Divine Intoxication: Whirling over Wine

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Wed December 12, 2012 | 00:00 AM

As seen on  AFAR

If you make the pilgrimage to Konya for the festival, just know that it’s a “dry” town since it’s Turkey’s most religious city. While back in Rumi’s day (and in his poetry), one could be a devout Muslim and still drink alcohol, that’s not the case in many parts of the Islamic world today (although most Konya hotels do have the ability to serve alcohol, including the Anemon where we stayed – which has a stunning restaurant in the basement).

But, as these photos show, who needs to drink if you’re a dervish? As an audience member, I feel like I was witnessing an intimate, altered state of these Semazen. Rumi wrote, “Do you think I know what I’m doing? That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself? As much as a pen knows what it’s writing, or the ball can guess where it’s going next.” Surrender, that word I abhorred earlier in my competitive life but, later in life, came to appreciate for the freedom it gave me. Surrender, that’s what these dervishes are experiencing. Rumi also suggested, “Be helpless, dumbfounded, unable to say yes or no. Then a stretcher will come from grace and gather us up.” I was viewing divine medicine, indeed.

I recommend taking a journal and a camera. While you may initially get enamored with using the latter as you want to capture so many exquisite moments (although flash photos are not allowed), you may find the journal to give you more insightful long-term impressions. By the third Sema I witnessed, I didn’t take a photo. I just drank in the experience, a “peak experience” to use a little Abraham Maslow language. And, then I would write down random feelings and streams of consciousness. In the course of my lifetime, I will probably gain more value from the journal than I did the camera.


Whirling is a means of expressing dizzying devotion.