Tag Archives: sufism

Mysticism East and West

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism by Rudolf Otto.

Rudolf Otto Mysticism

This book was developed from Otto’s lectures presented at Oberlin College in 1923-4. It principally consists of a detailed attempt to compare and contrast two prominent mystics: Śankara from the Indian East and Meister Eckhart from the European West. In so doing, Otto proposes to demonstrate that there are distinct forms of mysticism which reach across boundaries of religion, culture and geography, and also that any mysticism will be essentially inflected by its particular religious basis—the soil in which it grows, to use Otto’s recurrent metaphor.

“Part A” of the text emphasizes similarities between Śankara and Meister Eckhart, and Otto manages to detail many of these. First, he points to their shared orientation to ontological ideas, and develops the technical and theological parallel
Śankara:Brahman:Isvara:Ātman::Eckhart:Godhead:God:Soul (14, 77-78). He also compares Śankara’s “Maya” to Eckhart’s “creare” (95). Otto emphasizes the religious, salvific, and theistic qualities of both thinkers’ systems, and points out that neither prescribes a “method” of attainment (29). He proposes a couple of idealized “schemas” of mystical experience, claiming that Śankara and Eckhart each engage both schemas (52).

In the process of comparing Śankara and Eckhart to each other, he distinguishes their type of (speculative) mysticism from other usual sorts: affective mysticism (72-73) and nature mysticism (73-74). Then, in the “Transition from Part A to Part B,” he uses specific schools of Indian mysticism to demonstrate the “differentiation of mystical experience in general,” showing that the similarities between Śankara and Eckhart are not common to all mysticism. Other individual mystics who play supporting roles for contrast include Plotinus and Hallaj.

Finally, in Part B, Otto provides some contrasts between Śankara and Eckhart. In these (generally shorter) chapters, the difference is usually expressed as a valuable quality or sensibility that is present in Eckhart but absent in Śankara. According to Otto, Śankara’s mysticism lacks dynamism, vitality, religious conscience, sense of righteousness, positive regard for the world, agape-love, and pastoral sensibility. In this portion, Otto remains engaged in the sort of “comparative religion” that he produced in Das Heilige (The Idea of the Holy, 1923) : he creates a basis for comparison in order to conclude which is better, and it is no surprise that a German Christianity is better on the scale of this theologian from the University of Marburg.

Otto notes that Mysticism: East and West presupposes ideas and positions that he advanced earlier in Das Heilige (vi). That work has become especially identified with “the discourse of sui generis religion,” which has been criticized (e.g. by Russell McCutcheon) for setting arbitrary boundaries between “religious” phenomena and other spheres of personal and/or social activity and ideas, as well as a tendency to abstract religions into essences. Such problems remain evident here, e.g. in the hypothesized/ hypostasized doctrinal conflict (82), the valuation “peculiar to all religion” (94), and the elision of economics and politics from caste doctrines (120).

The “soil” metaphor persists in this book’s efforts to characterize the source of differences between instances or types of mysticism—apparently, the “seed” is mystical capacity or aspiration, and the soil is the religious and cultural context. Otto claims, “the very different ground upon which mysticism rose in Europe also colors the highest mystical experience in a way which is Christian and not Indian” (162). But he does not demonstrate a relevant, describable difference between “the soil of Palestine” and “the soil [of the entire subcontinent!] of India” (206) I don’t doubt that this trope is either a conscious or an unconscious invocation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23. Note also: Eckhart had been a poster-child of the ‘German mystique’ since the early 19th century, and Alfred Rosenberg called him a paragon of the “new, reborn Teutonic man” in 1938.

Otto insists, “The difference between [Brahman mysticism and Atman mysticism] is not to be reproduced in intellectual conceptions and is only comprehensible in the mystical experience itself.” (146) I find myself dubious that he has experienced all of these diverse mystical attainments among which he professes to discriminate for scholars! If “intellectual conceptions” cannot effectively communicate the differences between various mysticisms, what possibility is there for scholarship to assert or explain such differences? Ultimately, I must suspect Otto of using a globe-spanning erudition to reinforce his own metaphysical prejudices. [via]


Witchcraft

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Witchcraft It’s Power in the World Today by William Seabrook.

William Seabrook Witchcraft

This 1940 work is a decidedly chatty melange of memoir, folklore, occultism, and parapsychology. Seabrook insists on his materialistic skepticism throughout, but towards the end provides powerful anecdotes to test it.

He compliments the laboratory parapsychologists for taking the matter seriously, while suggesting that they are unlikely to succeed with their clinical approach. He points to Sufism, particularly the Mevlevi Order, as a repository of disciplines which might lead to genuinely “supernormal” power. “Dervish dangling” becomes his shorthand for the inducement of visionary states through physical stress, which he observes in “games” with a girlfriend, and in a shamanistic eskimo ceremony.

