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




A distinguished modern scholar (see the printed text, p. 80, lines 12-35) argues that Ṭâ’ûs is the god Tammuz. His argument is that the word Ṭâ’ûs must embody an ancient god, but owing to the obscurity in which the origin of Yezidism. and the being of Melek Ṭâ’ûs are wrapped, it is very difficulty to say which god is meant. And to determine this, he assumes that the term does not come from the Arabic word Ṭâ’ûs, but was occasioned by some "folk-etymology," and that we must look, therefore, for some god-name which resembles the word Ṭâ’ûs. Taking this as a

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starting point, the critic calls attention to the fact that in Fihrist, p. 322, l. 27f, which treats of the feasts and gods of the Ḥaranians, we read that the god Tauz had a feast in middle of Tammuz. He infers from this that the god Tauz is identical with Melek Ṭâ’ûs. And to the question who this god Tauz is, he answers it is Tammuz. To justify his explanation, the writer contends that the Yezidis speak in Kurdish, and according to Justi's Kurdische Grammatik, p. 82ff, the change of meem to waw in this language is frequent. 2

However plausible this process may seem to be, philologically it cannot here yield a satisfactory conclusion. For it is based on wrong premises. It is not true that the word Ṭâ’ûs signifies an ancient deity. It 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. And to question the religious consciousness of a sect is to engage in pure speculation. Likewise, the method of determining this supposed god by the name of some deity resembling it is objectionable. There are many such names. One might also infer that the sect worship Christ under the form of the devil. This theory has actually been advanced.--Theatre de la Turque, 364. The statement that in Kurdish the letter meem is changed to waw frequently is untenable, if one would set it up as a grammatical rule to explain such phenomena. What is more, the Kurds pronounce the name tammuz, and nothing else, unless

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some one has a physiological difficulty which will not permit him to close his lips, so that instead of saying tammuz, he would mutter taouz. The following are a few of many instances to show that meem is not changed to waw in Kurdish even in words of Arabic origin: ‘Amelie ṣaliḥ (good works), zamanie aḫerat (the last day), the well of Zamsam, Mohammed, and Mustafa (the chosen one), when applied to the prophet, Melek (king), when applied to Ṭâ’ûs. Further the assumption that Ṭâ’ûs does not come from the Arabic Ṭâ’ûs is unverifiable. Unquestionably the attempt to trace this term to tauz, then to Tammuz, was suggested to Professor Lidzbarski by the fact that ammuz was the name of an ancient Babylonian god, and that Abu Sayyid Wahb ibn Ibrahim, quoted by an-Nedim, an Arab author of the tenth century, states that the god Tauz has a feast in his honor on the fifteenth of Tammuz (Fihrist, p. 322). But according to the author of "Die Sabier and Sabismus" (p. 202) the original form of this word is unknown.

Not only the inference which identifies Ṭâ’ûs with Tammuz is based on wrong premises; but, in the Yezidi conception of Melek Ṭâ’ûs, there are no traces of the notion which is held respecting Tammuz. The latter was originally a sun-god, and son of Ea and the goddess Sirdu, and the bridegroom of the goddess Ištar. The legendary poems of Babylonia described him as a shepherd, cut off in the beauty of youth, or slain by the boar's tusk in winter, and mourned for long and

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vainly by the goddess Ištar. The god Tammuz made his way to Canaan, Cyprus, and thence to Greece. "He had ceased to be the young and beautiful sun-god, and had become the representative of the vegetation of spring, growing by the side of the canals of Babylonia, but parched and destroyed by the fierce heat of the summer. Hence in Babylonia his funeral festival came to be observed in the month of June, and in Palestine two months later. Tammuz had changed his character in passing from country to country, but the idea of him as a slain god, and of his festival as the idealization of human sorrow, a kind of "All Souls Day," was never altered wherever he was adored." 3 Such beliefs are not found in the Yezidi view of their King Peacock. On the contrary his festival is for them the occasion of joy and pleasure.

