Magic and Tasawwuf, by Charles Upton
[INTRODUCTORY NOTE: The basic approach of René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon to the Spiritual Path was as far from magic as can be imagined, although Baron Julius Evola practiced something he called by that name. Prof. Patrick Laude, however, in his Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings, characterized Schuon’s Native American practices as “Shamanism” (incorrectly I believe), while the late Algis Uzdavinys seemed to call for a renewal of Neo-Platonic and/or Egyptian theurgy in his Philosophy and Theology in Late Antiquity. Theurgy, being a sacred art (as Shamanism also is, or was), is certainly not to be simply identified with magic or thaumaturgy; nonetheless, archaic forms of theurgy in their decadence undoubtedly contributed to the growth of various types of subversive thaumaturgy, a “counter-initiatory influence which, like that of degenerate Shamanism (though legitimate Shamanism, God willing, is still in existence) has lasted into our own times. Sufism too has its thaumaturgic practices, some of them undoubtedly of great antiquity. And in view of the fact that many people who are attracted to esoteric spirituality do not always clearly differentiate between esoterism and magic, this essay, in which I do my best to make the difference between them crystal clear, may be timely.]
[They] follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind magic and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut. Nor did they (the angels) teach it to anyone until they said: We are only a temptation, therefore disbelieve not. (Qur’an 2:102)
In our time, the great resurgence of interest in the magical arts, both traditional and innovative, should be obvious to all. In the minds of many people, magic and occultism, mysticism and esoterism—anything in the spiritual field outside of strictly moralistic religion—are seen as intrinsically similar, if not identical. And while it may be true up to a point (and ironically so) that an interest in both legitimate esoterism and magic be shared by certain groups and subcultures who are fundamentally opposed to mainstream religion, in metaphysical and cosmological terms the magical path and the esoteric spiritual Path lead to radically different destinations. As many religions teach, while paranormal powers or siddhis (the Hindu term) may or may not develop as an accidental result of progress on the Path, to seek such powers is always detrimental to the spiritual life; and this is certainly true in terms of tasawwuf or Sufism. Although historical Sufism embraces (legitimately or otherwise) certain thaumaturgic practices which when deviated may tend toward the magical, the truth is that magic and tasawwuf, in essence, are poles apart. [NOTE: The first step, though certainly not the last, in determining the legitimacy of any form of thaumaturgy or theurgy or spiritual practice is to ask whether or not it forms an integral part of a Divine revelation that is presently in force, and consequently enjoys God’s favor. Forms of magical or spiritual practice based on the mere literary or archaeological resurrection of dead religions will be useless as best, and at worst make us vulnerable to the toxic psychic residues of forms of the Spirit that have departed this world. Consequently when Algis Uzdavinys, that incomparable scholar of archaic forms of the sacred who unfortunately is no longer with us, says in Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity [Sophia Perennis, 2010], “if the summit of perfection is achieved only through the union with the divine principles themselves and, if they are called ‘gods’, the traditional means of ascent should be rehabilitated and reused”—thereby apparently calling for a return to polytheistic theurgy—I cannot go along with him.]
According to Islamic lore, the one who been opened to the psychic plane but has been unable to transcend it and make contact with the Spiritual plane, as well as anyone who has broken into the psychic plane on his own initiative instead of allowing God to open it in His own time, is in danger of becoming a saher, a sorcerer; the same destiny may lie in wait for the Sufi who abandons the Path after having made a certain degree of progress. The saher becomes subject to various psychic influences he may believe he can dominate, but which in reality dominate him. The essence of Sufism is to choose God’s will over one’s own, until it is realized that only God’s Will exists; consequently tasawwuf precludes magic definitively and from the outset (though the saher may sometimes feed himself on the crumbs that fall from the Sufis’ table; cf. Qur’an 20:86-96, verse 96 in particular). There are also many stories in Islam of human interactions with those subtle beings of the psychic plane known as the Jinn, stories involving poets, warriors, sorcerers, physicians, Sufis and others; some of them are undoubtedly true. Islam, unlike Christianity, but in line with many archaic religions, sees the Jinn—whom we in the west call the “fairies”—as made up of both good and evil spirits, both Muslims and unbelievers. However, the Qur’an is clear on the fate of those human beings who conclude alliances with them: In the day when He will gather them together (He will say): O ye assembly of the jinn! Many of humankind did ye seduce. And their adherents among humankind will say: Our Lord! We have enjoyed one another, but now we have arrived at the appointed term which Thou appointedst for us. He will say: Fire is your home, abide therein forever, save him whom Allah willeth (to deliver). Lo! thy Lord is Wise, Aware (Q. 6:129). Some claim that this applies only to the evil Jinn; nonetheless it is recognized by the Sufis that human intercourse with even the Muslim Jinn can have a deleterious effect; they can be highly fascinating and distracting to the person attempting to fulfill the Trust by conforming his humanity to Allah (cf. Qur’an 33:72) because they are not on the “human stem”. A story is told of one Sufi saint who, whenever he performed his daily prayers, was joined by a group of the Jinn, obviously the Muslim Jinn; as soon as he realized this, he asked them kindly to find another place to pray. And there is little doubt that many magical operations are based on human interaction with the Jinn and their powers.
