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Daniel C. Orey  

mathmatician, reviews, photographs, U.S.A. / Brazil

"These angels are from an end of the year assembly when I showed
up at a school where I am doing research here in Ouro Preto."
Photograph by Daniel Orey, 9 December 2005.

He keeps a blog of travels and photographs here: and here

I am an ethnomathematician. I enjoy studying the patterns in the world around me. Art forms influenced by geometry are particularly fascinating, and whenever I have the opportunity to observe examples of sacred geometry in particular, I am greatly enchanted. This is what has occurred recently through a project designed to bring people together to share in a sacred tool that is both ancient and modern at the same time.

I had first heard of the labyrinth from an interview on National Public Radio, with Lauren Artress, cannon for special ministries at Grace Cathedral. I had a chance to visit the labyrinth a few weeks later on a trip I made to San Francisco to obtain visas for a trip to Brazil.

The labyrinth (approximately 10.5 meters in diameter) is a design on a carpet (inside the

cathedral), in stone (outside), or hand-painted on canvas (as in Sacramento). The pattern used is a replica of the labyrinth found embedded in the floor at Chartres Cathedral, France. In Sacramento the symbols of other religions are placed about the outside of the labyrinth - there is a small cross, a small angel, a Menorah, a Hindu goddess, a small Buddha, some crystals, and always many, many candles and flowers. The feeling of ecumenism is profound...

There is something else that occurs after a number of walks. On the first visit, I was preoccupied with staying on the path, and easily distracted. After a few more tries, I came to see that by letting go, by focusing on my own footsteps, I could enjoy the people around me. One easily bumps into other people - sometimes we wait, sometimes we take turns letting someone else pass - there is the gentle smile, the quiet gesture. At other times you quickly pass someone - each person is in their own place, pace, and space - as it were. There is no right or wrong, here. Some can be extremely impatient, and need to get to the center as soon as they can, others walk equally slow, breathing very carefully with each step. One senior citizen became confused and upon reentering, was helped by her daughter. At another time, there was a blind woman who walked arm in arm with a partner. In Sacramento, there is the woman who at each turn silently raises her hands in praise, in a fashion one might see in an evangelical church. One cannot help but feel a sense of unconditional love, energy, or healing and the letting go happening around you...

Excerpt from Arts Dialogue, June 1999, pages 14 - 15

Mevlana: The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey

review by
Daniel C. Orey, Sacramento, California.

It was with anticipation that my partner and I enjoyed, along with approximately 1300 other patrons of the Worldstage Series, the recent performance of the Mevlana - the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. A newspaper review mentioned that many people who attended their performances were moved by the religious ritual. Kabir Helminski was an extremely talented narrator and translator of much of the poetry, verses and ceremonies. He explained that the ceremony was a ´refreshment of the living soul´ for those performing it, and by all accounts, it was not only the dancers who left refreshed.

The evening began with a brief recitation of poetry from Rumi, after which the themes of the music and choral portions were shared with the audience. The music and the ritual of whirling are true aspects of the mystical branch of Islam, Sufism, and are based on the teaching and writings of the philosopher-poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) and of the Qur'án. Rumi taught that dance, music and poetry can be avenues to a state of transcendence, and can actually be channels of Divine Grace. The dance as performed here by the Mevlevi, seeks a liberation of the soul, and symbolizes a trip to heaven.

The evening was much more than an opportunity to witness an exotic religious rite or custom. It instead became a glimpse into another culture and belief system. The instruments reverberated with a universality of tune and beat of the drum. The Mevlevi Ensemble consisted of an orchestra of 13 members, and used Turkish versions of the violin, lute, flute and drum. The ensemble employed eight singers, who sang in unison. The most impressive of these singers, Kani Karaca, besides being one of the two drummers, was also blind. About half way through the 40 minute non-stop musical performance of the first half, he suddenly burst into song, with what the local newspaper critic referred to as, ´such vehement force, breaking the regularity of the music with a free-ranging melody of his own, that sounded like improvisation´. His phrasing and feeling was reminiscent of Spanish flamenco singers, with the intensity of African American gospel singing.

In the second half, as part of the ceremony, Karaca delivered an equally forceful solo. Without understanding the words, one easily felt their spirit and power, as they were delivered with true force and might. But this time, his voice could almost have been a Gregorian chant. He was chanting words from the Qur'an, and they were listed in the program as "Qur'an Reciter". His were extremely moving recitations, which transformed the audience.

The second half of the program began with the quiet, reverent entrance of the two leaders, who placed red lamb skins at the far side of the stage. The ensemble, wearing black outer garments, lined up at the far side and bowed reverently to the leaders, who acknowledged them with equal bowing, before moving around the stage in a counter clockwise motion. The frequent bowing in respect to each other symbolized the acknowledgement of the soul in each person. After removing the outer black garments, the men bowed to the floor and stood in unison, and then bowed reverently, as each of the nine dervishes began to whirl with ritualistic fervor. The whirling demonstrated a certain "unity in diversity" that this friend of the Faith greatly admired. Each dancer, although wearing the same clothing and dancing in the same fashion, managed to exhibit a certain individuality - a slightly different speed, angle of the head or upraised hand - which was beautiful and both individual and uniform all at the same time.

We were equally moved by the spiritual sensuousness of the ritual. Although a very masculine event, one cannot help but notice the feminine quality of the movements at the beginning of each of the four whirling sessions, and of the actual ´robes´ themselves. Both the sensual and spiritual aspect of this ritual lends a certain beauty - not existing in either Europe or North America - that exhibits a definite transformative appeal to the observer.

At the end of intermission and as part of the introduction and explanation of the ceremony, Kabir Helminski asked that we refrain from applause at the end of the evening. It was deeply moving to see the curtain slowly close as the house lights came up, and the audience leave in a quiet and altered state, deep in reflection, and in respect for the ceremony...

Excerpt from Arts Dialogue, June 1997, pages 4 - 5

  • Article: Interacting with Sacred Geometry: the Labyrinth, Arts Dialogue, June 1999
  • Review: Mevlana, the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, Arts Dialogue, June 1997

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