Updated: Sep 30
Kösem: From Girl to Woman
Chapter Two of my
"I've been everywhere, man" series
Some of my past lifetime recollections
brought back to life for you
"WOMAN, WHO ARE YOU? Who are you, nobody could understand you! I paid attention to every voice coming behind you, Your name was uttered differently in every mind... They say: “What a mad, what a mysterious kind!”... Not known, not possibly perceived any desire of hers, Every second she is changed, she changes what she says... Sometimes she is calm, as if she were a rock, she sinks into the shining scarlet moon, Nobody knows what she thinks, how she feels, No hand can wipe away the dust in her soul... Her lips are locked, even months pass, Mysterious curtain in her forehead not opened.. Sometimes as lively as a kid, gaiety.. The only wish in her life is to smile.. Burst into laugh at sadness and happiness, Her voice is music, sweet, fine... Plays legends to you in her spirit, A joy spring risen from inside of her... Then you look at her eyes and see tears! Sometimes mad, cheerful, sometimes cold, Like a stone, no trace of the woman now... She! Who was she? Who was that cheerful child a short while ago?"
Şukufe Nihal Başar, WOMAN, WHO ARE YOU?
“I am your slave.
Set me on fire.”
Kucuk Nezihe Hanim, Nafile Gulme
Past Life Memoirs
REFLECTING ON MY JOURNEY BACK THROUGH TIME to revisit my time in Ottoman Turkey, after being brutally stolen from my Greek island home as a child, I was prepared for any heavy and difficult emotions that might arise. I knew I’d be caught up in the dichotomy of my rise from slavery to power within a slavery system.
As part of my Soul Recall of a Past Lifetime process, my intention has been to check into my ethics and values; were the powerful ethics I brought with me into this lifetime now present back then? And to feel into where I was coming from when I made certain extremely difficult decisions. If I lost touch with those values as I aged and became more deeply entrenched within the Ottoman empirical system.
The rewards for choosing to stay with the Palace as a powerful Valide then Regent were extremely gratifying on a material level. Even now I yearn for those rich fabrics against my skin, and those skilled artisans who daily re-designed my hair, skin, perfumes and makeup, keeping me at peak predator status. Because how much of beauty is merely an acquired skill of the huntress to mesmerise then bring in her prey?
Not Drowning, Waving
And what were the rewards for my ego as I rose fast and furious through the ranks into top reigning positions, overseeing the reign of six sultans? Was it as my enemies said back then, that I gloried in the tyranny and power plays, or was I doing my level best to simply keep my head above water (not drowning, waving) in times of great turmoil within a murderously despotic system?
How real was any choice for me to leave? The place was a glorified prison for most of us, including very high royalty. Locked in, for all intents and purposes.
How many slaves ever get to escape their captors, with the risk of whippings, torture and death as the reprisal?
When does a slave begin weighing up the life they left behind versus the life they’re in now, and the potential promise it holds? When does being a slave look better than being free in their hometown? How deep did the brainwashing go -– or was there none?
Persecution through the Ages: The Blood Wars
More, I want to investigate why I’ve also experienced such persecution in this lifetime in the 21st century with the psychological, emotional and physical suffering it’s caused me, so extreme.
Are there any links between those thieves of the lives of women and men back then, to those who now hunt me down?
It’s become crystal clear that even now there are still various cults extra keen to cull my life in any and every way possible for their own use. It’s been fierce. The question is this-– did the royals of the Ottoman and other cultures I lived in centuries ago also persistently and relentlessly hunt me down, imprison and enslave me? To then plant their seed in my womb and use my intelligence to take them through the bad times and out the other side, with no gratitude but a strangulation cord 'round my neck as thanks?
Some of these questions also apply to my fellow slaves.
The making of Eunuch’s through the extreme mortification of captive men both black and white, often but not always enemy soldiers, through the agonising and life-threatening cut, slash and castrate process is beyond my comprehension. The kind of shutdown allowing one to so degrade a fellow man is too unbearable to imagine. I know many Eunuchs never fully healed from that unkind cut, suffering dreadfully throughout their life.
That these men, the Eunuchs, managed to make a life for themselves of grace and status is truly something to acknowledge.
Women from certain cultures were prized by these civilizations, stolen to be imprisoned in their gilded cages, basically for the use of the men. It’s the concept of ‘new blood’, right? The mixing of our blood with theirs in an alchemical process to make something new – something gold. Turkey is an extreme multicultural melting pot, with prob’ly every culture represented in its vast mixture of races.
I’m trying to get to the underlying question here. The question of those of us continuously hunted down every lifetime for our essence, our blood, our very breath of life, with a view to merge it into their own, and then discard our empty shell once they’re done.
I think that’s so. What they're actually up to. I also know that MY bloodline -– my spiritual DNA and my earthly DNA -– have merged this lifetime into Angelic Dhamphiric form, and they’re gonna have a hell of a time of it winning this time around.
If you, like me, have spiritual eyes that see most Overlords or Warlords as Vampires on their thrones, drinking the blood of those they’ve vanquished; and see me as a rising Dhamphir, then you’ll understand the truth about the aeons of Blood Wars. It might also help you be clear about where God might stand in all this.
I know I’ve indulged in some pretty bad dietary habits in various past lifetimes, perhaps even munched on an enemy’s bone whilst gleefully drinking their blood from an empty skull. Most people have. If you can’t imagine yourself doing it, well honey, this is your wakeup call.
By this stage of the Ottoman times however, I’d returned to innocence, only to have it cruelly wrenched from me once more. Yet if I’d stayed in Tinos, might I not have ended up a plump Greek housewife with five plus children, singing hymns in the kitchen while cooking up a storm?
I’ve a pretty strong feeling that kind of life would never really be enough for me.
Changing the System from Within
And anyway, God always gives me these harsh missions, putting me in hard places to battle my way out, all the while instigating major changes in their political systems on my way through.
So these are some of the questions I hold in my heart, my friends, as I now move through the Ottoman times as an invisible visitor from the future, remembering and reflecting on very different times and social values.
