Month: August 2007

FINDING MY RELIGION V – Anne Scott, a follower of Sufism, teaches feminine spirituality

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Sufism is typically thought of as a mystical branch of Islam whose practices developed in the Middle East during the eighth century and whose adherents can now be found around the world. But whereas some Sufis continue to identify themselves as part of Islam, others do not. Anne Scott has worked with the Naqshbandi Sufi path, a non-Islamic tradition, for 16 years.

Scott was attracted to the basic Sufi idea that love is the essence of God and that only through love can we humans draw closer to God. Followers also seek to resolve the dualities and apparent contradictions of life, believing that unconditional love helps us understand that everything — the good and even what we might consider the bad and the ugly — is a manifestation of the divine.

Scott, 56, through her DreamWeather Foundation, lectures and leads workshops and retreats for women on spirituality in everyday life. She is the author of “Serving Fire: Food for Thought, Body and Soul” (Celestial Arts, 1994) and “The Laughing Baby” (Celestial Arts, 2001). She spoke with me last week by phone from her home in Sebastopol.


Earlier you told me that your first spiritual experience involved a Buddhist chef, but you didn’t give me any details. Can you tell me more about that?

I was in China on a two-week trip as a photojournalist for Money magazine. I was doing a story on one of the first tour groups to be allowed into the country, and I had asked for vegetarian food, even though I’m not a vegetarian, because I didn’t want to eat the meat and the large quantities of unappetizing food they were serving to the other tourists. This caused a little problem because every place that we went they didn’t seem to know what to do with me, and each time I received a bowl of rice, a plate of cabbage and a bowl of peanuts. Everywhere! But I was so happy to be in China I didn’t care.

On the last few days of the trip, we stayed in a rural inn. Everyone was fed their usual fare, and I expected the same thing — the cabbage, the peanuts and the rice. But just as everyone else was nearly finished, out came a cook with a tray of over a dozen dishes of the most amazing vegetarian food that you have ever seen. It was absolutely beautiful! And there was silence in the room, because everyone was awestruck by the beauty and the reverence of this man as he carried the food and put it on the table.

Then he bowed before me and thanked me for [enabling] him to cook vegetarian food — because it turns out he used to be the head cook in a monastery, a Buddhist monastery — and of course with the Communists in power that was just not allowed and those monasteries were closed. After he left there was so much love in this food, so much love in his preparation that I could barely eat it.

I would think you’d want to dig right in after eating the same thing for two weeks.

Honestly, it was an experience that I had never had before, particularly all the bowing, and I was very uncomfortable — I didn’t know what to say to him. Anyway, that night I went to bed, and I had a dream about the Buddhist cook. I saw him bowing before me, and his bowing evoked something in my heart, and I felt a pain, like a great sorrow, and then — like a movie being repeated — he bowed, and bowed, and bowed again. Each time I felt that pain.

As I told you before, I had no religious or spiritual background before this. I had a few years of church training when I was young, but I had no belief in anything beyond my own mind, basically. But during this night it felt as if my heart had been broken open, and all the protection, all the defenses and all the barriers were melted by this love of this chef. Every time he bowed in my dream, I would again feel this pain — and I was crying and filled with love. I had never known love in that way.

The experience was so beyond the mind that my mind couldn’t wrap around it. And so I didn’t tell anyone about it, not even my husband, for about 10 years, until I began to realize what the experience really was — that it was a spiritual awakening.

You have followed the Naqshbandi Sufi path for 16 years. Can you tell me a bit about the basic beliefs of this tradition?

Like all Sufi paths, it’s a path of love. In Sufism, there is an understanding that this love is in the heart of every human being, only it’s covered over by our conditioning and by the ego and many other aspects that we accumulate during life that might give us a different impression of who we really are. And so the Sufi path helps you to uncover the truth of your own being and this love that’s in the center of your heart. The practices are very simple: meditation and awareness of the presence of the divine.

It’s also described a mystical path. What makes it mystical?

I would describe “mysticism” as a way of making a direct connection to the divine or to what Sufis call the “beloved.” There is no intermediary between you and God.

