Part 6d

Soothsaying Icon

January 14, 2020


Soothsayers are persons who:

  • gaze into transparent bodies, such as mirrors, bowls, or water, and
  • examine the hearts, livers, and bones of animals, as well as those who cast pebbles and (date) pits

The real soothsayer does not need to make much of an effort in order to lift the veil of sensual perception. They, however, expend much effort to concentrate all sensual perception in one particular sense, the noblest one, which is vision.

It is applied exclusively to whatever plain visual object has been (selected for concentration), until the perception about which information is to be given appears. It is often thought that the place where those (who gaze into mirrors) see something, is the surface of the mirror. This is not so.

They continue gazing at the surface of the mirror until it (the surface) disappears. Between their eyes and the mirror appears a veil like a white cloud. In it, forms are pictured, and (these pictures) are the objects they perceive.

This gives them the facts of a negative or positive character they wanted to obtain, and they pass on (these facts) as they perceived them. Neither the mirror nor the forms perceived in it are now present to them. A different kind of perception originates in them in (that state).

It is a psychic one that has nothing to do with vision. Through it, objects of psychic perception take on shape (for observation) by sensual perception, as is known.

Something similar happens to those who examine the hearts and livers of animals, and to those who gaze into water, bowls, and similar things.

Among these people we have observed persons who keep their senses occupied only by means of incense, as well as incantations, in order to be prepared (for supernatural perception).

Then, they tell what they have perceived. They think that they see the forms take on concrete shapes in the air, telling them what they want to know in the form of pictures and allusions. These persons are less remote from sensual perception than the first group. The world is full of remarkable things. Augury (zajr) is talk about supernatural things which originates in some people when a bird or animal appears, and they reflect about it after it has gone.

It is a power in the soul that calls for sagacity and the ability to think about (the things of interest) which augurs see or hear. The power of imagination is strong in augurs. They exert that power in their researches, while depending on the help given by things they have seen or heard.

This gives them some supernatural perception. The power of imagination acts here as it does in sleepers. When the senses are asleep, (the power of imagination) intervenes among the things seen in the waking state, and combines them with the products of its own thinking.

Thus, the power of imagination brings about vision.

In the insane, the rational soul is but weakly connected with the body, because the humors, as a rule, are corrupt and have a weak animal spirit. Therefore, the soul belonging to (the body of an insane person) is not deeply immersed in the senses.

The painful disease of deficiency that affects it keeps it too much occupied.

Frequently, it was pushed into attaching itself to (the insane) by some other Satanic spirituality, which clings to them and which (the soul) itself is too weak to keep away.

The insane thus become possessed. 318a When they have become possessed in this manner, either because of the corruption of their constitution as the result of the essential corruption of their soul, or because of the onslaught the Satanic souls make upon them when they are attached to (their bodies), they are totally removed from sensual perception. They perceive a glimpse of the world of their soul.

Their soul receives the impress of forms which, in turn, are transformed by the imagination. In this condition, they frequently speak without wanting to speak.

Supernatural perception in all these (groups) contains truth and falsehoodmixed together. For although they may achieve the loss of sensual perception, it is only with the help of foreign notions (tasawwur) that they achieve contact (with the supernatural), as we have established.

This leads to untruthfulness, (which is to be found) in these (ways of supernatural) perception. The diviners (‘arraf) somehow enjoy this kind of perception, but they do not have the same contact (with the supernatural).

They concentrate their thinking upon the matter in which they are interested and apply guesses and hypotheses to it. They base themselves upon an unfounded assumption as to what basically constitutes contact with, and perception of, (the supernatural).

They claim acquaintance with the supernatural, but in reality (their procedure) has nothing to do with it.

This is the manner in which such (supernatural knowledge) is obtained. Al-Mas’udi discussed the subject in his Muruj adh-dhahab. 319 He did not hit upon the right explanation. It is evident from his discussion that he was not firmly grounded in the various kinds of (pertinent) knowledge. He merely reports what he learned from people experienced in the subject, and from others. All the kinds of (supernatural) perception mentioned are found in man.