Me, in my 30's
Lineage of the Turk
Long before the Ottomans and Seljuks, a group of blacksmiths in the Eurasian steppes forged the world’s first and largest Turkic empire.
They were the Göktürks.
(Romanized from Kök Türük meaning celestial or blue Turks).
All of a sudden things are getting very clear. I’ve always known I was once a female Siberian shaman, memories of that lifetime have been hanging 'round me for decades now.
Yuliyana Krivoshapkina | Юлияна Кривошапкина | Uhuktuu
A long way back I found this absolutely beautiful shamanic musician online, and felt deeply aligned with her, as though a sister soul. A singer named Yuliyana Krivoshapkina, born in Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic in northeastern Siberia, part of the Russian Federation.
I knew I’d once looked very much like her, sung like her, played the Khomus – jawharp – like her, been a shaman like her.
With long silky jet-black hair hanging down my back almost to my thighs, fine brown skin and delicate Chinese or Mongolian features, I wore impressive silken empress gowns, with gorgeous silver jewellery twined through my hair, and ‘round my neck, wrists and ankles.
My shamanic abilities return most lifetimes, this was one of the first in recorded history. When I go further back it’s more difficult to show you, with no records left at all due to many substantial global extinction events leaving only dust in their wake.
My soul wandered from lifetime to lifetime, so many lifetimes, from the Siberian steppes, over plateaus and plains, to the Black Sea... But those are stories for another day.
Map of the Turkic Khaganate, showing the regions under the eastern and western halves of the empire around 600 AD. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
The First Turkic Khaganate (a Turkic term for empires of the Steppes) stretched from Siberia in the East to the shores of the Black Sea in the West. It was the largest empire in the world in the 6th century. The Göktürks were the first to use the term “Turk” to refer to a specific cultural, linguistic, and political group. They set the stage for the rise of the later Turkic powers such as the Uighurs, Kara-Khitans, Khazars, Ghaznavids, Seljuks, and Ottomans who ruled different parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa, dominating world politics from the middle ages to modern times.
A Göktürk Creation Myth: 'The Wolf Boy'
The Göktürks, like most nomadic empires of antiquity, did not leave any written records about where they came from. In the 8th century, they were the first warriors of the Steppes to write their stories in the Orkhon inscriptions. But the recording was almost 200 years after they first appeared as a political force.
A lack of writing tradition didn’t stop the Göktürks from passing down their creation stories orally. There are three myths describing the origins of the Turks in Chinese literature. The most popular one: the abandoned child brought up by a wolf.
The legend tells of a young boy who was brutally attacked by enemies and left for dead in a swamp. The child was rescued and nursed back to health by a she-wolf.
The boy and the she-wolf seek refuge in a cavern. After a few years, the boy, now a young man, impregnates the wolf. They have ten half-human half-wolf boys. Several generations later, the first Turks arrive on the scene, descended from the half-human half-wolf men. They become the blacksmiths of the Rourans.
Pontic Steppes in 1015, showing the successor states of the Göktürks such as Oghuz, Khazar, Pecheneg, Kipchak, Ghaznavids, and Karakhanids. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Astral Magic in the
Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Empire
“Evliya Çelebi, the traveller who toured almost every region of the Ottoman Empire…records stories of spiritual armies made of dead martyrs’ souls, armies of plague made of jinn, sultans whose souls exit their bodies, vampires of the Caucasus who fight in the night skies, and Bulgarian witches who turn into hens.”
Dr Marinos Sariyannis
As more doors begin opening to me, the door to the fascinating world of books is unlocked, and I'm often be found in the Harem Library reclining on a soft red velvet sofa tucked into a sunny corner under tall glazed windows, feeding my hungry mind. Over the course of a month delving into certain texts, I realise just how deep-seated the Turkish belief in the Occult goes. The Sultans were very much into it.
I lean back, taking small nibbles from a delicious fresh baklava held delicately between my fingers, and gaze out the windows at treetops in the courtyard. I reflect on my mothers’ protective superstitions, still feeling pain in my heart at her memory, teaching me ways to ward off evil when I was still very small. She clipped a necklace ‘round my neck bearing a blue-eyed glass charm aka Mataki while telling me that if I ever caught anyone staring at me with jealousy or worse, I might catch the evil eye. I wore it ‘til the day I was taken, when in the scuffle it was lost. A bad omen.
I was taught to never give someone a knife because it might bring them bad luck and just let them pick it up off the table themself. This also prevented bad juju, or worse, a curse being placed on our friendship.
Even my Priestly father had a couple of his own – laughing at me if I scratched my itchy left palm, and warning me to be careful, because it meant I’d be giving my money away! And salt was always flung behind any unwelcome visitor when they weren’t looking, supposedly making them scamper away!
But Mother and Father’s superstitions had nothing on these Sultans!
I discover that in the centuries before my arrival in Topkapi Palace, several Sultans had regularly consulted the Astrologers and Alchemists working for them, with Ba¯yezı¯d II (r. 1481–1512), actively cultivating their fields. His son Selı¯m I (r.1512–1520) utilized the Lettrist Analyses of certain Qur’anic verses of various distinguished scholars such as Ibn Kema¯l (d. 1534), prior to Ottoman military campaigns.
During the reign of Su¨leyma¯n (r. 1520 –1566) Geomancy (!ilm-i reml) was held in high esteem. And Su¨leyma¯n’s grandson Mura¯d III (r. 1574–1595) was partial to Oneiromancy, sending off his dreams daily to be interpreted by his Sufi master.
Beings, afflictions, and tools often involved in magic are:
Jinn —supernatural creatures in Islam who may be good or evil but who are mentioned frequently in magical works throughout the Islamic world (often mentioned together with devils, i.e. shayāṭīn, and held responsible for misfortune, possession and diseases), to be summoned and bound to a sorcerer.
