Via Tecta (Sacred Way)

Language of Symbols and Khidr Fasting

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Translation: Nalan Özkan Lecerf

The first ‘cemre’ (any of three radiations of heat which supposedly fall in succession from the sun into the air, the water, and the earth in February and March; Turkish expression for ‘sign of spring’) will fell down on the 19th of February to the air, the second ‘cemre’on 26th of February to the water, the third ‘cemre’on 05th of March to the earth (soil).

The Alevi of Anatolia have fasted for 3 days. They have just finished. They have called the 3 ‘cemre’. This 3-day fast in February is called ‘Khidr Fasting’. Now, until 19th of February, they will do the Khidr ‘Cem’ (in English ‘Jem’, the central Alevi communal worship service prayer) and distribute Khidr ‘lokma’ (is a kind of pastry soaked in sugar syrup or honey and cinnamon).

A story often told by ‘dede’s (A ‘dede’ is a socio-religious leader in the Alevi community): ‘Hasan and Hüseyin were children. They were very sick. Prophet Muhammed told Ali and Fatima to fast 3 days, so the children can get well again. Along these 3 days, at each fast breaking time, a poor came to the house of Ali and Fatima. The poor said that they were hungry. Every day Fatima and Ali gave all of their rations to these poor coming 3 days long to their door, so they themselves couldn’t eat for 3 days. It is believed that the poor were Khidr, because at the end of the 3rd day Hasan and Hüseyin were healthy again.’

The ‘cemre’ will soon fall to the air, after to the water and at last to the earth (soil).

One of Imam Ali’s name is: Abu Turab. Father of the Soil …

It is known, that the soil is feminine. It is giving birth by itself to life. It is everybody’s ‘Ana’ (Mother). This body is coming from the earth and turning back to it, always … The body is a property which is carrying the signification called ‘insan’ (human). The property carrying the signification is taking nourishment from Mother Earth.

Zaynab bint Ali: Daugther of Imam Ali. She was called, like mother earth, ‘scholar without teacher’ (alimetun gayru mualleme). The monument of Ali’s children (abidetu Âl-i Ali), who witnessed the martyrdom of her grandfather Prophet Muhammed, her mother Fatima-Tuz Zahra, her father Imam Ali, her brothers Hasan and Hüseyin.

Zaynab, the nightmare of Yazid, with her high wisdom, strong oratorical skill and her honorable attitude. Zaynab ‘Ana’ (mother), who could rescue the one and only Iman left from the Karbala Battle Zayn al-Abidin and brought life to  Ahl al-Bayt.

After the last ‘cemre’ fell to the life-giving earth (soil), we will wait for a meeting which will happen on 21st of March. It is the meeting of Adam and Eve or it can be also said it is the meeting of Fatima and Imam Ali. It is told, that a ‘meaning’ will be born out of this meeting. After this ‘meaningful’ gathering we will wait for the 6th of May, so that Khidr and Ilyas (Elijah) can meet. With this meeting, mother earth will awake and everywhere will be dressed in green and colourful flowers…

In fact, the living symbolical language of Anatolia is telling us a lot.

A calendar particular for Anatolia. According to this calendar, the year is divided into two names: November Days and Khidr Days. Prof. Dr. Öcal Oğuz, head of  the department Turkish Folklore at the Faculty of Language and Literature at the Gazi University is explaining the calendar as follows: “According to the Gregorian Calendar, the November Days start on 8th of November, the Khidr Days on 06th of May.”

Like a prayer, with the 3-day Khidr Fasting, the Alevi of Anatolia have called this cyclical process again.

Those, who are carrying this cyclicality as an archetype in their sub-consciousness, are calling the Father of the Soil- Imam Ali ‘Haydar’. ‘Hay’ means ‘life’, ‘Dar’ means ‘House’. ‘Haydar’, ‘House of Life’. (1) The word ‘Hızır / Hıdır / Hadra’ (Khidr) means ‘green’. Khidr is a Person, whose ‘makam’ (place) is where two seas are meeting. It is said, that in the Qu’ran the expression ‘whom we had taught knowledge from us’ (Al-Kahf – 65) is giving a hint to Khidr. Again, in sacred texts, we are witnessing in a symbolical sense the meeting of Khidr and Moses where two seas meet. The word ‘Moses’ means ‘coming from the waters’. (2) (One of the most important interpretations of this symbolical language – the Khidr symbol – is described in details in the book ‘Four Archetypes’ of the founder of Analytical Psychology Carl Gustav Jung.)

