Think of Islam what you will -- its presence in what used to be Persia may have a downside. For the coming of Islam actually marks the beginning of the End of Days. In fact, we may be about to drown in molten metal. That's at least what God told the Persian prophet Zarathushtra some 3,000 years ago.

Long before Islam, long before Christianity, there was Zoroastrianism: an ancient Persian religion, based on the mystic writings of the prophet Zarathushtra. Now God (Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrian) told Zarathushtra a lot of stuff. Among things, God told the prophet in detail how the world will end. Here's the full story.

It all starts to go wrong when what's now called Iran is overrun by a race of `demons' of questionable nationality, coming from the East. The demons have disheveled hair and practice a `vile religion'. Iran will be in decay for a thousand years: the economy is disrupted, government is bad, and the people of Iran and it's neighbors will be very unkind and hostile to each other.

Also, the entire world will look different. The Sun is more often unseen and is spotted, harvests will be bad, and years, months and days are one third shorter. Strangely, countries will be full of highways. Humans have also changed. They are born smaller and weaker, and talk a lot of good deeds, but do the adversary. The world is covered with `dead matter': everywhere you go, you step on it. No wonder almost everyone living in this wicked world goes straight to hell after death.

But wait. Then, suddenly, weird and cataclysmic things start happening. There are notable more earthquakes and devastating storms. There are signs on the Sun, and the moon suddenly becomes colored. From the Balkans, an army with `red weapons, red banners and red hats' emerges. The army wages war on Greece -- and wins. It's the beginning of a series of wars, in which Arabs, Turks and the Balkans play prominent roles. But there are no good guys around, the one army is as evil as the next.

Gladly, help is underway. Somewhere in Asia (China or India, Zarathustra suggests), a prince is born. The prince's mother is a virgin, and the birth is marked by yet another divine signal: at the moment of birth, a star falls from the sky, for everyone to be seen.

By the time the prince ages thirty, he gathers an enormous army around him, with flags striped like tiger skins. The prince leads his army to Iran and defeats all the bad guys, demonic invaders included. He knows how to take care of business: `They will slay so that a thousand women can afterwards see and kiss, but one man', Zarathushtra says.

But the prince's victory really pisses off the general manager of the demons, Evil itself. The devil summons yet another army, consisting of the `vilest races of demons and wrath', and goes to Iran.

Of course, Ahura Mazda doesn't leave this unanswered. He sends in an angel called Neryosang and another godly creature called Srosh the righteous. Together with 150 faithful men, and under the leadership of a prophet called Peshotan, the prince goes out to restore religion. They bless everyone they meet, consecrate every pool of water they pass, and every now and then, they kick ass when they come across a demon or an evil race.

Meanwhile, Ahura Mazda keeps sending in more troops. He descends to the mountain of Hukairya with his archangels, and tells them to join Peshotan. From his mountaintop, Ahura Mazda gives away a thundering pep-talk to the troops. It scares the hell out of the devil. Shocked, he `flees back to the darkest recess of hell', avoiding battle with the armies of God. Score 1-0 in favour of Ahura Mazda.

But evil isn't quite defeated yet. Another thousand years pass, and steadily, the devil makes a comeback. Once more, the world becomes corrupted. People grow more and more wicked, and religion is contaminated with evil and malpractice again. Then, one day, God decides it's time for another savior.

So here we go once more. Somewhere in the East, a virgin takes a bath and becomes miraculously impregnated. She gives birth to messiah number two, a chap named Aushedar. At the age of thirty, Aushedar sees the light and receives the Zoroastrian religion directly from Ahura Mazda himself. Aushedar commands the Sun to halt, and indeed it does: for ten days and ten nights, the Sun just sits there in the sky.

And if you think that's miraculous, wait what happens next. From every corner of the world wolves come running to Iran. There, they melt together into a gigantic, hideously looking, demonic Super wolf. The beast is 433 paces long and stretches 415 paces across. Now that's what you call a wolf!

Oh, not Aushedar. Rapidly, the savior gathers an army of Ahura Mazda-worshippers around him, battles the wolf, and kicks it back into hell. Phew!

And that's about all Aushedar has to do. Everyone is so impressed that all humans hastily decide not to flirt with Mr. Evil anymore. En masse, they give the devil the finger, and convert to the good religion of Ahura Mazda again. Grudgingly, the Devil retreats into darkness once more. 2-0 for God.

Another thousand years pass, and although evil is groggy and weakened by now, it's still around. From the Balkans and from the East, new armies roll in. Again they conquer Iran, and again Ahura Mazda sees his religion corrupted and degraded. The world has undergone some remarkable changes by now. For one thing, people no longer need to eat to stay alive.

But Ahura Mazda has really had it with the Devil. He decides to send in a third messiah and bring about the end of the world. In Iran, a beautiful virgin takes a bath in lake Kansaoya -- and, oh wonder, she becomes pregnant.

The third savior is born and finds out he is, other than the preceding saviors, a direct descendant of Zarathushtra himself. Saoshyant, is the name of messiah number three. And it is clear he will be the last messiah in a row: while he still is a young man, some very odd things start to happen.

