Conferences : World Congress of KURDISH STUDIES : Khanna OMARKHALI


Section PRESSE
World Congress of

Irbil, 6-9 September 2006

Organized by the Kurdish Institute of Paris in partnership with
Salahadin University (Irbil) and with the support of the
Kurdistan Regional Government and of the
French Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Symbolism of birds in Yezidism

By Khanna OMARKHALI (*)

Thought is the fastest bird.




Symbol is an image which always has a certain meaning. Connecting in that way an object and a sense, a symbol at the same time connect people, who understood it, so it is a peculiar form of a transmission of certain (often sacred) information.

In different mythopoetic traditions birds are indispensable elements of religious-mythological system and the ritual, that are possessed of various functions. In the many systems of religious and mythological concepts birds are symbolical images which are symbols of gods, spirits and divine beings, Demiurgs, heroes, etc. They act as symbols of divine essence, the sky, the sun, the thunder, the wind, etc. The bird is a symbol of absolute freedom, transcendence of soul and spiritual freedom. So the symbol of a bird is conserned with deity, immortality, as well as with a spiritual victory (Waida 1987).

In symbolism and mythology birds mainly has a positive sense. In some mythological systems birds are symbols of human souls, the other group of symbols is based on idea that birds are in contact with divine spheres. Symbol of a bird-soul is very ancient – it was found in paleolithic cave-paintings of Dordone, which runs to seventeen thousand years.

Meanwhile, by «the bird’s symbolism» is especially rich the art of Iranian peoples: it is enough to recollect various roles of a huge bird Simurg in the epos «Shah-name» and in the Sufi poem of Attar «Mantik at-tair» (Bertels 1997: 155).

It is known, that Shamen till now decorate their clothes with feathers, and during fulfilment of ceremonies put on bird’s masks, aspiring “to reach” with their help up to highest levels of knowledge. So birds were considered as an embodiment of the wisdom, intelligence and quick of mind.

In many myths, legends and fairy tales birds bring useful information to heroes. They can symbolize divine heralds, transmitting good messages to people. In some cultures people are very fishily to birds, being afraid, that they can betray to enemies their secrets. A known expression “A little bird brought on its tail” is based on this ancient superstition.


Symbolism of birds in Yezidism

There is no doubt that Yezidi religion is one of the most rich in symbols tradition. Especially because of Yezidism is an oral tradition, symbols fill an immense place in it. So we can consider Yezidism as a system of symbols, that plays a crutial role in the building up the world view of a Yezidi.

The purpose of the present paper is to examine symbolism of birds in Yezidi religion and to show that all symbols, as an element of a religion, play a special role of a peculiar bridge between rational world and the world of the religious experience and knowledge.


In Yezidism we can classify existent symbols in few groups, for instance:


1.         Heavenly bodies: the Sun, the moon, the morning star;

2.         Sacred objects (the White Pearl, etc.);

3.         Animals and birds (a bull, a fish, a peacock, a rooster, etc.);

4.         Numbers (3, 7, 40, 72, etc.);

5.         Colors (white, red, yellow, blue, etc.) and other groups.


In Yezidi mythology and doctrine symbolism of birds takes a special fundamental place. All of the birds in Yezidi mythology are positiv, usually they symbolize either holy beings (God, archangel, angels, etc.), or birds in some way are conected with the spiritual sphere. Yezidi bird’s symbolism includes different kinds of birds, all of whom are connected to the spiritual, divine beginning: a peacock (which is the most famous of Yezidi symbols on a whole), a rooster, a bird E’nqer, a big White Bird, a White Dove and birds without any attribute.

Usually birds appear in Yezidi cosmogonical myths, they appear from the very beginning of the Time of Creation, and according to some legends, even before it.

There is a legend among Yezidis of Armenia about times preceding the Time of Creation. This legend narrates that in the beginning there was the Big Sea and in the middle of the sea grew the rose bush. On a branch of the rose-bash perched a Bird, which was Sheikh Sinn. People call him «the master of a rose». At the same sea grew the Big Tree. On branches of the tree perched two Big Birds, one of which was White and it was God (Xwedē) by himself, another one was angel Jibraīl (Gabriel). Jibra’īl in a form of a bird perched on the same Big Tree where was God, but angel Jibrāīl did not know who is near him, till with the help of Sheikh Sinn (or Tawisī Melek) understands that the White big bird on the tree is God, only after that all of them began to create the World.