Sarʿ—possession by jinn or other spirits
Masruʿ—possessed, also sometimes as 'showing signs of possession'
Tilsam, hirz—the most common Arabic terms employed for amulets
Ruqyah—Kruk defines it as an incantation made up of 41 "Quranic verses, formulas and short chapters".
Karamat—the ability "to perform extraordinary acts" (aka miracles) which is given by God only to those with great "piety and abstinence".
I read too, about the popular Talismanic shirt, some inscribed with verses from Quran, names of Allah, prophets, numbers, images or symbols, perhaps astrological, the inscribed names believed to protect and guide the carrier.
At times worn for protection against evil, they're mostly used for shields in battle.
Upon studying Islamic scholars views on sorcery and magic, I find that although Islam frowns upon and bans black magic, Al-Isra' suggested that the Quran itself bestows barakah (magical blessings) upon hearers and heals them.
Pages from Shams al-Maarif are filled with step by step guides to performing esoteric prayers (Khalil Collection). Read more on this, in the article: Shams al-Maarif: Why is this mystic book feared in the Middle East?
In An-Naml, Solomon is described as having the power to speak with animals and jinn, and command birds and devils, which according to Islam, he only possesses with God's permission. Al-Falaq is used as a prayer to God to ward off black magic, and according to hadiths, was revealed to Muhammad to protect him against Jann, the ancestor of the jinn.
This is all fascinating, but I'm more interested in learning how to deal with witchcraft, having recently become aware of poisonings and spellwork cast by various Harem women against any hated rivals.
Witchery, Bitchery + Poison
If the Ottoman Empire were somehow exempt from the occult underworld permeating the rest of the planet, I’d be, well, shocked. The thing is, most people accused of witchcraft usually are witches. Of some variety.
The accuser needs to check in and see if they’re the ones doing the damage, or if they’re of the more benign variety. You know – the common garden variety witch, who might be more the medicine woman, healer, midwife and the like, as opposed to the more malignant variety who's usually fairly well cloaked, and for good reason. They’re survivors and their handiwork has often attracted pretty strong reactions.
The Palace is riddled with magic and medicine. You’ll find men and women of the ‘craft’ discreetly working in secretive back rooms, in the midst of all their apothecary gear, beakers, and concoctions, more than likely brewing up some kind of noxious potion—or healing balm.
Then there are the Food Tasters, because when you rise up the food chain to the top levels of royalty, having your food checked is just common sense.
Too many agonising deaths through the fatal munching of an innocent looking yet poisonous sweetmeat or the sipping of some lethal sherbet and the like has left everyone a bit edgy.
The Homicidal Harem is an apt title for the place! Women desperate to kill their rivals, to save their wealth, status and babies born of their Sultan.
For so many understandable reasons many women here have pure murder in their heart.
Now, it doesn’t matter which century we’re in, it’s pretty standard for a naturally powerful woman to immediately be labelled a witch, amongst other choice epithets. It may or may not be true in every case. In this lifetime as Kösem, I'm called many names and ‘witch’ is one. ‘Beautiful witch’, ‘deadly witch’, ‘cunning witch’. All that.
The most dangerous witch in my environment however, is Safiye, an outgoing Valide Sultan when I first arrive. A deft hand with poison, and carrying a deadly powder hidden within a ring she always wears, the woman is a snake through and through. Initially I'm drawn to her beauty, loving her fiery nature, but soon feel the opposite. I’ll explore our tumultuous and tempestuous relationship further on in these memoirs.
Let’s just say the history of Turkey is chock-full of tales of magic: narky witches battling in the night skies, flesh-eating zombies, thirsty rotting vampires crawling from dank coffins and so on.
But there’s a much, much deeper truth.
The magic of religion. All religions have their Magés and secret grimoires – the Jews, Christians, Catholics, Sufis, Buddhists, Hindus – and Islam is no different. And truth be told, religious magic is some of the most powerful.
As in any field, the more pure the practitioner the more powerful their craft. Take that any way you like. I’m not going any further with this particular discussion, but as Kösem I learn certain profoundly esoteric teachings. And as I rise in power, deeper teachings are gradually revealed to me by the Masters. Incredible teachers. I remember.
The Caged Dove
I’ve mulled over the question of the theft by the Turks of the cream of the crop of other cultures to enhance and enrich their own bloodlines. I don’t believe they were the only ones to practice this, but they certainly had it down to a fine art during the Ottoman period.
Whether they consciously set out with a plan to enrich their own bloodline with certain outstanding women, secretly known as StarFyre priestesses, or whether they just randomly took the best and most beautiful, is another question. My feeling is both are true.
There have always been covert elite societies behind the scenes, planning to manipulate things. Teaching the Overlords of the era how to enact it.
The military manoeuvres of many dominant civilizations included many traditional tactics designed to vanquish other cultures. Taking the women of the conquered as wives and slaves was one obvious strategy, as was either killing all the children to prevent revenge reprisals in later years— or taking the children to use later as sex slaves or marriage partners. It's all about merging bloodlines whilst dissipating your enemy.
Then the horrific practice of genital mutilation in the making of eunuchs which was one of the most devastating attacks on male pride one could imagine.
The humiliation and degradation of your enemy whilst keeping them alive was (and still is) pretty standard stuff.
Now in my time as Kösem, I’ve grown to puberty in a relatively repressive culture, the Greeks. Coming into the Ottoman Empire I experience so many contradictions it's hard to think straight.
On the one hand it's crystal clear I'm a caged bird that cannot fly. On the other hand, the passionate celebration of feminine beauty is rather heady stuff to a simple island girl as I.
But never underestimate the young Kösem— a big mistake many have lived to regret through many lifetimes! I know what repression is, even as a child. And I'm a woman with a powerful drive to survive, and a spark of love within my heart just waiting to be ignited.
These are the keys to my survival. And my rise.
The Question of Misogyny
If we view the Ottoman Empire as a Muslim culture, we can discuss more deeply the question of Islamic subordination of women. There's been much debate and argument by various scholars about the treatment of Muslim women. Kandiyoti says that ‘there is at present a growing recognition that the subordination of Muslim women can neither be read off solely from Islamic ideology and practice, nor be entirely removed from global processes of the socio-economic transformation.’