Magic, though it certainly leads to delusion, is itself quite real. It is an actual psychic “technology” that can produce real psychic and physical results. Every human civilization throughout history, except for the most recent and the most materialistic, has known this, and nearly every sacred scripture, including the Bible and the Qur’an, attests to it. And as long as we see things from the psychophysical level alone, according to a worldview based on the essentially profane root-assumptions of that level, we are justified in defining magic as a power that can be used either for good, or for evil, or to secure useful information, or simply for entertainment.
When viewed from the Spiritual or Metaphysical level, however, the practice of magic, no matter what phenomena it is apparently able to produce, is seen as based upon a fundamentally false assumption. It’s as if someone knew everything possible about operating a computer, but labored under the delusion that in operating it he was actually designing and building it. The magician may feel that he has the power to operate upon reality up to a certain point, and that he has had this assumption apparently confirmed innumerable times by concrete phenomena. But the fact is, reality was designed by Someone Else, and is Someone Else. Whoever thinks that he is the ultimate Doer, that he has the power and the right to both propose and dispose, is totally involved in illusion.
Yes, the will is free, but it is only totally free at one point: the point of the choice of masters. If you choose Reality as your master, then the notion that you are the ultimate Doer of anything whatever is totally dispelled. If you choose any other master, then you are essentially a magician, whether you deal with “occult” forces or simply with “ordinary” psychological or material forces. Ultimately, what makes a magician is not access to the realm of psychic or unseen powers; what makes a magician is the simple belief, the root illusion from which all other illusions spring, that he is the Doer. Once you fall under the power of this error, everything else follows, every other conceivable delusion. And if you believe that you are the Doer, then your intentions, “good “or “bad”, “selfish” or “altruistic”, ultimately come down to the same thing. This “ultimately” may take a long time to arrive, but direction of the road you have taken according to either the pursuit or evil or the egotistical pursuit of “good” is toward the creation of a world other than the one created by God, a non-existent world, a world which may be termed “total egotism” or “the pit of Hell” just as you please. If you believe that you are the Doer, the intent to do “good” and the intent to do “evil” both lead, slowly in the one case, swiftly in the other, to the same destination: the frozen paralysis of Hell. (In the words of William Blake, “Caiphas was in his own mind a benefactor to mankind”.) That’s part of what we mean when we say, usually without grasping its full implications, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. As a laughing, Mephistophelean hippy once told me in the 1970’s in the mountains of British Columbia, before one of the “excursions” we used to take in those days, “Let me clue you in: all magic is black magic”.
In the words of the Peter O’Toole character of Lawrence of Arabia from the movie of the same name: “You can do whatever you want, but you can’t want whatever you want.” That’s the crux. Let us say that a magician forms his intent, undergoes preparatory austerities, draws his magic circle, performs his invocations, summons his forces, produces his visions or his phenomena, and then succeeds in withdrawing from his “voluntary madness” and re-establishing his personality again in stable form in “ordinary reality” . Quite a tour-de-force! He has ridden the tiger, once again, and once again survived. And perhaps he can even see that his actions apparently had a good ongoing effect—or an evil one, if that’s more to his taste. So it looks to him like he has covered the whole territory of reality pretty thoroughly, within the limits (of course) of his intent and his operation; like Satan in the Book of Job, he will be able to say that he’s been “going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down in it”. Little, apparently, has escaped his attention. [NOTE: “Voluntary madness” is a term coined by Peter Levenda, who presents, in his trilogy Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft, much well-researched and documented evidence of the great affinities and bleed-throughs and conscious alliances between the world of the occult and that of the U. S. intelligence community, a milieu that also involves many prominent figures of the ruling elite; his work exposes levels of evil that most of us have never dreamed of. His “metaphysic”, based on magic and occultism, is erroneous and subversive, but his findings are of the greatest value for our understanding of “the rulers of the darkness of this world” and the counter-initiation that is their most direct expression.]
But the one thing that the most dedicated Shamanic healer (unless he is truly a holy man, truly wakan), or the most evil CIA brainwasher of the infamous MK-ULTRA mind-control program, forgets to ask, is: where did that intent come from? Is he actually deluded enough to believe that he has summoned it out of nothing? On the basis of what intent might he have been able to do that? The magician is like powerful, skilled and courageous warrior who confronts the enemy and triumphs (or is killed or captured, but for the sake of the argument let us say he triumphs). He feels powerful, successful, and seems entirely justified in this feeling. But zoom out to the next larger frame of reference and what do we see? This warrior is now revealed as nothing but a soldier acting under orders. Whose orders? Along what chain-of-command? In the service of what overall strategy, what political agenda? The soldier sees and knows next to nothing of this; that’s not his business; his business is simply to do what he’s told. And the same is true of the magician. He may be imminently successful in enacting his intent—but as to where that intent came from, he is in total ignorance. He never asks that question, never looks in that direction, because he believes he is the Doer. To obey your own intent is to act under the command, under the tyranny I would say, of forces you will never see as they are, or understand, or be able to name. You may come up with some sort of psychological insight into patterns of intent you take as causal, or into the nature of the spirit beings to whom you attribute them, but the true origin of these patterns is completely hidden from you. Why? Because if you are the Doer, your knowledge, for all your excursions into the grim, fascinating, multifarious worlds of the Unseen, begins and ends with you yourself. The only way to even begin to see the real patterns that lie behind your intent is to recognize that the Doer is Allah—no-one else, because there IS no-one else. Instead of obeying our own intent, it is our duty, by the Trust that is laid upon us, to intend to obey Reality alone: “There is no power or might except by Allah”. This is the precise point where our true freedom lies—the point where our intent to submit to Allah effectively is Allah.
