Where do we stand on the Environment as Zoroastrians?
Well if you have any knowledge of our principle traditions, you will have realised that we celebrate the arrival of Spring with Nowruz (new light/life), the Autumn harvest festival of Mehrgan, the return of longer days towards Nowruz on the longest night of Cheleh or Yalda on the winter solistice, the water festival of Tirgan, the discovery of fire on Jashn e Sadeh and the celebration of women/love/fertile Earth on Esfandegan (or Sepandarmazdegan derived from Spenta Armaiti). And then there is death – and our way of dealing with corpses was based on very ecological principles. We also have 4 days monthly (Bahman, Mah, Goosh, Ram) plus a full month dedicated to animals (Bahman) when we treat them with greater care and affection and for some people this becomes a non-meat-eating month in recognition of their importance.
These observations mark the seasonal changes as the earth moves around the sun and they also acknowledge the basic elements of fire, water and earth, and the living creatures that depend on them.
It becomes obvious then that our understanding of what is important to our community is deeply rooted in an awareness of the environment. This is an ancient principle and given the many historical references to these important community events in our calendar which firmly locate the observances in a pre-Islamic past, no one can accuse Zoroastrians of joining a recent bandwagon which the environment has become.
However, I suspect that this aspect of our beliefs is hardly taught or spoken about within Zoroastrian households because our people obsess instead about learning prayers by heart, maintaining strict rituals associated with which way to face when praying, purity and pollution concerns, undertaking the initiation ceremony even when someone is too young to understand what they are saying and doing, and ensuring the traditional corpse disposal is maintained despite the totally unsuitable condition of the traditional last resting places.
Women who are most likely to spend more time with children in their role as mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends are in an ideal position to point out and teach this knowledge to children as they pass through their hands. Whether they chat as they cook together, or clean the house, or lay a fire, this environmental aspect of teaching what being a Zoroastrian means in practical terms can be delivered in all sorts of contexts. Of course, if there are preparations for these observances, such as preparing a special Haft shin/sin Nowruz sofreh display or a similar one for Mehrgan, or for a memorial gathering, there are certain required items such as evergreens, wheat shoots (or other sprouting seeds), fresh and dried fruits, nuts, white sweets, water, wine, and milk, and of course a fire urn or Afriguni. Every Zoroastrian observance that has a residual religious element should feature these items as it always has in the past. So, in the lead up to such an occasion, there is a perfect pretext to speak about the reasons for the display items to a child, explaining what they represent, and why they are on display.
The sad thing that I have noticed is that in the desire to produce the most elaborate display, the element of beauty found in simplicity is lost. Less is more in these cases. Small is beautiful. The symbolic value of the visible items on a sofreh should be properly considered and appreciated otherwise it is futile to try and communicate these values to children. Contemplation and insights on the part of adults is a pre-requisite to ensuring that the next generation can continue to fly the environmental flag with deep conviction.
Why does it matter? After all the soul searching at COP29 in Glasgow last November about global warming and the alarming rate of extinction of birds, insects, many mammals, marine life, and plants, along with air pollution that has been causing a significant increase in pulmonary associated deaths, these issues remain of great concern. We have been fortunate to have had a rich and diverse environment in which we have grown up. But how impoverished it now looks for our own grandchildren. It is very sad that they may not see as we did a rich variety of dragonflies, butterflies, songbirds, corals, hedgehogs, tortoises and the list goes on. We have become profligate, wasteful, and selfish.
If only we teach our children well and we all do something to make a difference…
We Zoroastrian women should make it our badge of honour to do the minimum which is to pass and communicate the beauty of our environmental traditions.
We must walk the walk, not just talk the talk.