Many of the great major religions and philosophies of the world have similar values.
I wanted to make a twitter where I could post one quote a day from an influential prophet, philosopher, or God of a different religion, so we could learn from the wisdom of all the religions.
“In tumultuous political times, the 18-30 demographic is reaching for the stars.
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.”
Recently I was contacted by a 28 year old Yazidi Kurd who lives in Germany. She told me interesting things about her experience as a Yazidi, including the fact that she believes in many gods, finds the four elements to be divine, and she says that the Yazidi people can trace their origins to Iran. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her faith, and the rest of what I have below was written by her:
The name Yazidi is derived from the old iranian word “Yazata” which simply means “divine beings”. But you should also know that the Majority of us calls themselves “Shemsani” which means “Sun worshippers”. The four Elements Fire, Earth, Water and Air are holy for us. But the Center of the Yazidi Religion is the Sun. That is why the Sun God is the most prominent.
(Sun Symbol of Mithra)
And yes, we have many Gods. The most important Gods are the seven Gods. The seven Weekdays and the Planets are dedicated to them. We are of the opinion that the Monotheists relegated the Gods to the so called “7 Archangels”. They are also many other Gods and Goddesses (Xwodan). Like the female Gods who are responsible for healing of diseases or fertility. But I have to say that the Gods have more importance among our Elders and are not really important among young people.
Mithra is the old Iranian God of the sun, justice, contracts and war whose name changed many times throughout history. He is the center of the Yazidi Religion. The Lalish Temple in Sinjar is nothing more than a Mithraic Sun Temple. The Domes of the Temple look like Sunrays and the Mithraic Symbols at the Temple are hardly to ignore.
The Yazidis turn their faces towards the sun and pray to honor Mithra. Also many older Yazidis have the sun as a tattoo and the Lalish Temple is full of solar symbols. We never kneel when we pray, unlike the Monotheists who kind of behave like slaves. We think that the we and the Gods are equal. Of course many people find this arrogant.
First of all the Kurdish Name for Fairies is “Horiyan”. For us they are the epitome of beauty. Therefore we use the proverb, “She is beautiful like a Hori” to describe a beautiful girl or a woman. We believe the fairies live in deep forests and the little people live under the grass. Our Elders have many stories how they saw them and that it was something pretty normal for them. The sightings that our Elders describe are similar to old German stories about fairies. Also, before our Elders pour out hot water anywhere, they send a warning (it´s kind of a prayer) to the little people so they can hide themselves at the right time to avoid being injured. We are doing this ritual still here in Europe.
Then we have the forest spirits. With forest spirits we mean the spirits of the trees and any other plants. I can describe you how the people of my parents native village interacted with trees. First of all the Kurdish Areas are literally “Garden Eden”. Everywhere fertile ground, trees, water and plants. Kurdish villages are built so that every household has a tree in the garden. In case of my parents native village it was exactly like that. So my Mother grew up with “her tree”. Almost everyday she lit the candlesticks for the tree to honor him. She also decorated the tree to make him pretty. Of course it sounds like Christmas, but of course you know that the so called “Christmas Tree” is of Pagan origin.
She sat under the tree, touched the tree and the leaves and made sure that it was always clean around the tree. My Mother called the tree “her best friend”. That was the interacting. The tree was alive and and practically a real person. Interesting is that the Yazidis believe that trees are always of male gender. But unfortunately I don´t know the story behind this.
Another important thing is that the Elders of the Village made sure that nothing was built on the areas of the little people or the Fairies. They are absolutely real for us.
LIFE FOR A YAZIDI IN GERMANY
Yes, I still practice the Yezidi Religion myself. The main Reason is that I luckily I belong to the Yezidis who grew up in a full pagan household. Thankfully my parents showed me the true meaning of the Yezidi Religion. I have a terrarium with a waterfall and trees in my bedroom. It reminds me of a beautiful forest. I also have many orchids in my bedroom because they are gentle. We also have a beautiful garden, but the garden is more like the job of my Father.
