Soul in a Bottle

Think of Turkey: Hagia Sophia, Suleimaniya, Topkapi, Hierapolis. However, the real classic, quintessential representation of Turkish history and tradition is seen and experienced in the famously known yet unknown whirling of the Dervishes. Originally called Semazan or Sema, the dance of the Dervishes started back in the 12th century and is a ritual typical of the Mevlevi order: the school of thought established under the philosophies of the great saint and poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi by his disciples and son Sultan Wahad. The Mevlevi order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, and famous for the Sema dance of the Sufis, was a physical form of spiritual meditation and a visual representation of Rumi’s teachings of The Essence, The Soul and intrinsically of Fena. 

Why should I seek? 

I am the same as He. 

His Essence speaks through me.

I have been looking for myself.

The entrancing, century old ritualistic tradition is a customary act of meditation through a Sufi dance where the dervishes spin and whirl, steered by their immense love for God and the desire to let go of all worldly affinities, ego, personal desires and the absolute abandonment of one’s nafs. They listen to classical instrumental music, personal to the act of Semazen, and focus on God chanting “Allah” and “Hu” as they seek to become one with the Divine Essence. Their white robes bellow and twirl in sync, spinning faster and faster as the dervishes fall deeper into the trance of spirituality. The right palm is raised upwards symbolically, towards heaven as an act to receive God’s blessings, and the consistent twirling is synonymous to the planets in the solar system orbiting the sun, the source of their energy, whereas here the dervishes revolve around the Essence of God, the source of Everything.  

To symbolically understand the underlying principles that foundation Sema, we need to understand the philosophies of Rumi. In his works and interpretations of the Quran, Rumi explains how everything in the vast expanse of the great multiverse is made of the Divine Essence, the Nur of God. But since God essentially describes Himself as Nur, everything is from Him. He is the source of all. He also describes how the human soul being made from the Nur, is essentially part of God Himself, how we are all part of God. And how the soul yearns to be back with one Essence. In finding yourself, you find God. In the search of God, You are revealed. 

Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,

How it sings of separation.

Rumi in one of his brilliant poetic analogies describes the soul as something trapped inside a bottle that floats upon the great expanse of an ocean. It implies that the soul is trapped inside the body, which is the bottle, and how just outside is the multitude of knowledge and divinity. The body is described as an obstacle, as something that acts as a barrier, a distraction away from the Path to spirituality and unison with the Divine Essence. 

We are all the same, all the same. 

Longing to find our way back,

Back to the one, back to the only one.

Ideologically, the purpose behind Semazen is to release the soul and allow it to explore beyond the boundaries of this world and the body; to go into a trance-like state where you forget all that is material and with it achieve Fena; to lose yourself to the love of God; to come out of the bottle; o forego all the instincts of the world; and to embrace all humanity with love, since Sufis believe all was created with love, and to love. Thus, all was made with the essence of God and is thus inherently entitled to love.

To be united with the One. 

For as Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to the Divine love. Yet those who have not had a taste of it, do not know.”

Zainab Arshad
TLC Writer

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