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Peacock Angel

The Esoteric Tradition of the Yezidis

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

An examination of the beliefs and history of the secretive Yezidi sect

• Explains how the Yezidis worship Melek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel, an enigmatic figure often identified as “the devil” or Satan, yet who has been redeemed by God to rule a world of beauty and spiritual realization

• Examines Yezidi antinomian doctrines of opposition, their cosmogony, their magical lore and taboos, the role of angels, ritual, and symbology, and how the Yezidi faith relates to other occult traditions such as alchemy

• Presents the first English translation of the poetry of Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiya, venerated by the Yezidis as Sultan Ezi

The Yezidis are an ancient people who live in the mountainous regions on the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. This secretive culture worships Melek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel, an enigmatic figure often identified as “the devil” or Satan, hence the sect is known as devil-worshippers and has long been persecuted.

Presenting a study of the interior, esoteric dimensions of Yezidism, Peter Lamborn Wilson examines the sect’s antinomian doctrines of opposition, its magical lore and taboos, and its relation to other occult traditions such as alchemy. He explains how the historical founder of this sect was a Sufi of Ummayad descent, Sheik Adi ibn Musafir, who settled in this remote region around 1111 AD and found a pre-Islamic sect already settled there. Sheik Adi was so influenced by the original sect that he departed from orthodox Islam, and by the 15th century the sect was known to worship the Peacock Angel, Melek Ta’us, with all its “Satanic” connotations.

Revealing the spiritual flowering that occurs in an oral culture, the author examines Yezidi cosmogony, how they are descended from the androgynous Adam--before Eve was created--as well as the role of angels, ritual, alchemy, symbology, and color in Yezidi religion. He also presents the first English translation of the poetry of Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiya, venerated by the Yezidis as Sultan Ezi.

Showing the Yezidi sect to be a syncretic faith of pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian, Christian, Pagan, Sufi, and other influences, Wilson reveals how these worshippers of the Peacock Angel do indeed worship “the Devil”--but the devil is not “evil.” God has redeemed him, and he rules a world of beauty and spiritual realization.


Chapter 1

They say our hearts are our books, and our sheikhs tell us everything from the second Adam until now and the future.
Appendix to Meshaf Resh

The Yezidi religion appears to possess two revealed books--the Kitab al-Jilwah (Book of Revelation) and Meshaf Resh (The Black Book)-- whose author (whether God or Melek Ta’us) maintains that Yezidi teachings are not contained in books, and that the Book of Revelation was (as opposed to the Bible or Qur’an) not a revealed text. The two books seem to have been unknown till the late nineteenth century, when versions of them began to appear in the very dodgy manuscript markets of Iraq. Were they forgeries, concocted for sale to credulous Western tourists and scholars? Yezidi legend says no, they are authentic, and that their originals were stolen by the British and hidden in the British Museum. And the texts as received contain real Yezidi teachings. It is true that books cannot be revealed, and that most Yezidis are forbidden to learn to read. Their tradition is canonical only as orally transmitted. Yezidism is not illiterate (or preliterate) but anti-literate, as we said above. The pen has been in the hand of the enemy ever since writing was invented as a means of magical control, of propagating ideology and alienation. Writing is paradoxically the sign of absence: when knowledge is reduced to data, it falls into a black hole of cultural amnesis because it is no longer contained in the soul, but merely in books (which can be lost). Only presence assures authenticity. Mediation is separation--and loss.

In the twenty-first century the Yezidi stricture on literacy has loosened, of course, under the influence of whiggish modernism, which has no concept of the positive valence of orality or the inherent “dark side” of the written (and especially the printed) word. “Education” must be good--any other attitude would constitute backwardness and reaction. The existence of what might be called revolutionary anti-progressism--the idea that liberal social control (including literacy and enlightenment) can easily become a form of oppression, and must be dialectically critiqued and in some cases actively opposed in the cause of liberation--this perspective is generally condemned as “Romantic” at best. For the record, then, allow me to say that I perceive an esoteric value in the Yezidi defense of orality. The limits imposed by the very structure of media can only be transcended by breakthroughs into pre-sentience and “heart-to-heart” transmission of knowledge--that is, of wisdom, which is existential--and not of mere information.

The pure orality of the Yezidi tradition has resulted in a wild polyvalence and delirium of mythopoesis. Answers to theological questions can differ from village to village, and from one believer to another. However, from the scholar’s perspective, coherence is not lost. One benefit (for outsiders at least) of modernity has been the transcription and publication of a great deal of oral material, most importantly the qewls or hymns that are memorized by hereditary bards (qawwals) and performed during rituals, and the stories that are told to contextualize and comment on the poems. These oral texts have only begun to appear since the latter half of the twentieth century, and they are still concealed by their rather obscure appearances in print, for example, in the English-language translations of Kreyenbroek. These hymns have “come from the sky” in a quasi-revelatory mode: God (or Melek Ta’us) taught them to the angels who transmitted them to the sheikhs, who revealed them to the Yezidi people--or, they are the work of Sheikh Adi--or by the wise and saintly men of Adi’s day.1

