Zoroastrian dietary laws, animal friendship and stewardship
To say that Dietary laws are not part of the original Zoroastrian teachings and that ALL KIND FOOD IS ALLOWED in Zoroastrianism is nothing more than unsubstantiated SHEER NONSENSE. Such baseless statement means only one thing: To eat and kill whatever animal imaginable without any boundaries or restrictions. While such behavior was true for the ancient Romans and is certainly true for many population groups in the Far East and parts of Africa today; nothing is further from the noble teachings of the ancient Aryan sage and prophet than to slaughter and devour whatever imaginable animal for the pleasure and satisfaction of the mortal mankind.
Fundamental to Zarathushtra’s philosophy is the tender loving care, friendship and stewardship of gentle/graceful animals, pets and livestock; (See the 3rd rhymed verse line, second stanza Yasna 28.1, the second rhymed verse line, second stanza Yasna 31.10, the second rhymed verse line, second stanza Yasna 33.3 and the 5th rhymed verse line Yasna 46.4.)
Zarathushtra teaches that animals have a SOUL and consciousness, (the 3rd rhymed verse line, second stanza Yasna 28.1, the first rhymed verse line, first stanza Yasna 29.1, the second rhymed verse line, first stanza Yasna 29.5, the first rhymed verse line, first stanza Yasna 29.9, Yasna 39.1.)
We read in the second rhymed verse line of Yasna 32.12; that “Ma(n)zda has spoken ill omen and ruin for those who kill animals with cries of joy.” This prophecy of perdition applies to individuals, cultures and nations who kill animals mercilessly and treat them with cruelty. The ancient prophet strongly condemns gruesome animal sacrifices and shudders away from the demonic idea that sacrificing animals assures human health, well being and long life, (See the 3rd rhymed verse line, Yasna 32.14.)
The seer/sage takes a very strong stand against the unrestrained slaughter and ill treatment of animals, (See the second rhymed verse line, Yasna 29.1, the second rhymed verse line, Yasna 29.7, the first rhymed verse line, Yasna 32.10, the first rhymed verse line, Yasna 32.12, the second rhymed verse line, Yasna 51.14.)
Furthermore, ravenous meat-eating is strictly prohibited per the second rhymed verse line of Yasna 29.7, (See the Südgar Commentary.)
Zarathushtra even defines EVIL; “as willful blindness in matters of the spirit/mind, and not offering protection/stewardship to the creatures,” (See the third rhymed verse line, Yasna 48.10, per the ancient commentaries.)
Thus, to say that there are no dietary rules and restrictions in Zoroastrianism, and that Zarathushtra did not provide spiritual guidelines to protect animals from cruelty, ill treatment and unrestrained slaughter runs contradictory to the very heart and soul of the poetic gathas.
Avestan Sages, per the second rhymed verse line of Yasna 32.8, have concluded that the flesh of cow, ox, bull, steer, cattle and wild cattle or “Gáüsh” are not permissible for consumption, (Compare Avetan “Gáüsh” with Proto Indo European gwous, Sanskrit gáús, Latvian guovs, Armenian gaus, German. Kuh, Swedish. Ko, Greek. Bous, English cow or bovine.)
This prohibition is extended to cows of the north, (deer, caribou/reindeer, moose and elk,) bison, buffalo, water buffalo, yak, wild cattle, antelope and gazelle. (For Prohibition against consumption of all forms of wild cattle see Bahram Yasht 22-23.)
Yet, dairy products of cattle such as milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and ghee are not only allowed but are highly recommended, provided that cattle range freely, are treated very well, that their milk goes to their young first, and that they are fed a strictly wholesome vegetarian diet. Also there is no prohibition against using cows/cattle as working animals; the emphasis is only on their kind and good treatment, (Regarding the benevolent status of the cow see also Bahram Yasht 6-7, Tishtar Yasht 16-17.)
The notion of the sacredness of the cow/cattle as the primeval source of all creation among the ancient Aryans can be compared with the Norse Auðumbla myths. In the sacred verses of Zarathushtrá, it is Yimá who forswears GD and feasts on the flesh of the Gáüsh. In the Norse Mythology we read of Ymir and the primeval cow at the beginning of creation. We read in the Eddas: Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance? From the cow called Auðumla, (“Hvar bygði Ymir, eða við hvat lifði hann? Hár svarar: “Næst var þat þá er hrímit draup at þar varð af kýr sú er Auðhumla hét.”)
