Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 18)

Chapter 32

Prison of Anemas, Constantinople 
11th November 1637

The group descended a spiral serpent-like passageway to an apartment which lay immediately below the first chamber they had previously been in. Entering Catherine surveyed the room. Above she noticed a small circular aperture in the roof that appeared to connect to the upper chamber and shed a beam of dusty light onto a small table in the centre of the room where there were jugs of wine and plates of figs laid out. A number of low benches surrounded the table and high on the wall at the far end of the chamber - resting in a niche - was a carved head made of some kind of emerald coloured stone. Catherine was transfixed by its green aura. The pir joined her.
“Beautiful is it not?”
Catherine could not take her eyes off the carving and nodded her head slowly.
“All that remains of the statue of Minerva of Lindia, carved by Scyllis and Dipoenus and presented by Sesostris, King of Egypt to Cleobulus, King of Lindia in recognition of his renowned wisdom. Its emerald antiquity is the fulcrum of our tekke. ”
Catherine was puzzled. “I do not understand,” she whispered.
The pir did not answer but taking her arm gently led her back to a low bench and seated her close to him. The others took their seats and for the first time Catherine could make out their faces and was surprised by some of their smiles of recognition. The pir held her hand and that of the person on his right. All of the others followed suit until the circle was complete. 
The pir then addressed the gathering in a quiet voice, “We who have passed through the door of marifet, and the mystical secrets it hides, will for ever be kept within the merging of this circle. With the initiation of Catherine, once again the Lodge of the Khorram-Dinan has its 30 members and thus we can all continue our individual Paths. Before proceeding any further it is opportune to introduce ourselves to our new member.” He turned to Catherine. “I am Chelebi Kalender Oglu and on your left is Solakzade the Sultan’s historiographer. Next to him is Evliya Effendi a writer and beyond him Husseyn the nahib of the salted beef guild. Next is Murad of course and you also know the Patriarch Loukaris. After him is Issac ben Jacob, of Palermo.”

