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The Whirling Dervishes

Excerpts from the book by Ira Friedlander
( MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc., New York; 1975 )

Note: The Quantum Future School finds the Sufi Path to be of great interest mainly because the teachings of the Sufis are so similar to the perspective of the Cassiopaean material.

There was a tradesman in a small village in the East who sat on his knees in his little shop, and with his left hand he pulled a strand of wool from the bale that was above his head. He twirled the wool into a thicker strand and passed it to his right hand as it came before his body. The right hand wound the wool around a large spindle. This was a continuous motion on the part of the old man who, each time his right hand spindled the wool, inaudibly said “la illaha illa’llah.” There could be no uneven movement or the wool would break and he would have to tie a knot and begin again. The old man had to be present to every moment or he would break the wool.

This is awareness. This is life. Sufi means awareness in life, awareness on a higher plane than on which we normally live.

He was a simple man and taught his sons his trade.

The Persian word darwish (literally: the sill of the door) is accepted in Arabic and Turkish (dervish) to describe the Sufi who is the one who is at the door to enlightenment. Some say the label Sufi (in Arabic suf means wool) grew from the wool cloaks worn by these holy beings. Others like to think that its origin is from the Greek word sophos which means wisdom.

The body is like the earth, the bones like mountains, the brain like mines, the belly like the sea, the intestines like rivers, the nerves like brooks, the flesh like dust and mud. The hair on the body is like plants, the places where hair grows like fertile land and where there is no growth like saline soil. From its face to its feet, the body is like a populated state, its back like desolate regions, its front like the east, back the west, right the south, left the north. Its breath is like the wind, words like thunder, sounds like thunderbolts. Its laughter is like the light of noon, its tears like rain, its sadness like the darkness of night, and its sleep is like death as its awakening is like life. The days of its childhood are like spring, youth like summer, maturity like autumn, and old age like winter. Its motions and acts are like motions of stars and their rotation. Its birth and presence are like the rising of the stars, and its death and absence like their setting.

Everything in the world is invisible except that which we make semi-visible. By the introduction of awareness, all things can become visible. The aim of the dervish is to open the eyes of the heart and see infinity in eternity. His goal is to loosen himself from the earth’s glue which binds him and become one with God, to become a channel for his light.

“If you are possessed of discernment joined with knowledge, seek the company of the dervishes and become one with them. Love for the dervishes is the key which opens the door into Paradise. The Dervish’s garment is nothing but a patched robe, and he is not led astray by earthly desires and passions.”

Farid al-Din’Attar

Out of the being of Mevlana Jalalu’ddin Rumi grew one of the most important and visually exciting dervish orders: the Mevlevis or Whirling Dervishes. At one point in his life, after meeting the wandering dervish, the man in rags, Shamsi Tabriz, Rumi went through a metamorphosis that shifted his center of manifestation from mind to heart. Although very little was known of Shams, there is no doubt that he belonged to a group which knew how to interiorize oneself, thereby reaching the place of the Kalam-i-qudim, the ancient word. He described this as a place where:

‘There comes a Sound,
from neither within nor without,
From neither right nor left,
from neither behind nor in front,
From neither below nor above,
from neither East nor West,
Nor is it of the element:
water, air, fire, earth, and the like;
From where then?

It is from that place thou art in search of:
Turn ye toward the place wherefrom the Lord makes His appearance.
From where a restless fish out of water gets water to live in,
From the place where the prophet Moses saw the divine Light,
From the place where the fruits get their ripening influence,
From the place where the stones get transmuted to gems,
From the place to which even in infidel turns in distress,
From the place to which all men turn when they find this world a vale of tears.

It is not given to us to describe such a blessed place:
It is a place where even the heretics would leave off their heresies.

From: Diviani Shamsi Tabriz

The “Diviani Shamsi Tabriz,” containing 2,500 mystical odes, is an outpouring of feelings and thoughts which describes the natural state of man so unfamiliar to ordinary life. It is so different in character and style from Rumi’s “Mathnawi” that one wonders whether Shams was not the author.

Within Rumi was the complete oneness of life. He was the living example of a man thoroughly in life. He was a father, husband, and university professor, and he merged all these aspects of life into a unified existence, linking all of his life with the thought of God and the practices toward humanity that this thought manifests. He “broke through to the oneness,” and solved the problem of “seeing One with two eyes.”

Sufism (Tasawwuf) is the esoteric aspect of Islam. Its purpose is to convey direct knowledge of the eternal. The Sufis impart knowledge through a silsilah (chain) of beings which goes back to the Prophet Muhammad. Much of the knowledge was never written down but passed on orally, and many aspects of Sufism find their origin in the Koran.

There are different Sufi orders or paths (tariqa) in which the aspirant receives initiation by means of a bayah, a covenant of allegiance to a sheikh. The repetition of a zikr and the laying on of hands are part of the ceremony.

To the Sufi, the body is the Temple of God, or as Muhyi-d-Din Ibn ‘Arabi says, it is the “ark where dwells the Peace of the lord.” Training in the dervish tekke is a process of cleansing the ark.

Mahmud Shabistari in his thirteenth-century “Rose Garden of Mystery” said:

“Go sweep out the chamber of your heart. Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved. When you depart out, He will enter it. In you, void of yourself, will He display His beauties.”

The Koran says that when Moses reached the Burning Bush he was called by name: “Moses! Verily I am thy Lord. Take off they sandals. Verily thou art in the holy Valley of Tuwa.” Moses experienced what the Sufis call fana, complete annihilation in the Truth of Certainty, followed by Baqa, the eternal subsistence in God.

His sandals represented his separation from the Creator.

When the dervish enters the mosque or tekke, he removes his shoes. He leaves his worldly attachments outside and then enters the House of God or room of celestial sounds.

Mansur al Hallaj, a disciple of the great Sufi Sheikh Junaid of Baghdad, said:

“When Truth has overwhelmed a human heart, it empties it of all that is not Truth.

When God loves a being, He kills everything that is not Him.”

Ahmed al-Ghazzali has written:

“There is a great difficulty in knowing God because His brightness is too much for the heart of man to bear. Man knows the extraordinary brightness of the sun, which reveals all things, yet if the earth did not revolve around the sun causing night, or if shade did not veil it, no one would know that light exists. He is hidden by His brightness.”