The eating of male sheep is reluctantly allowed in the Zoroastrian tradition, while the slaughter of female sheep is strictly prohibited. A sheep cannot be milked and killed at the same time. Furthermore, it is a great sin to take the young from their mother or to slaughter the young or old sheep. If a sheep is used for his wool, it no longer can be consumed as food, but milking a sheep and using her wool at the same time is permissible. Furthermore, the consumption of meat must be occasional and not a regular, every day event.
Avestan sages inspired by Bahram Yasht 24-25, have concluded that goat (a highly curious and intelligent animal) is not permissible for consumption, only goat’s butter, milk, cheese and wool are allowed for use. In the aforementioned Avestan passage, the “Angel of Victory” among other zodiac forms, takes the shape of a büzá, (Old English bucca; buck, goat/male goat.) However, this positive view of goats is not shared by the Christian tradition. Popular Christian folk tradition associate Satan with imagery of goats. A common superstition in the Middle Ages was that goats whispered lewd sentences in the ears of the saints. The common medieval depiction of the Devil is that of a goat-like face with horns and small beard (a goatee).
Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the World. Yet pigs and wild boar are known for their wit, intelligence and good/gentle nature in Zoroastrianism,(See Bahram Yasht 14-15, Mehr Yasht 127.) Pigs are considered as loving pets with spiritual significance in the Zoroastrian culture. Also, in the Vedic literature, Vishnu takes the form of a boar named Varaha to save the Earth. Also, the story of Freyr’s golden boar in the Norse mythology stresses the innate goodness of pigs/boars in a similar fashion. Pigs/wild boars are not permissible at all for consumption in Zoroastrianism.
Rabbit/hare is especially holy in Zoroastrianism and has been named as the spiritual chief/counsel or ratü of animals. Rabbit/hare is said to bring good luck/fortune. The consumption of rabbit is strictly prohibited in Zoroastrianism.
The prohibition against the killing of Gáüsh in the second rhymed verse line of Yasna 32.8 is also extended to all large sea and land mammals and even large fish (gaav mahi.) The notion of sacredness, hence prohibition against consumption of sea mammals e.g. whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters and sea lions is emphasized yet again in Yasna 42.4, (See also Vendidad Chapter 14.)
Fish as a “brain food” is a food favorite. Prohibitions against eating meat do not include fish. For example, meat is forbidden during the whole 11th month and 4 days in each month of the Zoroastrian year, but fish are permitted. But, only small to medium size bony fishes are proper for consumption e.g. sardines, trout, salmon, halibut. But stricter Zoroastrians, during no meat days and the 11th month of the Zoroastrian calendar avoid fish with spines, while permitting shrimps, crustaceans and shellfish or “fish without blood.”
However, if the Fish are raised in cramped, unnatural, and unsanitary conditions, it is improper to consume them. Furthermore, large size bony fish species known under the category of gaav mahi are not permitted. Especially Sacred are all Sea Mammals; whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and sea otter, hence their commercial use of any kind is strictly prohibited, (See Yasna 42.4, Vendidad Chpt 14.) Killer and predatory fishes, e.g. sharks fall into the noxious creature category and are improper for consumption. Also, improper are all marine reptiles and bottom fish.
Beavers like Sea Otters and Seals enjoin a very high status in Zoroastrianism, they are most holy animals and their meat or fur is strictly prohibited, (See Yasna 42.4, 10th Yasht or the hymn to the waters and Vendidad Chpt 14.)
Rooster is considered as an especially sacred animal in Zoroastrianism, its slaughter, ill treatment and sacrifice is strictly prohibited, See Vendidad chapter 18.16 16. Likewise, in the old central European folk tales the devil is believed to flee at the first crowing of a rooster.
If the eggs of a chicken are used, that chicken can no longer be killed for her flesh. Furthermore, either eggs or flesh of chicken can be used only if the chicken ranges freely, is treated kindly and is fed a strictly wholesome vegetarian diet. Furthermore, pet chickens cannot be killed for food. The same rules applies to geese and duck. All game birds, water birds, wild birds, birds of prey are not permissible for consumption. For example, swans, pigeons, dove, are improper for consumption.