There’s a strong feeling among various thinkers that ‘patriarchal values led to the misapplication of religious texts.’
Margaret W. Pettygrove states that “although Islam is frequently characterized as protecting women’s rights and giving them complete freedom, in actuality, women’s freedom is limited in the context of patriarchal interpretations and applications of Islam. Patriarchy has co-opted Islam, making Islam a mechanism for the institutionalization of patriarchal values. Similarly, other scholars argue that Islam is used as a front for the subordination and repression of women.”
This argument offers the idea that it’s not Islam that’s problematic, but ‘the culture that perpetuates patriarchal gender roles using the faith.’
These scholars seek to differentiate between ‘what Islam as a religion advocates, and what Muslims do.’
They emphasize the fact that ‘the laws sanctioning such misogynistic behavior are not advocated in the Quran, but that this traditional Islamic jurisprudence (known in Arabic as shari'ah) was written primarily by Muslim men in the 10th -12th centuries who were interpreting the Quran to fit their own socio-cultural circumstances.’
Many progressive Muslims in today’s contemporary society are pushing for a reinterpretation of the Quran ‘allowing Islam's ideals of social and gender justice to be highlighted,’ emphasising the sections in the Quran on equality of men and women.
Violation of the rights of women has no basis in Islam, these progressives say, and these ‘practices are the products of laws written by Muslim jurists hundreds of years ago, combined with local customs... practices that don't reflect the egalitarian and humanitarian nature of Islam.’
Quotes from article: In response to the western image of the oppressed Turkish woman:
Some Sufi Muslims study Islamic texts in the hope of uncovering hidden knowledge (Illustrative/Public domain)
This suppression and undervaluing of women is present in many religions, and many have had to have a massive re-think. Despite the many tactics of suppression, women have always found ways to stand against the discrimination, oppression and violence we face.
Ottoman culture is that strange blend of dualities where a slave can rise to become queen. My life as Kösem is a fine example of using whatever’s at hand to get where you need to go.
After the Night
"We were like gods at the dawning of the world
and our joy was so bright
we could see nothing else
but the other."
In Part Two of my past lifetime memoirs, we gently closed the door of Ahmet’s Chambers to any would-be voyeurs or eavesdroppers, as we opened our hearts to eachother. Both standing in that difficult portal hovering between childhood and adulthood, in our time together we crossed through to the other side.
At first glance we we might have seemed like any two modern-day teenagers sitting in a coffee shop getting to know eachother. But the actual scenario was a little different. When I first entered his bed-chamber, I was shocked to see a young man my own age. I’d expected some fat old man. He was unexpectedly handsome and fine-featured, and I immediately felt drawn to him.
Standing a little awkwardly, dressed in his finest butter-white kaftan with a loosely tied kuşak (sash) over cream-colored 'şalvar’ (trousers), and I in my best soft silken gown colored in shades of buttercream, with delicate silver threads strung with small white pearls woven through my hair, and finely-crafted silver jewellery encrusted with tiny precious gems round my throat, wrists and ankles.
At first it wasn’t easy between us, as I had a fairly large bone to pick with him. But he wisely opened our assignation with that very issue. That painting of me hanging in Safiye’s chambers. I grew hot with fury, how could someone apparently in love have allowed me to be pawed and groped by horrible old men after I’d been stripped naked, bound and humiliated in the filthy stinking slave market?
He turned to me with a perplexing smile, saying “Don’t believe everything you hear, half of it’s untrue and nothing else is as it seems…” His foxy reply infuriated me, no matter how true it later proved.
We had it out with eachother and ultimately, after the storm, the air was cleared. But I won’t deny that at a certain point I leapt to my feet and grabbing a razor-sharp dagger, held it at his throat.
I was angry, and let him know. Nothing could possibly happen between us ‘til this was aired. But truthfully, his handsome and youthful appearance had taken me by surprise, and I was on the back foot.
I desperately wanted to go home to my family, and at first fell into a homicidal rage. If I could just kill him then somehow escape…. At the same time, something awakened within me, making me all warm and emotionally messy. I fought the confusing feelings rising within me while literally fighting him. But he swiftly wrapped the cuff of his long sleeve ‘round his hand, then gently caught hold of the blade and tossed the dagger across the room. Rising to his feet, he turned 'round, regarding me with the most compassionate expression I'd ever seen on any man's face.
Something inside me melted, I can’t say why, and the heat of the argument abated. I'd said all I needed to say to one who actually heard me, and had agreed with every salient point I raised.
We’d hit our rock bottom and it was only upwards from here …
I didn’t take all this in ‘til I returned to the Harem and had time to reflect on all that had gone down. Even then I didn’t get to rest for some time, as the Kalfa (assistant master of the Harem attendants) arrived just as I did, and swiftly relocated me to new rooms, high above the ground-floor girls.
I was relieved to leave that girl’s dormitory scenario where they felt so free to mock me. For so many reasons … my youth, naivety and wild nature were all targets of their mirth, as was my inability to understand or participate in the prevalent and generally boring mood of female yearning for the attentions of the Sultan.
Now that I’d been the first one he’d called on since my arrival, their attitudes shifted markedly to first jealousy, then downright hostility. I was more than happy to get away from them, and after carrying my meagre belongings upstairs to my private room, I laid on the low mattress covered in velvety blankets and stretched out my limbs in luxurious exhaustion. I laid still and silent in the gathering dusk, staring at the ceiling and dreaming about the time just gone by. Time with my Ahmet.
MY Ahmet. For he was mine. And I — I was his. We both laid claim to the other—heart, body and soul—in that very first meeting.
When we lay together as lovers, we tenderly touched the new weals and bruises on the other’s naked skin, commenting, caressing and soothing the other. I’d been whipped by the Kalfa for my resistance to, well, everything, and he’d been attacked by a lion recently gifted to him.
