Friday, June 5, 2020

Colors of the Simurgh

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.[1]

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. 

 Over the 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 my room.

 Rise from your body, and I will descend to you. 

I 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.” 

I read 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. 

I 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.[2]

In one of Suhrawardi’s visionary treatises, I found the Simurgh with its wind and music:

“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.” [3] 

 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 dream. [3] 

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.  


1.      "The 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.

2.      For 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 pictureSimurgh in a mosaic on the wall of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrassah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan



1 comment:

Orest Stocco said...

The Conference of the Birds was an inspiration in my quest for my true self, which was initiated by Gurdjieff's teaching of "work on oneself." Long story short, I found my true self and looked into the Face of God. Ten or so years later, I began to doubt that I had the experience of looking into the Face of God. One beautiful Sunday spring morning I went out for a run along Lake Helen in my hometown in Northwestern Ontario, and as I'm running I'm thinking about my experience of looking into the Face of God. Four or five kilometres into my run, I spot a flock of geese on the shoreline, huddled by the trunk of a large pine tree all grey and weathered, and the thought came to me: wouldn't it be something if there were thirty birds there? I was of course thinking of the Conference of the Birds. If there were thirty birds, I would take that as symbolic confirmation that I did look into the Face of God, because thirty birds completed the journey to God (the great Simurgh) in the allegory. I counted, but my heart sank. There were 25. I counted again, and I counted 27. I stood up on the guard rail to get a better view, and I counted 29. I counted three more times, and there were only 29, and my heart sank. I jumped off the guard rail and continued my run down the highway, dejected. And then out of the blue it hit me--I'M THE THIRTIETH BIRD! And I never again doubted my experience of looking into the Face of God. Thank you for sharing your dream experience, Robert. I love your books.