Ever since I participated in a Sufi retreat and felt the love and softness that was shared in this spiritual tradition, I’ve wanted to witness a dervish ritual.
Recently my wish was more than fulfilled when I was able to witness a traditional Sema ritual and dervish dance in a Sema hall that dates from the 15th century, right in the heart of Istanbul.
The mesmerising dance of the dervish is part of the Sema ritual. The word sema can be translated by “hearing” or “seeing”, which means that the spiritual ceremony literally has the intention to open up the dancers and the spectators to different ways of perceiving reality.
The Sema ceremony consists of various aspects like dance, prayer, poetry and music, activities that represent aesthetic refinement and love. The entire ceremony symbolises the mystical journey of the ascension of human spirit, a return to truth in the spirit of love and the dissolution of the human ego in divinity.
The dervishes are gradually prepared to start moving with the help of music and prayer. They prepare their movement by placing their energy in different areas of the sacred circle that will host their dance.
This circle is divided in 2 halves by a line that symbolically traces the most direct course to unity and truth and the dervishes are not allowed to step on this line. The right part of the circle represents the visible material world ascending towards the sky and the left half represents the invisible spiritual world descending towards source.
This preparatory phase is important for the spectators as well, as it provides them with an opportunity to enter their own space of inner calm. We could feel the whole room gradually quiet down, as if by magic. Hereafter the energy in the room slowly mounts and reaches its climax when the dervishes start whirling.
Their dance is like a vision of the cosmos. The universe moves in the shape of a spiral and this movement is translated in each particle of the universe. The dancers echo this movement in joining the flow of life. Like the rotation of the planets around their axis, the Sema dancer whirls around his centre, the centre that represents the source of everything. It’s a way to leave his purely material dimension and approach the divine. This enables the dervish to serve humanity with more love and presence.
The hat of the dancer represents his tombstone, his black cape his tomb and his white dress his pall, signifying that the dervish moves to a state of being beyond death, beyond his incarnation. While he whirls, his arms wide open, he abandons himself without fear. His right hand is directed in prayer to the sky and his left hand is directed towards the earth, symbolising his state of reception/transmission and his connection to both dimensions: earth and sky.
We were completely under the spell of the ritual and along with the vast majority of the people in the room, mesmerised by the elegant dance of the dervishes. We could literally see the energy moving upwards in the room from the moment the dervishes started whirling.
When you concentrate, the observation of their movement can provoke a hypnotic state and a person connected to his own source can choose join the dervishes in their movement with spirit.
It’s a privilege to be able to assist to the very intimate ritual of the dervishes and the beauty of the ritual resides in the fact that every spectator receives the same energy, independent of their intentions or state of consciousness. It’s a state of grace, a moment that renders magic possible for everyone, in a completely unconditional manner.
You can witness a Sema ritual every Sunday at Galata lounge in Istanbul.