#17: Turkish "anastenaria"

Braziers of coals were brought, and little shovels about a foot long were heated in them till the iron glowed an angry white. Then the chief called up half a dozen men, and, with stately form, placed a heated iron in the hand of each. Dervishes call this iron their "rose" because of its color in the fire, and each recipient walked about within the circle formed by the admiring, fascinated crowd, and lapped his red-hot iron. I saw the metal glow, and heard the hiss every time it came in contact with the moist tongue. As the irons cooled, the dervishes caught live coals from the braziers, placed them in their mouths, and fanned them to fiercer heat by drawing great draughts of air across the glowing embers. Then several iron spikes were produced, each set in a wooden ball nearly as large as the fist, this latter being girt about with tinkling bangles.

The sight of this instrument always makes my blood run cold, albeit the performers insist that they are insensible to pain while using it. The virtue of being a Rufa'i consists in this, that the power or virtue of the dead Pir, transmitted through the living sheikh, protects a humble man in performing feats ordinarily impossible. God is thus proved to accept the person and the worship of a Rufa'i. Taking the instrument with a deep bow, each performer kissed it, fondled it, and walked about twirling it in his hands, and growing ever more and more excited, until at last, with the cry, "Allah, Allah", he struck the point heavily into his cheek, temple, neck, breast, or other tender part of his body. He would then walk about twirling the spike by its ball until after a time he would wrench the instrument from his flesh with a jerk, and begin again with increasing frenzy. It is claimed that no blood flows from such wounds, and I have never seen any, though I have seen the cheek pierced and the tip of the spike protruding from the mouth.

I do not undertake the explanation of these "proofs". Pious Mohammedans regard them as manifestations of divine approval for certain religious men. Hypnotism, whatever that may be, perhaps accounts for some things; I find no evidence of attempts at imposture, though self-deception is quite possible.

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