Khidr Al-Khadir (Kh-D-R) – an Arabic term meaning “green” and “verdant” – is the etymological root for a Middle-Eastern character known as al-Khidr: the Green One.
Khidr, Khizr, Khezr or Hizir – all point to a legendary figure who is said to have discovered the “Water-of-Life” (i.e. Spirit / Pure Consciousness) and is considered an eternal prophet. Coleman Barks informs us:
Khidr is connected philologically with Elijah and with Utnapishtim of the Gilgamesh epic. He may be partial source, along with Druidic lore, for the enigmatic Green Knight in the Middle English poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.
It is important to examine the Qur’anic encounter between Moses and Khidr, as it provides critical dimension to our understanding of the Green Man archetype. Below is the excerpt:
...One day Moses said to his servant: “I will not cease from my wanderings until I have reached the place where the two seas meet, even though I may journey for eighty years” But when they had reached the place where the two seas meet, they forgot about their cooked breakfast fish; and the fish somehow came alive and found its way out and through a stream into the sea. Now when they had journeyed past this place, Moses said to his servant: “Bring us our breakfast, for we are weary from this journey” But the other replied “Oh! See what has befallen me! When we were resting there by the rock, I forgot the fish. Only Shaytan can have put it out of my mind and in wondrous fashion it found its way to the sea” Then Moses said “But that is the place we seek!” And so they went back the way they had come. And they found one of Our servants, whom we had endowed with Our grace and Our wisdom. Moses said to him “Can I follow you, that you may teach me, as guidance, some of the wisdom you have learnt?” But he answered “You will not bear with me, for how should you bear patiently with things you cannot comprehend?” Moses said “If Allah wills, you shall find me patient; I shall not in anyway disobey you” He said “If you are bent on following me, you must ask no question about anything till I myself speak to you concerning it” The two set forth, but as soon as they embarked, Moses’ companion bored a hole in the bottom of the ship. “A strange thing you have done! exclaimed Moses “Is it to drown her passengers that you have bored a hole in her?” “Did I not tell you” he replied “that you would not bear with me?” “Pardon my forgetfulness” said Moses “Do not be angry with me on this account”
They journeyed on until they came across a certain youth. Moses’ new companion drew a sword and slew him, and Moses said “You have killed an innocent man who has done no harm. Surely you have committed a wicked crime?” “Did I not tell you” he replied “that you would not bear with me?” Moses said “If ever I question you again, abandon me; for then I should deserve it” They travelled on until they came to a certain city. They asked the people for some food, but the people declined to receive them as their guests. There they found a wall that was on the point of falling down. Moses’ companion raised it up without fuss and qualm, and Moses said “You know, had you wished, you could have demanded payment from these ungrateful townsfolk for your labours” “Now the time has arrived when we must part!” said the other “But first I will explain to you those acts of mine which you could not bear with in patience. Know that the ship belonged to some poor fishermen. I damaged it because in the rear was a tyrant king who was taking every ship by force [and for certain corruptible means]. As for the youth, his parents both are true believers and we feared lest he should plague them with his wickedness and unbelief. It was our wish that their Lord should grant them another in his place, a son more righteous and more filial. As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city whose father was an righteous man. Beneath it, a treasure lays buried which is to be their inheritance. Your Lord decreed in His mercy that they should dig out their treasure when they grew to manhood [where it would not be wasted, or swindled from them]. What I did was not done by caprice. That is the meaning of the things you could not bear with in patience.”
The person referred to as “One of our servants, whom We had endowed with Our grace and Our wisdom” is the figure of Khidr, “the Verdant One” who plays a pivotal role in Islamic mysticism]- Qur’an (18:60-82) Adapted from: http://khidr.org/al-kahf.htm (accessed 2006)
Analogous to the chlorophyll within our plants and trees, Khidr (the “Green One”) symbolically images the threshold or interspace (barzakh) between our ‘solar’ (heavenly) and ‘earthly’ (physical) existence([i.e. “where the two seas meet”) (Qur’an (18:60/61) (This can be equated to the psycho-spiritual ‘Heart’ in humans (i.e. qalb)), thus providing our ‘earthly’ consciousness with the connective sustenance and vitality of the divine light of Spirit (i.e. Khidr transcends and refreshes our habitually dry, literalist or dogmatic religious understanding by representing the connective sustenance of direct intellection). Khidr is the spiritual teacher within us, the spark in the heart, our inborn secret… We meet him at the place where the cooked fish becomes alive; where the spiritual tradition becomes a living reality
As though exhibiting a Dionysian element, Khidr begins as a symbol of the “irrepressible Spirit” ( Anderson 1990. Pg 14) (re: the sudden resurrection of the fish).