Many of us find it difficult to make that connection. The Sufi path helps you find it within yourself, often through a deep inner journey and through tremendous longing. I think longing is the stamp of Sufism — the longing in the heart.


What led you to Sufism in the first place?

It started with a book I read during one of the darkest times in my life. I had just taken my husband to the emergency room with a severe asthma attack in 1987, and I didn’t know if he was going to live.

The name of the book was “The Last Barrier: A Journey Into the Essence of Sufi Teachings,” by Reshad Field. It was about a man’s journey to find his spiritual path, which turned out to be Sufism. I had never heard of Sufism before, but I finished the book in about three hours. Afterward, I realized that everything that happened in my life, every seeming failure or sorrow, every difficulty, was not really a mistake. It had all been pointing towards this deeper journey, which I didn’t even know I had. And that was the journey to find the truth in myself — the journey to God.

I had been raised to think that if you weren’t really happy in life, then you were a failure. The Sufi path shows you that life is much bigger than that, and I realized that inside, what I thought was just sorrow, was really the longing for God. Suddenly, my whole life was given context. It’s like walking around with only one leg, and then you are given another leg, and you can stand there with full dignity because you understand yourself better. And you understand there is a purpose to your life that is much deeper than you ever knew.

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San Guillermo, de Francia a Fi[ni]sterra

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En Fi[ni]sterra hay una ermita derruida cuya advocación ha despertado las más diversas teorías, unas con algún acierto y otras sin ningún asidero. Me refiero a la ermita de San Guillermo, erigida en una caverna por los Templarios, tan afectos a reunir reliquias de santos como las de Felipe, Helena, Esteban, Lorenzo, Eufemia y otros que utilizaban tanto para atraer aspirantes como para recibir donaciones.

Se desconoce la fecha del nacimiento de San Guillermo. De los pocos datos de su vida consta que era conde de la ciudad de Toulouse, en Francia, y más tarde fue nombrado duque de Aquitania por el emperador Carlomagno, primo de su abuelo Charles Martel.

Cuando la invasión musulmana a Francia en el año 793, Guillermo organizó la formación de un ejército que, con grandes sacrificios, detuvo a los árabes. No sólo esto, sino que preparó también una contraofensiva. No hubo muchos príncipes y caballeros cristianos que le acompañaran, porque creyeron que las fuerzas limitadas de los cristianos no eran capaces de realizar un ataque a los invasores. Pero él confiaba en la ayuda de Dios y supo animar a sus tropas con tal fervor que los musulmanes tuvieron que retirarse.

En España

Guillermo de Aquitania sirvió más tarde en España y en el 801 cooperó con su ejército en la reconquista de Barcelona. Luego regresó a su patria y se dedicó a reedificar su ducado tras las grandes destrucciones que había dejado la guerra, especialmente en las pequeñas poblaciones y en el campo. Carlomagno le quiso dar a Guillermo otros terrenos en recompensa por su heroica lucha, pero éste le manifestó su intención de entregarse a la vida monástica: «No quiero honores, ya que nada más cumplí con mi deber. Como los árabes han sido definitivamente rechazados de nuestras tierras, quiero ponerme ahora la armadura de Dios». Así es que en el año 806 se retiró a la abadía benedictina de San Salvador de Gellone, etapa en el camino de Santiago, y que él mismo había fundado en el 804.

A este convento se refiere Nomper II, señor de Caumont, Chateauneuf, Château Cullier y de Berbéguières y caballero de la Orden del Santo Sepulcro, cuando visita en 1417 la ermita de San Guillermo y en su Voiatge a Saint Jaques en Compostelle et a Notre Dame de Finibus Terre escribe: «…hay una gran montaña donde está ubicada una ermita que recuerda la de Saint-Guilhem en el valle de Gellone»; hoy Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert en Hérault, Francia. Pero Sebald Rieter afirma en 1462: «…allí yace en el monte (de Fi[ni]sterra) el cuerpo del venerable señor San Guillermo quien hizo allí muchos milagros…».


