The Whirling Dervishes

There is an unwritten list that I have of things that I want to see on this planet. Some would call it a ‘bucket list’.  I have been very fortunate to see breathtaking and awe inspiring things so far, but the list is still unfinished. One of the items on the list, I was fortunate enough to scratch off a little while ago. I don’t remember when I became aware of this group of people, but they immediately fascinated me. They would just spin for long periods of time in one spot to the tune of what sounded like a dirge. It was beautiful and weird and hypnotic all at the same time. They were called Whirling Dervishes.


I was talking to my friends in Turkey a while ago, and somehow the topic turned to the Dervishes and come to find out they are from a town in Turkey! So we did some research and planned to go see them at some point in the future. Then a while ago, we found out that they were coming to the capital of Turkey for the anniversary of the ritual.


The origin and roots of Sufism lie in the life and practices of the Prophet of Islam and the Qur’an. Sufism espouses a well-founded and thoroughgoing interpretation of Islam, which focuses on love, tolerance, worship of God, community development, and personal development through self-discipline and responsibility.

The Order of the Whirling Dervishes is one branch of the vast Sufi tradition of Islam. This ritual, which is only performed by the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, has come to symbolize these values in the hearts and minds of millions throughout the world.

The Sema Ritual began with the inspiration of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi (1207-1273) and was influenced by Turkish customs and culture.

…the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no being or object, which does not revolve. Everything revolves, and the human being lives by means of the revolution of these particles, by the revolution of the blood in his body, and by the revolution of the stages of his life, by his coming from the earth and his returning to it. The whirling dervish or semazen, intentionally and consciously participates in the shared revolution of other beings.

Contrary to popular belief, the semazen’s goal is not to lose consciousness or to fall into a state of ecstasy. Instead, by revolving in harmony with all things in nature — with the smallest cells and with the stars in the firmament — the semazen testifies to the existence and the majesty of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks to Him, and prays to Him. In so doing, the semazen confirms the words of the Qur’an (64:1): Whatever is in the skies or on earth invokes God.

An important characteristic of this seven-centuries-old ritual is that it unites the three fundamental components of human nature: the mind (as knowledge and thought), the heart (through the expression of feelings, poetry and music) and the body (by activating life, by the turning). These three elements are thoroughly joined both in theory and in practice as perhaps in no other ritual or system of thought.

The Sema ceremony represents the human being’s spiritual journey, an ascent by means of intelligence and love to Perfection (Kemal). Turning toward the truth, he grows through love, transcends the ego, meets the truth, and arrives at Perfection. Then he returns from this spiritual journey as one who has reached maturity and completion, able to love and serve the whole of creation and all creatures without discriminating in regard to belief, class, or race.

In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen’s camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love.


The Ritual Dance or Sema

The Mevlevi Ritual dance or sema consists of several stages with different meanings:

The first stage, Naat-i Sherif, is a eulogy to the Messenger of Islam and the all Prophets before him, who represent love. This eulogy is followed by a drumbeat (on the kudum) symbolizing the divine command ‘Be’ for the creation of the entire universe.

The Naat-i Sherif is followed by a Taksim, an improvisation on the reed flute or ney. This expresses the divine breath, which gives life to everything.

Then follows the Sultan Veled procession, accompanied by peshrev music; this is a circular, anticlockwise, procession three times around the turning space. The greetings of the semazen, or whirling dervishes, during the procession represent the three stages of knowledge: ilm-al yaqin (received knowledge, gained from others or through study), ayn-al yaqin (knowing by seeing or observing for oneself) and haqq-al yakin (knowledge gained through direct experience, gnosis).


During the Sema itself there are four selams, or musical movements, each with a distinct rhythm. At the beginning, during and close of each selam, the semazen testify to God’s existence, unity, majesty and power:


The First Selam represents the human being’s birth to truth through feeling and mind. It represents his complete acceptance of his condition as a creature created by God.

The Second Selam expresses the rapture of the human being witnessing the splendor of creation in the face of God’s greatness and omnipotence.


The Third Selam is the rapture of dissolving into love and the sacrifice of the mind to love. It is complete submission, unity, and the annihilation of self in the Beloved. This is the state that is known as nirvana in Buddhism and fana fillah in Islam. The aim of Sema is not uncontrolled ecstasy and loss of consciousness, but the realization of submission to God.


In the Fourth Selam, just as the Prophet ascends to the spiritual Throne of Allah and then returns to his task on earth, the whirling dervish, after the ascent of his spiritual journey, returns to his task, to his servanthood.



(This is some footage of the ritual that I shot. It’s not the entire thing, but splices from different segments.)


