Melek Taûs, the Peacock Angel of the Yezidis

We are all Yezidis.

According to Gurdjieff in Meetings With Remarkable Men, if you draw a circle around us, we cannot escape from it. The world we were born into began to draw such a circle around us from our first moment. It drew it from the culture we were born into, the behavior of our family and our peers, the local geographic and climatic conditions and, of course, inner-considering.

In the Yezidi allegory, from Meetings With Remarkable Men, the young G is working on drawing a monogram when he hears a desperate shriek. When he investigates he sees a young boy, “sobbing and making strange movements,” trapped in a circle drawn around him by other children who are laughing at him.

The young boy is an essence that suddenly realizes the trap by which it is bound. He tries with all his might to leave the circle, but cannot do so. And when G rubs out part of the circle, he dashes out and runs away.

The Yezidi circle is, of course, a myth—possibly one of Gurdjieff’s creation, or perhaps it’s a local superstition from that area. (The Yezidis live among the Kurds in an area that spans Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. The word Yezidi means “servant of the creator.”)

A member of our study group met someone who had been to Kurdistan and talked with Yezidis. He told them about the circle myth and they had fun drawing circles around each other and hopping in and out of them. There is no literal truth to it.

Nevertheless, in G’s allegory, the young G witnesses it and discusses this “Yezidi phenomenon” with those more knowledgable than himself to try to understand.

He first consults Ananiev, a good friend but older than G.

Ananiev chooses to dismiss G’s question, saying that the boys he had seen had simply played on his credulity. He then insists on showing G his new uniform from his new job as a postal-telegraph official.

This employment detail (working as an official in communication) suggests that Ananiev represents the formatory apparatus. It would have no interest in anyone understanding the circle, which is the foundation of its power. The name Ananiev has several possible meanings. “Ananya” can mean “affectionate, flattering person,” but it also has the underlying meaning of “merciful” (from the Hebrew “Anan”) which seems less appropriate.

G next poses the question to a social group of his associates who are drinking vodka together at Pavlov’s house. The name Pavlov, a common Russian name, means “son of Paul.” It is likely here that Gurdjieff chose this name in reference to Ivan Pavlov, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian physiologist famous for his conditioning experiments with dogs. The Yezidi circles symbolize the conditioning of man.

Captain Terentiev claims to have observed the phenomenon and suggests that the Yezidis “take some vow never to go out of a closed circle, and they do not go out of it, not because they cannot, but because they do not wish to break their vow.”

This speculative idea is untrue—there is no formal vow. Nevertheless, the “Yezidi circle” is maintained by the personality persistently being in control (active force) when receiving  impressions. The Russian name “Terentiev” means “persistent” and also “tiresome.”

The Deacon, Father Maxim (a maxim is an axiom, a statement of a self-evident truth), says that the Yezidis are devil-worshippers and that the devil has limited the Yezidis’ independence in this manner so that others should not suspect that they are his servants. He then relates a story about a policeman, Philip, who appears to uphold the law, but can be bribed to ensure that there are no consequences—comparing Philip to the devil in this instance.

This explanation is not wrong, in the sense that personality is generally “in the service of the devil” or if you prefer, the Moon (the devil, being the Moon’s representative). Philip means lover of horses—suggesting lover of the emotional side of man. The personality naturally rides its Augean horses.

The artillery officer, Artemin, says he had never heard of such a phenomenon and that, in his opinion, nothing of the sort could exist—regretting that intelligent people, should believe in such marvels.

The name Artemin derives from “Artemis” meaning “dedicated to Artemis,” the Goddess of the Hunt and also the Goddess of the Moon. Artemin is correct, if the Yezidi myth is taken literally, such Yezidi behaviour does not occur in reality—but if it is taken metaphorically, then such behavior serves the Moon.

The final person of this group of vodka drinkers to comment on the Yezidis is the teacher Stolmakh (whose name in Russian means “pillars”—suggesting, perhaps, that our teachers form the pillars of our personality).

Stolmakh suggests that personally he believes in supernatural phenomena and while the Yezidi phenomenon might not yet be explicable by science, he was confident such phenomena would soon be explained by physical causes. He particularly expresses confidence that the phenomenon is among those magnetic phenomena that were then being investigated by scientists at Nancy.

The next morning Gurdjieff meets with the esteemed Dr. Ivanov and asks him about the Yezidis. The gist of his reply is that it is “simply hysteria,” although he is unable to explain exactly what hysteria is.

Dr. Ivanov may be channeling Ivan Pavlov (Ivanov means “son of Ivan”). There is a connection here between hypnotism as studied by the Nancy school, and hypnotism as characterized by Charcot (mentioned in The Tales on p573) who was the director of Paris’s Salpetriere Hospital and was regarded as an authority on hypnotism. Charcot claimed that “hypnotizability and hysteria were aspects of the same underlying abnormal neurological condition.”

The Yezidi circles we all experience are indeed hypnotically induced by the outside world and crystallized by repetition. The state experienced when we are pulled out of such a circle is described by Gurdjieff as cataleptic. (We rarely get pulled out of the circle, but when we do it is normally caused by some physical or emotional trauma.)

Catalepsy is a medical condition characterized by a trance or seizure with a loss of sensation and consciousness, accompanied by rigidity of the body. For many of us, if our personality is, for some reason, deprived of control, then our essence has to take over and, for many, a state like catalepsy is usually what prevails.

Gurdjieff then states that the Yezidi will emerge from catalepsy after 13 or 21 hours—he could find no method for accelerating this. However, Yezidi priests achieve this by “certain short incantations.” No doubt our “inner priests” know exactly how to put personality back in control. After all, they collaborated in drawing the circle.

A final detail… It is curious that the primary emblem of the Yezidis is the Peacock Angel—given that in The Tales Mullah Nassr Eddin characterizes Europeans and Americans as peacocks—indicating “rich in personality.”


Details for the The Meetings with Remarkable Men Study Group can be found here. If you wish to sign up, go here.