In the “Mathnawi,” Rumi is attracted by the meaning of light

‘Tis light makes color visible; at night
Red, green, and russet vanish from thy sight,
So too, the light by darkness is made known,
All hid things by their contraries are shown.”

Jami wrote:

“I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known, so I created man in order that I may be known.”

First there is knowledge. True love, the love which Mevlana expounds, is love with knowledge. Without knowledge love loses its direction. It becomes diversified, split, a wasteland, like water losing itself in the desert.

The love of the Sufi has to be directed to Him. This is only possible with knowledge of Him. God is man. Man is no other than God. But man is not God. The Sufis say:

“If you seek Him, you will never find Him. But if you do not seek Him, He will not reveal Himself to you.”

The prayer of the dervish is the prayer of realization. He is ashamed to ask even of God. He is content whatever comes. If there is food, or covering, it is right. No food, it is right. No covering, it is right. By this contentment he becomes greater than a king.

Hazrat Inayat Khan talks of the reed as Rumi’s symbol of Man.

“There is a beautiful picture Rumi has made. He tells why the melody of the reed flute makes such an appeal to your heart. First it is cut away from its original stem. Then in its heart the holes have been made; and since the holes have been made in the heart, the heart has been broken, and it begins to cry. And so it is with the spirit of the Messenger, with the spirit of the Teacher, that by bearing and by carrying his cross, his self becomes like a reed: hollow. Thus, there is scope for The Player to play his melody. When the self has become nothing, the player takes it to play the melody. If there was something there, the player could not use it. One end of the reed flute are the lips of the heart, and at the other end is to be heard the voice of God.

“God speaks to everyone. It is not only to the Messengers and Teacher. He speaks to the ears of every heart, but it is not every heart which hears it. His voice is louder than the thunder, and His light is clearer than the sun – if one could only see it, if one could only hear it. In order to see it and in order to hear it, man should remove this wall, this barrier, which man has made of self. Then he becomes the flute upon which the Divine Player may play the music of Orpheus, which can charm even the hearts of stone.”

The spiritual symbol of the flute did not originate with Rumi, although his life is the perfect example of the longing of the reed to be reunited with its stem. An ancient Chinese legend tells of the first music being played on small pieces of reed. The original musician of China cut holes in a piece of reed the distance of two fingers, and the reed flute came into being.

In Hindu symbology, Krishna, the god of love, is pictured playing a flute.

Divine love enters into man and fills his entire being.

The flute is the human heart, and a heart which is made hollow becomes a flute for the god of love to play.

The pain and sorrow the soul experiences through life are the holes made in the reed flute.

The heart of man is first a reed. The suffering and pain it goes through make it a flute which can then be used by God to produce His music.

Here lies one secret in the zikr of the Sufis. All desires should be eliminated from the heart with the repetition of the negation, la illaha – there is no god – and replaced with the love of God, illa’llah (but God.) When nothing but God is remembered, a man’s zikr is pure.

The Whirling Dervishes repeat their zikr as they turn. They empty their hearts of all but the thought of God and whirl in the ecstatic movement of His breath.

“If we do not strive for inner perfection, we will remain what we are now- talking animals. The world has never been without teachers. Each age has its teachers. Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad were some of the great ones, but there are always qtubs, special beings who take care of the world. The perfect man, the complete man, lies within each of us.” Konya Sheikh Suleyman Loras.

A Short Biography of Mevlana
On September 30, 1207, a son was born to Baha’u-Din, known as the “Elder Master,” and his wife, who was a member of the royal family of Khwarazm. They named him Jalalu-ddin (the Keeper of the Faith), and although he lived during a time that witnessed shattering physical blows to the Islamic countries by the Mongols, whose interference altered both the political and spiritual station of the Muslim states, he was to become one of the greatest messengers of Universal Peace ever to walk the planet.

Bahalu’u-Din Veled foresaw the tragedy of the great city of Balkh, Afghanistan, and its king. He assembled a large caravan, and with his family, friends, and students, he left Balkh to begin the long journey of sixteen summers before permanently settling in Konya.

Muhammad b.’Alib. Muhammad Ibn al-‘Arabi al-Ta’i al-Hatimi, known as Ibn ‘Arabi, was one of the greatest of all Sufi masters. During the years of Baha’u-Din’s travels, Ibn ‘Arabi was making a haj to the Ka’ba in holy Mecca from his home in Seville, Spain. ‘Arabi left Mecca and stopped for twelve days in Baghdad, where, a half century before, Abdul Qadir Gilani lay on his deathbed. Gilani left the sheikh’s cloak for a man he said would be coming from the west and would be called Muhyi-d-din. He was the gauth, the kutub of his time, and made this statement fifty years before ‘Arabi came to Baghdad and also before his birth.

The kutub (pole of his time) is an appointed being, entirely spiritual of nature, who acts as a divine agent of a sphere at a certain period in time. Each kutub has under him four awtads (supports) and a number of abdals (substitutes) , who aid him in his work of preserving and maintaining the world. Abdul Qadir Gilani was such a being. Before leaving Baghdad, Ibn ‘Arabi was given the sheikh’s cloak.

In Egypt, the people did not understand ‘Arabi and plotted against his life. Unsuccessful attempts were made which finally caused him to decide to return to Mecca where he stayed a year. From Mecca he traveled north to Asia Minor and remained briefly in Aleppo before arriving in Konya in 1210, the same year the caravan carrying Jalalu’ddin Rumi to Konya left Balkh.

‘Arabi stayed in Konya and married the widow of a friend. She had a son whom he adopted. ‘Arabi personally trained his stepson in the Sufi doctrine, and the boy, named Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, became one of the leading spiritual teachers of Konya.

Kay Kaus, the ruler of Konya, desired the renowned Andalusian master to remain in his city and presented him with a large house. One day a beggar came to ‘Arabi and asked for some money. ‘Arabi said: “I have no money; take this house,” and then he left Konya.

Baha’u-Din Veled arrived in Baghdad where he was the guest of the eminent Sheikh Shahabu-d-Din Umer Suhreverdi. Before leaving Baghdad, news arrived of the slaughter of Balkh by the forces of Gengis Khan. Fourteen thousand copies of the Koran were burned; fifteen thousand students and professors were slain; two hundred thousand adult males were fatally pierced by the arrows of the Grand Khan’s army. The intelligence and future of Balkh was erased. The birthplace of Jalalu’ddin Rumi was razed.