Khidr is a savior, who is coming to anybody in need, is saving life, is not limited by time and space and whom we can encounter anytime. Thus when praying for a friend ‘May Khidr with the Grey Horse (Boz Atlı Hızır) be your helper’ is said. It is not known in which language, culture, belief we will encounter Khidr, therefore it is given the advice ‘Know everybody you see as Khidr’ in this tradition.

Merdi meydan eylemektir iyi er (it is the better the sooner to challenge man)
Gafil olma kardeş çerağın söner (brother, don’t be unaware or your lamp will go out)
Her gördüğün Hızır bilmektir hüner (it is a skill to know everybody seen as Khidr)
Hızır-İlyas Şâh-ı Merdan Ali’dir (Khidr-Elijah is Şah’ı Merdan Ali – Şah’ı Merdan Ali is another name given to Imam Ali by the Alevi)

(Şükrü Metin Baba)

Recently I had the chance to meet Yusuf Kemter Dede from Erzincan, an important living being of the tradition. According to his wife Perihan ‘Ana’ (mother), a clad in flesh Alevi Kemter Dede is approaching 100 as an age. I asked this ‘Dede’ who is like a thousands of years old plane-tree: Dedem, what is Khidr?

His answer: “When a person knows himself, he is always ready and in peace in front of God. It is required to be Khidr and to serve humanity. There is no bigger devotion (worship) than serving man. It is said, ‘Baba himmet. Oğul hizmet.’ (This is a proverb and means: In order to deserve help from adept people, those who are in need have to show effort).”

Yusuf Kemter Dede expressed his from the alembic filtered words like using Yunus’ idiom ‘Nedir diye sorana, bandım verdim özümü’ (meaning: I dipped and gave my essence to whom who asked what this is). YunusEmre, who was given withHaji Bektash Veli’s own hand to Tabduk Emre (he was the teacher of Yunus Emre) says the same:

“Bir hastaya vardın ise bir içim su verdin ise
Yarın anda karşı gele Hakk şarabın içmiş gibi”

(If you visit and give water to a sick man who needs care,
With God’s wine, he shall hail you there one day when you soar to the sky.)

In 3 days the Khidr Fasting was done. That is a custom. A more veiled version of this custom is transmitted like this in the tradition:

Iman Ali is the only one being born in the Kaaba. His mother Fatima – she also was mothering Prophet Muhammed – travails during cleaning the Kaaba and gives birth to Ali. For 3 days, Ali is not nursing his mother. Until after 3 days Muhammed Mustafa, who is far away, comes. He arrives, gets him on his lap and by reading the prayer (ezan) into his ear gives him the name ‘Ali’. (The day he was born, his father gave him the name Eset; Aslan.) Then he nurses his own tongue and gives him to his mum. Afterwards Ali starts to nurse his mother’s breast. Like this, Ali’s 3-day fast is completed.

From Anatolia, the voice of our great Poet Ahmed Arif resounds;

Doğdun, üç gün aç tuttuk, (you were born, we kept you hungry for 3 days)
Üç gün meme vermedik sana (we didn’t breastfeed you for 3 days)
Adiloş Bebem, (Adiloş Baby)
Hasta düşmeyesin diye, (so you don’t get sick)
Töremiz böyle diye, (because our custom is like this)
Saldır şimdi memeye, (now grap the breast)
Saldır da büyü… (grap and grow)


Notes (1) and (2): Metin Bobaroğlu / Simgesel Düşünme (Anatolian Enlightenment Foundation)

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Written by Ayşe Acar, 16 February 2014. Source: Photo credit: @hygeia_turkey

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