When I’m asked why I like Game of Thrones so much and why I think it’s such a great show, the answer I give has nothing to do with the great production behind it, how the fantastical elements merge with the epic story, or even the plot in terms of the characters’ stories. What I praise about the series, as well as the novels by George R. R. Martin, is its great portrayal of the history and essence of humanity. This can be seen in almost every aspect of life, from politics and greed to the development of societies, and even religion. When this bloody story of political intrigue started, most of our beloved characters in Westeros were shown as believers of a polytheistic religion (The Seven and the Old Gods). As new characters were introduced, we learned of another religion, a monotheistic one, that praised R’hllor, The Lord of Light, or The Fire God. Followers of this deity believe that the world is divided between light and darkness, and although only one can rule, they can’t exist without the other.
As the story has advanced, we’ve become witnesses of the powers, and actual existence, of this god and how the characters have slowly stopped believing in those deities whose existence can’t be proven. As I mentioned, the show reflects many aspects of the history of humanity, and the shift from polytheism to monotheism isn’t the exception. Before the main monotheistic religions were set and popularized, most of the cultures and civilizations believed in the existence of multiple gods, but suddenly monotheistic religions became the dominant faiths in the world. Have you ever wondered how this happened?
Like the Lord of Light in Game of Thrones, it’s believed that the main religions that worship only one deity were highly influenced and inspired by one character and his precepts: Zarathustra. Known as Zoroaster by the Greeks, or Zartosht by the Persians, this prophet, who lived around the 800 BC, is thought to have set the foundations of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), and as a consequence, inspired many thinkers, musicians, artists, and clearly popular products like the TV show. Naturally, this matter is highly controversial among the different religious groups. Although it’s clear that they emerged from a single concept and idea, each one claims their faith is the only valid one. So, it’s not hard to see why suggesting that it was a man (not exactly a divine being) the one who set those beliefs can be quite problematic. But why exactly has this obscure prophet become such an influential and important piece in the development of humanity?
Little is known about Zarathustra’s life. Some historians even believe it was actually a group of thinkers and that the name was just the one of the last master. The place of birth is also unknown, and there’s a huge rivalry between those who claim he was born in what is now Iran or Afghanistan. What is known thanks to papyrus and other texts is that he preached on the existence and worship of Ahura Mazda, the wise god, against the hostility of Angra Mainyu. Thus, the concepts of good and evil, light and darkness, truth and deceit. See where this is going? He believed that only Ahura Mazda was the true God fighting an eternal battle against that evil spirit. Soon, his teachings and precepts spread throughout the Persian Empire.
During the 500s BC, the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great invaded the city of Babylonia. His victory marked the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire led by Emperor Nabonidus and set the beginning of a new era. But more importantly, he’s praised as the man who liberated the Hebrews from the chains Nabonidus had put on them. In that way, it’s believed that during this time Zoroastrian ideas were spread among the Hebrews, and with the liberation they adopted their own set of beliefs. It was a time of conquest and invasions. People came and went from country to country, and these ideas traveled with them. The power of the Persian empire at the time allowed this communication in faiths so much that what a prophet preached was adapted into the main religions we know nowadays.
He introduced some of the main concepts and figures, like Satan or Beelzebub, the idea of the Judgement Day, hell and heaven, angels and demons, and, of course, the promise of a Messiah. He didn’t only revolutionize religious spheres, but his teachings were adopted by philosophy throughout history. Even Nietzsche has a book on this character (although we know his posture towards religion, Zarathustra was still a huge influence on his theories). Musicians with the passing of time used his concepts to create their compositions, even Freddie Mercury was a huge follower. We can see Zoroastrianism’s main precepts basically everywhere, like in the battle between light and dark in Star Wars and, as we mentioned, in the recent craze towards Game of Thrones. Oh, by the way, the Zoroastrian temples are known as the Temples of Fire because their god is linked with the idea of fire and light, so there’s an eternal flame lit in these sacred buildings.
For further reading take a look at these:
Nietzsche’s 10 Steps For You To Become A Superman
Goryo Shinko, Japan’s Religion Of Ghosts
8 Songs That Will Teach You More About Philosophy Than Any Book