The journey continued as the travelers came to Mecca and performed the great pilgrimage. In Nishpur, Iran, they met with the Sufi Farid al-Din’Attar who gave young Jalal his blessings and a copy of his book of Mysteries. He told Baha’u-Din, “The day will come when this child will kindle the fire of divine enthusiasm throughout the world.”

The caravan passed through Damascus, where it is said Baha’u-Din Veled and Ibn ‘Arabi once met, and then remained for four years near Arzanjan in Armenia (Erzincan in present day Turkey.) The caravan then traveled to Karaman (Laranda) where Jalalu’ddin married a young woman named Gevher Khatun – the daughter of Sherefeddin Lala, one of the followers from Balkh. By now, Jalalu’ddin had become a scholar well versed in the Koran and in some of the secrets of the life of dervishes. He began to understand the power of keeping a secret so that the implanted seed might have time to go through its inner process of growth and bear flowers and fruits. He knew that that which is kept within and nourished would be preserved and that which one gives out is dispersed.

Konya, known as the holy city, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns and, according to Phrygian legend, the first place to emerge after the Flood. At various times in history Konya has been inhabited by the Hittites, Phrygians, Persians, Pergamese, and the Romans. During the time of the Romans its name was changed from Iconium to Claudiconium in honor of the Emperor Claudius. In the first century, St. Paul and St. Barnabas preached there. From the seventh to the thirteenth century, the city suffered various Arab raids and occupations. The Seljuks captured it, lost it to the Crusaders, and recaptured it. Control was finally lost to the Emirate of Karaman until Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror declared Konya an Ottoman city in 1476. It remained under Ottoman rule until 1923 when Mustapha Kemal led a military revolution and made all of Turkey a Republic. Kemal gave himself the name Ataturk (father of Turkey) and was Turkey’s leader until his death in 1938.

In 1226 when Baha’u-Din Veled came to the Seljuk capital of Konya with his family and friends, the city was experiencing a cultural regeneration under the leadership of Sultan Alaeddin. Baha’u-Din was the revered university professor and advisor to the Sultan until his death in 1228. The lectures he gave at the university were collected by his students in three volumes under the title of Maarif. His son, Jalalu’ddin Rumi, a noble scholar of theology, became his successor and attracted hundreds of students from all areas of the Anatolian plateau who accepted him as his father’s sole spiritual heir.

One who has the title of Seyyid is a direct descendant of the Prophet. In 1230, Seyyid Burhan al-Din Myhaqqiq, a close friend and mureed of Rumi’s father in Balkh, arrived in Konya. He was a true dervish who had lived in the solitude of the mountains in a state of mystical ecstasy. Upon his arrival in Konya, Seyyid was informed that his friend and teacher had been dead a year. He decided to stay and devote his life to the spiritual training of Jalalu’ddin Rumi.

For the next nine years Rumi was initiated into the knowledge possessed by the prophets and saints entitled “The Science of Divine Intuition.” During these years he traveled to Aleppo and Damascus with his teacher. Jallu’ddin slept little. He passed his days and nights in worship of God and became an ocean of knowledge in all temporal and spiritual subjects. He was reaching the station of “walking on water.” The universe is an ocean of vibrations and each movement is a wave. The great devotees pray to be liberated that they may be able to swim in this ocean, and the greatest of devotees are able to rise above the waves of this vast ocean of life where so many are drowned. To be in the world but not of it is to walk on water.

In the next years, Rumi continued to teach at the university, to conduct zikr circles, and to spend time in the training of his two sons. He would often attend the lectures of his friend, Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, the stepson of Ibn ‘Arabi. Qunawi spoke on the teachings of ‘Arabi which, although its roots were in religion, broke these barriers and taught of love on the universal level. As Rumi entered the room to hear his friend speak, Qunawi said, “Come and sit with me on the post.” (the sheepskin on which the sheikh sits). Rumi looked at him and remarked, “Two cannot sit on one skin.” Qunawi got up, took the skin from under him, and flung it away saying, “I don’t need this anymore.” This act of eliminating the separation represented the passing of the ‘Arabi teachings to Rumi, linking the ‘Arabi and Mevlevi line.

In 1244, Shamsi Tabriz arrived Konya. He wore and old, patched, black wool cloak and had no possessions. Shams, the sun, was known as parinda (winged one) because he had wandered in many lands seeking spiritual teachers. Shams’ sojourn began when he left the city of Tabriz in Persia in search of the highest levels of absolute perfection. He had been prepared for this stage of his development by the unique and holy spiritual teacher of Tabriz, Sheikh Abu Bakr, who was known as the Thresher. When Sheikh Abu Bakr asked what he would give to see the Truth, Shams answered, “My head.”

During his travels in search of “one of His beings loved and veiled” (a qtub), Shams would stop at khanqas (Sufi Monasteries), visit with the hermit dervishes residing in the mountains, do zikr with sheikhs in clay-walled rooms of dust ridden villages, and seek out the teachers of the cities in the hope of seeing the beloved face of the Hidden Master. His love of God was so great, the radiance of his being so glowing, his overwhelming power so unapproachable and unpredictable that few could stand beside him.

In Baghdad Shams encountered Sheikh Aluhad-ed-din of Kirman who said that he wished to become Sham’s disciple and to travel with him. “You do not have the strength to bear my company,” replied Shams. “The strength is within me,” said the sheikh. “please accept me.” “Then bring me a pitcher of wine, and we will drink together in the Baghdad market.” Thinking of public opinion and what he was taught, the sheikh replied, “I cannot do this.” Shams shouted, “You are too timid for us. It is the wine of love which makes one God-intoxicated. You haven’t the strength to be among the intimate friends of God. I seek only Him who knows how to reach Truth.”

In the East, wise men were called balakesh, meaning “he who took the draught of all difficulties.” The difficulties of life were regarded as a wine that, once drunk, would disappear. The Sufi is one who accepts all things.

Mevlana and Shamsi Tabriz meet

One cold November morning, the wanderings of this mysterious being who walked in a field of magnetism brought him to the front of the Shekerjiler Hani (Inn of the Sugar Merchants), in Konya just as Mevlana Jalalu’ddin Rumi was passing. Mevlana sat majestically on his horse as his students scrambled to walk beside him and hold the stirrup. He had just completed his class at the College of Cotton Merchants and with a throng of students was passing the Inn of the Sugar Merchants.