At mention of such a mythical creature being in such close proximity, I sat bolt upright in fascination, and wrapping a sheaf of silken gold material about myself in false modesty, exclaimed,
“A lion! What were you doing with a lion?”
I’d heard of such beasts in story books and priestly lectures. Ahmet leaned back on the high pillows with a grin.
“I was going to tame that beast!”
I saw his determination.
“But yesterday it attacked me — someone had cut its chain.”
His face crestfallen, he admitted they’d had to shoot the beautiful wild thing to prevent his own death.
We gazed into eachothers eyes in wordless understanding. Death was everywhere. The spectre of his own death hunted and haunted him relentlessly.
Before bedding eachother when a sudden fierce and burning passion overtook both our sensibilities, we’d sat discussing this very subject, and here it was again.
Sitting on flat cushions at a low table laden with silver platters of sweet and savory delicacies, and jugs of berry juice and wine goblets scattered between, we'd sat and talked. And talked. And talked.
Conversing was definitely our own particular form of foreplay. A major turn-on. Nothing could have aroused me more than our deeply intense conversation that night. Yet the content of our dialogue was anything but arousing.
Trust was almost immediate between us both, it’s hard to say why and how. But there it was. Two wounded creatures who read each-other's hearts and expressions like an open book from the word go. Two wounded creatures with souls cast in iron. We both recognized a kindred spirit — alike philosophies and values drew us together with a magnetic attraction that couldn't be fought. Neither of us desired to fight it, letting our mutual fascination pull us in, closer and closer.
He shifted to my side of the low table, and our knees gently touched as he spread his hands in consternation.
“There’s poison everywhere, I’m even beginning to think my grandmother Safiye might have caused my father’s death.” His face darkened, “but I feel ashamed to let such ideas in.”
We were in dangerous territory, but the trust between us was profound. I reached out my hand to rest lightly on his to reassure him, but the facts were obvious. Murderous intent was rife within his family, he was merely admitting the truth.
As he shared his deepest fears, I listened intently then offered him advice without meaning to sound so sage. But there it was, it just came out.
“Ahmet, you must not let them know that you know. And when they try to manipulate your decrees, you must slow your heart and keep steady, in expression and words. Then make your decisions and stand by them, come what may.”
He sat still and absorbed my ideas, letting them sink in. Now, I feel that I was channelling —who, I’m not sure. It was to always the way between us in our profound discussions about where certain people’s loyalties lay toward dynasty, state and empire.
But the wisdom that flowed between us was timeless, the stuff of old souls, and this was how I came to see we’d known eachother in other times. I didn’t say this, but I knew he knew. Each of us awakened a strength and wisdom in the other that couldn’t be denied.
And as the night wore on, we covered much Ottoman political territory, then fell into eachothers arms as the wine did its work and lifted the last of our inhibitions.
We slept enwrapt, our limbs entwined, with flushed cheeks and tousled hair and the bedding all mussed up, both of us thinking something along the lines of “never have I ever…” as we passed out with overwhelming satisfied exhaustion.
When we finally awoke, the sun was halfway up in the sky, and a discreet knock on the door brought in servants with fresh food and beverages. After they left and the doors were safely closed, we sank back thankfully against the soft pillows and regarded eachother with grave eyes. Something neither of us had dared dream of had awakened.
Its name was Hope.
The Gilded Cage
Looking back, I can see how all kinds of misconceptions have traveled down through time about the nature of the Harem. That it was some kind of exotic brothel, with some fat old Sultan laying back on a massive couch placed on a platform in the centre of the room, hookah in one hand and his other hand groping the breasts of some gorgeous odalisque, while piles of half-naked women draped themselves sensuously all over him.
Now you see, no. That’s not at all what it was. That’s pure western imagination. Yes things happened that are hard to imagine, and of course, there were different Harems around the world who may have indulged in various public pleasures but let me lay out a few of my own memories of the place.
In reality, the Harem was much more than a place designed for the pleasures of men. It was a centre of political power and the house of the most renowned people in Muslim society. It was home for women and power structures with immense influential political power.
The place was a snake pit in so many ways. Was it the sisterhood some fondly imagine? Well for some it was, it depended on many things. I’ll walk us through one of my days there and you may find it enlightening.
So I woke in my upstairs room after my time with Ahmet, and after rubbing my eyes, arced my back as I stretched like a cat, then rose to dress for the day. As I pulled on my gown, I felt that new warmth in my heart still there, suffusing my entire being. I was in love, of that there was no doubt. Love hits like a storm, it cannot be denied.
I’d entered his chambers a virgin and left a woman.
I was his, heart and soul, and he mine. This sense of belonging never left, there was no other for me for the rest of my life. Well, not ‘til my very last years, when Ahmet was long gone and I became close to another, a very dear man. But I was never asked to bed another thenceforward, and to all intents and purposes, we were man and wife, later formalized by marriage. I’d have died if any other man were to touch me.
Today I was feeling utterly relaxed and my soul filled with a kind of peace I’d never hoped to feel in this place, but the atmosphere downstairs in the Harem was tense, filled with little snakes rearing up, ready to spit venom in my face.
I wandered through to find some fruit and juice—damn, I was hungry! As usual, women and girls were in clusters, intriguing away. A couple of girls were in love and laid on a couch smoking a hookah and playing with eachothers hair, giggling away. I now understood how they felt. But the air was loaded. Everyone felt it, something had changed. The Sultan was mine. The thing every woman hoped for, for themself, had happened to me, the new foreign girl. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead a thousand times over by the time I reached the table of food.
The Harem was usually like this anyway, a temperamental place, its moods shifting and ephemeral. In many ways, a political hive. The topics of any cluster largely depended on the intelligence and personal interests of each woman.
Artist Henri Victor Lesur
After eating, I wandered down to the bathing pools. Their sculptural elegance always assuaged my senses, and I lazed around in the scented waters, as girls, petals and blossoms floated by. Later I sat in the courtyard, another place of graceful sophistication. I leaned against a cool marble pillar out of the sunlight, book in hand, daydreaming my way through it.
