Yezidis - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Yezidis have a distinctive religious system, the origins of which remain unclear. Scholars have discerned elements resembling those of the Manichaean, Zoroastrian, Mandaean Gnostic, Jewish, Christian (especially Nestorian), and Muslim (especially Sufi) traditions, but there is no evidence that the Yezidi religion represents an offshoot of any one of them. Only those born into the Yezidi community can belong to the religion; the Yezidis do not appear to accept converts.

The branding of the Yezidis as "devil worshipers" has, in fact, a basis in their religious practices, although they are nothing at all like the satanic cults one associates with this label. Yezidi theology recognizes a fundamental distinction between two principles: the good principle is represented by God (Khude), a deus otiosus who created the world but does not participate in its daily affairs. It is to the evil principle that takes an active role in worldly matters that prayers and offerings are made. This second deity, associated with the Devil, is Malak-Tâ'ûs or Malek-Tauz, the "Peacock Angel"—a fallen angel punished by God for rebellion against divine authority. One of the core elements of Yezidi religious practice is the propitiation of the evil principle through worship and offerings in order to insure good fortune and happiness in the world. (According to some Yezidi informants, God is so good that he has no need of worship, whereas the Peacock Angel is so evil as to require constant appeasement [Badger 1852, 126].)

Malek-Tauz is depicted in the form of seven bronze and iron peacock statues ( sanjaq ), associated with the seven angels who participated in the creation of the world and the seven principal divisions of the Yezidi community (the five districts—see "Location"—plus the nomadic Yezidis and the tomb of Sheikh 'Adî). Yezidis insist that these peacock statues are not idols, merely symbols of their faith. Every few months the sanjaqs are carried in procession in their respective districts and displayed in the homes of prominent families. The faithful bow before the statue and make offerings of money or valuables. Probably associated with the cult of Malek-Tauz is the strict taboo on pronouncing certain words associated with the Devil, as well as words of similar sound. For example, a Yezidi must not say the words "Sheitan" (Satan) and laan (curse), nor the near homophones shat (river) and naal (horseshoe).

Other important religious observances include: (!) the daily prayer (in the Kurdish language) at sunrise, addressed to Malek-Tauz and the seven angels; (2) certain practices and abstentions (e.g., from sexual intercourse) on Wednesday, the holy day of the week; (3) the New Year's festival, on the first Wednesday of April, celebrated at the tomb of Sheikh 'Adî; (4) an annual pilgrimage to that same tomb in mid-September, accompanied by music and dancing, ritual bathing, processions, and the lighting of oil lamps at the graves of Yezidi saints. (The Transcaucasian Yezidis were unable to make this pilgrimage during the Soviet period, and there were no substitute pilgrimages within Soviet territory.)

The Yezidis also practice the baptism of infants, circumcision (optional), and a eucharistlike breaking of bread and drinking of wine celebrated with a sheikh. There is no belief in eternal damnation, but rather in a transmigration of souls and gradual purification through the cycle of rebirths. The souls of righteous people can render aid and revelations to those still living on earth. The souls of sinners may be reborn into animals, but after an expiatory period they may pass again into human form.

One of the more noteworthy beliefs of the Yezidis concerns their origins. According to the Yezidis, unlike all other peoples on earth, who are descended from both Adam and Eve, they themselves are descended from Adam alone. In one version of their creation legend, there were seventy-two Adams, each of whom lived ten thousand years, and each of whom was more perfect than the previous Adam. The seventy-second Adam married Eve. The angel Jabra'il put drops of blood from the foreheads of Adam and Eve into four jars (two each), which were sealed for nine months. When the jars were opened, those containing Eve's blood were empty, whereas Adam's blood had produced a girl and a boy (Shahîd ibn Jayâr "the Son of the Jar"). These two children of Adam became the ancestors of the Yezidis, whereas all other nations are descended from Adam through Eve.

Sacred Literature. The Yezidis recognize two sacred books, said to have been written in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. The Kitab al-Jilwa (Book of Enlightenment), written in an archaic Kurdish dialect, is believed to have been dictated by Sheikh 'Adî. Most of the text is concerned with the Peacock Angel, who speaks in the first person, vaunting his power and promising rewards to his devotees. Some parts of the book have been encrypted through substitution of letters. The Masxafe Resh (Black Book) discusses the creation of humanity, how the power of evil tempts one to disobey God's commands, and certain taboos (against wearing the color blue; against eating lettuce, pumpkin, fish, chicken, gazelle, or marrow; and so on).

Medicine. Soil and water from around the tomb of Sheikh 'Adî in Iraq is sometimes used for healing illnesses. The sheikhs and pyirs perform healing rituals as one of their regular functions.

Death and Afterlife. After death the body is washed, and clay or water from Sheikh 'Adî is placed in the mouth of the deceased. The body is buried immediately thereafter, the head pointing east and the face turned toward the north star. The procession to the cemetery is accompanied by singing (and some accounts mention a dance performed by the mother or wife of a deceased man). The graves in Transcaucasian Yezidi cemeteries are marked by headstones in the form of sheep and other animals.

User Contributions:

The two principles, one a good deity outside and above worldly existence, and the other an evil deity tied to the realities of this world, is strikingly similar to many varieties of ancient Gnostic religion. It is not surprising that there would be elements of different religions found in this ethnic religion because Gnosticism itself was a syncretism of different religions, including Christianity and Judaism. From what I understand, this ethnic religious sect is persecuted in the Middle East.

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