I conclude, then, that Ṭâ’ûs is the Arabic word meaning peacock, just as Melek is the Arabic word meaning king or angel. The sect write it, pronounce it, and believe it to be so. The faith of the sect finds expression in the fact that they represent their angel Azazil in the form of the peacock.

It seems to me that the real question is not what Melek Ṭâ’ûs is, but how the devil-god came to be symbolized by the image of a bird. This question finds an answer in the fact that the worship of a bird appears to have been the most ancient of idolatry. It is condemned especially in Deut. 4: 16, 17: "Lest ye corrupt yourselves and make a graven image, the

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similitude of any figure, the -likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air." And Layard, in his Nineveh and Its Remains, vol. II, p. 462, gives the sketch of a bird from one of the slabs dug up at Nimrud. He remarks that the Iyuges, or sacred birds, belonged to the Babylonian and probably also to the Assyrian religion. They were a kind of demons, who exercised a peculiar influence over mankind, resembling the feroher of Zoroastrianism. The oracles attributed to Zoroaster describe them as powers anointed by God.

Their images, made of gold, were in the palace of the king of Babylonia. According to Philostratus they were connected with magic. In Palestine the dove was sacred for the Phoenicians and Philistines. The Jews brought accusation against the Samaritans that they were worshippers of the dove. Sacred doves were found also at Mecca. Nasar (eagle) was a deity of the tribe of Ḥamyar. 4

A question suggesting itself is how the Yezidi god came to be designated by the form of a peacock. This bird is a native of Ceylon, and not of Mesopotamia or Kurdistan where the Yezidis live. 5 The answer may be found in the Muslim tradition 6 that when the first parents forfeited heaven for eating wheat, they were cast down upon earth. Eve descended upon ‘Arafat; Adam at Ceylon; the peacock at Gabul, and Satan at Bilbays. In this myth the devil and the peacock are figured as sharing the same penalty at the same time. According to Surah 2,

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[paragraph continues] 28-31, the crime of the former was pride, but nothing is said about the guilt of the latter. We learn, however, from other sources, that the bird in question is thought of as a symbol of pride. In his article "Peacock,"' in the Enc. Brit., vol. 18, p. 443, Professor A. Newton says: "The, bird is well known as the proverbial personification of pride. It is seldom kept in large numbers for it has a bad reputation for doing mischief in gardens." Hence we may infer that the notion of the peacock as a symbol of pride together with the Koranic idea of Satan's sin led to the formation of the myth; that this story was current among the followers of Yezîd bn Unaisa; and that, under the influence of the devil-worshippers of Persia the old tradition lost its original significance, and came to be understood to represent the peacock as a symbol of the god-devil.

Among the three branches of the deity in the second degree, Melek Ṭâ’ûs holds an important place in the theology of the Yezidis. The language used in his praise is so elevated that one is led to think that he is identical with God. Some scholars deny this theory on the ground that the principal prayer of these people is directed to God and no mention is made of King Peacock. Hence they contend also that no direct worship is offered to the latter deity. 7 It seems to me that such a contention is not justifiable. In the first place. the people themselves confess their loyalty to the chief angels. Moreover, the expression in this prayer, "Thou hast neither feather, nor wings, nor

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arms, nor voice" (see p. 74) is more applicable to the symbol Peacock than to God. There can be no doubt I think, that in the conception of the sect ‘Azazil appears to be identical with God. This fact finds definite expression in the Book of Jilwah. In Chapter I he is represented as being from eternity to eternity, as having absolute control of the world, as being omnipresent and omnipotent and unchangeable. In Chapter II he is said to appear in divers manners to the faithful ones; and life and death are determined by him. And in Chapter III he is declared to be the source of revelation. While this is true, there are other phrases which refer to Ṭâ’ûs is being inferior to the great God, but superior to all other gods. He was created, and is under the command of God; but he is made the chief of all.

