Sacred Texts  Asia  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, by Isya Joseph, [1919], at

p. 87



p. 88 p. 89



The origin of the devil-worshippers has been the subject of much controversy; but aside from an expression of views, no satisfactory solution of the problem has as yet been reached. The different theories which have been advanced may be classified under four general heads: The Myth of the Yezidis themselves; the tradition of Eastern Christians; the dogmatic idea of the Mohammedan scholars; and the speculative theory of the western orientalists.



The Myth of the Yezidis concerning their origin may be derived from three different sources: from their sacred book, from the appendix of the manuscript, and from actual conversation of travellers with them or with natives dwelling among them. One

p. 90

noticeable fact is that this tradition assumes the religion of the sect as existing long before the time of their chief saint, Šeiḫ ‘Adî. Al-Jilwah begins with the statement that Melek Ṭâ‘ûs sent his servant, i.e., the Yezidis, that they might not go astray. Starting from this assumption, the writer of the revealed book goes on to trace the origin of the "elect" to the very beginning of human history. He asserts that from the start God created them as a peculiar people of ‘Azazil, i.e., Melek-Ṭâ‘ûs. In the main, this idea finds expression in the oral traditions. But here we have a mass of material so clouded by superstition and ignorance that it is next to impossible to come to any conclusion as to the history of this interesting people. One point the myth repeatedly emphasizes, as an explanation of the origin of the sect, is that it was descended from Adam alone; while the other sects were descended from Adam and Eve. For this reason, the same tradition implies. the Yezidis are nobler than the others. But how they have come to be such unique descendants is a question not easily answered. One account has it that when Adam and Eve disputed as to the generation of the human race, each claiming to be the sole begetter of the race, they finally agreed to put their seed in separate jars and seal them with their own seals. After nine months they opened the jars, and in Adam's jar they found two children, a male and a female. From these two the Yezidis were descended. Another explanation is that from Adam's essence was born Šeher bn Jebr,

p. 91

of whom nothing is known; and of him, a separate community, which is the sect of Melek Ṭâ‘ûs. We have, moreover, the tradition that the Yezidis are descendants of a son born to Adam of his spittle. Now whether this son be identical with Šeher bn Jebr is not certain. Writing in one of the oriental periodicals, an eastern scholar quotes a Yezidi šeiḫ in a statement which seems to corroborate the tradition that the Yezidis are a noble progeny of Adam; but the quotation differs from the instance previously cited in stating that the quarrel which took place between Adam and Eve led to their separation to places distant from each other a journey of forty days. 1 There, it is said, Adam miraculously gave birth to a son. Distressed by this incident, Eve asked God that she might find favor in her husband's eyes by giving birth to a child. Thereupon, it continues, she begat a very pretty daughter. Attracted by her beauty, Adam married her to his son. Now, the Yezidis, we are told, are the blessed seed of these two children. 2

Not only when the tradition, tracing the origin of the Yezidis as a race, asserts that, as a religious body, they come from a very ancient time; but also when it speaks of them as a nation, it points out their antiquity. On this latter, as well as on the former point, their book and their oral tradition agree. The Yezidis are said to have sprung from a noble personage, the King of Peace, whose name was Na-‘umi, but whom they now call Melek-Miran. 3 The rest of mankind, however, are from the seed of Ham, who

p. 92

mocked his father. Whom they signified by Na-‘umi or Miran it is hard to say; but it is likely that they regard him as one of the other two sons of Noah. They claim also that the ancient Assyrian kings were members of their race, and that some of the Persian, Roman and Jewish kings were appointed for them by Melek Ṭâ‘ûs. They likewise seem to trace their origin to the prophets and other personages of the Old Testament; as Seth, Enoch, Noah, etc. Their religion furthermore, they assert, antedates Christ. 4

There is still another tradition that traces the devil-worshippers to a different origin. I refer to the statement which Masehaf Reš makes regarding Mu‘awiya, Mohammed's servant. 5 Mu‘awiya was asked by his master to shave his head. While performing the duty, he cut the prophet's scalp, and began to lick the bleeding spot. When he was told that this act would result in his giving birth to a nation which would oppose the followers of his master, Mu‘awiya declared that he would not marry. He was afterwards, however, bitten by a serpent, and was told that he would die unless he married. He therefore consented to marry, but chose an old woman in order not to have children. But she miraculously became a young woman of twenty-five. And from her the God Yezid was born. The story, of course, is a myth, and it is of such a nature that no historic fact can be derived from it. It is further complicated by the fact that this Yezid is identified with Melek Ṭâ‘ûs; and, in another myth, is represented in form as being half angel and half

p. 93

nun and as remaining a bachelor long after the marriage of Adam He was, however, finally possessed of a desire to marry, and, unable to marry a mortal's daughter, being himself half angel, sought the assistance of Melek Ṭâ‘ûs, who presented to him an ḥouri, and from this union there sprang a pious people, the Yezidis.