That’s tasawwuf; that’s the essence of the spiritual Path in every tradition. Everything else, every political strategy, every psychological manipulation or evasion, every buy or sell order on the stock market, every twisting of, or letting yourself be twisted by, occult forces, is in some sense magic. That’s why must I reiterate, and insist: Sufism and magic are poles apart. Where there is Sufism, there is no magic. Where there is magic, there is no Sufism. Those adepts of ruhaniyyat (Sufi thaumaturgy) who think that they—by the wonderful power of Allah, of course!—are producing this or that phenomenon, are (in Rumi’s simile) like children riding hobby-horses and playing at war.
A story may illustrate this point: Abbas Hussein calls the adab of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), his constant and never-failing courtesy, the ultimate miracle. Now calling the courtesy of the Prophet “the ultimate miracle” may seem like only a figure of speech, an exaggerated way of expressing admiration for a figure universally admired. But in another way it is the simple truth. A true story is told of a dervish who was visiting other dervishes belonging to a different group. These dervishes were known for indulging in karamat or wondrous feats. One of these karamat was to cut themselves with knives and swords while under the influence of a spiritual state (hal), without drawing blood or leaving any wound. While the visiting dervish looked on, one of the dervishes of this group drew a razor-sharp sword, then leaned against it until it cut deeply into his belly. The visiting dervish, not being used to paranormal occurrences, jumped up and ran over to his brother dervish, anxiously asking him if he was injured, if he needed help. “Fool!” said the wonder worker. “Of course I am not injured! Have you no experience of such things in your order? I need fear nothing, the power of Allah has protected me.” And so it was; when he withdrew the sword, no blood appeared, neither was there any wound.
What can we learn from this story as it relates to adab, and to the difference between magic and Sufism? Perhaps the lesson is that although the wonderworker had enough power to plunge a sword into his belly and remain uninjured, he did not have enough to avoid injuring his brother through discourtesy and arrogance, demonstrating that the power it takes to be courteous is greater than the power required to produce wonders. And the truth is, while magicians may perform wonders, only Allah can perform miracles—and the adab of Allah is necessarily perfect.
As soon as you let go of the illusion that you are self-created (which is easier said than done!), you will see God creating you in this instant—you and the entire universe. You will see with His Eye—or rather, He will see with the Eye of the Heart, that Eye occupying the center of the place now vacated by the mother of all illusions, the illusion of the self-created, self-defined, self-determined ego: the nafs al-ammara. And what He will see, whatever may be the patterns that manifest it, will be Himself Alone.
What, after all, are “phenomena”? What are these “significant coincidences” that so amaze the would-be magician that he dreams of one day being able to manipulate them by some sort of subtle occult bridge between the inner self and the outer world? In the words of the Holy Qur’an (41:53), We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves, till it is clear to them that it is the truth. Suffice it not as to thy Lord, that he is witness over everything? This verse reveals the true nature of the phenomenon that Jung named synchronicity, which is not based, as he and physicist Wolfgang Pauli speculated, on some mysterious affinity between mind and matter that might be explained by the “non-locality” principle of sub-atomic particles, but which simply reflects the truth that only God is the Real; consequently the world of subject-object polarities that both veils and reveals Him, that He both pervades and transcends, is ultimately unreal. To the degree that we believe it is real, however, an act of God that is one in essence, just as He is One, will falsely appear—through the distorting prism of the ego—as refracted into “inner” and “outer” events. If we were completely free of the delusion of the ego, the nafs al-ammara, all events would appear as synchronicities. We would witness them not as products of antecedent causes in time but as eternal acts of God that send their waves through psyche and world simultaneously, because the subjective self and the world it sees are two inseparable designs woven into the one pattern of existence.
The illusion that I am the Doer, the illusion of personal power, is doom. We may think of the evil black magician or CIA brainwasher of MK-ULTRA as “powerful”—and yet, as Peter Levenda points out in Sinister Forces, the CIA interrogation manual (retrieved, heavily censored, via the Freedom of Information Act), whose methods he compares quite convincingly to magical techniques from many cultures, requires that the interrogator split himself in two, that he “sincerely “act as a “true friend” and a “real enemy” at the same time: in order to dominate the soul of his victim, in other words, he must effectively destroy his own soul. [NOTE: This apparently validates my contention, in The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Post-modernism and the New Age [Sophia Perennis, 2001], that one of the central techniques of individual or mass mind control is “unconscious contradiction”, though in terms of the interrogation technique here in question the contradiction is conscious in the sense that it is overt, while still remaining unconscious in the sense that the broken mind of the victim can no longer understand that for one’s torturer to be one’s true friend “does not compute”.]