Coleman Barks comments on the bridging function of Khidr:
He exists on the edge between the seen and the unseen. When Moses vows to find the place “where the two seas meet,” meaning where the spiritual and the worldly mix, he meets Khidr…Khidr represents the inner dimension which transcends form. He is the personification of the revealing function of the metaphysical intellect, the ‘prophetic soul’. He especially appears to solitaries, those who are cut off from normal channels of spiritual instruction.(In: Barks 1995. Pg 287)
Khidr, in his role as ‘guide’ into the deeper spiritual mysteries, has also been associated with Hermes (Idris): Idris, Enoch, al-Khidr and Hermes all seem to be one person.
This guide al-Khidr initiates Moses into deeply esoteric lore. The ijnaj Ilhami, in Hadith traditions, consider al-Khadir as a holy being, mysterious and immortal whom all spiritual initiatory orders revere as the Master of the Path (Tariqa). Al-Khidr is often mentioned as the Green Angel Guide in Islamic writings. In fact, in Egyptian frescoes he is some times painted green with the head of an ibis.(http://khidr.org/gunawardhana.htm)
Tom Cheetham comments,
In accordance with Islamic iconography, the color of the final stage [in the transformation of the self] is emerald green. For [Henry] Corbin this stage marks the meeting with the heaven Guide, the perfectly individuated and individual Angel of Humanity and Angel of Knowledge that is the biblical Angel of the Face. This is the Figure of whom Mohammad could say: “I have seen my Lord in the most beautiful of forms.” It announces the truth that beauty is the supreme theophany. The Qur’anic source for this Person is Sura XVIII… The seeker is born into his true self through the encounter with Khidr…
...Khidr is a mysterious figure, who acts as Moses’ Guide and initiator into the secret meanings of the Law and the world. He is the archetypal hermeneut whose speech is the lost poetry of Creation. In the Islamic tradition he is identified with the Old Testament figure of Elija. Khidr is the personal guide, and Corbin says, equivalent to the Paraclete and the Hidden Imam, to the Christ of the Cross of Light; he is the Verus Propheta, the inner guide of each person, the celestial Anthropos and Angel of Humanity whose appearance to every person is each time unique.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee adds essential insight to what is perhaps the true significance of Khidr:
One of the most important archetypal figures in Sufism is Khidr, ‘the green one.’ Khidr represents direct revelation, the direct inner connection with God that is central to the mystical experience.
…Khidr is not an abstract mystical figure, but an archetype of something essential within us. ‘The Green One’ images a natural aspect of our divinity, something so ordinary that we overlook it. To follow the way of Khidr is to awaken to our own natural state of being with God and with life. In this natural state of being we know how to respond to the real need of the moment.
Reza Shah-Kazemi contextualizes:
According to Ibn Arabi… the encounter between Moses and al-Khidr is understood microcosmically: al-Khidr represents a mode of universal consciousness within the very soul of Moses, one which surpasses his consciousness qua prophet, whence the disapproval by the prophet of the antinomian acts of the saint: ‘He [al-Khidr] showed him [Moses] nothing but his [Moses’] own form: it was his own state that Moses saw, and himself that he censured’. Shah-Kazemi, R. 2006. The Metaphysics of Interfaith Dialogue: Sufi Perspectives on the Universality of the Quranic Message
Jung shared a similar interpretation, albeit within a psychological framework:
Khidr may well be a symbol of the Self. His qualities symbolize him as such; he is said to have been born in a cave i.e. in darkness. He is the “Long-lived One” who continually renews himself, like Elijah. He is analogous to the second Adam… he is a counsellor, a Paraclete, “Brother Khidr.” Anyway, Moses looks up to him for instruction. Then follow these incomprehensible deeds which show how ego-consciousness reacts to the superior guidance of the Self [emphasis mine] through the twists and turns of fate.