Crows/ravens show remarkable intelligence, hence are considered sacred in Zoroastrianism and cannot be eaten or treated badly. Owls are a symbol of wisdom in Zoroastrianism and are sacred birds. Owls like cats play an important role in fighting small rodents such as mice, rats, insects and other noxious creatures; Owl is named as the spiritual chief/counsel or ratü of all birds in Avesta. Vultures are very sacred in Zoroastrianism for they play a crucial/most important role in the natural disposition of the carcasses of the dead and the purity of the elements.
Avestan Sages per the third rhymed verse line of Yasna 44.18, have banned both the meat and milk of horses. Horses are noble animals and have great spiritual significance in our religion. This dietary prohibition and admonition for benevolent treatment of horses is extended to donkeys, mules, and zebras as well. The sacredness of horses as noble companion animals is well attested in Tishtar Yasht 18-19, Bahram Yasht 8-9; and the 9th Yasht or Drv-asp entire.
I should add that horse sacrifice was a common Vedic practice which was utterly despised by the prophet Zarathushtra. Horse meat is part of the cuisine of countries as widespread as Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Slovenia and Kazakhstan. Horsemeat is also popular in Iceland and is sold and consumed in the same way as beef, lamb and pork. Horse meat is avoided in the Balkans, as horse is considered to be a noble animal.
Dog is a most holy animal in Zoroastrianism, (See the Chapter 13 of Vendidad.) In fact dogs and horses enjoy a number of legal privileges and special rights in the Zoroastrian jurisprudence. Dogs are not at all permissible for consumption and their most kind treatment is enjoined upon every Zoroastrian. Yet, in Southeast Asia especially Vietnam, parts of China (e.g. Guangxi) and Korea dogs are slaughtered with no mercy. Dogs are also treated very badly in the great majority of moslem countries.
Cat meat is eaten in China, Vietnam, and some rural Swiss cultures. Some restaurants in Vietnam advertise cat meat as “little tiger”, and cats in cramped cages can be seen in markets and inside restaurants. Yet, Zoroastrianism strictly prohibits the eating of cats. Cats like owls play a very important role in the destruction of rodents, snakes, noxious creatures, pests and are considered as useful and very special pets.
The Avestan Sages per the previously mentioned third rhymed verse line of Yasna 44.18 attribute a similar high status as horse to camel as a great animal friend. Bactrian camel was a great help in the cold Eurasian steppes and mountains during the Avestan times. Other passages in Avesta also point to the goodness, helpfulness and great passion of Camel, (See also Bahram Yasht 10-13.) Hence, camels should be treated with kindness and respect. Camels are animal friends and companions in our religion, not food. The protective measures and prohibitions against consumption of camel meat or milk shall be extended to Ilama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña in modern times.
In sharp contrast to the Zoroastrian view, the eating of camel is traditional in Mongolia as well as in the Arabian heartland. The camel hump in particular is considered a delicacy and eaten on special occasions by the Arabs.
The largest land mammal/Elephant is a symbol of wisdom, wit and mind in the Zoroastrian literature and is abhorrent to think of elephants as food in our religion. Although, as labor animals they are allowed, provided they are treated with benevolence and most kindly. Yet, People in Thailand eat elephant meat to supposedly improve their sex lives. Elephants are also hunted mercilessly in Central and West Africa for their meat.
Zoroastrian perception of BEARS is very positive and bears are closely identified with the human race in the Avestan “book of the origins” or chithr-daat, due to bear’s great intelligence and ability to stand on his 2 feet. Bear is called arakhsh in Avesta, (Compare with Sanskrit r̥kṣa, Greek arktos, Latin ursus, whence the female name Ursula comes from, Welsh arth, the male name Arthur comes from the same Welsh root.)
Arakhsh meaning “Bear” is a hero archer in the Avestan Tishtar Yasht and is survived in the popular male personal name “árash” in modern farsi. (Also, in Scandinavia, the male personal names Björn [Sweden, Iceland] and Bjørn [Norway, Denmark] meaning “bear” are relatively common.)