The book provides eminently fair (some might say generous) sketches of three prominent occultists who were the author’s contemporaries: George Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, and Pierre Bernard. The chapter which covers this ground (ch. III of part three, “Our Modern Cagliostros”) is alone worth the rest of the book to read. Seabrook was personally acquainted with the first two, and his account of the I Ching elsewhere in the book shows traces of Crowley’s unacknowledged instruction.

There are some basic factual fumbles, like the “pentagram” that has seven points, or the “57 varieties of the mystical hexagram” from the I Ching (p. 147—even while the illustration on p. 148 shows all 64). Long pieces of text have been relegated to appendices, which seems like an odd choice in a book that is basically a topical survey without a sustained argument or chronology.

In any case, it is a quick and entertaining read, and Seabrook’s sincerity seems unimpeachable. It’s good amusement for anyone interested in the occultism of the first half of the 20th century. [via]


The Drunken Universe

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, translated with commentary by Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) and Nasrollah Pourjavady, the 1999 paperback new edition from Omega Publications, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Peter Lamborn Wilson Nasrollah Pourjavady The Drunken Universe from Omega Publications

a few fragments from the introduction

Sufism can be seen to have functioned as a positive and healthy reaction to the overly rational activity of the philosophers and theologians. For the Sufis, the road to spiritual knowledge could never be confined to the process of purely intellectual activity, without the direct, immediate experience of the Heart.

In this book we are concerned with one art that the Sufis made peculiarly their own: poetry. Why should Sufis in general, and Persian Sufis in particular, choose to write poetry?

When they wanted to ‘be themselves’, lovers of the Truth, they needed a language more intense, closer to the center of human awareness than prose. Truth is beautiful, so when one speaks of it, one speaks beautifully. As the lover sings to his beloved, so did the Sufis to theirs. Love itself creates a taste for this language, so that even the prose writers of Sufism scatter verse throughout their works and create poetic prose.

The overwhelming theme of this poetry is the Love relationship between the individual, the lover, and his Beloved, God. What characterizes the Beloved is beauty, loveliness, His self-sufficiency or needlessness.

You must take these poems as mirrors; for you know that a mirror has no form of itself, but rather reflects the face of anyone who looks in it.‘ Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani”

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Gift

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master translated by Daniel Ladinsky, the 1999 softcover edition from Penguin Compass, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky's The Gift from Penguin Compass

“More than any other Persian poet, it is perhaps Hafiz who accesses the mystical, healing dimensions of poetry. Because heis poems were often ecstatic love songs from God to his beloved world, many have called Hafiz the ‘Tongue of the Invisible.’

With this stunning collection of 250 of Hafiz’s most intimate poems, Daniel Ladinsky has succeeded brilliantly in capturing the essence of one of Islam’s greatest poetic and religious voices. Each line of The Gift imparts the wonderful qualities of this spiritual teacher: an audacious love that empowers lives, profound knowledge, wild generosity, and a sweet, playful genius unparalleled in world literature.”

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Last Barrier

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Last Barrier: A Journey into the Essence of Sufi Teachings by Reshad Feild:

Reshad Feild's The Last Barrier

 

This tale of an Englishman’s gradual induction into Sufism in Turkey provides an engaging, mystery-ridden narrative, and some convincing descriptions of mystical states. The angle is highly experiential, with little explanation of Sufi doctrine, and only a modicum regarding practices. The author-aspirant is eventually received into the Mevlevi Order, but it is unclear whether Hamid, his principal teacher throughout the account, is himself of the Mevleviye. Important social subtexts include the outsider status of Feild (not an orthodox Muslim) and the proscribed status of Sufism in Turkey. This latter item suggests that the story—which offers no specific dates—took place prior to the Turkish government’s lifting of its ban on the Mevlevi Order in the 1950’s.

It is a quick read, and I found myself pretty sympathetic to its ideals—despite its invocation of the “New Age” in the last chapter. The indicia note that “Portions of this book have appeared in New Age Journal.” The “last barrier” of the title doesn’t even occur until the epilogue, but it involves a pristine example of spiritual development by magical means.

Perhaps this book would be a good pick for those who savored the initiatory mechanics in Fight Club. It has that abusive (yet illuminating!) guru groove. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Memoirs of a Dervish

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties by Robert Irwin:

Robert Irwin's Memoirs of a Dervish

 

“In the autumn of 1966 it seemed to me that I had no destiny, for my future was blank. Now, as I write, it seems to me that my destiny is already mostly in the past” (122).

