Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


Caravanserai Magazine
1989 No.3

Published semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement by the Sufi Movement in Canada, a registered non-profit society.

Editor in chief: Nawab Pasnak; Design & Layout: Sufia Sill
Editorial Board: Virya Best, Ameen Carp, Joan Gaisford, Hidayat Inayat Khan, Nawab Pasnak, Karima Sengupta, Karimbakhsh Witteveen

This Issue:

The Mystical Meaning of Breath
by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan

Teachings of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan on Esotericism
interpreted by Hidayat Inayat Khan

The Role of Women in Sufism
by Petra-Beate Schildbach

The Aptitude of Women for the "Lamb's War"
by Nuria J. Lawrence

"Like a Pearl in the Heart"
by Ameen Carp

Tales Told and Retold: Once Upon a Time
by Hidayat Inayat Khan

Murshid's Words
by Shaikh-ul-Mashaikh Mahmood Khan

The Altar of the Heart
by Nawab Pasnak

About Three Day's Retreat
by Roshan Buwalda

Poems by Sharif Bryan Robinson

Earth & Sky: C

The Music of Shaikh-ul-Mashaikh Pyromir Maheboob Khan

Notes on the Symbology of the Sacred Element Ritualby
Sufia Carol Sill

Back pages

Dear Fellow Travelers,
In putting together this third issue of Caravanserai, I have the strong and happy impression that it is our best yet. In part this may come just from experience. Perhaps we are getting better at making a magazine! But I also believe that it reflects a vigorous surge of activity and expression that is pouring forth from Sufis around the world. I felt this very strongly at the International Summer School last August, where the fragrant perfumes of work in different cultures and languages mingled delightfully. And if this perception is correct, it is certainly not before its time. As evidence of this blooming, we have in our pages three articles arising from the Summer School, including a very informative lecture by Shaikh-ul-Mashaik Mahmood Khan and some interesting reflections on her own retreat by Roshan Buwalda; two articles about women — Women and Sufism by Petra-Beate Schildbach, and a look at the role of women in Quaker theology by Nuria Lawrence, an article which has much relevance to Sufi thought; we have a powerful condensation by Hidayat Inayat Khan of the thoughts of Murshid on esoteric study, as well as a talk by Murshid on breath; we conclude our two part series by Sufia Sill on the Elements; we also are privileged to have a song by Shaikh-ul-Mashaik Maheboob Khan and some fine work by the English poet, Sherif Bryan Robinson. My personal favorite, though, is Murshid-Zade Hidayat's personal memories of his childhood in our Tales Told and Retold section. By any standard, this was a most extraordinary childhood, and as Murshid-Zade says, its priceless worth becomes brighter as it recedes in the past. The recollections, therefore, are almost too tender to put in print, but at the same time they communicate too much through words and atmosphere to be veiled, and we are grateful to be able to include them.The next Caravanserai will be out in May of 1990. As always, we would be very happy to hear from anyone as to the events — personal or Sufic — in your area. We like articles, but we like news, too. And art. And music. And poetry. As good students of the Sufi path, we'll appreciate anything — if only you'll actually send it to us... Warmest regards, hearty greetings, and best wishes for your travels from the Caravanserai...

Nawab Pasnak


1989 Volume 3. Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan. "The Mystical Meaning of Breath"

The breath is what connects us with God, and the breath connects us also with manifestation. We are conscious that the breath reaches a certain distance without, and we are conscious that it enters into our bodies a certain distance, but we are not conscious how far without it goes, nor are we conscious how far it enters into our bodies.

As long as the breath is in the body, the body is alive; and when the breath has left the body, the body becomes a useless thing. This shows us the importance of the breath.

It reaches within to every part of the body. The hair has a little sensation in the root. If one hair is pulled, we feel pain. The nail has a little feeling in it. If it is cut, we feel it. But when the hair and nail are cut off, they have no sensation. This shows us that the more any part of the body is connected with the breath, the more sensation it has. Those parts that are most connected with the breath have the most feeling.

There is no aim that cannot be accomplished by the breath, and if we fail to accomplish our aim, it is because we have a thousand different aims before us, not one alone. It becomes very difficult in the world where attacks come from a thousand sides. The breath goes out to meet an attack from one side, and instantly it has to turn to another side to face another attack. It would have to turn to every side in the same moment, and this it cannot do. This is the reason of the failure even of the sages and saints and mystics.

There is no other aim worth attaining than God. Other objects may seem valuable for a moment, but in reality no object is of value save God, to realize Him, to reach Him and to be blessed. But in order to train ourselves, we may set some object before us and keep it before us until, by the breath, we have attained it. We must keep our mind fixed towards one point, as the needle of the compass is turned towards one point. The difficulty is to keep the one object of our desire before us. When we are aiming at this, another illumination calls us from here, another intellect from there, another wisdom from a fourth side. If we turn to these, the object before us may remain as an imagination, but in reality it is gone.

By concentrating on the breath, a person can tell what element is passing through him at the moment, and by consulting the breath he can tell the present and future.

As the books, precepts and doctrines of his religion are important to the follower of a religion, so the study of the breath is important to the mystic. We ordinarily think of the breath as that little air that we feel coming and going through our nostrils; but we do not think of it as that vast current that goes through everything, that current which comes from the Consciousness and goes as far as the external being, the physical world. In the Bible it is written that first the word was, and from the word all things came. And before the word was the breath, which made the word. We see that a word can make us happy, a word can make us sorry. There is a story that once a Sufi was healing a child that was ill. He repeated a few words, and then gave the child to the parents, saying, "Now he will be well." Someone who was antagonistic to this said to him, "How can it be possible that by a few words spoken anyone can be healed?" From a mild Sufi an angry answer is never expected, but this time he turned to the man and said, "You understand nothing about it. You are a fool." The man was very much offended. His face was red. He was hot. The Sufi said, "When a word has the power to make you hot and angry, why should not a word have the power to heal?"

Behind the word is the much greater power, the breath. If a person wishes to study the self, to know the self, what is important is not the study of the mind, of the thought, the imagination, nor of the body, but the study of the breath. The breath has made the mind and the body for its expression. It has made all, from the vibration to the physical atoms, from the finest to the grossest. The breath, the change of the breath can make us sad in the midst of happiness, it can make us joyful in the saddest, the most miserable surroundings. That is why, without reason, in some places we feel glad, in other places a melancholy comes over us. It is the air that makes us so. You may say, "How can the breath make all this? How could it make the body?" I have seen people become in the course of years as their breath is. What exists in the breath is expressed in the form. As the breath is, so the child becomes.

All the elements are in the breath, according to the direction which the breath takes; the earth, water, fire, air and ether. We can taste them in the breath. There are five directions, four outward and one inward. You may say, "What influence can the direction have?" I will say, "If you take a ball and throw it in every direction, the ball will not go equally far at every throw. It will go sometimes farther, sometimes not so far." The direction of the breath makes an effect even in our words. Sometimes we say, "Yes, I see," directly. Sometimes we say, "Yes," sarcastically, "I see," and our head is thrown back, the breath comes obliquely, the effect is quite different. If you say, "We cannot feel, perceive the elements in the breath; we do not know where they are," I will say, "This is a science. It cannot be understood in a moment. It is a study."

You will say, "Is the direction the only thing that has influence upon the breath?" There are two other forces that influence it, the rise and fall. In the jets of water in a fountain, some of the jets rise very high, others less high, others rise only a few inches, according to the force by which they are predestined. So it is with breath.

Regarding the control of the breath, it must be said that reading books cannot give this to anyone. For this, practice is needed. Reading the theory of music cannot make anyone a composer, a singer or a piano player. Ask the composers, the singers, the violinists how much they have to practice. The practice of the breath is very difficult and very arduous. We see the yogis sitting for hours in the same position, standing in the same position, practicing for hours in the night or before dawn. By the control of the breath all things are gained. If a man is a great writer, it is because his breath holds the thoughts that are in his mind. Sandow, by the control of breath, developed ideal muscles. Before the control of the breath is learnt, there is the control of the body. This is gained by the practice of postures and positions. If a small child is trained once in the day to sit still for five minutes or four minutes, not to run about, that gives control. If it is trained not to begin to eat at dinner until everybody eats, that gives control.

The ways of the control of the breath are many. It must be done by the realization of the self. But as long as we think that this body is our self, we cannot realize our self. And often we think not only that our body is our self, but we think that our overcoat is our self. If it is miserable, we think that we are miserable; if it is very grand, we think that we are very grand. It is natural that that which is before our view, we think our self. We always remember the words of our great poetess, Zeb-un-Nisa. She says, "If thou thinkest of the rose, thou wilt become the rose. If thou thinkest of the nightingale, thou wilt become the nightingale. Thou art a drop, and the Divine Being is the whole. While thou are alive, hold the thought of the whole before thee, and thou wilt be then whole."

The mystic always consults his breath, in the evening and in the morning, to know whether it is harmonious with the sun, with the moon and the planets. He is always conscious of the breath. For this the Sufi gives a lesson, to be always conscious of the breath. My spiritual teacher, my murshid, once said, "People say that there are many sins and virtues, but I think there is only one sin." I asked, "What is that?" He said, “To let one breath go without being conscious of it." This is done by concentration.

We say that the hand is in control when it can grasp something and hold the thing in its grasp. The fingers, we say, are in control when they move up and down the piano; when they strike B when B is wanted; they do not strike E. Control is in repose and activity both. Sometimes we find that we have become angry, we have become impatient, we have lost control of our mind. Before control of the mind is lost, the control of the breath is lost.

