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Observations placeholder

A description of whirling in action



Type of Spiritual Experience


This is a description of how whirling was achieved within the palace of the Melewi in Syrian Tripoli which at the time of the description [the 1920s] was ruled by the Sheikh el Melewi a man then past 60. 

At the time the description was made, the term 'Dervish ' was applied to more than thirty different sects of Islam, whose monasteries were scattered throughout the entire Moslem world, from the Bosphorus to China.

The sects were alike in that all were mystics, and alike in the sense that all were religious fraternities, which had sprung from the Sufi philosophy. But here the similarity ceased. All went by the name of Dervishes, as all members of Christian Catholic fraternities go by the name of monks.  But they differed even more widely than Christian monastic orders, in rules of living, dress, theology, and ritual.

The Bektashi, the Rufai, and the Sadee  tended to use overload techniques – fasting, extreme pain, frenetic dancing and severe asceticism.  The Melewi on the other hand believed that soul and body were divine and thus they sought spiritual experience via what they saw as the perfect and most spiritual of material beauty forms – music and dance.

At the time of this description the Melewi Order had over 1,000 monasteries and about 30,000 permanently resident occupants but which if you added non resident members might be upwards of 150,000.

Notice the slightly different technique of whirling described here - this is not working via remote REM, this is working functionally not physically.

A description of the experience

From Adventures in Arabia – W B Seabrook

In the Palace of the Melewi

On our right hung the high dome, and beneath it, like a stage in a theatre, opening toward us, was the tekkeh, or dance floor - an elevated wooden platform some forty feet square, with a light wooden railing.

Ten feet above the dance-floor, on the three walls which supported the dome and formed the back and sides of the structure, were narrow, overhanging balconies. The middle balcony was for the musicians ; the southern balcony for special guest ; the northern balcony, protected by a lattice screen, was for the ladies of the hareem, who could watch the dances while remaining themselves more or less invisible…..

It was nine o'clock in the evening when Dr Dray and I mounted to the southern balcony, beneath the dome.

The pavilion was brightly lighted from above by oil lamps.  The dance floor was empty save for a sheepskin dyed brilliant red, which was laid in front of the mihrab (niche) in the southern wall beneath us, indicating the direction of Mecca. The orchestra was already seated, on a level with us, in the balcony at our right - reed-flute, zither, drum, and a singer-in their tall brown hats and robes of the same colour.

Directly opposite in the north balcony, but behind a latticed screen, were five women, white-robed and veiled.

Except for the briefest glimpses of their eyes as they occasionally drew aside the corner of a veil to look at us, we could see nothing of their features, but I got the impression that one was old, and that three of them, at least, were young and possibly beautiful. They were the wives and a sister of the Melewi and his brother.

In complete silence twelve Dervishes entered, in solemn procession, single file, with their tall brown hats and long black mantles - barefooted, heads bowed forward, with arms crossed on their breasts, each hand clasped to the opposite shoulder.

They disposed themselves in two rows, seated on their heels, right and left, facing each other, heads still bowed.

A thirteenth Dervish entered, and seated himself in the middle of the dance-floor  facing south toward the red sheepskin and the niche beneath us. He was the Sema Zan, or elder, who would act as a Master of Ceremonies.  His cloak was brown, like those of the musicians. Black is worn only by the dancers.

Some were short-bearded ; others clean-shaven. They ranged in age from past fifty to one or two youths who seemed under twenty. They kept their heads bowed and their eyes almost closed.

When the Sheikh el Melewi entered and sat upon the sheepskin they made no salutation, but remained silent, motionless. His robe was pale grey, of glistening, fine texture. His hat was taller than the rest, wound at the base with a great ceremonial green turban.

The ritual began with a mystic hymn followed by the orthodox Fatiha in praise of Allah and with special Prayers which named the Chelebi, Jelal-ed-Din, and Mohammed.

The musicians then began a slow march, in retarded four-four tempo. The sheikh, who had arisen, stepped forward off the sheepskin, turned, and made two profound bows, one from the right and one from the left, toward the spot he had quitted. This was to invite the spiritual presence of Jelal-ed-Din, founder of the Order.

He then returned to stand on the sheepskin, while the Dervishes arose, one at a time, and with a space of some five feet between them began a slow circling march round the dance-floor. Passing before the sheikh, each Dervish bowed to him, and then turned to bow to the Dervish who followed in the procession. They circled the floor three times.

The tempo of the music changed to a weird rhythm I could not follow, while the reed-flute began a soaring melody. The march ceased. The Sema Zan divested the Dervishes, one by one, of their long black cloaks, revealing the voluminous tesseri (skirts) which dropped to their bare ankles. These skirts were tight-fitting at the waists and wound tighter still with girdles, above which they wore short-waisted jackets of various dark colours, with long, tight sleeves.

The Dervish whose robe had first been discarded came and stood before the sheikh, with his right great toe crossed over his left, and with arms still folded. He made a profound obeisance, and kissed the sheikh's hand.

The sheikh then touched his own lips to the Dervish's hat. The music had again changed. The flute still sustained a singing melody, backed by the sweeping harmonies of the many-stringed zither; but the drum began a steady unaccented tomtom beat, in one-one tempo.

And now the single Dervish began slowly the zikr, or turning. He drooped his head on his left shoulder, closed his eyes, and, balancing on the left heel as an axis, communicated the rotary motion with his right foot, keeping both feet close together.

The whirling was at first very slow, but gradually increased in speed, while his arms seemed to unfold and stretch out automatically, until the right was horizontal from shoulder to elbow, bent vertically upward at the elbow, the hand bent backward, palm up ; while the left arm stretched straight horizontally: palm down. As the speed increased the skirt unfolded, ballooning upward and outward, until it whirled in a great circle almost waist-high above the baggy white drawers.

One after another, the twelve men went through this ritual until all were whirling, save the sheikh himself and the Sema Zan.

Even when they had attained their full momentum they did not whirl at equal speeds. The revolutions varied from sixty-four per minute to about thirty.

The average was about fifty, almost one complete revolution per second.

Their bodies were rigid. They spun like tops which had 'gone to sleep.' Their faces were calm, expressionless.

There was no questioning the fact that they passed actually into a trance – into the state of hal, as they name it technically.

At the end of eleven minutes the Sema Zan arose and stamped vigorously on the floor-evidently a signal to stop.  But only two of the dancers heard it, and he had to clap his hands and stamp again loudly, as if to awaken people from a deep sleep, before all heeded him and became stationary. They did not wobble as dizzy men would, but stood motionless as statues, heads bowed forward and arms crossed again on their breasts.

Slowly they marched three times round the tekkeh floor, and as each passed the sheikh the third time he again began whirling. On this second occasion they whirled for nineteen minutes. When the third, final signal to stop came, they sank to the floor and remained seated while the Sema Zan went from one to another replacing the black mantles on their shoulders. They were still like men in a dream.

The music ceased, and in the silence came the deep voice of the Sheikh el Melewi :

" The man of God is exalted without wine.
" The man of God is beyond good and beyond evil.
" The man of God is beyond religion and beyond infidelity.
" The man of God has ridden away to the place where all is one."

The source of the experience


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