Watching the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony

Girl and Goat 2

There is such a Moon in your heart
That even the sun in the sky
Keeps declaring
“I am your obedient servant, your slave.”

–Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi

by Clifton Snider

TV introduced me:
the whirling semazens–
men in white, full-length skirts
swirling in gentle circles, circles
within circles within circles,
the physical transformation into spirit
in a marvel of mystical space.
I looked for the young, handsome ones
and found them, dancing into ecstasy.
I saw their conical hats,
hats that symbolize their
tombstones. Black cloaks
they shed are their tombs and the white
skirts their shrouds. In circles
they march. They greet each other
soul to soul. They cross their arms:
unity of one God.


as I watch, I see ten clean-shaven
men with two other superiors:
the Sheikh, standing for the Prophet,
sitting at his post in the back,
chanting, bowing in prayer, and another,
the bearded one, kisses the seated one
and walks among the swirling circles like a mentor
among a swarm of holy supplicants,
who seek only peace and connection,
lovers of each other and of us who watch.
Like a servant one of them kisses
his fellow semazens and their cloaks,
covers them at ceremony’s end
as they sit in preordained fashion
in a circular room of many levels.

From the start I listen
(for sema means to listen, to hear)
as the man in the balcony stands, intones verses
from the Qur’an and Rumi, and the others,
all in black robes and conical hats, make music,
and I listen for what I’ve come to hear:
Ney, the flute, oldest instrument,
symbol of divine breath of life.

Below this sacred band of men
are dervishes, head leaning right,
right hand raised up
in prayer toward heaven,
left hand facing the earth–gentle tilt
of giving what they receive from God
to the people: melding the opposites
this moment of utter serenity.

Here there is no male, no female,
or rather there is a circle of both,
dissolving differences, whirling away
wishes, pain, pleasure, ties to
the physical world, the magical flight,
via dance, to the ordered ecstasy
that spins every thing into one.

15 July 2012
Rumi verse translated by Talat Sait Halman in Talat Sait Halman and Metin And, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi and The Whirling Dervishes (1983)

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