Ahora bien, Nicolas Popplau describe en 1484 un brazo «guarnecido de plata» (robado por una escuadra francesa en 1552) que se conservaba en la iglesia fisterrana; pues en 1151, Raimon, abad de Sant-Guilhem-le-Désert, hizo este regalo a los Templarios de la iglesia de Sante-Eulalie-de-Cernon, al sureste de Millau, principal encomienda de Larzac, Francia.
Más tarde, entre 1154 y 1199, los Templarios traerían consigo la reliquia a Fi[ni]sterra, como lo atestigua uno de los escudos de la iglesia; de tipo cortado y que lleva arriba dos bustos de caballero con sus cascos afrontados (imitando el famoso sello del Temple), y abajo un brazo armado empuñando una espada. Escudo que fue mal atribuido a los Recamán.

San Guillermo murió el 28 de mayo de 812, fue canonizado por el Papa Alejandro II y su festividad es celebrada particularmente en Francia y Alemania.

El ejemplo de Guillermo de Aquitania movió en el tiempo de las cruzadas a muchos nobles europeos a dejar la familia y la patria para luchar y morir en Tierra Santa o España.


The holiest place in the world

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The Jews believed that God literally dwelt in the Beit Elohim, or House of God, and such houses – what we call temples – were built in Siloh, Bethel, Dan, Gilgal and other towns. But in an effort to concentrate worship and stamp on heresy and paganism, Solomon built the Bait ha-Migdash, “home of the Sanctuary”, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and its two tablets of stone given by God to Moses. Dedicated in 964 bc, it was thereafter regarded as the only legitimate place of sacrificial worship, and the artificial mount on which it was built gave it a high profile.

The original temple, about which we know only from detailed descriptions in the Bible, was smashed up by the Babylonians in 586 bc, restored as the Second Temple 70 years later, looted and desecrated by the Syrians in 169-7 bc, again restored and then completely rebuilt by Herod the Great.

He constructed what was one of the largest and most magnificent buildings in the entire Roman world (of which, be it noted, Jews formed 10 per cent of the population). This vast temple, in turn, was de stroyed by the Romans in ad 70, during the fourth century occupied by Christian cults, seized by the Muslims, who build the Dome of the Rock on it in about ad 700, plus the superb El Aqsa mosque, and then occupied by Crusaders in the 12th century. They produced the Knights Templar, who guarded the site, collected the money donated by pilgrims, became international bankers, and were suppressed by the French for their cash in the 14th century.

Thereafter, Arabs, then Turks, held sway until in 1917 General Allenby destroyed the Turkish army and entered Jerusalem on foot as the humble conqueror. When Israel was founded in 1948, the Arabs held east Jerusalem, which included the Temple Mount, and it was not until the Six Day War in 1967 that the Jews finally got the Temple back.

However, for complex reasons of religious ritual, Jews are not allowed on the Temple Mount itself, being confined to the Wailing Wall at the bottom, and even archaeology (begun in 1967) operates under severe restrictions. So many mysteries remain, not least the whereabouts of the Ark, presumably buried somewhere in the bowels of the Mount.

This complex history, fraught with religious undertones and frissons, has inspired waves of passion for three millennia, and some knowledge of its history is essential to understand the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict today and the intransigence on both sides. That is one reason why Professor Goldhill’s concise account is so useful. However, he has much else to tell us about the way in which the Temple has impinged on our lives.

It was thought, for instance, that the tomb of St Peter’s in Rome had been marked by 12 twisted white marble columns, brought to Rome by Constantine, who had looted them from the Temple. When Bernini came to build the canopy over the high altar of the new St Peter’s in the 17th century, he combined the idea of twisted columns with the great bronze monsters, Jachin and Boaz, which guarded the porch of the Temple, to produce his magnificent Baldacchino.

This captured the imagination of Archbishop Laud and in the 1640s he got his carver Nicholas Stone to make two magnificent twisted columns for the Baroque porch which was added incongruously to the Gothic church of St Mary’s in Oxford. Those infuriated the Puritans at the time (and helped to get Laud executed) and have puzzled visitors ever since.

The Temple also inspired the strange and powerful cult of freemasonry, an 18th-century invention in its modern form and an extraordinary combination of credulous myth and hard-headed mutual self-advancement. Masons argue that King David, the Temple’s inspiration, was the first patron of Masons, and details of the Temple, its measurements and references to Jachin and Boaz, play major roles in Masonic rituals and passwords: “in strength – pass, Boaz” is one of them.