Shams leapt from the crowd, grasped the bridle of the horse and shouted: “O teacher of the Moslems, who was greater, Abu Yazid Bistami or Muhammad the Prophet?”

Rumi felt the eyes of Shams look past his own into the very essence of his being, causing rivers of energy to flow within his body. “The Prophet Muhammad was greater,” replied Rumi.

Then Shams said, “Did not the Prophet say, ‘We have not known Thee as Thou deservest to be known,’ while Abu Yazid exclaimed, ‘How great is my glory; I am exalted; my dignity is upraised; I am the sultan of sultans/'”

Mevlana answered, “Abu Yazid’s thirst was quenched after a mouthful, but the Prophet of God sought for water, thirsting more and more. Abu Yazid satisfied himself with what he attained in God, but Muhammad the ‘Elect One of God’ sought each day further, and from hour to hour and day to day saw light and power and divine wisdom increase. That is why he said, ‘We have not known Thee as Thou shouldest be known.'”

Shams cried to God and fell to the ground. Mevlana dismounted, dropped to his knees, touched the head of Shams, and the two men embraced. They left the questioning students and retired to a retreat cell where they remained for three months occupied with the exploration of awakening. The two men merged as one being in the fatherhood of God. They became their own planet. Mevlana, the earth, his function to uplift the consciousness of man, revolving around and finally merging with Shams, the sun. They were stirred to the depths of their beings and transfigured by the joy of life. Lost in God-consciousness, they experienced the ecstasy spoken of by the Sufis. Here within the stone walls of a small domed chille (retreat) hut was a friendship based on the discovery of God through each other at a time when both beings had a lesson to impart to one another.

Shams was a catalyst to the sheikh. Sultan Veled, Rumi’s son, once remarked of Shams the “his glory was veiled even from those who were themselves veiled in the glory of God.”

The spirit of the meeting of Jalalu’ddin and Shams was imbued with Divine Light. These beings, face to face, saw within each other the grace and presence of the essence of what each was searching for. For the first time each could reveal to another being the secret in his heart. Rumi was like a room filled with God love. Shams saw this and opened the door. As they meditated on the beloved, the air in the small hut was made pure by the breath of these two holy beings.

Rumi later wrote in the Divani Shamsi Tabriz:

“Happy the moment when we are seated in the palace, thou and I,
With two forms and with two figures but with one soul, thou and I.

The colors of the grove and the voice of the birds will bestow immortality
At the time when we come into the garden, thou and I.
The stars of heaven will come to gaze upon us;
We shall show them the moon itself, thou and I.

Thou and I, individuals no more, shall be mingled in ecstasy,
Joyful and secure from foolish babble, thou and I.

All the bright-plumed birds of heaven will devour their hearts with envy
In the place where we shall laugh in such a fashion, thou and I.

This is the greatest wonder, that thou and I, sitting here in the same nook,
Are at this moment both in Iraq and Khorasan, thou and I.

Outside the hut Rumi’s students missed the discourses and direction of their beloved teacher. Their thoughts turned to jealousy, and they began to question the identity of the poorly clad, black-bearded dervish, whom Rumi would later refer to as “a king in patched robe.” How could it be that such a great man, himself the son of a great saint, could be seduced by this stranger to Konya?

As his mureeds sank into the sea of confusion, grasping at weightless rumors, Mevlana Jalalu’ddin sat before Shamsi Tabriz and saw his own soul in the mirror of Shams’ heart. The thin veil of the dhikr which often hides the Beloved was finally lifted, and they knew the words of Mansur al-Hallaj, who said,”it is Thou that castest me into ecstasy, not the dhikr,” and the words of the greatest woman Sufi saint, Rabia al-Adawiya, “love of God hath so absorbed me that neither love nor hate of any other thing remains in my heart.”

Caught in the jealousy of losing the interest of their beloved teacher, the students of Mevlana could not lift the veil of ignorance to ask themselves what it was that these two God-intoxicated men did for one hundred and one consecutive days which caused them to have cosmic effulgence, to emanate such peace from the depths of their beings, to leave their worldly attachments. To ask themselves how man can reach this state so necessary for his inner growth and yet so distant from his earthly reach. The presence of Shamsi Tabriz produced rare light in the being of Mevlana and suffocated the ambitions of his students and close friends. The sun shone and also darkened the hearts of many of those around Mevlana who were satisfied simply to know a secret rather than to practice it.

Mevlana once said, “When Shams comes to me and speaks, the fire of mystic love shoots a flame into my heart.” Some said that Shams was illiterate and had no formal schooling, but one day Mevlana told his mureeds that Shams was a great alchemist and scholar in all the sciences, but that he renounced them all to devote himself to the study and contemplation of the mysteries of divine love.

Shams was a madhoub (one lost in contemplation of God), and, like those with the task of awakening man from his semi-slumber, his actions were unpredictable.

One day, Shams addressed Rumi’s mureeds and said, “I will tell you a secret. To know Mevlana, I am imperfect; I know him imperfectly, for each day I observe in him some state, action, or quality which was not there before. Understand Mevlana a little better if you wish to gain peace. He is the very form of truth. He pronounces fine words; don’t be satisfied with them, for behind each is something you should ask him.”

Shams turned to Jalalu’ddin and said,

“When I was a child, I saw God; I saw angels; I watched the mysteries of the higher and lower worlds. I thought all men saw the same. At last I realized that they did not see.”

Sufi poets often refer to the hidden treasure that Rumi hints of in his poetry. Jami asserts on the authority of the Kashfu ‘l Jahjub that there are four thousand saints “unacquainted with each other and ignorant of their exalted state who are always hidden from themselves and others.”

In the orient there is a belief that there are forty beings who take care of the world and are unknown to each other and who, at times, are even unknown to themselves. Therefore they greet each person with a bow and a smile for they are unaware of the station of the being they are addressing.

One beautiful moonlit night, Jalalu’ddin and Shams were on the terraced roof of the college while the inhabitants of Konya were sleeping on their housetops. Shams remarked: “look at all these poor creatures. They are dead to every sense of their Creator on this beautiful night.” Turning to Jalalu’ddin, he said, “Won’t you, from your infinite compassion, wake them up and let them share in the blessings of this night?”

Each day of their relationship, Shams subtly showed Jalalu’ddin that his spiritual powers had to be used on a universal level.

