The Treasure of the Magi: A Study of Modern Zoroastrianism

By James Hope Moulton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
THE PRIESTHOOD

Without a Magian it is not lawful for a Persian to offer sacrifices.

HERODOTUS.

THE Magian priesthood, which as early as Herodotus had become indispensable for the external side of Persian religion, is still firmly entrenched in the same position. The priests of the Fire-temples are called Mobeds, and the name1 implies descent from the ancient tribe which has so profoundly influenced the history of Zoroastrianism from the time of its first emergence into history after the blank period that followed the Prophet's own age. Like the priesthood of ancient Israel, or that of modern Hinduism, the office is strictly hereditary. The son of a priest is not obliged to take up the profession: in these days it has small attraction for young men of ability and ambition, and a large proportion of priests' sons abandon it for secular callings that are more lucrative and more respected. Some reasons for the scanty honour that the priest receives will come out as we proceed. Occasionally we see a layman wearing the white turban distinctive of the priests, but without the white dress that they always wear. This indicates at once his descent and his abandonment of the profession. While the hereditary caste thus loses large numbers of those who are born into it, it cannot be recruited from outside. The reduction is no inconvenience at present, the less so as it gives the priests who do practise a better chance of a living wage. But if it goes on very much further, it is likely to

____________________
1
It would be Mogupaiti in Avestan, 'lord of Magi'.

-132-

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