It’s the Zoroastrian Gahambar (seasonal festival) of Maidyoshem that celebrates the creation of water, the sowing of the summer crop and the harvesting of grain. Zoroastrians observe this Gahambar with a community meal, but we all can learn something from Maidyoshem. Why? Because we all are affected by the global shortage of usable water. (Learn more from the World Water Council.)

Aside from Nowruz, nothing is more vital in the fire-central Zoroastrian religion than the six Gahambars throughout the year. For these festivals, each individual or family donates food anonymously, in accordance with financial abilities. (Get details from the Heritage Institute.) After everyone has eaten, participants are given small bags of dried fruits and nuts to take home; these bags of dried food are nicknamed “ajil” or “lork,” and the names translate into a larger phrase which means “problem-solving nuts.”

Astronomers recently found an abundance of water on Mars, which indicates that the red planet quite possibly sustained life at on time (check out an article here); however, it’s Earth’s water status that has most residents of this planet concerned. According to the World Water Council, the world’s population tripled in the 20th century—but the use of renewable water grew six-fold. By not utilizing water in an efficient manner, 1.1 billion people suffer from lack of access to clean water and thousands of children die; environmental imbalances occur, and water stress leaves natural resources in crisis. The World Water Vision Report says, “the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people—and the environment—suffer badly.”

What can you do to help the world today, and to prevent a serious crisis in the future?

Eat less meat! Your doctor already tells you to eat more vegetables, and here’s another good reason: growing 1 kg of potatoes requires 100 liters of water, but 1 kg of beef requires 13,000 liters.

Go organic! Studies show that organic crops can survive with up to 30 percent less water than conventional crops.

Time your shower! Save hundreds of gallons of water per year by cutting just a couple of minutes from your daily shower.

Don’t be careless! Utilize grey water if you can; collect rainwater for uses other than drinking.

After all, the World Water Forum says: “Water is everybody’s business.”

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Categories: International Observances

Zoroastrian: Observe ‘Greater Noruz’ on Khordad Sal

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_312_Zoroastrian_Khordad_Sal.jpg A Zoroastrian fire temple. Photo in public domainMONDAY, MARCH 26: The Persian New Year (Noruz or Norouz, spellings vary) events are coming to a close for most Middle Eastern cultures, but for Zoroastrians, they’re coming to a peak: Today is Khordad Sal, the celebrated birthday of Zoroaster and holiday better known as “Greater Noruz.” Six days after Noruz, Zoroastrians joyously mark the symbolic birthday of the founder of their faith (the actual birth date of Zoroaster is unknown). Devotees pray at fire temples; feast at ghambars; and wear new clothes. (Wikipedia has details.) Most modern Zoroastrians live in India, although smaller communities exist around the world. (Want to read about other Norouz and New Year festivities from other cultures? Here’s our helpful index of recent related stories.)

Historians agree Zarathustra was born in the first millennium BCE, and Zoroastrianism began in Iran. It’s believed that many important events in Iran’s history occurred on Khordad Sal, although since most Zoroastrians now live elsewhere, this day is now celebrated only as the prophet’s birthday. (Read more at Festivals of India.) Parsi Zoroastrians, most of whom live in India, understand this festival’s importance when reading references to Khordad Sal in their religious texts. Zoroastrians who follow the Qadimi calendar observe Khordad Sal in the summer (this year, in July).

As Zoroastrian numbers continue to dwindle, courts battle ancient rules in the 21st century. (TIME Magazine covered this topic in 2008.) Tradition forbids women who marry non-Parsi Zoroastrians from ever again entering fire temples, and as more and more followers enter interfaith marriages, leaders question the religion’s ability to continue in the world. Still, tradition is upheld, at this point: a woman in India, married to a non-Parsi, was recently denied the right to enter a fire temple—even in the event of the last rites of her aging parents. (Read more in the Times of India.) Even while the woman’s father was a trustee of the fire temple the woman had hoped to regain entry into, judges refused to grant permission, on the basis that there was no declaration that the woman had continued to follow Zoroastrian religion after her marriage.

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Categories: International Observances