Sounds Ineffable

October 6th, 2013

bluelotusComposer: Bill Alves

Text:  from the Therīgāthā , in the original Pali;

Recorded for Volume 2, Voices of the Pearl

The Buddha singled out 13 female disciples for special commendation and Uppalavanna was noted as an especially worthy adept  for her mystical powers.  Uppalavanna’s words are conserved in the original Pali in the Ther?g?th?. They transmit her experience and inspire future generations of women on the spiritual path.  Uppalavanna’s symbol is  the blue lotus.

India has led the world in nurturing the evolution and preservation of esoteric traditions over thousands of years. Despite the rich tradition of mystical experience, however, in India, as in almost everywhere in the world, the tradition of educating women in the processes for attaining for enlightenment in the female body has nearly been extinguished many times.  Nevertheless, often as a form of dissenting knowledge, in every corner of the globe, remarkable women have pursued the mystical path over the centuries.

Therīgāthā , from Uppalavanna (XIV, verse 227)

Pubbenivāsaṃ jānāmi,dibbacakkhuṃ visodhitaṃ; 


sotadhātu visodhitā.


Iddhīpi me sacchikatā,

patto me āsavakkhayo;


Chaḷabhiññā sacchikatā,

kataṃ buddhassa sāsanaṃ.

I know that I have lived before,the divine eye has been purified;


There is knowledge of others’ inward life,


I hear the sounds ineffable.
I have realized senses beyond the Earth, and annihilated the asavas*;


I have realized these knowledges;

the Buddha’s teaching has been done.

Ann Lee Songs

October 6th, 2013

IMG_1319Composer: Christina Southworth;

Texts: anonymous Shaker;

‘Mother’ Ann Lee was the visionary founder of the Shaker Christian sect in 18th-century New England, the first Christian sect to insist on full equality of the sexes



‘Mother Ann’ left many stories and songs via eyewitness accounts that trace her progress on the mystical path. This songs cycle set early nineteenth-century reports describing the founder of the Shaker sect. I researched these texts in Massachusetts archives while on a fellowship with the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA..  The idea for this cycle was inspired by the last five years I have spent touring internationally with programs of Shaker music with the renowned early music ensemble The Boston Camerata and the Tero Saarinen Dance Company. Following in the spirit of the Shaker tradition of invention and innovation, Southworth has composed 15-minute cycle of new music intertwining traditional Shaker melodies with the sounds of newly made electronic instruments. A native of Harvard, MA, Southworth grew up on Ann Lee Road. Her pieces have been performed internationally by ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet and Bang-On-A-Can.

Revelations of Julian of Norwich

October 6th, 2013

IMG_1944Composer: Derek Holman

Text: Julian of Norwich;

14th-century English anchorite, discount author and visionary. Texts excerpted from her
Divine Revelation of Love



Julian of Norwich managed to successfully navigate the difficult trajectory of a female mystic remarkably well, however, her work is little known today except to medievalists, or only anonymously, as she is quoted famously by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets (“And all shall be well; and all manner of thing shall be well”).

In the six extracts I have chosen from Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love (ca. 1393), her commitment to the female image of God is striking. She also wrote many incitements to universal love as her direct transmission of God’s communication to her. She is  remarkably sure-footed in her own classification of various species of spiritual experiences, which she referred to as ‘the three sights.’ As such, she becomes a source of female esoteric teaching: a rarity in any culture.

Divan-i Hayati (supported by the Canada Council for the Arts)

October 6th, 2013

IMG_1567Composer: Kati Agócs;

Text: Bibi Hayati;

19th-century female Sufi poet and mystic;

Sung in the original Farsi

Recorded for Volume 1, Voices of the Pearl

Please find notes, biography and bibliography below.

This cycle sets verses of a ghazal (roughly speaking, the Persian equivalent of highly structured sonnet) of Bibi Hayati, an early nineteenth-century noblewoman from Bam, in the Kerman province of Iran. Hayati was acquainted with both exoteric and esoteric sciences and adhered to the external principles of Islam, while also embracing the fundamentals of Sufi Gnosticism.  These intensely sensuous lyrical and ecstatic poems  are sung in the original Persian (Farsi).

While Hayati found a welcome for her ecstatic connection to God in Sufism, she waited until she had permission from her spiritual teacher to communicate her experience outside her immediate family in writing in these poems. She was initially reluctant because of her gender, Hayati’s spiritual master conferred on her the duty to write these ghazals that relate her mystical experience, because, according to him,  she had attained the status of manhood through her devotion to the Sufi path: “In the realm of love, sincerity and Sufism, you too are a man.  True manhood is courage.”