And lest we fall into the error of seeing only those magical or occult operations based on the most obvious sort of evil intent as capable of splitting the soul, we must realize that even the most altruistic act of “white magic “is also based on a split—the fissure between the human soul and the will of God, followed by the false identification of the soul with God, according to the illusion “I am the Doer”. Once this primal alienation occurs, every other type and degree of psychic fragmentation will eventually follow.
If personal power is divorced from the Good, and consequently also from the Real, is it really power? Power and the feeling of power are often poles apart; in the words of St. Paul, “our power is perfected in weakness”. Those who act against their own best interests in pursuit of the mere feeling of power, and who ultimately destroy themselves in the process, can in no way be considered powerful, any more than a psychopath who sets fire to a forest and then perishes in the blaze. A tiny act on his part, the mere striking of a match, ends by producing a massive effect, changing lives, setting hundreds or thousands of people into motion at his command; how powerful he must be! Likewise it may seem to a genetic engineer tinkering with human genes that he has matched Allah himself in creative power, whereas all he has really done is deconstruct the human form, ultimately including his own. In the words of the Holy Qur’an, It is not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts in the breasts are blind. Does the CIA brainwasher ever ask: “What terrible forces beyond my control have rendered me subhuman, made me their puppet, and destined me for the Fire?” Rarely, I would guess. More often he simply thinks that he is powerful both in himself and in the forces that “back him up”. He is powerfully deluded.
And the most deluded of all are those global elites who, with almost inconceivable “power “and “intelligence “and thoroughness and ruthlessness and subtlety and reach, are on their way to turning this world—meticulously, deliberately—into a living Hell, a Hell from which there can be no escape for them because it will be peopled only by fiends like themselves, or suffering victims who could only bathe them in an atmosphere of pain. What could be more idiotic than pressing all the powers of the human mind and soul and all the technologies the human mind and soul can invent into the service of a negative result? And that’s precisely what evil is: the synthesis of immense cunning and immense stupidity. [NOTE: 17,000 farmers committed suicide in India in 2010 because they couldn’t pay their debts, a trend that’s been going on for quite a while. Globalized agribusiness forces them to buy hybrid and/or genetically engineered seeds that don’t reproduce in the next generation so they can’t save any seed corn for next year’s crop. And as traditional agriculture goes, so goes Hinduism, which requires the rhythms of village life for its pujas; as one Indian computer tech-support agent told me during a long download, “nobody has time for Hinduism nowadays”. When my wife and I visited Rama Coomaraswamy in 2005 he told us: “No more than 5% of the population of India actually practices Hinduism anymore; if my father had made good on his plan to move there and try to live as a forest sage, it would have broken his heart.” ]
Sufism and Shamanism
At this point we need to address the question of Shamanism, and other ancient forms of thaumaturgy that have survived as remnants from previous world ages. Does our condemnation of magic apply to every practice of one of the “primal religions “that manifests some thaumaturgic element? In terms of the Native American spirituality of North America, must we con-demn Black Elk and Thomas Yellowtail along with Harley Swift Deer and Carlos Castaneda?
René Guénon, in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times [Sophia Perennis, 2001] had the following to say about Shamanism, which, in my opinion, is most likely applicable to all forms of traditional magic that have survived into our times:
If we consider “Shamanism “properly so-called, the existence of a highly-developed cosmology becomes apparent, of a kind that might suggest concordances with other traditions in many respects, the first with respect to a separation of the “three worlds, “which seems to be its very foundation. “Shamanism “will also be found to include rites comparable to some that belong to traditions of the highest order: some of them, for example, recall in a striking way the Vedic rites, and particularly those that are most clearly derived from the primordial tradition, such as those in which the symbolism of the tree and the swan predominate. There can therefore be no doubt that “Shamanism” is derived from some form that was, at least originally, a normal and regular traditional form; moreover it has retained up to the present day a certain “transmission” of the powers necessary for the exercise of the func tions of the “Shaman”; but as soon as it becomes clear that the “Shaman” directs his activity particularly toward the most inferior traditional sciences, such as magic and divination, a very real degeneration must be expected, such as may sometimes amount to a real deviation, as can happen all to easily to such sciences whenever they become over-developed.
In view of this, the least that we can say is that Shamanism in our time, even in its most traditional forms, is an extremely uncertain proposition. Perhaps powerful, balanced and good-willed Shamans working directly under the command of the Great Spirit still exist; I hope they do. Nonetheless, the likelihood of our ever encountering one decreases with each passing year.