To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

Turn! Turn! Turn!, The Byrds


Take It To The House

I have tried to describe the architecture of the houses here in Georgia, but I don’t think I quite get the point across.  I have asked questions as to how and why they are the way they are. Some responses have been:


  1. Soviet style architecture
  2. They build themselves, so it’s a continuous work in progress. For example, expand downstairs, then add on another level and continue to expand.
  3. The stairs are outside so a casket can be brought out of the house easier.
  4. Earthquake reasons. (Still don’t understand that one)

So here are a couple of pictures of houses in my neighborhood. I will add more as time goes on.  I try to do in on the sly. I don’t want to be ‘some creepy guy’ taking pictures of people’s houses.

It helps that it is winter, because in other seasons, the yards are covered with vegetation. The vines in the foreground of most pictures are grapevines.

Pictures of Georgian Houses


“No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around.” -Dan Devine, The movie, Rudy

Zero Celsius

I hate being cold. Even in the States. I knew Georgia would have cold winters even before I came here.  But still. This is ridiculous.

My host father showed me the weather forecast for the rest of the week. I am not well versed in Celsius measurements, but I do grasp the concept of the 0 I saw. The whole week was in single digits.

It started with a simple rain. Simple being a two-day rain. The first night wasn’t bad in that it was cold, but bad in that it was hard and I had to walk all the way to school in it. I have a great rain jacket, as I don’t like to carry umbrellas. They are simply inconvenient. But the problem with my rain jacket for all its durability and dependability, it is only a jacket, not a raincoat. I am also proud of my boots. They work against the rain and the elements like a champ! But even with those two, the rain still gobbled me up. By the time I got to school, my jeans were soaked through and through. I thought I was going to be embarrassed when I got to school, because the Georgians would have had a method against getting soaked when walking in the rain. But they were soaked, too.  To add insult to injury, I didn’t go home until night time. So I was wet and cold all day. But that wasn’t even the worst….

The next day, it didn’t rain hard, although I leveled up and wore my rubber calf high boots. It ended up I didn’t need them because I got a ride to school and by the time I got out of school it was only drizzling. They are soo uncomfortable, btw. I don’t think I am doing it right.  I am confused. Maybe I am supposed to wear them over my shoes.  But then I would need to get super big ones. The support is so poor, surely the manufacturers don’t expect people to walk in them as normal boots. Surely.  Anyway.. that’s not the point of this post.

Although it wasn’t raining hard, the temperature dropped drastically. Let me try to help you understand not only the cold, but also the conditions I have to navigate whilst battling said cold.

Let’s take the next day, after the rains. I woke up and everything I touched was cold. There is no heat in my room or any of the other upstairs bedrooms. None. No gas radiator, no nothing. My clothes were cold, my phone was cold. my pillow where I didn’t lay was cold. the blankets, floor and slippers were cold. So my first action is to leave my room, which also means… wait for it….. walking straight outside into the cold. I have to go outside to go downstairs to go back into the kitchen. They usually only fire up the fireplace (for lack of the real term for the thing. In Georgian it’s ‘pechi’) in the afternoon until they go to bed. But this morning, a sign that they too were cold was the fireplace and therefore downstairs was warm. Usually, I would still be shivering as I try to sip my tea WITH the windows and door open.

Fast forward to that night. The fireplace and its surrounding boundaries are the ONLY warm place in this house. The bathroom is virtually outside, which means showers are basically taken outside. So when its time to go to bed, I REALLY intend on going to bed. There is no other purpose to be upstairs in the cold. there is no fiddling around with looking for clothes to wear the next day.  there is no sitting on your bed thinking or cleaning. NO! The only thing I can think about is, ‘What I chose to wear to bed is NOT going to cut it. I might die in my sleep. What else can I layer with to not die? I don’t want to die of cold in my sleep. Will two hats keep my head warm?’ As I am doing all this, I see my breath. One should not see their berate before getting into bed. That is straight up psychological torture. The second part of the torture is knowing that the heat isn’t just simply not working. THERE IS NO HEAT SOURCE.

Then I turn off the light and lay down on a very cold bed. And shut my eyes.

Some nights, there is nothing I can do to warm my feet. I layer socks. I cradle my toes. Nothing helps. But most nights, I must admit, the bedding and wool blanket they gave me works super well. After a while, I do get comfortably warm only if I do not move. If I shift my head to another pillow or direction, the pillows are ice cold. Anywhere my body is not, is frigid. So I ball up and use the cocoon method.

Usually I have to go to the bathroom.. downstairs…. virtually outside. I think LONG and hard before I go. Do I REALLY need to pee?

This morning it was so cold in my room, I couldn’t finish putting on my clothes. I had to bring them downstairs, warm my fingers for a couple of minutes, then resume.

At school, we all teach in our coats and hats even though there is a heat radiator. The students usually sit in their coats and hats. Most kids during break will go outside to stand in the sun for warmth. if there is sun that day.

Such is my life now. It will be winter until April.


“I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice”

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Bing Crosby