Magic, Astrology, and Alchymy
Magic, Astrology, and Alchymy
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter opens with an explanation of the distinction held by learned Muslims between “spiritual” magic, effected by angels and jinn, and “natural” or “deceptive magic,” induced by drugs or perfumes for example. It discusses who could practise it and relates tales of magic performed by famous magicians. It moves on briefly to alchemy (which is said to require good knowledge of chemistry) and astrology, both of which were widely studied in Egypt. Astrology includes geomancy, the signs of the zodiac, determining auspicious periods of time, and was used for purposes such as determining if two people will make a good marriage match.
IF we might believe some stories which are commonly related in Egypt, it would appear that, in modern days, there have been, in this country, magicians not less skilful than Pharoah's “wise men and sorcerers” of whom we read in the Bible.
The more intelligent of the Muslims distinguish two kinds of magic, which they term “Er‐Rooḥánee” (vulgò, “Rowḥánce”) and “Es‐Seemiyà:” the former is spiritual magic, which is believed to effect its wonders by the agency of angels and genii, and by the mysterious virtues of certain names of God, and other supernatural means: the latter is natural and deceptive magic; and its chief agents, the less credulous Muslims believe to be certain perfumes and drugs, which affect the vision and imagination nearly in the same manner as opium: this drug, indeed, is supposed, by some persons, to be employed in the operations of the latter branch of magic.
“Er‐Rooḥánee,” which is universally considered, among the Egyptians, as true magic, is of two kinds, “'ilwee” (or high) and “suflee” (or low); which are also called “raḥmánee” (or divine, or, literally, relating to “the Compassionate,” which is an epithet of God,) and “sheyṭánee” (or satanic). —The ’ilwee, or raḥmánee, is said to be a science founded on the agency of God, and of his angels, and good genii, and on other lawful mysteries; to be always employed for good purposes, (p.230) and only attained and practised by men of probity, who, by tradition, or from books, learn the names of those superhuman agents, and invocations which insure compliance with their desires. The writing of charms for good purposes belongs to this branch of magic, and to astrology, and to the science of the mysteries of numbers. The highest attainment in divine magic consists in the knowledge of the “Ism el‐Aạẓam.” This is “the most great name” of God, which is generally believed, by the learned, to be known to none but prophets and apostles of God. A person acquainted with it can, it is said, by merely uttering it, raise the dead to life, kill the living, transport himself instantly wherever he pleases, and perform any other miracle. Some suppose it to be known to eminent welees. —The suflee is believed to depend on the agency of the devil, and other evil genii; and to be used for bad purposes, and by bad men. To this branch belongs the science called, by the Arabs, “esseḥr;” which is a term they give only to wicked enchantment.— Those who perform what is called “ḍarb el‐mendel” (of which I purpose to relate some examples) profess to do it by the agency of genii; that is, by the science called er‐rooḥánee: but there is another opinion on this subject which will be presently mentioned.—One of the means by which genii are believed to assist magicians has been explained in the second paragraph of Chapter 9.
“Es‐Seemiyà” is generally pronounced, by the learned, to be a false science, and deceptive art, which produces surprising effects by those natural means which have been above mentioned; and the “ḍarb el‐mendel,” as perfumes are employed in the performance of it, is considered, by such persons, as pertaining to esseemiyà.
“’Ilm en‐Nugoom,” or Astrology, is studied by many persons in Egypt. It is chiefly employed in casting nativities, and in determining fortunate periods, &c.; and very commonly, to divine by what sign of the zodiac a person is influenced; which is usually done by a calculation founded upon the numerical values of the letters composing his or her name, and that of the mother: this is often done in the case of two persons who contemplate becoming man and wife, with the view of ascertaining whether they will agree. —The science called “ḍarb er‐raml,” or geomancy, by which, from certain marks made at random on paper, or on sand (whence it is said to derive its name), the professors pretend to discover past, passing, and future events, is, I am informed, mainly founded on astrology.
“El‐Keemiyà,” or Alchymy, is also studied by many persons in Egypt, and by some possessed of talents by which they might obtain a better reputation than this pursuit procures them, and who, in spite of the derision which they experience from a few men of sounder minds, and the reproaches of those whom they unintentionally make their dupes, continue, to old age, their fruitless labours. (p.231) Considerable knowledge of chemistry is, however, sometimes acquired in the study of this false science; and in the present degraded state of physical knowledge in this country, it rather evinces a superior mind when a person gives his attention to alchymy.