It is not quite easy to understand the underlying idea in worshipping the devil. Some 8 explain this by supposing he is so bad that he requires constant propitiation; otherwise he will take revenge and cause great misery. For this reason, it is claimed, 9 they do not worship God, because he is so good that he cannot but forgive. This is the usual interpretation, and it is confirmed by the nature of the religious service rendered. It seems to partake much more of a propitiatory than of a eucharistic character, not as the natural expression of love but of fear. This reminds us at once of the Babylonian religion. According to this religion, when any misfortune overtook the worshippers, they regarded it as a sign that their deity

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was angry, and had therefore left them to their own resources or had become their enemy. To be thus deserted was accounted a calamity because of the innumerable dangers to which the soul was exposed from the action of the powers seen and unseen. So that as a matter of precaution, it was well to maintain a propitiatory attitude. Hence the great object of worship was to secure and retain the somewhat capricious favor of the deity. 10 This is in accord with the natural feeling of man in his primitive state, which leads him rather to dread punishment for his sin than to be thankful for blessings received.

Others 11 hold that the Devil-worshippers believe that their Lord is a fallen angel, now suffering a temporary punishment for his rebellion against the divine will because he deceived Adam, or because he did not recognize the superiority of Adam as commanded by God. But it is not for man to interfere in the relations of God with his angels, whether they be fallen or not; on the contrary man's duty-is to venerate them all alike. The great God will be finally reconciled to Ṭâ’ûs, and will restore him to his high place in the celestial hierarchy.

Still others 12 assert that the sect does not believe in an evil spirit but as a true divinity. This theory is not generally accepted, but seems more probable than the preceding ones. For there is nothing in the sacred book to indicate that Melek Ṭâ’ûs is an evil spirit or a fallen angel. On the contrary the charge that he was rejected and driven from heaven is repudiated.

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The mentioning of his name is looked upon as an insult to and blasphemy against him because it is based, the Yezidis think, on the assumption that he is degraded. Finally, he is declared to be one of the seven gods, who is now ruling the world for a period of 10,000 years.

It is interesting to note that, in the history of religion, the god of one people is the devil of another. In the Avesta, the evil spirits are called daeva (Persian Div); the Aryans of India, in common with the Romans, Celts, and Slavs gave the name of dev (devin, divine, divny) to their good or god-like spirits. Asura is a deity in the Rig Veda, and an evil spirit only in later Brahman theology. Zoroaster thought that the beings whom his opponents worshipped as gods, under the name of daeva, were in reality powers by whom mankind are unwittingly led to their destruction. "In Islam, the gods of heathenism are degraded into jinn, just as the gods of north Semitic heathenism are called šĕirim (hairy demons) in Lev. 17: 7, or as the gods of Greece and Rome became devils to the early Christians." 13

The Yezidis' veneration for the devil in their assemblies is paid to his symbol, the sanjak. It is the figure of a peacock with a swelling breast, diminutive head, and widespread tail. The body is full but the tail is flat and fluted. This figure is fixed on the top of a candlestick around which two lamps are placed, one. above the other, and containing seven burners. The stand has a bag, and is taken to pieces when

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carried from place to place. Close by the stand they put water jugs filled with water, to be drunk as a charm by the sick and afflicted. They set the sanjaḳ at the end of a room and cover it with a cloth. Underneath is a plate to receive the contributions. The ḳawwâl (sacred musician) kisses the comer of the cloth when he uncovers Melek-Ṭâ’ûs. At a given signal, all arise, then each approaches the sanjaḳ bows before it and puts his contribution into the plate. On returning to their places, they bow to the image several times and strike their breasts as a token of their desire to propitiate the evil principle.

