Part 18

The sciences of sorcery and talismans Icon

January 13, 2022

These are sciences showing how human souls may become prepared to exercise an influence upon the world of the elements, either without any aid or with the aid of celestial matters.

The first kind is sorcery. The second kind is talismans.

These sciences are forbidden by the (various) religious laws, because they are harmful and require (their practitioners) to direct themselves to (beings) other than God, such as stars and other things. Therefore, books dealing with them are almost nonexistent among the people.

The only exceptions are the books of the ancient nations from before the time of Moses’ prophecy, such as the Nabataeans and the Chaldeans. None of the prophets who preceded (Moses) made or brought any laws. Their books were concerned with exhortations, with the recognition of the oneness of God, and with references to Paradise and Hell 7 46

The magical sciences were cultivated among the Syrian and Chaldean inhabitants of Babel and among the Copts of Egypt, and others. They composed books dealing with them and left information (concerning their occupation with them.

Only very few of their books have been translated for us. (One book that was translated), for instance, is the Falahah anNabatiyah, 747 a Babylonian work. People learned the science of sorcery from that work and developed its manifold branches. Later on, other works on sorcery were composed. Among such works were the Books (Masahif) of the Seven Stars and the book of Tumtum the Indian 748 on the Figures of the Degrees (of the Signs of the Zodiac) and the Stars, and (works by) other (authors). Later on, Jabir b. Hayyan, 749 the chief sorcerer of Islam, appeared in the East.

He scrutinized the scholarly books and discovered the Art (the craft of sorcery and alchemy). He studied its essence and brought it out. He wrote a number of works on (sorcery). He lengthily discussed both sorcery and the craft of alchemy which goes together with sorcery, because the transformation of specific bodies (substances) from one form into another is effected by psychic powers, and not by a practical technique. Thus it is a sort of sorcery, as we shall mention in the proper place.750

Then, Maslamah b. Ahmad al-Majriti, 751 the leading Spanish scholar in the mathematical (scientific) and magical sciences, made his appearance. He abridged all these books and corrected them and collected all their different approaches in his Ghayat al-hakim. Nobody has written on this science since.

Let us present here some prefatory remarks that will explain the real meaning of sorcery. It is as follows. Human souls are one in species. However, they differ in view of their particular qualities. 752 They are of different kinds. Each kind is distinguished by a particular quality which does not exist in any other kind (of soul).

These qualities come to constitute a natural disposition belonging (exclusively) to its particular kind (of soul). The souls of the prophets have a particular quality through which they are prepared 753 to have divine knowledge, to be addressed by the angels in the name of God, as has been mentioned before, 754 and to exercise the influence upon created beings that goes with all that.The souls of certain sorcerers also have the quality (of being able) to exercise influence upon created beings and to attract the spirituality of the stars, so that they can use it for being active (among created beings) and be able to exercise an influence through either a psychic or a Satanic power. Now, the prophets are able to exercise their influence with the help of God and by means of a divine quality.

The souls of soothsayers, on the other hand, have a quality enabling them to observe supernatural things by means of Satanic powers. Thus, every kind (of soul) is distinguished by (its) particular quality, which does not exist in any other kind. The souls that have magical ability are of three degrees. These three degrees will now be explained here.

The first (kind) exercises its influence merely through mental power, without any instrument or aid. This is what the philosophers call sorcery. The second (kind) exercises its influence with the aid of the temper of the spheres and the elements, or with the aid of the properties of numbers. This is called talismans. It is weaker in degree than the first (kind).

The third (kind) exercises its influence upon the powers of imagination. The person who exercises this kind of influence relies upon the powers of imagination. He is somehow active in them. He plants among them different sorts of phantasms, images, and pictures, whichever he intends to use. Then, he brings them down to the level of the sensual perception of the observers with the help of the power of his soul that exercises an influence over that (sensual perception). As a result, the (phantasms, etc.) appear to the observers to exist in the external world, while, in fact, there is nothing (of the sort). For instance, a person is said to have seen gardens, rivers, and castles, while, in fact, there was nothing of the sort. This is what the philosophers call “prestidigitation” (sha’wadhah or sha’badhah).