The Arabs used to repair to soothsayers in order to learn about forthcoming events. They consulted them in their quarrels, to learn the truth by means of supernatural perception. Literature contains much information about this matter. In pre-Islamic times, Shiqq, of the tribe of Anmar b. Nizar, and Satih, of the tribe of Mazin b. Ghassan, 320 were famous (soothsayers) (The latter) used to fold up like a garment, as he had no bones save for his skull. A famous story is their interpretation of the dream vision of Rabi’ah b. Nasr, in which they informed him that the Abyssinians would take possession of the Yemen, that the Mudar would rule after them, and that the Muhammadan prophecy would make its appearance among the Quraysh. 321

Another famous story is that of the dream vision of the Mobedhan. 3 22 Satih interpreted it when the Persian emperor (Khosraw) sent ‘Abd-al-Masih to him with (the dream). (On that occasion, Satih) informed him about the prophecy (of Muhammad) and the (future) destruction of the Persian realm.

There were also many diviners among the Arabs mentioned in their poems. One poet said:

I said to the diviner of the Yamamah= Cure me, For if you cure me, you are indeed a physician. 323

Another poet said:

I promised to give the diviner of the Yamamah whatever he would ask me for, And (I promised the same) to the diviner of Najd, if they would cure me (of my love).

But they said= Let God cure you. By God, we have no Power over (the disease) that you carry around with you in your body 324

The “diviner of the Yamamah” is Riyah b. ‘Ijlah, 325 and the “diviner of Najd” is al-Ablaq al-Asadi.

Some people have another way of supernatural perception. It occurs in thestage of transition from waking to sleeping, and is in (the form of unconsciously)

speaking about the thing one wants to know and thereby obtaining supernatural knowledge of the matter as desired. This happens only during the transition from waking to sleeping, when one has lost the power to control one’s words. Such a person talks as if by innate compulsion. The most he can do is to hear and understand what (he says).

Words of a similar nature come from those who are about to be killed, at the moment when their heads are being severed from their trunks. We have been informed that certain criminal tyrants used to kill their prisoners in order to learn their own future from the words the prisoners would utter when they were about to be killed.

It was unpleasant information they received from them.

In the Ghayah, 326 Maslamah similarly mentioned that when a human being is placed in a barrel of sesame oil and kept in it for forty days, is fed with figs and nuts until his flesh is gone and only the arteries and sutures 327 of the skull remain, and is then taken out of the oil and exposed to the drying action of the air, he will answer all special and general questions regarding the future that may be asked.

This is detestable sorcery. However, it shows what remarkable things exist in the world of man.

There are men who attempt to obtain supernatural perception through exercise. They attempt an artificial (state of) death through self-mortification. 328

They kill all corporeal powers (in themselves), and wipe out all influences of those powers that color the soul in various ways. 329 This is achieved by. concentrated thinking, and doing without food for long (periods). It is definitely known that when death descends upon the body, sensual perception and the veil it constitutes disappear, and the soul beholds its essence and its world. (These men) attempt to produce, artificially before death, the experience they will have after death, and to have their soul behold the supernatural.

Other such people are the men who train themselves in sorcery. They train themselves in these things, in order to be able to behold the supernatural and to be active in the various worlds. Most such live in the intemperate zones of the north and the south, especially in India, where they are called yogis. They possess a large literature on how such exercises are to be done. The stories about them in this connection are remarkable.

The Sufi training is a religious one. It is free from any such reprehensible intentions. The Sufis aspire to total concentration upon God and upon the approach to Him, in order to obtain the mystical experiences 330 of gnosis and Divine oneness. In addition to their training in concentration and hunger, the Sufis feed on dhikr exercises 331 by which their devotion to that training can fully materialize.

When the soul is reared on dhikr exercises, it comes closer to the gnosis of God, whereas, without it, it comes to be a Satanic one.

