Places of Pilgrimage

 

 

Pilgrimage, or ziyaret, is of a great importance in the perpetuation of Yezidi religion. As has been said above, Yezidism is an oral religion, with no texts, formal doctrine, theology or religious education, therefore ritual plays a paramount part in keeping alive religion and community spirit. Pilgrimage to holy places and the accompanying rituals thus play an important role. According to the 1782 Petition, it is the duty of each Yezidi to visit the Holy Valley of Lalish, where the graves of Sheikh Adi and other Angels are to be found, once a year.

 

                             

 

(Due to the distance separating many Yezidi settlements from Lalish this could have hardly been the actual practice, though the yearly Autumn festival at Lalish today attracts great crowds, and visit to Lalish is seen as something akin to visit to Mecca among Muslims.) Traditionally Yezidi ziyaret places are often to be found near springs or trees considered holy. Tying rags to sacred trees to bring blessing and have wished fulfilled, a practice known throughout the region, can also be found among the Yezidis.

 

                                     

 

In some of these places Yezidi shrines, qobs, are built. In Iraq these shrines typically display conical spires, which make Yezidi holy places instantly distinguishable.

 

        

 

           

 

 Other distinguishing features of these qobs are the painting of black snake next to the door, gazelle horns, and round, ball-like stones.

 

                       

 

These latter are in some case used for semi-magical purports, like in the village of Mem Shivan (part of the collective village of Khanke), where next to the qob Sheikh Adi young girls aspiring for matrimony in that year have to balance a number of stone balls on top of each other.

 

                                                   

 

Some of the shrines house tombs of khas, or incarnated angelic beings. These tombs are covered by sacred cloth. Tying knots on the cloth covering the tombs of the Angels at the Shrine of Sheikh Adi in Lalish, while untying knots made by earlier pilgrims is believed to bring about the fulfilment of wishes (i.e. the wish of the pilgrim whose knot is untied.)

 

                                              

 

Each of the Seven Angels has a piece of silk of a different colour covering his tomb in Lalish, which represents him, and once a year, during the Autumn Asssembly, these pieces have to be baptised in the White Spring, the sacred spring, covered by a spire-topped qob, where Yezidi children are also baptized.

                    

       

 

Sheikh Adi’s Throne, a wooden contraption covered by red silk and believed to have served as the seat of Sheikh Adi, is also baptized in the White Spring as the closing ritual of the Assembly. As touching the Throne is believed to bring blessing, Yezidis jostle to get near it during the procession to the spring.

 

                                       

 

At other shrines a strip torn from the (green) cloth covering the tomb of the saint and tied about the supplicant’s wrist is believed to cure illness - a practice shared by the Muslims of the region.

 

                                                     

 

Yet at other shrines soil taken from the shrine and smeared on body-parts is believed to achieve the same result. Beside the specific healing attributes of certain shrines, the soil of the qobs is generally believed to possess some sanctity of its own. During tiwafs, that is the feast of the guardian angel of a qob, the guardian of the shrine anoints the pilgrims with sacred water and soil taken from the shrine.

 

                                      

 

Nishans (signs) are small white stone-like objects, erected to commemorate the less important khas.

 

                               

 

It is not only the tombs of the khas that are a focus of rituals. At the dawn of New Year (celebrated on the first Wednesday of April – according to the Seleucid calendar), before festivities begin, women gather in the cemeteries for ritual mourning accompanied by the qewwals and their sacred instruments. They lay pots containing holiday food on the graves and after the ritual mourning accompanied by sacred music is completed, this food is consumed in the cemetery as a sort of communal meal with the departed. The graves are also decorated with painted eggs and a red flower that can be found only in April.

 

                                    

 

The painted eggs are said to symbolise the process of creation as recounted by Yezidi myth: how the white pearl containing God burst apart producing many colours, and also how the barren earth came to be covered by vegetation, grass, trees and flowers of many colours after heavenly Lalish, the throne of God, came down on earth on the first Wednesday of April.

 

                           

 

The red flowers are collected in the fields on the previous day, and are laid on the graves, and even more importantly are pasted above the doorway of every Yezidi house.

 

                         

 

They say that the peacock Angel recognises his people by these flowers, which are supposed to stay there until the next New Year.

Fire, considered a sacred element, also plays an important part in Yezidi rituals, like the New Year, or the Evening Dance (Sema Evarî), performed by the religious leaders.. In Lalish, the Holy Valley, fires are lit every evening with the help of sacred oil coming from special olive groves.

 

                                        

                    

 

Content:

 

The Yezidis of Iraq

 

           Introduction

           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