لالش Lalish is a village with the shrine of Sheikh Adi, known as پرستگهها لالشمعبد لالش (Lalish Temple).
Several aspects of Lalish provide a spiritual geography to the place. First of all is the natural layout: a wash nestled between two mountains. This small and quiet valley has an abundance of strong and clean springs with remarkably sweet water: it seems a perfect place for the religious center of Ezidkhan, the name for the Yezidi heartland here. When the sun sets behind the western side of the valley, then the evening rituals may begin.
In addition to the natural layout are the many anthropogenic places. Chief among these is the temple dedicated to Sheikh Adi, the man responsible for Yezidism as it is practiced today. His temple is the iconic sight of Lalish, and its tombs and courtyard are the main attraction for pilgrims; it is the main shrine, so well-known (and well-photographed) that it is synonymous with Lalish. In addition to the shrine of Sheikh Adi, there is Mount Arafat — said to be the center of the world. Opposite Mount Arafat is the White Spring, above which is a small chapel used for baptisms.
Packed into the hillsides on either side of the valley are many shrines and tombs for sheikhs over the centuries. And between them are many terraces overlooked by gnarled, centuries-old trees (mainly olives). Each tree within the developed areas has a name, and is associated with its own ritual. Also, tucked into corners and walls throughout all of Lalish (including inside the main shrine) are bright-white cubbyholes seared by black smoke: there are 366 such spots, and each is lit with an olive oil candle every evening.
The tombs, chapels, springs, trees, caves, and curios come alive with tradition and folklore. And there is still more: below the main shrine are water-closets to use the restroom and do ablutions. Beyond this is a small bridge, and an orchard of olives for preparing the sacred olive oil. Throughout Lalish are carvings of asterisks in circles: these represent the sun.
Lalish is so holy to the Yezidis, that all who enter must go barefoot throughout the whole village. There are many visitors, and the religious leaders have residences here, but officially there is only one family living here all the time. However, خان أيزي Khan Ayzy is reserved for overnight visitors unable to head back home in time for nightfall.
The sheik is dressed in a light brown suit, neatly embroidered, and mounted on a fine black horse of Yesidi breed. Hassan, his son, is dressed in scarlet, and though only seven, rides a grey mare beautifully. ... In one hour [from Baadre] we come to a white pointed tomb; they dismount and kiss a flat stone in front, repeating a short prayer, and then ride on, singing as they go their native song. In another hour we come to a small ravine, through which a clear stream flows, and it is planted with oleanders and green trees.
We now move on in single file for a half hour — come in sight of the white spires of Sheikh Avi. Descending to a small valley they all dismount and pull off their shoes, and walk up their sacred shrine. The chief folds his hands in front and walks barefoot in solemn style. It is a beautifully shaded place — green olive trees, oaks, with autumn tint and various shades; the brook rustles through, and the birds are singing in the branches.
I walk beside the Bey, and we enter the outer court of their temple. He and his men all walk around and kiss the sacred stones, and then we sit down under the shade of a large over-spreading vine to lunch. A stream of clear water is running through, and birds are singing beautifully. The blacksnake and hatchet are upon the wall outside. It is one of the most interesting visits I have ever made, and all are so amiable and courteous I cannot realise that we are in the midst of the hated devil worshippers.
Then the door of their temple was opened, and we entered. A large fountain of water is in one side, and at the other two tombs with curtains drawn before them. One is said to contain the devil's head. Lamps are kept continually burning before them. I then presented the sheik with a copy of the Bible, in Arabic, to be kept in their temple and read at their festivals, and whenever anyone came who wished to read it. Prime 1859, p 268-270; 19 November 1856
In the vicinity of the temple, are scattered a number of covered walks, built without any apparent design, and from forty to fifty Shaks, the name given by the Yezeedees to the tombs which they profess to raise over their great Sheikhs. Almost every Yezeedee village has one or more of these monuments, which, however, are mere cenotaphs, made on the model of the different tombs at Sheikh Add, where they tell you the reputed saints are buried. Thus, for instance, the Nâzir pointed out to us the Shaks corresponding to those at Ba-Sheaka, Ba-Hazâni, Ain Sifni, and other places. Badger 1852, p 107; of trips 1843-1850
Towards sunset, one of the attendants proceeded to fulfil his daily task of illuminating the sacred places in the vicinity. He held in his hand a copper vessel filled with cotton wicks, steeped in sesame oil, one of which he left at the entrance to each tomb, in the different covered passages, and close by every spring. These burned for a few minutes and then all was dark again. The same custom is observed by the Yezeedees in the different villages inhabited by them. Badger 1852, p 108; of trips 1843-1850 in Lalish
A deep ravine through which runs a limpid stream, lined with oak, poplar, and olive trees, forms a shady avenue to the temple, the whitened cones of which rise up in the distance from amidst a thick foliage, giving a picturesque and lively appearance to the lonely scenery around. Following the course of the rivulet we proceeded under a long covered archway to two large basins into which two separate streams flowed from a couple of springs over which two small buildings are erected. Turning to the right we entered the court of the temple, shadowed by large spreading mulberry trees, with eight recesses on each side which serve as stalls or shops during the season of pilgrimage. Badger 1852, p 105
On the heights around, which are covered with dwarf oak, are numerous dwellings, of various sizes and shapes, destined for the accommodation of the pilgrims. Badger 1852, p
Here we were met by the Nâzir or Guardian of the sacred shrine, and by two male and several female attendants, who immediately recognized me as having visited Sheikh Adi six months before. The women wore a smooth white cotton turban, and a long woollen robe of the same colour. The outer habit of the male attendants was a black woollen cassock bound round the waist with a leathern girdle, and a black turban. The dress of the Nâzir was made of the same material, but his turban was white, and his girdle, in which he always carried a small axe, consisted of a chain of copper rings fastened in front by a hook of the same metal. This and the white turban seemed to form the insignia of his office. Badger 1852, p 105
The Arabic inscriptions throughout are badly cut, and the language is still worse: a clear proof of the ignorance of these people. Badger 1852, p 108; of trips 1843-1850
The Christians in these parts entertain an opinion that the temple of Sheikh Add was originally a church dedicated to Mar Addai, or Thaddeus, of the Seventy, one of the great apostles of the East. Nothing in the arrangement of the interior favours this belief; and the adoration offered to the sun by the Yezeedees sufficiently accounts for its being built east and west. Badger 1852, p 110
Great wealth of information collated together.
Prime, Samuel Irenaeus. 1859. The Bible in the Levant: Life and Letters of the Rev. C. N. Righter, Agent of the American Bible Society in the Levant. Google Books
Badger, George Percy. 1852. The Nestorians and their Rituals. Google Books
We inquired of the Nâzir, whether there was any objection to our remaining the night at Sheikh Adi. This was in 1844, before which time, only one European had visited the temple, and none had ever slept within the sacred precincts. After some demur, we received his assent, and were permitted to spread our carpets in the outer court, where the Nâzir and his attendants joined us, with whom I had a long conversation. Badger 1852, p 108; of a trip in 1844