I was finding that being in love was a great distraction, it took all my willpower to get focused again! I knew Ahmet felt the same. I felt him, no matter how far apart, I just knew.
The misconception that this was a glorified brothel and we were prostitutes – that I was a prostitute – nothing could be farther from the truth! Most of us had been stolen from our homelands, some as gifts or bought in the slave markets. None of us arrived by personal choice. We were locked in. Prisoners. And just as in any prison, factions formed, sistah gangs with varying vested interests.
Perhaps in a way were like the Geisha, with our excellent facilities for learning all the arts – music, dance, painting and the like – as well as scholastic pursuits, depending on our particular leaning. Most excelled in some area, and this was actively fostered.
Each girl had at some stage reached that point of emotional resignation, understanding that this was it, and leaving or escaping simply wasn’t an option. Our choice to sink or swim.
That our gilded cage was attractive and seductive, there was no doubt. Yet if I’d been given the opportunity to return home in those early days, I’d have leapt at it. But once I was in love, everything shifted. And I never, ever saw myself as prostitute!
I was a one-man woman, married to my very first love for the rest of my life, long past his death.
To be honest, on looking back I see the Harem as mostly a political hot-bed, and my razor-sharp political savvy would be the X-Factor that raised me to the heights I achieved. From the very beginning, I saw fundamental issues in the Ottoman Empire that badly needed changing, and being madly in love with the Sultan, well, there was the open door to my being that much needed agent of change!
Tapestry in Topkapi Palace
Gay Love in the Palace
“Every person is made up of a town, and he is solely that town, and nothing else. Whatever season he wants to live in, he lives it in that town, replaces what he subsumes with dreamed up figures, idles around with unlived infatuations, thinks his obsessions passions… The town is neither as beautiful as the village nor as Othered as the city. The town does not change; it does not let one change. It is safe… It has four exits: the first, the road unclear in its destination, the second, the sea unclear in its origin, the third the sky unclear in its reaches, the fourth, the earth unclear in its reasons for arrival. Leaving the town requires courage; it is frightful that there seems no return.
I passed through life, like an internal bleeding. I passed through you as well. The bus did not stop, the ship did not stop, the plane did not stop. My love did not stop by you. I only saw it for a moment from the glass. Then, mist fell. Haze fell. Night fell. The road ended, passengers scattered. The town, too, scattered away.
I walked out of hell. No one stopped me.
Heaven was right there, I did not enter.
I thought of you; I entered my thought. I could not find you there either. It was summer. It was actually May. That is why I forgave you.
Now dream anew, guess at how I died
Did I hang myself, cut, or choke; did I drown in pills or water, or crush down my bones
I won’t tell you even that. ‘Town,’ I will say. ‘An ex-lover,’ I will say. Just that. The rest, I leave to you. The rest is a town left behind, wet and warm, wet and warm, wet and warm.”
Küçük Iskender, “the last letter”
This beautiful image is from 'Gay History: The Secret Gay History Of Islam'.
Very worth the read, my friends.
Men have always loved men, always have always will. I’ve never felt threatened by this, quite the opposite in fact, recalling my own many lifetimes as a gay man. I love gay love. It’s as natural as every other part of God's creations.
I'm very happy to see that these days sexualising children is now illegal, and that’s as it should be. Adult power over young ones is pure evil and not on. But gay love between consenting adults is as beautiful as the sun coming out after winter rain.
But being gay or queer or whatever you want to call yourself, within Islamic culture, is another one of those minefields. In some towns and countries it's no big deal, in others it’s punishable by horrible death. So we tread carefully here yet again. Western culture has also had a huge retrograde movement when it comes to gayness,with weird conspiracy theories about some 'tranny take-over plan' doing the rounds, but I don’t know about that. It’s always made me laugh.
But it's the fear of the gay.
Yet throughout ancient history, gayness and queerness has been celebrated and sanctified as Godly and sacred. Then some culture will go all secretive about its men loving men practices – and women loving women too, for that matter. Always a problem. Usually breeds fear and hatred and gay bashing, all those things people do to stay peak predator, all the while having secret sex in some toilet or in the bushes.
I know too much, I’m sorry my friends, but I really do. I’m the woman who knows too much!
Now getting back to Ottoman times, those times had different morals, absolutely. And when it comes to that, what do you think was going on in the Eunuch section of the Palace? Do you think they were purely there to guard the women? And the Janissaries and other Palace guards? Soldiers are always falling for eachother, if not having random encounters, at the very least. Not to say they didn’t also love women. Each person on this planet has their own unique sexuality.
The first book banned during the Ottoman Empire "The Book of Women" by Enderûnlu Fâzıl (1757–1810) an Ottoman poet who depicted the beauty of men from various lands of the Ottoman Empire. He achieved fame through his erotic works, which were published posthumously. Among his most famous works is The Book of Women, which was banned in the Ottoman Empire. The book describes the advantages and disadvantages of women from different nations.
In the Harem, a number of girls and women fell for eachother. Falling in love with your best female friend was commonplace. And some practiced lovemaking with eachother, warming eachother up and prepping for their Sultan moment, or some other male conquest. Or just loving eachother. The end of their time in the Harem for many women often resulted in marriage to some high-ranking man, nothing was permanent here.
Now when it came to the taste for the same sex, where did they go in the Palace?
The Ottoman Empire was a diverse and multi-ethnic state that spanned several centuries, so attitudes towards homosexuality varied over time and across different regions and social groups. In the Ottoman Empire, concepts as 'lesbian' or 'gay' did not exist. Instead of these concepts, terms as active 'sodomy' and passive (me'bun) were used.
Or the Lover and the Beloved....
‘In palaces, there is evidence hundreds of women established some kind of contract. Two women would sign a contract swearing to protect and care for one another. Almost like a civil partnership or a marriage,’ Zahed said. ‘Outside of these palaces, this was also very common. There was a lot of Sapphic poetry showing same-sex love.’ As Europeans colonized these countries, depictions of lesbian love changed.
