Black Snake


A black snake, standing on its tail, is seen carved or painted next to the door posts of many Yezidi shrines.



The best known Black Snake image can be found in the holy valley of Lalish, the place of Yezidi pilgrimages, often referred to as the Yezidi Mecca. One of the most famous details of the of the Shrine of Sheikh Adi (or Central Shrine), containing the tomb of Sheikh Adi (the most important holy personage of Yezidi sacred history, believed to be an earthly incarnation of the Peacock Angle) and other angels incarnated as Yezidis religious leaders, is the immense carved image of snake standing erect on its tail, blackened by coal from the holy lamps, right next to the door.




In the first part of the 19th c. there were other images carved into the Shrine’s wall next to the Snake. Layard writes: On the wall near the doorway are rudely carved a lion, a snake, a hatchet, a man, and a comb. The snake, painted black, is particularly conspicuous. Although it might be suspected that these figures were emblematical, I could obtain no other explanation from Sheikh Nasr, than that they had been cut by the Christian mason who repaired the tomb some years ago, as ornaments suggested by his mere fancy. However, Sheikh Adi’s Shrine was later destroyed by the Ottoman army and then rebuilt again. Today the figures of the man and the lion cannot be seen, though there is a shrine in the village of Khanke decorated with the images of two lions.)




 Though today it would be impossible to decipher the exact symbolism of the black snake in Yezidi mythology, the snake appears to be an ancient sacred symbol in the region. Existing Yezidi myths on the role of the black snake are probably “secondary,” trying to explain an old symbol in a more recent mythological setting. According to Yezidi mythology it was a black snake that saved Noah and his precious cargo from drowning in the waters of the Flood, when his ark foundered on the peak of Mount Judi and started to leak. A black snake coiled itself over the hole thus securing the survival of human and animal kind. Another legend tells of how the tribe of the Haweris, when they set off to become Muslims, were driven back home by Sheikh Mend, who turned himself into a black snake and met them on the road in this guise. The sheikh family of Sheikh Mend, that is his descendants, are believed to be blessed with power over snakes. Not only do snakes not bite them, but they can cure the snakebites of others. While snakes of other colour enjoy no special reverence, there is a religious injunction against causing harm to black snakes.






The Yezidis of Iraq



           The Sanjak of the Peacock Angel

           The Black Snake

           Nishans (Signs)

           Ritual Items of Clothing

           Places of Pilgrimage


The Yezidis of Armenia

Selected Bibliography on the Yezidis