THE PEACOCK ANGEL
Within Sufism the defense of lblis remained an interesting, shocking, and dangerous problem
in mystical metaphysics. Inevitably, the potent and scintillating images used to defend Iblis
found expression in cult and ritual, and just as inevitably this exteriorization caused a rupture within the body of Islam. Although Islam possessed a doctrinal elasticity unknown to, say, Catholicism, there are some outrages it could not accept. Devil-worship is one such outrage.
Around A.D. 1100 a shaykh from Baalbek (Lebanon) named Adi ibn Musafir arrived in
Baghdad and associated himself with Imam al-Ghazzali and Abd al-Qadir Jilani, the great
orthodox Sufis. Through them he was made aware of, and may have even met, Ahmad
Ghazzali and Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani. Later, Shaykh Adi retired to the remote valley of Lalish
(Iraq), and there created his own Sufi order among the Kurdish peasantry. He was known for
his fierce Sunni orthodoxy and severe ascetic practices, and all authentic works by him reflect
this pious simplicity.
Shaykh Adi, however, seems to have possessed a shadow-self. His followers’ descendants,
known as the Yezidis,attribute to him (and other shaykhs of his Order) various strange texts
in which the devil appears as Malek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel, a great god in his own right —
the Iblis of Hallaj mythologized into a pagan deity.
Hallaj is venerated by the Yezidis, who call one of their great bronze peacock idols (sanjak)
by his name. In a poem attributed to Shaykh Adi, he seems to boast of divinity and makes
reference to similar “ecstatic utterances” by Sufis such as Hallaj and Bayazid Bastami:
I am Adi of Shams (Damascus), son of Musafir
Verily the All-Merciful has assigned unto me names,
The heavenly Throne, and the footstool, and the seven heavens, and the earth.
In the secret of my knowledge there is no god but me. . . .
Praise be to myself, and all things are by my will.
And the universe is lighted by some of my gifts.
For a long time the name Yezidi was thought (even by the Yezidis) to have derived from that wicked libertine, the Caliph Yazid, who in A.D. 690 caused the murder of al-Husayn, the Prophet’s own grandson and Imam of the Shi’ite; Yazid’s defense against the Shi’ites’ curses may reflect the fanatical Sunnism of Shaykh Adi’s Order, but the Yezidis now consider the Caliph their champion, the enemy of all orthodoxy who freed them from the strictures of the Law (shariah).
The name Yezidi, however, more probably derives from the ancient Persian
word, yazd or yazad, meaning god or spirit. The Kurds of Lalish ma have retained “pagan”
pre-lslamic beliefs rooted in Zoroastrian Dualism which somehow harmonized with the
Hallajian defense of Iblis as well as the extremist Sunni cult of the Caliph Yazid. Whether the
historical Shaykh Adi, whose tomb in Lalish is now the center of Yezidi devotions, was
responsible for this wild syncretism, or whether it happened after his death, is a moot point.
Although the Yezidis are supposed to reject literacy on principle (and most, in fact, are
illiterate), they do possess two “scriptures,” The Book of Divine Effulgence and The Black Book
(with “effulgence” plus “black” equal to “Black Light”). They do not worship the devil as the
principle of evil, like Christian Satanists, but rather as the principle of energy, unjustly
condemned by orthodox religions. According to The Black Book:
In the beginning God created the White Pearl out of His most precious Essence: and He created a
bird named Anfar. And He placed the pearl upon its back, and dwelt thereon forty thousand years.
On the first day, Sunday, He created an angel named ‘Azazil, which is Ta’us Malek (“the Peacock
Angel”), the chief of all.
Then, in The Book of Divine Effulgence, Malek Ta’us speaks to us in the first person:
I was, and am now, and will continue unto eternity, ruling over all creatures and ordering the affairs and deeds of those who are under my sway. I am presently at hand to such as trust in me and call upon me in time of need, neither is there any place void of me where I am not present. I am concerned in all those events which strangers name evils because they are not done according to their desire.
The Black Book contains a number of interesting prohibitions. Lettuce and beans are
forbidden; the former was believed to contain sparks of “pure light” (by the Manichaeans),
the latter to contain souls which had undergone transmigration (by the Pythagoreans). The
flesh of fish, gazelles, and peacocks are forbidden, as in the color indigo blue, all no doubt
because they symbolize Satan, whose name, moreover, the Yezidis are forbidden to
pronounce. Pumpkins, traditionally symbols of chaos, are also considered too sacred to eat.