Our Protestant Hanoverian royal family adopted freemasonry in a big way as a protection against Catholicism (George VI was a lifelong Mason) and Catholics, here and in Europe, evolved huge conspiracy theories against what they saw as a vicious secret society, a putative form of international terrorism.

Now the Muslims have taken over, and woven Masonic misdeeds into their skein of anti-Semitism. Their academic “research” has uncovered the “fact” that freemasonry was founded by Jews in the first century ad and was instrumental in creating Communism, Nazism and Zionism, striving “to spread sexual anarchism and moral disintegration”. And, come to think of it, the new American imperialism is the product of masonry too: “a close look at the US dollar bill would reveal the first letter of the word Zion engraved between the two pillars of Boaz and Jikin [sic]”.


The Templar Castle of Almourol

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Great video by Hugo Almeida you can find on YouTube. Hugo sent as an email with a link to this 4min clip about the Templar castle of Almourol, in  a small island in the middle of the Tagus river, just a few miles from Tomar and we think this is something you should look at. The voice over is in Portuguese, but there are subtitles in English.

Thanks Hugo!

Weekend to remember – Valencia

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Like most tourists, we came from the wrong direction. The orange-rich plains near Valencia should have lain before us. Instead, we had driven away from the city that morning. A tortuous ascent had led us to Ares, in a forgotten corner of north-east Spain. This was once the the limit of the Christian kingdom, and heroes such as El Cid drew breath here as they contemplated the fruitful lands below.

We left the rich pickings of the coast for the barren splendour of Ares. An imposing Crusader castle once stood proudly over the town. Now it is a one-walled fragment on a precarious limestone sponge. We popped into the Hotel d’Ares, which doubled as the town bar. The owner was paying lip service to five centuries of Moorish rule by serving pistachios.

Looking eastward, past the Gothic arcading of the Templar monastery, past the forbidding steel statue of James, the Conqueror of Aragon, our gazes tumbled 4,000 feet to the plain below.

The Maestrazgo is a tricky place to pin down on the map. Topographically, it represents the last hurrah of the Meseta, the raised upland of central Spain. In times past it denoted the area within the jurisdiction of the Maestre, or the head honcho of those warrior monks who helped expel the Arabic settlers. Armed brotherhoods of farmers had long existed in Spain, but they had acquired a quasi-religious character in emulation of their Moorish neighbours. It was these arms that built the walled towns of the region.

This then was the harsh landscape that El Cid swept through, and the self-same terraced fields we would drive past the next morning. The Cid’s name lingers everywhere, whether in the stubborn pride of the farmers or as a simple appendage to towns such as Villafranca del Cid.

Here you won’t find the gentle groves of Moorish almonds, olives and oranges of just a few miles east. Instead, you are treated to one of the most majestic landscapes in Europe – table-top mountains endlessly repeating to the horizon. The sheer scale of the terraces, the Moors’ greatest legacy to this region, would defy the imagination of the busiest Yorkshire stone-waller.

Though much of Spain’s hinterland still feels like frontier country, this was the frontier’s frontier, a place for hardened men to subdue and move on, leaving others to scratch a living from the unyielding soil. Even today this feeling remains palpable. Settlements are small and huddled into valleys, or brood nervously above rivers. Scattered flocks of dirty Merino sheep, which arrived a millennium ago with their Berber masters, still blend into the bare yellowing grasslands.

Now, apart from nods to a wool-dominated past in towns like Villafranca and Cati, where textiles of all materials are made, the region thrives on pigs.


Our first full day in the car took us north from Ares across one of the most dramatically empty landscapes in Europe, to the precipitous heart of Crusader territory, Cantavieja. The film director Ken Loach was so excited by Cantavieja that he shot Land and Freedom here, his film about the Spanish Civil War. The slightly forlorn town, which perches atop a sheer, three-sided gorge, is slightly forlorn, although its square, with a Tardis-like cathedral, is a jewel.

A network of alleyways led to one of those treasures that guidebooks mention, and yet still retain a “stumbled upon” feel. The Templar church of San Miguel presented us with an opportunity to play the endearing game of “hunt the priest”, with bonus marks for finding the priest’s devoted 80-year-old acolyte, who held the keys.