We have an altar in the living room with red candles and different flowers. It depends on the season. My family also celebrates the “Red Wednesday” and the “Winter Solstice”. I wish I could be more pagan but it`s not easy here. In the homeland, mostly in the famous “Zagros Mountains” the Kurds live the Pagan Religion the right way.
First of all I feel privileged to live in Germany. It´s the land of the poets and thinkers. Germany is good to me and my Family. And I´m proud to speak the German language and read the German literature classics in the original language. There´s nothing better than that. Although we are not really voluntary here. I have to say that my whole Family doesn´t really look middle eastern. My Hair color for example is red-brown, my eye-color is light brown and I´m extremely pale. Maybe the life here is easier for me because of this? I really don´t know.
But overall the Yezidi Community has a extremely good relationship with the German people. In the Yezidi Community Centers here in Germany (they are only a few) we celebrate the pagan holidays together with the Germans, even with the police.
Thank you Nesla for sending me this information. It was a pleasure.
CLICK PICTURE TO EXPAND
MAPPING OUT WORLD RELIGIONS
DISCLAIMER: The map makes a lot of assumptions (given that we can’t really know what people believed before written, recorded history. The dates are also not to be taken as fact, but are a broad estimate).
Above is a map of the evolution of the world’s religions and belief systems. This map was put together thanks to Simon E. Davies at the Human Odyssey Facebook group. The map itself covers most of the world’s geographic regions and cultures: European, African, Semitic, Iranian, Indian, East Asian, Arctic, North American, South American, New Guinean/Australian and Oceanic.
Religion, spirituality and myth is the narrative through which human beings understand the world, themselves and their place in the universe. This narrative can be very unifying or divisive depending upon the circumstances involved.
Below I will make some brief points about the evolution of spiritual systems into the world we live in today.
DISCLAIMER: My posts below focus more on religious developments in the Near East and the Western World. there is much more that could be said about Asian religions as well as those of the Americas. Unfortunately this article is not broad enough to address all these things, but hopefully I can address them in a future article.
For about 95%-90% of human history we human beings were nomadic hunters and gatherers who lived in tribes of around 100 or so people.
Anthropologists have made the assumption that most nomadic folk were animists. Do we know if that’s true? We weren’t around back then, so we can’t be entirely sure.
The word “animism” is latin for “soul, life.” It is a belief that all things have a soul: plants, animals and even inanimate objects. Many tribal people prayed to animal spirits and incorporated spirit animals into shamanistic rituals.
Many animists see humans, plants and animals on an equal footing. Hunters and gatherers living in a tribe may have seen themselves as equals to the animals they were trying to either hunt or make peace with in the natural environment.
There is the Cherokee Legend “The Little Deer, Awi Usdi.” (If you want to read the whole story, you should click on the link.) A little deer tells all the hunters that they must only hunt when necessary, that they must pray for permission before they kill, and that they must ask pardon after they have killed. This story is an example of the attitude that many tribal people had in regards to their environment: take only what you need and be grateful to the animal and plant spirits for what you get.
Trees were considered sacred by many ancient people and believed to host holy spirits of life, spirits that provided human beings with fruit and shelter. The belief in the sacredness of trees existed in Druidic rites in sacred groves as well as with the Greek belief in Dryads (female tree spirits). Sacred trees and sacred oaks were widely venerated by the Germanic peoples before Christian times. In an attempt to completely extinguish pagan practices in the region, Christian missionaries cut down the sacred tree “Donar’s Oak” and used the wood to build a church. However, some of the Germanic tree traditions still exist in popular culture today – for example the Christmas Tree.
Water also contained powerful spirits. Hindus today still bathe themselves in the Ganges because they believe it is a sacred river (which is unfortunately very polluted). The Celts in Ireland also had a strong belief in sacred wells. This belief was so strong that many Irish Wells today are still considered sacred, but now they are associated with saints. This tradition has also lived on in the belief in “wishing wells.”
