Zoroastrian end of the year bonfires to honor the sacred departed spirits


The eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian solar new year is marked by special customs and rituals, most notably jumping over fire.

Bundles are arranged in one, three, five, or seven bundles (always an odd number) spaced a few feet apart.

At sunset or soon after the bundles are set alight, and while the flames flicker in the dusk men, women, and children jump over them, singing. It is believed that this ritual renders them immune for a whole year to maladies and misfortunes that make people pale and thin.

The origin of this festivity certainly goes back to the ancient Zoroastrian religion. However, the festivity has undergone some major Un-Zoroastrian changes over time.

The most sacred day in the Zoroastrian religious calendar is the vernal equinox. Zoroastrians believed like the Celts that in the 10 days before the vernal equinox and especially during the last 5 days to the equinox, the spirit of their ancestors and other sacred spirits visited them here on earth.

In ancient Iran bonfires were kindled on high places such as rooftops and hilltops to honor the departed ancestors. Front doors and streets were lavishly decorated and illuminated (čeráḡánii) by great many oil lamps, candles and mirrors.

The holy rue seed (esfand) and/or frankincense (kondór) were burned to welcome all the saints as well as a necessary precaution against the evil eye and malevolent spirits and devils.

Ancient Iranians recited hymns and sacred verses to the holy fire, danced, had wine and made merry around the bonfires while burning incense into the sacred flames.

Banging spoons against plates or bowls, wearing disguise and going door to door to receive sweets nuts or fruit was and still is another ancient feature of this holiday. A comparison could be made to halloween festivities.

However, the choice of Wednesday as well as the ritual of jumping over fire. meaning originally to insult the holy fire, have originated after the Islamic conquest.

The choice of the last Wednesday of the year is prompted by an Arab superstition that Wednesdays are unlucky (Jāḥeẓ, p. 227).

Jumping over fire and/or bringing the sole of the foot into contact with the fire, or throwing anything but clean, fragrant fuel into the fire is strictly PROHIBITED in the Zoroastrian religion according to the ancient Südgar commentary of Yasna 34.4.

In fact, the Christian converts used to stamp on the fire with their foot as a sign of disrespect and insult for their former Zoroastrian faith; this insult was later copied by moslem invaders in hope that the Iranian people will no longer kindle bonfires in honor of their ancestors and sacred spirits.

However, the fire festivities despite all the added insults survived, thrived and turned into a symbol of ancient Iranian identity and pride among modern Iranian populations.

ardeshir

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3 Responses to Zoroastrian end of the year bonfires to honor the sacred departed spirits

  1. Dinaz Noshir Divecha. says:

    Thank you for informing us about all these rituals. We did not know about this practice inPakistan or India.

  2. zaneta garratt says:

    very interesting facts in this very informative article-the history of Norouz and the lovely festivities at this time of renewal are very beautiful

  3. Comment from one of our insightful blog readers The holy fire resonates within all of us and helps give us strength. While nowadays most people follow traditions without any knowledge or awareness of their origins, it is important to go back to our roots. Even though the sun has set and darkness has creeped its way into our lives, we must remember we are still empowered by the light and the fire, and by going around the fire we are placing our faith in something so strong and believing with all of our heart it will guide us into safety and prosperity. Fire and light are all around us to help guide us to success in the new year. Even though the other religions may have tried to stamp down on us or bring disgrace to our beliefs and traditions, we were still able to rise above it all, proud and bring light to the world with our deeds. We are able to carry on, and with it the fire of our passion and belief still blazes to this day, stronger than ever.

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