The notion of angels as agents of God is but one of Zoroastrianism’s legacy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Zoroastrianism was founded in ancient Persia in about 1000 B.C. by the prophet Zoroaster. It was the official religion of the area until Alexander the Great’s conquest, after which it was later restored.
Zoroaster set out to reform the pre-existing religion of Persia rather than to create a new religion. The prophet Zoroaster reformulated the original polytheism of Persian religion into the first monotheism around 1000 B.C. Little is known about the old Persian polytheism. However, some of the old gods were demoted and retained as angels in Zoroaster’s scheme.
The religion of Zoroaster is best known for its dualism. In Zoroastrian, the struggle between good and evil is a central theme. Zoroaster preached the centrality of one God. The God of Light and the upper world, Ohrmazd or Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), and his angels are locked in a cosmic struggle with the God of darkness and the lower world, Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (Evil Spirit), and his demons. It is highly recommended that every human being side with Ahura Mazda and his angels.
The Zoroastrian Scheme of Archangels
Known as the Holy immortals (amesha spentas), these are the highest beings next to God in the Zoroastrian scheme of celestial inhabitants. These beings are named after qualities valued by Zoroastrians. They are usually numbered as six archangels as follows:
Vohu Manah (God Thought or Good Sense)
Armaiti (Piety or Harmony)
Asha (Righteousness or Truth)
Haurvatat (Prosperity or Salvation)
Kshathra (Power or Rulership)
This list sometimes includes a seventh archangel, Saraosha, meaning, “Obedience). Zoroaster’s original teachings regarded these beings as aspects of Ahura Mazda himself. Opposite to these archangels of light are agents of the evil Angra Mainyu, such as Druj, meaning, “The Lie”, who was directly opposed to Asha.
Zoroaster’s Personal Experience with the holy immortals and archangels
At the age of thirty, the prophet Zoroaster had a vision of the archangel Vohu Manah. Vohu Manah appeared to the prophet in a form nine times larger than that of an ordinary person. The archangel questioned Zoroaster and afterwards, led his spirit into the heaven of Ahura Mazda.
Ahura Mazda was holding court with his angels. It was then said that God instructed the prophet in the principles of the true religion. This led to the complete religious system of Zoroastrian through Zoroaster’s continuing visionary experiences with each of the archangels. This happened over a course of eight years.
Development of new classes of Angels in Zoroastrianism
As Zoroastrianism developed, the number of celestial beings multiplied. At some point, a new class of angel, the yazatas, emerged. They became so important that they seemed to eclipse Ahura Mazda himself. Chief among the yazatas was Mithra, the God/Angel of light.
Another group of angels that later emerged were the fravashi. They seem to have originally been spirits of the ancestors, but gradually developed into guardian spirits. Somewhat like the notion of Plato’s forms, the fravashi is the immortal part of the human being that remains in heaven even when the individual is incarnate on the earth.