Those are the different degrees of (sorcery).

The sorcerer possesses his particular quality in potentiality, as is the case with all human powers. It is transformed (from potentiality) into actuality by exercise. All magical exercise consists of directing oneself to the spheres, the stars, the higher worlds, or to the devils by means of various kinds of veneration and worship and submissiveness and humiliation. Thus, magical exercise is devotion and adoration directed to (beings) other than God.

Such devotion is unbelief. Therefore, sorcery is unbelief, or unbelief forms part of the substance and motives of sorcery, as has been seen. Consequently, (sorcerers must be killed). Jurists differ (only) as to whether they must be killed because of the unbelief which is antecedent to the practice (of sorcery), or because of their corrupting activity and the resulting corruption of created beings.

All this comes from (sorcerers and sorcery). Furthermore, since the first two degrees of sorcery are real and the third and last degree is not real, scholars differ as to whether sorcery is real or merely imaginary. Those who say that it is real have the first two degrees in mind. Those who say that it is not real have the third and last degree in mind. There is no difference of opinion among them about the matter itself, but (the difference of opinion) results from confusing the different degrees (of sorcery).

No intelligent person doubts the existence of sorcery, because of the influence mentioned, which sorcery exercises. The Qur’an refers to it. It says, “… but the devils were unbelievers, teaching the people sorcery and that which had been revealed in Babel to the two angels, Harut and Marut. Those two always said before they taught anyone, ‘We are a temptation. Do not be an unbeliever.’

People learned from them how to cause discord between a man and his wife. (However,) they were not able to harm anyone except with God’s permission.“755

The Messenger of God, according to (the sound tradition of) the Sahih, 756 was put under a magic spell, so that he imagined that he was doing a thing while, in fact, he was not doing it. The spell against him was placed in a comb, in flakes of wool, and in the spathe of a palm, and buried in the well of Dharwan 757

Therefore, God revealed to him the following verses in the Mu’awwidhatan= “And (I take refuge in God) from the evil of the women who blow into knots.” 758 ‘A’ishah said, “As soon as he recited the Qur’an over one of those knots into which a spell against him had been placed, that particular knot became untied.” 759

There was much sorcery among the inhabitants of Babel, that is, the Nabataean and Syrian Chaldeans. The Qur’an mentions much of it, and there are traditions about it. Sorcery was greatly cultivated in Babel and in Egypt at the time of Moses’ prophetic mission.

Therefore, the miracle Moses performed (as a proof of his prophecy) was of the kind claimed and bragged about (by sorcerers). The temples in Upper Egypt are remnants (of sorcery) attesting to the (cultivation of sorcery in ancient Egypt).760 We have seen with our own eyes (how a sorcerer) formed the picture of a person who was to be cast under a spell. He represented in it the characteristics of things he intended and planned (to make) that person adopt, as already existing in him in the shape of symbols of names and attributes in homonym fashion[?]. 761

Then he spoke (magic words) over the picture he had made to take the place of the person who was to be cast under a spell, concretely or symbolically 762 During the repeated pronunciation of the evil words, he collected spittle in his mouth and spat upon (the picture).

Then he tied a knot over the symbol in an object that he had prepared for the purpose, 763 since he considered tying knots and (making things) stick together to be auspicious (and effective in magical operations). He also entered into a pact with the jinn, asking them to participate in his spitting during the operation, intending to make the spell forceful. This (human) figure and the evil names have a harmful spirit.

It issues from (the sorcerer) with his breath and attaches to the spittle he spits out. It produces (more) evil spirits. As a result, the things that the sorcerer intends (to happen to) the person who is cast under a spell, actually befall him. We have also observed how people who practice sorcery point at a garment or a piece of leather and inwardly speak (magic words) over it, and behold! the object is torn to shreds. Others point in the same way at the bellies of sheep and goats at pasture with (a) ripping (gesture), and behold! the guts of the animals fall out of their bellies to the ground. 764

We have also heard that in contemporary India, there still are (sorcerers) who point at a man, and his heart is extracted 765 and he falls dead. When someone looks for his heart, he cannot find it among his inner parts. Or, they point to a pomegranate. When someone opens it, no seeds are found in it.