To the initiate who is capable of transformation it is a comforting tale; to the obedient believer, an exhortation not to murmur against Allah’s incomprehensible omnipotence. Khidr symbolizes not only the higher wisdom but also a way of acting. Anyone hearing such a mystery tale will recognize himself in the questing Moses and forgetful Joshua. see
The suggestion here is that there are plausible resonances between a host of mythical manifestations (e.g. Dumuzi-Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, Skanda-Kumara etc) and what appears to be a guiding root archetype, significantly refined in the Qur’anic appearance of Khidr. I say “refined” because whereas the Green Man is previously considered to be a symbolic representation of the authentic / essential self – in natural submission to Spirit and reflective of the divine attributes – Khidr, on the other hand, appears to be symbolic of the very source of divine nourishment: the ever-living and consequently irrepressible divine consciousness.
Khidr, therefore, represents the “Living Water” or “Breath of Life” (rûh), as well as the direct sustenance that it provides the human Heart (qalb).
It has been said of Khidr that he is the one “in whose footsteps plants and trees grow” and we can deduce from this – as well as from the Qur’anic reading – that while he is responsible for the “greening” of the Heart and self, he is not just the effect (a way of acting / being)( In his ‘green’ and ‘vegetative’ forms) but primarily the cause (the divine / prophetic consciousness itself); ( In his role as “Stranger,” or the “Hidden One,” or as the “Hidden Initiator” [Finds resonance with Melkizedek; also the qutb of Sufism; “The Hidden Imam” (Shia mysticism); the “The Standing One” / “Primal Adam” / “Hidden Power” doctrines of the Elkasites and Nazorai-Mandaeans; also Purusha in the Vedic traditions)
or is perhaps symbolic of both (as the title “the Green One” suggests)?( By way of analogy: not just the greenness of the chlorophyll within the leaves, but also the sunlight / water responsible for their nourishment and liveliness; not just the (secondary) green ray of light that is refracted as the “middle-pillar” within the light spectrum, but also the (primary) undifferentiated light of pure consciousness. Once again we return to the concept of interconnectedness, harmony, balance, nourishment and renewal, as discussed in relation to the “green signature.”)
That Khidr may be seen as being an initiator of, or precursor to, the rehabilitation of consciousness – both individually and collectively – is supported in part by those prophetic traditions which relate that prior to the eschatological advent of the “Rightly Guided One” (al-Mahdi) in the so-called “End Days,” ‘Khidr / Elijah’ will make an appearance.
This is further alluded to in the mystical tales of Ismaili Shi’ism, which refer to the appearance of Khidr prior to the unveiling of the Hidden Imam. For an insightful reading of the Mahdi tradition, please refer to: Morris J.W. Ibn Arabi’s Messianic Secret: From “the Mahdi” to the Imamate of Every Soul.
Having noted all of this, however, it is very easy to fall into the trap of excessive mysticism, whereby the essential divine reality of the symbol is not realized. One should not lose sight of the fact that ‘Khidr’ is a mythical representation / personification of the otherwise direct ontological relationship between the self and the guiding Spirit at the “place where the two seas meet” (i.e. the spiritualized ‘Heart’).
By ontological extension (i.e. macrocosmically), guidance from Khidr may also be seen as the direct contemplation of nature and cosmos (as theophany) by virtue of the non-discursive, supra-rational intellect. Khidr is not a humanist. He is a messenger from far beyond.
The world that he opens up to us is infinite. He announces that the cosmos itself is a ‘house of reading’ – it is the Primordial Temple of the Word. The guardians of high culture, of literature and the humanities, have for a long time not read this book at all. They have been too curved in upon themselves. And when it is read, as it is by natural scientists, it is too often only in the most abstract languages of domination and control.
- THE ELIATIC FUNCTION IN THE ISLAMIC TRADITION: KHIDR AND THE MAHDI
by ZACHARY MARKWITH
The present article is an in depth examination of the role of Khidr (or KhiZr, KheZr) and the Mahdi in the Islamic tradition, focusing on their significance as spiritual guides, transmitters of sacred knowledge and on their importance in the preparation for the end of time. The author uses the concept of the ‘Eliatic function’ presented by Leo Schaya as a guiding principle for this study, and begins the article with an explanation of this concept. On the basis of this, he then discusses the traditional Islamic understanding firstly of Khidr and then of the Mahdi. Throughout the analysis the author presents quotations from the Qur’an and Hadith along with the interpretations of classical and contemporary commentators, focusing in particular on Shi’ism and Sufism.