The ancient Persians considered Balkh the “mother of all cities,” which may be why something heavy went down 5,000 years ago. Balkh was the largest, richest and most important oasis on the road connecting China and India to Europe. In fact, the trail split not far from the city’s immense walls, the southern route tailing off towards the Khyber Pass, while the northern led into the Hindu Kush to Kashgar.
Just as in Sumer, Turkey and Egypt, irrigation methods soon created immense gardens and orchards to support a growing population, and most crops were planted safely inside the city walls. Priests were placed in charge of water and seed distribution, as well as prayers and divinations for a good harvest.
One day there appeared a prophet in the city who instigated a major shift in cosmology. Up until his arrival, it had been assumed the universe was dominated by a vast multitude of greater and lesser spiritual energies, and each community had been free to make up their own pantheons.
When he first appeared on the scene, Zoroaster was a very controversial figure. He apparently accused some of the priests of practicing the dark arts and claimed their magic was fraudulent. It’s strange how today Zoroaster is known as “the first magician,” when, in fact, he seems to have gotten his start by exposing fake magic. During this time, an evil eye accusation could result in an execution. So if a priest accused you of giving someone the evil eye to explain why disaster had befallen them, you were pretty much a lost cause. I’m speculating here, but I believe Zoroaster may have put an end to such superstition.
One thing for sure, Zoroaster obliterated the ancient pantheons that had stood for millennia, replacing them with two forces, one good, and the other evil. It’s gone down in history as the origin of monotheism, even though in practice there were many lesser spirits in play. The other important contribution was the creation of a epic hero involved in seeking enlightenment, which supplemented the prior epic hero involved in feats of heroic strength. It was the first time a philosopher/scientist/astrologer emerged to replace the warrior avatars.
A number of epic hymns were written to celebrate Zoroaster’s quest for enlightenment. Some even attribute the first half dozen to Zoroaster himself. In a nutshell, he went to the top of smokey mountain, communicated with a magic plant, and came back down with the good god’s official rule book.
One day, a new young king of Balkh decided this new prophet Zoroaster was onto something heavy. And that’s when fire temples began sprouting all along the Silk Road serving a mixture of cannabis and milk with spices. This was Zoroaster’s Eucharist for healing the blind and lame, as well as curing depression, a magic staircase to the mind of the good god.
Known as soma in India, haoma in Persia, and shuma in China, the medicine helped transform Zoroaster into becoming the most famous prophet of his time. And, of course, after his death, magical stories about him increased and rapidly erased any human figure. This is the natural trajectory any mythic figure must undergo simply because people want to take their religion with a heavy dose of enchantment. So the debunker of fake magic became the world’s greatest magician.
There’s also been a lot of hoodwinking going on about when he really lived. Lately, there’s even been an attempt to date Zoroaster after Moses, when, in fact, Moses was obviously based on Zoroaster because it was the first Zoroastrian king of Persia (Cyrus the Great) who defeated the corrupt Babylonian empire and freed the Jews. Not only did Cyrus free the Jews, he gave them funds and instructions to rebuild Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. This all happened before the Jews had a written language, and in gratitude, Moses was fashioned as the Jewish Zoroaster, and most of the cosmology lifted right out of the Avesta.
And, of course, in short order, something heavy went down in Jerusalem.