Modern Iran is certainly a paragon of Islam but the country’s culture also has deep roots in the ancient mostly unrecorded Zoroastrian mythology. The key centers of the old religion, still regarded as holy and protector of the sacred flame, are in the city of Yazd and tucked away high on a mountain cliff further west at Pire Sabze Chak Chak, the Ka’ba of Zoroastrians.
The fire temple in Yazd is relatively modest in appearance but marshals a steady stream of visitors, both local and foreign. Supposedly, the protected altar contains a fire that has been kept alight continuously since 470 AD.
The religion’s beginnings and reach are vague. Herodotus' The Histories (completed c.440 BCE) includes a description of Greater Iranian society with allusion to Zoroastrian practices, including exposure of the dead to birds of prey. Whether Darius was a follower of Zoroaster has not been conclusively established, since devotion to the One Wise Lord apparently did not require explicit adherence to Zoroaster's teaching. But a number of the Zoroastrian texts and hymns that today are part of the Avesta have been attributed to that period. Sacred texts were believed lost when Alexander the Great's troops invaded Persepolis and subsequently destroyed the royal library there.
The hill at a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence nearby is configured to present the dead corpse to vultures that pick the bones clean. The remains are then dissolved in acid in accordance with Zoroastrian belief that the dead should not contaminate the earth. This early ecologically sensitive tradition sought to dispose of any material that might host evil spirits, so the dead must be disposed of "safely" and in a way that does not pollute the world.
Chak, Chak (Drip, Drip)
Located near the city of Ardakanin, Yazd Province, but "in the middle of nowhere", Chak Chak is a pilgrimage point for pious Zoroastrians even now. Each Spring, thousands of Zoroastrians from Iran, India and other countries flock to the fire temple here in Iran’s central desert. True pilgrims are to complete the last leg of their journey on foot once they see the temple buildings huddled on the cliffside.
Richard Bangs and Zoroaster, at Kaba of an ecological religion
Altar to Ahura Mazda
According to fellow travelers, one young teen apparently extinguished the flame in the central rock sanctuary while I lingered outside admiring the rock and gravelly sand panorama below. A frustrated caretaker expressed appropriate outrage and lectured the youthful malefactor but the world did not end, thank God. There is more fire from where the original came, and life and death continues.
The overland journey to Chak Chak, or "drip, drip", takes hours and on this occasion the silence of the cliffside gradually overtook the whole landscape as the sun sank on the distant horizon. Here, at nowhere, is a good place to think.
"Since, O Mazda, from the beginning, Thou didst create soul and body; mental power and knowledge and since Thou didst place life within the corporeal body and didst bestow to mankind the power to act, speak and guide, you wished that everyone should choose his or her own faith and path freely ." a hymn of Yasna, from the Gathas, of the Avesta (the library of Zoroaster).
The journey continues....