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Whirling With the Dervishes in Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia was growing quiet when I arrive at the Mevlevi Order’s ritual hall to see the Whirling Dervishes. The sun is setting and the shadows of the Fairy Chimney rock columns were blending together seamlessly across Goreme’s dusty streets. A man in a flowing robe appears from behind an open door and beckons me inside. I follow him down a long, curved corridor to the samahane’s inner sanctum where I sit and wait for the ceremony to begin.

Whirling Dervish Spinning

Soon, the lights grow dim and another disciple of the great 13th century Persian poet and theologian, Rumi, walks to the center of the circular hall. In the West, he’s known as a Whirling Dervish but to the Mevlevi community the sheikh is a semazes. His clothing symbolizes the demise of his ego; a long, black hirka robe representing its death shroud and an elongated, camel-felt hat called a kûlah or sikke, its tombstone. He’s carrying a red sheepskin pelt that he spreads out on the floor to kneel upon. Opening his hands wide and turning his face towards the sky, he begins to sing the ritual’s initial blessing, called a naat. The silence in the room is broken with its haunting and unfamiliar words.

A comfortable feeling of energy palpitates inside me as the Sema ceremony begins. Off to the side, twelve semazes are playing instruments from another time. Music floats into the air and is carried away to join with the energy force of which I am now a part. My heart pulses in time with the soft, steady drumbeat and my thoughts dissolve into thin air along with notes plucked from stringed instruments. But it’s the shrill, lonely, lilting call of a reed flute, or ney, that I connect with most.

Whirling Dervish Ceremony

The second portion of the ritual, the Devr-I Veled, is about to begin.

Thirteen Whirling Dervishes have lined up along the railing. One-by-one, they approach the sheikh to exchange bows in acknowledgement of the divine breath shared by all. They continue on, circling the stage three times before finally resuming their places at the railing and bowing once more, in unison, to the sheikh. They drop to their knees, bending low at the waist and touching their foreheads to the floor in an act of humble submission.

Slap! They strike their open hands hard against the wooden platform. The noise reverberates loudly through the chamber, evoking the Day of Resurrection and calling the semazes to awaken and be.

The semazes stand to remove their black robes, revealing brilliant white, floor-length gowns underneath. This act of disrobing marks the instant their egos die and their spirits are liberated from the earthly realm. They can now move onto the centerpiece of the ritual.

Colorful Whirling Dervishes

The Four Selams

 The semazes cross their arms over their chests and, after another bow to the sheikh; they take two steps forward and slowly begin to turn. Their voluminous skirts lift off the floor as their hands leave their chests, rising past the top of their cone-shaped hats and opening up into an embrace of the heavens. With the right foot always connecting with the floor, the left foot propels them forward, spinning them in one fluid movement around the platform. As their speed gradually increases their gowns flatten out into a wave that floats weightlessly around their bodies. Their right hand, with palm turned up, remains high in the air as their left descends to their waists with the palm turned down towards the Earth. Their heads relax to the right as the meditation deepens.

 To believers, this ritual channels heaven’s spiritual force. The revolution of electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms constitutes the basic structure of everything in the universe and the semazes mimic this phenomenon, acting as conduits to transfer the same energy from heaven to Earth through their spinning meditative practice. The sheikh moves to the center of the stage and becomes the fixed point from which the semazes rotate.


The first selam, a recognition of truth through knowledge, begins.

Spinning… I feel the energy in the room expanding.

The second selam expresses the rapture of witnessing the splendor of His creation and our collective existence within it.

Spinning… My mind is adrift with the sensations moving through the room.

The third selam represents complete submission and communion with God through the transformation of rapture into love. The sacrifice of mind and self to love.

Spinning… My heart and mind relax.

 The sheikh enters the dance with the semazes as they move into the fourth and final selam. Altogether, they resemble the planets rotating around the sun, endlessly turning as they accept their destiny and return to their task in creation.


It’s a tranquil transition. The semazes have received peace in their hearts through their connection with the divine.


Their meditation continues until the music slows to a stop. The semazes exit the stage with a steady head and resume their places at the railing, where they kneel and wrap themselves in their black cloaks.

The sheikh returns to the red pelt to offer a concluding prayer, then stands and bows with the semazes in recognition of their oneness.

The Sema ceremony has ended.

 I quietly leave the auditorium and retrace my steps back through the curved hallway. The shadows in the street outside are gone now, swallowed up by the night. Overhead, the sky sparkles with a million stars and I sense their vibrating energy. It’s the whirling universal energy shared by all.

Whirling dervishes

For more information about the Cappadocia region, please, go to: Mysterious and Mesmerizing Capadocia 

Written by Guest Contributor, Dena Weigel Bell for

Dena Weigel Bell holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts and has participated in several study abroad programs, exploring the cultural history of over thirty countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She continues to travel for pleasure, learning many new things on each adventure and writing about them at

Jeff Suwak

Monday 11th of May 2015

Fascinating subject and beautifully written. Loved this article.

Kathy Cordell

Saturday 26th of January 2013

Dena, That was fascinating! Thank you for your photo-journalism!

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