There is, or was,1 a native of Egypt very highly celebrated for his performances in the higher kind of that branch of magic called errooḥánee; the sheykh Isma'eel Aboo‐Ru‐oos, of the town of Dasooḳ. Even the more learned and sober of the people of this country relate most incredible stories of his magical skill; for which some of them account by asserting his having been married to a “ginneeyeh” (or female genie); and others, merely by his having “ginn” at his service, whom he could mentally consult and command, without making use of any such charm as the lamp of ’Alá‐ed‐Deen.2 He is said to have always employed this supernatural power either for good or innocent purposes; and to have been much favoured by Moḥammad ’Alee who, some say, often consulted him. One of the most sensible of my Muslim friends, in this place (Cairo), informs me that he once visited Aboo‐Ru‐oos, at Dasooḳ, in company with the sheykh El‐Emeer, son of the sheykh El‐Emeer el‐Kebeer, sheykh of the sect of the Málikees. My friend's companion asked their host to shew them some proof of his skill in magic; and the latter complied with the request. “Let coffee be served to us,” said the sheykh El‐Emeer, “in my father's set of fingáns and ẓarfs, which are in Maṣr.” They waited a few minutes; and then the coffee was brought; and the sheykh El‐Emeer looked at the fingáns and ẓarfs, and said that they were certainly his father's. He was next treated with sherbet, in what he declared himself satisfied were his father's ḳullchs. He then wrote a letter to his father, and, giving it to Aboo‐Ru‐oos, asked him to procure an answer to it. The magician took the letter, placed it behind a cushion of his deewán, and, a few minutes after, removing the cushion, shewed him that this letter was gone, and that another was in its place. The sheykh El‐Emeer took the latter; opened and read it; and found in it, in a handwriting which, he said, he could have sworn to be that of his father, a complete answer to what he had written, and an account of the state of his family which he proved, on his return to Cairo, a few days after, to be perfectly true.3 (p.232)
A curious case of magic fell under the cognizance of the government during my former visit to this country; and became a subject of general talk and wonder throughout the metropolis. I shall give the story of this occurrence precisely as it was related to me by several persons in Cairo; without curtailing it of any of the exaggerations with which they embellished it; not only because I am ignorant how far it is true, but because I would shew how great a degree of faith the Egyptians in general place in magic, or enchantment.
Muṣṭafà Ed‐Digwee, chief secretary in the Ḳáḍee's court, in this city, was dismissed from his office, and succeeded by another person of the name of Muṣṭafà, who had been a ṣeyrefee, or money‐changer. The former sent a petition to the Báshà, begging to be reinstated; but before he received an answer, he was attacked by a severe illness, which he believed to be the effect of enchantment: he persuaded himself that Muṣṭafà the seyrefee had employed a magician to write a spell which should cause him to die; and therefore sent a second time to the Báshà, charging the new secretary with this crime. The accused was brought before the Báshà; confessed that he had done so; and named the magician whom he had employed. The latter was arrested; and, not being able to deny the charge brought against him, was thrown into prison, there to remain until it should be seen whether or not Ed‐Digwee would die. He was locked up in a small cell; and two soldiers were placed at the door, that one of them might keep watch while the other slept. —Now for the marvellous part of the story. —At night, after one of the guards had fallen asleep, the other heard a strange, murmuring noise, and, looking through a crack of the door of the cell, saw the magician sitting in the middle of the floor, muttering some words which he (the guard) could not understand. Presently, the candle which was before him became extinguished; and, at the same instant, four other candles appeared; one in each corner of the cell. The magician then rose, and, standing on one side of the cell, knocked his forehead three times against the wall; and each time that he did so, the wall opened, and a man appeared to come forth from it. After the magician had conversed for some minutes with the three personages whom he thus produced, they disappeared; as did, also, the four candles; and the candle that was in the midst of the cell became lighted again, as at first: the magician then resumed his position on the floor; and all was quiet. Thus the spell that was to have killed Ed‐Digwee was dissolved. Early the next morning, the invalid felt himself so much better, that he called for a basin and ewer, performed the ablution, and said his prayers; and from that time he rapidly recovered. He was restored to his former office; and the magician was banished from Egypt.—Another enchanter (or “saḥḥár”) was banished a few (p.233) days after, for writing a charm which caused a Muslimeh girl to be affected with an irresistible love for a Copt Christian.
