A peaceful sanctuary located in a valley surrounded by mountains and notable for its conical white rooftops, the shrine of Lalish is the most important religious shrine in the world for adherents to the Yazidi faith. It is also the site of the Yazidi Autumn Assembly, a feast which lasts seven days and takes place once a year. All Yazidis are supposed to attempt the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetimes.
The Yazidi faith itself is shrouded in mystery and relies largely on oral tradition, but it centers around seven great angels – the most important of these being Tawsi Melek, the Peacock Angel. It is for this reason that Yazidis are often referred as the “People of the Peacock Angel.” According to Yazidi mythology, the Yazidis are not descended from Adam and Eve but from the seed of Adam; legend relates that after creation, this seed was placed in a jar by the Peacock Angel. Nine months later, a boy named Shehid bin Jer was born and went on to found the Yazidi community. Based on this belief, Yazidis claim to be members of the oldest religion in the world.
In her book The Yezidis, Eszter Spat explains that members of the Yazidi faith believe that Lalish was the dwelling place of God and his angels at the beginning of Creation. When the earth was created, it was barren; and so Lalish descended, creating a green valley with springs of water. In the 12th century, the Sufi Sheikh Adi journeyed to the valley with his followers; and he was eventually buried there, his tomb becoming a major center of pilgrimage. Yazidis are baptized in one of the two springs located nearby, and they often even travel from abroad for the occasion.
The entrance to the sanctuary is adorned by a carving of a black snake. Immediately inside are a number of tombs attributed to human manifestations of the seven Yazidi angels. These tombs are draped with pieces of silk in all colors of the rainbow, knotted in various places. Traditionally, pilgrims seek assistance with a worldly grievance from the seven angels by tying an additional knot in one of these pieces of silk and, at the same time, untying an existing knot – thereby releasing a previous pilgrim from his or her grievance. Further along in the shrine are the tombs of the Angel Sheikh Hesen and of Sheikh Adi, whose tomb constitutes the center of veneration at the site. In a nearby cavern flow the waters of a sacred spring known as Zamzam. Local legend reports that Sheikh Adi caused this spring to gush forward when he tapped a nearby rock.
The surrounding valleys are also full of small shrines, noticeable by their white spires.