More than a thousand times since I have been in the West, people have said to me, "We cannot control our mind. We cannot keep our mind fixed on one point." The first step is to lessen the activity of the mind. When the thoughts come more slowly, this is the first step. And the first thing is to control the breath, to make it slow and regular. By this the breath of the body is improved, and the health of the mind.

In the Qur'an, it is said, "Surely, we revealed it on the night of Power." What was that night of power to him whose whole life was revelation? It was the sending of breath within. It is natural that we always look outward. The breath is directed outward. We see what is outward, we hear what is outward, we taste what is outward, we are touched by what is outward. When the breath is sent within, then a person sees what is within, he hears what is within, he tastes within, he is touched by what is within. When this is done and the breath is purified, the mystics see in it forms and colours which reveal to them the past, present and future. They know the past, present and future of every person whom they see.

But if the control of breath tells him the past, present and future, that is too little. That is not worthwhile. It must tell him more. It must bring him to that unlimited existence from this limited being, to that immortality from this mortal being.

In the account of the miraj it is said that a buraq was brought for Prophet Mohammed to ride, an animal like a horse with a human face. This buraq was the breath, the horse whose rein is in the rider's hand.

If a person exercises the breath and practices concentration with a scientific idea only, he soon becomes tired. He thinks, "Why take so much trouble, for what result?" If it is done with the thought of God, with the repetition of the names of God, then a happiness comes, a bliss, by the thought of the idealized God, in Whom is all perfection, all beauty, the Friend to Whom we can tell our sorrows, all our sorrows, all our troubles. Sa'adi says that in the thought of God there is this blessing, that it draws us every moment nearer to Him.

God bless you.


1989 Volume 3. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Teachings of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan on Esotericism"

The following is a condensation, from a number of sources, of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan's teachings on inner culture and development. Murshid-Zade Hidayat completed his interpretation in 1988. It appears here with minor revisions.

If anyone asks what is esotericism, what are its tenets, what are its principles, what are its dogmas and doctrines, the answer is that if esotericism were to be tangible, then it would not be esotericism. Esotericism must be considered as being something which is beyond understanding, and therefore one would be at a loss to discuss comparative doctrines, dogmas and principles as they may be known in some doctrinal schools, because as already mentioned, esotericism has none, and believes that wisdom does not fit into preformed conceptions.

Inner consciousness is revealed when closing one's eyes to one's limited self, and opening the heart to that God Who is all in all, Who is intelligible and yet at the same time beyond human comprehension. It is the consciousness of God Who is never absent which gives illumination to the soul on its journey through this world of attachments.

What is looked for in the esoteric school of the Sufis? It is a gradual unfoldment of the soul; it is the light shining within oneself which gradually illuminates all around us; it is the joy that one feels in experiencing all the beauty of a sublime horizon which spreads out more and more each day; it is the feeling of greater energy, courage, hope and inner security; all of which makes life become more worth living.

The esoteric exercises which one practices must be considered as a winding, a winding which keeps the inner mechanism going. And if one cannot continue the practices in a regular way, one fails to keep the inner mechanism at a right pitch and in an appropriate rhythm.

A thought which is automatically repeated continues all along in one's subconscious through day and night, notwithstanding sleep or any occupation in which one is involved, and this unconscious persistence of thought brings a beneficial result. One example of this is combining the rhythm of breath with the steps taken while walking and continuously repeating a chosen word (mantram or wazifa) which is pronounced on each step. This practice can bring a much greater benefit than just repeating a sacred word at an appointed hour, and the result is that one reorients one's lines of thought in the direction which corresponds to the significance of the word which one has chosen to repeat.

The breath is the current which runs through all planes of consciousness, channelling life in its physical and mental aspect of our being. Neither body nor mind are in themselves one's life, but it is the breath which unites spirit and matter. The breath could be pictured as an elevator which takes one from one floor to another, as well as being a transmitter sending out thoughts and feelings along the wave-lengths of one's concentration. Breath is in itself all mystery there is.

Impurity of breath turns body and mind impure, whereas purification of breath gives purity to both mind and body. This brings us to the question, how can breath be purified? From a mystical point of view, it is said that when the breath is intentionally focussed on the earth element, the aspect of the breath which corresponds to that element discharges itself of the pollution of the earthly vibrations of the ego, and in return the breath receives the pure energy of the earth element. A similar process occurs with the vibrations of the other elements in the breath — water, fire, air and ether — which render back to the breath purified energy after one has exhaled upon any of these elements the pollution of one's conscious self. Purification of the breath through concentration upon the elements not only offers spiritual help on the esoteric path, but also promotes physical health and vitality as well.

Development of breath does not necessarily mean development of volume, but refers essentially to length of exhalation, fineness of inhalation and ability to direct the breath mentally. The volume of the breath is specially important for athletes, who must master their muscular effort, and for singers, who require a voluminous breath in order to produce a powerful voice, but this is not what is meant when referring to the development of the breath from an esoteric point of view.

Mahadeva, who was the king of the yogis, has said that there is nothing on the face of the earth that cannot be accomplished by mastering the breath. The training of the breath is the first and the last step on the esoteric path. It is of essential importance for the development of physical well-being, as well as providing the support of spiritual thought, in the same way that a copper wire may carry an electric current.

Thought is a power which can be kept under control by directing it upon a given subject, which is understood as being concentration; otherwise, it wanders at its leisure, improvising without any reasonable intent. This wandering can be either constructive, from the point of view of the mind world, which is called imagination, or that same thought could just be running from one subject to another without any logical or constructive consequence, which denotes mental instability. Obviously, it is the power of will which determines the condition of thought.

The will power constitutes, therefore, the intensity of concentration, as well as being the instigator which retrieves the fragments of thought from the storehouse of our memory. It also is the power which holds those fragments together, making out of them one vision, either to concentrate on as a single object, or to elaborate upon, creating from it an unlimited pattern. The will power develops the ability of concentration, whereas conversely, exercising the power of concentration develops the power of will.

One could perhaps say that concentration is the training of the mind by holding in thought the characteristics of a chosen object, whereas contemplation is a more intense level of thought. Contemplation begins when the object of concentration has taken hold of the mind, which is yet still conscious of its individuality, meaning that the principle of duality still applies.

Now, coming to the mystical experience of thought, this is realized through meditation, which can also be considered as a training of the mind. The purpose of this training, however, is to obtain passivity of thought in the loss of self-consciousness, where the principle of duality is now transcended.

The whole universe is based on the principle of rhythm, of which motion is the expression, and since we are ourselves a miniature universe, it is clear that rhythm is the basis of all motion within us. Rhythm, like an inner pendulum, secures the continuity of our breathing, and therefore it is obvious that the quality of the working of our mind and body depends upon the rhythm and the characteristics of our breath.


1989 Volume 3. Petra-Beate Schildbach. "The Role of Women in Sufism"

Caravanserai is grateful to Petra-Beate for arranging the translation of her original German text, which has been slightly condensed for publication.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
It is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak to you; the more so as the subject is, I would almost say, exciting: the role of women in Sufism.

On the one hand, it is as up to date as never before to talk about the status and the role of women. How much is said about this subject nowadays — in different fields and from most different directions — by more or less competent persons!

On the other hand, this subject gives me again the opportunity to speak to you about Sufism, this oldest teaching of wisdom of all, and yet a teaching which is especially the message of our time. Therefore Sufism offers the chance to bring into focus the role played by women when spreading the Sufi Message. And this is what I should like to illustrate in the following.

When preparing this speech I realized that if it is to deal with the role of women, then the role of men cannot be simply disregarded. If men and women should not be regarded in the metaphysical sense anyhow as one, inseparably one, then both belong together so closely that we cannot speak of the one without mentioning the other.

Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, to whom I shall refer later on in more detail, said, "There is a pair of opposites in all things; in each thing there exists the spirit of the opposite."

Here we have one of the many contradictions which belong to the essence of Sufism. Sufism, the teaching of the Oneness in the totality, speaks of opposites. But Sufism is not a teaching which is carefully adjusted and made handy or palatable; it is rather a process, a path, which in itself, step by step, means contradiction and accepts contradiction. Inayat Khan almost tenderly called this the music of the Sufi Message. When he was asked whether Sufism differs from other teachings of wisdom, philosophies, religions, ideologies and creeds, he smiled and answered, "The difference is that it casts away all differences."

By looking more closely at the lives of eight outstanding personalities — all women, as you can imagine — I should like to illustrate some aspects of Sufism for which these women have been living examples.

Let us go back in the history of humanity. Many women have conveyed the Sufi Message; many were known to the world; far more remained unknown. But let us commemorate one woman representative for many others, who was an ardent admirer of God, a mystic, an ascetic, and yet completely human, human almost in its perfection, almost reaching the divine.


Rabia, who lived in the 8th century in Basra, came from a very poor family. She was the fourth daughter of a day-labourer. Presumably, the father was anything but happy to have yet another daughter, a new burden, and she did not even receive a name of her own. Instead, she was simply called Rabia, which means the fourth, the fourth child.

She lost her parents while still a small child, and then was seized by a wicked man, who sold her into slavery. Later, she was released and became a preacher of Sufism, a saint. Her grave is located near Jerusalem.

Farid-ud-Din Attar — who was the author of a book of stories of Sufi saints and mystics and to whom we also owe The Conference of the Birds — tells how one night Rabia, still in slavery, prayed in her room: "O God, Thou knowest that the desire of my heart is in conformity with Thy command and that the light of my eye is in serving Thy court. If the affair lay with me, I would not rest one hour from serving Thee; but Thou Thyself hast set me under the hand of a creature."

So she prayed. And her slave-owner who had watched her through a window saw a light appearing above her head. A light, that filled the whole room. Seeing this, he was frightened and the following day he set her free. From this time on, Rabia spent day and night serving God.

