Zoroastrian women moving toward priesthood

For the past few years, women have started to serve as assistant priests for the Zoroastrian community in Iran, reports Giulia Bertoluzzi in the Swiss monthly Sept (Dec.-Jan.). Following the emigration of many Zoroastrians—including priests—after the Islamic Revolution, there has been a severe shortage of priests for performing the rituals of this very old, Persian-born religion. This led to the development of a category of assistant priests. From 2009-2010, the mobed (member of a family of hereditary priests) Soroushpur, current chairman of the Council of Zoroastrian Priests, suggested opening the priesthood to women as well. He had done research on ancient Zoroastrian documents and claimed to have found clear evidence of women clergy in ancient times before Muslim invasions.


A majority of Zoroastrians welcomed the proposal, but more conservative mobeds opposed it, saying that women should not perform holy rituals when menstruating and could become full priests only after menopause. For this reason, women can function at this point as assistant priests, although several of them feel convinced that this policy will necessarily evolve. Zoroastrian women emphasize the key role they have played in keeping the religion alive. There are currently eight women among Iranian Zoroastrian clergy. Last year, in the historical center of Zoroastrian religion, Yazd, a woman opened one of the yearly festivals for the first time in centuries.

(Sept, P.O. Box 76, 1752 Villars-sur-Glâne 2, Switzerland; www.sept.info. A slightly different version of the article had previously been published in English in Middle East Eye, July 27, 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/in-depth/features/zoroastrian-priestesses-iran-2058029133. A video showing a prayer and talk by Mobedyar Mahshad Khosraviani, the first Zoroastrian priestess to be ordained in North America in 2012, can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slm9WhAFix4)