Robert Irwin is one of my favorite novelists, the author of such wonderful works as The Arabian Nightmare (his first), The Limits of Vision, and Satan Wants Me, and that would have been enough to interest me in his memoir. And indeed, this book discloses to a reader of Irwin’s fiction many of the crypto-autobiographical vectors in his writing. But the the promise of accounts of his experiences in the emergence of English counterculture in the 1960s and of his own involvement in Algerian Sufism made the memoir irresistable.

Irwin expresses nostalgia for his experience of the hippy sixties, while powerfully deglamorizing the counterculture. He is disenchanted and strikingly contemptuous of his younger self. In addition to drugs, mysticism, music, and romantic love, he recounts his academic odyssey and encounters with intellectuals such as R.C. Zaehner, Bernard Lewis, and the Perennialist school of religious scholarship.

Irwin professes his abiding faith in the message of Islam and the value of Sufi praxis, despite the horror with which he regards conspicuous portions of the global Muslim community. His respect for the ‘Alawi tariqa in which he was initiated has not been effaced. But the book almost reads as though it might have been entitled “Memoirs of a Failed Dervish,” because he confesses his own lack of attainment and inability to derive consequence from his mystical strivings. Still, he provides details of the perplexing effects of his aspiration. “Like body odours, ecstasy is something that nice people don’t talk about, but the hell with that” (78).

There is certainly a significant dose of melancholy in Irwin’s retrospection. “I cannot think of anything useful I have learned from dreams, or any instance in which a dream has served as valuable inspiration,” he writes (215). In a highly enjoyable reflection on his youthful interest in science fiction, Irwin remarks: “I have lost the capacity to be astounded and I am sad about that” (19). For me, his memoir was like summer sunshine filtered through browning autumn leaves. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Practice excerpt from Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons

Here’s an excerpt of chapter 1, “Practice,” from Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons: The Islamic Teachings at the Heart of Alchemy by Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff, introduction and commentary by Stephen E Flowers [also], which is offered at the Reading Room courtesy of Inner Traditions.

Baron von Sebottendorff and Stephen E Flowers' Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons from Inner Traditions

 

Practice

Islam means “submission,” that is, submission to the will of God. The believer can just commend himself to the will of God simply because it is the will of God. He feels secure and does not ask why this is so and that is different—he fulfills the divine law simply because it is the revealed law of God. He accepts his fate as being immutable and, at the most, attempts by means of prayer to implore for mercy from God when the burden becomes too great for him. But the sign of the true believer will consistently be that he does not ask for release from the burden, but rather for the strength to be able to bear it. “Lead us in the way of those who do not err,” the Prophet prescribes to those who pray.

This faithful condition is what is most worthy to strive after, according to all religious systems. Actually he is also the most happy, it is he who the Prophet values most highly, and he represents this as his only goal–and therefore his religion is called Islam.

Now beside the belief there is something else that makes it equally possible for a person to yield to his fate; it is no longer faith but knowledge—knowledge of the divine laws. The one who knows no longer fulfills this law blindly but rather knowingly. The truly wise one is very near to the believer, but he is superior to the believer.

The Prophet created a very wise institution to open the way to knowledge for everyone who truly seeks it. According to this system in the Qur’an he provided explicit signs, which point the way to knowledge, and which have to reveal the law of creation to someone who gains knowledge from within his own being. The highest form of knowledge will always lead the wise to yield to Divine Providence without complaint—that is, to Islam through knowledge.

In what follows we will concern ourselves with this path. How the Prophet himself came into possession of this knowledge is recounted in the form of the following legend.

Not far from Mecca there lived at the time of Mohammed an aged hermit, Ben Chasi, who was teaching the Prophet. When the lesson was over the hermit gave him a metallic plate upon which were engraved formulas, the meaning of which the then thirty-year-old Prophet had just learned. Soon thereafter the hermit died, but Mohammed kept on teaching the secret of these formulas in the most intimate circles. Abu Bekr, the first calif, inherited the plate and the knowledge, which only spread within a small circle after the death of the Prophet: this is the secret knowledge of the oriental Freemasons.

In order to ensure against the loss of the formulas the Prophet distributed them throughout the Qur’an according to a precise key. The key is known, and the formulas are preserved in the Qur’an, such that the possibility remains for reconstructing the system at any time.

The formulas are preserved in the so-called abbreviated letters, the meaning of which is debated among orientalists as well as different commentators. Some are of the opinion that these letters are signatures. Individual Suras certainly originated under highly variable conditions: the Prophet dictated some, others he recited while friends wrote them down, still others were recorded later from memory. When the Suras were collected, the letters, which indicated the originator of the Sura, would have remained, but now without their meaning.

