Peacocks are the sacred animal of the Yezidis’ spiritual patron, Ta’usi-Melek
I first learned about the Yezidis while reading Terri Hardin’s Supernatural Tales From Around the World in the late 1990s. At that point, most people – including some Western scholars – were still calling them “devil worshipers,” and accurate information about these people was still very hard to come by. It’s only been during the past 10 years or so that the Yezidis have been acquiring more serious attention from the outside world, but the cause for this is unfortunate. After many centuries of persecution, the Yezidis are only now receiving the attention they deserve because they’re being systematically slaughtered by Islamic jihadists. They’re particularly despised by the Islamic State terrorist group, which has been exterminating entire crowds of Yezidi men and kidnapping (and ostensibly enslaving) their women and children.
Yezidism is a syncretized religion that bridges the gap between pre-Zoroastrian Kurdish polytheism and the Abrahamic faiths. (In this way, it’s sort of like a Middle Eastern version of Vodun or Santeria.) It revolves around nine different paranormal beings: a primordial God that created the universe, seven archangels that act as custodians for His creation, and a holy prophet named Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (who’s thought to have been one of the seven archangels in human form). It’s my opinion that the seven Yezidi archangels were originally revered as full-blown polytheist Deities, since they continue to be treated as Gods and worshiped today. Yezidis believe that worshiping the Creator God is pointless, since He’s apparently left this world to create untold others. Worship is instead directed toward His angels, who now rule the universe in His place. Of these angels, the most important is called Ta’usi-Melek, the “Peacock Angel.”
The story of Ta’usi-Melek is partly based on the Islamic version of Satan, and this is where the accusation of “devil worship” comes from. According to the Koran, Iblis (“Doubt,” the Islamic name for Satan) was originally a jinni (i.e., genie) who refused to prostrate himself before Adam when Allah commanded all angels and jinn to do so at the dawn of time. Iblis refused because he thought he was better than human beings, and Allah cast him out of heaven for his pride. Afterwards, Iblis became the Shaitan and devoted himself to tricking as many people and jinn into disobeying Allah as possible. Aside from his origin story, the Islamic version of Satan exhibits the same characteristics and traits as the Christian version does; he’s basically there to harass, frighten and/or deceive monotheists into committing various “sins.”
The Yezidis appear to have worshiped their Peacock Angel long before they ever heard this story, but at some point, attempts were made to convert them to Islam. They were no doubt told by Muslims that their Peacock Angel was actually the Shaitan (just as all polytheist Deities are really “Satan” in monotheistic eyes), and that they should worship Allah instead. But rather than go along with this, the Yezidis simply developed their own version of the story. Yes, they agreed, Ta’usi-Melek is the same character as Iblis, and yes, he did disobey a direct order from Allah and refuse to bow before Adam. But that’s where their agreement with the Koran ends, for they believe that instead of becoming the devil, Ta’usi-Melek actually became the first monotheist. He disobeyed Allah not out of pride but out of loyalty, for he was only refusing to bow before anyone but Allah. The Yezidis further believe that Ta’usi-Melek was rewarded for this act of disobedience, and that he was appointed by Allah to rule our cosmos. In this way, they could justify the continued worship of their Peacock Angel not as the “enemy” of Allah, but as His regent.
Outsiders are often confused by the Yezidi religion because (1) it seems to claim that its God is the same entity that Christians and Muslims call “Satan,” but (2) it also denies that this entity ever became “Satan” in the first place. This nuance is extremely difficult for most people to understand, but I would argue that the Yezidis really don’t worship Satan at all. They aren’t worshiping an angel that serves or opposes the God of Abraham by leading Jews, Christians or Muslims astray; they’re worshiping a Kurdish pagan demiurge who has His own unique cultus and who was misidentified with the Abrahamic devil by outsiders. Furthermore, it would seem that the Yezidis found a rather unique way of turning this misidentification against itself.
Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir was a medieval Sufi Muslim who went to Kurdistan to find some peace and quiet. But despite his attempts to live a monastic life, he drew the attention of his local Yezidi populace. My guess is that Sheikh Adi is the person who tried converting the Yezidis to Islam (and he was probably the only person who ever tried doing this peacefully, since every subsequent attempt at converting the Yezidis has resulted in genocidal violence). As far as I’ve been able to trace, the idea of Iblis being the first monotheist originated from the Sufi movement, which follows a far more mystical (and far less rigid) version of Islam. I’m willing to bet that Sheikh Adi is the person who introduced this idea to the Yezidis, who then equated it with Ta’usi-Melek. In any case, Sheikh Adi made such an impression on these people that they came to believe he was actually a human incarnation of Ta’usi-Melek that was sent to guide them. To this very day, making a pilgrimage to Sheikh Adi’s tomb is still an important part of Yezidism.