In some versions of this legend that I could hear during my field investigations among Yezidis of Armenia, instead of Sheikh Sinn appears Tawisī Melek, and instead of Jibra’īl – Ēzīd. All variants of this legend narrate about the three holy beings (God, angel Jibra’īl and Sheikh Sinn; or God, Tawisī Melek and Ēzīd), who were before the World Creation and they perched on the branches of the Big Tree, which is obviously the Tree of Life in the center of the world, and the rose-bush, which were grown in the Big Primordial See, and all of them have bird forms, which is of great importance for Yezidi symbolism.

The Ahl-e Haqq myth of cosmogony, which is very similar to Yezidi one, states that, God created Jibra’īl who is also known as Pīr Binyāmīn. In some accounts it is said that Jibra’īl roamed over the surface of the primeval waters at first without knowing his Creator (Kreyenbroek 1992: 68). It coincides with the foregoing Yezidi legend. Moreover, Ahl-e Haqq myth of cosmogony is also says that Jibra’īl who flutters over the water before the Creation of the world, had a birdlike fashion.

In “Meshefa Resh” is written “Then he created Jibrāīl in the form of a bird and sent him forth and gave the four corners into his hand” (Kreyenbroek 1992: 72-73). It is interesting to notice that during my interview with Feqīr Elī (from Celle), he told me that it was Tawisī Melek, into hands of whom God gave “the four stones of four corners”.

This legend shows that a symbol of a bird was in existence before God created all living beings, including birds. God by himself in this legend has a form of a Big White Bird. The white because this color is a color of divine perfection, the color primordially including, according to a science, all colors. As it is written in “Mesh’efa Resh”, the Pearl that was created by God in the Beginning from his own “beloved essence”, was also white. Here the symbol of birds is conserned with divinity, with the spiritual origin, that precede to Creation of a material world.


White Dove, E’nqer, Senmurv

In the Yezidi cosmogony myths during the Time of Creation appears the definite bird, whose name is given in the Sacred Yezidi book “Mesh’efa Resh”, and it is mentioned in the oral Yezidi literatire as well. It is a bird by the name E’nqer. According to “Mesh’efa Resh” in Joseph’s translation: “In the beginning God created the White Pearl out of his most precious essence. He also created a bird named Angar. He placed the White Pearl on the back of the bird, and dwelt on it for forty thousand years” (Joseph 1919: 36).

In the prof. Ph. Kreyenbroek’s (1992: 72) translations of “Mesh’efa Resh”, based on the Kurdish and Arabic versions, is written that “In the beginning God created the White Pearl from his own beloved essence (lit. ‘secret’), and he created a White Dove whom He named Enfer, and he placed the Pearl on its back and sat on it for 40 000 years”. So the bird “Enfer” here is the White Dove.

According to the religious oral literature, the bird E’nqer perches on a branch of a tree Dara Herherē (‘Eternal Tree’), which grows in paradise. According to it, the bird E’nqer has 72 wings, on one of which is a bull (Ga):


Hey mala min, teyrek li e´zmana wî hey, navê wê Enqer e.

Heftî û dû per e.

Perekî gay li ser e.


Çendî teyrek li e´zmana wê hey, navê wî Enqer bi nav e.

Roja ´îd û e´refata derkeft ji Kaniya Sîhanê.

Çeng û baskêt xo ve dewşînê,

Jê diçê şewq û şemal û nûrîn û xonav e.

(Rashow 2004: 1050-1051)


Oh, my house! There is a bird by the name E’nqer in the sky.

It has 72 wings.

On a wing stands a bull.


There is a bird by the name Enqer in the sky.

During the feast it came out from the spring Sīhan.

Flopping it’s wings,

Bright light, fresh wind, light and dew are from it.