Polytheism is broadly defined as a belief system with multiple Gods, and a majority of the polytheistic systems around the world focus on a central pantheon of Gods.
As civilizations emerged, spiritual paths began to become more “humancentric.” This can’t be assumed for all civilizations. Some civilizations had a mix of animal and human worship, the Egyptian Gods represented the powerful traits of both animals and men. Other civilizations like Greece and Rome focused more on human deities.
Perhaps as humans began to cultivate the land and domesticate animals, they began to see themselves as superior to nature, and thus elevated the status of human beings in their own spirituality. (But this is just my guess, not to be taken as some kind of historical fact)..
Most Polytheistic pantheons have a mixture of both Gods and Goddesses. Polytheistic people see elements of the divine in both the masculine and feminine gender (just as many animists do). The existence of powerful Goddesses among ancient polytheistic cultures is perhaps evidence that women held more power in the beginning of civilization than they did later on (my guess). In fact, in the first written law code, The Code of Hammurabi, women actually had a great deal of rights compared to later civilizations. They had the right to own property, run a business and get a divorce.
Even in patriarchal Rome the chief deity of wisdom and strategic warfare was a woman, and women could hold roles of religious power: being a priestess or a prophet. There were also some rituals that only women were allowed to attend. So we see that even in patriarchal polytheistic societies, the existence of the female divine was still undeniable. This began to change in Rome with the conversion to Christianity.
Monotheism is the belief in one God.
Some of the first major monotheistic religions were Judaism and Atenism. Atenism did not last very long and Judaism was a religion of the Hebrew tribe (not anything mainstream). Christianity was the first monotheistic religion to be followed on a massive scale. I’m not going to cover the entire early history of Christianity in this text because that would be a lot to go over. However, I will mention a few brief points.
There is much debate over how Christianity started and if Jesus even actually existed. The first century CE was a very well documented time period in history – yet there is no mention of Jesus in Roman historical texts in the time. The first written accounts about the life of Jesus weren’t made until several decades after his purported death.
During this time there were a large number of cults that believed in similar ideas: Gods of light, a duality god of Good and Evil, gods of redemption and deliverance. Some say that Christianity was a cult cooked up in Alexandria. Christianity’s status as a “monotheistic” religion is also debatable since God exists as a trinity and that many pagan Gods were converted into saints.
Whatever the history of Christianity really is, the religion did become important when Rome converted in the 4th century CE. However, Christianity came into Rome as an alien influence and the empire collapsed only 80 years after its conversion.
In my opinion (not a historical fact) Christianity at its core was not meant to be an empire building religion. I believe that the original practice was supposed to be monastic. Jesus says the following in the New Testament: “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” Much of the language in the New Testament suggests turning away from the desires of the material world, turning away from family, and devoting oneself to the Kingdom of God.
Yet the monotheistic religion of Islam that evolved out of Christianity was much more successful in its attempt to unify diverse peoples. Before the establishment of the Islamic religion, the Arabian Peninsula was a place of warring tribes. But once these tribes embraced the religion by the 6th century CE, they stopped fighting each other and decided to fight other people instead.
The religion of Islam took over a large amount of territory in a short time. I’m not going to say Islam is the most tolerant religion, but there was never a big inquisition like there was in the Christian world. There was a degree of tolerance allowed for religious minorities (Jews, Christians, Sabians and Zoroastrianists) as long as these people paid a tax. It wasn’t ideal, and many of the people lived as second class citizens. But there was enough tolerance for diverse people to live together in relative sanity. (I’m not saying the Muslims never committed any wartime atrocities against religious minorities, but I’m saying that there were Islamic empires where religious minorities were treated with a degree of tolerance that was progressive for the time).
There were also some pretty progressive reforms passed for women (for the time). Women were given the right to divorce, inherit property (a fraction of what men could inherit), testify on a jury (although their voice was worth less than a man’s in certain situations), have her own money that her husband wasn’t allowed to touch and negotiate peace treaties in wartime. Islamic reforms also made some vulgar pre-islamic traditions illegal: female genital mutilation and the common practice of killing baby girls at birth. So, by today’s standards these laws aren’t very progressive, but the Muslim woman in the 7th century CE did have far more rights than the average Christian or East Asian woman.
