The following accounts treat an important, and well-nigh ubiquitous, type of Ottoman Muslim saint, the majdhūb (meczûb in Ottoman Turkish), the ‘divinely attracted or drawn one.’ For a longer explanation of this ‘mode’ of sainthood, see this post of mine from a while back. One of the chapters of my forthcoming dissertation will consist of a detailed history and analysis of majdhūb sainthood, as well. The two accounts below represent the different ways and environments in which this ‘immersive’ saintly identity could operate, across the diverse lands of the Ottoman Empire. The first, from an Arabic biographical compilation from the mid-17th century, treats the arguably most important and well known majdhūb saint in the Ottoman world, Abū Bakr ibn Abū al-Wafā’ al-Majdhūb (d. 991/1583), of Aleppo. The dervish complex and mazār (place of visitation or shrine) that grew up during his lifetime and especially after his death still stands, having gone from being on the outskirts of the city to well enveloped within it, a monument to the centrality this strange and powerful saint took on both during and after his life on earth (for more on this saint and his legacy, see Watenpaugh, Heghnar Zeitlian. “Deviant Dervishes: Space, Gender, and the Construction of Antinomian Piety in Ottoman Aleppo.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37, no. 4 (2005): 535–65). In the story I have translated we see the saint’s intervention in one of most dangerous and pressing situations in any pre-modern society, the threat of drought- with the mere suggestion that drought might be imminent enough to send local markets into a price-raising frenzy, as noted in this story. The saint’s strange behavior- open to all manner of interpretation- is also displayed here, out of a long list of stories of strange and far more shocking action than manifested here.

The second story comes from an Ottoman Turkish (though in a very colloquial register) collection of lives of saints of Istanbul, focused on the early 18th century but stretching back to the early years of the Ottoman polity, and full of ‘divinely attracted’ saints, this form of sainthood seemingly having become established in Istanbul at some point in the 17th century if not somewhat earlier. The meczûb saint featured here, Taslak Dervîş Mustafâ (d. 1128/1716) is especially curious: originally a Bektaşî initiate, he evidently lived or at least spent a good deal of his time in the Üskudar tekke- sufi lodge- of Naṣûḥî Efendi, a saintly shaykh and eponym of a localized Ottoman ṭarīqa (sufi path or ‘order’) from within the larger Halveti lineage. He wanted to become a meczûb, and eventually did, spending most of his time in a state of ‘immersion’- which could cause him to ‘manifest’ some strange and remarkable states, as described in this story. Interestingly, though I am not yet sure what to make of it, fire and its manipulation for producing ‘liminal’ experiences is a recurring theme in his life.

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[My father] related to me that [one year] it failed to rain, so [Qāḍī] ‘Alī Efendī ordered my father to go out to supplicate for rain, but, asking him to be patient, [my father] said, ‘If God wills, God will send the rain. If we supplicate for rain during a month of no rain, prices will rise [I.e., the public prayers for rain will signal to the markets drought, causing prices to rise].’ The qāḍī listened to him. Then my father went forth to Shaykh Abū Bakr to ask him for help in seeking the rain, but before he reached the shaykh’s place the shaykh rose and turned, not towards my father coming towards him, but towards the mazār of Shaykh Bayram, stopping before the māzar. He recited the Fatiha in a chanting manner, per its arrangement, different from his custom, as he used to recite it without the [proper] arrangement. Then he said, ‘O God give us to drink as succor, Deliverer from distress….’ to the end of the traditionally transmitted supplication. The shaykh’s companions did not understand the reason for his doing this. Then he returned and found my father. His anger increased until the people of the majlis were all roiled up. My father was unable to state why he had come. Then my father wanted to leave but he prevented him, saying, ‘Sit!’ Then his eyes gushed with anger, and his face got red. My father wanted to stand but he blocked him from doing so. Then after a long while a little cloud came forth, then a great torrent of rain fell! The shaykh took to dancing and clapping, then said to my father: ‘Has your concern been soothed? Arise from us!’ Then my father went forth in the heavy rain, so that his clothes were completely soaked.