Shams often caused friction in the lives of the sheikhs and teachers of Konya. This friction brewed anger in them rather than enlightenment in having the opportunity to view their real selves. At a gathering of sheikhs, Shams once remarked, “If you have some business to do, then why do you do nothing. If you have none, then where is your concern? You play the cymbals, and no noise is heard; you work, but no one profits. If you follow the path of religion, for a long time you reach neither village nor inn. You see no signs. No bark of dog or crowing of cock reaches your ears. It is a strange path. You march so long, yet seem to stay in the same place.”

Exile of Shamsi Tabriz

Of all the sheikhs, only Jalalu’ddin could ‘bear the presence’ of Shams, this unknown sheikh of sheikhs who had come to disrupt their lives, to break them down, wash away their smugness, and have them rebuild themselves with a trace of the traceless. The anger of those who loved Mevlana grew, and one Thursday in 1246, after a stay of sixteen months, Shams left Konya and journeyed to Damascus.

After a long absence he returned to Konya at the request of Mevlana. Again the two dervish brothers went into a retreat cell where they sat knee to knee, fasting and performing constant dhikr. And, again, the students and friends of Mevlana, who had enjoyed his presence daily during the absence of Shams, became jealous and plotted to drive away this magician who stole their time from their beloved Mevlana.

Once again, the burning jealousy and anger of Mevlana’s students drove Shams into exile.

He returned to Damascus and at times was forced to take menial jobs, doing difficult physical work in order to balance that part of him which was so overwhelmed with God-consciousness. Shams was a man who walked on the earth and, at the same time, lived in another world. He lived within the depths of his heart, within the depths of his soul, and had the power of great intuition, visions, and revelations.

In Konya, Mevlana longed for his beloved soul brother. He became distraught and spent long hours alone in the room he had shared with Shams. He wept, sometimes from joy, sometimes from loneliness. Finally, he called for his son, Sultan Veled, and told him to go to Damascus, locate Shams, and beg him to return to Konya.

Sultan Veled found Shams on Salihiyye Mountain playing backgammon with a young French boy. The twenty friends who accompanied Sultan Veled remained at the door to the inn until the game was concluded. As they entered the room of the game, the French boy was arguing with Shams over the winnings. The visitors all bowed to Shams with great respect and each approached him and kissed his hand, Pangs of fear fluttered through the boy’s body as he realized the stature of his friend. With the palm of his right hand, Shams touched the boy’s head and instructed him to return to France and visit certain dervishes residing there. While in the company of this unknown holy man, the young French boy was given baraka (divine grace) and prepared for sheikhood. A seed was planted which would bear fruit for a future civilization. Years later, on the continent, he became known as a great teacher of esoteric knowledge.

Shams embraced Sultan Veled and asked after the health of his father. As Shams spoke with Sultan Veled, two thousand pieces of gold were strewn at his feet by the trusted friends who made the journey to Damascus. Shams, also longing for the company of Mevlana, agreed to return to Konya.

Sultan Veled walked at the stirrup of Shams’ horse from Damascus to Konya. When they arrived at the inn of Zindjirli, just outside the city, a dervish was sent ahead to announce their arrival. A great crowd awaited them and witness the long embrace of Mevlana and Shams.

The separation of Mevlana and Shams brought them even closer than before to the God in each of them. They kindled the light within themselves and set their hearts aflame in Godness until Mevlana cried with joy,

“Enough of phrases and conceits and metaphors, I want burning, burning, burning.”

Mevlana’s students were so caught up in their personal love for him that they failed to see the manner of his life. They plotted to slay Shams.

The Murder of Shamsi Tabriz

On a Tuesday night in May 1247, Shamsi Tabriz left the side of his beloved spiritual brother and stepped into the garden. His killers circled him and stabbed at his flesh. From the depths of his soul came the cry, “La illaha illa Ana” (There is no God but Me), and it was these words uttered with the last breath of Shams that shattered the consciousness of his slayers.

When they awoke all that they found was a few drops of blood, but the body of Shams had disappeared and no trace of it has ever been found.

Those close to Mevlana busied themselves with a month long search for Shams, while the despondent soul mate, as if ripped of flesh like Abraham’s proverbial sheep, cried from the pain and longing of separation from the Beloved.

Mevlana refused to believe that Shams was dead and asked every traveler who came to Konya if they had seen his beloved brother. One day a traveler told him that he had seen Shams in Damascus. Mevlana was so pleased that he removed his robe and gave it to the stranger. When it was pointed out to him that the story was probably fabricated for his benefit, Mevlana said,

“I have given my turban and gown for a lie. I would have given my life for the truth.”

He who was known as hadi (the guide), khabir (he who is aware), wali (the nearest friend), parinda (the winged one); he who was a catalyst to the sheikhs, a lover of God, unknown to the known and known to the unknown; he who was known as Shams (the Sun) of Tabriz, the beloved of Mevlana Jalalu’ddin Rumi, has left this place.

Mevlana refused to see anyone. He confined himself to his house and would often whirl around one of the architectural poles in his garden. On the fortieth day after the murder, he ordered mourning robes, a white shirt open at the chest and a honey colored wool fez. He became the madhoub that Shams was, and intoxicated with love of God he made wailing sounds with his heart and yearned for union with the Beloved. He cried out in spiritual verse and uttered phrases and spiritual jewels which later would be known as the beginning of the Mathnawi.

Hearken to the Reed forlorn,
Breathing, even since ’twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain’
Of impassioned love and pain.

The secret of my song, though near,
None can see and none can hear.

Oh, for a friend to know the sign
And mingle all his soul with mine!

‘Tis the flame of Love that fired me,
‘Tis the wine of Love inspired me.

Wouldst thou learn how lovers bleed,
Hearken, hearken to the Reed!

Rumi became thin of the earth by fasting and full in the ecstasy of losing himself in God-consciousness. He became annihilated and glorified with every step.

Like the Prophet before him, the angels descended to earth, cut open his breast, and removed the thin shell that remained over his heart. They removed the last bit of ego that remained within him and filled his heart with Love. Then they made his breast as it was before.

As this was happening, Mevlana was in his garden lost in deep meditation, in a state of disassociation from his body, experiencing the highest initiation he would know until his “wedding day.” When he regained earth consciousness, he felt as if the heart of his beloved Shams was merged with his own. He was now ready to reenter the world.

