May 02, 2023 I Paul Seaburn

Peristan - Pakistan's Legendary Land of the Fairies

It seems that just about every culture has a myth or a folklore about winged beings who may be good or evil or somewhere in between. As such, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of them – something one might wish to do for fun or in case you may be visiting a foreign country and want to make sure you know what to do if you encounter one. An interesting and unusual fairy species popped up on the Internet recently and its location and history in a place called the Land of the Fairies makes it one you may want to add to your list … especially if you are planning a visit to the mountains of Pakistan.

The name of the fairy is the Peri – a word from Old Persian roots which means “wing.” In Persian folklore, they are said to live in Peristan, a name which means “land of fairies” and is traditionally believed to be at the top of Terich Mir, the highest mountain peak in the Hindu Kush range in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, and, at 25,289 ft (7,708 meters), the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas–Karakoram range. There is a third element in the story of the peris, and that is the markhor – these are large goats with long corkscrew horns that are the national animal of Pakistan. It is said that each markhor is guarded by a Peri and anyone hunting one must get permission from its peri – failure to do so could result in the hunter being hurt or even abducted. The fairies aren’t always keeping up their side of this bargain – the markhor are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened. Some of the mythology of the peri comes from folklore associated with the markhor, so let’s look at that first.

A markhor (Capra falconeri

Markhor means “serpent-eater” and these curly-horned are said to be valuable because they have the ability to kill and eat venomous snakes. Even better, the folklore states that while the markhor chew the snakes, a foamy substance forms in their mouths which is believed to have medicinal properties, including as an antivenom. While this is unproven, it hasn’t stopped the markhor from being a mythical protector against snakes – another reason the peri should be protecting them.

Back to the peri. Ancient Persian mythology describes them as winged spirits of great beauty. Early Persian translations of the Quran said the peris were good versions of the jinn and protected humans from the evil jinn. Because the peri are females, they are believed to be particularly protective of women, especially those who are pregnant. Some shamans are said to petition the help of peris to heal women after a miscarriage. Men can get help from the peri too – there are spiritual leaders known as peri-khans (masters of peris) who claim to cast love spells with their help. However, avoid any peri-khan who tries to set you up with an actual peri – while possible, it rarely works out … the Queen of Sheba of biblical fame was said to be the daughter of such a relationship.

That covers the Islamic side of peri folklore from the Kho culture of Pakistan. The Kalash culture is a smaller ethnoreligious group of Pakistan and its people practice their own non-Islamic religion which is a form of Animism. Not surprisingly, their belief in the peri is tied more strongly to the markhor. In their traditions, the Terich Mir peak is the home of the goddess Krumai. A shapeshifter, she was said to be a newcomer or intruder among the other gods of the Kalash and surprised them by appearing as a curly-horned markhor. In one version, she was chased by another god who tried to throw the goat into a river – instead, it jumped over the waters and ran up a cliff, carving cuts into it. After revealing her true self, she was accepted by the other gods and became the protector of childbirth. Because Krumai shapeshifted into a markhor, there are some folk legends which say this is why the markhor are protected by the peri fairies. However, other versions of the story have the peri themselves being shapeshifters who transform into the markhor – their wings then become the beautiful curved horns of the goats.

As with the different variations on the origin of the peri, there are also differing stories on where exactly the Land of the Fairies really is. The Old Persian and Islamic version has it on Terich Mir in the Hindu Kush – they call it the golden fort of their king and a place of malevolence and death where no mortal should dare to venture or they’ll meet their death. That likely includes hunting the markhor, the national animal of Pakistan. While Terich Mir is their home, the peri are allowed to leave it. One legend is that when the peri catch a human, they take them back to the court of the fairy King on Terich Mir where they are given two chalices, one filled with blood and the other with milk. If they choose the blood – it is said that the peris push that choice – the person becomes invisible for the rest of their life. Drinking the milk renders them unconscious, allowing the peris to return them to where they came from.

Could the peri look something like this?

While a Pakistani legend, the peri have been encountered by outsiders. The first recorded ascent of the mountain was on July 21, 1950, by a Norwegian expedition consisting of Arne Næss, P. Kvernberg, H. Berg, and Tony Streather … and at least one local porter who was said to be deathly afraid of an encounter with the peris. He was so afraid that the climbers left behind all of their red clothing and anything else with the color of blood on it because the peris hated red – if they see the color, they throw rocks at the person wearing or carrying red … a habit also associated with the jinn, who are more evil than the winged fairies. Falling rocks in mountains can obviously have many natural explanations, but that didn’t prevent many believers from giving the peris another name - Bohtan Doyak or “stone throwers.”

The legends of the peris of Peristan – Pakistan’s Land of the Fairies – continue to this day. If you visit Terich Mir, don’t wear red, watch out for flying rocks and don’t mess with the markhor and you will do just fine.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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