While, many peoplein China, Japan, Korea, even Alaska and Russia enjoy hunting bears and eating them; BEARS are protected against any ill treatment in Zoroastrianism and both their meat as food and fur as clothing is abhorred/forbidden. It is believed that more than 12,000 bears are kept under most cruel conditions on farms in China, Vietnam and South Korea., farmed for their bile and gallbladders.
Monkeys, especially monkey brains, are eaten with outmost cruelty in Southeast Asia (especially Indonesia). The consumption of monkeys and apes is quite common in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. In certain parts of Congo the hands and feet of gorillas are regarded as a delicacy.Yet, according to the Avestan Chithr-daat book of origins, there are 10 races of men and the 10th race are the monkeys, (See chapter 14, the Greater Búndahishn.) Hence, eating monkeys amounts to cannibalism in Zoroastrianism and is strictly forbidden.
Zoroastrianism abhors and strictly prohibits the consumption of khrafsstars. Khrafsstars are either pests such as ants, flies, mosquitoes, maggots, fleas, worms, mice, rats and other infestation causing creatures or simply creatures that belong to another previous cycle of creation and have survived into our cycle e.g. sharks, lizards, most amphibians and reptiles.
For example either the consumption of reptiles, such as crocodiles and snakes (mār) or using their skin as clothing, is strictly forbidden. The same abhorrence is extended to frogs (wazag.) In other cultures, foods such as frog legs and alligator are treasured as delicacies, and the animals are raised commercially. The eating of lizard (karbuunag) is strictly prohibited in our religion. Yet, lizards are eaten in Central America and in Africa. In North Africa, lizards are considered dhaab or ‘fish of the desert’ and eaten by nomadic tribes. In Arabian Heartland, lizards are considered a delicacy to this day.
Rats and mice (mūsh) are considered vermin and carriers of infestation and disease, hence noxious creatures and unfit for consumption. However, rats are commonly eaten in rural Thailand and Vietnam and other parts of Indochina. In Indonesia, live baby mice are eaten by sailors for physical strength. In Africa, some species of mice are a rich source of protein. The idea of having rats, mice (mūsh) or snakes (mār) as pets is not at all accepted in our religion. Cats (gōrba) are specially treasured, because the presence of cats in a place means the absence of noxious creatures such as rats, mice and snake from the same.
Ants (mōr) are specially despised in our religion. Yet, Ants and their larvae are eaten in different parts of the world. The eggs of two species of ants are used in Mexican escamoles. They are considered a form of insect caviar and can sell for a lot of money because they are seasonal and hard to find. In the Colombia large-bottomed ants are toasted alive and eaten. In areas of India, and throughout Burma and Thailand, a paste of the green weaver ant is served as a condiment with curry. Ant eggs and larvae as well the ants themselves may be used in a Thai salad, a dish that comes from the Issan or north-eastern region of Thailand.
In addition, according to Zoroastrian dietary laws the eating of worms (kirm,) flies/ maggots (magas,) locust (mayg,) mosquitoes (paxšag,) fleas, bugs is also strictly prohibited. Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly and inspected for bugs, worms and flies (which cannot be eaten.)
The concept of purity versus impurity central to Zoroastrianism, (See the third rhymed verse line of Yasna 48.5.) Cleanliness is Godliness and purification rites are an important part of all ceremonies. There are elaborate codes to preserve food and utensils from impurities such as skin, nail clippings, sweat, blood, and excreta. It is forbidden to eat or drink from a common cup and common utensils, unless among those who sleep together. There is strict prohibition against Mixture of the same utensils/cups/plates and foods. Different foods and drinks cannot be mixed by the use of the same utensils or cups.
In short, the Zoroastrian dietary laws greatly restrict the killing of animals as food. Of the few animals that may be eaten, they can be either killed (male sheep) or milked (female sheep) and never both. In case of chicken, geese, ducks; either their egg can be used as food or their flesh and never both. Above all, they must all range freely, be treated very well and kindly, fed a strict vegetarian diet. Animals used as pets or working animals can never be slaughtered or eaten as food. Animals cannot be killed when too young or old, the young cannot be taken from their mothers. Furthermore, ravenous meat-eating is prohibited.
The simple straightforward rule is to hold our animal friends as sacred; eat what is pure and fresh, not corrupted and rotten, and to avoid eating the noxious pests and creatures belonging to another cycle of creation.