Salahu-d-Din Zer-Kub, the goldbeater, was a dervish brother to Jalalu’ddin when they were both students of Seyyid Burhanu-d-Din. After the death of Shams they renewed their friendship, and Rumi’s son, Sultan Veled, married Fatima, the daughter of Salahu-d-Din. Rumi was fond of his daughter-in-law and taught her the Koran. He referred to Fatima as his right eye, to her younger sister Hediyya as his left eye, and called their mother, Latifa Khatun, the personification of God’s grace.

Salahu-d-Din, the goldbeater, remained Rumi’s close disciple until his death in December 1258. During those years Mevlana recited the first books of the Mathnawi, and Salahu-d-Din wrote them down. Mevlana never physically wrote any of the Mathnawi but gave it out in discourses in the Persian language.

The Beginning of the Whirling Dervishes

Through Shams, Mevlana had become a poet and a lover of music. One day, as he walked by the goldbeater’s shop, he heard the hammers of the apprentices pounding the rough sheets of gold into beautiful objects. With each step he repeated the name of God; and now with the sound of the hammers beating the gold, all he heard was “Allah, Allah.” He began to whirl in ecstasy in the middle of the street. He unfolded his arms, like a fledgling bird, tilted his head back, and whirled, whirled, whirled to the sound of “Allah” that came forth from the very wind he created by his movement.

I see the waters which spring from their sources,
The branches of trees which dance like penitents,
The leaves which clap their hands like minstrels.

This was the beginning of the Mevlevi order of Sufis known as the Whirling Dervishes.

These were difficult years for Mevlana. While he spoke of universal love and was the living example of his words, the Muslim states were being threatened by Mongol forces and Konya felt nature’s wrath in the form of constant earthquakes. Mevlana said:

“If you grasp knowledge through the heart, it is a friend. If you limit it to the ‘body’ alone, it is a snake.”

In Konya, his mureeds grew in number. But, as it was with most great masters, only a few could really fathom his worth to the point of seeing themselves in the mirror of his heart and then breaking the mirror in order to remain with the essence of themselves. To a few close mureeds Mevlana once remarked about Mansur al Hallaj, saying,

“He was killed, and his body dismembered by his own students and friends for saying ‘Ana l’Haq (I am the Truth, I am God); if I told what I knew, my body would be chopped into small pieces.”

When it is found out that one knows the Truth, the payment is dear. For Shams it was his head. For Mevlana the mystic, it was the knowledge that no one was prepared to receive his secret, and he would die with it still in his heart.

Once, in the tekke, a dervish complained that the door made a disturbing creaking sound whenever anyone came into the room. Mevlana looked at him and said,

“The sound of a door opening is disturbing to you because all doors are closed to you.

I love this sound, for all doors are open to me.”

In the years remaining before his death, verses poured from him as he walked the streets, in the garden, during the day or night, and Husam took down every word that came from his mouth. Later, he would read these notes to Mevlana, who would correct them and return them to Husam to be rewritten. The task took years, interrupted only once for a period of fourteen months because of the grief Husam experienced at the death of his beloved wife. When the vast work was completed, the result was the greatest Muslim work since the Koran. It became known as the Mathnawi, the spiritual couplets of Mevlana.

On the surface it appeared as if Rumi commingled poetry and prose, but his importance is not confined to literature. He must be understood as a poet in the most exalted sense, one who gave expression to a situation lived with from birth. The yearning, the claw-like scraping of the inside of his chest, the emptiness, the fullness of his heart, the despair, the aloneness – these were the signs of his separation from the Beloved. He was the reed separated from its reedbed, who, in desperate aloneness, creates a wailing sound which emerges from the holes pierced in its heart.

The Death of Mevlana

As his body aged, the cold damp winters of Konya bit into his skin. As the winter of 1272 unfolded into spring, Mevlana felt a resurgence of physical energy. It was the dawn of his last year on the planet earth. Sitting knee to knee in the circle of the Mevlevis, Mevlana’s voice called the Asma’-Ullah-i-Ta’Ala (the Attributes of Allah the Exalted) with a sound which seemed to arise from the core of a place where footsteps were unfamiliar. The shoulders of his cloak were threadbare from the constant rubbing of the dervishes standing next to him during the Muslim prayers.

The last summer in Meram was peaceful. His body became older and his light-filled eyes and heart were at the peak of youth and maturity. He cleansed his body by fasting and meditation and spent long hours alone in the large garden.

Autumn crowded summer in 1273 and October brought winter and frequent earthquakes. In November he became ill.

News of his illness spread through Konya and its neighboring cities. For forty days his family and friends showed grave concern. They were about to lose a guide to the unknown, the baraka (grace) from above. Many of them wondered whether they could have listened closer or worked harder in His service. They observed their laziness, their sense of superiority, and vowed that if he left them now, they would carry on his work.

Mevlana was not preparing for death. He knew that with each breath he was moving closer to his beloved. For Mevlana, the day of death was a time of “union” and referred to it as the “wedding day and sheb-i arus (the nuptial night.)

On the evening of December 17, 1273, Mevlana passed into “union” as the Konya sun was setting.

On December 18, the day after his death, crowds filled the streets of Konya waiting for the long procession which moved to the wailing sound of the reed flute. People of all races and religions shared in the shouldering of the coffin. There was shoving as people wedged themselves through the crowd and scrambled to touch the cloth which covered Mevlana’s coffin. It took the entire day for the coffin to move through the throng and arrive at the altar.

I died from a mineral, and plant became;
Died from the plant and took a sentient frame;
Died from the beast, and donned a human dress;
When by my dying did I e’er grow less;
Another time from manhood I must die
To soar with angel-pinions through the sky.
Midst Angels also I must lose my place,
Since ‘Everything shall perish save His Face.’
Let me be Naught!
The harp-strings tell me plain
That unto Him do we return again and again.

After Mevlana’s death, Chelebi Husam became the leader of the Mevlevi order until he died in 1284.

Mevlana’s son, Sultan Veled, assumed leadership of the dervishes after Husam’s death. He introduced the sheikh into the turning ceremony in honor of his father.