The chapel, notwithstanding its Ikea-style altar, was a palpable link to the organisation of soldier monks that helped expel the Arabic presence from Spain. Nowhere else had I felt the presence of these white-robed Crusaders so strongly.

Glorious sunshine accompanied us to one of the most perfect villages in Spain. A Unesco-sponsored World Heritage Site, Mirambel was once home to the Templars who, reeling from trumped-up charges of heresy and sodomy, packed up shop and retired to impregnable Cantavieja. They left a heritage to drool over. The Puerta de las Monjas (Nun’s Gate) is emblematic of the beautiful collision of Gothic and Mudejar architecture, and probably the most photographed site in the region. The town’s only hotel, the Fonda Guimera, has been an inn as long as anyone can remember. The slightly forbidding reception (also the town bar) gave way to charming if somewhat sparse accommodation – though their lunchtime paella was excellent.


A little later, several bottles of the local Utiel-Requena white fuelled our stumble around empty but stunningly preserved streets. Almost opposite the hotel, the tiny chapel of Saint Catherine proved to be a treasure trove, unlike the big barn of a church at the other end of town, whose doors were singed by revolutionaries a century and more ago.

Day three led us to Morella, the self-styled capital of this administratively eclectic region. Twenty miles an hour down a half-finished road littered with dinosaur remains took us past the Fabrica Giner, a model industrial village recently converted by the Valencian government into a hotel. One more gravelly bend, and Morella reared up before us. No photo can prepare you for this jaw-dropping moment.


It’s hard to know where the eyes should begin. Crowning the town like a wedding cake, the castle is a thing of wonder. Then there are the walls. Built by the Knights of Montesa (an Aragonese sub-branch of the killer monks), they are punctuated by four gates and 14 majestic towers.

The town itself sits below like a giant pink bib. This particular bib contains magnificent shops. Along the main street hang succulent cured hams, cardigans no granny could knit, sweets drenched in honey and almonds, dark, creaky tapas bars, and exotic alpargatas, hemp shoes made from single lengths of twine.

Above us, where no car could follow, stood the 12th-century basilica of Santa Maria, the most beautiful church in this corner of Spain. An array of saints and virgins ushered us into the gloomy interior, where a marble and mahogany staircase took up the heart of the nave, seemingly leading everywhere but up.

After a day of stair and pavement bashing, we settled into the Cardenal Ram. This well-preserved medieval palace has a somewhat medieval kitchen, but the cordero trufado (truffled lamb) was excellent. We had already discovered that the restaurants of the Maestrazgo seemed to be as much prey to the over-liberal use of olive oil as anywhere in Spain. Vegetables were served reluctantly.

In the morning we motored out of town beneath the imposing bulk of St Matthew’s Gate. A short descent took us to the newly improved N232. As we headed back to the coast, it became clear that no tourists ever branched off the road. A pity, as there were other Templar treats to see before we reached the Hollywood-endorsed town of Peniscola (where they actually shot El Cid) for paella and a swim, before hitting the motorway back to Valencia and another Spain.

Valencia basics

Getting there
British Airways (0845 773 3377; and Iberia (0845 601 2854; flies direct to Valencia from most UK airports. From there it is a train ride to Vinaros and then by bus to Morella. Barcelona is an even cheaper starting point, but entails a three-hour journey from the airport. Unless you are planning to hike on one of the many excellent marked trails, a car is essential. Flights and car hire can be booked through Magic of Spain (0870 888 0222;

Hotels can be booked on various websites, including and, but the information is not always up-to-date. Two options are the two-star Fonda Guimera, Mirambel (0034 964 178269), or the three-star Cardenal Ram, Morella (964 173085). The Palacio Osset Miro, Forcall (964 177524), is a beautifully converted palace in a somewhat down-at-heel town eight miles north of Morella, or there’s Hotel d’Ares, Ares del Mestre (964 443007). Morella makes a perfect day trip for sun worshippers on the Costa del Azahar; in winter it’s cold at 3,000ft plus, and most hotels close down, leaving a tourist-free spring and autumn.

By Adrian Woodford in