There are mythic beings that roost in the mind, ready to seize
your imagination and carry you off on wild adventures: dragons, griffins and
other fantastic beasts. Some may stay with you for a whole lifetime, and may
remind you of other lifetimes. I can’t remember when I first heard the Persian
name of the heaven bird known as the Simurgh, but I know I have heard its cry
and felt the wind of its wings long before naming.
Jorge Luis Borges was also fascinated by the mystical bird of
Persian mythology. He wrote an essay reflecting on the mystery of how, in The
Conference of the Birds, thirty birds become one bird, while the one bird
is still thirty. He quotes these astonishing lines by his fellow-Argentine
poet, Silvina Ocampo:
Era Dios ese pájaro como un enorme espejo:
los contenía a todos; no era un mero reflejo.
En sus plumas hallaron cada uno sus plumas
en los ojos, los ojos con memorias de plumas
This bird was God, like an enormous mirror
that contained them all, and not a mere reflection.
In his feathers each one found his own feathers,
in his eyes, their eyes with the memories of feathers.
When I found this, my memories stirred of one of the big dreams
of my life. In the dream, half a lifetime ago, I found myself in a house on a
canal, perhaps in Amsterdam. The house belonged to a magician. I sampled the
rich library. On a large table in another room, under glass, I found an
elaborate machine signed by Israel Regardie, who disclosed the secret rituals
and "flying rolls" of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Upstairs, in the master bedroom, I found a Persian rug, lying on the bed. Still
rolled and tied with strings, it seemed to have been recently delivered, and
still unused, at least in this house. While I contemplated the rug, a shamanic
teacher with whom I had studied entered the room behind me. He was immensely
excited by the rug, wanting to know when it had been delivered and when and how
I planned to use it.
I woke excited, with many questions. The first was: who is the owner of this
house? Instead of speculating on this theme, I reentered the dream, with the
aid of shamanic drumming, to make a full tour. I discovered what you might have
guessed, had you heard my initial report. The house on the canal was my own, a
place where I could explore my connections with many traditions of inner work
and practical magic with which I appear to have connections across space and
time. I went carefully through several volumes in the library. I examined
the Golden Dawn machine. It was antiquated, with unnecessary Heath Robinson
features, but still in fine working order.
Then I went up the stairs to the bedroom and unrolled the Persian rug. I
marveled at the beauty of the design. It was woven in colors of blue and silver.
At the center was the form of a great bird I knew to be the Simurgh. When I
spread out the rug, the Simurgh rose and spread its great wings. I found myself
instantly on its back. We made a wild ride across space and time. I was drawn
into the world and the visions of the Magi, and saw Bethlehem as they visioned
it. I found myself chanting ancient names in Farsi. My mind opened to memories
of the Fravarti, the Choosers, spiritual knights of Persian tradition who make
the choice to leave a higher world to come into this one to fight a good fight.
years that followed my discovery of the Persian rug in the house on the canal,
I received visitations in the twilight zone between sleep and awake that
prompted me to deepen my study of Persian mystical traditions. A name that was
mentioned again and again was that of Suhrawardi, the great medieval mystical
philosopher. On a night that opened like a flower, I felt a radiant presence in
Rise from your body, and I will descend to you.
loosened physical focus without separating from the body. I had the impression
of a handsome young man of Persian appearance, wearing modern clothes, a suit
and a shirt with banded collar. He said that his name was Shams. He told me,
“Suhrawardi is the key to your understanding of the dream cosmos,” and that I
should use his geographies of the Imaginal Realm. “Go to Mount Qaf.”
translations of Suhrawardi’s works, and books about him by the French scholar
Henry Corbin. I read about a mystical journey through the realm of the moon to
a tree bearing all fruits on a high peak of the world mountain, Mount Qaf. In
that tree is the nest of the Simurgh.
stretched out on my bed, in an early dawn, and was transported into this scene:
I am in a palace that is open to the winds, a place of soaring
arches. It does not seem to stand on earth, but among the stars. It is
roofless, open to the night sky, which is dark yet light at the same time,
shimmering in every particle. There are twelve spacious rooms in the palace.
Each contains marvelous musical instruments, shaped like butterfly wings. Some
have multiple wings or leaves. They resembled stringed harps, yet the “strings”
are so fine as to be invisible. Cosmic winds blow celestial harmonies through
these wings of sound. I marvel at the beauty of these harmonies.
In one of Suhrawardi’s visionary treatises, I found the Simurgh with its wind
“This Simurgh flies without moving, and he soars without
wings. He approaches without traversing space. All colors are from him, but he
himself has no color. His nest is in the orient, but the occident is not void
of him. All are occupied with him, but he is free of all. All are full of him,
but he is empty of all, All knowledge emanates and is derived from his shrill
cry, and marvelous instruments such as the organ have been made from his
thrilling voice….His food is fire, and whoever finds one of his feathers to his
right side and passes through the fire will be safe from burning. The zephyr is
from his breath, hence lovers speak their hearts’ secrets and innermost
thoughts with him.” 
I went on a quest to find an image of the Simurgh as it
appeared on the magic carpet in my dream of the house on the canal. I found
many pictures over the years, but failed to find the silver and blue
heaven bird that took flight in my dream.
I have Peter Sis' beautiful illustrated and simplified
version of The Conference of the Birds, the long Sufi poem by Farid
ud-din Attar that is our main source on the Simurgh and the mystery of the many
who are one and the one who is many. There is a lovely picture of thirty birds
joined in the form of a giant bird in full flight, but not the colors from my
I mounted yet another online search and hit gold, or rather,
silver. The mosaic in the photograph, from Bukhara, shows the Simurgh in the
colors of my dream.
For me, this sequence is important confirmation that we are called in dreams and dreamlike states to traditions and lineages that may be part of our larger, multidimensional story.
Simurgh and the Eagle" by Jorge Luis Borges is one of his "Nine
Dantesque Essays" reprinted in Selected Non-Fictions, edited
by Eliot Weinberger (New York: Penguin, 2000). The Silvina Ocampo poem is Espacios métricos, 12.
more on own adventures in these realms, please see The Boy Who Died and Came Back chapter
38, "Flights of the Simurgh"
3. Peter Sis, The Conference of the Birds (New York:
Penguin Books, 2013)
4. Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi, “The Shrill Cry of the Simurgh” in
W.M.Thackson, Jr. (trans) The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of
Suhrawardi (London: Octagon Press, 1982) p.88
Top picture: Simurgh
in a mosaic on the wall of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrassah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan