Initiation of a Priest (Slideshow)

This slideshow shows the initiation of Anmar Al Zuhairi, a young Mandaean in his early twenties, at a Mandi in Baghdad in 2008. The candidate for priesthood is called <em><strong>shwalia</strong></em> (one who asks questions and seeks knowledge).
<div style="text-align: center;">Shwalia Anmar's <em><strong>Rebi</strong></em> (spiritual master) is Rishamma Sattar Hilow. He will play a key role in the complex ritual of the ordination.</div>
<div style="text-align: center;">According to the General Constitution of the community (established in the 1990s), all candidates for priesthood need to undergo religious tests and obtain official endorsement of the General Assembly of the community. Shwalia Anmar has been through religious tests in reading, writing and understanding of ritual from other senior priests with social endorsement by the Community Council in Baghdad, comprising representatives from each big family in the community. Here, Rishamma Sattar and Tarmida Raad Al Zuhairi (who passed away in 2010) examine Shwalia Anmar during a special meeting of the general assembly in 2008. Shwalia Anmar passed, obtaining full recognition from both priests and representatives.&nbsp;</div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Seven&nbsp;</span><span>priests begin the initiation by baptising each other, then baptising </span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar</span><span>. The </span><em><strong>Drabsha&nbsp;</strong></em><span>(religious banner, seen to the right of the picture) must be assembled, as this occasion is considered a great sacred event. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;">The priests have come from different parts of Iraq and gathered at the main Mandi (temple) of Baghdad to perform the initiation of Shwalia Anmar to the rank of <strong><em>Tarmida</em>&nbsp;</strong>(priest). The initiation begins on a Saturday, lasts a week and comprises many different types of ritual.</div>
<div style="text-align: center;">A ram is ritually sacrificed for the occasion.</div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>A </span><strong><em>shkhenta</em></strong><span>(ritual hut) is built&nbsp;</span><span>inside the </span><span>Mandi&nbsp;</span><span>from reeds and a trunk of a palm tree, with cotton threads. This </span><span>shkhenta&nbsp;</span><span>has no covering of dried mud and will only last for seven days. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;"><span>The hut will be covered with white cloths and represents the sacred place in </span><em><strong>Alma Ed </strong></em><span><em><strong>Nura</strong></em>&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>(The World of Light) and also represents the womb of the mother universe as the candidate for priesthood </span><span>(</span><span>shwalia</span><span>) </span><span>will be spiritually reborn. The candidate will stay in this hut with his Rebi and other priests and </span><strong><em>shkandi</em></strong><span>(deacons) for seven days, studying and praying.</span></div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Mandaean&nbsp;</span><span>priests&nbsp;</span><span>and </span><span>shkandi&nbsp;</span><span>read from manuscripts written in <strong><em>Mandaic&nbsp;</em></strong>(a dialect of Aramaic); they must consult a manuscript called </span><strong><em>Sharah&nbsp;Trasa&nbsp;ed&nbsp;Tagha&nbsp;Shishlam&nbsp;</em></strong><span><strong><em>Rba</em></strong>&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>“The Explanation of the Initiation of King (Angel) </span><span>Shishlam&nbsp;</span><span>The Great”. Priests who are more knowledgeable about the manuscripts will give instructions on the rituals and actions which need to be taken by the priests. Ganzibra Salam Abdul </span><span>Jabar&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Kather&nbsp;</span><span>was in charge of this on this occasion.</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>reads&nbsp;</span><span>the&nbsp;</span><span>whole </span><em><strong>Sidra Ed Neshmatha</strong>&nbsp;</em><span></span><span>(The Book of Souls) and holds a bunch of myrtle branches. Other </span><span>Ganzibri&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>(High Priests), </span><span>Tarmidi&nbsp;</span><span>(priests) and </span><span>Shkandi&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>(deacons) </span><span>observe and </span><span>support the </span><span>candidate during his </span><span>reading, </span><span>while he sits at the front door of the <em><strong>a</strong></em></span><span><strong><em>ndirona</em></strong>&nbsp;</span><span>(a structure of bamboos, built outside the south side of the </span><span>shkhenta or ritual hut</span><span>) and other priests sit inside the </span><span>endirona</span><span>. </span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>enters the </span><span>endirona&nbsp;</span><span>when he finishes reading the whole Book of Souls. This event takes place on the Saturday afternoon after the baptism of the priests, shkandi, the candidate and religious utensils. Also on this day, a physical check up of the candidate is done to make sure that he has no physical deformities. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;">When Shwalia Anmar leaves the <strong><em>a</em></strong><strong><em>ndirona</em>&nbsp;</strong>and passes into the <em><strong>shkhenta</strong></em>, where he will remain for the rest of the 7 days of his ordination, this symbolises a movement from the earthly realm into the Light World.</div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Early on the Sunday morning, </span><span>Showalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar, wearing&nbsp;<em><strong>Qmashi</strong></em>&nbsp;“the clothes used for the dead,”</span><span>&nbsp;is baptised by his Rabi </span><span>Rishama&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Sattar.&nbsp;</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>Showalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>receives the sacred ring called&nbsp;</span><em><strong>Shom&nbsp;Yavar&nbsp;Ziwa</strong></em><span>&nbsp;made from pure gold, a <strong><em>margina</em></strong>&nbsp;or staff of olive wood,</span><span>&nbsp;and 36 </span><em><strong>Tagha</strong></em><span>&nbsp;(crowns made from silk), sewn by seven unmarried girls. These are his priesthood gifts, which he will use in his ministry. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;"><span>Showalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>receives secretly three sacred words from his Rabi each day for the seven days. Those words are spelled by heart only. The candidate and the Rabi thus become spiritually connected. The </span><strong><em>tagha</em></strong><span></span><span>&nbsp;(silken crowns)&nbsp;can be seen behind him on the right.