Hello there wonderful people. My name is Leo Hochberg, and this semester, I will be writing a series of short stories based on four ancient religions, those being Mayan, Zoroastrian, Mesopotamian, and Norse. My goal is to end all of this with five to six short stories that in some way discuss the human condition through our relationship with the divine. One could say that my writing style is similar to that of Neil Gaiman; rather than place my stories in fictional worlds, they feature characters which fall through the proverbial cracks of everyday life when they meet supernatural characters.
While I plan to write some stories this semester about Gods from different religions that meet each other, my first attempt is rooted only in Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, founded roughly 3500 years ago by the prophet Zoroaster in modern day Iran. For over a millennium, it was an incredibly powerful, becoming the state religion of the Persian Empire during the 7th century CE. Today, it is reaching the end of its lifespan, having less than an estimated 190,000 followers.
Zoroastrians are primarily split into two groups, the Iranians and the Parsis. This divide occurred when Zoroastrian refugees fled persecution in Iran in the 10th century, searching for a place to practice freely, until they settled in Gujarat. There, they flourished, until the mid-19th century, when attacks from Christian missionaries forced them to seriously reconsider their religious identity in order to ensure their survival. In the end, while the Iranians stayed true to the old beliefs of Zoroastrianism, the Parsis chose to embrace urbanization and the modernity that came with Western contact. This led to a fundamental split in beliefs, particularly concerning the interpretation of the Avesta, the Zoroastrian book of Holy Scripture.
However, while these two groups do differ, there are some beliefs that unify all practitioners. Every Zoroastrian believes that there is a single God called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) that created the world. This God is omnipotent, omniscient, immortal, and unchanging. In the Avesta, the prophet Zoroaster was bathing in a river during a pagan ritual, when he saw a shining light on the bank. This light was Vohu Manah, the embodiment of right action and reason. He led Zoroaster to Ahura Mazda and his host of Amesha Spenti (similar to archangels, except in that the embody specific traits important to Zoroastrians). There, Zoroaster asked Ahura Mazda many questions, the answers of which became the fundamental teaching of the faith.
My first story concerns a character I have already mentioned; Vohu Manah, the spirit of reason. The story begins when John Cross, an American doctor working in Iran, finds a man with wings washed up on the shore of the Caspian Sea. Here is an excerpt:
Iranian summers could often reach 104 degrees in the afternoon. Chamkaleh was a coastal town in the North, so the air from the Caspian sea alleviated some of the ferocious heat. Nevertheless, the temperature was still often far too high for comfort, so I had taken to walks along the beach early in the morning, when the temperature dropped to the low eighties. As I had for the past month, I clambered out of bed at four, using the nightstand as a crutch to pull my tired body off of the mattress. I dressed, drank a cup of coffee, then strolled down to the shoreline.
The waves rolled in and out, forever on their quest to reach the top of the beach, but never quite getting their. I tossed my sandals behind me, then dug my toes into the sand, allowing the water to wash over them. Chamkaleh was a wonderful town, full of bright, devoted people, but nothing made me so happy as the sea. It was the great proof of science, the perfect example of physics and energy at play in our everyday lives. We knew just how it worked, how enormous waves of energy ceaselessly crashed water down onto the shoreline. The ocean was something I understood, and therefore it made me feel peaceful. I smiled, the wild see air whipping my hair across my face and filling my lungs with energy. In my hands rested my cup of coffee, from which I absently took a sip as I continued to stare out at the sea.
“John! John, what are doing down here?” a voice yelled in Arabic. “It is time to open the clinic. You’ve already got a line, and I can’t keep them all out forever!”
Was it already five? I cursed under my breathe.
“John, come on!” the voice yelled again.
“Five more minutes, Arash! Just give me me five more damn minutes,” I yelled back, not wanting to return to the hectic chaos of the clinic.
“What do you want me to do here? You’re the damn doctor.” Arash finally reached me, the wind pushing his coal black hair in every direction. He wore an apron over his tunic, telling me that he had run the night shift, prepping the clinic for the following day and taking emergency night-time injuries, given that the nearest hospital was over thirty miles away in Asambrahad.
“Damn sick bastards. Go prep the operating room. I’ll go get my apron,” I grumbled.
“Wait, John, what is that?” Arash gestured to the water, pointing to something only his keen eyes could see.
I peered out at the sea, unable to see anything in the early morning darkness.
“There, over there! By those rocks. I think it’s a person, John. Someone’s out there. They’re going to crash into the rocks and drown.”
Vohu Manah (Vohu Mano, Vohuman). Digital Image. ZBSC. The Zoroastrian Society of British Columbia, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.
“Zoroastrianism at a Glance.” BBC News. BBC, 02 Oct. 2009. Web. 13 Spet. 2015.
“Zoroastrian Beliefs About God.” BBC News. BBC, 02 Oct. 2009. Web. 13 Spet. 2015.
“In Pictures: Zoroastrians in Iran.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015. Clarification: I am not citing the images in the article, only the information in the captions.
“The Parsis.” BBC News. BBC, 02 Oct. 2009. Web. 13 Spet. 2015.