I got a round of applause during a Satanic pilgrimage in Iraq

“Yazidis? You want to worship the devil?” says the 300 lb. Lebanese man sitting next to me at a hotel bar. “In the US, you have the Mormons. In Iraq, we have the Yazidis. A bunch of inbreed infidels.”

Who that man was, I have no idea. He just injected into my conversation. The bartender was 70% sure he was in the human trafficking business, and 100% sure he was on his 14th beer of the night. While he was the kind of low-rent Cosa Nostra who hangs around hotel bars striking up racist conversation with strangers, he also kind of summed up how Iraqis feel about Yazidis.

There are about 700,000 people of the Yazidi faith, 500,000 of which are spread out around Iraq. The Yazidi faith is somewhat of an odd combination of Islam, and Christianity, with a little mysticism thrown in there.

The Satan worshiping part comes from their belief that Satan, depicted in Yazidi religion as the peacock angel, refused to bow down to Adam as the other Angles did, because he wouldn’t apotheosize anyone other than God. This act elevated Satan as the holiest angel, so God entrusted him with ruling the world. Confused? Well, me too.

The Adam aspect gets more complicated by the fact that Yazidis believe they are all descendants of Adam and Eve, and forbid interfaith marriage and converts, as to not dilute the linage. And when they forbid something, they are serious about it. In 2007 a girl was stoned to death for falling in love with a Muslim boy.

Yazidis’ equivalent to Mecca is Lalish, a small, virtually unpopulated town outside of Mosul, in Iraq. In a page taken out of Islam, Yazidis must make one trip to Lalish in their lives, usually during a seven-day pilgrimage between late September and early October. Various rituals, including a mass bathing in a river and the sacrifice of an ox, serve as the highlight of the pilgrimage.

It was my intention to join the Yazidis on this pilgrimage, however, due to threats of violence from Al Qaida, which virtually runs neighboring Mosul, all rituals were cancelled—the first time since 2007—and I was told only a select group of people would be let in to the town.

The Yazidis are uptight about security for a reason; they have suffered near constant persecution and violence. The worst of which came on August 14, 2007, when multiple trucks filled with explosives detonated in two Yazidi villages, killing at least 500 people and wounding more than 1,500, which at the time was the second deadliest attack ever, behind 9/11.

After the holidays, the town opened back up, and many Yazidis who couldn’t get in during the pilgrimage were taking advantage of this, so I went to check it out.


Typical of many of the travelers to Lalish, an over-packed truck with pilgrims waits outside of the gates for permission from local police to enter the town.


As I walked to the town gates, this kid approached me as if he was expecting me. He was extremely adamant on filling me in on the Yazidi faith and showing me around town, and constantly asking me to drink tea with him. He is one of the 30,000 Yazidis, who lived as a refugee in Germany during Saddam’s Arabization campaign.


All of Lalish is considered sacred ground, so a litany of unholy things are banned from the town such as cars and shoes. Oddly enough, on this list of banned items is lettuce, which a my new friend told me was banned because “lettuce causes gasses.”


The holiest site in the Yazidi faith is the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, the founder of the Yazidi faith. The tomb is draped in multi-colored cloth, which is to be tied in a knot after a prayer. The next person to come to the tomb unties the knot to fulfill the wish of the person before them. Devotees are required to circumambulate three times around the tomb in a counter-clockwise direction. And yes, that is still our friend from before, making his way around the tomb, still insisting I take a break to drink tea.

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In the room next to the tomb, there is what looks like a bunch of children playing a 2 AM bar game going on. Pilgrims grab a cloth, close their eyes, and say a prayer. While their eyes still closed they toss the cloth onto a rock, which, if the cloth lands on the rock with out falling off, your prayer will be granted.


Your author goes for it — and nails it! Guess I am marrying Katy Perry after all. The five or six other people in the room gave me a standing o.


Also, there is this thing. I was informed that you drop a pebble and if you make it in the right-hand hole, you are going to heaven – if it’s the left, eternal damnation. I informed them I was pretty sure my fate was already sealed.


Besides the peacock, the snake is a revered animal to the Yazidis. It is believed that Noah’s Arc sprung a leak during its journey dooming all on board. Luckily, there was a snake around to plug up the leak. Oh, and BTW, where did Noah’s Arc first hit dry land? That’s right, Lalish.


Also, there is this. For some reason there is a small house filled with nothing but stale bread. Apparently, it is left out for the poor to come and eat, but from the looks of it, there weren’t many takers on the eating side of the bargain.

As I left, something my new friend said to me gave me pause, “Our religion is really a big part of my life, but I am a Kurd and an Iraqi as well, I just wish they gave us the same respect as everyone else. What have we done to live in fear?” He was right. All Iraqis have had a tough go of it the last 40 years or so, but the Yazidis have more than most. The fact that people like him have come back from abroad is promising; the fact that Al-Qaeda sits 30 kilometers away isn’t. But at least they have good tea.