So in Yezidi bird’s symbolism we have another bird, which was created by God, now stays in paradise, perching on a branch of the Dara Herherē, and which has symbolical number of wings – 72.

Dr. Kh.J. Rashow thinks that this bird is a symbol of symbolic images of Tawisī Melek (Rashow 2004: 1050).

In the Persian poetry, including sufi one, a bird ‘Anqā is regarded as the Arabian equivalent, almost a synonym, of the name Simurg.

The oldest part of Avesta, where mentioned Simurg is Yasht’s. In Bundahishn is said that “a triune bird Sen” is the biggest bird (Bundahishn 1997: 282), it was created the first from all other birds, not for this world (Bundahishn 1997: 299), it excels even the bird Chamrosh (Pehl. čināmrōš, Pazend. čamrōš) (Bundahishn 1997: 300), which is a mythical bird, perches near Simurg on the branches of the same Tree - “All-curing Tree” (Chunakova 2004: 252) or the “Tree of all seeds” (Bertels 1997: 167).

The bird under the name Simurg does not play the important role in Yezidi mythology: it appears in the Kurdish literature and proverbs, for example: “Emrê te ça emrê Sîmir e”, that means happy life. But all Yezidis have heard about Simurg.

In all histories connected with a bird ‘An, obviously, one can see elements of Semitic myths, joined later in the sufi poetry with the rich Iranian tradition of legends about Simurg (Bertels 1997: 202). It is interetsing to add, that the name ‘Anqā in late (XVII century) traditional Persian dictionaries is defined as an Arabic equivalent of the name “Simurg” or it is called “Western ‘Anqā”, which is equal with Simurg (Bertels 1997: 201). Taking into consideration that an image of a bird Simurg, obviously, goes back even to the times of pre-zoroastrian religion (Bertels 1997: 177-178), in Yezidi tradition the name of a bird Enqer could be later substituted for the name Simurg.


A Rooster – Dīk

Another bird, which is met in the Yezidi religious tradition is a rooster (dîk). In many traditions at the heart of a mythological image of a rooster is evident its connection with the Sun. A rooster is the symbol of France inherited from the ancient Kelts culture of Gauls.

In the eighteenth Fragard of “Videvdat” – one of the books of the Sacred Book of Zoroastrians “Avesta” – some stanzas are devoted to the praising of the Sraosha’s bird Parodarsh – the rooster, which in Zoroastrianism is opposed to the Dev of laziness “longhand” Bushyatsa (Avesta 1998: 119).

The image of a rooster in the majority of traditions is connected with deities of a morning dawn and the Sun, of the divine fire. Yezidis, as well as Zoroastrians, esteem the Sun, as a source of life and visible presence of God in the world, and fire as a manifistantion of the nature of the Sun on the Earth.


Sheykh Amadīn. There is a clan of Sheykhs in Yezidi tradition, for whom is forbiden to eat the meat of the rooster. This clan, which is called Sheykh Amadīn, endowed with the capability for treatment children from pain in the stomach, from nightmares. People believe that if a person from this clan even once tastes the meat of a rooster he/she will lose this capability for ever. They say:


Şêx im, Şêxê dila

naxwim goştê dîkila,

destê min dermanê hemû dila.


I am a Sheykh, Sheykh of hearts

I do not eat the meat of a rooster,

My hand is a medicine for all hearts.


There is a clan of a pīr caste in Yezidism called Pīrē Jerwan, to whom Yezidis in Iraq give rooster as a “khēr” (xêr).

Sometimes a rooster is even conisdered as a sacred bird, because it announces sunrise, and shows it’s direct connection with the Sun.


A Peacock – Tawisī Melek

One of the most important symbols in Yezidism is an image of a peacock. In the east the peacock is a symbol of beauty and magnificence.

Everyone who knows about Yezidis, undoubtedly, knows, that Yezidis esteem Tawisī Melek (‘Peacock Angel’) to which the most contradictory information is connected.

A lot of articles were written about Tawisī Melek. I am not going to give all available information in existence here, I will notice just a few interesting facts and points of view.

