The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz
by Isya Joseph
This is one of the only public domain sources of information on the religious beliefs of the Yezidi, a small group originally from the northern region of Iraq. Although they speak Kurdish, they are a distinct population from the Kurds. The Yezidi are notable because they have been described as devil-worshippers, which has, unfortunately, led to constant persecution by the dominant Islamic culture of the region. Yezidi religious beliefs upon closer examination appear to be a mixture of Gnostic cosmology with Muslim, Christian and other influences. They have many unique beliefs, such as that the first Yezidi were created by Adam by parthenogenesis separately from Eve. They believe that there was a flood before the flood of Noah. They also have a set of food taboos which include meat, fish, squash, okra, beans, cabbage and lettuce.
Do they really worship the devil? In fact, you could just as well say that they worship angels, and this might be the best way to spin this for people who aren't interested in theological nuances, or have no experience with such a radically 'different' belief system.
Joseph says: (p. 155) "It is interesting to note that, in the history of religion, the god of one people is the devil of another." Their cosmology is so radically different from the dominant paradigm that it is hard to translate the concepts. The Yezidis believe in a single creator, who created a set of other deities which could be just as well be called demons, angels, or gods. The primary one of these, and the one that the Yezidi worship, is called Melek Ta`us, who is represented as a peacock. One scholar (whom Joseph disagrees with) traces this name to that of Tammuz, the ancient Syrian deity. Joseph, however, claims: (p. 148) "[Melek Ta`us] denotes the devil and nothing else. This is so clear to the Yezidis, or to anyone acquainted with their religion, as to leave no need for further discussion".
In some polytheistic religions good and evil deities are worshipped equally; the good gods so that good things will happen, and the evil ones also are propitiated so that bad things won't happen. The Yezidi theology differs in that God is so good that he has no need of worship; Melek Ta`us is sort of a firewall between this imperfect world and the perfection of the supreme being. This is similar to beliefs of some ancient Gnostics that God, being purely good, had to create a set of intermediaries, the Aeons. This is so that the Aeons, in turn, could create a world which includes evil. It should be kept in mind that, when this book was written, the Gnostics were virtually unknown, save from opposing views in early Christian writings.
The Yezidi have a strong ethical code and customs like those of many other agricultural tribal people, as is apparent from the ethnological sketch which rounds out this book. In spite of this, authors from Paul Carus to H.P. Lovecraft have painted the Yezidi as sinister worshippers of the evil one. Some of the poetry from this book was borrowed in the 1960s by the Satanist Anton LaVey for his liturgy. This image is simply not borne out by a close reading.
The Yezidi are important to the study of religions in a way that the Basque are important to the study of languages. Like the Samaritans or the Druze, they are a little island of diversity in a world which is becoming homogenized by globalism.
Some additional notes: The Yezidi 'Sacred Books' are reputedly never shown to strangers. This book includes a set of translations from an Arabic manuscript given to Joseph by a Muslim which purport to be the text of these books. However, I have been unable to find any other third party translation of these texts, so caveat lector. This etext uses extended Latin characters and requires a Unicode compliant browser; for more information refer to the sacred-texts Unicode page.
--John Bruno Hare, September 15th, 2004.
Chapter VI: List of the Yezidi Tribes