Mythological Spotlight #3: Melek Taus

MELEK TAUS by Stuart Littlejohn

Description

Melek Taus, or Tawuse Melek if you prefer, is the central figure of the religion of the Yazidis, an ancient Kurdish religious and ethnic community who are mostly based in Iraq. According to the Yazidis, Melek Taus is the chief of all the angels and/or holy beings, or even the creator and ruler of the world and the universe, and is usually represented as a peacock, hence his nickname The Peacock Angel. In Yazidi myths, Melek Taus is a servant or emanation of God, but it is also believed he rebelled against God by refusing to bow down to Adam. This, along with his other name apparently being Shaitan, led to him being confused with the Islamic figure Shaitan or Iblis, which in turn got him confused with Satan and Lucifer. But unlike Satan, Lucifer, or Iblis, Melek Taus repented and not only restored his status as a high angel, he also became a demiurgic figure who created the world. It is said that after his repentance, he wept for 7,000 years, and these tears are believed to have filled seven jars with which he quenched the fires of Hell.

History

The religion of the Yazidi people is considered to a branch of a religion known as Yazdanism. Yazdanism is a pre-Islamic religion tied to the Kurdish people, and is influenced by Zoroastrian theology and other Mesopotamian religions, though Yazdanism is also considered a name for a group of ancient Kurdish monotheistic religions rather than simply one whole religion. A key belief of Yazdanism is that God (in the traditional sense) is an absolute and transcendental being that encompasses the whole universe, and manifests himself through seven divine beings, one of which is Melek Taus (who is also the chief of these beings), in order to sustain universal life. In the Yazidi tradition, Melek Taus was the first of these angelic beings to emerge from the light of God in the form of a rainbow, which bifurcated to form him and the six other angelic beings, who together now represent the seven colors of the rainbow (Melek Taus representing blue, the color of the heavens). It is also believed that these angels occasionally incarnate in this world as humans. Melek Taus, for instance, is believed to have incarnated as a man named Sheikh Abi Idn Musafir, who is credited as being the founder of Yazidism.

Melek Taus is traditionally represented by the peacock, but the peacock is not native to Iraq. It’s believed that the peacock symbolism originates with the early Christians, who thought peacock represented immortality and/or resurrection because of the belief that the peacock’s flesh did not decay after death.

The myth of the fall and repentance of Melek Taus has often been conflated with the myth of the fall of Iblis as defined by orthodox Islamic belief. In the Islamic myth, Iblis was a being created by “God” (or rather Allah as he is called in the Quran) who refused to bow down to Adam unlike the angels, so he rebelled against “God” and his angels and was defeated, and afterwards he became known as the leader of the djinn or demons. This itself parallels the Christian myth of Satan’s fall from grace. In the Yazidi myth, Melek Taus also refused to bow to the first human and was punished for it, but unlike Iblis, Melek Taus repented and went on to create the world. This myth, along with their particular theology concerning God, frequently leads to the Yazidis being judged as devil-worshipers and denounced accordingly by Muslims and Christians. The identification of Melek Taus with the name Shaitan may also be part of why it is considered forbidden in the Yazidi tradition to speak the name Shaitan out loud. It is important to remember that, although Melek Taus ostensibly defied the will of God, he is still very much seen as a high-ranking angel and an emanation of God rather than as a fallen angel or devil, and is very much in God’s good graces. Melek Taus simply became attached to Iblis, and Satan by proxy, by Muslims. In this sense, Melek Taus is as related to Satan as Santa Claus is related to Jesus. It’s also worth noting that some believe Melek Taus was ultimately rewarded for refusing to bow to the first human rather than punished, because it meant upholding the monotheistic worship of only one God and not Man, an outlook in some interpretations (mustly Sufi) of Iblis refusing to bow down to Adam out of love and devotion to God.

Quick side-note: I’ve noticed that members of an organization known as the Joy of Satan relates a number of deities from various mythologies to their interpretation of Satan, and one of these is Melek Taus. This is obviously based on the supposed connection Melek Taus to Satan, which, as was previously stated, is simply a construct of Islamic and Christian interpretation and doesn’t have any real bearing on the character of Melek Taus. Because why would an angel tied to the monotheistic God have anything to do with Satan?

Anyways, because of their particular beliefs and theological ideas, the Yazidis have frequently met persecution by Islam and other religious traditions, and are deemed as falling outside the protected category of “People of the Book”, which refers to members of religions who follow monotheistic scriptures related to Islamic teachings. This has led to the Yazidi people facing threats of genocide and massacre many times, and their culture facing threats of extermination. The Yazidis have been considered devil-worshippers since the late 16th century, but organized violence against them actually dates back to the Ottoman Empire’s campaigns against the Yazidis during the 19th century. In the 1970s, the Yazidis also suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who razed Yazidi villages and communities and forced them to relocate into his cities, which disrupted their rural mountain communities and their lifestyle. More recently, last year the Yazidis were the victims of a brutal campaign conducted by ISIL, who have brutally killed, enslaved, or forcibly exiled members of the Yazidi community and captured their territory. It could argued that this is because of the perception that they are devil-worshipers, but with ISIL anyone who falls outside their religious views is considered fair game to them, so to them the Yazidis being accused of worshipping Satan probably doesn’t matter as much as them not being extremist Sunni Muslims. ISIL’s brutality against the Yazidis is ongoing, but nowadays it is sadly not getting a lot of attention anymore. Outside the Middle East, the Yazidis are also misunderstood as devil-worshipers, even in fiction, but his reputed connection to Satan and the mysteriousness of his religion has gained Melek Taus some fame within occultism, and sometimes he crops up in Left Hand Path circles.

Conclusion

All I can say is that it’s weird how Melek Taus came to be seen as a Satanic figure when by all rights he is more like the the archangels of Jewish and Christian lore or the Zoroastrian yazatas. Given one of his names is Shaitan, his reputation as a Devil figure is almost literally a case of mistaken identity, and people choosing not to look past the veneer of the myth of the fall from grace. If you’re interested in angels and holy beings, mind you, you might find Melek Taus to be a very interesting and captivating figure.

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One response to “Mythological Spotlight #3: Melek Taus

  1. This is a fantastic article. I used to know some Joy of Satan members who took the Al-Jilwah really seriously, in the same literal way that evangelical Christians take the Bible. This is especially interesting given that even Yezidis think the Al-Jilwah is just a joke created by Westerners. It’s like when white people create “Native American” things that aren’t really authentic at all, but other white people buy them and think they’re genuine.

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