We have likewise heard that in the Sudan and in the land of the Turks, there are (sorcerers) who cast a spell on a cloud, and rain falls upon a particular area 766

Also, we have observed remarkable things as to the efficacy of talismans that make use of “the loving numbers” 220 and 284. The sum of the aliquot parts of each of the loving numbers, such as one-half, one-fourth, one-sixth, onefifth, and so on, is equal to the other number.767 This is why the two numbers are called “loving numbers.” It is a tradition among the people who know about talismans that these numbers may effect friendship and union between two lovers. Two effigies aremade, one of them with Venus as the ascendant, when, either in her house or in her exaltation, 768 she looks at the moon lovingly and invitingly. As the ascendant of the other effigy, the seventh (house counting) from (that of) the first is taken. One of the loving numbers is placed upon the one effigy, and the other upon the other.

The larger number is meant for the person whose friendship is sought, that is, the beloved. I do not know whether “larger number” means the higher number, or the one with the greater number of aliquot parts. The result (of the magical operation) is a close connection between the two lovers, so that the one is hardly able to break away from the other. This was reported by the author of the Ghayah 769 and other authorities on magic, and it is attested by experience 7 70 Then, there is “the lion seal,” 771 which is also called “the pebble seal.” 772

On a steel thimble,773 the sorcerer engraves the picture of a lion dragging its tail and biting on pebbles which it thus divides into two parts. A snake is represented in front of the lion. It is coiled at the lion’s feet stretching upwards opposite the lion’s head, so that its open mouth faces the lion’s mouth. Upon the lion’s back, a crawling scorpion is represented. In order to make the engraving, (the sorcerer) waits for a time when the sun enters the first or third decan 774 of Leo, provided (further) that the two luminaries (the sun and the moon) are well and out of their misfortune.

When he finds and gets this (constellation), he makes an impression (of the engraving) upon a mithqal or less of gold, which he then dips into saffron dissolved in rose water and preserves 775 in a yellow silk rag. (People) assume that the person who holds on to it has an indescribable power over rulers and is able to have close contact with them, to serve them, and to use them for his own ends. Likewise, the rulers themselves find in it strength and power over their subjects. This, too, was mentioned by authors on magic in the Ghayah 776 and other works, and it is attested by experience.

Then, there is the magic square of 36 fields that belongs to the sun. 777

It is said that it should be made when the sun enters its exaltation and is out of its misfortune, and when the moon is well and under a royal ascendant in which the master of the tenth (house) is considered to look upon the master of the ascendant; lovingly and invitingly and in which exalted indications concerning royal nativities prosper. It is preserved in a yellow silk rag, after having been dipped in perfume. (People) think that it influences one’s friendship with rulers and one’s (opportunity) to serve them and to be admitted into their company. There are many similar things. The Kitab al-Ghayah by Maslamah b. Ahmad al-Majriti is the systematic treatment of this craft. It has it complete and presents its problems perfectly. We have been told that the imam Fakhr-ad-din b. alKhatib wrote a book on the subject which he entitled as-Sirr al-maktum. It is said to be in common use among the people in the East. We have not come across it. The imam (Fakhrad-din) is not considered an authority on magic, though the contrary might be the case (and he might have been an authority on magic) 7 78 In the Maghrib, there is a type of magical practitioners who are known as “rippers” (ba"aj). They are the people to whom I referred above. 779 They point at a garment or a piece of leather, and it is torn to shreds. Or they point at the bellies of sheep and goats (with a) ripping (gesture), and they are ripped open. Such (sorcerers) nowadays are called “rippers,” (in the Maghrib,) because most of their magical practice concerns ripping animals open. In that way, they frighten the owners of animals into giving them some (animal) they can spare. They keep theiractivities very much under cover, 780 because they are afraid of the authorities. I have met a number of them and witnessed their kind of magical practice. They informed me that they practice devotions and exercises. (Their devotions and exercises) consist, in particular, of heretical prayers and of association with the spiritualities of jinn and stars. These things are written down on a sheet (of paper) they possess, and called al-Khinziriyah. 781 They study it together. With the help of such exercises and devotions, they succeed in performing their magical actions. The influence they are able to exercise affects only objects other than free men. It affects, for instance, utensils, animals, and slaves. They express the (idea) by the words, 782 “things into which there goes money,” 783 that is, all the things that are owned, sold, and bought. This is what they think. I questioned one of them, and he told me (what I have mentioned here). Their magical actions are plain fact. We have come across very much of it. We have observed them with our own eyes and have no doubt about it. This is the situation with regard to sorcery and talismans and their influence in the world.

