Yezidis are a Kurdish religious minority of a few hundred thousand souls, living mainly in Northern Iraq, as well as Syria, Turkey and the Caucasus. Yazidi religious practices have been described as a blend of Eastern religions with hints of the ancient Zoroastrian and Mithraic practices, as well as elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All the monotheistic prophets are recognized, but Abraham and Noah are especially venerated.
Yezidis follow a highly syncretistic religion of their own, based exclusively on oral tradition. Yezidi mythology, beside showing the influence of both Sufism and a pre-Zoroastrian Western Iranian mythology, has also incorporated and adapted to its particular religious system certain myths and motifs which once enjoyed widespread popularity among the interrelated religious movements of Late Antiquity, ranging from Judaism through Christianity to Gnosticism and Manichaeism.
This book demonstrates that these myths and motifs, though long since relegated to oblivion in the West, can be found in the religious lore of the Yezidis, as well as of numerous other groups, both medieval and contemporary, in the Middle East. Hence it is argued that they are the vestiges of a common cultural substratum once shared by the people of the region.
Placing these motifs within the context of a religious language originating in Late Antiquity is not only the key to a better understanding of Yezidi religion, but also to the way it developed and the working of oral tradition in the Middle East in general. In this context, establishing the late antique origins of some motifs reveals the way literacy interacted with orality in the region. Furthermore, it highlights the long lasting influence late antique religious thought had on the development of religious imagery and thinking in the area.
In her PhD. thesis, the author, Mrs Eszter Spät writes :
The aim of my thesis was to add to the understanding of the nature of Yezidi religion and of oral tradition in the region, by finding the place of some motifs in a religious tradition which can be traced back to the Late Antiquity. Obviously, this study does not pretend to be the last word on late antique motifs, Gnostic or otherwise, in Yezidism. Rather it hopes to be the first of its kind, opening the way to further research. Clearly, there is a lot more to be done in this field, especially as regards the possible influence of Gnosticism and Manichaeism on Yezidi’s religion. During the course of my research, a number of motifs I suspected as being of possible Late Antique origin had to be put to one side due to a lack of sufficient corroborating data. As scholarly research (hopefully) gathers more information on the various religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East and their oral traditions, new details may appear that would make finding further connections and refining the ones treated by this work possible.