Original text: Ghazal No. 96 by Bibi Jan Hayati 

Hayati text















Bibi Jan Hayati: Life and works
by Eliza Tasbihi, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada (2014)

Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, has always provided equal opportunity for both men and women to engage in spiritual practice. Sufi orders in Iran in particular have a long history of women writing Sufi texts and participating in spiritual gatherings. One of the Sufi Orders that has long encouraged the equality of men and women’s spirituality is the Nimatullahi Sufi Order founded by Shah Nimatullah Vali (d. 1431). Being a poet himself, Shah Nimatullah encouraged the use of poetry during Sufi ceremonies as a means for transmitting spiritual principles.

Among the well-known Iranian Sufi poetesses is Bibi Jan Hayati. Born in the second half of the 18th century in the city of Bam, she was raised in a noble and a well-respected Sufi family. Soon the family moved to Tehran, where Bibi Jan’s elder brother, Rawnaq ‘Ali, was hoping to attain a high-ranking position in the military. After her father passed away, Bibi Jan was raised under the tutelage of her brother who ultimately entered the Sufi path and played a large role in shaping Bibi Jan’s spiritual life. Through her brother, Bibi Jan met and eventually married Nur ‘Ali Shah Isfahani (d. 1797), one of the masters of the Nimatullahi Order.  Her age at the time of marriage would have been between 15 and 18 years old and she bore her husband a daughter. She soon became an active member of the Order, dedicating her entire Divan (collected poems) to her husband. Indeed, the early sources speak of Bibi Hayati primarily as the sister of Rawnaq ‘Ali and the wife of Nur ‘Ali Shah, reflecting the male dominated culture of her time, where women were expected to avoid social recognition and unnecessary attention.

Upon her husband’s encouragement, Bibi Jan started composing love poetry. It is also upon his recommendation that Bibi Jan chose the nickname Hayati, derived from the Persian word “hayat” or life.

Your face is the manifestation of the divine

The sun and the moon are particles from the ray of your beauty,

To your look I gave up my life (hayat), and gained spiritual life (Hayat)

There is no supremacy and power except His! (Quatrain #22)


The term Hayat or Hayati reflects Bibi Jan’s spiritual transformation, also pointing to her appreciation for her husband with whom she walked the Sufi path of love and unity. The significant character of her Divan is the mystical aspect of her poetry. Her poetry indicates her sensibility and poetic talent, her familiarity with Persian poetic forms, literature, meters and structure as well as Sufi terminology and musical instruments. They are rich in rhetoric, images, sentiment, metaphors, symbols and also rhyming and musical elements. Her poems demonstrate an intense sense of passion and emotion towards her husband and lover, albeit framed by Sufi spirituality.

The sun of my being shines

Forth again from Nur ‘Ali,

The aurora of the soul

Cast upon Hayati’s heart (Ghazal #87)


There is debate about when Bibi Hayati died. Some sources say that she passed away in 1853, which could indicate that she remarried after her husband’s death. Other sources claim that she died in 1798, one year after her husband, leaving her collected poetry unedited. Had she lived and remarried after her first marriage, one would expect her to have left behind many additional poems, whereas her only extant poetry is her Divan, which she composed during her life with Nur ‘Ali.

Most of Bibi Hayati’s poems consist of short ghazals (love poems) ranging from 5 to 10 verses composed in the genre of Sufi poetry and in various poetic meters. It is suggested that Bibi Hayati’s poetic style was heavily influenced by Hafez’s poetry. Her Divan has been published twice in Iran, first in 1935, with no introduction or explanatory notes. The second edition was published in 1970 and supplemented with a comprehensive biography of the poetess and explanatory notes by the late master of the Nimatullahi Order, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh (d. 2008).

The following is a list of sources in which Bibi Hayati’s life and works are discussed.

In English:

Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Sufi Women, NY: Khaniqah Nimatullahi’s publications, 1983.


In Persian:

Fatimah Jahangard, Pujhuhish-i dar Divan-i Hayati Kirmani, Tehran: Kirman: Markaz-i Kirman-shinasi, 2008.

‘Ali Akbar Mushir-Salimi, Zanan-i Sukhanvar, Tehran: Shirkat- sahami-i chap va IntisharatiI kitab-i Iran, 1956.

Muhammad Hassan khan ‘Itemad al-Saltanah, Tazkirah Khayrat al-Hasan, 3 volumes manuscripts, Tehran: Majlis library, 1928.

Muhammad Zihni, Tazkirat al-Khavatin, Mumbai: Mirza Muhammad Malik al-Kuttab Shirazi publisher, 1885.

Zabih al-allah Mahallati, Rayahin al-Shari’ah, 6 voles, Qom: dar-al Kutub al-Islamiya, 1996.


