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Mevlana :: Castigatory Retraet

Castigatory Retraet

To become a full novice, the aspirant, let us say a muhib of eighteen, had to undergo a period of 1001 days in penitential retreat -cile, and to take the vows of novitiate, which were a confession of intent -ikrar. The confession of intent, or investiture of a novice was carried out only with the permission of the aspirant's guardian and close family if he was young. This was obtained by letter or verbal concent addressed to the sheyh. When this had been granted, the sheyh then explained the difficulties of the mystic way to the aspirant, and tried to dissuade him from entering the convent. If he still appeared determined to do so, he was guided to the pelt of novitiate -saka postu -which is set on a bench to the left of the entrance to the convent kitchen, and remained there for three days, during which he would have time for thinking and reflection, and to observe the activities of the convent. He would remain silently on his pelt, kneeling with head bowed and inclined slightly to one side wathching what went on around him in the kitchen. He ate what was put in front of him at meal times, and had to ask permission to relieve himself. He prayed and slept in the same spot.

Three days later a dervish would take him to one side and remind him that he still had time to change his mind and could leave immediately if he wished. If the aspirant remained firm in his resolution, he was then taken to the Master of Service -Kazanci Dede, who sent him back to the kitchen where he was to spend the next 1001 days in penitential service to the kitchen staff. His trainning as a dervish was virtually completed under the guise of the kitchen service. The Mevlevi hearth was its school. Here, not only food but men were cooked, matured, ripened, and prepared for the mystic way. Carrying out simple domestic tasks the potential dervish was disciplined and coached in maturity to become, at the end of the retreat, a truly devoted member of the order.

For the first eighteen days, the aspirant worked as kitchen boy, running errands for the kitchen staff, fetching and carrying, and performing other menial tasks. During this period he was given sharp commands to break his spirit, and was required to accept each task with equanimity and willingness. If he was unsuccessfull during these first 18 days, one night, while he slept, his shoes would be turned outwards at the door. This was a way of saying "You are not the stuff of dervishes. Leave this convent". The aspirant so punished had then to leave the convent at first light without protest, and never return. If however, he fulfilled the required conditions and the dervishes felt that he would qualify as a fully-fledged dervish, they informed the Master of Service- Kazanci Dede, who then sent him to the master of novices- Asci Dede, who in turn invested him with a light, flattish cap- arakiyye, placing it on the novice's head after blessing. He was also given a service shift -hizmet tennuresi - which he put on, laying his own clothes to one side.

This investiture was known as the ceremony of 'undressing' soyunma. The dervish elect- nev-niyaz- then returned to the kitchen to complete the remainder of his service under the surveillance of the Master of Service. During this period he had to do whatever was asked of him without protest, and worked together with other dervishes-elect in the service of the convent. He underwent a number of trials and tests during his service -cile. For example, if told to buy a packet of tobacco from a certain shop, he had then to go to that exact shop, even if there were others nearer. This was to test his patience, fortitude and all aspects of his behaviour. His faults were pointed out to him, and if he persisted in them his shoes were reversed in the manner described above, showing him the way out of the convent. Aspirants breaking their retreat in this way left the convent as instructed.

The kitchen chores consisted of washing dishes, fetching water, scrubbing and sweeping the service areas, laying the table, shopping for the convent and lighting the candles. Aspirants were also bound to serve the dervishes in person, and their tasks were arranged in order of importance. The worst job was cleaning the latrines -abrizcilik, which was given to the aspirant in the final days of service to try his patience and test the level of his self-effacement once more. After the completion of this service, the aspirant would have undergone 18 levels of trial by toil, and a number of tests to his potentiality as a dervish. If he concluded his 1001 days of service with success, he was sent to the Chief Steward (Master of Ceremonies) - Meydanci Dede, who was responsible for the general organisation of the convent. The Chief Steward, learning of the aspirant's success, went around the convent exclaiming to the dervishes: "Destuur! So-and-so aspirant completed his service. He will leave retreat in a week, his sherbet-server will be such-and-such. Let it be known and all prepared..." After which preparations were made for the ceremony of full confession. On the day of his confession, the aspirant, who was to be given a cell of his own in the convent, was taken to the baths where he was presented with the full garb of a dervish, and was seated on the pelt upon which he sat on his very first day at the convent -saka postu- (pelt of the water-carrier). Towards evening, candelabra with 18 branches was lit in the kitchen, sherbet was prepared by serbetci dervishes, tables were set for a celebratory meal, and during the course of a special ceremony, the headgear of a dervish -sikke- was placed on the aspirant's head, amid the chanting of communal prayers- gulbank, after which he was guided to his cell and the door closed behind him.

 



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