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New Freedom for Peacock Followers?
Now that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein has been over thrown, will there be more freedom for the Yezidi, the followers of the ’Peacock God’?
Yezidism (alternative spellings: Yazidism or Ezidism) is an ancient religion (probably more accurately, a syncretistic religious mixture) that has existed amongst the Kurds of Kurdistan — a region (not officially recognised) taking in areas of Northern Iraq, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Yezidi religion was, in the past, regarded as the main religion of the Kurds scattered across these various countries and areas.
Active opposition to the Kurds, and especially the Yezidis, has led to the deaths of many. Forced Islamisation has also significantly affected Yezidi numbers. Complexities of their faith and popular fears have given rise to misrepresentation and further opposition. The continuing opposition led to a diaspora in Germany, as well as individuals and small groups of Yezidis scattered around the world.
The main concentration of Yezidis continues to be in Northern Iraq (with the largest concentration of Yezidis outside the Kurdistan region being in Germany). The religion’s holy city is Lalish, near the northern Iraqi city of Mossul and the ancient site of Nineveh.
It is believed that the Yezidi religion grew out of the ancient religion of Mithras, and over the centuries took on board and/or adapted concepts from Zoroastrianism/Zarathushtraism, Gnosticism, Christianity and Islam.
Isolation, a lack of any official written statement of beliefs or Scriptures, as well as religious and political opposition, plus their own claims and past reluctance to discuss their beliefs and rituals, have all led to the Yezidis being labelled as Satanic and Devil worshippers.
The Yezidis generally believe that there is one God, who created seven angels to help him run the universe. The first, and apparently most beautiful angel, is equated with Lucifer, because he became a fallen angel. However, they believe he repented, was pardoned and reinstated by God. Somehow he became known, and symbolised, as Malak Ta’us, the Peacock Angel. God, the Yezidis apparently believe, is no longer an active force, having lost interest in his creation and handed it over to Malak Ta’us — who many (most?) Yezidis believe, now rules the universe and must be worshipped and appeased to avert his wrath otherwise he could kill them, destroy their homes and punish them.
Yezidis are forbidden to refer to Malak Ta’us as Shaytan (the Islamic term for Satan), even though he is clearly linked to Lucifer.
Many Yezidis believe they are directly descended from Adam only, while the rest of humanity is descendants of Eve, and therefore are inferior.
Sometimes, it appears, God, Adam, Lucifer, and even Gabriel end up as one conglomerate deity under the name Malak Ta’us.
Another central figure in Yezidi thinking and worship is Shaykh (Sheikh) Adi ibn Musafir, the founding figure and major Saint of ’modern’ Yezidism, who probably lived in the 12 th century (though the Yezidis claim to have existed long before that). The Yezidis seem to have deified Shaykh Adi, with some (many?? most??) regarding him as having equal power and authority to Malak Ta’us. .
An annual pilgrimage is made, in late August, to the temple believed to house the remains of Shaykh Adi in the Yezidi holy city of Lalish. The entrance to the temple is adorned with the relief image of a black snake, which is rubbed for good luck. This pilgrimage, with its various rituals, is probably the most important even in the Yezidi religious calendar. It includes ceremonial washing in the river; processions with music and singing; dances performed by the priests; the lighting of oil lamps at the conical roofed tombs of Shaykh Adi and other Yezidi Saints; special food offerings and feasts — including the slaying, cooking and eating of a sacred and sacrificed bull, and more.
Doorways into the inner areas of Yezidi temples are generally small and low — so that the men (only) who go through them must ’bow down in humility’ to enter the inner sanctum. Peacocks feature in decorations of walls, doorways and various items related to worship and rituals.
Normal religious activities including daily prayers, at dawn and sunset, facing the sun (and sometimes, apparently even made to the sun, as well as to Malak Ta’us). There are also daily temple activities led by white robed priests. Wednesday is the holy day of the week, while Saturday is a day of rest.
Yezidis allow proxy worshippers to perform rituals and prayers for others who are unable to attend activities at temples. Such proxy worshippers are usually paid for the various prayers to be uttered, and sins for which they may seek forgiveness on behalf of the person not able to attend.
There are no converts to the Yezidi faith — one can only be born into it. They also refuse to marry outside their faith community — in order to preserve the purity of their bloodlines and their faith.
The Yezidis practice infant baptism, and young boys are circumcised — though this is not compulsory.
For reasons lost in time and obscurity, Yezidis are forbidden to eat lettuce, wear dark blue clothing, pass water standing up, put on underclothes while seated, wash alone in the bath or utter the name, Shaytan (Satan).
With an oral tradition and no real authoritative sacred texts; a reluctance to discuss their beliefs (with its local, and other, variations) with outsiders; a refusal to allow outsiders to observe their important sacred rituals; and a general keeping to themselves in isolated communities, accurate information on the Yezidis, their beliefs and practices have been difficult to establish accurately.
Estimates of Yezidi populations have proved just as difficult to determine, with numbers varying enormously. Some reports have suggested that there are only about 750 (7,500??) Yezidis left in Iraq, while other reports varying with as many as, 30,000 or 120,000 or 150,000 or even 300,000 or 500,000 in Iraq and 100,000 or more than 300, 000, or 725,000 or 1 million worldwide!
However many Yezidis there may be, those still in Iraq now hope for greater freedom and no persecution, while those outside the country hope for greater freedom in being allowed to return and visit their sacred sites.
(From TACL Vol 24 #3 June/July 2003)