Sultan Veled wrote several treatises on his father’s teachings and made the Mevlana Mausoleum the headquarters of the Mevlevis. Following his death in 1312, sultan Veled was succeeded by his son Ulu Arif Chelebi, who played a major role in the foundation and organization of the Mevlevi order. When he died in 1320, his brother Shemseddin Emir Alim became the sheikh of the order. With his death is 1338, his sons and descendants carried on the office of Sheikh. By then, the Mevlevi order had spread over Anatolia and beyond.

The Mevlevi tekke in Konya was the largest of all the Centers and flourished as a school of art and culture through many centuries. Thirty-two chelebis, direct descendants of Mevlana, have occupied the position of sheikh of the order.

Mevlana was aware of the movement and sound in all of the planets. The sema, or whirling dance, of the dervishes is an expression of the cosmic joy experienced by the simultaneous effect of annihilation and glorification.

“It is the witnessing of the state of perceiving the mysteries of God through the heavens of divinity. Sema is to fight with one’s self, to flutter, struggle desperately like a half-slaughtered bird, bloodstained and covered with dust and dirt. It is to be aware of Jacob’s grief and know its remedy; to know the vibration of meeting Joseph and the smell of his shirt. […] Sema is a secret. The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘I have a time with God and during this time neither angel nor prophet can intrude.’ Sema is to attain that place where even an angel cannot go.”

It is said that a true dervish is never bored, because he never does anything twice. Man continuously journeys around the circle of himself, repeating past actions and trapping himself in a net of his own creation. From the time the skull of Abel, the first man to die, was placed into the earth, man has buried the maps to his freedom.

The Whirling Ceremony of the Dervishes

Before entering the Hall of Celestial Sounds the dervish performs the holy ablutions of the Muslim faith. Then he proceeds to dress in the whirling costume unique to the Mevlevis. His attire is influenced by the mourning clothes that Rumi ordered after the death of Shamsi Tabriz. The sikke, the tall honey-colored felt hat, represents the tombstone of man.

The word ‘cemetery’ comes from the Hindu word samadh, which denotes a permanent state. Holy men who died were set in a grave in a lotus rishi position, and a lingam was placed on the top of their heads.

The tennure, or long white skirt, represents the shroud, and the khirqa, or black cloak with long, large sleeves, symbolized the tomb. Beneath the cloak the turner wears a dasta gul, literally a bouquet of roses and a white jacket, the right side of which is tied down, the left hangs open. Around his waist is fastened the alif-lam-and, or girdle of cloth.

The dervishes enter the semahane, or whirling room, led by the semazenbashi, the dance master, and slowly, with heads bowed, line up on one side of the hall. The dance master, who is closest to the sheikh’s post, wears a white sikke. The sheikh is the last to enter the hall. He stops to bow at the axis line to his post and proceeds to walk slowly to the sheepskin dyed red to honor Shamsi Tabriz and represent the sun.

The musicians are at the opposite end of the hall on a raised platform, facing the sheikh. The hafiz, who knows the entire Koran by memory, begins the ceremony by chanting a prayer to Mevlana and a sura from the Koran. Then the sound of the kudum, kettle drums, breaks the silence.

The dervishes, now seated on their knees, listen to the piercing sound of a single reed flute, or ney which plays the music prelude. The dervishes slap the floor with their hands indicating the day of the Last Judgment and the bridge Sirat that is crossed to get from this world to Paradise. It is said that this bridge is as thin as a hair and as sharp as a razor.

The sheikh takes one step to the front of his post and bows his head. He begins to slowly walk around the semahane followed by all of the dervishes. They circle the hall three times, stopping to bow to each other at the sheikh’s post. This part of the sema is known as the Sultan Veled Walk, in honor of Rumi’s son, and symbolizes man’s identity and his place within a circle. The circle is a position used in many of the Sufi orders. The zikr circle is the living mandala.

After circling the hall for the third time, the last dervish bows to the post and turns to complete the walk as the sheikh takes his post. They now all bow and in one motion remove their cloaks, kiss them, and let them drop to the floor. As they drop their cloaks, they symbolically leave their tombs, their worldly attachments, and prepare to turn for God.

The musicians on the platform are playing as the dervishes, with their right hand on their left shoulder and their left hand on their right shoulder, slowly walk to the sheikh’s post. The semazenbashi is the first to arrive at the post where the sheikh is standing. He bows to the sheikh, his right foot over the left and his arms crossed at the shoulders. He kisses the right hand of the sheikh, recedes backwards from him and, standing five feet from the post, is in a position to begin directing the sema. Each dervish approaches the sheikh in this manner. He bows, kisses the right hand of the sheikh, the sheikh kisses his sikke, the dervish bows and turns toward the semazenbashi for silent instruction. If the foot of the semazenbashi, who wears white shoes, is extended outside of his black cloak, it is a signal for the whirler that the outside area is blocked to him, and he must begin to turn on the inside of the dance master. If his shoe is hidden, the whirler continues to walk past him and begins to unfold and turn on his outside.

All the dervishes unfold and whirl as the musicians play and the chorus chants. The turners extend their arms, the right palm faces up and the left down. The energy from above enters through the right palm, passes through the body which is a visible channel, and, as this grace is universal, it passes through the left palm into the earth. With extended arms, the dervish embraces god.

As they turn, the dance master slowly walks among them gesturing with his eyes or position to correct their speed or posture. The sheikh stands at his post. They turn counterclockwise, repeating their inaudible zikr, “Allah, Allah.” After about ten minutes, the music stops, and the dervishes complete a turn that will face them toward the sheikh’s post and halt. The movement is so quick that their billowing skirts wrap around their legs as they bow to the post. The selam is repeated four times, each about the same length of time.

In the second, third and fourth selams, a dervish who is tired may drop out and remain standing at the side as the others turn.

It is only in the fourth selam that the sheikh joins the dervishes. He represents the sun; the dervishes, the planet turning around him in the solar system of Mevlana. The sheikh whirls slowly along the equator line to the center of the semahane as a single flute sounds a distant wailing sound that leads him back to his post. When the sheikh arrives at his post, he bows, sits on the post, and kisses the floor. All the turners sit, and their cloaks are put on them by those who did not turn in the fourth selam. They have returned to their tombs, but in an altered state.

The sheikh recites the Fatiha, the first sura of the Koran, and all the dervishes kiss the floor and rise. The sheikh then sounds a prayer to Mevlana and Shamsi Tabriz and begins the sound “Hu.” The dervishes join in sounding the “hu” which is all the names of God in one. This concludes the ceremony.

