After the third performance of The Liquid Tempest, I returned to the in-house bar for my second red wine. I was served by an unfamiliar person, perhaps a little older than the average Union Arts employee and of a curiously elusive ethnicity. Her name was Gova
I attempted to guess her nationality. Mediterranean? Mongolian? Burmese?
"I am Persian, but also Indian. I am a Zoroastrian."
I was immediately fascinated. I inquired about the plague that has driven the vultures of India to near extinction and Gova confirmed that it was indeed a problem. The Zoroastrians [also known as Parsees] leave their dead in Towers of Silence for consumption by the vultures, but since the outbreak there have been too few birds and a hygiene issue has arisen. I did not ask if Gova expects her corpse to be torn apart by vultures, but I would think she does.
She was flattered by my interest and my - albeit patchy - knowledge. I had never met a Zoroastrian and found myself a little in awe of this heir to a tradition so ancient it predates Christ, Mohammad and The Buddha. Indeed, it is the oldest surviving monotheistic religion and opens a dream channel to the accursed city of Nivenah; the bone-deep horror of winged deities with dour faces, wrought in old stone; ghastly demons rising from bleached desert ruins, summoned from a time before man gained knowledge of himself. Gova was not insulted that I found her religion terrifying.
She showed me the golden pendants that hung about her neck. One, an image of the prophet Zarathustra. The other: Ahura Mazda, their fearsome winged creator. She made no mention of the Zoroastrian Satan, Angra Mainyu, nor the hosts of fabulous angels, angel-like animals, and demons.
I asked how one became a Zoroastrian, thinking that if ever I embraced religion this might be an interesting path. Gova explained that one needed to be born into it, and that there were only 200,000 true exponents of the faith remaining in the world. Their most holy sites are in Iran: temples housing flames that have burned since history began. These fires are fueled by gas escaping from underlying deposits of fossil fuel.
Wonderful that this piece of living history should so enjoy the crazy Leigh Bowery inspired tomfoolery of The Liquid Tempest.