The philosophers made a distinction between sorcery and talismans. First, however, they affirmed that both (derive their effectiveness) from influences of the human soul. They deduced the existence of an influence of the human soul from the fact that the soul exercises an influence upon its own body that cannot be explained by the natural course of affairs or from corporeal reasons. At times, it results from the qualities of the spirits-such as heat, which originates from pleasure and joy - and at other times, it results from other psychic perceptions 784 such as the things that result from imagination (tawahhum). Thus, a person who walks upon the ledge of a wall or upon a high tightrope 785 will certainly fall down if the idea of falling down is strongly present in his imagination. Therefore, there are many people who train themselves to get used to such things, so that they are not troubled by their imagination. They can walk upon the ledge of a wall or a high tightrope without fear of falling down. It is thus definite that we have here the result of an influence of the human soul and of the soul’s imagining of the idea of falling down. If the soul can thus influence its own body without any natural corporeal causes, it is also possible that it can exercise a similar influence upon bodies other than its own. Its position with regard to its ability to exercise this type of influence is the same with regard to all bodies, since it is neither inherent nor firmly impressed in a (particular) body. Therefore, it is definite that the soul is able to exercise an influence upon other bodies. Now, the distinction the (philosophers) make between sorcery and talismans is this. In sorcery, the sorcerer does not need any aid, while those who work with talismans seek the aid of the spiritualities of the stars, the secrets of numbers, the particular qualities of existing things, and the positions of the sphere that exercise an influence upon the world of the elements, as the astrologers maintain. The (philosophers, therefore,) say that sorcery is a union of spirit with spirit, while the talisman is a union of spirit with body (substance) 786 As they understand it, that means that the high celestial natures are tied together with the low (terrestrial) natures, the high natures being the spiritualities of the stars. Those who work with (talismans), therefore, as a rule, seek the aid of astrology.

The philosophers think that a sorcerer does not acquire his magical ability but has, by nature, the particular disposition needed for exercising that type of influence.

They think that the difference between miracles and sorcery is this. Amiracle is a divine power that arouses in the soul (the ability) to exercise influence. The (worker of miracles) is supported in his activity by the spirit of God. The sorcerer, on the other hand, does his work by himself and with the help of his own psychic power, and, under certain conditions, with the support of devils. The difference between the two actually concerns the idea, reality, and essence of the matter. We, however, (prefer to) deduce the differentiation merely from obvious signs. That is, miracles are found (to be wrought) by good persons for good purposes and by souls that are entirely devoted to good deeds. Moreover, (they include) the “advance challenge” (tahaddi) 787 of the claim to prophecy. Sorcery, on the other hand, is found (practiced) only by evil persons and as a rule is used for evil actions, 788 such as causing discord between husband and wife, doing harm to enemies, and similar things. And it is found (practiced) by souls that are entirely devoted to evil deeds. This is the difference between (prophecy and sorcery) in the opinion of metaphysicians.

Among the Sufis some who are favored by acts of divine grace are also able to exercise an influence upon worldly conditions. This, however, is not counted as a kind of sorcery. It is effected with divine support, because the attitude and approach (of these men) result from prophecy and are a consequence of it.

They enjoy divine support, as befits their state and faith and belief in the cause of God. Were someone among them capable of doing evil deeds, he would not do them, because he is bound by the divine command in whatever he may do or not do. Whatever he is not permitted to do, he would certainly not do. Were he to, he would deviate from the path of truth and would in all likelihood lose his “state.”