As Mircea Eliade points out in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, the Shaman is usually “summoned” to his role and his powers by a spirit being; and the psychophysical death-and-resurrection by which he claims them does seem analogous in some ways to the fana and baqa of Sufism: annihilation in God followed by subsistence in God. But if the Shaman is not also a holy man, if he does not possess the ability to view things from the standpoint of Wakan Tanka—or to fully submit to the will of Wakan Tanka whether or not he can see with His eye—then he is limited to serving the “agendas” of his spirit helper, which he has no way of investigating or evaluating with any certainty since he cannot stand “behind” them; this is something that only God can do. As for the fana and baqa of tasawwuf, these are produced not by fierce austerities undertaken on one’s own initiative, by a self-willed psycho-physical suicide and self-reconstruction, but precisely by the will of God. In the words of Jesus, “he who seeks to keep his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life, for my sake, shall find it.”
An inescapable ambiguity crops up, however, when we recognize that it is possible to become more deeply receptive to the will of God through various techniques that include a psychophysical element, such as the Sufi dhikr (invocation), sama (spiritual concert), dance, or khalwa (spiritual retreat). That’s why it’s important to undertake these things only by the order or permission of one’s shaykh, and why there is always a danger in Sufism, or in any heavily technique-laden spiritual way such as yoga, that the practitioner will fall into the illusion that he is reaching or summoning God on his own initiative, in which case everything is lost. In the case of dhikr, for example, the Sufi is not commanding God’s presence by pronouncing His Name considered as a magical “word of power”; rather, God is speaking His own Name, on His Own initiative, within the Sufi’s heart. The path of tasawwuf is not traveled by the power or plan or intent of the traveler, but by that of Allah: “Not my will but Thine be done.”
The Addiction to the Psychic and the System of Antichrist
But why the great attraction to magic in our times? There is a dialectic to it: The “solidification of the cosmic environment” under the regime of materialism that Guénon spoke of in The Reign of Quantity produces, on the psychic level, a feeling of stagnation, dryness, petrification. Conscious access to God and the celestial world is largely blocked; the universe becomes “material, all-too material. “When materialism is new it expresses itself as triumphalism, the excitement of innovation, the “conquest of nature”, the belief in progress; (this, apparently, is the phase China is in now). When it grows old, however, and when the negative consequences of such triumphalism—social, psychological and environmental—become apparent, the opacity and solidification of the universe, and the human soul, become terribly oppressive. That’s when the “cracks” Guénon speaks of begin to appear in the solidity of cosmic environment, cracks that open in the direction of the “infra-psychic”. And the Jinn know all-too-well how to exploit these cracks, since some among them have also been working to open such fissures from the other side. The dryness and deadness of materialism make the glimmering antics of the Jinn highly attractive to a jaded humanity; consequently magic, spiritualism and interest in the paranormal appear as an alternative to the materialist worldview, one that is vital and imaginative as opposed to dry and dead. They promise relief from oppression; but as with any addictive drug, the oppression that’s temporarily relieved is in large part produced by the drug itself. As Hamlet said, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” And once the soul becomes addicted to the sort of psychic experience the Jinn can provide, or simply to the hidden powers of the psyche itself, access to God and the celestial order is doubly veiled: first by material opacity; secondly by a psychic counterfeit of spiritual realities. This, in Guénon’s terms, marks the passage from “anti-tradition” to “counter-tradition”. The deep emotional glamours (the Water element) and/or the sparkling multidimensional agitation (the Air element) that a person’s psyche becomes subject to when under the influence of the Jinn will seriously compromise his or her ability to attain what the Sufis call ‘jam, “recollection”, the sort of spiritual sobriety that allows one to concentrate one’s attention upon God and the Path. (The “drunkenness” spoken of by the Sufis is not, if you will pardon the pun, Jinn-drunkenness; drunkenness with God does not disperse the psyche but recollects it, which is why it can function as the polar complement to contemplative sobriety, as when St. Augustine speaks of “sober inebriation”.) The steady, solid light of the celestial order—so well represented by the gold leaf used in Eastern Orthodox iconography—is replaced by the sparkling “pixie-dust “of the Jinn-world, in comparison to which anything else will seem painfully boring and uninteresting. Furthermore, just as in the case of psychedelics, alcohol and addictive drugs, the more we open ourselves to the Jinn and the sorts of experience and information they can provide (leaving aside for now the whole question of whether the Jinn we happen to be dealing with are Muslim or kafir, good fairies or demons), the drearier everything else becomes to us; we literally become addicted to psychic experience, and must endure all the jadedness and desiccation that goes along with it. And so we need more and more of it all the time, this being one of the lesser-known aspects of “the reign of quantity” (as well as, I would add, of our wonderful “information culture” with its “weapons of mass distraction”) . However, according to a couplet I composed quite a few years ago’
Better the Wine of the Desert
Than the desert born of wine.
Once we have fallen into this sort of psychic addiction, the felt presence of God will become painful to us; we will tend to flee from it. God will seem to bring with Him a whole world of hopeless psychic deadness, burden, even cruelty. What we are actually going through in experiences like this, God willing, is a purgative withdrawal from our addiction to psychic experience—in the face of which, however, we will be tempted to see Allah as not a merciful Sustainer but a cruel torturer; only those recovering addicts who (by His Grace) love Him above all else will be capable of choosing the pain of the Real over the pleasure of illusion. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “prayer is a torture-chamber”; or as St. Silouan of Mt. Athos put it, “Keep your mind in Hell and don’t despair”.
