Mysteries in the West – Strange Rites

Mysteries in the West – Strange Rites

It is the night of Saturday, especially consecrated to a ritual which is awesome to us, faithfully followed by the devotees of a certain cult.

Two groups of twelve, dressed in colourful costumes, carry out complicated movements within an enclosed space. They at times respond to musical stimuli applied through a primitive instrument by a man of seeming authority who, with a few assistants, supervises their activity. Entirely surrounding the area devoted to the ritual, a congregation gives its responses. At times the people sing, sometimes they shout, sometimes they are silent. Some wield an instrument which gives forth a strange sound.

Much care has evidently gone into the planning of the geometrically designed arena. Around it are colourful insignia, flags, banners, decorations probably designed to raise the emotional pitch of the individual and the group. The atmosphere is eerie partly because of the abrupt changes in emotion. Their reaction to the ecstatogenic processes being enacted in their midst is so explosive at times that one wonders why they do not spill over into the sacred enclosure. Both joy and sorrow are manifested among the votaries.

Here a man writhes on the ground, another grimaces, sweat pouring from his face. One of the audience strikes himself, another his neighbour. The totem rises into the air, and is hailed by an awesome roar from the assembly … Then we see that blood has been shed.

We are observers at a floodlit association football [soccer] game …

[Idries Shah, The Sufis, pp. 232-3 with slight edits]

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