For one thing, all the dead begin coming back to live. One after another, they crawl out of their graves with brand new bodies. All in all, the whole process lasts 57 years. Everyone who died as a youth will be aged eighteen forever, everyone who died as an adult will be forty for eternity.

Oh, that's nice, you think. But wait. Ahura Mazda didn't resurrect the dead for fun. For the next moment, a huge, holy comet plummets into the earth. Boom! The comet hits the earth `like a wolf jumping a sheep', Ahura Mazda tells Zarathushtra.

The comet melts all mountains and ploughs open the earth's crust, exposing all the metal in the world, and melting that too. A super hot tidal wave of molten metal races across the entire planet. Before you can say `Ahura Mazda', you're swimming in liquid steel.

But it's a wave of judgment, really. The molten metal takes the shape of a river, and everyone has to cross it. Whoever was evil in life suffers terrible pains. The more you did wrong, the more you suffer. But what the heck: in the end, you'll find out you're truly purified of sin. The molten metal literally burns away every scratch of evil from your soul. O, and by the way: if you were already pure of heart, you survive the wave without any problem at all. The molten metal will feel like warm milk, as Zarathushtra puts it.

So the earth is a nice place to be again. Mankind is purified, families reunite, and there's love and peace all over the place. Happy endings? No, not yet. There's one nasty little job left. For once and for all, mankind has got to get rid of evil.

So before you know it, it's war again. In the sky, angels battle against demons, and on earth, men battle against, well, more demons. Of course, Saoshyant and his good guys win. The devil and everything he ever created -- except the darkness of the night! -- is kicked off the planet. Everything mankind considers evil is thrown back into where it came from: hell.

And that isn't it. Now, Ahura Mazda himself comes into action. He picks up hell, and tosses it into the metal river, all demonic inhabitants included. Hell burns up. When it's done, there's nothing left but a purified stretch of peaceful countryside. Ahura Mazda fits the land that used to be hell in into the world, enlarging our planet quite a bit.

Finally, it's heaven on earth. Men will live forever, without wars, without any problem. They will not have to eat or drink. They accept the will of God joyfully. Even the land is more peaceful than ever: there are no more mountains or slopes, just green, beautiful pastures. Welcome to the Brand New Earth, the world according to Ahura Mazda!

 

So... should we worry?

Zarathushtra's visions were a big hit: Zoroastrianism instantly became the hottest religion in Persia, and remained all-important for many centuries to come. Interestingly, many elements of Zarathushtra's writings trickled down into the texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Not only was Zoroastrianism the first monotheistic religion, Zarathushtra was the first to introduce the doctrines of final judgment and the coming of a messiah to save humanity from evil. Let alone those striking parallels between the birth of Christ and the birth of the Zoroastrianist messiah's!

Zarathushtra's prophecy, if taken literally, has some interesting features to it. Indeed, the religion of Ahura Mazda has gone into oblivion because of hostile people invading Persia. In 651 or 652 AD Muslims conquered Persia, and in the ninth century, Zoroastrianism was effectively banned. By now there are some 100,000 Zoroastrianists left, mostly in India, where a small colony of Zoroastrians took refuge long ago. And yes, there have been `red armies' in the Balkans. Oh, and there are plenty of highways running through Iran.

Some people indeed take Zarathushtra's prophecies for real. A peculiar spin-off from Zoroastrianism is the Baha'i faith, which claims its founder Baha'u'llah in fact is the messiah Saoshyant. According to some Zoroastrian scriptures Saoshyant would be born `when a thousand two hundred and some years have passed from the inception of the religion of the Arabian'. Now the Islamic calendar begins in the year 622 AD, so Saoshyant's birth must be somewhere in the mid-1800s. And hey, look who was born in the mid-1800s? You guessed it: Baha'i's founding father, Baha'u'llah.

So it can't be long before we are purified by this awesome river of molten metal, right? Oh, come on! For one thing, Ahura Mazda told Zarathushtra he would bring about the end of time in three thousand years. But since Zarathushtra lived some 1,000 or 600 years before Christ, at least some of the predictions should already have come true.

But days and years are definitely not one third shorter. People still need food (well, at least Exit Mundi does). And last but not least: although some Christian extremists think otherwise, it is WAY out of line to say Islam is a `vile religion' run by demons.

A more down to earth reassurance we won't have to bathe in molten metal before long pops up when you have a closer look at the historic context of the Zoroastrian apocalyptic. There are many different versions of Zarathushtra's vision -- it took Exit Mundi weeks of reading to come up with the scenario of doom and destruction outlined above. In one version, the first two saviors are nameless figures. In other texts, there is yet another savior, a guy by the name of Aushedar-mah.

The reason for all confusion is that the Zarathushtra scenario was rewritten over and over again by later generations of Zoroastrianists. As their religion became persecuted in the ninth century, the apocalyptic became very important in Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda-worshippers everywhere in Persia clung to their apocalyptic writings for comfort, its bottom line being that eventually, Zoroastrianism will win. Zoroastrianists thus elaborated on the story, filling in many details and coming up with completely new predictions of the apocalypse to come.

In that respect, taking the Zoroastrian end of days too seriously would be much like believing in Father Xmasses or Boogie Men. Well, at least that's Exit Mundi's opinion on matters. And when that big, mean river of molten metal arrives after all, oh boy, will we suffer!

 

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