Once, when Rabia had fasted for seven days and not slept for seven nights, she was very hungry. In the evening, a visitor brought her food. Rabia accepted the dish, put it on the floor and went to fetch a candle, but when she returned, the cat had overturned the dish. Then Rabia went to get some water to break her fast. By the time she came back, the candle had gone out. So she wanted to drink the water in the dark, but the jug slipped from her hands and was broken.

Rabia sighed deeply and said, "O God, what is this Thou art doing with Thy helpless servant?" Then she heard a voice: "O Rabia, if you wish, I can give you all goods of the world. But then I would take away from your heart the longing for Me; for both cannot live together in one heart."

When she was asked, "Do you love God?" she answered, "Yes," and when she was asked, "Do you hate the devil?" her reply was, "No." "Why not?" She said, "Because the love for God leaves no room in my heart for any hatred against the devil."

So much in short about Rabia, this Sufi mystic who was intoxicated with God.

Let us now jump to the beginning of this century, to Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, who came from an Indian princely dynasty, and who brought the teaching of Sufism to the Western world. What we owe him, perhaps only later generations will be able to understand fully. Inayat Khan himself emphasized his deep gratitude towards the women who helped him to spread the Sufi Message.

The Begum

I would like to start with his wife, Ora Ray Baker, called Begum. She was the niece of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Against the strongest resistance of her guardian, and after overcoming various other difficulties, with a heart full of love, she followed Inayat Khan from the United States to England, where they married.

Maybe the saying of Inayat Khan — "Through the loving heart of woman manifests Thy Divine grace," — originates from that time.

According to the basic conviction of the Sufis every person has to play his destined role in the fulfillment of God's plan with His creation. The Begum played her role — as the wife of a dervish and mother of four children — with an admirable courage.

In his autobiography Inayat Khan summarized the life of his wife as follows: "In spite of the vast difference of race and nationality and custom, she proved to be a friend through joy and sorrow, proving the idea, which I always believed, that outer differences do not matter when the spirit is in attunement. The tests that my life was destined to go through were not of a usual character, and were not a small trial for her. A life such as mine, which was wholly devoted to the Cause, and which was more and more involved in the ever growing activities of the Sufi Movement, naturally kept me back from that thought and attention which was due to my home and family. Most of the time of my life I was obliged to spend out of home, and when at home, I have always been full of activities; and it naturally fell upon her always to welcome guests with a smile under all circumstances. If I had not been helped by her, my life, laden with a heavy responsibility, would have never enabled me to devote myself entirely to the Order as I have. It is by the continual sacrifice that she has shown her devotion to the Cause."

About the role of women in general Inayat Khan wrote in his book Rasa Shastra, "Each sex is made of the element of the opposite sex; the female born of the seed of the male, and the male moulded in the womb of the female."

And from this follows, "The sexes are dependent upon each other; but of the two, the male is more dependent upon the female than she is upon him. Her position in the scheme of nature is a more responsible one; and the greater the responsibility of a being, the greater is the dependence of the others upon that being. An infant is entirely dependent on the mother from the time that the seed is conceived, to the moment of its breathing the air of the earth.

"The mother can also quiet the child in the first days of its life, because the child is a part of the mother, and therefore the rhythm of the mother's spirit is akin to the rhythm of the child's spirit. The soul that has come from above is received and is reared and taken care of by the mother; and therefore the mother is its best friend. If there is anything that the father can do, it is to help the mother or the guardian to educate the child."

In this connection, the question arises: Principally speaking, should the father or the mother educate the child? Inayat Khan's answer is, "A man's life demands all his attention in his work; the mother is born with the sense of duty towards her child, and therefore the mother has the first right to educate it."

The role of the mother as educator has a wonderful and most important effect: by educating her child, at the same time she educates herself. "The calmness, the quietness, the tenderness, the gentleness, everything the mother cultivates in her nature at that particular time when the infant is nursed, the infant will receive as a lesson in its cradle."

Perhaps I should add a few words — please do not feel alarmed, but it is relevant to our subject — about prostitution from the Sufi point of view. In Inayat Khan's book, Rasa Shastra, we find the following, "East and West, women show the same unrelenting attitude of sternness towards the prostitute; and one reason is that in all countries women are the main upholders of religion, and no great religion has ever permitted prostitution. But the chief reason for this sternness is undoubtedly the truth, unconsciously known to everyone, that although the human being who has never had an ideal is to be pitied, the woman who had had an ideal and has allowed the circumstances of life to break it, has herself thrown away her soul. And it is hard for any woman to tolerate the thought that another woman should be born without an ideal of womanhood."

It is woman's task to keep high the ideal of divinity. It is also for this reason that one always applies a higher standard to what a woman thinks, says and does. Every woman is finally the trustee of all mysticism, as female, as mother, as priest, as prophet, as deliverer of the message, also of the message of Love, Harmony and Beauty.

And let me quote just one word by Inayat Khan to the subject of feminism. "Woman, whom destiny has made to be man's superior, by trying to become his equal, falls beneath his estimation."

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan

The third woman I should like to talk to you about now, is the oldest daughter of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, Noor-un-Nisa, whose name means Light of all Women. Her life seems to me a symbol for a Sufi saint of our time. Noor-un-Nisa was born in Moscow, on January 2, 1914, according to the western calendar. Her first public appearance took place when, on their way back from Moscow to Leningrad, the young parents together with Noor-un-Nisa were surrounded by an angry crowd. "Inayat Khan took the baby from his wife's arms, holding her out for them to see. Every eye travelled from the dark-skinned, priestly figure in the golden robe to the white baby in his arms. ... There was a scraping sound ... and the little party left."

Certainly an important preparation for her specific role in life was the time when Inayat Khan returned to India, and a short time later left this earth. Noor-un-Nisa was then 14 years old. On her shoulders lay the whole responsibility for the family: for her own mother, who, bowed down with grief after the passing away of her beloved husband, lived a totally retired life; and for the two younger brothers and the younger sister. She accomplished this task quite naturally, without complaining. At the same time she was an exceptionally gifted artist. Later she studied at the Musical College in Paris, was a composer and a writer of children's books. She retold the truly heartrending Jataka tales, all dealing with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, that is, one who gives his life for others.

When World War II broke out, Noor-un-Nisa went to England with her family, and here begins the final, essential part of her short life. She volunteered as a radio operator between occupied France and England, and for five months worked behind enemy lines to keep the two countries in contact.

Almost inevitably, she was betrayed and the Gestapo arrested her. To the bitter end, though, she showed unimaginable strength of mind. When a German officer offered to ease the circumstances of her imprisonment on condition that she promise not to try to escape, she refused. Even the least compromise with the enemy was unthinkable to her. After a year's captivity in various prisons she was transferred to the concentration camp in Dachau. In this concentration camp only men were detained, so on her arrival in the evening she was tied to the outer fence of the camp and the following morning she was beaten half to death and then burned.

A brief outline of her, to me, deeply moving life. The consistency with which she followed the path destined for her should make us thoughtful, could challenge us.

So far we have talked about the role of the woman as mystic — of Rabia; as wife mother and educator — of the Begum; and then as martyr, the self-sacrificing woman — of Noor-un-Nisa. Let us now turn to the role of the woman as priest, as instrument for the spreading of the Sufi Message.

Surely it is not in the least surprising that in the days of Inayat Khan women held the spiritual highest ranks in the Sufi Movement. Inayat Khan called them the foundation upon which the building of the message could be erected. In their lives they embodied something which is so rare in the west: the spirit of true discipleship, the total, unselfish devotion to the great cause.
I should like to talk to you in short about four women of the so-called first hour of the Sufi Movement.

Rabia Martin

Ada Martin — later she received the Sufi name Rabia — met Inayat Khan in the United States in 1911 and became his first mureed (disciple) in the West. Inayat Khan wrote about this occurrence: "I saw among the audience a soul who was drinking in all I said, as the Hamsa, the bird of Hindu mythology, who takes the extract from the milk, leaving the water. So this soul listened to my lecture on music and grasped the philosophical points which appealed to her most.... I saw that there was some light kindled in that particular soul.... I knew that she received the call. I had a vision that night, that the whole room became filled with light, no trace of darkness was to be found. I certainly thought that there was some important thing that was to be done next day, which I found was the initiation of Mrs. Ada Martin, the first mureed on my arrival to the West. Since her initiation she has entirely devoted her life to spiritual contemplation and the service of humanity."

After Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan left the United States for Europe, she took the main burden on her shoulders, to spread the Sufi Message in America. The fact, that today we find flourishing centres there, we owe to her pioneer work.

Sherifa Goodenough

Miss Sherifa Goodenough became the most valuable assistant to Inayat Khan during his first years in England. She protected him from the hard and soft blows coming from both his friends and foes; she shared his daily bread with him and proved to be a true friend in need.

She was the daughter of a British general and the Countess Kinsky. Her mundane way of living came to a sudden end when she met Inayat Khan during the First World War. From that moment she concentrated all her energy on the study of the spiritual path, and eventually Inayat Khan made her the Silsiliah Sufiya of the Sufi Order.

As one of Inayat Khan's four secretaries, she took down his lectures and teachings, collected them and saved them from any misuse for the following generations. Her personality, her meekness, her patience, her kindness, at times more than human, were unusual. She gave lectures and lessons herself, travelled a lot, wrote books, edited monthly publications and, above all, she won many new friends and mureeds for the Sufi Movement.

Sophia Saintsbury-Green

Let us now focus our attention on the third outstanding woman, Miss Sophia Saintsbury-Green, also from England, whose work for the Sufi Movement in the West during the first years of its existence was of the greatest importance.

