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Peace and the Dianic Sufi

We stand at the doorway of spiritual revolution. We walk on the fringes of tradition, cross between the worlds of patriarchy and ecstasy. We pray, we dance, we chant Zikr, we celebrate the cycles of the moon and the turning of the seasons. We are a very select but ever growing group of women. We are Dianic Sufis.

You may wonder how I reconcile my Sufism with my Dianic practice. How can someone who honors a pantheon of Goddesses also practice within the most monotheistic of traditions?

I don't blame you; my mind continues to struggle with the paradoxical elements of my spiritual practice. Fortunately, sometimes the fates bless me with an experience that fills my heart and overrides my doubts -- like the workshop called Spirit and Matter: The Dance of Life, led by the awesome Sufi Teacher, Sheikha Tasnim Fernandez [2]. The focus of the weekend was the dance between Goddess/God as imminent and transcendent, us as manifest but still mystical beings, and the lessons we can find in and beyond the natural world. She focused on teachings from the Sufi tradition; as I listened beyond the surface of these teachings I realized that I was ready to hear why it is both possible and acceptable for me to make my home in these two spiritual communities.

Reflecting on the teachings shared by Sheikha Tasnim, I identified four main themes:

  1. Divine Inheritance / Mysticism
  2. Goddess/God as imminent and transcendent
  3. The nature of nature; nature as teacher
  4. The call to walk both the Dianic and the Sufi path

Connections began to form. I started a search for other Sufi/Goddess women. I found Sufi/Goddess websites around the world by women from Australia to Brazil, the US to the UK. Some sites hide within the phrase "Divine Feminine" instead of the Goddess; others are blatantly pagan Goddess or Buddhist, such as Green Tara. Whatever the details of the site, they all celebrate women who serve both the Mother and the path of the heart. It will take more than one essay to define and expand upon the web of distinct ideas arising from Tasnim's teachings and my research. I will attempt to tackle them in reverse order, starting with the ways one form of Sufism in the West has developed elements that naturally embrace Dianic practice. As the ideas move from my head to my heart over the next few months, more will be revealed and I will investigate how these paths can support and enhance each other.


INVOCATION

Towards the One
The Perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty
The Only Being United with all the illuminated souls
Who form the embodiment of the Mother,
The Spirit of Guidance.
Amin [1]

In my spiritual life, my heart leads me to walk both spiritual paths, ignoring the resistances of my mind's 'better judgment'. I have come to know and love the Goddess/Allaht/ and Allah/the God as my Beloved. Until I know and love Her as Beloved within myself, until I see my reflection as Her reflection in the mirror of my heart, I cling to separation. In doing so, I delude myself into thinking I am free of the responsibility of accepting and embracing my Divine inheritance -- the path of the mystic.

Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought a Euro/US version of Sufism from India into the West, writes that mystics are born as mystics[3]. We are born with the ability to see beyond the surface of life, to hear poetry in the wind and songs in the rhythms of the office photocopier. There is much written about the difficulty of the path of the mystic. Like the path of the Dianic priestess, it carries a history of prejudice and persecution. In spite of this, suffering is not intrinsic to mysticism. Suffering occurs because of the resistance to one's true nature or because of society's resistance to the true nature of justice and spiritual experience.

It is true that Sufism around the world is a spiritual path derived from patriarchal doctrine, a tradition that has predominately-male leaders and Teachers. The mind likes to focus on this, which makes the Path difficult for some women. However, democracy of the heart can override the mind. Pir Zia Hazrat Khan, the present leader of the Sufi Order International, said in a recent lecture:

I believe that every spiritual tradition has as an essential component the attunement of the divine feminine, but very often, that is not so strongly felt, perhaps due to concessions to popular culture in civilizations that have a patriarchal heritage. For the most part, urban civilizations have had a patriarchal ethos, and for that reason one finds that even among spiritual traditions, which ultimately resonate very deeply with the feminine, these aspects are suppressed.[4]

Hazrat Inayat Khan knew about the importance of women in leadership. From the beginning of the movement, a large percentage of the mureeds (students) were women, which is true in most Sufi Movement/Order gatherings today. Pir Zia quotes his grandfather Hazrat Inayat Khan, "I see as clear as daylight that the time has come when women will lead humanity on to a higher evolution."[5] In the early 1900s, way ahead of his time, he surrounded himself with women who were mystics and spiritual leaders in their own right. He initiated and trained women like Rabia Martin, his first mureed who was a Murshida (teacher); Murshida Sophia Saintsbury-Green, who was in many ways the co-creator with Hazrat Inayat Khan of the Universal Worship; Madar al-Maham (the leader of a school of the tradition), Sherifa Goodenough, who was the Murshid of the esoteric school, and Murshida Fazal Mai Egeling. This makes sense sociologically, because then, as now, there are few places which encourage women to become spiritual leaders and even fewer promoting the embrace of a direct contact with the divine and the claiming of their Divine inheritance as mystics.