Here in the West, most of the attention Yezidism has received comes from Satanists, who’ve latched on to this religion as “proof” for the historicity of a pre-LaVeyan Satanism. (Nevermind the fact that Anton LaVey was preceded by two other 20th century Satanist leaders, Maria de Naglowska and Herbert Sloane.) LaVey himself even included part of a so-called Yezidi text – the Al-Jilwah – in his Satanic Rituals (1972). This text is now accepted by some theistic Satanists as a direct revelation from Satan himself, but its true history is something else again. For one thing, the Al-Jilwah is only part of a longer text called the Mishaf Resh (“Black Book”). While it does reflect many Yezidi beliefs, it was written by non-Yezidis in an attempt to explain their religion and is not regarded as being the sacred “word of Ta’usi-Melek” by His actual worshipers in any way, shape or form. I had an opportunity to ask Dr. Philip G. Kreyenbroek – one of the leading scholars of Yezidi culture today – about this very topic back in 2007, and this is what he said:
The so-called ‘Sacred Books’ are forgeries and have little to do with Yezidi belief. [. . .] I can still remember the face of a learned Yezidi friend of mine when I first showed him the ‘Sacred Books’, first he was scandalised and then he laughed fit to burst.
– P. G. Kreyenbroek (personal communication, October 20, 2007)
The funny thing is, I’ve met theistic Satanists who believe everything in the Al-Jilwah word-for-word (just like fundamentalist Christians take everything in the Bible literally). This belief is based on the faulty premise that Ta’usi-Melek is actually Satan, that Yezidis are actually Satanists, and that the Al-Jilwah is a direct revelation from Satan to Yezidis. Yet the truth is that (1) Ta’usi-Melek and Satan are two completely different figures, (2) Yezidis don’t believe in Satan at all, and (3) Yezidis consider the Al-Jilwah to be some Westerner’s idea of a joke. This pretty much destroys the entire notion of using the Al-Jilwah as a sacred scripture of any kind.
Yezidi beliefs (or rather, Western misinterpretations of Yezidi beliefs) have also been appropriated by Theosophists, Thelemites, and even the Feri tradition of non-Wiccan traditional witchcraft. Helena Blavatsky, George Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Grant and Victor Anderson all romanticized the Yezidis as being ascended occult masters who are following exotic versions of their own Western ideas. This provides a much-needed counterbalance to other views of the Yezidis as “ignorant devil worshipers,” but it also says far more about Western occultists than it does about the Yezidis themselves. Considering that truly accurate information about Yezidism has only been available to us for the past couple of decades, these people were effectively talking out of their butts. It’s like saying, “I can’t find more than a single paragraph about the Yezidis in any of my encyclopedias, and I’ve never actually met a Yezidi person or directly experienced the Yezidi faith in any way. But since I’m a Snooticus Maximus XIX° of the Ordo Assholius Genericus, I know more about Yezidism than anyone else – including the Yezidis themselves.”
Alexander Hislop tried to prove that Ta’usi-Melek is really the Christian Satan by conflating him with Seth-Typhon (as if that makes any sense). Being much younger when I first encountered this claim, I thought for a while that there might actually be something to it (which is why I’ve looked into Yezidism as much as I have). I theorized that perhaps the Yezidis might be a cult of Sutekh that had been assimilated into Mesopotamian culture and that has survived from the time of the Hyksos. But over the years it became clear to me that Ta’usi-Melek and Seth-Typhon aren’t related to each other at all, and that my theory of the Yezidis being descendants of the Hyksos was complete horseshit. This is hardly surprising in retrospect, and I’m sure some people are probably wondering why any of this would have been a question for me in the first place. All I can say is that many of Seth’s modern followers have equated Him with figures that don’t really make any sense in my opinion (e.g., Odin, Lucifer, Tezcatlipoca, etc.) and that it was only by going through a phase like this that I learned not to be so arbitrary in my eclecticism.
Of course, anyone who knows anything about Islam will realize that most everything I’ve described in this post violates all kinds of rules in the Koran. The idea that we can’t worship the Creator directly, but that we have to worship angels instead…The idea that one of those angels rebelled against the Creator, but did so for a good reason and was rewarded rather than damned…The idea that there was another prophet after Mohammed, that he was an angel incarnate, and that he’s worthy of worship…Considering that Sunnis and Shi’ites are perfectly willing to kill each other simply because they can’t agree on who was supposed to lead the Islamic world after Mohammed died (despite the fact that they agree on damn near anything else), it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that these people see Yezidis as subhuman degenerates.
Thankfully, more accurate information about the Yezidis is currently available, and there’s even a website called YezidiTruth.org that tries to generate support for the Yezidi people here in the U.S. (As far as I can tell, YezidiTruth.org has been online since 2007 at least.) I encourage anyone who’s interested to check out this website. Also, below you’ll find a list of suggested resources for further research, and here is a link to a very informative BBC article that includes numerous pictures of Yezidi people living their day-to-day lives.
Acikyildiz, B. (2010). The Yezidis: the history of a community, culture and religion. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris & Co.
Allison, C. (2001). The Yezidi oral tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan . Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.
Arakelova, V. (2004). Notes on the Yezidi religious syncretism. Iran & the Caucasus, 8 (1), 19-28. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4030889
Asatrian, G. (1999). The holy brotherhood: The Yezidi religious institution of the”brother” and the “sister” of the next world. Iran & the Caucasus, 3/4 . Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4030767
Asatrian, G., & Arakelova, V. (2004). The Yezidi pantheon. Iran & the Caucasus, 8(2), 231-279. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4030995
Guest, J. S. (1987). Survival among the Kurds: A history of the Yezidis. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Kreyenbroek, P. G. (2009). Yezidism in Europe: Different generations speak about their religion. Göttingen, Germany: Hubert & Co.