She came from an old British family. When she was still young she was already interested in philosophy. She found the fulfilment of her life when she met Inayat Khan. In London in 1921, Inayat Khan introduced the Universal Worship, one of the five activities of the Sufi Movement. This service, which expressed the hope and longing of all the prophets, had come to him as divine inspiration. Inayat Khan ordained Sophia Green as first Cheraga, meaning lamp or light. It was one of her main tasks to make known this Universal Worship, the Church of All and of All Churches (as was the original term), first in England, and later in the other countries in which the Sufi Message was passed on.

Fazal Mai Egeling

Next, let me talk to you about a woman called by Inayat Khan 'holy soul,' Fazal Mai Egeling.

"After 12 years of wandering and homeless life in the West," Inayat Khan wrote in his autobiography, "with a large family to look after, in addition to having my laudable object to carry out, I was provided at last with four walls at Suresnes, thanks to the kind sympathy of my Dutch mureed, Mevrouw Egeling. ...This saintly soul came into my life as a blessing from above, whom I called Fazal Mai, which means Grace of God, and after her name the house was named. Her hand, as the hand of Providence, became my backbone, which comforted me, and raised my head upwards in thanksgiving, the head which so long was hanging in humiliation, owing to the utter lack of means."

Inayat Khan asked Miss Egeling to live with his family in Fazal Manzil, which she did; for many, many years she celebrated the Universal Worship there and, above all, she intensified the fourth activity of the Sufi Movement, the Spiritual Healing.

To this day, this blessed home Fazal Manzil has been one of the main meeting places in the world for all seeking souls. In the Oriental Room, in which Inayat Khan meditated so often, initiated many mureeds and in his prayers raised the world, the same spiritual atmosphere and the transforming vibration of Inayat Khan are still as alive as in his days. Also, in the garden of Fazal Manzil one can still feel that Inayat Khan sat here with his mureeds, teaching them the mysteries of the spiritual path with so much love and patience.

Helen Wasner

At the end, very briefly, I should like to remember a woman who, very quietly, did so much for the Sufi Message and the Sufis, especially in Berlin: Helen Wasner. Initiated as a mureed by Inayat Khan, she first worked in Munich and later in Berlin. During the darkest time in Germany, when the Sufi-Bewegung because of its universality and in consequence its standing up for the Hebrew religion, was officially forbidden, she held aloft the light of truth and conveyed the idea of love, harmony and beauty. Without her commitment, today's existence of and today's work for the Sufi-Bewegung in Berlin would not have been possible.

To sum up, I think one can say that these women, like so many others, stood firm at the posts assigned to them by divine providence and played their role, either to spread the Sufi Message or to work at many other places mentioned, courageously and with deep devotion.
Let me quote Inayat Khan a last time. "However much qualified men proved to be in the work, the valuable service that women have rendered to the Cause has been incomparably greater. The way how some of them have worked unceasingly with sincere devotion and firm faith, has been a marvel to me. If it was not for some women as my collaborators in the Cause, the Sufi Movement would never have been formed."


1989 Volume 3. Nuria J. Lawrence. "The Aptitude of Women for the 'Lamb's War'"

Quaker theology has some striking similarities to Sufi thought

While striving to attain recognition as social, political and spiritual equals, many women have indiscriminately pushed aside the ideas and institutions of men, some of which should not be dismissed so easily. One victim of this process has been religion, seen by many women as oppressive and undesirable. Granted, many of the world's great religions are male dominated in practice, but must they be so in theory? Or can their teachings also be interpreted in ways that are inclusive of both male and female? This question is of particular importance to Sufis as believers in unity and in the unity of religious ideals, for the concept of universality becomes meaningless if it excludes half of the human race. Fortunately, there are many traditions that have interpreted the teachings of the masters in ways that include women. A good example of this can be found in the Society of Friends, (more commonly known as the Quakers) who have seen the teachings of Christianity through the eyes of the mystic. Interestingly, (and perhaps expectedly) not only does Quaker theology include women as spiritual equals, it also bears marked similarities to the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Historically, the Quakers have been extraordinary in their theological acceptance and social support of women. Some of the most important and influential leaders in the women's rights movement in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were Quakers. Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott were both from Quaker homes, and aided the movement considerably by their own efforts and by encouraging others such as Elizabeth Cady Staton. It is important to realize that these women were activists not in spite of their religious conviction, but to a large degree because of it. As we shall see, both the mystical theology and the internal structure of Quakerism were particularly suited to producing and sustaining such women.

Begun largely as a result of the work of George Fox in England during the mid-seventeenth century, Quakerism was one of many new religious sects to arise in the period surrounding the English Revolution. The Reformation in Europe, reinforced by the anti-Catholic leanings of the revolutionary government of Cromwell, encouraged a return to a simpler and more personal style of religion. The return to scripture as the "highest authority for individuals and societies" was bolstered by the increased availability of the Bible in the vernacular. In fact, during this period, it was common practice for churches to chain a copy to the pulpit, there for all to read. For those who were able, reading the words of Christ for themselves produced some startling insights, especially about the way in which God related to humanity.

A key element of Quaker theology is the belief that the spirit of God can be found residing in the innermost part of every person, regardless of gender. This inner presence, which Sufis might call the Spirit of Guidance, the Quakers refer to by many names, such as: ‘Teacher within,’‘Inner Light,’ and ‘The Seed.' Although it can be found in every person, this presence is not seen so much as an intrinsic aspect of the individual, as it is an ‘internal other,’ suppressed by the ego and only fully realized through a two-part struggle. In the eyes of the Quakers, salvation is the realization of the Inner Light, and the story of creation is used as a metaphor to show the means by which this could be achieved.

The first part of the struggle — often called the 'Lamb's War,' or 'Convincement' — is the attempt to come to terms with the inner light on a personal level; to recognize the presence of the divine within oneself, and to allow that divine aspect to take precedence over the individual ego in thought, feeling and action. As we ourselves may have experienced, this is a task requiring great patience and courage, for introspection can reveal unpleasant things about the illusory self, and there is a great tendency to avoid self-knowledge by becoming preoccupied with external distractions. In order to focus the concentration inwards, the Quakers generally meet in silence, the collective meditation broken only if someone feels the call to "speak out at meeting" and share an inspiration. As well, members are strongly encouraged to keep a journal in which they record their spiritual progress, examining successes and defeats, and the ways in which the former are attained. Some of the most profound and beautiful Quaker literature comes from these journals, and those of George Fox are often referred to as authoritative doctrine.

In his journal, George Fox explains his personal experience of meeting the internal other in terms of the creation story. He compares the light of the divine presence to the flaming sword guarding the entrance to paradise, for once his ego was revealed and slain, he "knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that [he]...was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell."

Essential to the Quaker's acceptance of women as spiritual equals was their re-interpretation of the creation story as a metaphor for the process of convincement. Unlike many literal interpretations, Eve does not burden all women with the guilt of the fall from grace. Instead, the guilt is shared — both Adam and Eve were with God in a state of innocence, or absence of ego, and were guilty of turning their attention away from God, by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, after which they both developed an ego and were expelled from Eden. What was the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Perhaps "the ability to distinguish between good and evil" meant to stop being able to see all things as a manifestation of God, and to start seeing some things as being separate from, or even opposed to God. Salvation is the release from that illusion.

While the experience of the ‘Lamb's War’ is necessary for all, women were traditionally thought to have a special aptitude for this process, as they had been socialized to be receptive to an ‘internal other’ through their role as mothers. In the words of Carol Stoneburner, a twentieth-century commentator and herself a feminist Quaker, "to become aware of, willing to affirm, and creatively react to the natural seed of the other growing within could be a profoundly altering experience. A woman thus learned to accommodate and respond to the other... Pondering this natural mystery, her perspective as a person was altered." Or, in the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, "Thy divine compassion radiates in fullness through the heart of the mother." While attributing this special aptitude of women for spiritual enlightenment to a biological function could be regarded as sexist, it is important to remember that the Quaker philosophy was developed in the seventeenth century, when the reproductive role was considered, if not the only, the most important one for women. The Quakers, like the Sufis, focused more on the receptive qualities than on the biological function, and even childless women were thought to have some advantage over men who had been encouraged to focus on the external.

The most remarkable thing about this doctrine was the idea that women were capable of any spiritual experience of value. At the time, women were generally not highly regarded, and although the experience of George Fox when he went to Nottingham in 1646 and met people who "held women have no souls, more than a goose," was perhaps an extreme case, it reflected the prevailing attitude that women's souls were inferior to men's because of Eve's role in the fall from grace. The new meaning that the Quakers gave to the creation story meant that women were seen as spiritual equals, both before the fall and after the process of salvation. This opened the doors for women to play an active role in the shaping of their own religious experience, and enabled them to take part in the second stage of the Lamb's War, the transformation of society.

This second part of the struggle was the outward manifestation of the new-found grace. Because of their belief that the spirit of God is indwelling in all people, the Quakers rejected the mediation of a professional priesthood to administer the sacraments. In fact, they regarded the sacraments themselves as unnecessary abstractions of everyday activities, and encouraged members to actively participate in the sacramental qualities of all life, rather than submissively receiving artificial intervention from the Church. The rejection of a traditional priesthood meant that the Quakers had to rely exclusively on lay-people, both men and women, to carry out the work of the group.

Continuing the creation metaphor, Quakers strongly believed that they had a responsibility to transform larger society into a "new creation" by caring for others as beloved of God. Originally the primary concern was for their own members, who often experienced severe repression and hardships due to intolerance. The period of the Restoration was particularly difficult for the Quakers, when many of the members were imprisoned for their beliefs. It was at this time that the Society appeared in America, as some of those fleeing persecution joined together in the colonies.