A few days after my first arrival in this country, my curiosity was excited on the subject of magic by a circumstance related to me by Mr. Salt, our Consul‐general. Having had reason to believe that one of his servants was a thief, from the fact of several articles of property having been stolen from his house, he sent for a celebrated Maghrabee magician, with the view of intimidating them, and causing the guilty one (if any of them were guilty) to confess his crime. The magician came; and said that he would cause the exact image of the person who had committed the thefts to appear to any youth not arrived at the age of puberty; and desired the master of the house to call in any boy whom he might choose. As several boys were then employed in a garden adjacent to the house, one of them was called for this purpose. In the palm of this boy's right hand, the magician drew, with a pen, a certain diagram, in the centre of which he poured a little ink. Into this ink, he desired the boy stedfastly to look. He then burned some incense, and several bits of paper inscribed with charms; and at the same time called for various objects to appear in the ink. The boy declared that he saw all these objects, and, last of all, the image of the guilty person; he described his stature, countenance, and dress; said that he knew him; and directly ran down into the garden, and apprehended one of the labourers, who, when brought before the master, immediately confessed that he was the thief.
The above relation made me desirous of witnessing a similar performance during my first visit to this country; but not being acquainted with the name of the magician here alluded to, or his place of abode, I was unable to obtain any tidings of him. I learned, however, soon after my return to England, that he had become known to later travellers in Egypt; was residing in Cairo; and that he was called the sheykh ’Abd‐El‐Ḳádir El‐Maghrabee. A few weeks after my second arrival in Egypt, my neighbour ’Osmán, interpreter of the British consulate, brought him to me; and I fixed a day for his visiting me, to give me a proof of the skill for which he is so much famed. He came at the time appointed, about two hours before noon; but seemed uneasy; frequently looked up at the sky, through the window; and remarked that the weather was unpropitious: it was dull and cloudy; and the wind was boisterous. The experiment was performed with three boys; one after another. With the first, it was partly successful; but with the others, it completely failed. The magician said that he could do nothing more that day; and that he would come in the evening of a subsequent day. He kept his appointment; and admitted that the time was favourable. While waiting for my neighbour, before mentioned, to come and witness the performances, we took pipes and (p.234) coffee; and the magician chatted with me on indifferent subjects. He is a fine, tall, and stout man, of a rather fair complexion, with a dark‐brown beard; is shabbily dressed; and generally wears a large green turban, being a descendant of the Prophet. In his conversation, he is affable and unaffected. He professed to me that his wonders were effected by the agency of good spirits; but to others, he has said the contrary: that his magic is satanic.
In preparing for the experiment of the magic mirror of ink, which, like some other performances of a similar nature, is here termed “ḍarb el‐mendel,” the magician first asked me for a reed‐pen and ink, a piece of paper, and a pair of scissors; and, having cut off a narrow strip of paper, wrote upon it certain forms of invocation, together with another charm, by which he professes to accomplish the object of the experiment. He did not attempt to conceal these; and on my asking him to give me copies of them, he readily consented, and immediately wrote them for me; explaining to me, at the same time, that the object he had in view was accomplished through the influence of the first two words, “Ṭarshun” and “Ṭaryooshun,”4 which, he said, were the names of two genii, his “familiar spirits.” I compared the copies with the originals; and found that they exactly agreed. Facsimiles of them are here inserted, with a translation.
- “Ṭarshun! Ṭaryooshun! Come down!
- Come down! Be present! Whither are gone
- the prince and his troops? Where are El‐Aḥmar the prince and his troops? Be present
- ye servants of these names!”
- “And this is the removal. ‘And we have removed from thee thy veil; and thy sight to‐day
- is piercing.’ Correct: correct.”
Having written these, the magician cut off the paper containing the forms of invocation from that upon which the other charm was written; and cut the former into six strips. He then explained to me that the object of the latter charm (which contains part of the 21st verse of the Soorat ḳáf, or 50th chapter of the Ḳur‐án) was to open the boy's eyes in a supernatural manner; to make his sight pierce into what is to us the invisible world.