De virginibus

October 2nd, 2013

Hildegard+TrinityComposer: Jodi Goble;

Text: Hildegard of Bingen;

12th-century German Catholic abbess, composer, mystic


Hildegard rose to become an abbess of her own convent, and experienced mystical connection with the divine throughout her life.  She left countless chants that record her visions and were meant for the nuns under her care to sing daily in liturgical services. In October 2012, she was raised to the rank of saint and then further became one of 34 Doctors of the Catholic Church, only 3 of whom are women.


The first two poems in Hildegard von Bingen’s De Virginibus, written and dedicated to the nuns under her care — figure among her most playful and lighthearted texts.  The tone is one of wonder and affection, with no hint of admonishment; Hildegard, herself a master gardener and herbalist, likens the nuns to young plants who greet the dawn and flourish under a celestial sun.  The third poem, far longer than the first two, is also heavier in tone, and addresses the challenges of living in collective celibacy with frank, sensually evocative language. The musical setting for these poems is inspired largely by Hildegard’s own music:  highly melismatic, written to showcase both the ethereal and earthy qualities of the female voice, more modal than tonal, and sensitive in its treatment of text.  A dotted-note Leitmotif, meant to musically depict the natural delivery of the word ‘dulcissime’, appears throughout the work.


Text and translations

Latin text: Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179)


  1. O pulchrae facies


O pulchrae facies,

Deum aspicientes in aurora aedificantes,

o beatae virgines, quam nobiles estis.

In quibus Rex se consideravit,

cum in vobis omnia caelestia ornamenta praesignavit,

ubi etiam suavissimus hortus estis,

in omnibus ornamentis redolentes.

O beautiful faces


O beautiful faces,

God-gazers, dawn-builders,

o blessed virgins, how noble you are.

In this He considers Himself a King,

that you personify all things beautiful and celestial.

You are the sweetest of gardens,

the most decorative, the most fragrant.




  1. O nobilissima viriditas


O nobilissima viriditas, quae radicas in sole,

et quae in candida serenitate luces in rota,

quam nulla terrena excellentia comprehendit,

tu circumdata es

amplexibus divinorum mysteriorum.

Tu rubes ut aurora

et ardes ut solis flamma.

O most noble greenness


O most noble greenness, with roots in the sun,

and which, in the serene white light of the wheel that no earthly excellence can comprehend,

embraces you and surrounds you

with the divine mysteries.

You, and it, burn red as the dawn

of the sun’s flame.


  1. O dulcissime amator


O dulcissime amator,

o dulcissime amplexator,

adiuva nos custodire

virginitatem nostram.

Nos sumus ortae in pulvere,

heu, heu, et in crimine Adae.

Valde durum est contradicere

quod habet gustus pomi.

Tu erige nos, Salvator, Christe.

Nos desideramus ardenter te sequi.

O quam grave nobis miseris est

te immaculatum et innocentem

Regem Angelorum imitari.

Tamen confidimus in te,

quod tu desideres

gemmam requirere in putredine.

Nunc advocamus te Sponsum et consolatorem,

qui nos redemisti in cruce.

In tuo sanguine copulatae sumus tibi cum desponsatione,

repudiantes virum

et eligentes te, Filium Dei.

O pulcherrima forma,

o suavissimus odor desiderabilium deliciarum,

semper suspiramus post te

in lacrimabili exilio,

quando te videamus et tecum maneamus!

Nos sumus in mundo

et tu in mente nostra,

et amplectimur te in corde,

quasi habeamus te praesentem.

Tu fortissimus leo rupisti caelum,

descendens in aulam Virginis,

et destruxisti mortem,

aedificans vitam in aurea civitate.

Da nobis societatem cum illa,

et permanere in te, o dulcissime Sponse,

qui abstraxisti nos de faucibus Diaboli,

primum parentem nostrum seducentis.


O sweetest lover


O sweetest lover,

o sweetest embracer,

help us to keep

our virginity.

We arise in the dust,

alas, alas, in the crimes of Adam.

The taste of the apple

is hard to resist.

You strengthen us, oh Saviour, oh Christ.

We ardently desire to follow you.

Oh, how hard it is for we, the miserable ones to imitate your example, immaculate and innocent

King of the Angels.

We put our trust in you, however,

to nip the worm of our desire in the bud.

Now you summon the Bridegroom, the Counsellor,

who has redeemed us on the cross.

In your blood we are united,

repudiating man and choosing you,

Son of God.

O most beautiful form,

sweetest odor of most delicious delights,

forever we sigh after you

in our lamentable exile,

until we may see you and remain with you!

We are in the world

and you are in our minds,

and in our hearts we embrace you,

we have you present with us.

You are stronger than a lion,

descending to the womb of the Virgin

and destroying Death,

building life in the city of gold.

Give us fellowship with Her,

in order to continue with you, sweetest Bridegroom,

who drew us out of the jaws of the devil,

our first parent, our seducer.