Sent by his teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan brought 'the Sufi message' to the West. He was a missionary, but it was not an evangelical mission, for people cannot be coerced into this path; it is a path of attraction, the heart comes willingly or not at all. It is a path where the walker is directed only by love and longing. This longing is deeply personal, poets have tried to explain it, but it cannot be taught, for hearts cannot be conscripted. Similarly, in the Dianic tradition, any conversion is directly personal. When we awake to the call of the Goddess, we begin to see Her all around us. When we see Her through the eyes of our hearts, we let go of the need to define Her with our minds. All over the world, women are beginning to reconcile the call of the Goddess with the call of the Sufi heart. Dakini Lynn Marlow, a Sufi leader and coordinator of the Chrysalis Connection, the Feminine Council of the Sufi Order, writes:

It is in the heart of each one of us that the essence of Sufism and Feminine Spirituality lives. It is in every moment, in each thought, word, and action that this essence manifests in our lives. Both Sufism and Feminine Spirituality honor and encourage full expression of our humanity. Sufism and Feminine Spirituality value individuation and relatedness, love and authenticity.[6]

As we continue to open, we let go of fear. We let go of what others think of us. We begin to 'come out' as our authentic selves, cracking the hard shell containing our Divine inheritance.


SALAT

Most gracious Lady,
Maiden, Crone and Mother of Humanity,
We greet thee with great rejoicing!
Thou art the fertile earth and the deep waters,
The sun, the moon and the starry heavens,
The One in all.
Thy life is in all forms, thy love in all beings:
In a loving parent, in a kind friend, in an innocent child.
In a helpful animal, in a healing plant.
Allow us to recognize thee in all thy holy names and forms:
As Tara, as Sarasvati, as Kali, as Kuan Yin.
Let us know thee as Gaia, as Isis, as Inanna, as Hecate, as Artemis, as Mary.
[Let us know thee as Yemaya, as Rainbow Serpent, as Pele, as Sedna, as Our Mother Corn, as Ix Chel;]
And in many other names and forms, known and unknown to the world.
We adore thy past;
Thy presence deeply enlightens our being;
And we look for Thy blessing in the future.

O Persephone, Queen, lost and returned daughter of the Great Mother,
Thou whose heart constantly reacheth outward!
Thou returnest to life with a message:
That as life ends in death, so death gives birth to life,
As the flower is the outcome of the seed
And the seed is in the heart of the flower.
Let the star of the divine light shining in thy heart
Be reflected in the hearts of thy devotees.
May the Message of Joy reach far and wide,
Illuminating, and making the whole of humanity
As one single being in the vastness of the Goddess.
Amin

"Sufism is based on experience, not on premises". (Imam al-Ghazzali)[7]

I work with Sufi Teachers and I work with Dianic Teachers. They are people who have received direct heart transmissions of their lineage. They have accepted responsibility for carrying and sharing the wisdom they received from their Teachers. We have a covenant, a contract. In a way, by pledging to work together, the Teacher takes responsibility for my karmic debt and I share theirs. A great Teacher leaves her esoteric imprint upon the hearts and the lives of her students.

Both traditions ask me to practice perfect love and perfect trust. They ask that I respond to the world from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. As I walk in the world and come across the face of ignorance or anger, they ask me not to react, but rather to consider another point of view. "What did I do to elicit such a response?" They tell me it is my responsibility to be full, complete. They ask me to sit as this body, at the axis where movement of life and the stillness of Divine inheritance meet. They ask that I live as this body in the reality of being that which is Her, that which is manifest and that which is infinite and imminent.

Opening to this imminence in our daily lives and focusing with intent the healing magic of the natural world is fundamental to both Dianic and Sufi practice. As the point of view expands so does the ability of the heart to magnify unifying factors. Through daily practice, prayer, dance, song and spell-work we become able to enlarge our experience of the presence of the Goddess, as we begin to look at the world with the heart of a Sufi.

'The Sufi', says Inayat Khan, 'sees the truth in every religion. The Sufi's true temple, the true mosque, is the human heart, in which the divine Beloved lives. Sufism is a religion if one wants to learn religion from it; it is a philosophy if one wants to learn wisdom from it; it is mysticism if one wants to be guided by it in the unfoldment of the soul; and yet it is beyond all these things. It is the light of life which is the sustenance of every soul. It is the Message of Love, Harmony, and Beauty. [8]

Hazrat Inayat Khan introduced a series of prayers that are the foundation of this daily practice, invocations for the ability to live by these esoteric expectations. In their original form, I have felt the power of their transmission beneath the patriarchal language. However, when I say these prayers translated from the perspective of the divine masculine to the divine feminine, I feel the communication of the Mother directly to my Dianic Sufi heart, and I know peace.

Notes

  1. Text and prayer revisions © 1997 by Elizabeth Aziza Parsch, Lincolnshire, IL, USA.
  2. Siraj Tasnim Fernandez was initiated into the way of the Sufis by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan in June 1971 and serves the Sufi Order International as a Representative and Center Leader, a Healing Conductor, and as a minister (cherag) of the Universal Worship. Rev. Tasnim was ordained by Pir Vilayat as a Siraj in November 2000. This ordination enables and authorizes her to train and to ordain new ministers of the Universal Worship
  3. Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, The Mysticism of Sound and Music, Shambhala; Revised edition (September 3, 1996) Courtesy of www.churchofall.us/.
  4. A Commentary by Pir Zia Inayat Khan, Sufi Order International, 21 Praises of Tara at The Abode, June 3, 2001.
  5. ibid.
  6. Dakini Lynn Marlow, M.A, Feminine Spirituality and Sufism.
  7. Courtesy of Church of All.
  8. A Sketch of the Life of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan

Graphics Credits

  • Dianic Sufi, © 2004 Nano Boye Nagle. All rights reserved.
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