But the devil-worshippers have still another story, which goes to show that Yezid bn Mu‘awiya is not their founder. This myth asserts that they are the progeny of Adam's son who was married to Eve's daughter; that the descendants continued worshiping God and Melek Ṭâ‘ûs without bringing a foreign element into their religion; and that, at first, the sect did not bear the name Yezidis, which, in their own opinion, is a comparatively new appellative. As to how they came to be called by this new name, it is explained that when, in the course of time, some corruption entered the Yezidi religion, there arose a certain Calif by the name of Yezid who wrought miracles. Since then, his followers have been called Yezidis. This Yezid, it is said, is the son of Mu‘awiya bn Sufian, and his mother was of Christian origin. To accomplish his desire, bn Mu‘awiya went to Šeiḫ ‘Adî, who was a learned and devout but cunning person, and had instituted a religious innovation. Yezid, the tradition continues, learned ‘Adî's religion and taught it to his followers; and, from that time on, the sect came to be called after him. 6 But while some, considering this legend as authoritative, venerate

p. 94

the man bearing the name, others deny all connection with him. 7

The testimony of some travellers offers another explanation of the origin of the sect in question, an account which has perhaps more historical significance than the preceding theories. It is stated that the Yezidis have a tradition to the effect that they came from Baṣrah and from the country watered by the lower part of the Euphrates; that after their emigration they first settled in Syria, and subsequently took possession of the Sinjar Hill and the district now inhabited in Kurdistan. As to the date of their settlement in Mesopotamia, no positive information can be obtained. Some scholars infer that it took place about the time of Tamerlane, toward the end of the fourteenth century. 8 It is related that the devil-worshippers hold that, among their own number, the ancient name for God is Azd, and from it the name of the sect is derived; 9 that the conviction that they are Yezidis, i.e., God's people, has been their consolation and comfort through the ages in their tribulations; 10 and that they have taken many religious observances from different bodies--Mohammedans, Christians, Jews, Pagan Arabs, Shiites, and Sabaians.

Besides these different explanations of the origin of the devil-worshippers as descendants of Adam, of Yezîd bn Mu‘awiya, as being of the colony from the north, as taking their name from Azd, God, there is another account. I refer to a myth which is current among the people of Seistan, an eastern province of

p. 95

[paragraph continues] Persia, where there are a considerable number of these Shaitan parasts (devil worshippers):

"In former times there existed a prophet named Ḥanalalah, whose life was prolonged to the measure of a thousand years. He was their ruler and benefactor; and as by his agency, their flocks gave birth to lambs and kids miraculously once a week, though ignorant of the use of money, they, with much gratitude to him, procured all the comforts of life. At length, however, he died, and was succeeded by his son, whom Šatan, presuming on his inexperience, empted to sin by entering a large mulberry tree, when he addressed the successor of Ḥanalalah, and called on him to worship the prince of darkness. Astonished, yet unshaken, the youth resisted the temptation. But the miracle proved too much for the constancy of his flock, who now began to turn to the worship of the devil. The young prophet, enraged at this, seized An axe and a saw, and prepared to cut down the tree. He was arrested in this by the appearance of a human being, who exclaimed, 'Rash boy, desist! Turn to me and let us wrestle for the victory. If you conquer, then fell the tree!

"The prophet contended and vanquished his opponent, who, however, bought his own safety and that of the tree by the promise of a large weekly treasure. After seven days the holy victor again visited the tree to claim the gold or fell it to the ground; but Satan persuaded him to hazard another struggle on the promise that, if he conquered again, the amount

p. 96

should be doubled. This second encounter proved fatal to the youth. He was put to death by his spiritual antagonist, and the result confirmed the tribes over whom he had ruled in their worship of the tree and its tutelary demon." 11

According to this legend, the Šatan parasts are the victims of their young prophet who, as long as he was actuated by a disinterested zeal for religion, was victorious over the principle of evil; but failed as soon as that zeal gave place to a sordid cupidity for earthly treasure.

I have dwelt upon the superstitious theories of the Yezidis themselves regarding their religious origin, not because these theories have an importance in themselves, but because of their bearing upon the views advanced by modern scholars. The scholars have based their theories on some of these conflicting stories without sufficient criticism. I shall dwell upon this more at length later on.


91:1 p. 138 This may be traced to the Mohammedan myth that when the primal pair fell from their estate of bliss in the heavenly Paradise, Adam landed on a mountain in Ceylon and Eve fell at Jiddah, on the western coast of Arabia. After a hundred years of wandering, they met near Meccah, and here Allah constructed for them a tabernacle, on the site of the present Kaaba, S. M. Zwemer, Arabia, p. 17; Aš-Šahrastani, II, 430.

91:2 Anistase: Al-Mašrik, Vol. 2, p. 33.

91:3 Cf. p. 35.

92:4 Cf. p. 34.

92:5 Cf. p. 37.

93:6 Al-Mašrik, Vol. 2, p. 33.

94:7 Scottish Geog. Mag., vol. 14, p, 295.

94:8 Layard: Nineveh and Its Remains, vol. II. p. 254.

94:9 Layard: Nineveh and Babylon, p. 94.

94:10 S. G. M., vol. 14, p. 300.

96:11 Fraser: Mesopotamia and Persia, p. 287.

Next: II. The Christian Tradition