The Yezidis have seven sanjaḳs, but the Fariḳ (Lieut.-Gen. of the Turkish Army), who tried to convert them to Mohammedanism in 1892, took five of them. Some deny, however, that they were real ones; they say they were imitations. Each sanjaḳ is given a special place in the Emir's palace, where it is furnished with a small brazen bed and a vessel in the form of a mortar placed before it. They burn candles and incense before it day and night. Each sanjaḳ is assigned a special district, the name of which is written on a piece of paper and placed on its shoulder. On the shoulder of the first the district of Šeiḫan, which comprises the villages around Mosul, is indicated; on the second Jabal Sinjar; in the third the district of Halitiyah, which ia one of the dependencies of Diarbeker; on the fourth the district of Ḫawariyah, i. e., the Kocḥers; on the fifth the district of Malliah, the villages around Aleppo; on the sixth

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the district of Sarḫidar, which is in Russia; and the seventh remains at the tomb of Šeiḫ ‘Adî.

When sent from village to village of its respective district, a sanjaḳ is put in a hagibah 14 (saddle-bag) and carried on a horse that belongs to a pir (religious teacher). On nearing a certain place, a messenger is sent to announce in Kurdish "Sanjaḳ hat," "the Sanjaḳ has come." Then all the people don their fineries and go out to welcome it with tambourines. As the representative of Melek Ṭâ’ûs reaches the town, the pir cries out in Kurdish language, "Sanjaḳ mevan ki sawa?" (literally: "Whose guest shall the sanjaḳ be?"). On hearing this, each person makes a bid for the privilege of entertaining it. Finally he who bids the highest receives the image. At that moment the accompanying pir takes the hagibah off the horses back and hangs it on the neck of the person who is to keep the symbol of the devil over night.

The Yezidis say, that in spite of the frequent wars and massacres to which the sect has been exposed, and the plunder and murder of the priests during their journeys, no Melek Ṭâ’ûs has ever fallen into the hands of the Mohammedans. When a ḳawwal sees danger ahead of him, he buries the Melek Ṭâ’ûs and afterwards comes himself, or sends some one to dig up the brazen peacock, and carries it forward in safety.

Besides revering the devil by adoring his symbol, the Yezidis venerate him by speaking with great

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respect of his name. They refer to him as Melek Ṭâ’ûs, King Peacock, or Melek al-Ḳawwat, the Mighty King. They never mention his name; and any allusion to it by others so irritates and vexes them that they put to death persons who have intentionally outraged their feelings by its use. They carefully avoid every expression that resembles in sound the name of Satan. In speaking of shatt (river) they use the common Kurdish word Ave, or the Arabic ma (water). In speaking of the Euphrates, they call it Ave ‘Azim, or ma al-kabir, i.e., the great river, or simply al-Frat.


148:2 Lidzbarski Z. D. N. G., vol. LI, p. 592; he is followed by Makas Kurdische Studien, p. 35.

150:3 See "Tammuz" in Jastrow's religion of Babylonia and Assyria, and Cheney's Dictionary of the Bible.

151:4 R. W. Smith: Religion of the Semites, p. 219; Aš-Šahrastanî, Vol. II, p. 434. Yakut (vol. IV, p. 780) says: Originally nasr was worshipped by the people of Noah, and from them was brought to the tribe of Ḥamyar. According to the Syriac doctrine of Addai (Ed. George Philips, p. 24) the people of Edessa worshipped "the eagle as the Arabians."

151:5 So far as I am aware no writer on the Yezidis has ever raised this question.

151:6 Hughes: Dictionary of Islam, p. 21.

152:7 Victor Dingelstedt, SGM, vol. XIV.

153:8 Badger: The Nestorians, vol. I, p. 125; Layard, Nineveh, vol. I, p. 297.

153:9 p. Anastase: Al-Mašrik, vol. II, p. 152.

154:10 The Hibbert journal, vol. V, No. 2, Jan., 1907. p. 337.

154:11 Layard: Ibid; Victor Dingelstedt, Ibid, p. 299.

154:12 Dingelstedt: Ibid.

155:13 R. W. Smith: Religion of the Semites, p. 220; Fihrist, p. 322, 326, calls the gods of the Harranians devils.

157:14 p. 168 Hagibah is a Turkish word, meaning a saddleback.

Next: 2. Šeiḫ ‘Adî