“Let not our hearts be corrupted [by] . . . interpreting books.”2

In one qewl it is said that the “Pen of Power” is in the hand of Soltan Ezi, the angel identified most often with the caliph Yazid.3 In a sense, this motif shadows that of the Tablet and Pen in the Qur’an; it represents creation itself as a kind of writing. “In the beginning was the Word”--already the written word. Here, however, we must speak of a paradoxical Pen of non-writing, of non-literacy. (It reminds one of the “sword of non-killing” which is said in Zen to be the highest form of the martial art of fencing.) Again, we are dealing here not with simple preliteracy or peasant backwardness, but with a subtle dialectic. The pen of non-writing reflects the motif of the lost book. In Eliade’s Shamanism we read that once upon a time shamans had a “book” in which their secrets were written, but the spirits became angry at its misuse and took it back--similar to the secret identity of soma/haoma, the entheogenic plant of immortality in Indo-Iranian tradition, which was lost, just as Gilgamesh lost the magic herb given to him by Utnapishtim. The fact is that wisdom is “always already” lost--otherwise it would not be wisdom; whereas simultaneously it is common as dung (as the alchemists say) and can be found in any cheap paperback edition of any decent mystical text--provided one reads with the angel.

According to another legend, the Black Book is in reality simply the Qur’an, with every mention of the name “Satan” covered over by black wax. This image haunts my thinking about Yezidism, even if it’s not true.4 John Guest, who gives the most complete account of the incredibly tangled history of the discovery and publication of the Jilwah and the Meshaf Resh (most of which need not concern us, since we are interested solely in their esoteric message) remarks that a scholar named Browski in 1884 claimed to have seen the Yezidi “sacred book with seven seals,” and that on its title page was the name Hasan al- Basri. Browski’s published articles “contain no direct quotations from the Meshaf Resh, but they accurately summarize portions of it.”5 Clearly this text “was” the Black Book. But Browski also mentions “traditions about Melek Ta’us advising Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem, rescuing Jesus Christ from the cross and inspiring Caliph Yazid to defy Islam,”6 none of which appear in the text we have today (although they may yet be canonical and subject to esoteric interpretation), suggesting that Browski had a second source, now lost.

Kreyenbroek points out that the qewls and other inspired/revealed oral material could have led to the assumption that a kind of Ur-book, the archetype of the Jilwah and the Black Book, could have existed and is now “hidden and lost.”7 Given Islam’s tolerance of other religions of the Book, and its condemnation of religions without books as unbelief, it may be that some Yezidis have wished into existence (at least as legend) a book of their own. Thus, a poem in praise of Sheikh Adi (translated by Badger in Nestorians and Their Rituals) mentions a Book of Glad Tidings, “a work which is still referred to by some Yezidis (under the title of Mijde) as the ‘original’ Yezidi sacred book, now probably lost” and probably influenced by the Christian Evangelium or “Good News.” Some Yezidis believe “hymns cannot be written”; others believe the true books are destroyed or lost, and “a minority” accept the existing texts as canonical.8

About The Author

Peter Lamborn Wilson has traveled and worked in India and Persia, including Iranian Kurdistan (1968-1980), where he studied the historical and mystical dimensions of Sufism with many great Sufi masters. In the 1980s, he produced a series of biweekly radio broadcasts known as the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade on WBAI-FM (NYC). The author of more than 60 books and monographs, he lives in the Hudson Valley.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (June 9, 2022)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644114124

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Raves and Reviews

“If as some Yezidis maintain, we are all angels enjoying a temporary existence as men and women, we need no rulers, regulations, or exoteric religions. In Peacock Angel a lifelong defender of anarchism blends poetry, erudition, and spiritual insight to honor this misunderstood and persecuted group, perhaps our closest link with the primordial tradition itself.”

– Joscelyn Godwin, author of Mystery Religions in the Ancient World

Peacock Angel penetrates the esoteric secrets of Yezidi spirituality. The Yezidi, who believe they are followers of the oldest of religions, likely go back more than 10,000 years. Wilson explores Yezidism as a pure religion that rejects the law in order to be free to choose religious spontaneity, freedom, and passion: the way to be mad for God. Delving into their oral and shamanic roots, Wilson shows how the Yezidi ferociously practiced their love of the divine. This lovely book is a pearl of wisdom that reveals the Yezidi passion to know God in our soulless world. A must-read for spiritual seekers in our times.”

– Barbara Hand Clow, author of Awakening the Planetary Mind and The Mind Chronicles

“Only the heterodox intellect of Peter Lamborn Wilson could expose the deeper truth behind today’s tragic headlines: that one of the world’s most brutally persecuted religious sects, the Yezidis--reduced by the thoughtless to be worshippers of a Satan that the thoughtless neither understand nor wish to understand-- may hold the key to the revitalization of didactic religion. As Wilson’s enthralling arcanum reveals, the question is less whether the Yezidis can survive but whether we can survive without them.”

– Mitch Horowitz, PEN Award-winning author of Occult America, The Miracle Club, and Uncertain Places

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