Name. In “Mesh’efa Resh” it is written: “God created Melek Ezazīl, and he is Tā’ūs-Melek”. This name (Ezazīl) is practically not used by Yezidis. Yezidis of different countries call this archangel in different ways:


·          Ezazīl   who is Tā’ūs-Melek                 in Mesh’efa Resh;

·          Tawisī Melek                                      Yezidis of Iraq;

·          Melekī Tawus                                     Yezidis of Armenia and Georgia;

·          Khejē Tavūs                                        Yezidis of Iran.


Now among scholars there are many different points of view about Tawisī Melek. The Yezidi tradition is mostly verbal till nowdays, so that is why we can not appealing to the Sacred book (even to Mesh’efa Resh), saying that: “This is the truth”. We have to take into consideration all existent verbal variants of Yezidi legends and religious hymns too.


So who is Tawisī Melek?


The first archangel. Tawisī Melek ( طاووس ‘the angel peacock’), occupies the Supreme position in Yezidi cosmogony. In the Yezidi sacred book “Mesh’efa Resh” is written, that before creation of the world he has been created by God first of seven archangels, and then apointed “the head of all of them”: “On the first day, Sunday, God created Melek Azazîl, and he is Tâ’ûs-Melek, the chief of all” (Joseph 1919: 36), “And he made Melek Tâ’ûs ruler over all” (Joseph 1919: 37).


An angel of belief. Sometimes Tawisī Melek is named “an angel of belief” and in this connection he can be compared with Zoroastrian Sraosha – Spirit of belief, discipline and religious devout obedience.


Pīr. Many Yezidis believe, that Melekī Tawus is a Pīr and Yezidis call him “the father of Pīrs” (“bavê Pîran”) (Tosinê Reşit 2004: 156). And, indeed, if we pay our attention to five precepts (pēnj ferzē heqīqetē), which should be observed by every Yezidi person, we can find the explanation to this opinion. Yezidis five principles are:


Şêx, pîr, hosta û merebî,

Yar û birê axiretê.


Sheykh, Pīr, Master and Preceptor,

Beloved and a brother of afterlife.


It is known, that Pīr of forty clans of pīrs is Pīr Hesmeman – “pīrē chil pīra”. However there are some clans of pīrs Pīr of whom is not pīr Hesmeman. For example: Pīr Omerxalī and Pīr Hesenchinērī (who were brothers), Pīr Biwal, Pīr Mihemed Reben, etc. Pīr of pīr Omerxalī and Hesenchinērī is a Pīr from the clan He Mihemed. Pīr of pīr Biwal is the pīr from the clan Pīra Fat. In the book of Dr. Kh.J. Rashow it is obviously written, that Pīr of pīr Mihemed Reben and Pīr of pīr Hesmeman is Tawisī Melek himself (Rashow 1998: 203).


Pīr Tawisī Melek and Pīr Binyamīn. There is an interesting article of prof. Ph. Kreyenbroek “Mithra and Ahreman, Binyamin and Malak Tawus” (Kreyenbroek 1992), where he shows that there is a definite similarity between Yezidi Melekī Tawis and Ahl-e Haqq Binyamīn. But neither Ahl-e Haqq, nor Yezidis ever interpret them as evil spirits.


Evil spirit. Nevertheless, some travellers considered Yezidis as “devilworshippers” only on the basis of their veneration of Tawisī Melek. Some authors from of old named him “embodiment of evil”. Such statement has nothing common with Yezidi conception about this archangel.


Bawarî atqata xwe

Tawisî Melek daye.


Conviction in my belief

Gave to me Tawisī Melek.


According to Yezidi ideas, Tawisī Melek is not the evil spirit, but some scientists (e.g. I. Joseph) writes: “It seems to me that the real question is not what Melek â’ûs is, but how the devil-god came to be symbolized by the image of a bird. This question finds an answer in the fact that the worship of a bird appears to have been the most ancient of idolatry” (Joseph 1919: 150).

Tawisī Melek does not represent evil as frequently some authors write, naming him “devil”. The disgrace of God to Tawisī Melek is explained by some authors differently and has some interpretations. According to one version, he was kept away from God because of his pride, not wishing to bow to the created person – to Adam (in Kurdish Adem). According to primary Yezidi version, disobedience of Tawisī Melek is explained by his special devotion to God, as to his Creator.


