Review: “Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation”, by Ilhan Basgoz

Review:  “Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation”, by Ilhan Basgoz

As a graduate student in the Indiana University Folklore and Ethnomusicology Department from 2007-12 I was lucky to get to know Dr. Ilhan Basgoz before he retired.  In 1998 I danced professionally with Turkish Sufi musician, Latif Bolat, and we had a get together at Professor Basgoz’s home here in Bloomington, and I knew it was an honor and a privilege to get to absorb any knowledge from this man.  He was a tenured professor in the IU Folklore Dept. for several years, and published many works.  Several years later after I got married my husband worked on his home as a general contractor, and he gifted us with many items; I actually have a black and white picture of him when he was young that we found in a desk he gave us.  It is such a blessing to get to study with the elders, and especially someone who has brought such deep secrets to us from Ancient Anatolia.  As with many conquered lands myths get transposed and hidden within the new culture of the conquerors.  This Dream Motif is the perfect example of this phenomenon, and as all musicians and dancers are healers of some sort, I felt it is important to share with other dancers this format of the shamanistic initiation; I think it will resonate with you.

Written:  11-29-01

Review:  “Dream Motif in Turkish Folk Stories and Shamanistic Initiation”, by Ilhan Basgoz

Asian Folklore Studies
Vol. 26, No. 1 (1967), pp. 1-18
Published by: Nanzan University

Summary:  In this article Basgoz compares the shamanistic initiation rites, which include ecstatic experiences and formal training, and the themes, or motifs, used within them to the dream motif commonly found in both Turkish mystical and Ottoman court romance poetry.  He speculates that because of later Christian and Islamic suppression of folk/pagan religion, the dream motif had to conceal itself within the various types of Turkish poetry.  After the arrival of the Turko-Mongol tribes in Anatolia the shamanistic culture mutated and merged with the cultures already present there; in Eastern Anatolia the Iranian influence was particularly powerful, and especially the Zoroastrian rituals seemed to affect the initiations of shamans.  The motif of the “wine cup” was not indigenous to Asian shamanism, but it is key in Turkish shamanism.  This implies that the Turkish tribes borrowed it from their new neighbors, the Iranians, and also perhaps in Western Anatolia from the Mediterranean cultures.  Basgoz sees a transformation from the Turkish shamans to the Turkish bards, “asiks”, or musical poets.  Both shamans and bards act as spiritual leaders in their respective communities, and the use of music is central to their physical and mental healing techniques.  In traditional Siberian shamanism, such as in the Tunguz tribe, the use of rhythm in the form of beating of drums and rattles is common in not only the initiation but also the healing rituals; it is no wonder that the Turko-Mongol tribes brought that influence with them from their old neighbors to their new world of Anatolia.  The ancient Turkish technique of music therapy that was and still is commonly used in the Sufi tekkes must stem from these shamanistic practices.  Once the religions of Christianity and Islam took hold in the urban centers the poetry and stories created there were deleted of any paganistic dream motif; Basgoz maintains that only in the folk literature can one find any link to shamanistic motifs in their complete form.  He says that the ecstatic experiences of the initiations of shamans and their relationship with their leader turns into the love of God that is seen in Islamic mystical poetry, and hence once the same motifs reached the Ottoman court the ecstatic experiences are played out as interactions of human love.  Basgoz has done a fine job of showing the thread of ancient Turkish shamanistic culture and its transformation into the Asik, Sufi, and court culture of musical poetical performance and literature.

Dream Motif in Ecstatic Shamanistic Initiation:

  • Youth is called by souls of dead shamans or spirits
  • Psychological crisis ensues
  • During sleep the youth is carried away by the spirits for a magical journey
  • Instruction is imparted during the magical travel; youth learns shamanistic treatment, technique and culture
  • A female spirit may be present, and may become the heavenly spouse of the future shaman
  • Youth has gone through a symbolic death to assume his future role as shaman

Sufi Alevi Initiation Ritual “Ayini Cem”:

  • Tests made to the initiate before he can be a part of the brotherhood
  • Possibly wrapped in a shroud: symbolic death
  • Instructed in the moral conduct expected of him
  • Led to a holy site with a cord wrapped around his neck; meets spiritual master of the order
  • Cup of wine from spiritual leader as symbolic of sacred knowledge
  • Symbolic death seen as burning and melting of the heart; waking up to new self
  • Men and women partake in ceremony

Dream Motif in Folk Stories of Asik Initiation:

  • Dream comes after a physical or moral ordeal; induced by suffering of hero
  • It comes after the hero prays to God for help
  • Usually takes place at a holy site, or on a holy day; graves and fountains common places
  • Holy person/s offer a cup of wine, symbolic of sacred knowledge imparted to the hero; goes through transformation, symbolic death, flame of fire consumes the body
  • Presence of a celestial maiden may substitute the above holy person/s
  • Hero falls into trance from the cup of wine; stays there for three, six, or seven days
  • The hero is visited by an old woman; only she understands his illness, as everyone else thinks he’s mad
  • She brings him a saz, and begins to play; he wakes upon hearing the strings, and begins to improvise poetry, play music, and sing; he uses his new revealed name