In strictly Islamic terms, the solidification of the cosmic environment is represented in part by the fundamentalist terrorists. Only someone whose soul is so painfully constricted that it seems to be choking the Spirit out of him will be attracted to meeting his Maker by blowing himself up. Thus suicide bombing is not only a tactic; it is also a passion. And in the face of such constriction, desiccation and cruelty, the betrayal of Islam via dealings with the Jinn and their world will become increasingly attractive to those who are repelled by the opposite and equal betrayal, that of the fundamentalists, as will those Sufi groups who habitually interact with the Jinn (whether or not they know it), practice ruhaniyyat and indulge in karamat. Nor is the meeting of the two apparent extremes of magic and warfare beyond the realm of possibility. Wizardry was a common weapon in the arsenals of the ancient world (as psy-ops is in ours), and the individual soldier of today will often seek magical protection from enemy bullets; this is one reason why Wicca is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S. military (cf. Qur’an 13:16). To the degree that Allah withdraws His Spirit from visible, historical Islam—as He is now withdrawing it, up to a point, from every religion, to the precise degree that its adherents have fallen away from Him—the psychic element of Sufism, valid and necessary though it is for the viable existence of tasawwuf in this world, will increasingly be reduced to the level of those “psychic residues “that Guénon saw as inhabiting the shells of dead religions—and the mass of psychic material collected by Sufism over its history is truly vast, vaster than the treasures of a thousand caves of Ali Baba. Such psychic residues, as Guénon pointed out, can be exploited by magicians. To the degree that established Islam rejects Sufism, Sufism will be tempted not only to depart from Islamic norms in the direction of magic, but also to throw in its lot with those globalist forces who want to groom tasawwuf as a benign (or compliantly militant) alternative to the Islamicists. [NOTE: According to the article “State-Sponsored Sufism “by Ali Eteraz, accessed on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations, 7/28/2010, “Why are U.S. think tanks pushing for state-sponsored Islam in Pakistan?…. Well, now, according to commentators from the BBC to the Economist to the Boston Globe, Sufism, being defined as Islam’s moderate or mystical side, is apparently just the thing we need to deal with violent Muslim extremists. Sufis are the best allies to the West, these authors say; support them, and countries as diverse as Pakistan and Somalia could turn around.”] And as Lee Penn has amply demonstrated in his False Dawn [Sophia Perennis, 2005], and Peter Levenda in Sinister Forces, Jinn-worship under one name or another, and according to the widest possible definition of this tendency (including adherence to a basically New Age or Neo-Pagan worldview), is far from uncommon among the intelligence communities (Levenda) and the national and/or globalist ruling elites (Levenda and Penn). [NOTE: As examples of this I can point to the acceptance of New Age teachers Barbara Marx Hubbard and Robert Mueller (former Assistant Secretary General of the U.N.) in the world of globalist institutions, as well as to Mihkail Gorbachev’s revelation that he worships the Earth; see Lee Penn, False Dawn, www.falsedawn.us.] Consequently, there is a danger that certain elements of Sufism, or what once was Sufism, will become further jinnified, further veiled from the Light of Allah, further attracted to the practice of magic, as they are drawn into the gravitational field of globalism and its agents.
The “Great Goddess”
Both the cosmic environment and the collective psyche, at this extreme tail-end of the Kali-yuga, are haunted by the Jinn. And given that these beings include among their many nations the elementals or nature spirits (the Gnomes of Earth, the Undines of Water, the Sylphs of Air and the Salamanders of Fire, according to Paracelsus), and that the entire psychophysical world is feminine in relation to the Spirit, just as universal manifestation itself is feminine in relation to the Creator—Allah in His Name al-Khaliq—the world of the Jinn is in many ways the world of Mother Nature, the Great Goddess who, when no longer recognized as Shakti to the Absolute Divine Witness, is transformed into that regime of hopeless Fate that so oppressed the Pagans of late antiquity, and from the power of which—also (ironically) by the power of which—many blindly sought the protection of magic. For Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Fairies are ruled by a feminine power, Queen Maeve; and it is obvious that the whole “return of the Goddess “in our time has gone hand-in-hand with a mass resurgence of the interest inboth Paganism and every form of magic. [NOTE: The openness of the Traditionalist School to the Divine Feminine outside the bounds of a single tradition is one of the things that has made it possible for various intellectual Neo-Pagans to identify with certain elements of Traditionalist doctrine and integrate them into their worldview—something that Schuon himself, judging from his highly critical attitude toward Paganism, would have been flatly opposed to. The magazine Primordial Traditions out of New Zealand, for example, has drawn heavily on the ideas of René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon and Huston Smith, as well as Nietzsche, Julius Evola and Aldous Huxley; its past editor, Gwendolyn Toynton, though opposed to Wicca and “non-traditional” Neo-Paganism, believes that revived forms of ancient Hellenic or Northern European Paganisms such as Hellenismos or Asatru, based on traditional texts, can be viable spiritual paths in our times.] Consequently