“It is not my hand that is healing, but that of our Fatimah Ana.”~ Sufi Saying
The following is a little legend about the origins of the healer tradition of the people of the fireplace. The people of the fireplace are an Islamo-Shamanic healer tribe in Central Asia and Turkey. They center their healing rituals around fire, melting lead and using ash for healing. And around Fatimah Al-Zahra (a.s), the daughter of the prophet (a.s). The tradition of keeping a fireplace as the spiritual focus point is also observed by many Sufi orders.
“Muhammed, a.s., the Prophet of Islam, made a fire, when a voice reached him, which came from one side of the hearth. The voice told him that he could use the ashes of the fire, mixed with water, to heal the sick. So, the prophet started to heal the sick, but, after years, he became tired of doing this and decided to transmit the art to his daughter Fatima and authorized her to carry it out. Hence, Fatima took his hands and started healing. Becoming in turn tired of this, she transmitted the art of healing, in respect to the same ritual, to her neighbour and close friend Lokman (Arabic: Luqman), a famous figure in Islam – whose name was given to Surat 31 of the Quran. Then Lokman spread the art to several places and people, setting up the tradition of the fireplace.” (Source: Gülnür Öngel, “Fatima, Female Patron of the Shamans” *)
“One of the conditions to becoming a healer is to be chosen by Fatimah Ana and to meet her through a dream and then “to take her hand”.”
Thus, according to this legend, the Prophet Muhammed (a.s), his daughter Fatimah (a.s) and Luqman are the three first links in the chain of transmission of the people of the fireplace. Such a chain of transmission is certainly contested by many, since there is no direct historical link between Luqman and Muhammed (a.s) and certainly not in this order, as Luqman lived before the prophet. However, even if is just a legend, it has it’s own virtues and transmits certain truths worth knowing. This legend reminds me of Spagyrics and Alchemy and use of ash in the creation of pure, healing plant essences. And Luqman (also known as Balaam) himself is in esoterical lore across the boards frequently associated with Hermetic Philosophy, Alchemy, Shamanism and Magic.
Fatima Al-Zahra’s (as) role in the transmission of the healing art in Sufi lineages is of greatest importance in the work of all female Sufi Muslim healers. Fatimah Ana (Our Mother Fatimah) is frequently invoked during healing work. Besides, one of the conditions to becoming an healer is to be chosen by Fatimah Ana and to meet her through a dream and then “to take her hand”. The expression, “it is not my hand (that heals), but the hand of Fatimah Ana” is common. Female Sufi shamans who use their hand for ritual gestures will say “It is Fatimah’s Hand”. Another spirit story about Fatimah and how she was initiated into the art of healing is told through a tribe in Eastern Turkmenistan:
“The daughter of the prophet sat in the shadow of a tree when a yellow bird descended from heaven and stopped on one branch of this tree. The branch became dry immediately. Not long afterwards the bird left the tree and the shadow of it’s wings covered the legs of Bibi Fatimah and she became sick for seven days. Since no one was able to cure her, the Prophet asked God for help. Then, 40 perfect men were send by Allah to cure her. Coming from the heavens, seven among these forty reached the earth, alighting near a mausoleum. They put up a banner in the house of Bibi Fatimah who made some circumambulations around it and then recovered her health.”
“In traditional Sufi Islam the transmission of the “spirit” and initiation (bayat) into the order (tariqua) is always done by taking the hand of the Shayk.”
Fatima’s sickness is clearly an initiatory ailment and the yellow bird is obviously a symbol of evil spirits. The seven men amongst the 40 perfect men who were sent by Allah to cure her, are famous helping (and sometimes not so helping) spirits that are known throughout Persia and Central Asia as Chihiltan or Chiltan which means literally “Forty Spirits” (“Chihil” meaning 40 and “Tan” spirit). The number 40 is frequently incorporated in religious transmissions throughout the Muslim world and in particular Sufism. Circumambulations around scriptures and similar objects are a ritual healing technique still used in some regions of Central Asia. The legend demonstrates how Fatimah was called by the invisible to learn the art of healing and how her knowledge is since then transmitted from generation to generation,” through her hand”. In real traditional Sufi Islam the transmission of the “spirit” and initiation (bayat) into the order (tariqua) is always done by taking the hand of the Shaykh (and not as it is done by some Sufi orders these days via phone or email). We are giving forward Fatimah’s hand by giving our own hand.
One female healer who is a known servant of Fatimah told me her own initiatic story, which she permitted me to share: “I had my first calling by Fatimah (a.s) about 14 years ago, but I was at the time not educated in anything to do with Islam nor Shamanism nor Sufism. Indeed, I was in my own way an atheist, believing only in rationality. That I was thinking so often about Fatimah I put down to some historical books I had read and which had fascinated me. Still, I had to think about Fatimah all the time for many months but then I forgot. Then my life took a turn into chaos and I had serious calamaties hitting me. A bad relationship, abuse, the loss of my home, financial ruin and bad health. It was then, in utter desperation, that I remembered Fatimah and I called out for her in a dream and she came, and after shouting at me for abandoning her she gave me her hand and I was set on the path I am on now. And I recovered everyhing I lost with her aid.”
“She gave me her hand and I was set on the path I am on now. And I recovered everyhing I lost with her aid.”
The meaning of the Fatimah’s hand in the spiritual path of a healer Sufi could not become clearer then in this personal account of a transmission, but there are other interpretations of the meaning of the hand and the hand shake for Bayat in the Sufi Muslim tradition. According to one particular interpretation (which is favored mostly by Sunnis) Muhammed (a.s) took the oath of loyality from his followers through hand taking and since then Muslims declare the allegiance to a Shaykh and ultimately to Muhammed (a.s) through the hand.
Before finishing this article I want to briefly return to the fireplace. In many fireplace stories in the Turkish and Central Asian traditions, Fatimah (a.s) never falls sick but learns from her father Muhammed (a.s) the art of healing through ashes of the fire. It is curious, that the only Hadith describing an actual healing by Fatimah is recorded by no other but Ismail Bukhari. Bukhari writes that Fatimah (a.s) and her husband Ali Ibn-Talib (a.s) nursed the wounds of the Prophet (a.s) injured at the battle of Uhud. “Fatimah used to wash the wounds and Ali Ibn Talib used to pour water from a shield. When Fatimah saw that the water aggravated the bleeding, she took a piece of mat, burnt it, and inserted it’s ashes into the wound so that the blood was congealed (and bleeding stopped). Bukhari, 5, 277-8.
- Gülnür Öngel. “Fatima, Female Patron of the Shamans”, in: “Shamanism and Islam: Sufism, Healing Rituals and Spirits in the Muslim World”, Ed: Tierry Zarcone, Angela Hobart.