However, as time went on and the Quakers became more established, the persecution lessened, and they were able to turn their concern outwards, focusing their attention on all the poor and oppressed, including natives, slaves, and the powerless — especially women. The concern for the well-being of others demanded direct involvement from all, whether it was preaching, providing a safe haven, or lobbying for new legislation. Because they saw women as spiritual equals, they did not agree with those who, like Luther, thought that woman's role in the Fall ‘nailed’ her to the home, and Quaker women were able to take an active part in missionary and reform work, even when it meant travelling outside the home for long periods of time.

The situation of the Quakers then was not entirely unlike that of the Sufis now: lacking a professional ministry and with few buildings, they relied on the dedication of the members to spread their ideas. For Sufis, this means opening our homes and hearts to travellers as we exchange information and experiences, and the same was true for the Quakers. In an exciting time, with plenty of things happening and lots more to be done, the houses of the members became important centres of organization and activity. If the horizons of Quaker women were broad compared to her non-Quaker counterpart, it was at least partly due to the experiences of either travelling herself, or opening her home to others.

The use of the home for such purposes had, by the nineteenth century, changed the way in which it was regarded. As a result, even single women could meet the world on their own terms in their own homes. As Susan B. Anthony commented, "the charm of all these women's homes is that their owners are ‘settled’ in life; that the men, young or old, who visit them, no more count their hostesses’ chances in the matrimonial market, than when guests in the homes of the most happily married women. Men go to these homes as they do to their gentlemen's clubs, to talk of art, science, politics, religion and reform... They go to meet their equals in the proud domain of intellect, laying aside...their conventional 'small talk' for the ladies."

She knew what she was talking about; her own home served as the first headquarters for the American Suffrage Movement, and her married friend, Lucretia Mott, was well versed in combining public and private life. One popular story tells of a dinner party that Susan attended at Lucretia's house: there were many people at dinner, and the conversation about politics and reform matters was so engrossing that when the meal was finished, Lucretia went to the kitchen and brought a wooden bucket and soap to the table. The discussion continued, and Lucretia was able to continue her active participation while she washed the dishes and Susan dried them.

For married women, the integration of public and private spheres permitted them to fulfil their family obligations in full partnership with their husbands, raising children in an environment that taught them the equality of the sexes by observation. According to Lucretia Mott, "In the true married relationship, the independence of husband and wife are equal, their dependence mutual, and their obligations reciprocal." The Quaker marriage was very much a partnership as a result of the belief that "the inward light formed the bond of unity between a man and his wife who loved each other because they first loved God."

The theology of the Society of Friends created an environment of mutual respect and support from which women were encouraged to strive for justice and equality in the larger world. Just as recognition of the presence of the inner light enabled marriages to become a creative partnership instead of an oppressive institution, it enabled the Quakers to hope for and work towards the establishment of the ‘new creation,’ a better world for everyone. Sufis know this inner light as the Spirit of Guidance, and it was the mission of Hazrat Inayat Khan to show us the wonders that can be accomplished if we are only willing to listen to and obey that spirit. Differences will be resolved — not only between man and woman, but between Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim. As we live the words of Salat and recognize that the divine light "is in all forms, [its] love in all beings; in a loving mother, in a kind father, in an innocent child, in a helpful friend, in an inspiring teacher..." all of humanity will be drawn together in bonds of unity, all of us loving each other because we first love God.


1989 Volume 3. Ameen Carp. "Like a Pearl in the Heart"

When we ask ourselves what fundamental religious indications Hazrat Inayat Khan has given to the seeker of unity with his Creator, it is probably to be found in that lovely ‘Raga’ in the Gayan:

I searched, but could not find Thee; I called Thee aloud, standing on the minaret; I rang the temple bell with the rising and setting of the sun; I bathed in the Ganges in vain; I came back from Ka'aba disappointed; I looked for Thee on the earth; I searched for Thee in the heaven, my Beloved, but at last I have found Thee hidden as a pearl in the shell of my heart.

For a Sufi, God is everywhere, in nature, in all created beings, in the unmanifested life as well. In fact, is it not one of Hazrat Inayat Khan's revealing thoughts that God as manifested is only a small part of God's entire being. In other words, God is manifested (creation) and non-manifested (non-created), and the larger part of God is non-manifested. It makes us realize how immense, yes, how unfathomable God's being is.

But where can we truly find God? Where do we experience Him most deeply? It is this question which occupies the seeker constantly. And then the answer of the Sufi master unquestionably is: try to find God in the depth of your own being, in the depth of your heart.

To experience God in His manifold creation is a constant joy, certainly in His manifestation of beauty in nature, in music, in art. But in order to develop faith and the strength of inner conviction, one has to seek the path within, as in fact all masters and mystics have said. Jesus himself pointed at this: seek the kingdom of God that is within you. This is not an easy path to tread, as it requires so much patience, perseverance and idealism.

How do we do this? Hazrat Inayat Khan, in his book Mental Purification, calls the process 'mystic relaxation.' It is a training how to make the body and its senses obey the will, how to still the mind, how to purify our feelings. Then, by the passiveness of the mind the condition is created so that we can begin to receive what the Creator wishes to give to us. This is something not to be conquered by the will but to be achieved by submission to the Divine Being. In the continuous effort to keep the heart open (notwithstanding the problems of doing so) the devotee begins to experience a feeling of light, or a glowing feeling, of purity, of joy. This experience is an encouragement to keep the attention even more concentrated on the presence in the heart. We know that it is there; we also know that other seekers have been privileged to come closer to it, to experience a real and lasting contact with that Presence which is all there is. It is this which the Sufis call 'Hu,' as no description can be given of the Being we call God. Even words like omnipresent, omnipotent, all-pervading, are only general indications of the One and only Being, Whose breath and Whose spirit we are. It is in the shell of the heart that we find it hidden, like a precious gleam of light. And then we understand that while we were making all our efforts to find God in the holy places, in the temples and churches, in pilgrimages, in many hours of study, it was there, waiting for us to be found, to be discovered when the time was right, hidden as a pearl in the shell of our heart.


1989 Volume 3. Hidayat Inayat Khan. "Tales Told and Retold"

Once Upon a TimeExcerpts from the unpublished childhood memories of Hidayat Inayat Khan

These few remembrances which I am humbly venturing to put into words, are offered herewith in an earnest longing to communicate some aspects of the fairy-tale atmosphere that prevailed in those days, when our Beloved Father was with us. But it is of course very difficult to evoke such remembrances without repeatedly experiencing an outburst of emotions, especially those which were awakened in our hearts, ever since our Father departed from this world, at a period in our lives when we were still so very young.

As the years went by, our childhood intuition revealed more and more to us the tragic importance of what we had really lost, by the absence of a Father with such a most luminous magnitude; a Father whose loving guidance, experienced in our young years, was always based on that high God Ideal which was the soul force of his constantly inspiring example.

Ever since those early days of once upon a time, the memory of such a precious example awakened each day anew an untarnishable longing to hear our Father's voice silently saying, "Your Abba's loving presence is always there, hidden in your lonely hearts."

Murshid's Children

Each time that one of us was born, our Father's first tender approach to the new-born baby was to call it Pir-Zade or Murshid-Zade, meaning son of Pir or son of Murshid. The daughters were called Pir-Zadi or Murshid-Zadi, meaning daughter of Pir or daughter of Murshid.

Later, when we were older, our Father often asked us, "Have you really behaved today as a Pir-Zade or as a Murshid-Zade? Have you really thought of the responsibility which you have as a son or daughter of Murshid?"

When we were naughty, our Father reminded us of that responsibility which we had, rather than scolding us, and on hearing those words, we immediately stopped all naughtiness, with sincerest feelings of shame.

I must admit that I was called Murshid-Zade in a scolding more often than the other children, because I was always naughty. However, it did happen sometimes that I was good, and on those occasions, my Father called me "Murshid-Zade-Guru, Mera Beta." Naturally, these very loving words always touched me most deeply, and were for me the most precious reward that could ever have been received.

Murshid's Majestic Personality

Murshid was also like a Father to some of his disciples. To others, he was the 'Murshid,' the Spiritual Guide. But all, whether consciously or unconsciously, responded to the 'Breath of the Message,' as symbolized by Murshid's sublime radiance. His approach was with a smile. His words communicated happiness. His piercing glance was like a torch in the darkness. His loving presence was ever-uplifting.

Murshid used to say, "I don't want to ever see my mureeds having a long face." In fact, it really was impossible for anyone to have a long face in Murshid's presence for longer than a few moments. Murshid would always turn an imaginary tragedy into a comedy, but he also saw the tragic side of an apparent comedy.

One could best illustrate Murshid's loving personality as being a living example of tremendous intensity in all aspects of human expression, of Nobility and Majesty.

Murshid often went for short walks around the block, dressed very characteristically in a long black cloak, and with a kingly topi on his head. He also carried a walking stick with a very beautiful silver handle, and his black shoes were always spotlessly polished.

Murshid's 'topi,' as he called it, was specially made for him by our Mother, according to the design which he made himself, a cross-model between the very noble Persian hat and the real, old aristocratic Russian one, which had much impressed him during his visit to Moscow, where our sister Noorunissa was born, before the war of 1914.

Murshid's shervani, or Indian costume, was also specially made for him by my Mother. It was a cross-model between the Indian and the Russian traditions, which Murshid had also designed himself. It was black, like the topi, buttoned all the way down on the right side, with a high collar and a plaited rope around the waist, ending with tassels at both ends.

Murshid's majestic appearance impressed so much the people of Suresnes that they used to stop in the streets and salute him, thinking that he was a king. When he entered the tram, everyone stood up, offering most respectfully their seat. Wherever he went, people called Murshid 'Le Roi.'