it behooves us to be very clear on exactly what the Divine Feminine is, and what She is not. And those of us who identify (as I do) with the Traditionalist School founded by René Guénon and brought to its highest point of development by Frithjof Schuon will be hampered to a degree in this study by the fact that Guénon hardly mentioned Her, while Schuon by and large emphasized only Her positive aspects, in both his books and in the radiant female nudes of his “shakti” paintings (though he did speak of the rigorous aspect of the Virgin Mary in his chapter “The Wisdom of Sayyidatna Maryam” in Dimensions of Islam). Simply put, if this Kali-yuga, then where is Kali? Where is the bloody-mouthed hag with the necklace of human skulls? Without an honest presentation of the dark side of the Divine Feminine, including the dark side of Eros, the image of the paradisiacal Feminine, erotic or otherwise, remains vulnerable to the insidious influences of what is denied. [NOTE: Patrick Laude in Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings sees Schuon’s aesthetic/erotic/ contemplative relationship to the Divine Feminine as an example of Shamanism—incorrectly I would say—and understands the goal of Shamanism as the integration of the body and the lower aspects of the psyche into the spiritual life. He says: “The matter is not to cultivate powers for the sake of power—for, as Schuon has judiciously and vigorously stated, one can go to Hell with all the powers one wishes—but rather to integrate the various levels of one’s being so as to know God with all that one is.” Point well taken. But to consider magic of any kind, even the most traditional and altruistic forms of Shamanism, as a viable method of integrating the psychophysical individuality into the spiritual life, especially in these darkest of times, is ill-considered. Those whose psychophysical nature is not already fully integrated into the Spirit, or at least fully submissive to It—a condition extremely rare in our time—should never touch Shamanism, the exceptional case being that of the person (if he lives in the Americas) who, by the grace of God, has found and been accepted not simply by a working traditional Shaman or medicine man, but a true holy man or woman of the Native American way.]
Every rose has its thorn, every paradise its angel with a flaming sword; they are there to protect “the soul of sweet delight” from the crassness and lust of this world. Schuon is entirely right in saying the physical beauty of the human body testifies to Divine Beauty as such, independent of the spiritual state of the soul occupying that body. But without a teaching which elucidates Femininity and Eros in their false forms as well as their true ones—and in their rigorous forms as well as their merciful ones—a strict Puritanism, in my opinion, would be the wiser course. There are plenty of traditional sources (Grimm’s fairytale “The Goose Girl”, for example) which remind us that the outwardly attractive woman is not always the true bride, a doctrine which is valid in gnostic as well as emotional terms. Popular culture also recognizes this truth, its classic cinematic statement being The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich. But it is Shakespeare, not surprisingly, who ultimately says it best.
In The Merchant of Venice, Portia—Divine Wisdom—has concealed her portrait in one of three caskets—of gold, of silver, and of lead. She is then approached by three suitors. The expansive, foolish one chooses the gold casket: wrong. The cold, calculating one chooses the silver casket: wrong again. But the true bridegroom, Bassiano, chooses the leaden casket, and in so doing becomes a type of Christ, who endured the tamasic heaviness of the material world, death on the cross, and the harrowing of hell to save humankind. Within the lead of radical kenosis, Bassanio finds the portrait of the True Bride. “You that choose not by the view” says Portia, “chance as fair, and choose as true!” And we need to listen as well to her verse dismissing the Prince of Morocco, the vain, inflated suitor, whose character reminds one of the Islamic legend that it was the peacock—narcissistic aestheticism—who introduced the serpent into Paradise:
All that glisters is not gold,—
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs to worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old,
Your answer had not been inscroll’d:
Fare you well; your suit is cold.
Only the man, or woman, who thoroughly understands this can look upon Beauty naked, and know it as Wisdom. To teach “Beauty is the splendor of the True” without at all points immediately balancing it with “all that glisters is not gold” is to invoke avidya-maya, ultimately leading to the veiling of the Intellect and the corruption of the will. And one of the most common doors to the world of the Jinn (the other being the Promethean power-motive) is this very relationship to the Divine Beauty, something Jean Borella in Guénonian Esoterism and Christian Mystery criticizes as “the aesthetic identification with the Essence”. To fail to grasp the truth that Beauty too has its rigorous side—something that the Troubadours and the Arthurian Romancers well expressed by their theme of the “Noble Lady Hard-to-Attain”—is to ask to become pixilated (“pixie-led”), majnun (Jinn-possessed). And the one who chooses the glamours of the Jinn over the rigors of Truth has picked the golden casket, wherein the true semblance of the Beloved will never be found. But the one who has endured the dryness of death to the world, death to the “soul commanding to evil”, who has withstood the Jinn and all their blandishments, and has consequently chosen the leaden casket, will find that semblance, that imago dei—insh’allah—and be granted not only the power, but also the right, to look upon Beauty naked.