</span></div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Rishama&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Sattar,&nbsp;</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>and other priests pray </span><a href="" title="Baii Rahmi"><span>Baii&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Rahmi (the Great Prayer)</span></a><span>&nbsp;which lasts for almost an hour. They do this three times a day inside the </span><span>Shkhenta,&nbsp;</span><span>with the </span><span>Drabsha&nbsp;</span><span>(banner) assembled and re initiated every time.</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>and Tarmida </span><span>Raad&nbsp;</span><span>Al </span><span>Zuhairi&nbsp;</span><span>recite the sacred words in silence inside the </span><span>Shkhenta&nbsp;</span><span>during the prayer of "</span><span>Baii&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Rahmi."</span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>The&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span>performs </span><a href=""><em>Rishama&nbsp;</em></a><span>(ablution) in order to start the lengthy prayer </span><a href=""><em>Baii&nbsp;Rahmi</em></a><span>&nbsp;(Great Prayer)&nbsp;</span><span>with the </span><span>Drabsha&nbsp;</span><span>assembled. During the seven days of initiation, the candidate cannot look upon the river, as this can bring bad luck. So other priests assist him by bringing water from the river. Tarmida </span><span>Raad&nbsp;</span><span>Al </span><span>Zuhairi&nbsp;</span><span>(</span><em>Arwah&nbsp;Nehweli</em><span></span><span>– may he rest in peace) assists another&nbsp;</span><span>Shwalia,&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Alaa&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Azeez,&nbsp;</span><span>by pouring water for the ablution</span><span>. </span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Ganzibra Salam, with other priests and Shkandi, is in charge of preparing meals&nbsp;</span><span>for the candidates and other priests. The meals need to be prepared according to religious dietary requirements. </span><span>In religious rituals and in everyday&nbsp;</span><span>life, </span><span>Mandaean</span><span>priests use only utensils purified&nbsp;</span><span>through baptism. They cannot be made from plastic. Only pure metal vessels may be used and purified. </span><span>Mandaean</span><span>priests take their own purified vessels when they travel and cannot share their meals with others. Some priests in Iraq use the water from the tap water system while some others still use the water directly from the river. </span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>On the last day, </span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>baptises his Rebi </span><span>Rishamma&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Sattar&nbsp;</span><span>as a symbol&nbsp;</span><span>of acceptance and respect. </span><span>Showalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>must stay indoors for sixty days, studying and performing lengthy prayers three times a day. He must also prepare his own food.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;At the end of the sixty days,&nbsp;</span><span>Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>must perform </span><span><em><strong>Masiqta</strong></em>&nbsp;("death mass"),&nbsp;</span><span>in order &nbsp;to be &nbsp;officially proclaimed a </span><span>tarmida&nbsp;</span><span>who can perform </span><em><strong>masbuta</strong></em><span>(baptism) and other rituals for the </span><span>Mandaeans</span><span>. </span></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>After successfully finishing all his rituals, Shwalia&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>has officially become a T</span><span>armida</span><span>. He is now the youngest priest in the </span><span>Mandaean&nbsp;</span><span>community. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;">The initiation of a priest is an important and joyful event in the Mandaean community, both religiously and socially. Usually Mandaeans come to the Mandi, days and nights, for all seven days. Here, the Mandaean community of Baghdad celebrates the end of the seven days of the initiation of Tarmida Anmar and Tarmida Alaa Azeez.&nbsp;</div>
<div style="text-align: center;">The new Tarmidi, Tarmida Anmar (on the right) and Tarmida Alaa (third from left), join other priests in their formal prayers as full practising Tarmidi. The priests hold part of the Drabsha (the religious banner) as part of Baii Rahmi. The priests will then perform Masbuta (baptism) for the Mandaeans.</div>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span>Nasiriya, Iraq, 2015:&nbsp;</span><span>Tarmida&nbsp;</span><span></span><span>Anmar&nbsp;</span><span>reads to Yuhana Nashmi from an old manuscript given to him </span><span>by a </span><span>Mandaean&nbsp;</span><span>elder. Priests are concerned about the preservation of their written literature and constantly look for more knowledge about their religion. The Mandaean elder allows the manuscript to be photographed, keeping the original with him. </span><span>Mandaeans&nbsp;</span><span>venerate their own written manuscripts as bringing blessing and protection to people and their house. </span><span>Mandaean m</span><span>anuscripts are unique, as each copy may differ in its annotations and notes. Tarmida </span><span>Anmar has&nbsp;</span><span>recently begun an initiative to revitalise the art of copying Mandaic manuscripts, preparing his own ink from natural ingredients and studying the scripts. </span></p>
<div style="text-align: center;">As a Mandaean priest, Tarmida Anmar cannot eat or drink any processed food or drink such as dairy from the supermarket. Here he milks a cow belonging to the priests on a farm close to the main Mandi (temple) in Baghdad.</div>


Initiation of a Priest


Photographs from the initiation of Anmar al-Zuhairi, Baghdad, 2008. This process is long and complex, comprising many rituals, some of which are performed differently from other occasions. Click on an image to start the slideshow. Each photo is captioned. In the 'Relation' field to the right of the page, we have included a link to another website showing E.S. Drower's classic description of the initiation, compiled from her research in the 1930s.


Yuhana Nashmi


Anmar al Zuhairi, Sattar Jabbar Hilow


Still images




Still Image




18th October 2018



Metadata and all media released under Creative CommonsCreative Commons BY-NC-SA


Yuhana Nashmi, “Initiation of a Priest (Slideshow),” The Worlds of Mandaean Priests, accessed October 18, 2018,