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continually burning on all their altars. It was originally kindled in the temple at Balch, at the sacred flame brought from the burning mountain by Zoroaster himself; and it was never after allowed to go out. The Magi watched it alternately, night and day. They fed it with fragrant sandal-wood, first stripped of its bark, to ascertain that it was perfectly clean and free from insects. Sometimes they threw in garlands as an offering, and if the fire languished, they poured on consecrated aromatic oil, accompanying the ceremony with prayers and music of the double flute. When the king went forth to battle, the Magi carried a portion of the Sacred Fire, on silver censers, in front of the army. Whoever cast any dirt into it, or blowed upon it with his breath, was put to death, because breath, coming from the interior of the body, was deemed impure.
They consecrated vegetables, fruit and flowers, and of fered them in very clean places, as oblations to the souls of departed ancestors. Animals for sacrifice were crowned with garlands. To Mithras they sacrificed beautiful white horses, richly caparisoned, because that free and vigorous animal was considered an appropriate emblem of the sun. They buried human beings alive, as an offering to a deity whom they supposed to exist under the earth. Herodotus speaks of nine youths and nine virgins thus sacrificed, and he says it was a common custom in Persia.
They had religious festivals of gratitude for spring time and harvest. Every year, during one of these festivals, kings and princes set aside their pomp and mingled freely with the humblest of their subjects. They received all petitions, and inquired personally into the grievances of the poor. Before they sat down to feast, the monarch was accustomed to say: "From your labours we receive subsistence, and you are protected by our vigilance. Since, therefore, we are mutually necessary to each other, let us live together like brothers, in concord and love." Individuals frequently employed the priests to offer sacrifices or oblations, on birth-days, or the anniversaries of deceased ancestors, or other occasions connected with their own interests or affections, but no man was allowed to sacrifice or pray for himself, or his own family alone; he was required to include the whole nation in his supplications. One of their festivals was called The Destruction of Evils, because during its observance the Magi destroyed ferocious beasts, venomous reptiles, and poisonous plants; reciting, meanwhile, many formulas to expel Evil Spirits.
Their most splendid ceremonials were in honor of Mithras, called the Mediator. They kept his birth-day, with many rejoicings, on the twenty-fifth of December, when the sun perceptibly begins to return northward, after his long winter journey; and they had another festival at the vernal equinox. Perhaps no religious festival was ever more splendid than the annual Salutation of Mithras, during which forty days were set apart for thanksgiving and sacrifice. The procession to salute the god formed long before the rising of the sun. The High Priest was followed by a long train of the Magi, in spotless white robes, chanting hymns, and carrying the Sacred Fire on silver censers. Then came three hundred and sixty-five youths in scarlet, to represent the days of the year, and the colour of fire. These were followed by the Chariot of the Sun, empty, decorated with garlands, and drawn by superb white horses harnessed with pure gold. Then came a white horse of magnificent size, his forehead blazing with gems, in honour of Mithras. Close behind him rode the king, in a chariot of ivory inlaid with gold, followed by his royal kindred in embroidered garments, and a long train of nobles riding on camels richly caparisoned. This gorgeous retinue, facing the east, slowly ascended Mount Orontes. Arrived at the summit, the High Priest assumed his tiara wreathed with myrtle, and hailed the first rays of the rising sun with incense and prayer.
The other Magi gradually joined him in singing hymns to Ormuzd, the source of all blessing, by whom the radiant Mithras had been sent to gladden the earth and preserve the principle of life. Finally, they all joined in one universal chorus of praise, while king, princes and nobles prostrated themselves before the orb of day.