Quote + image from 'Gay History: The Secret Gay History Of Islam'.
LGBT in the Ottoman Empire describes the legal concept of gender in the Ottoman Empire as consisting of two genders, male and female. Although heterosexuality was necessary for the continuation of the lineage of the Ottomans, homosexuality was culturally associated with love.
Adolescent men may have desired older men or women at that time, after puberty however, they were expected to desire young boys or women. If they were both passive and active, they were also called out for heresy.
Devshirme – the practice of gathering young "promising" boys from Christian families. The children would be victims of sexual molestation and pederasty. This horrified the Christian parents to the point of mutilating their children to make them less attractive to Ottoman inspectors.
Hammam – traditional Turkish bathhouse. In his work Sexuality in Islam, Abdelwahab Bouhdiba cites the hammam as a place where homosexual encounters in general can take place. He notes that some historians found evidence of hammams as spaces for sexual expression among women, which they believed was a result of the universality of nudity in these spaces. Hammams have also been associated with male homosexuality over the centuries and up to the present day.
Gulampare – old Turkish term for "male-lover".
Yamak – volunteers for the devshirme.
Yenicheri – literally "new troops", also known as janissaries. Famous slave soldiers.
Zenpare – old Turkish term for "woman-lover".
Source: LGBT in the Ottoman Empire
Lytiek Gethers says that ‘In the Ottoman Empire, male-male love and sexual relationships were known as "musk" or "love of the beautiful." Some forms of same-sex sexual behavior were considered taboo, while others were more accepted. For example, male-male sexual relationships between older men and young boys (known as "köçek") were often considered acceptable in certain contexts, such as in the Ottoman court and in some Sufi communities.
‘In addition, there were certain professions in the Ottoman Empire, such as the "köçek" dancers and the "külhanbeyi" (bathhouse attendants), in which same-sex behavior was more common and accepted.
‘Some Ottoman writers and poets also wrote about same-sex love and relationships, and some Ottoman rulers were rumored to have had same-sex relationships or sexual encounters.
‘However, it’s important to note that homosexuality was not openly discussed or celebrated in Ottoman society, and those who engaged in same-sex behavior could still face social stigma or punishment.
‘In some cases, individuals accused of engaging in same-sex behavior were punished by the government or religious authorities, although the severity of these punishments varied over time and across different regions of the empire.
‘Overall, attitudes towards homosexuality in the Ottoman Empire were complex and varied, reflecting the diverse cultural, social, and religious influences that shaped Ottoman society.’
Turkish society is a deeply erotic culture with a long history of homoerotic dance, poetry and art, especially throughout its mystical works, yet its wonderful gay artists have become hidden and marginalized. We must keep working to bring what’s hidden to light, and stop the lies of those oppressive forces striving to make those who are feeling a bit gay to keep a straight face.
Horus Mozarabe performing fusion bellydance
The Lay of the Land
"The structure of the imperial palace was meant to communicate “both the identity of the sovereign’s residence as the central arena of the empire and the difficulty of obtaining access to the sovereign within that arena."
Peirce, Leslie (1988). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire.
In the layout of Topkapi Palace, the Harem was located in the right wing just behind the imperial council building; for the first time in Ottoman history, the imperial harem was central and visible in Ottoman political life.
The centralization of the harem’s living quarters in Topkapi Palace reflected a changing in power dynamics between the men of the palace and the women of the harem.
Gross, Eliza. Imperial Harem: Influential Despite Invisibility
Plan of the Harem of Topkapı Palace
1) The Gate of Carriages and the Haremeyn Treasury/The Dome with Cupboards. 2) The Sofa with a Fountain - The Tower of Justice - The mosque of Harem Eunuchs. 3) The Courtyard and dormitories of the Harem eunuchs - The Chief Harem Eunuch's Quarters and the School of Princes - The Door of the Aviary (Harem Exit). 4) The main gate of the Harem and sentry post. 5) The Courtyard of the Queen Mother - The quarters of the Queen Mother, the Sultan's Consorts, the princes, the senior maid, the superintendent and of the servants. 6) The Passage and Courtyard of the Concubines - The quarters of the consorts of the Sultan - Dormitories and baths. 7) The Queen Mother's Quarters 8) Baths - Bath of the Sultan and of the Queen Mother. The Sultan's Private Apartments: 9) The Imperial Hall - The apartments of Abdühamid I, Selim III and Osman III. 10) Hall with a Fountain - the hall with a fireplace. 11) Privy Chamber of Murad III - The Privy Chambers of Ahmed I and Ahmed III (the Dining Room/Fruit Room) 12) The Twin Kiosks (the apartments of the crown prince) 13) The Terrace and Apartments of the Favourites/Anteroom between men's and women's quarters. 14) The Golden Road/Passage.
The Storm Riders
"To reach back and help, and expect neither reward nor even thanks.
To reach back and help because that is what spiritual beings do."
― Dr Brian Weiss, 'Many Lives Many Masters'
Muhteşem Kösem Müziği Celali İsyanı| Composer ▻ Aytekin Ataş | Storm Riders
"The Ottoman Sultan, with all his absolute power, is as much a slave
as any of his subjects, and trembles at a Janissary's frown."
Written by a western woman visiting Topkapi Palace
They're beautiful are they not? The most handsome of men, the strongest of arm and stoutest of heart. They know loyalty. It's everything. Loyalty to values and to God.
And thus these Spirit Warriors are true to themselves, loyal to their own heart and soul.
In the devşirme, which connotes "draft", "blood tax" or "child collection", young Christian boys from the Balkans and Anatolia were taken from their homes and families, forcibly converted to Islam, and enlisted into the most famous branch of the Kapıkulu, the Janissaries, a special soldier class of the Ottoman army that became a decisive faction in the Ottoman invasions of Europe.
Most of the military commanders of the Ottoman forces, imperial administrators, and de facto rulers of the Empire, such as Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, were recruited in this way. By 1609, the Sultan's Kapıkulu forces increased to about 100,000.