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND RATIONAL MATERIALISM (1650-Present)
Up until the 17th century, religion was the primary vehicle through which people understood the world and most scientific knowledge was intertwined with religion. For example, many people believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system due to biblical scripture. Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.”So Galileo got into major trouble with the church for promoting a heliocentric view of the solar system, even though the scientific evidence supported this model. Galileo was found guilty as a heretic under the Roman Inquisition and remained under house arrest for the rest of his life.
People in Europe became sick of religious fundamentalism after the Thirty Years War, which occurred just before the Enlightenment began. It was a bloody conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and it is said to be one of the longest and most violent wars in European history.
So after this period, many people in Europe were having a religious hang over. The Enlightenment Era emerged in the 1750’s as an era that emphasized intellect, reason and science over traditional forms of authority, such as the church. In rebellion against the traditional authority of kings, democracies and nation states were established. A new merchant class emerged after revolutions that trimmed down the authority of kings and priests, and thus Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution got started. There was a hope that the human condition would be elevated and improved through the vehicle of science and rational thought.
A new world of science, medicine and technology caused the human population to experience exponential growth and explode beyond anything ever seen in history.
So is this good? Is this bad? Such things are debatable. It could be argued that humans today are living in the best of times (those of us who live in developed countries anyways). But due to the unsustainable nature of today’s material consumption, such comforts are not sustainable for a long term future.
It was ultimately a good thing that people began to question the church and look to other points of view. However, in developing a material view of our world have we lost something? Today’s leaders are presiding over a criminal destruction of nature. In 40 short years half of the wildlife on the planet has been destroyed.
We created the machinery of material production yet we did not give this machinery a soul. We didn’t just stop at using machines to power our societies, but our very society itself became a machine and we the people the spokes and wheels of the production line. Schools took on a factory environment to mass produce “educated” citizens who know just enough to do what the are told, but not enough to question these instructions. Ours is now a world of tedious conformity, a suburban hell in which all the houses look the same and all the people think alike.
Yet the machine of “progress” is not doing so well and people around the world are beginning to wake up to the reality that this system isn’t sustainable.
To change the system we must change the way we view ourselves and the purpose of our existence on this planet. The most profound change occurs with a widespread spiritual shift in consciousness. We cannot approach the problems of today’s world at a merely individual level. Buying an energy efficient light bulb will not save the world. Even ending the conflict in Syria will not save the world (although that would be a positive change in global affairs).
The root of today’s problems is a profound spiritual sickness that permeates the souls of our leaders and the minds of the day to day human being. I’m not talking about perversion in the way that the Catholic Church would (considering sexuality a perversion). I’m talking about real perversion, a distorted and polluted view on what is true and what life is supposed to be about.
Is life simply about making and spending money? Is life all about trying to score with one of the sexy models you see on a billboard? We live in the theocracy of the capitalist religion, and we as human beings have sold our souls and our planet for the indulgence of temporary pleasures.
It is time to center our lives around something more permanent. Call it God, Fate, Nature or whatever you will. Nature is a system that has existed for 5 billion years. It has stood the test of time. It is truth itself.
If human beings cannot find a sane way to live on this planet, we will be eliminated like a bad case of fleas.
In many ways, our animistic ancestors were much wiser than we are. Tribal life wasn’t ideal. It was brutal and violent. Some people even practiced cannibalism, human sacrifice and ritualistic torture. Yet humans survived through almost 100,000 years of tribal animism without destroying the resources necessary for life or nearly wiping out the human species. What’s the track record of today’s so called “advanced people”? Not so good.
Am I saying that we should abandon everything and go off and live in tribes. Not necessarily. But I’m saying we need to change the atmosphere, the current spiritual sickness that infests the soul of the modern man.