Whatever supernatural knowledge or activity is achieved by the Sufis is accidental, and was not originally intended. Had it been intentional, the devotion of the Sufis (who intended to have supernatural perception) would have been directed toward something other than God, namely, toward supernatural activity and vision.

What a losing business that would have been! In reality, it would have been polytheism. A (Sufi) has said, “Whoever prefers gnosis for the sake of gnosis comes out for the second (stage of being).” Through their devotion, (Sufis) intend (to come near) the Master, and nothing else.

If, meanwhile, some (supernatural perception) is obtained, it is accidental and unintentional. Many (Sufis) shun (supernatural perception) when it accidentally happens to them, and pay no attention to it.332They want God only for the sake of His essence, and nothing else.

It is well known that (supernatural perception) occurs among the (Sufis). They call their supernatural experiences and mind reading “physiognomy” (firasah) and “removal” (of the veil of sense perception, kashf). Their experiences of (supernatural) activity they call “acts of divine grace” (karamah).

None of these things is unworthy of them.

However, Professor Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini and Abu Muhammad b. Abi Zayd al-Maliki,333 among others, disapproved of it, in order to avoid any risk of (prophetic) miracles becoming confused with something else.

However, the speculative theologians rely on the “advance challenge” (tahaddi) as the distinguishing characteristic of the (prophetic) miracle. This is sufficient.

Muhammad said, “Among you, there are men who are spoken to, and ‘Umar is one of them.” 334

The men around Muhammad, as is well known, had experiences of a sort that confirms the fact (that mystics and pious persons may have some sort of supernatural perception). For instance, there is the story of ‘Umar saying, “O Sariyah, beware of the mountain!” Sariyah is Sariyah b. Zunaym.

He was the general of a Muslim army in the ‘Iraq during the conquest. He had gotten into a battle with the polytheists. He thought of withdrawing. Near him, there was a mountain toward which he was directing himself (and where the enemy was lying in ambush).

This came (supernaturally) to ‘Umar’s attention while he was preaching from the pulpit in Medina. He called out to him= “O Sariyah, beware of the mountain.” Sariyah heard it, there where he was (in faraway ‘Iraq), and he also saw (‘Umar) there in person.

Something similar happened to Abu Bakr in connection with his last will, addressed to his daughter ‘A’ishah. He had given her a certain amount of dates from his orchard, as a gift, and then, (when he was near death), he suggested to her that she harvest them, so that the (other) heirs would not get them. Then he said, “They are your two brothers and your two sisters.” Whereupon ‘A’ishah said, “There is Asma’, but who is the other?” Abu Bakr replied, “I see that the child in Bint Kharijah’s womb is a girl,” and so it was. This is mentioned in the Muwatta’ in the chapter on gifts that are not permitted. 336

The men around Muhammad and the pious and exemplary men after them had many similar experiences. However, the Sufis say that such experiences are rare in the time of prophecy, because, in the presence of the prophet, the adept of mysticism cannot continue in his mystic state. They go so far as to say that the adept of mysticism who comes to Medina is deprived of his mystic state, so long as he remains there and until he leaves.

May God provide us with guidance, and may He lead us to the truth.

Among the adepts of mysticism are fools and imbeciles who are more like insane persons than like rational beings. Nonetheless, they deservedly attained stations of sainthood and the mystic states of the righteous.

The persons with mystical experience who learn about them know that such is their condition, although they are not legally responsible. The information they give about the supernatural is remarkable.

They are not bound by anything. They speak absolutely freely about it and tell remarkable things. When jurists see they are not legally responsible, they frequently deny that they have attained any mystical station, since sainthood can be obtained only through divine worship. This is an error.

The attainment of sainthood is not restricted to (the correct performance of) divine worship, or anything else.

When the human soul is firmly established as existent, God may single it out for whatever gifts of His He wants to give it. The rational souls of such people are notnonexistent, nor are they corrupt, as is the case with the insane.