The Conference of the Birds

Catherine leant forward to greet each but missed many of the names the pir continued to call out.
“Finally on my right is Selim Zeitun Oglu, of Tavshanli. He is our archivist.”
The old man with a happy face stood up and walking behind the pir came and embraced Catherine. “You are welcome, our sister.”
Catherine stuttered as the old man retook his seat. “Thank you all. I will try to be worthy of the welcome.”
Chelebi Kalender Oglu smiled. “As you will soon find out Catherine, this tekke includes members of all the religions of the book whose central belief in God our Creator guarantees their inclusion. You have chosen also to consider welcoming the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed into your heart and for that we are doubly grateful. The secrecy of this tekke is essential because of increasing conflict with the orthodox ulema who fail to understand the necessity of esoteric contemplation. The teachings of Ibn ’Arabi and the divine revelations set out in the jawidan-i-kabir of Fadullah are the keys to the Path and they, the lawyers, have numbed their senses to that Love.”
The pir sat down and the clapping of his hands brought an attendant running with a waterpipe. “For dear friends, this is the feast of our Path, the tonic of elegant wit.”
The smell of hashish soon wafted throughout the room. The pipe was passed from person to person until it reached Catherine. Some had chosen to inhale its smoke others to merely to touch the rim and then their foreheads. Catherine hesitated. The pir gently took her hand. “You will have noted from my title of chelebi that I am also of the Mevlevi and the hashish is a tradition of theirs which will enhance the experience of the sama. If you are uncomfortable just touch its rim and drink wine instead.”
Catherine elected to inhale and almost immediately felt a strange disinhibited calm settle on her. 
Kalender Oglu was pleased. “Good. Let us proceed with our deliberations. Today we will explore the suluk of Berith. It is perhaps the pivotal stage in the understanding of our Order’s deeper mysteries. Murad you might start.”
Murad coughed to clear his throat. Catherine recognised its timbre from earlier. “Berith is the alchemist’s devil who could change all metals into gold. However the imagery of the devil’s name is but a secret device to hide from the ignorant the existence of the Emerald Tablet.”
The pir nodded and then looked at another of the members who was hidden from Catherine’s direct view. “Issac what do you know of the Emerald Tablet?”
A young voice answered. Catherine leaned forward to see who was speaking. Since his introduction earlier she was bothered by the feeling that she had met him before but was unsure where. “It is the alchemist’s stone recovered by Alexander the Macedonian from the ruins of the Ancient Grand Lodge in Thebe. It is thought to have been the work of Hermis Trismegistos the Greek counterpart of Thoth, the Egyptian God of Wisdom. Hermis is considered along with Jaber ’ibu Hayyan, Aristotle and Rhozes to be a founding father of alchemy. The stone’s carvings were thought to hold the key to understanding the Fifth Essence.”
The pir stood up and going to the back wall recovered the Emerald Head from its niche and brought it to the table. Catherine was once again transfixed by its glow. “Catherine, what can you tell us of the Fifth Essence?”
She resisted the urge to touch the carving. “This is believed by the Alchemists to be the mystical gift given by God which allows them to create Gold. It is a guarded secret but about 30 years ago Sindivogius in his book ‘De Capide Philosphorum’ - the Philosopher’s Stone - stated that the Fifth Essence was to be found in the mixture of air.’
The pir muted his surprise at this information. “Selim. Perhaps you would explain the significance of the Emerald Tablet for us.”
The archivist opposite Catherine smiled at her as he replied. “Hajji Bektash, our glorious saint, came to Anatolia from Khorsan driven out by the towers of skulls built by the merciless Khan’s. He had decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca and followed the silk road from Meshed to Tehran and on towards Ashvaz. At Susa he had a vision which told him to follow the river Kerkheh which would bring him to Behistun, the Mountain of the Gods. On the way he had to traverse four mountain passes and this formed the basis of the Doors of our tariqat. On reaching the mountain the saint found an ancient sanctuary above the carvings of Darius where the Zoarastians once had a fire-bowl. It was now attended by initiates of the Khorram-Dinan sect. These guardians told Baba Becktash that ancient lore had Alexander leaving the Emerald Tablets in this place. They allowed him to see transcriptions of the tablets which detailed and explained the secrets contained in those ancient carvings. He carried away with him this knowledge and in his mystical writings has left hidden clues to understanding the secret.”
The pir took a ancient calf skin-covered book from his inner pocket and after turning a couple of leaves stopped and began reading, “The believer in reaching for the golden Truth should avoid the fools path to the top of high mountains. He will be cleansed best by the vigour of valley rivers rather than gasping in the weak moisture of passing clouds. Abu Turab is the Custodian of the body which we understand to be the ultimate expression of God’s will. He also is the water of the river, the father of all existing things and their point of origin and their reality, the sirr of all engendered things . . .”
Catherine found the mixture of wine and hashish carrying her forward on waves of heightened awareness. She involuntarily began to chant, interrupting the pir’s dialogue.
“I am the Essence of Essences, and the Essence in the Essences of the Essence.”
Chelebi Kalendar Oglu shook as if he had been stuck by a blow. “How do you know of the commentaries of Rajab al-Bursi on the hadith elucidating the difference between the body and the soul?”
At that point Catherine suddenly remembered where she had seen the young man Issac before and leant forward to smile at him. “Rabbi Jacob ben Moses discussed them with me.”
The pir whistled softly before a second clap of his hands signalled the distinct sounds of a rebab having its strings tuned and the unearthly tones of a ney pipe having its' reed pores blown. The sounds soon fused and with a slow, haunting melody soon carried all of the listeners with them. The pir sang of love in a verse from Rumi’s Mathnawi,

“By love bitter things become sweet,
by love pieces of copper become golden.
By love dregs become clear,
by love pains become healing.
By love the dead is made living,
by love the king is made a slave.
This love moreover is the fruit of gnosis.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

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