To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn : Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn

by Deborah Addington on 05/15/11

"We do not Turn for ourselves.  We turn around in the way we do so the Light of God may descend upon the earth.  As you act as a conduit in the Turn, the light comes through the right hand, and the left hand brings it into this world.  We Turn for God and for the world, and it is the most beautiful thing you can imagine."

Suleyman Hayati Dede

Mevlevi Sheikh of Konya (d. 1986)


Everything in us and around us is moving, spinning, evolving and re-volving.  From our molecular bits to the planet we stand on, all of it in is a whirling dance of motion with everything else.  The Sufi ceremony that invokes and evolves this interconnected revolution is called the Sema and it is, indeed, beautiful.  And Turning isn't nearly as easy as they make it look, especially with your arms up in two different directions and angles while you try to stay in one place on the floor.  Try it sometime.  Keep an eye on your left thumb--the one that's facing down.  It helps.

Embodied worship, like the Turning of a Darvish, is a challenge to the primacy of written texts.  Is there anything, anywhere, that I could read that would transport me in the same way as a Sema, with its Turning humans, its aching ney, its ecstasy of submission to and unity with the Divine?  Is there anything on a page that can show me the touch of God on a human heart as the expression on the face of a Turner can?  Is there a book that can give me the sounds of the robes and soft, leather slippers susurrating the rhythm of the Turn?  If there is, I haven't read it yet. 


A Darvish is a sacred text.  The music they move to is a sacred text.  The chanting of Allah, Allah, Allah while they stare at their thumbs so as not to topple is a sacred text.  Writing is good, but words on a page, unfiltered through the beating of a heart that yearns for what the text can merely describe, can only take you just so far. 


The Sema is highly ritualized. Everything in it means something, and I can only point at the subtleties, not yet being learned enough to fully grok them.  Many of the ritual objects--the slippers, the robes, the felted wool hat--come from ancient Central Asian shamanism that predates Islam.  Sacred dancing to sacred music wasn't invented by the Sufis, but they certainly did a lot to evolve these shamanistic techniques and symbols to an elevated (and elevating) art form. 


Not all Sufis Turn.  The ones that do, including the Mevlevi order, are causing the mind to participate in the nature of the oneness of being, representing the individual's ascent through 'dying before you die' and working to tame the nafs, the bits of us that keep us away from the Beloved.  The tall, felted hat is a symbol of a gravestone for the nafs.  


The Sema has 7 parts.  I'll give you a rough sketch.


Part 1: Testifying to tawhid, Divine unity.  The Darvish enter, usually a round space, with a black cloak over the white robes.  This part begins with a hymn of praise to the prophets, which symbolizes love for Allah for the gifts of prophets. 


Part 2: Begins with a drum, symbolizing the Divine Voice saying, "Kum!" (Be!) which is Allah calling being into Being.


Part 3: A taksim with the ney, symbolizing the Divine Breath that is given to everything.


Part 4: The Darvish greet each other and the Shaykh, one soul to another in unity and recognition, moving in a walk that was created by Mevlevi's son, Sultan Veled.  There's special music for this.  At the end of the third repetition of Sultan Veled's Walk, they shed the black cloak and prepare to Turn. 


Part 5:  This is the actual Turning part; it has 4 sections, or Salaams.  Each Salaam (Peace) has its own music.

Salaam 1: ~7 minutes.  Awakening to truth, complete conception of the Divine as Creator of all things.

Salaam 2: ~3-4 minutes.  Expresses the rapture of humankind witnessing the splendor of creation; this is ecstatic.

Salaam 3:  ~10 minutes.  Transformation of ecstasy into love; sacrificing the self to Love, merging into the ocean of Oneness, the disappearance of the Self in the All. 

Salaam 4:  ~3 minutes.  From disappearing into Allah, we re-turn, dwelling in Allah but present to the world and sustained.  The goal isn't to stay disappeared but to bring back the Love of Disappearance to all beings.  


Part 6: Recitation of Sura 2:115 (The Heifer)

"To Allah belongs the East and the West.  Whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah.  Allah is All-Embracing, and Allah is All-Knowing." 

Part 7: Closing.  Prayers of repose for Muhammad, his family, the Prophets, Celebi, etc. 

One of my favorite translations of ihsan is "doing the beautiful."  Sema is doing the beautiful.  May we turn from all that is not Love and return again and again to the Unity that is everywhere, no matter where we Turn. 


I hope you've enjoyed taking this journey into Mevlana with me.  The class was amazing, and sharing it with you has been a pleasure.  May you go from here in Peace, Grace, Honey, with Allah al-Haqqi, with aching song and beautiful word.  Please, share this around to anyone you know who might enjoy it or benefit from it.


Elhamdulillah!  Only the mistakes are mine.

Comments (1)

1. Karen said on 5/17/11 - 05:45AM
Deborah, There really is nothing more beautiful than sacred dance. To spin with one hand facing up to receive and one hand facing down to give..centering from the heart I feel the stillness in gratitude and grace. This is how it feels to me. It feels so good and so has this experience of learning been with you. Thanks so much for sharing. It has been a wonderful little journey.

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Welcome to my Mevlana blog!  The purpose of this is twofold: one is to help me, as a grad student, distill the abundance of information I'm getting from Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje's doctoral-level course on Jala al-Din Mevlana Rumi's work, especially the Masnawi.  The other purpose is to see how well I can absorb this complex information, synthesize it and cough it back up accessibly.  With the terror-instilling "radicalization of Islam" rhetorc that's currently being spewed all over us, this information will, I hope, help readers to come to new and deeper understandings of Islam.  Please feel free to share this blog widely and at will.
Questions? Stuff you'd like to know? Comments?  Just drop me an email.  Thanks for visiting!
my "Hu"
Calligraphy in the shape of a Sufi nafs tombstone hat.  I can't translate--yet.
My first written word in Arabic: "Hu"
Ney, the Reed Flute