People of the Peacock Angel
July 4, 2003 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Meet the People of the Peacock Angel, the Yezidi. Theirs is a religion and culture centered near Mosul, Iraq, as well as Syria, the Caucasus, the via the diaspora in Germany. Seclusive and secretive, the Yezidi have often been maligned by outsiders due to misinterpretations of the nature of their primary Deity, Malak Taus (once a rebel angel who recreated the world and doused the fires of hell with his tears). Gurdjieff (pt. I, pt. II) may have been heavily influenced by them. Unlike other middle-eastern religions, the Yezidi have rejected dualism and, therefore, the ideas of sin and evil. Various versions float around of the Black Book of the Yezidi and other works that form their sacred literature. Wars, political pogroms and proselytizing have placed this beautiful, complex and misunderstood tradition in jeopardy.
posted by moonbird (14 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
A fascinating people, with a much-misunderstood culture and history which you have presented with exemplary care. (You even give us some rare good news out of Iraq: "Cholo believes that he and fellow Yazidis never had it so good: They are now free of fear of persecution for their beliefs.") A great post, and the one in recent memory that I would most like to have made myself, had I had the patience. Kudos, moonbird.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 PM on July 4, 2003

Moonbird - This post rises so far above the typical Metafilter din that I am speechless, except to say - thank you.
posted by troutfishing at 9:05 PM on July 4, 2003

Wow. Incredible stuff about a people I'd probably have otherwise assumed were mythical... Great post, Moonbird.
posted by wanderingmind at 9:34 PM on July 4, 2003

Oh nifty. I've been wanting to find out more about these people since Alan Moore included John Corbeau in his Top Ten comic.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:25 AM on July 5, 2003

I think the whole devil-worship accusation thing is kind of ironic: "Hey, your good, cruel, intolerant, vulgar, make-believe God is our evil cruel, intolerant, vulgar, make believe God - let's wage Fundamentalist violence on one another and deny eachothers equal humanity."

Its not that Yezidi aren't devil-worshipers*, it's that all Mithric, Zoroastrian, Abrahamic faiths are "devil-worshiping" too - that is if the "devil" is defined as a powerful supernatural actor who does things that are evil by human standards.

"The peacock god" is just another peace-loving, inclusive, compassionate, benevolent Western God:

Yazidis, however, believe Malak Ta'us fell from grace, then later repented and must be appeased to avert his wrath. Yazidis have a hymn dedicated to Malak Ta'us and often display his peacock image and kiss it as part of their rituals.

''He can kill us, destroy our houses and punish us. We fear him,'' said Aizdu, sitting on the floor in a bare room where the compound's men gather for coffee and a smoke.
" 1 [oh well, at least, he's not "the devil"]

As a practicing people (though they are not an ethnic group) Yezidi deserve the freedom, dignity, and human rights of any other, but as a religion, Yezidi is both racist and appalling by Western standards, in which the practitioners are superior by right of birth:

"Yazidis regard marriage outside their faith as a sin punishable by ostracizing or even death to restore lost honor." 1

"Yazidi are exclusive. Yazidi clans do not intermarry even with other Kurds and accept no converts. They claim that they are descended only from the Adam. The strongest punishment is expulsion, which is also effectively excommunication because the soul of the exiled is forfeit." 2

"The Yazidis believe that they are the descendants of Adam only, while the rest of the world are descendants of Eve, hence inferior. It is impossible to convert to Yazidism, you must be born one. The strongest punishment among Yazidis is expulsion, which means that your soul is lost forever." 3 [I have to wonder if that's not, God forbid, "the same" Adam and Eve either]

*AFAICT the name of the Yezidi god is the name for the devil in the Koran. The devil (who is a character introduced into Judaism not until the Persian captivity. Dualism was introduced into Judaism through Zoroastrians) from the koran and judaism and christianity and the Yezidi god are all based off of a related line of tradition (god's "fallen angel") with respective elements introduced. Not uncommon. Similarly many Christians had/have a fit that in the book of Mormon jesus and satan are brothers.
posted by dgaicun at 2:54 AM on July 5, 2003

Well, what troutfishing and languagehat said, with a note of exasperation, as I had a cognate of this post in the making, in an obviously too desultory--in retrospect--way, after running across the Yezidi pages you mention with the Gurdjieff link. I ran across those while researching the post. So, I had this very idea in mind. I'm quite miffed--but it is a post well done on a fascinating people. Well.
I can see I better stop procrastinating on my other little projects for here...

posted by y2karl at 4:35 AM on July 5, 2003

Ha! You've done that to me too, y2karl.

Fantastic post, moonbird. I saw a documentary about the Yezidi a long time ago, which had footage of some of their rituals. They are a fascinating culture.
posted by homunculus at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2003

A great post, well presented. Thanks a lot Mr. moonbird!
posted by taz at 10:31 AM on July 5, 2003

Yazidi holy books are the Book of Revelation and the Black Book. The latter forbids eating of lettuce or butter beans and wearing of dark blue

Heh. Dunno about lettuce and dark blue, but I've always believed that butter beans are evil...pure evil!

It's interesting to me how one faith's devil can be another's savior. Christianity had a gnostic sect called the Cainites (condemned as heretics, 'natch) who apparently believed Judas Iscariot was the real messiah who was forced to betray Jesus in order to prevent him from spreading a false gospel.
posted by MrBaliHai at 12:42 PM on July 5, 2003

Interesting, MrBalihai. Here's what a page called "The Uncomplicated Gnostic" says about the Cainites.

btw, butterbeans are definitely holy; it's brussel sprouts that are pure evil.
posted by taz at 1:50 PM on July 5, 2003

Hmm. the Pythagoreans were down on the beans, too. Met a guy at the 4th of July party last night who tunes his piano according to the Pythagorean mode--not a well tempered clavier has he.
posted by y2karl at 6:02 PM on July 5, 2003

Wow! Thanks all for the comments and the additional thoughts folks. People like the Yezidi, the Mowahhidoon (the Druze), the Zoroastrians, and others really fascinate me because of their durability in a region presently dominated by theological monopolies, but at one time by pluralism and relative tolerance. Their ancient teachings survive and their adherents adapt despite fiercely defended norms... you just gotta respect that.
posted by moonbird at 6:47 PM on July 5, 2003

Zoroastrians? And who are my favorite little Zoroastrians? Why the Parsees of course. But don't take my word for it, what does the 1911 encyclopedia (which according to the website was the "best encyclopedia ever written") have to say about them:

Among Parsees the men are well formed, active, handsome and intelligent. They have light olive complexions, a fine aquiline nose, bright black eyes, a well-turned chin, heavy arched eyebrows, thick sensual lips, and usually wear a light curling moustache. The women are delicate in frame, with small hands and feet, fair complexions, beautiful black eyes, finely arched eyebrows, and a profusion of long black hair, which they dress to perfection, and ornament with pearls and gems. The Parsees are much more liberal in their treatment of women than any other Asiatic race; they allow them to appear freely in public, and leave them the entire management of household affairs.

A "fine aquiline nose" and "thick, sensual lips"? *swoon* Stop already, these "Asiatics" have me smitten.

More words of praise from Bob the Angry Flower.
posted by dgaicun at 8:01 PM on July 5, 2003

Here's a previous post on the Parsis.
posted by homunculus at 11:17 PM on July 5, 2003

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