Demiurg. Scientists compare Tawisī Melek with Demiurg (Semyenov 1927), because God said to him: “I have put the whole matter into thy hands” (Mesh’efa Resh). So Tawisī Melek gets a great power.


God. A number of scholars consider, that Tawisī Melek is not only the supreme archangel, but, moreover, he is God by himself. Sometimes regarding Tawisī Melek epithets which are very close to God are applied. Dr. Kh.J. Rashow writes, that Tawisī Melek is one of 1001 sacred names of God (Rashow 2004: 107).


During my field research among Yezidis, and being part of this culture, I felt, that all adept Yezidis who seemed to know the true nature of Tawisī Melek, would never ever say it. Even talking about him they usually whisper. A number of very pious and wise Yezidis, answering the question of the true nature of Tawisī Melek used to whisper to me: “I can not tell you about it”. When I ask: “Why”, they usually answer: “It is not allowed”.

I briefly examined some of existent points of view about the nature of Tawisī Melek. Another impotant point that should be mentioned in this context is whether can the image of a peacock tell us something about the nature of Tawisī Melek. Symbols can never appear for no particular reason: they allways have certain, often definite, sense.


Image of a peacock about the nature of Tawisī Melek

A circle. The open peacock’s train forms a circle, which is in Yezidism, as well as in many other cultures, is symbolical. It is very ancient symbol traditionally designating the eternity and the universe. The open peacock’s train could be a symbol of the Sun’s circle.

Yezidis have a dread of a circle. We can find stories about it in some travel notes, and moreover one of my informants - a Yezidi from Armenia - told me the following story, which happened in Armenia: around a Yezidi man in his 40-s a circle was drawn. He could not come out from this circle and moreover he was very eerie being into it. Only after in a few hours when this man who played a trick on the Yezidi man came and cleaned a part of this circle this Yezidi man could come out from it. Travelers who saw such occurrences were puzzled: what an inexplicapble force does not let go to a Yezidi in a circle?

Hitherto sacral sense of a circle was kept in Hinduism, and a circle plays a big role during carrying out of religious rituals.

Solar symbol. Tawisī Melek is related to the solar beginning. An image of Tawisī Melek as a peacock brings into correlation with a solar symbolism of the above mentioned bird in other mythologies, including the mythology of the early Christians.


In different mythologies of the Eastern peoples we can find the symbol of a peacock:


·          In Iran there is a metaphorical name of the Sun – Tāvus-e Falak (‘The Peacock of Heaven’ ﻓﻠﮏ طاﻮووس).

·          In Ancient Egypt a peacock was considered as a symbol of Geliopolis – the city in which was a temple of the Sun.

·          In Ancient Greece a peacock is a symbol of the Sun as well.

·          In Islam a train of a peacock signifies either universe or the full moon or the Sun in the zenith. Mithopoetic image of a peacock, based on external features of this bird (for example, the form and a colourful coloring train), covers a wide spectrum of astral symbolism – from the cosmos and the starry sky up to the solar circle.

·          Mithology of Hinduism. Indians of the Vedic period used to represent the Sun as a huge bird. Opened in all it’s beauty a peacock’s train is perceived in the Indian mythology as a picture of the starry sky. The peacock is one of indispensable attributes in Hinduism: it is a solar bird of India. It is a bird of many gods, for example, of Buddha. This bird is also related to the goddess of wisdom, sacred knowledge, poetry and music – Sarasvati. Sometimes Sarasvati, who is also the wife of Brahma, is represented riding on a peacock with completely disclosed train. Eyes on feathers of bird’s train symbolize vigilant (sleepless) eyes which see everything (Entsikloediya simvolov... 2000: 365-366).

·          Christians. In catacombs of the earliest Christians a peacock was one of the basic religious symbols, and also it symbolizes saints, because the form of its opened train reminds a nimbus. In early Christianity an image of a peacock had a solar symbolism and was perceived as a symbol of immortality (like a tortoise in the oriental symbolism) and beauty of imperishable soul (Entsikloediya simvolov... 2000: 365-366).

