Iran 1978

The bearded stranger was early: the fire-temple wasn’t open for visitors yet. When he walked through the back door my assistants were in the garden, sitting under a pomegranate tree plucking chickens. I noticed that they courteously offered him a chair. I next saw him twenty minutes later, almost beside me. I had put on the clothes of a Zoroastrian priest (white cloth, a white cap and the white veil over my mouth so I didn’t desecrate the fire, our religion’s symbol of purity). I was ringing the little bell, muttering the traditional, monotonous incantations while I put logs on the fire. The fire is on top of a large urn in the middle of its own cubicle in the main building. This fire, in Yazd, has been alight for over fifteen hundred years.

Yazd Zoroastrian fire temple.JPG

I was a little shocked to see him. Strangers aren’t supposed to wander in while I am tending the fire. I asked him to please go out, round to the front door, and wait. Fifteen minutes later, when I had finished, we let him in again. I understood what happened: the front door has lots and lots of notices on it, one of which does actually say ‘please go to the back door’. As if that isn’t confusing enough, there’s another sign nearer the holy fire which says ‘no smoking’.