A Workman Digging in the Street

One day, while Murshid was going out through the gate of Fazal Manzil, holding my hand tight so that I would not run wildly across the road, as I often did, he was most astonished to see a workman digging a deep ditch just in front of the house, under pouring rain, and with hands and clothes covered with mud.

Murshid walked toward the workman and gently took off his hat to him; and then, while shaking hands, Murshid said, "Bonjour, Monsieur." But obviously the poor workman was absolutely spellbound at the thought of being greeted by the 'King' in such a most friendly way, and he stood there for a while, completely panic-struck, till Murshid walked a few steps away down the road, where some mureeds were waiting and had seen what had happened.

Surprisingly enough, instead of showing their feelings of understanding for the precious example of sympathy, kindness and humility which Murshid had so beautifully illustrated, those who had just seen Murshid's friendly approach, said to him as he came toward them, "But Murshid, you just can't do that here in the West. Don't you know that you are not supposed to shake hands with a workman?"

Murshid became of course very sad, and with deep emotion in his voice, he just only said to them, "Are we not all children of one and the same Father?" After which, all walked away in silence.

Many years later, while I was walking up that same road, an elderly man came running behind me, all out of breath, asking, "Who was that King who lived in the large house just there, up the road?" And while pointing to the house, he told me that years and years ago, he had been digging in a ditch; when suddenly the King came out of the gate, and, "Although he had never seen me, he shook hands with so very much compassion, while also lifting even his hat in such a most noble way. And," he added, "although I am just a workman, and have never learned to read or write, nor did I ever believe in God, yet at that moment, I really felt as though Heaven was being offered to me, by the grace of that kind King. There were flashes of light in his eyes, which I still always see so clearly ever since, even after so many years. The mysterious magic, which that King performed on me that day has protected me during my whole life, and has given me the strength and the courage to endure all the cruel hardships in this world; but more than anything else, those moments have been the happiest that I have experienced."

Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me, "Who was that King? Do you perhaps know who he was and where he is?"

"Yes," I said, "He certainly was a King; perhaps a Heavenly King; and now, from out of Heaven, he constantly sends us sparks of heavenly light, shining as flashes of blessings, always present in our hearts, whenever we open our hearts to his loving guidance."

Then I told him that I was the little boy who was holding my Father's hand while we came out of the gate together; and I retold him the whole story with all the details which he himself had experienced; after which we both fell in each other's arms with tears rolling down our cheeks.


1989 Volume 3. Shaikh-ul-Mahshaikh Mahmood Khan. "Murshid’s Words"

A lecture by Shaikh-ul-Mahshaikh Mahmood Khan at Summer School, Katwijk, 1989

Murshid speaks not only as an illuminated mystic, but with the joy and the powerful intuition of a poet.

When Hazrat Inayat Khan in 1920 left England for the continent, it meant that he took leave of not only the English language area, but also of the Indian community living in England, whose religious interests and occupations were being rapidly politicized under the pressures left by the First World War. That was a current that he definitely did not wish to be involved in, which also ran completely counter to his ideal of religious unity, since religions were falling apart during nationalist influences. And he entered a new circle in France, which also meant that his teaching was aimed at a western view, where the contact with eastern countries, especially with India, was far less. In continental Europe's contacts with the colonial countries of the day, they were facing different languages; North Africa was French speaking, Indonesia was Dutch speaking, there was not that meeting with people from the east, acquainting themselves with Murshid's teaching in English and raising questions.

Now, this you know, all of you, today, it is completely changed. All of you, in whatever Sufi centre you are, may be approached by people coming from India, coming from any Islamic language area, and asking you, well, what does this mean, what does that mean? And then you have to be able to give a sensible answer. Because after all, if one is a mureed, one becomes a representative of Hazrat Inayat Khan's Sufism, and at least these kind of immediate questions that come up ought to be answered.

Now, I'm coming to a wonderful illustration of this, which many of you will recall from previous years, the name of the prayer, Saum. When anybody from the east reads the word Saum for that prayer, they say, 'What is this? We know Saum as a religious duty, fasting. Saum is 'fast.' Now, what has this prayer to do with fasting?' Well, you can say this prayer invokes a certain religious duty, it is one of the obligations which, in religion, have their own place, give the identity to that religion. But then of course, in the first place, Saum is a very meditative prayer, it is not so much a religious prayer as a mystical experience, and in the second place, well, what about this name? Does it mean that you have so much to turn inward, away from the world that that prayer becomes a kind of a fast of its own or something?

Well, here we have to remember that in works like Gayan, Vadan, Nirtan, Murshid speaks not only as an illuminated mystic but also with all the joy and the powerful intuition of a poet, and indulges in a word play with a word like 'saum,' evoking on the one hand the religious observation, of whatever kind never mind, the religious observation of prayer, but on the other hand, the English word 'psalm,' a sung prayer, as you find in the Bible, so that you have psalm from English, mixed with saum from Arabic, to produce this word which we find in the Gayatri above the prayer, which therefore is a word play.

Now, the term 'Gayatri' itself... As you know, the whole terminology of the Gayan, Vadan and Nirtan derives from the Indian musical tradition; here again Murshid's musical and poetic joy of expression finds very beautiful and very stimulating expression. I think most of these names don't offer any particular reason for comment. This is one point I would like to impress on you though: what is called Gayatri, really 'that which is sung,' 'that which is recited,' therefore the prayer which you address to God, has another name outside India. Murshid chooses this name, typically Indian and typically musical and typical of Hindu religious tradition, but you find its counterpart outside of India in Sufi orders elsewhere, in the so-called order prayers, the prayers particular to a special order, mostly deriving from the one who founded that order, or another honoured or venerated soul who was part of it, and there it is called 'wird,' with plural 'awrad.' It will be useful for you if people from outside India come and ask you, ‘Now what does this mean, this Gayatri, what is that supposed to mean? We see some kind of thing, this looks like some kind of prayer, and you call it Gayatri, now what does this mean, what is this supposed to be?' Then, if you tell them it is a 'wird,' they are 'awrad,' it will be perfectly clear what is meant by that in this context. Wird, that's the typical, special mystical prayer, not a ritual or a symbological prayer, no, it is typically that esoteric prayer, that inward prayer, as done in the mystic orders. Wird, with plural, awrad.

Now, there is one instance of Murshid's poetic understanding which is a very interesting one in the very first verse in the Gayan. Let me read it to you. You know the first chapter heading in the Gayan is Alapa. Alapa means 'extemporization.' It is a kind of introduction with which every Indian musical piece starts.

When a glimpse of Our image is caught in man,
When the heaven and the earth are sought in man,
Then what is in the world that is not in man?
If one only explores him, there's a lot in man.

Now, if you read this, there are two curiosities in this. First, that the rhythm is very uneven, and, one would have thought, quite unnecessarily so, because there is the possibility here of putting a word here or a word there, and you would have, well, a very evenly running rhythm, and we know that Murshid, we can see that from the original texts, we know that Murshid drafted and redrafted many of these sayings as they are in the Gayan, you find them in the notebooks, all done and tried out, so why did he leave this rhythm to run so unevenly? So unevenly, in fact, that the first person, I think it might have been Murshida Green, who wrote an introduction to this book, writes very apologetically, 'you know of course, Inayat Khan, well, English was not his language,' and then she said very elegantly, 'which will sometimes be apparent by the slight loss of the rhythm, a slight unevenness of the rhythm.' So she feels she must really apologise for what Murshid was doing there, otherwise that he might have done it better.

That’s one thing. Now, the second thing, let me take that at the same time, is that in this poem, the first three sentences are very stately in expression, the feeling is that all the majesty of God is infused in these words, and then the fourth sentence comes, ‘If one only explores him, there's a lot in man,’ well, that's not only, with that note of exploration, really rather nineteenth century matter-of-fact, but 'there's a lot in man' is actually a very popular way of expressing. Of course Murshid loved popular expressions, but he knew very well to distinguish between the very elevated utterance of the first lines and this very popular utterance of the last lines.

Why is it? Well, now, this is one tradition you find in first Arabic, and then therefore much Islamic literature, where there is a stately poetry of three lines, and ended in an extremely popular punch line in the popular tongue. That's called 'muwasha,' especially developed in those societies where you spoke two languages. Muwashas are especially famous, for instance, in the European context in Arab Spain, in Moorish Spain, where they love to make a poem of four lines, three lines in highly classical Arabic, and the fourth done in very popular, very amusing Spanish, and I mean, really popular language, after these three stately lines before. You can imagine what effect this kind of thing has in love songs, either human or divine. So, the point is, that this poem of Murshid's, with its surprising mode of expression, faithfully follows one of the oldest literary traditions we know.

That’s one thing. Now, why that irregularity of the rhythm which worried Murshida Green so much? Well, what is an alap? An alap is, exactly, the introduction to a piece of music which does not yet include the rhythmic part. That's a purely free improvisation on the theme it’s going to introduce, and, I don't know if all of you have heard that, but the tablas are not yet being played, there is just the soloist, the instrumentalist or the singer, who just improvises along. Now, if you don't deliberately spoil the rhythm of your poetry, it’s not going to be an alap. For it to be an improvisation, you must be very careful that it has no rhythm.

So, there you are. No reason for apology. It only requires an understanding of what Murshid was doing. In many cases when people ask, and we do ask it quite a bit when we work on researching these texts, why did Murshid say what he did? Well, quite often, he did mean to say what he did, and it’s just we who no longer understand what he intended. The playfulness of his utterance, the poetic taste of his mode of speech, also sometime the combination of a somewhat nineteenth century, somewhat philosophically tinged English expression suddenly included in his Indian English utterance, all make Murshid's speech very stimulating, but also require a great deal of attention in order to really understand the background from which he spoke.