ʻUrḍī, Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar. Maʻādin al-dhahab fī al-aʻyān al-musharrafah bi-him Ḥalab. ʻAmmān: Markaz al-Wathāʼiq wa-al-Makhṭūṭāt, al-Jāmiʻah al-Urdunīyah, 1992, p. 50.
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One day in winter the air was especially cold with the season’s chill, and the saint [Taslak Dede] was in his room lying down. Because the air had reached utmost cold, they brought one or two handfuls of wood and ten kıyye of coals, saying, ‘Taslak Dede ought not feel cold!’ But as the fire blazed up with the fuel, Taslak Dede stood up and filled his tobacco-pipe. As the fire needed stoking, in that very moment divine immersion (istiǧrâk) overtook him completely and he began to address his pipe, saying, ‘If he fell with his pipe into the midst of the fire, could he lie in it for an hour, or longer?’ We scattered about inside the room, as more than half his body and face were entirely within the flame, so three or four of us took hold of him and with force pulled him out of the fire. But his flesh, his dervish coat (hırka), and his dervish cap (sikke) were completely unharmed, and his pipe, in his left hand, had dropped to his left side and was entirely within the fire, yet was unharmed. Picking him up we place him on a cushion. For the course of three hours he remained in divine immersion. Afterwards, ‘Eyvallah! Eyvallah!’ he cried, and stood up, and once again we began conversing with him (sohbete başladık). Many strange and marvelous things such as this were made manifest through him.

Enfî Hasan Hulûs Halvetî, Mustafa Tatçı, and Musa Yıldız. Tezkiretü’l-müteahhirîn: XVI. – XVIII. asırlarda İstanbul velîleri ve delileri. İstanbul: MVT Yayıncılık, 2007, p. 110.

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Boukoleon

We skirted the fencing, no trace of official care
Here. Up above, marble framed portals,
For balconies long crumbled
Where the purple-robed gazed upon the Marmara,
Hang on, to the end of time, Constantine’s return.
Below, across this ruined threshold
The stench is strong. Human debris, traces, wreckage.
The years have not been kind,
The present years least of all. Behind us, tour buses idle. Dogs
Wander and loll. In this sunsick city for the
First time in days, grey clouds
Skiff down. The waves across Kennedy Boulevard
Lick the shore, slicked and black in the lowing light.
If there are any Byzantine ghosts here, they keep close
To the earth, don’t raise a sound. The walls are charred.
We leave as quickly as we came.
‘The future slips imperceptibly away,
Who can say what the years will bring?’ says Tu Fu,
Surveying a similar scene,
Knowing what all who wander ruins know. I bow
My head, trying to remember. Our years,
Spare and thin, meet with the ruins. We cannot
Remember.

Autumn

My body slips further and further along, its
Numbered days receding. This is always known—
We come forth in fear, so already close to death.
These gyres turn and turn, that river of flux flows
Me closer, how I start to feel it. The rot and ruin. Yet,
I gather flowers from the roadside in autumn, and am glad.

Spending part of the summer in Istanbul, and briefly in Bosnia. More posts from my time here to follow, but for now, some poetry that’s come out of my stay, nothing very refined, just jottings, for now.

Nocturne, Pera, Istanbul

Lights fall. Ten thousand shards of ten thousand voices
Of the ten thousand things, but now all I hear is a muezzin’s cry. Punctuation.
On the long shelves of the night, the volumes shuffle
And rearrange, waiting the next reader.
Tight taunt bodies move and move without, there where
Under Galata’s tower old Pera sleeps, some bright faced, others wasted, they spin,
No worries for old men in the slumber of the dead. The Mevlevi house
Lies silent, though the cats roam, and the Commentator’s spirit
Hovers, listening. In the heart of all this ten thousanded place,
Volumes are being written, and others turn to dust, I breathe it in,
As I wind back, return, my brief reverie listing. Make
The eroded scrapings my evening bread, somber, clear eyed and tired.
A bass line pulses my
Window, ever so slightly. My mind follows the metro stairs down, down
Into the storied ground, saints and sinner jostle.
A busker packs up, his coins jingle. The muezzin
Winds it down, another light goes out, the alley’s all dark. Signs
And significances, the bar hoppers and the Qur’an on the wind,
Yes, yes, so, dear city eternally departing, sleep well.

Route-taking on Uludag, Which was Once Mt. Olympus

Down from the spent mine tailings, over
The resurge of growth and green, snowmelt waters falling
The clink and chime of the sheep’s bells, and the sheep dogs
Scent me, growl and bark from across the low-slung junipers
Snaking down the slope. The dogs
Are in slow retreat, back towards the herd, moving up towards
The old mine, a late century wreck, scarring, broken stones, dumped, gashes.
Costs outweighed profits. Above the sheep, higher up, snowbanks,
Also in retreat, August only a day off. I swat flies from my legs, insatiable
Creatures, until I reach the ridgecrest, and the sweep of the mountain’s
Winds, a relief. Down below, nomads’ tents. The state, capital,
Our collective inhumanity, flit through my mind. The big gashes.
But a thousand years from now, those gashes will be gone, and the thin,
Eternal traces of shepherds in the mountains, summer snow fields receding,
Will endure. One day the world will change, and glaciers will again creep out
From these cols, swallow the marks of our mechanical sins.
I take comfort in the thought, and move on.