The Ambiguities of Ruhaniyyat
Be that as it may, Sufism, as we have seen above, does include its own form of thaumaturgy, known as ruhaniyyat (a name which, however, is applied in several other senses) which we may criticize but cannot absolutely exclude. If in his practice of this thaumaturgy the magus taps the power of Allah, and if he understands that he is working not with his own personal power but with that of the Deity, then well and good. But again, where did the intent to employ the power of God for this or that purpose come from? Who issued the commission? Say a young woman comes to a ruhani magus and says, “Please, shaykh, invoke the power of Allah to heal my mother, who is quite ill.” Does this magus know for sure, simply because he has received that request, that it is God’s will that the girl’s mother be healed? I myself want many apparently benign things that God may not want. Or is the very fact that the girl has arrived and made this request sufficient proof that Allah desires it to be granted? If God has told the magus in no uncertain terms, “those who apply to you have thereby applied to Me”, then well and good; if indeed the shaykh in question has reached absolute certainty as to God’s commission to him, and labors under no delusions, then he may do as he pleases. But if he simply says to himself (most likely without being fully conscious of it), “God is merciful and I am a man of good will; therefore I have a right to invoke the power of Allah to fulfill any petition that seems to me benign”, then things are much less certain. Such a magus who has not been informed by the Deity in no uncertain terms that “your wish is My Command” must first submit that petition to Allah, stand in wait for His answer, and then accept that answer, whatever it might be, on pain of acting as a saher. Because the truth is, Allah only fulfills petitions that are brought to Him in response to His command “petition Me”. A petition truly invited by Allah will be based on a desire formed by Allah Himself in the heart of the petitioner—and if the petition is not only granted by Allah but also in effect issued by Him, then of what use is ruhaniyyat? If the King offers me a precious gem with his own hand, do I send a carrier pigeon to retrieve it, and then hope the pigeon will be able to find its way home? At one point ruhaniyyat, like all other forms of thaumaturgy, or even theurgy, simply gets in the way—though without it (if, that is, we have been called to it by Allah, rather than entering it on our own initiative)—and, of course, in the absence of perfect islam—we may never be able to see exactly where that point is; as William Blake expressed the matter, “If the Fool would persist in his Folly he would become wise” (insh’allah).
The Prophet Solomon, peace and blessings be upon him, was given the power by God to command the Jinn and the physical elements, but according to Ibn al-‘Arabi in the Fusus al-Hikam, he was the only prophet commissioned by God to do so, or rather the only one given both the power and the right to issue such commands on his own initiative; and the specific power he received was given to no one after him. God may perform miracles through His saints, but even the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was reminded by the Holy Qur’an that the power he manifested when, at the battle of Badr, he threw a handful of pebbles in the direction of the enemy after which the tide turned in favor of the Muslims, was not his own power, but God’s: You did not throw when you threw, but God threw. (Qur’an 7:180)
I will end with a highly relevant account of “wisdom after foolishness” given by the great Shaykh Ahmed al-Alawi, as recounted in A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century by Martin Lings:
My first leaning [in the direction of Sufism] was marked by my attachment to one of the masters of the ‘Isawi Tariqa who impressed me by his unworldliness and evident piety. I made every effort to comply with the requisites of that order [known for its practice of wonderworking], and this came quite easily to me on account of my youth and the instinctive attraction for wonders and marvels which is a part of human nature. I became proficient in these practices, and was well thought of by the men of the order, and I believed in my ignorance that what we did was purely and simply a means of drawing nearer to God. One day when God willed that I should be inspired by the truth we were at one of our gatherings and I looked up and saw a paper that was on one of the walls of the house we were in, and my eye lit on a saying that was traced back to the Prophet. What I learned from it caused me to give up what I had been doing in the way of working wonders, and I determined to limit myself in that order to the litanies and invocations and recitations of the Qoran. From that time I began to extricate myself and make excuses to my brethren until I finally gave up those other practices altogether. I wanted to drag the entire brotherhood away from them also, but that was not easy. As for myself I broke away as I had intended, and only retained from that contact the practice of snake-charming. I continued to charm snakes by myself or with some of my friends until I met Skaikh Sidi Muhammad al-Buzidi….
One day, when he was with us in our shop, the Shaikh said to me: “I have heard that you can charm snakes, and that you are not afraid of being bitten.” I admitted this. Then he said: “Can you bring me one now and charm it here in front of us?” I said that I could, and going outside the town, I searched for half the day, but only found a small one, about half an arm’s length. This I brought back and putting it front of me, I began to handle it according to my custom, as he sat and watched me. “Could you charm a bigger snake than this?” he asked. I replied that the size made no difference to me. Then he said, “I will show you one that is bigger than this and far more venomous, and if you can take hold of it you are a real sage.” I asked him to show me where it was and he said: “I mean your soul which is between the two sides of your body. Its poison is more deadly than a snake’s, and if you can take hold if it and do what you please with it, you are, as I have said, a sage indeed.” Then he said: “Go and do with that little snake whatever you usually do with them, and never go back to such practices again.”
And Pharaoh said: Bring every cunning wizard unto me. And when the wizards came, Moses said unto them, Cast your cast!
And when they had cast, Moses said: That which ye have brought is magic. Lo! Allah will make it vain. (Qur’an 10: 79-81)