Combining the topics of my last two posts (ecstatic prayer ritual and Rumi, because why not?) I figured I’d mention the whirling dervishes.
This tradition originates from the Mevlevi Order of Konya, which was founded by the followers of Rumi (13th century Sufi mystic and poet). It is believed that upon hearing rhythmic playing and prayer in the outdoor market, Rumi was overcome with mystical bliss, threw up his hands, and began whirling in ecstasy.
For the dervishes (which is the name for initiates in the Sufi tradition) ritual dance and whirling is part of a mystical ecstatic tradition and ceremony known as the Sama. It is understood as a spiritual journey of ascent through the mind and love to union with the divine.
“Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the “Perfect”. He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, able to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.” Wikipedia
The spiritual order (and Sufi practice) was outlawed in 1925 under Turkish law. The dervishes are currently permitted to perform their dancing, but only as a tourist attraction.
For an interesting look at Sufism and the various levels of tolerance throughout the Islamic world, check out the documentary Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam (available on Netflix).
If you have an interest in a deeper look at Sufi traditions, spiritual teachings and practice, visit the work of Kabir Helminski, a prolific and erudite Sufi teacher. Also, the work and writings of Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee are fantastic and worthy of exploration.