To the unknown Armenian woman pulled from the ruins of the Great Beyoǧlu Fire, 1870

Some of the bodies they found cisterned, waterlogging, still burned.
Yours, under the rubble buried, not even the
Hope of a refuge found. The place, known, but you,
Your name is erased for us. It too has burned up in the embers. Still burning,
Those flames, how many names, how many names consumed? Yes.
This world we stand on
Is built on the names lost and singed, its bones are the forgotten bones
Of the crushed down dead, ashes and dust and souls, the cementing.
The tram clanks down Istiklal, a rock band in tow, summer nights, and all.
No monuments with your name on them. Do
Those old cisterns, charred, no salvation for the wretched, still ring
With those other sounds? I wonder as I fall asleep, paces, perhaps,
Away, comfortable, my fires all grown old, and cold.

For John Berryman, an Imitation

Man color and noise its all washed out look
Pale like the skin under my hand under my breath yesterday’s
Peripheral memory logged and lost lost lost never worth keeping.
Shoot.
Yes. Henry yes I said your footsteps are still there. Yes Mr Bones.
Whats the good of all this noise under the noise?
Whats the good of this other speak slow-and-measured?
Why Henry wrote is the question and why you read
Let it man,
Let.

The following effusive description of Ottoman Constantinople/Istanbul is from the pen of Timothy Gabashvili, a Georgian cleric who embarked, in the mid 18th century, on a long journey across the Ottoman realms visiting sacred sites, various Orthodox communities, and other sights and places along the way, all of which he would later describe in his Georgian-language record of his pilgrimage. Timothy’s perspective is a somewhat unique one: Georgia in the mid 18th century was still within the Ottoman orbit, but was being aggressively courted by an expansive Russian empire. Timothy himself had previously visited Moscow and the new city of St. Petersburg. Yet in much of his narrative his treatment of the Ottomans is remarkably positive- all of his interactions with Ottoman officials were amiable and productive, and the relationships he managed to forge enabled the success of his pilgrimage. In a relatively few short years- unbeknownst to Timothy or anyone else- the Ottoman world would change a great deal, and a pilgrimage of this sort, and the relationships that made it possible, would be forever lost. In 1756, however, a pious Georgian pilgrim could still feast and drink with Muslim Ottoman notables, and wax poetic in praise of the the Ottoman incarnation of the City of cities.

Panorama of Istanbul, Ottoman, late 18th – early 19th century, 58 x 27.1 cm, SHM 12449 – İ.1285 / From the Sadberk Hanım Museum, Istanbul

*

Now, I’ll say something about the city of Constantinople. The lure of the city’s radiance has spread its beauty to distant parts of the world and even the capitals, because in no other place can one find Asia and Europe together. Among them, running down from the Black Sea, there flows a narrow sea like a river. It runs, with spouts of foam. Constantinople is founded on it and on the mountains by the hand of Sabaoth. The mountains are lavishly covered with spruce trees and Lebanese cypresses. The city has been built on both sides of the sea that flows in a narrow stream. The structure of the walls, the towers and the battlements are splendidly coloured. The windows of the palaces sparkling in different ways, resembled Eden.

Some of the palaces, vaults and bazaars of the city were covered with lead, the gilded roofs of the palaces and springs shone like the sun shining on the city, and the colour of other buildings in the city was scorched clay, or purple, a hue also like the sunset. The ships in the city stood erect like the trunks of poplar trees. Among the groves of selvinu, ghaji, and cypress trees, there was a glimpse of the royal palaces, and the buildings were veiled in the forest of pine and spruce groves. This capital seemed to me like the brightest among the stars, like a rose among the flowers of Eden, like a jacinth among the precious emeralds, like the rainbow in the clouds, and Augustus Caeser among the kings. I found it very difficult and sad to be leaving Constantinople, as I, who had come here after a great many sufferings and hardships, would never see it again. My eyes and my mind competed in emotion when viewing this marvelous city

Timothy Gabashvili, Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, 1755-1759, trans. by Mzia Ebanoidze and John Wilkinson