A month ago I visited Istanbul. As someone who adores Rumi and his poetry, seeing whirling dervishes perform, or more accurately Sema ritual, was on top of my to do list. With our ticket we were given a hand out explaining the full ritual. It’s a long and beautiful text, too long for a blog post, but I will give you parts of it that capture the essence of this wonderful practice of Faith, and much more.
The Sema ritual
When we examine Sema from a scientific viewpoint we witness that contemporary science definitely confirms that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no object, no being which does not revolve and the shared similarity among beings is the revolution of the electrons, protons and neutrons in the atoms, which constitute the structure in each of them. As a consequence of this similarity, everything evolves and man carries on his life, his very existence by means of the revolution in the atoms, structural stones of his body, by the revolution of his blood, by his coming from the earth and his return to it, which is also a kind of revolution.
However, all of these are natural, unconscious revolutions. But man is a possessor of mind and intelligence, which distinguishes him from other beings. Thus the Semazen, or the whirling dervish, causes the mind to participate, and to participate with love in the shared similarity and revolution of other beings. Nevertheless contrary to common belief, this participation is not directed as losing one’s consciousness in state of ecstasy. By this participation and by revolving in harmony with the splendid order and rhythm with everything which we define as living or lifeless in nature, with the smallest cell, the Semazen testifies to the existence of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks and prays to Him. Whatever is in the skies or earth invokes God (Kuran).
The Sema ceremony represents man’s ascent to Heaven, his spiritual journey, it is his turning towards the truth, his growth through love, his desertion of his Self as a way to lose himself in God, than his return to being a man ones more, however to being a man who has maturity and a greater perfection. It is his return, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation, to all creatures, with a new kind of understanding. The Semazen with his Mevlevi headdress (tombstone), his white and wide skirt (shroud) is by removing his cloak spiritually born to the truth, he journeys and advances there. At the onset of Sema, the Semazen holding his arms crosswise and appearing to represent the number one, testifies to God’s unity. While whirling his hands are open, his right hand is directed to skies as if praying and ready to receive God’s beneficence, his left hand upon which his eyes are fastened is turned towards the earth.
This is the way of conveying God’s spiritual gift to the people upon whom he looks with the eyes of God. Revolving from the right to the left around the heart, he embraces all the mankind and all creation with affection, with love.
Man has been created with love in order to love. Mevlana said: All loves are a bridge to divine love.