It is time for a baptism of the sick.
Let your soul burn anew in the passion of powerful art and music.
Let your heart be washed pure by the waters of an ancient spiritual wisdom
Find time to be alone and purify your mind from the madness of today’s world.
And disappear into the depth of the forest, to become one with nature’s purpose
The Yazidi religion is believed to be around 6,000 years old in fact. Yet throughout their long history they have faced 72 genocides and soon they may unfortunately be facing genocide number 73 at the hands of the group formerly known as ISIS (Which now calls itself “The Islamic State”). Why all the hate towards this small, but ancient group of people? This is due to one major misconception about their religion – the idea that they worship Satan. Not only do the Yazidis not believe in a devil, but they don’t believe in hell either. In fact, the evil Satan is more of a reality in the Judeo-Christian religions than for the Yazidis.
GOD’S HIGHEST ANGEL IS A SAVIOR RATHER THAN A DEVIL
The reason for this misconception is because they believe that God created the Earth and designated seven angels to preside over his creation. The highest of these angels is Tawsi Melek, who is also known as the “Peacock Angel.” He is the primary figure in the Yazidi religion and is the one who filled the Earth with colorful things, such as flora and fauna. Yet this mighty Melek is similar in some aspects to Christianity’s Lucifer and Islam’s Shaitan. When God created Adam, he asked his angels to bow down to the humans. All angels obeyed except for Tawsi Melek, who replied, “How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust.”
The key difference however, in the Yazidi religion, is that Tawsi Melek was right not to bow down to the humans, and he was right to stand up to God. He was not thrown into hell. Instead he descended to Earth and wept for all the pain in the world. His tears ended up extinguishing the fires of hell. Thus, the Yazidis do not believe in a hell with a devil, but rather they believe that evil is man-made. They hold that the source of evil is in the heart and spirit of humans themselves, not in God’s highest angel. In the Yazidi religion, Tawsi Melek is a bringer of knowledge and life. It is interesting that Lucifer is also a bringer of knowledge in the Christian religion – yet this aspect of Lucifer is seen in a negative light by the Christians, while Tawsi Melek’s knowledge is mainly a positive force in the world of the Yazidis.
THE YAZIDI HOLY SITE – LALISH
When Tawsi Melek descended to the Earth to make our world more colorful, it is believed that he descended to a site known as “Lalish,” which is situated in Northern Iraq. After Melek descended to Lalish he met with Adam and turned him towards the sun, telling him that it was a symbol of the creator. He then added that Adam should pray towards the sun daily and taught him a prayer that all humanity should chant for the creator. Most Yazidis pray 3 times a day and most Yazidis also make it a goal to go on a pilgrimage to their holy site at least once a lifetime.
(The Yazidi Holy Site “Lalish” on New Years)
The Yazidi religious year includes four holy festivals:
- The New Year (The first Wednesday of April)
- Apparently the Yazidis also like coloring eggs in April. They do this to celebrate the colors that Tawsi Melek brought to the world.
- The Feast of Sacrifice
- The Feast of Seven Days, Sept 23-30
- The first Friday of December feast following three days of fasting.
Wednesday is also a holy day of the week for the Yazidis and Saturday is a day of rest.
A BELIEF IN REINCARNATION
So if evil people don’t go to hell, where do they go? Much like in Hinduism, Yazidis believe in the purification of the soul through a series of lifetimes. If a soul is pure, it will ascend into heaven. However, if someone lived a truly evil life, they will be reincarnated as a member of a different religion. The Yazidis are very proud of their own traditions and ethic group, which means that being cast out of the Yazidi ethnic and spiritual lineage is one of the harshest punishments imaginable for their people. In fact, Yazidis believe in only marrying within their ethnic pool, and narrow that requirement down even further to only marrying within their caste.
