What’s a Whirling Dervish?

By | April 30, 2019

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Whirling Dervishes spin and twirl. Source: (turkey.theglobepost.com)

You’ve undoubtedly heard the term ‘whirling dervish’ before, but you may not be aware of the important cultural and spiritual tradition of these frenzied, spinning Turkish dancers. For outsiders, watching the Whirling Dervishes dance and spin is a breathtaking sight. For devoted members of the Mevlevi Order of Islam, however, the spinning has special significance. 

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Whirling Dervishes In The 19Th Century. From El Mundo Ilustrado, Published Barcelona, 1880. Source: (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

A Frenzied Spinning

The best-known characteristic of a Whirling Dervish is the spinning dance called the Sema ceremony. The Dervishes wear all white long gowns with full skirts and tall hats. Seemingly tireless, the dancers can spin and whirl for hours at a time with their arms held up in the air. They assume this stance so that they are open to receive the blessings and energy from heaven. Each individual Dervish spins from right to left using his own heart as a pivot point. Keeping time to the accompanying music, the Dervish will rotate slowly at first, picking up speed as the music intensifies until the group of Dervishes is all whirling in a fast-paced frenzy with their white gowns spinning.