As they see the presence of the divine in human beings, the Alevis of Munzur also see it in the natural world. “Nature is holy,” is a refrain commonly spoken around the valley, and everything in it is believed to have a soul, from animals and plants, to rocks, dirt, and especially water.  Among the countless sacred sites scattered in and around Munzur, all are outdoors, in nature. Many are minor, such as special trees or boulders where people go to pray, which are known only to residents of certain villages. Other, more significant and widely-known sites, called ziyarets, tend to be major geographical features, such as mountains, rivers, and caves. 

 

Alevis tie bits of string to sacred rocks and trees, symbolizing their prayers. 

 

The Munzur River is particularly sacred, and its source is one of the holiest places of all. Alevis go there to light candles, to pray, and to cleanse themselves spiritually in the bracing waters that pour out of the base of a towering massif of the Munzur Mountains. Newlyweds include a visit to the springs as part of their wedding festivities, as lighting candles there is said to ensure a long and happy life together. Munzur Baba - as the source is often called - is also a very auspicious place for ritual sacrifice.

 

A newly married couple visits the source of the Munzur with their wedding party.

 

Alevis bring sheep and goats to a rise above the water, where a cement pad with a blood gutter sits beneath a tin roof. One by one, the animals are led into the shelter, prayers are recited, and the slaughtering is performed, swiftly, by professional butchers. Once the carcass is skinned and dismembered, families take the meat down to the river, where they grill it or stew it, then serve it as part of huge feast. 

 
 

The most important part of the slaughtering is not the blood offering itself – rather, the sharing of the meat with other people is what gives the ritual its potency, is what truly puts the sacred in the sacrifice. In summer, when the banks near the source of the Munzur are often thronged with picnicking families, the atmosphere is truly festive. People relax under shade trees, play music on the river banks, splash and swim in the holy water, and eat together with family, friends, and strangers. It seems like a form of recreational devotion – and it makes perfect sense, considering that that the goal of the Alevi religion is not an external display of piety, but experiencing an internal spiritual connection. What better way to achieve that, one might ask, then by spending a day in a beautiful natural setting and eating good food with loved ones, enjoying life’s simplest yet most profound blessings?