Monday, May 23, 2016
Muslims and the Occult by Lewis Spence 1920
Arabs and the Occult by Lewis Spence 1920
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The heyday of occultism among the Arab race was reached at the epoch when that division of them known as the Moors established their empire in the Spanish peninsula.
We first emerge from cloud and shadow into a precise and definite region in the eighth century, when an Arabian mystic revived the dreams and speculations of the alchemists, and discovered some important secrets. Geber who flourished about 720-750, is reputed to have written upwards of five hundred works upon the Philosophers' Stone and elixir vita. His researches after these desiderata
proved fruitless, but if he did not bestow upon mankind immortal life and boundless wealth, he gave them nitrate of silver, corrosive sublimate, red oxide of mercury, and nitric acid.
Among his tenets were a belief that a preparation of gold would heal all diseases in animals and plants, as well as in human beings; that the metals were affected with maladies, except the pure, supreme, and precious one of gold; and that the Philosophers' Stone had often been discovered, but that its fortunate discoverers would not reveal the secret to blind, incredulous, and unworthy man.
His Summa Perjectionis—a manual for the alchemical student—has been frequently translated. A curious English version, of which there is a copy in the British Museum, was published by an English enthusiast, one Richard Russell, at "the Star, in New Market, in Wapping, near the Dock," in 16S6. Geber's true name was Abou Moussah Djafar, to which was added "The Wise," and he was a native of Houran, in Mesopotamia.
He was followed by Avicenna, Averroes and others equally gifted and fortunate.
According to Geber and his successors the metals were not only compound creatures,- but they were also all composed of the same two substances. Both Prout and Davy lent their names to ideas not unlike this. "The improvements," says the latter, "taking place in the methods of examining bodies, are constantly changing the opinions of chemists with respect to their nature, and there is no
reason to suppose that any real indestructible principle has yet been discovered. Matter may ultimately be found to be the same in essence, differing only in the arrangement of its particles; or two or three simple substances may produce all the varieties of compound bodies." The ancient ideas, therefore, of Demetrius the Greek physicist, and of Geber, the Arabian polypharmist, are still hovering about the horizon of chemistry.
The Arabians taught, in the third place, that the metals are composed of mercury and sulphur in different proportions. They toiled away at the art of making many medicines out of the various mixtures and reactions of the few chemicals at their command. They believed in transmutation, but they did not strive to effect it. It belonged to their creed rather than to their practice. They
were a race of hard-working, scientific artisans, with their pestles and mortars, their crucibles and furnaces, their alembics and aludels, their vessels for infusion, for decoction, for cohobation, sublimation, fixation, lixiviation, filtration and coagulation. They believed in transmutation, in the first matter, and in the correspondence of the metals with the planets, to say nothing of potable gold.
Whence the Arabians derived the sublimer articles of their scientific faith, is not known to any European historian. Perhaps they were the conjectures of their ancestors according to the faith. Perhaps they had them from the Fatimites of Northern Africa, among whose local predecessors it has been seen that it is just possible the doctrine of the four elements and their mutual convertibility may have arisen. Perhaps they drew them from Greece, modifying and adapting them to their own specific forms of matter, mercury, sulphur and arsenic.
Astrology.—Astrology was also employed by the oracles of Spain. Albaigni was celebrated for his astronomical science, as were many others; and in geometry, arithmetic, algebraical calculations and the theory of music, we have a long list, Asiatic and Spanish, but only known by their lives and principal writings. The works of Ptolemy also exercised the ingenuity of the Arabians; while Alchindi, as far as we may be allowed to judge from his multifarious volumes, traversed the whole circle of the sublimer sciences. But judicial astrology, or the art of foretelling future events from the position and influences of the stars, was with them a favourite pursuit; and many of their philosophers, incited by various motives, dedicated all their labours to this futile but lucrative inquiry. They often speak with high commendation of the iatro-mathematical discipline, which could control the disorders to which man was subject, and regulate the events of life.
The tenets of Islamism, which inculcate an unreserved submission to the over-ruling destinies of heaven, are evidently adverse to the lessons of astrology; but this by no means hindered the practitioners of old Spain and Arabia from attaining a high standard of perfection in the art, which they perhaps first learned from the peoples of Chaldea, the past masters of the ancient world in astronomical science, in divination, and the secrets of prophecy. But in Arab Spain, where the tenets of Islam, were perhaps more lightly esteemed than in their original home, magic unquestionably reached a higher if not more thoughtful standard.
From the Greeks, still in search of science, the Arabs turned their attention to the books of the sages who are esteemed the primitive instructors of mankind, among whom Hermes was deemed the first. They mention the works written by him, or rather by them, as they suppose, like other authors, that there were three of the name. To one the imposing appellation of Trismegistus has been given; and the Arabians, from some ancient records, we may presume, minutely describe his character and person. They also published, as illustrative of their astrological discipline, some writings ascribed to the Persian Zoroaster.
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