Miracles take place with the support of the spirit of God and the divine powers. Therefore, no piece of sorcery can match them. One may compare the affair of the sorcerers of Pharaoh with Moses and the miracle of the staff. Moses’ staff devoured the phantoms the sorcerers produced, and their sorcery completely disappeared as if it had never been. 789

Also, the following verse was revealed to the Prophet in the Mu’awwidhatan: “And (I take refuge in God) from the evil of the women who blow into knots.” In this connection, ‘A’ishah said= “As soon as he recited the Qur’an over one of the knots into which a spell against him had been placed, that particular knot became untied.” 790 Sorcery cannot last whenever the name of God is mentioned in a believing state of mind. 791

The historians report that the Darafsh-i-Kaviyan 792 - that is, the banner of the Persian emperor - had a magic square of a hundred fields 793 woven into it in gold. (That had been done) when there were certain astronomical positions that had been (especially) observed for the purpose of writing down the magic square. The banner was found on the day Rustum was killed at al-Qadisiyah. It was lying on the ground after the flight and dispersal of the Persians. The people who work with talismans and magic squares think that such (a magic square) means victory in war and that a banner containing it or accompanied by it could never be routed. However, (the spell) was counteracted by divine support, which resulted from the faith of the men around the Prophet and their belief in the cause of God. Through the presence of (faith), any magic spell was dissolved and did not last (this time, as it will always happen whenever faith is involved), “and what they did came to naught.” 794

The religious law makes no distinction between sorcery, talismans, and prestidigitation. It puts them all into the same class of forbidden things. The Lawgiver (Muhammad) permitted us only those actions that are of relevance to us inour religion, which concerns the well-being of our life in the other world, and in our livelihood, which concerns the wellbeing of our life in this world.

Things that are of no relevance in these two respects and that may cause harm or some kind of harm, are forbidden, (and the strictness of the prohibition is) in proportion to the harm they might do. Among such (irrelevant and harmful) things are sorcery, which causes harm when it is practiced. Talismans belong together with it, because the effect of sorcery and talismans is the same. There is also astrology, which causes a certain harm in that the belief in astral influences, referring as it does to (beings) other than God, corrupts the Muslim faith.

As to things that are of no relevance to us but cause no harm, nothing is easier than not to do them, in order to be close to God, 795 for “a good Muslim does not do what does not concern him.” 796

Thus, the religious law puts sorcery, talismans, and prestidigitation into one and the same class, because they may cause harm. It brands them as forbidden and illegal. The speculative theologians said that the difference between miracles and sorcery lies in the “advance challenge” (tahaddi), 797 that is, the claim that a (miracle) will occur just as it has been claimed (in advance that it would happen).

It is not possible, they said, that a miracle could happen in agreement with the claim of a liar. Logic requires that a miracle indicate truthfulness. By definition, a miracle is something that can be verified. If it were performed with lying (intentions), it (could not be verified and thus) truth would have changed into falsehood, and that is absurd.

Therefore, miracles never occur together with lying (intentions). 798

The philosophers assume that the difference between miracles and sorcery is the difference between the two extremes of good and evil. Nothing good issues from a sorcerer, and (sorcery) is not employed in good causes. Nothing evil issues from a worker of miracles, and (miracles) are not employed in evil causes. (Miracles and sorcery) are in a way contradictory by their very natures, as are good and evil.

The evil eye

Another psychic influence is that of the eye - that is, an influence exercised by the soul of the person who has the evil eye. 801 A thing or situation appears pleasing to the eye of a person, and he likes it very much. This (circumstance) creates in him envy and the desire to take it away from its owner. Therefore, he prefers to destroy him.

It is a natural gift - I mean, the eye. The difference between it and the (other) 802 psychic influences is that it appears (and acts) as something natural and innate. It cannot be left alone. It does not depend on the free choice of its possessor. It is not acquired by him.

Some of the other (psychic) influences may (also) not be acquired ones, but their appearance (in action) depends on the free choice of the person who exercises them. The thing that characterizes them as natural is their (possessors’) potential ability to exercise them, not their (automatic) action. 803 Therefore it has been said= “A person who kills by means of sorcery or a miraculous act must be killed, but the person who kills with the eye must not be killed.” The only reason for the (distinction) is that the (person who kills with the eye) did not want or intend to do so, nor could he have avoided doing so. The application (of the eye) was 804involuntary on his part.


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