1989 Volume 3. Nawab Pasnak. "The Altar of the Heart"

A sermon given during a Universal Worship service at the close of Summer School, 1989

Beloved Ones of God,
It is a great blessing for us to meet here, in this atmosphere of beauty, and hear from the various scriptures the Divine Message as it has been given at different times and places around the world. Each time the Message has come, it has been like a vibrating musical tone, sounding through the ages. When we listen to these notes with deep attention, the illusion of time and space may be wiped away for us, and we have the precious opportunity to become one with all the countless sincere worshippers who have trained their hearts according to these and other expressions.

And it is a great blessing for the world that these various notes of the Divine Message are sounded together here, as they are at every Universal Worship, making most beautiful music. Throughout history, there has been a Divine call to humanity, an urging to the human spirit to rise up, to return, as the Sufi poets would say, to its home in the heart of the Beloved. To fit the circumstances and satisfy the conceptions of the day, it has been called by various names and followed different forms, but in reality the Message is not limited to any name or form. How could it be? The Divine Presence is beyond any description, the source of all, omnipresent and all pervading. Therefore, although we may now call it the Sufi Message, it no more belongs to the Sufis than does the rain that falls. It belongs to all, for it is sent to all. Whether we hear it or not, the message is going on, everywhere, within us and without us, with or without our participation, and has been doing so since the dawn of creation. It may be found not only in the words of an inspiring teacher, but also in the gesture of a kind friend, in the innocence of a child, and even in the flight of a bird or the fall of a leaf in the sacred book of nature, if only we are able to see it. Indeed, the divine call is not unnatural or supernatural — it is perfectly natural, and we can hear it best in nature. The Koran says, "The very birds praise Him as they wing their flights." Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan has said, "The Sufi, when the eye of his soul is opened and his sight is keen, reads in the manuscript of nature the divine law, which has been read from the same source and taught by the Teachers of humanity to their followers." He goes on, "The Sufi has, in all ages traced in the Vedanta, the Zend-Avesta, the Kabbala, the Bible, the Koran and all other sacred scriptures the same truth which he reads in the incorruptible manuscript of nature, the only Holy Book, the perfect and living model that teaches the inner law of life."

Those are the words of Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, and we may remember that it was while he was alone in nature at this very spot that he was himself inspired, and we are fortunate to have that natural spot still preserved today as a holy place of pilgrimage.

Therefore, as we may trace that divine call in every name and form, and in the nature that surrounds us, there cannot be much importance in what we call it. If, for the time being we call it the Sufi Message, it is perhaps because the word Sufi, in one of its interpretations, means wisdom, and surely the only wisdom there is lies in searching for the origin of this irresistible call.

It is also known as the Sufi Message because the Sufis, just now, are privileged to present the unity of all religious ideals through this beautiful, deeply symbolical ceremony, the Universal Worship. In the history of the world, it has never before been seen that the scriptures of different religions have been placed side by side on an altar with all respect and reverence. It is a sign of the growth of tolerance in the human spirit that this is now possible, at least in some parts of the world, and it marks the way that humanity must travel in the future, led by the Spirit of Guidance.

Of course, when we consider these sacred readings from different times and places, we find that they are not so very far apart, and it does not seem so unusual to place them side by side. In the Upanishads, we heard that the soul of man becomes like a lamp, an image which the Master Jesus Christ also used when he said, 'when your eye' or your way of seeing, 'is sound, your whole body is full of light.' It is the same light spoken of in the Zoroastrian scriptures: when the faithful man has mastered thought, speech and action, each mastery producing a new paradise of harmony, then his soul at last enters the endless lights. And it is the same Divine light which the Gayan speaks of when it says, 'the heart that reflecteth the Divine light is illuminated.'

Needless to say, in holding this service, our responsibility to the faithful and to the Divine Presence is a solemn one, and we take every effort to make this moment sacred. We bring beautiful flowers which we have perhaps grown with care in our own gardens, we light candles and incense, we move with care, we play uplifting music — all so that this altar may be regarded as holy, and the ceremony performed here may be filled with significance.

But this altar is not the only one. Here before you stands the visible altar, but there is also an unseen one, upon which the external form is modelled, and that is the worshipper's heart. No matter how we prepare it, if this altar that we can see is not founded upon the altar of the heart, it can have very little meaning. If our hearts are not inspired by the Spirit of Guidance that speaks through every faith, then what can we gain by placing books side by side on a table? If our hearts do not respond to light, then what virtue can there be in lighting candles? If our hearts are not intoxicated by the source of beauty, then what benefit can there be in graceful words and music?

The Sufi looks at the vessel in which he journeys through life and says, 'This is not my body, this is the temple of God.' Perhaps he begins by saying this as a statement of faith, but in the end, it becomes an unshakeable conviction. And if this is the temple, where must the altar be? If there is any worship at all, it must begin here, within us. Then, when our hearts are open, this atmosphere and beauty may be found wherever we worship, whether it be in a beautiful Universel such as this, or in a humble home, or in the wilderness, with perhaps only a rock for an altar, or even nothing at all. The altar we can see matters very little; it is the human altar, the living heart, pouring forth its longing for the Divine Presence, eager to recognize the Message in every form, which is the sign of the true Universal Worship. And if we show respect to this altar we can see, how much more respect should we show for the hearts of fellow-worshippers of every faith and creed?

Let us try, therefore, to carry these feelings with us when we leave. Although the altar of candles and books and incense will pass from our sight, let us keep the inner altar of our hearts alight with the joy of the Divine Message, so that our life's path may be illuminated. Let us keep our inner sight turned toward the altar of our ideal, so that we may perceive the worshipping heart in every being we meet. Let us listen with deep attention to the tone of the Message resounding within our hearts, the tone which harmonizes all faiths together, so that in time it may be heard in every thought that rises in our minds, in every word which passes from our lips, and in every action that we undertake. Then we could truly be privileged to call ourselves Sufis.


1989 Volume 3. Roshan Buwalda. "About Three Days' Retreat"

Three days of silence produce some interesting reflections.

What do you think about when you hear the word retreat? Perhaps your first thought is: maybe it is just the right thing for me, I am very much in need of silence and of turning inward, but I am afraid that I will not be able to sit still and to keep my thoughts away for such a long time! Maybe we are allowed to walk around? Make music? Or sing a song? Of course one can do all these things and much more: during a retreat something is happening to you and I will try very carefully to tell you about this.

Because I hold silence with so many other people, it is not difficult to drop the daily thoughts. The mind becomes quiet, the breath becomes slower, deeper, more intense. We concentrate on prayer. I come across the phrase, 'Comforter of the broken hearted...' This directs my thoughts to a book about a poor Norwegian woman who had to give away her new-born baby because she was too poor to bring it up herself. She had to sell her milk to a rich lady, who did not want to nurse her own baby for fear of getting old, wrinkled breasts... 'Comforter of the broken hearted...' She felt this divine comfort, she was always grateful for life, although she had to work from dawn till late at night to serve her employers if she wanted to go to bed with a full stomach. She used to say: me and my hands belong to God!

After a long silence my feelings want to express themselves. My body starts moving softly: Divine intelligence is taking over the flowing movements that follow. Without the direction of the will, there is a feeling of an expanded state of consciousness in which I am being uplifted, floating and moving on a level of spontaneity. No tensions are left in my body. It seems as if the body has become a rag-doll. My whole being is in complete in motion.

We have our meals together in silence. The first day everybody is very seriously occupied with his or her silence. The following days this finds its expression in a change of consciousness in our beings. Observation becomes more intense, we all see things as they really are! Things that one hardly notices in daily life constantly attract one's attention. I open a small plastic container of butter to spread on my bread, and to my great surprise I see a nice decoration on it that looks like a flower... How beautiful!

Somebody breaks his plastic fork. At once he receives two new ones — one for breaking tomorrow! We explode with laughter, but we do not speak! Constantly we are laughing about silly things...we feel so free and happy! The flowers are laughing at me a moment later when I sit in the hall again. They have a very subtle radiation, full of colours. The Divine Light candle shows that the Beloved One is omnipresent. I become deeply conscious of this, listening to the singing of Murshid Musharaff Khan, a beautiful voice, full of love, harmony and beauty. A voice which deepens and perfects the silence.

bear and a The second day I notice that my sense become sharper. Rarely have I seen the colours so deep, red so red, yellow so yellow and green so green... When I look around me, standing on the terrace, the view dissolves into an 'endlessness,' for it looks as if the dunes are repeating themselves for hundreds of miles, rising and falling in waves of yellow sand, in a melancholy satisfaction. The dunes seem to be confirming the relative unimportance of human beings on this earth. They are the pure earth-element yellow in colour, and they feel closely related to the green-dune grass, filled with the water element. Together they form a symbiosis.

After a wonderful, refreshing walk I arrive on the beach where I let the cosmic rays penetrate my being; I feel that I become one with the cosmic balance. Slowly I lie down on the sand and listen to the rolling of the waves, coming and going. I feel their vibrations travelling towards me through the sand. It is as if the earth underneath my body is slowly beginning to respond to these vibrations, this insistent beating of the waves. As if the earth wants to open herself for a secret message knocking at her door, the door of her deepest core, the core of the mountain. I sit up and suddenly remember a deep experience which I once had in South Africa. I was up early, walking on the beach, dawn had just arrived with its soft, indulgent light. I saw the moon in the dawning sky above the sea, it was a full moon! Its soft light reflected on the water underneath. When I turned around I saw the sun which had just risen above the horizon, greeting the moon, which was exactly opposite, in a straight line! I stood perplexed half way between sun and moon. I felt as if I was the centre of the cosmic balance and experienced this as a deep symbol: the full moon receives its light from the sun. Hazrat Inayat Khan presents this as the symbol of the Messenger. The soft light of the full moon is the messenger to man, who cannot assimilate the enormous power of God, the sun, but who receives inspiration and revelation through the voice and the words of the Messenger. I experienced that deep cosmic balance there, just as I feel it now, here on the beach in Katwijk. Feeling that balance is not dependant on such an experience. It can always be felt if you are only open to it! Besides, all of us must sometimes have experienced such a deep cosmic balance — for instance after a hurricane, when silence is returning, or after a big thunderstorm. This is the balance that preserves man and nature.

