It would be natural to assume a link between the whirling described in Rite # 1 of The Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation, and the Whirling Dervishes - founded by the great philosopher and writer Rumi in the 13th Century. However, from the evidence I have found below, there is no connection.
Some practitioners and teachers of the Five Tibetan Rites have adopted some of the movements from the Sema (the Dervishes religious ceremony - such as spinning anti-clockwise and holding one palm facing upwards and one pointing downwards. However as you shall read below, this is purely a modern adaptation, and has no historical connection.
Although they both spin, the First Rite and the Sema (a religious ceremony) have different outcomes and vary significantly in technique. The Dervishes spin to induce a trance-like ecstatic state, whereas the Tibetan 1st Rite is performed to stimulate the vortexes into action.
The sema is the inspiration of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (1207- 1273) as well as of Turkish custom, history, beliefs and culture. It is part of a sacred ceremony in which the dervish rotates in a precise rhythm. Whilst whirling, the dervish aims to empty himself of all distracting thoughts. As he enters into a trance, he is released from his bodily awareness and conquers his dizziness. Dervishes believe that their souls are released from earthly ties, able to freely and jubilantly communicate with the divine.
Dervish literally means "doorway" and is thought to be an entrance from this material world to the spiritual, heavenly world. In the past the Turkish Sultans would often consult the Dervishes for guidance. They believed that the dervish was in prayer and that the spinning created a hypnotic and relaxing affect which opened his body to receive the energy of God.
In the Tibetan First Rite, both palms are facing downwards towards the floor. The Dervishes however, place their right palm upwards to receive the power of the heavens, and their left palm turned downwards to direct this energy into the earth. They see themselves as the conduit of God’s power and do not try to hold onto or direct that power.
Extract from the official website of Rumi's family
..."While whirling his arms are open, his right hand directed to the skies ready to receive God's beneficence, looking to his left hand turned toward the earth, he turn from right to left around the heart. This is his way of conveying God's spiritual gift to the people upon whom he looks with the eyes of God. Revolving around the heart, from right to left, he embraces all the mankind, all the creation with affection and love."...
In Peter Kelder's books whereupon he outlines Colonel Bradford's direct teachings from the Lamas in the Tibetan Monastery, he mentions Bradford's discussion regarding the Dervishes as follows:
..."When I spoke to one of the Lamas about this, he informed me that while this whirling movement of the Dervishes did have a very beneficial effect, it also had a devastating one. It seems that a long siege of whirling stimulates into great activity Vortexes (Chakras) A, B and E. These three have a stimulating effect on the other two - c & D. But due to excessive leg action the Vortexes in the knees - F & G - are over-stimulated and finally so exhausted that the building up of the Vital Forces along with this tearing down causes the participants to experience a kind of 'psychic jag' which they mistake for something spiritual or at least religious."...
..."However, continued the Colonel, we do not carry the whirling exercise to excess. While the Whirling Dervishes may spin around hundreds of times,we find that greater benefit is obtained by restricting it to about a dozen or so times, enough so that Rite Number One (The Spin) can stimulate all the Vortexes to action."...
Another variation is that Bradford tells us to spin clockwise whereas the Sema is performed anti-clockwise. For more information on whether we should spin clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere - see my
The true origins of the spin we can only speculate about. Spinning is so natural it almost certainly evolved from the careful observation of natural laws.
You can see evidence of spinning everywhere. The Earth spins around the sun and when viewed from space is covered in spiralling cloud formations, similar in shape to that of our galaxy. Your own body contains numerous spirals, from your DNA to the unique swirls on the tips of your fingers. Time-lapse photography enables you to see that sprouting seeds don’t shoot upwards as was previously thought. They germinate in a spiral.
The Ancients, have long taught that the universe is full of spinning vortexes, through which the energy of the universe enters and vitalizes your body and all other things. Some ancient cultures believed that the Earth’s energy gathers into vortexes, and in those places they built churches, temples and other places of worship and learning. Some people believe that the extraordinary structures of Stonehenge, the Pyramids and the giant stone monoliths of Easter Island represent places where the Ancients believed ‘special energies’ gathered.
Whatever the explanation for the Spin (1st Tibetan Rite) it does seem reasonable to think that there may be some universal significance in terms of connecting spinning with energy generation and dispersal.
The vortex form is integral to the universe. It’s a constant that recurs throughout all life. Through the revolving of the neutrons, protons and electrons of the atoms that form our basic structure, everything takes part in this revolving.
..."The sky is round, and I have heard the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood,and so it is in everything where power move."... Black Elk, Sioux Holy Man
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Copyright (c) 2005 Carolinda Witt - author The Illustrated Five Tibetan Rites (Penguin/Lantern 2005) and The 10-Minute Rejuvenation Plan (Random House/Three Rivers Press 2007)