·          China. It is interesting that among Chinese people the majority of birds, in particular a crane, a peacock and a rooster are solar symbols, implying longevity and good destiny.

·          Two peacocks. In Yezidism there is one more symbolical image, representing two peacocks, stay opposite each other, on each side of the Tree trunk. This symbol, namely two peacocks who stay from two sides of “the Tree of the Life” or «Cosmic Tree», which is represented above an entrance in a temple in Lalish, has come to Moslems, and from them to the West, from Ancient Iran and means dualism and the dual human nature, getting his force in the principle of unity (Entsikloediya simvolov... 2000: 365-366). A peacock was represented among the images of the grotto in Bethlehem where the Christ was born: two peacocks who drink from one cup points to the spiritual revival.


In Yezidism a peacock symbol is obviously related to the Sun and it is a solar symbol, which is closely related to the divin sphere. The symbol of a peacock is very antient and probably it goes back to the times of Indo-Iranian community. We can claim with confidence that Tawisī Melek is of divine nature.



All investigated in this paper symbols once more corroborates that properly Yezidi mythology is contiguous to all world’s symbolism, but nevertheless it affirms the most important result of practically all world’s religions, i.e. the fundamental principle of the Light from the Time of Creation.

In “Mesh’efa Resh” is written, that God created six divinities from His Essence and His Light (Kreyenbroek 1992: 73), and their creation was as one lights a light from another light (Joseph 1919: 41). In Bundahishn is said that in the area of Light is the place of Ormazd, which he calls “intermenable light” (Bundahishn 1997: 265). In Ahl-e Haqq myth of the cosmogony states that God created a Pearl from his own pure Light (Ivanow 1953: 42).

Yezidism is a religion of Light: in each cave in Lalish a fire should be kindled; a room with the sacred place Stēr (among Yezidis of Armenia and Georgia) should be spotlit; a sacred dance Sama should be danced around the Cheqeltu with the Seven Fires; Yezidis from Armenia should make a little bonfire on the latest grave; they kissed the place, where first Sun ray falls; the sacred Yezidi colors are red and yellow – the solar colors, and very many other examples.

Thousand years tradition of the Light in the spiritual life of Yezidis appears in their symbolism of the Sun even on the Yezidi graves of Armenia in the forms of monuments: a lion, a horse and a wild ram – solar symbols.

Taking into consideration the mighty influence of the adjoining religions, Yezidis could preserve their originality and peculiar view on the world and on its values. Yezidis could preserve the ancient initial luminiferous idea of Tawisī Melek and of their religion as a whole.

Under various influences and „waft“, Yezidi mythology kept the idea of the dawn and Light. The Light and the Sun for the peoples and tribes, who used to live under the effect of the sizzling Sun, was unbearable and the first coolness, and consiquently an evening and night (Moon), was invigorating. Whereas for the people, who used to live in north the Light, the warmth and the day (Sun) was a source of life. It is because of that a peacock and a rooster are not just solar symbols, but they contain the idea of the Yezidi philosophy of the Light.

As to a peacock – a symbol of Tawisī Melek – it symbolizes the Sun, the Light, and so it, emphasizes in no way the dark nature, but just Light essence of Tawisī Melek.

Through the symbols of a peacock and a rooster all religious art of Yezidis penetrates the aesthetics of the Light. Yezidis even have oaths: «Vē Rojē» – I swear by this Day, Sun; «Vē Īshiqē» – I swear by this Light, Shine.

The Yezidi symbolism undoubtedly should be investigated much deeper and completely. It could tell us more about the veritable Yezidi philosophy, it surely will open closed doors to the understanding of the essence of the Yezidi dogma and cult.

In conclusion I would like to remember a beautiful expression about birds belonging to the contemporary of Sheikh Adi Saint Khildegard Bingenskaya (1098-1179), who wrote in the book about the nature, that as birds with the help of their plumage lift up and are in the air everywhere, so a soul in a body thanks to thoughts towers and amplifies...




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(*) Specialist in Religious Studies, St. Petersbourg