THE YAZIDI CASTE SYSTEM
(A Yazidi man healing a woman)
- THE SHEIKH CASTE
- The Sheikh caste is the highest of the three mentioned castes here. Sheikh is an Arabic word which denotes a ruler or an elder of a tribe. It is believed that the members of this caste descended from 6 of the 7 great angels (excluding Tawsi Melek). Members of the Sheikh caste are believed to have special healing powers.
- THE PIR CASTE
- The Pir Caste is also a significant spiritual caste, and much like the Shiekh, they are required to be at major life events such as marriages, circumcisions and funerals.
- THE MURID CASTE
- The Murids are a majority of the Yazidi people, who are basically “commoners” and do not function as priests.
THE YAZIDI’S SYNCRETIC ORIGINS
Having a caste system and believing in reincarnation sounds very Hindu inspired. This is no accident. It is believed that the Yazidis migrated to India after a major flood that happened 6,000 years ago. Then about 4,000 years ago they migrated back to their homeland in Northern Iraq. In fact, the Yazidi religion has similarities to Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Mithraism. It is probably because the Yazidis have encountered and lived among these people over the last 6,000 years of their existence, but due to their tight ethnic bonds – formed a unique religion to fit their people.
WHEN WAS THE YAZIDI RELIGION TECHNICALLY FOUNDED?
This is an update I decided to add after publishing the article. It’s a bit confusing because I state that the Yazidi religion is 6,000 years old. Some have argued with me that the Yazidi religion can’t be that old, considering that it has Islamic customs. However, one must realize that the practice of praying 5 times a day was not unique to Muslims. In pre-islamic times, it was a normal practice for many Middle Eastern cultures who bowed and prayed to the various phases of the sun throughout the day – including the ancient Egyptians and Zoroastrians.
Also, one must understand that the Yazidi religion is a fluid religion that has evolved and grown over time as a result of their contacts with other people. Much of what they believe today was codified in its current form in the 12th century A.D. by the reformer known as Sheikh Adi. Many Yazidis consider him to be an Avatar of the angel Tawsi Melek and his tomb is at the holy site of Lalish. However, even though its most recent reforms were established in the 12th century, many of the basic ideas are thousands of years old.
THE YAZIDIS TODAY
As mentioned in the introduction, Yazdis are a very small ethnic and religious minority. There are only 700,000 Yazidis in the world, and 600,000 of these Yazidis live in Iraq. Today the terrorist group that calls itself “The Islamic State” is terrorizing and killing these ancient people, along with driving them off of lands they have occupied for thousands of years. The “Islamic State” has only two options for the Yazidis, “convert or die.” They have also taken to selling Yazidi girls into sexual slavery.
It is very important for the world to know about the Yazidi people, what they are going through, and the beauty that their religion truly represents. The fact that they celebrate a colorful, peacock of an angel as a bringer of knowledge and life speaks volumes about their core beliefs – even if most of their religion is transmitted by word of mouth, rather than the written word. These are a people who have a rich and colorful tradition that masked men in black are attempting to destroy. Let us do well to understand, support and pray for these people in their hour of need.
An intriguing look into an ancient culture that is still around today. The Mari El people have protected their Pagan religion against both Christians and Soviets, and still carry out rituals today in sacred groves that are tied to the land.
Russia hasn’t been big in the news for tolerance lately. However, NeoPagans did receive a big victory in Russia recently with the legal recognition of “Aar Aiyy,” a NeoPagan revival of the Siberian shamanistic religion of Tengrism. Tengrism is the ancient religion of the Turkic-speaking population of Siberia – this includes the Turks, the Huns, Mongolians and Hungarians. “Aar Aiyy” means a “belief in a higher deity.” This belief holds that there is one supreme deity, but many spirit helpers and other divine beings.
The beliefs of Tengrism were suppressed when Russian Orthodox Christians came into the region in the 1600’s. When Siberia was under Soviet control, all religions were suppressed. Yet many of the folk traditions have survived and now the religion is beginning to develop in the open.
Adherents of Aar Aiyy had been working for 18 years to gain recognition, and have just won it this year. So, many congratulations for the practitioners of Aar Aiyy in Siberia!