Sufism has long been associated with whirling dervishes. Given Islam eschews alcohol, the divine intoxication Sufis sought had to be achieved by other means. One way was to whirl oneself into a trance-like state.
In The Infidel’s Garden, Marjit explains the history of the Dervishes to Pieter:
I tell him the story of the poet Rumi; how he heard men hammering gold and, enchanted by the rhythmic beat, stretched out both his arms and started spinning in a circle. His followers saw his ecstasy and have whirled ever since.
The Mawlawi order was founded in 1273 by followers of the poet Rumi after his death. Some Christians at the time regarded all this whirling as a sign of devilish possession. But as Marjit explains, the objective of the dervishes was the opposite:
“The dervishes believe they are turning towards the truth, Sir. They believe through their whirling they abandon their lower selves and ascend through mind and love to perfection.”
This discussion happens during one of their erotically charged encounters where their ideological differences, rather than driving them apart, simply feed lust’s fire. Consumed by her conflicting feelings for Pieter, Marjit has these thoughts:
I want to whirl with you…. I want to abandon everything I know and be lost in the endless night of your body. And, afterwards, I want to crawl with you on the Earth like a worm and fornicate with you like the beasts in the fields.
It’s worth mentioning here that women were forbidden from whirling in front of an audience as religious conservatives considered it a sin. Even gentle, inclusive Sufism had its blind spots.
The revolving of the dervishes is said to reflect the physical state of all of existence. Blood revolves through the body. The earth revolves around the sun. Electrons revolve around the nucleus of an atom. Of course people didn’t know a great deal about orbits of planets or indeed about electromagnetism back then, but it just goes to show they were on to something.
Sometimes religions intuit truths science later reveals. Zoroaster predicted indoor lighting, planes and cars (plus of course the birth of Christ). Christ promised to return. Some say he already has. Twice.