This is me prior to last week:
A Whirling Dervish? Of course I know what a Whirling Dervish is! A Whirling Dervish is a, uh, what do you call it? The thing in the Sound of Music. The thing Maria throws out of whirl because she’s such a flibbertigibbet. A Whirling Dervish is… well, it definitely whirls. Is it a bird or something?
Oh, what a difference a week can make.
So I’m online, and I’m trying to familiarize myself with some of the less popular religions in the world when I read that Islam has a mystical subset called Sufism, whose adherents (Sufis) are similar to Christian friars or Buddhist monks or Hindu holy Men. They take vows of poverty and chastity and depend directly on the charity of the people they serve. Sufis, especially, are known for abstaining from world pleasures, releasing their egos, and devoting their lives completely to God. (Just like me! Except the opposite!)
I’d heard of Sufism but didn’t know it was related to Islam. And I certainly didn’t know that there was another word for Sufi, and that the other word was… wait for it… Dervish.
You heard it here first, people.
So what is a Whirling Dervish? A Whirling Dervish is an Islamic holy man who, literally, spins in circles. And watching a group of them is pretty much the coolest thing ever. I found this video, and was completely taken in. I could watch these guys all day long.
Not all Dervishes spin, of course. Some chant. Some dance. Some breath rhythmically. But the goal is the same: to enter a trance-like state in order to unite with God. Many Dervishes believe these meditations let them glimpse heaven. (See? Mystical.)
Whirling Dervishes wear tall, thimble-shaped hats and full, white skirts — both of which are meant to symbolically shroud the ego. They cock their heads slightly to the right, and spin from right to left, with one palm facing up to receive God’s grace, and the other side facing down to deliver that grace to Earth. Some Dervishes learn to spin in childhood, and by the time they it adulthood, can easily surpass more than 100 spins in a row, on the same exact spot. It’s mystifying. Although whirling is entertaining for those around them, Dervishes perform for purely spiritual reasons — their own, and the audience’s. Rarely do people applaud at the end.
It’s hard not to be mesmerized by these guys. Maybe it’s their complete devotion to what their doing — the selflessness and simplicity of it all — or just the aesthetic it creates. But Whirling Dervishes are totally going on my bucket list.
And there you have it: I’ve gone from not knowing what a Whirling Dervish was to planning a trip to Turkey just to see one.
Like I said: What a difference a week makes.