I had prepared, by the magician's direction, some frankincense and corianderseed,5 and a chafing‐dish with some live charcoal in it. These were now brought into the room, together with the boy who was to be employed: he had been called in, by my desire, from among some boys in the street, returning from a manufactory; and was about eight or nine years of age. In reply to my inquiry respecting the description of persons who could see in the magic mirror of ink, the magician said that they were a boy not arrived at puberty, a virgin, a black female slave, and a pregnant woman. The chafing‐dish was placed before him and the boy; and the latter was placed on a seat. The magician now desired my servant to put some frank‐incense and coriander‐seed into the chafing‐dish; then taking hold of the boy's right hand, he drew, in the palm of it, a magic square, of which a copy is here given. The figures which it contains are Arabic numerals.6 In the centre, he (p.236) poured a little ink, and desired the boy to look into it, and tell him if he could see his face reflected in it: the boy replied that he saw his face clearly. The magician, holding the boy's hand all the while,7 told him to continue looking intently into the ink; and not to raise his head.
He then took one of the little strips of paper inscribed with the forms of invocation, and dropped it into the chafing‐dish, upon the burning coals and perfumes, which had already filled the room with their smoke; and as he did this, he commenced an indistinct muttering of words, which he continued during the whole process, except when he had to ask the boy a question, or to tell him what he was to say. The piece of paper containing the words from the Ḳur‐án he placed inside the fore part of the boy's ṭáḳeeyeh, or skull‐cap. He then asked him if he saw anything in the ink; and was answered, “No:” but about a minute after, the boy, trembling, and seeming much frightened, said, “I see a man sweeping the ground.” “When he has done sweeping,” said the magician, “tell me.” Presently, the boy said, “He has done.” The magician then again interrupted his muttering to ask the boy if he knew what a “beyraḳ” (or flag) was; and, being answered, “Yes,” desired him to say, “Bring a flag.” The boy did so; and soon said, “He has brought a flag.” “What colour is it?” asked the magician: the boy replied, “Red.” He was told to call for another flag; which he did; and soon after he said that he saw another brought; and that it was black. In like manner, he was told to call for (p.237) a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh; which he described as being successively brought before him; specifying their colours, as white, green, black, red, and blue. The magician then asked him (as he did, also, each time that a new flag was described as being brought), “How many flags have you now before you?” “Seven,” answered the boy. While this was going on, the magician put the second and third of the small strips of paper upon which the forms of invocation were written into the chafing‐dish; and fresh frankincense and coriander‐seed having been repeatedly added, the fumes became painful to the eyes. When the boy had described the seven flags as appearing to him, he was desired to say, “Bring the Sulṭán's tent; and pitch it.” This he did; and in about a minute after, he said, “Some men have brought the tent; a large green tent: they are pitching it;” and presently he added, “They have set it up.” “Now,” said the magician, “order the soldiers to come, and to pitch their camp around the tent of the Sulṭán.” The boy did as he was desired; and immediately said, “I see a great many soldiers, with their tents: they have pitched their tents.” He was then told to order that the soldiers should be drawn up in ranks; and, having done so, he presently said that he saw them thus arranged. The magician had put the fourth of the little strips of paper into the chafing‐dish; and soon after, he did the same with the fifth. He now said, “Tell some of the people to bring a bull.” The boy gave the order required, and said, “I see a bull: it is red: four men are dragging it along; and three are beating it.” He was told to desire them to kill it, and cut it up, and to put the meat in saucepans, and cook it. He did as he was directed; and described these operations as apparently performed before his eyes. “Tell the soldiers,” said the magician, “to eat it.” The boy did so; and said, “They are eating it. They have done; and are washing their hands.” The magician then told him to call for the Sulṭán; and the boy, having done this, said, “I see the Sulṭán riding to his tent, on a bay horse; and he has, on his head, a high red cap: he has alighted at his tent, and sat down within it.” “Desire them to bring coffee to the Sulṭán,” said the magician, “and to form the court.” These orders were given by the boy; and he said that he saw them performed. The magician had put the last of the six little strips of paper into the chafing‐dish. In his mutterings I distinguished nothing but the words of the written invocation, frequently repeated, except on two or three occasions, when I heard him say, “If they demand information, inform them; and be ye veracious.” But much that he repeated was inaudible, and as I did not ask him to teach me his art, I do not pretend to assert that I am fully acquainted with his invocations.