On the night of December 17, in honor of Rumi’s day of Union with the Beloved, the ceremony concludes with the “greeting.” All the dervishes, musicians, and turners line up and pass in front of the sheikh kissing his hand. They kiss the hand of each dervish who has passed before them leaving the last in line to kiss the right hand of about seventy of his brothers. It is a beautiful and touching moment that emphasizes the joy of the dervish when his thoughts turn to union with the Hidden.

Becoming a Dervish

The five Mevlevi tekkes, prior to 1925, were active dervish schools which existed in communal fashion. The initiate, or mureed, was called upon t make a covenant of allegiance to the sheikh.

In the West, discipline has come to indicate doing something contrary to one’s comfort; in the tekke, discipline was learning while doing. Obedience to the sheikh was not loss of one’s freedom; through the preparation of “how to be’ one gained one’s freedom.

The young initiate was given the choice of performing a chille , or retreat, for 1001 days and then becoming a dede in the Mevlevi order or becoming a muhip (an initiate who does not perform retreat and does not reside in the tekke, but comes every day for intense training in the dervish practices. If the choice was the retreat, the initiate was brought to the ahchi dede (ahchi means cook) and given his first test.

The meaning of cook in the Mevlevi order was important not only because of the preparation of food, but because man is raw material which has to be cooked into a dish that is edible. Those who were “raw” were men who were involved in the exterior side of life while the “ripe” were men of the heart involved with the interiorization of self. The raw could not comprehend the state of the ripe.

The first test was to be brought to the matbah (kitchen) which was actually a small room where the initiate sat on his knees upon the saka, ( post, a sheepskin) for three days. Here he did not speak or sleep. He moved only to pray five times a day, to go to the toilet and to eat the food brought to him. He was observed to see if he was prepared to continue as a chille initiate.

On the fourth day the initiate was taken to the hamam (Turkish bath) to be bathed and shaved and given a chille tennuresi (a black dress) to wear throughout the retreat. He was brought back to the ahchi dede who gave him a zikr (prayer) to repeat while he performed his daily work. At this time the initiate was turned over to the kazandji dede (kazandji means a large pot for cooking soup) who became responsible for his education as a dervish.

The kazandji dede oversaw the maintenance of the tekke and assigned the initiate to kitchen and cleaning duties. During the day the initiate must also learn to be a semazen, or whirler and work with the semazenbashi, or dance master. His preparation in learning the Mevlevi turn was the same one used by initiates in the order since its inception.

A smooth-surfaced board, three feet square and one inch high, is placed on the floor. In the center of the board is a large round-headed nail. Before each class and each sema, the whirler is required to perform abdest, or ablutions. This is the washing of hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, head, ears, neck and feet with cold running water. The initiate kneels on the board and kisses the nail. He takes some salt, and, with his right elbow in his left palm and his left elbow resting on his left knee, he carefully places a small amount of the salt on the nail. He then rises and steps onto the board placing the nail between the big toe of his left foot and the toe next to it. His right foot crosses his left at the toes. While his arms are crossed, right over left, at the shoulders, he bows his head and says eyvallah (with the permission of God.) Now he is prepared to begin the lesson taught by the semazenbashi.

Once he has learned the Turn, which usually takes ninety days, the initiate is placed in the muptedi status where he actually participates in a sema. After reaching the station of dede in the Mevlevis, the initiate was given the choice of remaining in the tekke or going to live in the city.. If he chose to reside in the tekke he could not marry, because women were not permitted to live in the tekke. He was taken care of by the government which gave money to support the tekkes. He functioned as a teacher and participated in the weekly sema. If the initiate chose to live outside the tekke, he was allowed to marry and come to the tekke on Thursday nights, but he was under no obligation to do so.

On Thursday nights Mevlevi women were allowed to view the sema. Some would retire to another room and whirl without costume. There have been women who were sheikhs in the Mevlevi order. The most famous was Destine Hatun, the daughter of Sheikh Sultan Divani of the Afyon tekke. Afyon, which means opium, is midway between Istanbul and Konya, and the tekke welcomed visitors going to and from the tomb of Mevlana.
Some Dervish History
Mehmen Chelebi, a direct relation of Rumi and founder of the Galata tekke in Istanbul, is buried in the Afyon tekke. On his tomb is written,

“Even if Jesus came to me, he could not cure me of the real sickness of my separation from God.”

Sultan Divani was a great sheikh. When he died the post was given to his daughter, Destine Hatun, who wore a sikke, Mevlevi dress, and led the whirling dance in the semahane. During the time that Destine Hatun held the sheikh’s post, the tekke at Afyon burned to the ground. The community was poor and there seemed to be no way that the dervishes could rebuild. One night, before sleep, Destine Hatun asked for the help of her father. Dressed in his sheikh’s robes, Sultan Divani told his daughter to go to a certain place near the stone fountain where the dervishes performed ablutions; there she would find a silver vessel filled with water. Destine was to pour out the water and, when she reached into the vessel, her hand would emerge filled with gold coins which would forever replace themselves in the vessel.

The following morning Destine went to the designated place, found the vessel and the gold, and began the reconstruction of the Afyon tekke. Whenever she needed money it was always waiting in the silver vessel.

The Order is Banned by Ataturk

In 1925, Kemal Ataturk introduced Law 677 into the Turkish Republic. It was a December Saturday during the final turn of the last sema when the military police entered the Mevlevi tekke in Uskudar and ordered it closed. The chief of police read the law which stated that performing dervish practices, holding meetings in the tekkes, the profession of tomb-keeping and the office of sheikh, and other dervish initiations were abolished and, as of the reading, against the law of the Republic.

Two years later, in the winter of 1927, Kemal Ataturk allowed the tomb of Mevlana to open as a museum, a place where the lovers of Mevlana could come. He reiterated that Turkey is a modern country, and a modern society has no time for dervish magic. The Dervish orders were abolished, but there is a freedom of belief such that those who want to perform any rite can do so in private, but not under the aegis of an organized religious body.

There is a secret organization of “floating skirts” in London who perform the sema wearing tennure and sikke. The whirlers are both men and women. The Mevlevi movements could have originate with the Pythagorean schools which performed certain dances or “movements” in which each person turned to the ratio of the particular planet in the universe which he represented. Although the Whirling Dervishes represent the planets, it is unlikely that the esoteric information of the Pythagorean have been passed on to those who turn today.