Persians did not represent Ormuzd as assisted in the work of creation by a feminine companion, and they disliked descriptions of that kind in other religions. They had likewise great abhorrence of images, and lest they should be introduced from foreign nations, they forbade the exercise of any other worship than that of Zoroaster, under the severest penalties. In the beginning they always worshipped in the open air, from an idea that it was impious to enclose the deity within walls; but, in after times, they erected several temples, and had numerous small oratories for the people to go in and pray, where the Sacred Fire was kept burning only in lamps. Sects sprung up and disputed about the origin of evil, and various other questions, each striving to sustain its creed by texts from the Zend-Avesta. Some maintained that Arimanes was co-eternal with Ormuzd; others affirmed that only light and goodness flowed from the Source of Being, that darkness and evil merely followed them as a shadow does the substance. In the reign of Artaxerxes, divisions of opinion had multiplied into seventy-two sects, beside a class of unbelievers, who ridiculed them all. The king summoned the Magi from all parts of his dominions, to the number of forty thousand. From these four thousand of the worthiest were selected; these were again sifted down to four hundred, to forty, and finally to seven. Among these the pre-eminent for holiness was Erdiviraph. Having performed ablutions and other religious ceremonies, he drank a powerful opiate, was covered with white linen, and laid down to sleep, that he might receive divine revelations in dreams. The king and six nobles watched by him while he slept seven days and nights. When he awoke, he declared what was truly the religion taught by the Zend-Avesta. This was carefully written down by an attendant scribe. The people received it as a divine revelation, believing that his soul had been in heaven and received direct instruction from Ormuzd.
The religion of Persia had always been very uncompromising, and intolerant toward other nations; principally owing to their abhorrence of image-worship. When Cambyses invaded Egypt, he mutilated the statues of the gods, and insulted the sacred symbols. Babylon having become a province of the Persian empire, by conquest, Xerxes destroyed the images of the gods, and put their priesthood to death. After Artaxerxes restored the national religion, by an express revelation from Ormuzd to the holiest of the Magi, his desire to preserve the national unity led to a very strict exclusion of all other forms of faith. The adoption of foreign gods, so very common among the nations, was strenuously resisted by the Persians. But nevertheless causes were at work to produce gradual changes. The union of the Babylonian empire with the Persian brought in many Chaldean customs and ideas. Mixture with the Greeks, by war and commerce, and the final reduction of Persia to a Roman province, introduced a flood of foreign innovations. Temples were erected, and, notwithstanding their abhorrence of images, the statue of the goddess Astarte was set up and worshipped in many places, under the name of Mithra. In the latter times, an order of priestesses was likewise instituted, vowed to celibacy, and dedicated to the service of Mithras. But notwithstanding these unsettling influences, the greater part of the Persians clung with tenacious affection to the faith of Zoroaster.
When Mahometans conquered Persia, in the seventh century of our era, followers of the old faith passed through very severe sufferings. But at last, when the new power became firmly established, a fragment of them, consisting of about eighty thousand families, were allowed to settle in one of the most barren provinces of Persia, to build a new temple, and worship in their own way. A few are scattered about elsewhere, but they are always obliged to live in suburbs by themselves, and are employed only in the meanest offices. They make many pilgrimages to Mount Elbourz, the residence of their High Priest, whom they regard as an oracle. Their conquerors contemptuously name them Ghebers, or Giaours, which means infidels ; but they call themselves Behendie, signifying followers of the true faith. Europeans generally style them Fire Worshippers; but they say they merely adore fire as the representative of an invisible Spirit, whom they call Yerd. They keep a fire burning in their consecrated places, which they believe was kindled by Zoroaster four thousand years ago. They often build their temples over subterranean fires. Upon their altars, they have spheres to represent the sun. When the sun rises, these orbs light up, and turn round with great noise. The ignorant attribute this to magic. Some of them reside on the shores of the Caspian Sea, about ten miles from a source of perpetual fire, which they hold in great veneration. It issues from the cleft of a rock, and appears like the clear blue flame of burning alcohol. Sometimes it rises several yards; at others, only a few inches above the aperture. It has been burning thus for ages, without intermission, and the rock is neither consumed nor changed in colour. When travellers insert a hollow tube in the ground, for several hundred yards round this rock, a similar fire issues through the tube. Some suppose the story of Zoroaster's burning mountain originated in this, or a similar phenomenon.
Some of his followers, in time of Mahometan persecution, fled eastward to India, told their story, and humbly begged permission to stay. A Hindoo rajah took compassion on them, and allowed them to build a temple for the Sacred Fire, which they had carefully brought with them. They remain there in considerable numbers to this day, under the name of Parsees. They are a poor, harmless people, industrious in their habits, rigorous in morals, and honest in their dealings. They worship but one God, and detest idols. They consider Zoroaster the highest of prophets, but have also great reverence for Abraham, and often call their own faith the religion of Abraham. The Sacred Fire they carried from Persia, more than a thousand years ago, has never been extinguished. They preserve it with the