In this period of evolution — in view of the overpowering and destructive forces in nature as well as in humanity — we should be more and more conscious of this balance. The awakening of this consciousness will be an evolution for all mankind, because only that gives meaning to all the restlessness, doubt and destruction that prevail in people and nature at this moment.

A while later I silently drink my bambu coffee. Near the staircase, two persons are gesticulating with their hands and fingers and miming with their faces. After all, one needs this form of communication if one has to say something important! It also happens several times that somebody taps you on the shoulder in order to say 'wait a moment.' A short written notice is handed over to tell you what is expected of you. These things are fun to watch. Late in the evening we drive home with four guests.

Early in the morning I greet our guests with the palms of the hands together touching the forehead. I receive their greetings in silence and so we make our round through the garden privately, admiring and observing the flowers and plants one by one, every day there is a miracle to be seen! That miracle in nature I also observe the next day when I retire a while into the valley after sunset, the atmosphere radiating an unbelievably tender twilight. I watch some seagulls floating over my head, on calm impassive wings; their feathers delicately overlapping each other, they seem to be covered with silver sequins in the sunset glow. Head and neck outstretched, they seem to reach for the future, longing for that which the Divine Presence will bring them, be it pleasure or disaster. They cry out their last greeting to the Lord, full of gratitude for another beautiful day now almost faded away behind us. In full darkness the silence is really complete, but only for a short moment. I close my eyes, ready to turn within, but things that are happening around me distract me. True enough, there is nothing to be seen anymore, but I hear a noisy rabbit, very nearby, nibble at the dune grass. The silence has come alive! Alive with all kinds of different noises of small animals and insects around me! As if all of nature is in a profound experience of prayer, a prayer of gratitude and glory to the Lord. I am deeply moved and out of the depth of these noises I gradually perceive the sound of the zikar, a continuous Huuuuuuu... all-pervading.

Man will find in the end of his search along the spiritual line that all beings including trees and plants, rocks and mountains, oceans and rivers, are prayerful; and that all attain to that spiritual summit which is the real longing of every soul. [Aphorisms]

The evening has become night, a night full of life and light! A moment later I blow the ants off my hand, and deeply moved by the 'silence' of the night, I return step by step to the Universel.

The next morning, the retreat has ended. We talk to each other, without putting our heart into it. We want to keep the silence as long as possible, but already at home during breakfast we see so much humour around us that we soon start making jokes. I go to the kitchen to fetch something and my thoughts are still with a joke. I ask one of the guests who is in the kitchen at that moment what am I looking for here?

"The Truth," is the apt and profound reply!


1989 Volume 3. Sharif Bryan Robinson. "Poems - Words of His Loving"

By Fire-Light

— from an admiring thought at tea

Beauty's quietness
falls all round the room,
and in the radiant silence
my heart breaks forth in song.

you were here.
We laughed and loved awhile,
and in Life's glorious music
Love's new song was born.

her joyous notes
ring forth their magic spell;
and all the boundless Universe
awakes with cosmic dance.

whose life we are,
of manifested thought in space;
the Lover true weaves patterns
of His earthly dreams.

heart's radiance pure,
and Joy, the very breath
of love sublime, enfold you
in Life's loving, mine.

my love and daily dream
in passing hours,
I look into His heart
to see your face among His flowers.

so from out
this Dream of Life may rise
such thought, such joy, such loving,
to make His Paradise.

Life's Caravan

The Caravan moves on,
The song is sung,
Its tale is told;
But in the quickened heart — Life's magic lamp —
Is left new life for old.

And in the sacred lamp
Love's gift burns on
To bless your way:
Immeasurable its potency — the food of gods —
The light to set you free.

Its fragrance is a bridge
By which the traveller
May cross with joy
To realms as yet unknown — by hidden paths
And sing Love's song with tone.

However dark the night,
Silent the way,
My song sings on.
In Him we find our part — and flowers bloom —
Within your living heart!

The Song of the Earth

The Summer Days are over,
And far have fled the songs of joyous birds.
Night air cools and chills the waters of the distant shores.
Moorland sheep draw slowly to the warmth of valley,
And see the gentle bubbling stream sing her evensong
And part in the twilight, united ever by her loving waters.
The lovely flowers close their eyes,
and cast their faces to the earth
That unseen and unknown be this bitter winter season.
The moon hides behind the shadowy clouds,
lest light awaken wounds of grief once more.
Even the owl alert is silent,
as heart's light is extinguished for the while.
And all the earth lies still,
awaiting dawn, another day, another spring,
When light and life awake again, and all hearts sing!

Psalm 30: 'Heaviness may endure for a night,
but joy cometh in the morning.'

Elected Silence

Fall now great Silence,
and pulse within this little heart,
Singing for ever
His radiant Song of Joy.
Within His Peace
springs like gentle waters.

In each I see
the shine of His Face,
And feel again
the pulse of His Heart;
For all the loves
expressed are but
Words of His Loving!


1989 Volume 3. ""Earth & Sky”: C"

Names and Forms, known and unknown to the world.

Saint Christopher

It is difficult to know if there ever was a historical Christopher, although the building of a church in his honour at Chalcedon as early as 450 AD suggests that he may have been a martyr in Asia Minor, perhaps in the third century. Nothing else is known, however, and the Roman Catholic church has removed him from the roll of saints for lack of real evidence. The story of Saint Christopher, though, is still filled with meaning, and it is possible that he was only ever meant as an allegorical figure. The legend of Saint Christopher is that he was of massive size, and wished therefore to serve only the mightiest of masters. Both an earthly king and Satan disappointed him, and so at last, in search of a better master, he retired to a well-travelled ford which he helped wayfarers to cross. One night, carrying a child across the river, he found his burden becoming so heavy that he could hardly bear it. "It is no wonder," the child told him, "for you have been bearing the whole world. I am Jesus, the Christ, the king you seek."

Naturally, because of his supposed work at the ford, Christopher has become the patron saint of travellers, and in medieval times, it was believed that those who looked upon his image would come to no harm during that day.


Many cultures have had trickster gods, and Coyote was a North American native version common to a number of tribes. The canine quadruped of the same name is found everywhere on the Great Plains and in the northern forests, and has a distinct combination of qualities: shrewd, curious, elusive, seemingly indestructible and eternally hungry. The trickster-god Coyote is the same: sly, self-serving, appearing when least expected, impossible to catch. Although he is credited with creating the world or some parts of it, he is not a lofty dweller of the skies, but a being who mingles freely in the affairs of humans, a lusty, earth figure who is fooled as often as he fools.

For the Crow Indians, for example, in the beginning there was only water and Old Man Coyote, and he made the world we have today, with the help of some ducks who brought him mud from the bottom of the water. The White Mountain Apaches, though, tell a story of how Coyote tricked Sun out of his tobacco, and then was tricked, in turn, by the Apache people. They did this by offering Coyote a wife. In celebration, Coyote gave away tobacco, but he found out at dawn that the 'wife' was only a boy dressed up as a girl. It was too late, though — the Apache people have sacred tobacco to this day. Throughout the myths of the world, there are intriguing parallels. The Crow story has resonance with both the creation story of Genesis, and the story of Noah and the flood. In the Apache story, Coyote is similar to Prometheus, who stole fire from the Sun and gave it to humanity.


It is difficult to reconcile the chubby, frolicking, infantile figure now associated with this name with it origins. Cupid (cupido, 'desire'), also known as Amor and Eros, was the classical god of love, and specifically sexual love. The Greeks told two stories of his origin. One was that he came from Chaos at the beginning of time, brought about the union of the primal father and mother, Uranus, 'sky,' and Gaia, ‘earth’ and supervised all subsequent unions of gods and humans. The other version was that he was the strong, handsome and athletic son of Aphrodite and Ares. The child-like version of Cupid dates from Hellenic and Roman times, when it was the tradition that the god's influence came as arrows fired into the heart. There were two kinds of arrows, though, some tipped with gold, and some with lead. The gold arrows naturally created passionate desire where they struck, but the ones tipped with lead caused the victim to turn away from those who might desire him or her.

The most well-known legend of Cupid, or Eros, is the deeply symbolic story of Psyche. Briefly, Psyche was a mortal girl of unearthly beauty who provoked the jealousy of Aphrodite. The goddess sent her son to punish her by causing her to fall in love with a monster, the ugliest creature imaginable. Instead, though, Cupid/Eros accidentally pricked himself with one of his own arrows, and fell in love with her himself. Without telling his mother, he had her wafted by the west wind to a palace in a secret valley. They lived there quite happily, Cupid coming to her only at night to disguise his divinity, until Psyche's sisters found her and persuaded her to learn her husbands true identity. Needless to say, this brought their happiness to an end, and Psyche had to endure much suffering and four symbolic tests, even descending into Hades, before Zeus finally re-united the two, granting Psyche immortality with a draft of nectar. Eros and Psyche then had a daughter whom they named Voluptas, 'pleasure.'

If there is a parallel between Coyote and Prometheus, there seems also to a be a parallel between Cupid and the trickster Coyote — as anyone who has felt the illogical, unreasonable dart of passion might agree.