Dervish Spins


"The 'turn', the moving meditation done by Mevlevi dervishes, originated with Rumi. The story goes that he was walking in the goldsmithing section of Konya [Turkey] when he heard a beautiful music in their hammering. He began turning in harmony with it, an ecstatic dance of surrender and yet with great centered discipline. He arrived at a place where ego dissolves and a resonance with universal soul comes in. Dervish literally means 'doorway'. When what is communicated moves from presence to presence, darshan occurs, with language inside the seeing. When the gravitational pull gets even stronger, the two become one turning that is molecular and galactic and a spiritual remembering of the presence at the center of the universe. Turning is an image of how the dervish becomes an empty place where human and divine can meet. To approach the whole the part must become mad, by conventional standards at least. These ecstatic holy people, called matzubs in the sufi tradition, redefine this sort of madness as true health.

"When he saw the dervishes in Cairo in 1910, Rainer Maria Rilke, the great spiritual poet of this century, said the turn was a form of kneeling. 'It is so truly the mystery of the kneeling of the deeply kneeling man. With Rumi the scale is shifted, for in following the peculiar weight and strength in his knees, he belongs to that world to which height is depth. This is the night of radiant depth unfolded.' December 17 is celebrated each year as Rumi's Wedding Night, the night he died in 1273 and reached full union."

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

- Rumi

Coleman Barks, translator, The Essential Rumi, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. See Books.


The word DERVISH describes a Sufi who stands at the door of enlightenment. What is a SUFI ? A Sufi is a male member of the order of whirling dervishes famous throughout the world. A Sufi is a form of a mystic. The word Sufi is form the base Greek Greek word sophos which means wisdom. [Correction from Shaikh Abdullah Khalis El-Mevlevi: "...the word Sufi...[comes] from the Arabic word Sf, it means wool. The correct word for Sufis is also tassawwuf and it means woolen."]

In the Middle East it is believed that the dervish is in prayer & that his body becomes open to receive the energy of God. The Turkish Sultans often consulted the Dervishes in difficult times. Their spinning created a relaxing & hypnotic effect in which the Sultans could search for guidance.

During this solemn religious ceremony it is believed that the power of the Heavens enters into the upward extended right palm & passes through the body & leaves the lower left palm to then enter into the Earth. The dervish does not retain the power nor is he to direct it. He accepts that he is the true instrument of God & therefore he does not question the power that comes & leaves him.

There has been some discussion on which way to spin. My research has led me to this simple breakdown:

Always begin the turn to the Right. Only after several full turns do you switch arm postions and reverse the turning to the Left (counterclockwise). One should always end with full turns to the Right. The head swings and circles may move in the opposite direction of the turn.

I gladly welcome any comments or additional sharing of knowledge on this fascinating form of Middle Eastern Dance.


Thais Banu
Editor and Publisher of Unveiled Thoughts

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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