They (merely) lack the intellect that is the basis of legal responsibility. (That intellect) is a special attribute of the soul.

It means various kinds of knowledge that are necessary to man and that guide his speculative ability and teach him how to make a living and organize his home.

One may say that if he knows how to make a living, he has no excuse left not to accept legal responsibility, so that he may prepare for his life after death.

Now, a person who lacks that (special) attribute (of the soul called intellect) still does not lack the soul itself, and has not forgotten his reality. He has reality, though he lacks the intellect entailing legal responsibility, that is, the knowledge of how to make a living. This is not absurd. God does not select His servants for gnosis only on the basis of (the performance of) some legal duty.

If this is correct, it should be known that the state of these men is frequently confused with that of the insane, whose rational souls are corrupted and who belong to (the category of) animals. There are signs by which one can distinguish the two groups. One of them is that fools are found devoting themselves constantly to certain dhikr exercises and divine worship, though not in the way the religious law requires, since, as we have stated, they are not legally responsible. The insane, on the other hand, have no (particular) devotion whatever.

Another sign is that fools were created stupid, and were stupid from their earliest days. The insane, on the other hand, lose their minds after some portion of their life has passed, as the result of natural bodily accidents. When this happens to them and their rational souls become corrupt, they are lost.

A further sign is the great activity of fools among men. It may be good or bad. They do not have to have permission, because for them there is no legal responsibility. The insane, on the other hand, show no (such) activity.

The course of our discussion caused us to insert the preceding paragraph.

Other alleged ways of supernatural perception

Astrologers believe in astrological indications, consequences of the positions of (stars), influences of (the stars) upon the elements, and results from the tempering of the natures of (the stars) when they look at each other, 338 as well as effects of such tempers upon the air.

Astrologers have nothing to do with the supernatural. It is all guesswork and conjectures based upon the assumed existence of astral influence, and a resulting conditioning of the air.

Such guesswork is accompanied by an additional measure of sagacity enabling scholars to determine the distribution (of astral influence) upon particular individuals in the world, as Ptolemy said.

Astrology is at best, guessing and conjecturing.


In order to discover the supernatural and know the future, certain men of the common people invented a craft called “sand writing” (geomancy) 340. They form combinations of dots in four “ranks.”

The resulting combinations differ in that the four ranks are made up of different or identical arrangements of even or odd. This makes 16 combinations. For if all four ranks hold evens or all odds, we have two combinations. If one rank only has an even, we have four combinations.

If two ranks have an even, we have six combinations, and if three ranks have an even, we have four combinations. This makes altogether sixteen combinations. 341

The sand diviners have given different names to the different combinations and classified them as lucky or unlucky, as is done with the stars.

The sixteen combinations stand for the sixteen “houses” which they think correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac and the four cardines.

They have attributed to each combination a “house,” lucky (or unlucky) influences, and significance with regard to one particular group (of people) in the world of the elements.

The sand diviners have thus invented a discipline that runs parallel to astrology and the system of astrological judgments. However, the astrological judgments are based upon natural indications, as Ptolemy assumes.

The 342 indications of sand writing, on the other hand, are conventional.

Ptolemy discussed only nativities and conjunctions which, in his opinion, come within the influence of the stars and the positions of the spheres upon the world of the elements. Subsequent astrologers, however, discussed questions (interrogationes), in that they attempted to discover the innermost thoughts 342a by attributing them to the various houses of the firmament and drawing conclusions concerning them, according to the judgments governing each particular astral house. They are those mentioned by Ptolemy.

It should be known that the innermost thoughts concern psychic knowledge, which does not belong to the world of the elements. They do not come within the influence of the stars or the positions of the spheres, nor do (the stars and the positions of the spheres) give any indications with regard to them. The branch of questions (interrogationes) has indeed been accepted in astrology as a way of making deductions from the stars and positions of the spheres. However, it is used where it is not natural for it to be used.

