Monday, September 23, 2013

Arab Travelers: Cave of the Seven Sleepers

My route took me by the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. So I stopped there and went in to pray at the mosque, but I did not go through the narrow passage that one finds there. One of the amirs of the Turks who were with me, called Barshak, came, wanting to enter by that narrow cleft.
Cave of the Seven Sleepers, near Amman, Jordan
Photo from itsanillution

I said, 'What are you doing that for? Come and pray outside.'

'There is no God but God,' he replied. 'I must be a bastard then if I can't get through that narrow cleft!'

'What are you talking about?' I asked.

He said, 'This is a place that no son of adultery can pass through - he cannot enter.'

What he said forced me to get up, enter by that spot, pray and come out again without - God knows - believing what he said. Indeed, most of the troops came and entered and prayed. 

Yet, in the army with me was Baraq al-Zubaydi, who had with him a slave of his, a black man - devout fellow, taken to praying a lot, and one of the tallest and leanest people. He came to that spot and tried with all his might to enter, but he could not get through. The poor fellow wept, moaning and sighing over and over, and then left after failing to enter.

- Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation, p. 23-24, Trans. Paul Cobb, 2008, Penguin Books.

This is one of ibn Munqidh's stories which has stuck with me. (Possibly because of his prompt emphasis on his own easy and unobstructed passage. Not that he believes in such superstition, of course.)

From a gaming standpoint, this is a helpful reminder to make a region feel alive through legends and folklore, stories tied to places. There doesn't always have to be anything major to the legends, mind you. It's completely legit to have an ancient hoary legend which doesn't actually have much backing it up! Certainly ibn Munqidh didn't encounter anything significant in visiting the cave...although perhaps Baraq's slave did.

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