A Janissary (Ottoman Turkish: یڭیچری, romanized: yeŋiçeri, [jeniˈtʃeɾi], lit.'new soldier') was a member of the elite infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan's household troops and the first modern standing army in Europe. Source: Janissary
I was able to use my close alliance with Mustafa Agha, the Agha of the Janissaries, and his client Grand Vizier Nasuh Pasha to wield influence over the Sultan.
Numbered among my many powerful spiritual protectors in these contemporary times are armies of elite warriors from times gone by, this is very clear to me.
And I thank them over and over from my heart and soul for their constant tangible presence and their powerful re-actions against those who have sought to harm me. I can't see you, but I know you're there. My Angels.
Elite guards of Topkapi Palace
“Always be loyal to human values not to your country,
because your country may well betray the human values!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
Yes, I become the powerful Sultan Ahmed I’s second wife. However, my joy as a young queen doesn't last long, as I battle for primacy against his first wife and son. Ahmet waits for a son from me, who’ll then be another heir to the throne.
These are the times of the gradual waning of the Ottoman Empire, with numerous Janissary rebellions that shake the country and oust the Sultans.
The palace is full of enemies scheming and intriguing against each-other and me. What first seemed a dream come true becomes, at times, a nightmare. Survival means constant tests of my will and wits against both my enemies and the powerful patriarchal structure.
There’s a price to pay for standing your ground and taking your power, and I pay it. Again and again and again.
N’ola tacım gibi başımda götürsem daim
Kademi nakşını ol hazret-i Şah-ı Rüsül’ün
Gül-i gülzâr-ı nübüvvet o kadem sahibidür
Ahmeda durma yüzün sür kademine o Gül’ün
Sultan of the Prophets,
if I always carry the footsteps of that Great Prophet
on my head like a crown,
it won't be surprising.
The Prophet whose rose is the oldest
and most exceptional rose of the garden.
Hey Ahmed! Don't stand still
and put your face on that rose's feet!
Ahmed's loyalty to Prophet Muhammad was so strong that he wrote this poem on the picture
of the Prophet's blessed footprints and carried that picture and poem until death.
Prince Ahmed's Life | Magnificent Century: Kösem Ep.1
I’m not sure why I call him Ahmet throughout these Memoirs, as official records call him Ahmed, but there you have it. That’s how I remember him and I’ll stay with it.
I want to introduce Ahmet to you all, give some insight into the man, and stand by this beautiful quote from Magnificent Century Kösem:
“ I am Anastasia. I saw and found in this old palace the most painful grief inside the world’s greatest wealth, the darkness inside the sparkling of the most perfect and dazzling gems, the devils behind the most beautiful faces, and inside the world’s most powerful ruler, a pure and mighty heart – deep and clear as the waters.”
Ahmet was extremely pious, as was I. Some records say he studied Sufism, and every fibre of my being says yes! I also remember studying the Islamic religion of the day, and believe that together we attended the dergâh (lodge) of Aziz Mahmud Hüdâyi in Üsküdar, Istanbul and these studies gave us both the strength of will and mystical wisdom that carried both of us through to the end of our days.
I remember studying under various Sufi masters in various lifetimes, and this one was no different. Sufism is in my soul.
Ahmet's Mother, Handan Sultan
Handan Sultan was the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III and Sultan Ahmed’s mother, the reason she became Valide. The people called her the Sovereign Chaste Handan Valide Sultan Hazretleri. She was born in 1574, originally from Bosnia, and her real name was Elena. She entered the Harem of Mehmed III as a gift, presented in 1582-1583 by Gevherhan Sultan, Mehmed’s aunt.
Ahmed rose to become Sultan at the tender age of thirteen with his mother Handan as Valide Sultan ruling as Regent at his side for two years. Ahmed interpreted women in power as ‘interfering in state affairs’, with conflicts rising between them both from the very start of his reign. Her insistence that he execute his brother Mustafa was unacceptable to him, and he pushed her away, neglecting her more and more over time.
And thus the scenario of the Kafes really came into its own – where young princes were locked into specific designer prison rooms situated within the Harem and unable to leave, as a preferred alternative to the usual horrific fratricide deaths. Yet being locked away in the Kafes took a terrible toll on the mental health of those princes, and I’ll discuss this further in the final part of these Memoirs.
Handan Sultan died suddenly and unexpectedly with no cause identified, but suspicions were cast. My memory is that her death was by poisoning. I feel she was first poisoned by another, probably Safiye or a minion, and I feel she then added her own drops of poison to hasten her death, to cease the agonizing stomach pains she was experiencing.
Ahmed was an accomplished poet, writing under the name of ‘Bahti’, and wrote this poem for Handan Sultan upon her death. Some said there wasn’t much love lost between them, but I say otherwise. Arguments and conflict don't always mean hate, just differences in opinion. You only need listen to his poem, and you'll know…
I’m giving you Ahmed's poem in its original language, the better to sense and taste the meanings within the words.
The Poem of Sultan Ahmed on Handan Sultan's death
Dil Bht Uddas Hai
Bikharty Hue Manzaro Ka Eik Khobaar Bss
Nazar ky Aas Pass HAI
Yeh Gham Yuu Be libaas Hai
Ky Zindagi Ky Sary Razz Parehna Hogae
Kabhi Nahi Milo Gy Tum
Nahi Milo Gy Ab Kabhi
Na Mehfillo mai Humnasheen
n\Na Khalwatoo mai Rubru
Nazar se aise kho gay
Khayal hi k ho gay ,Khayal ho gay
ho tum to Waah-e-mah to hum bhi hain,
yeh jago Hashm Waah-e-mah,
Yeh gosh-o-chashm Waah-e-mah.
K Zindagi Serab hai,
Koe Taweel Khawab hai,
Jo Khaak se Shuru hua.
to Khaak hi pe Khatm hai!!
To be continued ...
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013
Copyright © 2023 by Julie Von Nonveiller Cairnes. All rights reserved.
Other writings on my past lifetime memories:
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Oh and of course, this :