When the sand diviners came, they discontinued use of the stars and the positions of the spheres, because they found it difficult to establish the altitude of stars by means of instruments and to find the adjusted (positions of the) stars by means of calculations. Therefore, they invented their combinations of figures.

They assumed that there were sixteen, according to the houses of the firmament and the cardines, and they specified that they were lucky, unlucky, or mixed, like the planets.

They limited themselves to the sextile aspect. They made judgments in accordance with the combinations of figures, as is done in the interrogation (branch of astrology). In both cases, the use made (of the data) is not a natural one, as we stated before.

Many city dwellers who had no work, in order to make a living, 343 tried sand divination. They composed works teaching the foundation and principles of sand divination. This was done by az-Zanati 344 and others.

Some sand diviners attempt supernatural perception, in that they occupy their senses with study of the combinations of figures. They thus reach a state of preparedness, like those who are by nature fitted for preparedness, as we shall mention later on.

These men are the noblest class of sand diviners.

In general, they assume that sand writing originated with the prophets of old. They frequently ascribe its invention to Daniel or Idris, 345 as is being done with all the crafts.

They (also) frequently claim that (sand writing) is enjoined by the religious law. As a proof of this (contention of theirs), they quote the followingtradition of Muhammad= “There was a prophet who wrote, and whoever concurs with his writing this is it.” 346

However, this tradition contains no evidence for the claim that sand writing is enjoined by the religious law, as some people assume. The meaning of the tradition is= “There was a prophet who wrote,” that is, the revelation came to him while he was writing. It is not absurd to assume that such was the custom of some prophets, for prophets differ in their ways of perceiving the revelation. God said= “We distinguished the messengers (by giving the ones pre-eminence) over the others.” 347

When some of them received the revelation, the angel spoke first to them, without any request or motive (on their part). Others had a human motive, resulting from contact with human affairs, in that their people asked them to explain some difficult problem, some obligation of duty, or the like.

Therefore, they directed their devotions to the Divine, and in that way God revealed to them what they wanted to know. (Logical) classification here suggests the existence of another division. Revelation may come to a person who is not prepared for it in any way, as in the afore-mentioned instance, or it may come to a person who is prepared for it in some way. In the Israelite stories, it is reported that a prophet was prepared for the coming of the revelation by hearing sweet melodious voices 348

This report is not established as correct, but it is not improbable. God singles out His prophets and messengers for whatever (favors) He wishes. This 349 was reported to us on the authority of a great Sufi, who attempts to attain remoteness from sensual perception by listening to music.

By this means he becomes completely free for his (supernatural) perceptions, in the station he is in, which (it is true) is inferior to prophecy. “And there is nobody among us who does not have a known station.” 350

If this is established and if, as we have mentioned before, certain sand diviners attempt to remove (the veil of sense perception) by occupying their senses with the study of combinations of figures, they may attain intuitive supernatural revelation (kashf) through complete freedom from sense perception.

They may exchange bodily perceptions for spiritual ones-both of which have been explained earlier.

This is a kind of soothsaying, of the type of gazing at bones, water, and mirrors, and it distinguishes (these sand diviners) from those who restrict themselves to techniques that achieve supernatural perception by means of sagacity and conjecturing, but who do not relinquish corporeal perception and continue to wander in the realm of guesswork.

Some prophets achieved preparedness for being addressed by the angel, in their prophetical station, by writing, exactly as people who are not prophets may achieve preparedness for spiritual perception and the relinquishment of human perception by the same means.

Sand diviners achieve spiritual perception only, whereas prophets achieve an angelic perception by means of divine revelation. The prophets have nothing to do with the stations of the sand diviners, whose perceptions are based on sagacity and conjecturing. They do not make it part of the religious law for any human being to speak about and discuss the supernatural.

The statement in the tradition, “And whoever concurs with his writing - this is it,” 351 means= He is right, in view of the fact that the writing was supported by the revelation that came to that particular prophet, whose custom it was to have the revelation come to him while he was writing.

