THE PEACOCK ANGEL IN THE SPRING
By E. S. Drower
Lecture given on July 31, 1940, Brigadier-General Sir Percy Sykes, K.C.I.E., C.B., C.M.G., in the Chair.
I MUST confess at the start that I have not penetrated deeply into the Yezidi religion. Their secrets are still inviolate, and I feel tempted to think that a good many of them, even their priests, arc not clear as to these secrets themselves. Indeed, one of the charms of the Yezidis is that they are very vague about theology. Lescot, in his book on the Yezidis, complains that each time he asked for a list of the seven angels he was given different names, and I could add fresh variants. However, they are all positive about one thing, and that is that the Peacock Angel, Taw'us Melke, is chief of them all, and, as you know, this Angel is supposed by outsiders to be none other than Lucifer himself, or more plainly, Satan. The Yezidis lend colour to this by forbidding the word Shaitan to be spoken, but when I talked with a qawwal he was emphatic that the Peacock Angel was not the Prince of Evil. " We say," he said, " that evil comes from men's hearts," and went on to add that men who do evil are punished in their next reincarnation. They believe firmly in reincarnation, and I was told by a Yezidi woman that in dreams it was possible to know something of past lives.
Of one thing I am convinced, that they do not look upon their worship of the Peacock Angel as a propitiation of evil. They are a pious people : the name of God is always on their lips and prayer and reverence to the shrines an essential part of their daily life. Prayer should be said five times a day, facing the sun, and particularly at sunrise and sunset. Every time a Yezidi passes a holy place he kisses the stones of the walls and threshold and every Tuesday and Thursday evening lights are placed at die shrines.
Their practised religion is a kind of pantheism. God, for them, is in the sun, the moon, the planets, the mountain spring, the green tree, and his mystery in caves and bethel stones. The most common form of shrine is a tree and a spring together, and wherever the white spire of a Yezidi cone arises you may be sure that these are not far away. Sometimes a fluted spire marks the tomb of a saint, sometimes it is a mere cenotaph named after one of the so-called companions of Shaikh 'Adi. This may camouflage nature-worship. Here is a slide of the shrine of Shaikh Shems-ad-Din at Shaikh 'Adi. That means, of course, Sunof-the-Faith, and a shaikh of that name is, they say, buried beneath. It may be so, but a bull (not necessarily a white one, by the way) is slaughtered there once a year, and on the spire is a golden ball placed where the first rays of the rising sun strike it: moreover, on many mountain tops in Yezidi districts one finds a flat rock, enclosed by a wall, which is considered holy and called Shaikh Shems, Shaikh Sun. There is one such near Shaikh 'Adi.
The object of my going north this spring was to see the Yezidi spring festival, and for this purpose I selected the village of Baashika, not far from Mosul. The 'Iraqi authorities most kindly placed a small house at my disposal, and I lived there some time before the feast in order to get acquainted with the people of the place and see something of the pattern of their lives.
I had an introduction from a Yezidi friend to a young man there, Rashid ibn Sadiq, and my first call was on him. His father was away in the Jebel Sinjar, so Rashid did the honours, preparing tea for me himself as I sat under the pergola in his courtyard. I told him what I wanted, and he promised to help in every way that he could, and was as good as his word. He sent there and then for one of the qāwwāls, and that evening two of them visited me. I must explain what qawwals are. They are the third grade of the Yezidi priesthood, and it is they who travel with the sanjak, the image of the sacred peacock. Their chief duty is to chant, and their chants are transmitted from father to son and never written down. They must also be able to play the shebab and the daff, the sacred flute and tambour. Above the qawwals are the pirs, and above these the shaikhs. All three orders are hereditary, and a member may only marry within his own rank. A fourth hereditary order is that of the faqīrs, who are ascetics and wear next their skins a black woollen tunic which is considered very holy, also a sacred thread and belt. Then there is a lay order, the kocheks, who wear white and are often made custodians of the shrines.
I became friendly with the qawwals, particularly with one of them who had served in the Levies when he was young. Ever since then he has polished his teakettle and Primus with Brasso and talked of the English. When he joined the force he was told that he must cut off his long hair and beard. He was horrified, and was taken before an English officer. He explained to this officer mat a qawwal may not cut his hair, and the Englishman, he told me, " asked me about my ...