Some European scholars are of the view that these letters represent notes by the scribe. Thus ALM is supposed to mean: amara li muhamed—“Mohammed commanded me to write.”

Arabic commentators view these letters as holy abbreviations. Thus ALM means: allah latif madshid—“God is good.” Or, as another thinks: ana lahu alamu—“I am the God who knows.”

For others the letters are to be interpreted in a kabalistic sense. Certainly all the Suras in which these letters occur contain definite indications that they have something special to say.

The Arabic language, like all the Semitic languages, does not write the vowels. If one does not read these letters as such, but rather as words, they yield no meaning. For this reason people have been scratching their heads over the meaning of these letters. But in actuality these are the secret formulas concealed in the letters that someone who knows the truth can now easily read and pronounce. All of these formulas are compounds of the vowel A with one or several consonants. 



Number of the sura Name of the sura Formula
2 The Cow alam 

3 Amran’s Family alam 

7 El Araf alamas 

10 Jonah alar 

11 Houd alar

12 Joseph alar

13 Thunder alamar 

14 Abraham alar
15 A-hijr alar 

19 Mary kaha ya as

20 Ta ha ta ha 

26 The Poet tasam

27 The Ant tas

28 The Narration tasam 

29 The Spider alam 

30 The Greeks alam

31 The Wise alam 

32 Adoration alam 

36 Ya sin yas 

38 Sad sa

40 The Believer cham

41 Revelations Well Expounded cham 

42 Consultation cham asak

43 Gold Adornments cham

44 Smoke cham

45 Kneeling cham

46 Al ahqaf cham

50 Qaf ka

68 The Feather na 


822 days   14 different formulas



The formulas are present in twenty-nine Suras. The number of days results in twenty-five lunar months in which three days are missing. On these three days the one who was dedicating himself to these exercises was occupied doing something else, to which we will return later.

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons

Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons: The Islamic Teachings at the Heart of Alchemy by Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff, a translation of the 1924 Die Praxis der alten türkischen Freimauerei: Der Schulüssel zum Verstä der Alchemie (written by Baron von Sebottendorff under the pseudonym Theosophisches Verlagshaus) with substantial introduction and commentary by Stephen E Flowers [also] has arrived at the Reading Room courtesy of Inner Traditions.

Baron von Sebottendorff and Stephen E Flowers' Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons from Inner Traditions

“Reveals the secret spiritual exercises of the Bektashi Order of Sufis

· Shows how this order, also known as Oriental Freemasonry, preserves the ancient spiritual doctrines forgotten by modern Freemasonry

· Explains how to transform the soul into the alchemical Magnum Opus by combining Masonic grips and the abbreviated letters of the Qur’an

· Includes a detailed biography of Baron von Sebottendorff

Originally published in Germany in 1924, this rare book by Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff reveals the secret spiritual exercises of the Bektashi Order of Sufis as well as how this order, also known as Oriental Freemasonry, preserves the ancient spiritual doctrines forgotten by modern Freemasonry. Sebottendorff explains how the mysterious abbreviated letters found in the Qur’an represent formulas for perfecting the spirit of the individual. When combined with Masonic hand signs and grips and conducted accordingly to a precise schedule, these formulas incorporate spiritual power into the body and transform the soul from its base state into a noble, godlike state: the Magnum Opus of the medieval alchemists.

Laying out the complete program of spiritual exercises, Sebottendorff explains each abbreviated word-formula in the Qur’an, the hand gestures that go with them, and the exact order and duration for each exercise. Including a detailed biography of Sebottendorff and an examination of alchemy’s Islamic heritage, this book shows how the traditions of Oriental Freemasonry can ennoble the self and lead to higher knowledge.” [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism by Henry Corbin:

Henry Corbin's The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

 

This account of gnostic themes in Iranian traditions of mystical Islam discusses the theory of the personal genius under the rubric of the ‘Perfect Nature.’ It also usefully treats various themes of esoteric color symbolism, subtle anatomy, and spiritual orientation. Although the prose style is dense and academic, the contents are rich for anyone involved in genuine religious contemplation and able to discern truths through the veil of sectarian doctrine. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

New Green Prophet post suggests Sufism is eco-spirituality

New Green Prophet post at Sufis Are Islam’s Eco Guardians suggests Sufism is eco-spirituality.

“With the reasoning that a physical environment is reflective of a moral and cultural environment, proactive Sufi efforts to protect the environment can be seen in Morocco, where local Sufi youth gather regularly to “debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.” It’s no wonder that this esoteric branch of Islam is now not only gaining increased worldwide attention as a possible solution to prevailing conflicts, but is also helping pave the way for a greener Mid East.” [via]