Or, the tradition may be a compliment and indicate that the prophet had reached a high competence in the use of sand writing - without (implying) the existence of a connection between (revelation) and (sand writing) - because in this way the prophet was prepared for revelation, which, therefore, concurred with (the conclusions reached from sand writing).

But were the prophet to take (those conclusions) from the writing alone, without the concurrence of revelation, they would not be right. This is the meaning of the tradition.

The tradition does not indicate that sand writing is enjoined by religious law, nor that it is permissible to practice sand writing to obtain supernatural perception, as sand diviners in the cities do. Some of them may be inclined to this opinion, on the basis that what (any) prophet did is accepted law, and that sand writing, therefore, is enjoined by the religious law according to the principle, held by some, that the religious law of those who came before us is religious law for us.

This does not apply in this (case). Law only results when it is enjoined by messengers upon the various nations. This (particular) tradition, however, indicates no (thing of the sort). It indicates only that the particular condition was that of one of the prophets, and it is possible that it was not enjoined as a religious law.

Therefore, it would not be a religious law, neither one restricted to the people of (that particular prophet), nor one common to his people and to others.

The tradition merely indicates that it is a condition that may occur in the instance of a particular prophet, without being generally applicable to mankind. This is all we wanted to make clear here. God gives the correct inspiration.

If, in their self-deception, (sand diviners) want to discover something supernatural, they take paper, or sand, or flour, and form dots in (four) lines 352 in accordance with the number of the four ranks. This is repeated four times. They thus obtain sixteen lines.

They then deduct (some) dots in pairs. The remainder, for each line, whether it is even or odd,353 is put into the rank to which it belongs according to order.

This results in four combinations, which they arrange to form one continuous line. From them, they then form four other combinations through horizontal confrontation, by considering each rank, the corresponding combination next to it, and the evens or odds found in it.354 These, then, make eight combinations, placed along one line.

From each pair of combinations, they then form one combination (to be placed) underneath the (eight), by considering the evens or odds found in each rank of two combinations.

Thus, we have four others under (the eight). From these four combinations, they then form two more combinations, which are likewise placed underneath (the four). From these two, they again form one more combination and place it underneath (the two).

They then combine this 15th combination with the first one and thus form one more combination, which completes the sixteen. 355 Then, they evaluate the whole “writing” in a curious manner, as to the good luck or misfortune required by the various combinations, taking them as they stand, speculating on them, analyzing them, combining them, making deductions as to the various kinds of existentia, and so on.

This craft is prevalent in all civilized regions and has a literature dealing with it. Outstanding ancient and modern personalities were famous for it.

But it is obviously based on arbitrary notions and wishful thinking. The truth that should be present to one’s mind is that the supernatural cannot be perceived by any craft at all. The only people who can acquire knowledge of the supernatural are those distinguished human beings who are fitted by nature to return from the world of sensual perception to the world of the spirit.

The astrologers, therefore, called all people able to perceive supernatural knowledge as “Venusians” because they assumed that the position of Venus in the nativities of these people indicates their ability to have supernatural perception.

If the person who takes up sand writing and similar practices is one of those distinguished beings, and if his study of dots, bones, and other things is intended to occupy his senses in order that his soul may return momentarily to the world of the spiritualia, then sand writing occupies the same position as castingpebbles, examining the hearts of animals, and gazing into transparent mirrors, as we have mentioned. 356 If this is not so, and if knowledge of the supernatural is sought by means of (sand writing), (then) it is meaningless in theory and practice. 357

The following are signs that a person is disposed by nature to supernatural perceptions:

  • when he devotes himself to acquiring a knowledge of things and suffer a departure from their natural condition
  • he yawns and stretches and show symptoms of remoteness from sensual perception

These symptoms vary in intensity according to the different degrees to which such people possess this natural disposition.

People who have no such signs have nothing to do with supernatural perception. They are merely trying to spread falsehoods.


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