He now addressed himself to me; and asked me if I wished the boy to see any person who was absent or dead. I named Lord Nelson; of whom the boy had (p.238) evidently never heard; for it was with much difficulty that he pronounced the name, after several trials. The magician desired the boy to say to the Sulṭán— “My master salutes thee, and desires thee to bring Lord Nelson: bring him before my eyes, that I may see him, speedily.” The boy then said so; and almost immediately added, “A messenger is gone, and has returned, and brought a man, dressed in a black8 suit of European clothes: the man has lost his left arm.” He then paused for a moment or two; and, looking more intently, and more closely, into the ink, said, “No, he has not lost his left arm; but it is placed to his breast.” This correction made his description more striking than it had been without it: since Lord Nelson generally had his empty sleeve attached to the breast of his coat: but it was the right arm that he had lost. Without saying that I suspected the boy had made a mistake, I asked the magician whether the objects appeared in the ink as if actually before the eyes, or as if in a glass, which makes the right appear left. He answered, that they appeared as in a mirror. This rendered the boy's description faultless.9
The next person I called for was a native of Egypt, who had been for many years resident in England, where he had adopted our dress; and who had been long confined to his bed by illness before I embarked for this country: I thought that his name, one not very uncommon in Egypt, might make the boy describe him incorrectly; though another boy, on the former visit of the magician, had described this same person as wearing a European dress, like that in which I last saw him. In the present case the boy said, “Here is a man brought on a kind of bier, and wrapped up in a sheet.” This description would suit, supposing the person in question to be still confined to his bed, or if he were dead.10 The boy described his face as covered; and was told to order that it should be uncovered. This he did; and then said, “His face is pale; and he has mustaches, but no beard:” which is correct. (p.239)
Several other persons were successively called for; but the boy's descriptions of them were imperfect, though not altogether incorrect. He represented each object as appearing less distinct than the preceding one; as if his sight were gradually becoming dim: he was a minute, or more, before he could give any account of the persons he professed to see towards the close of the performance; and the magician said it was useless to proceed with him. Another boy was then brought in; and the magic square, &c., made in his hand; but he could see nothing. The magician said he was too old.
Though completely puzzled, I was somewhat disappointed with his performances, for they fell short of what he had accomplished, in many instances, in presence of certain of my friends and countrymen. On one of these occasions, an Englishman present ridiculed the performance, and said that nothing would satisfy him but a correct description of the appearance of his own father, of whom, he was sure, no one of the company had any knowledge. The boy, accordingly, having called by name for the person alluded to, described a man in a Frank dress, with his hand placed to his head, wearing spectacles, and with one foot on the ground, and the other raised behind him, as if he were stepping down from a seat. The description was exactly true in every respect: the peculiar position of the hand was occasioned by an almost constant headache; and that of the foot or leg, by a stiff knee, caused by a fall from a horse, in hunting. I am assured that, on this occasion, the boy accurately described each person and thing that was called for. On another occasion, Shakspeare was described with the most minute correctness, both as to person and dress; and I might add several other cases in which the same magician has excited astonishment in the sober minds of Englishmen of my acquaintance. A short time since, after performing in the usual manner, by means of a boy, he prepared the magic mirror in the hand of a young English lady, who, on looking into it for a little while, said that she saw a broom sweeping the ground without anybody holding it, and was so much frightened that she would look no longer.
I have stated these facts partly from my own experience, and partly as they came to my knowledge on the authority of respectable persons. The reader may be tempted to think, that, in each instance, the boy saw images produced by some reflection in the ink; but this was evidently not the case; or that he was a confederate, or guided by leading questions. That there was no collusion, I satisfactorily ascertained, by selecting the boy who performed the part above described in my presence from a number of others passing by in the street, and by his rejecting a present which I afterwards offered him with the view of inducing him to confess that he did not really see what he had professed to have seen. I tried the veracity (p.240) of another boy on a subsequent occasion in the same manner; and the result was the same. The experiment often entirely fails; but when the boy employed is right in one case, he generally is so in all: when he gives, at first, an account altogether wrong, the magician usually dismisses him at once, saying that he is too old. The perfumes, or excited imagination, or fear, may be supposed to affect the vision of the boy who describes objects as appearing to him in the ink; but, if so, why does he see exactly what is required, and objects of which he can have had no previous particular notion? Neither I nor others have been able to discover any clue by which to penetrate the mystery; and if the reader be alike unable to give the solution, I hope that he will not allow the above account to induce in his mind any degree of scepticism with respect to other portions of this work.11 (p.241)
(1) . I was informed that he had died during my second visit to Egypt.
(2) . I must be excused for deviating from our old and erroneous mode of writing the name of the master of “the wonderful lamp.” It is vulgarly pronounced ‘Aláy‐ed‐Deen.
(3) . Of a more famous magician, the sheykh Aḥmad Ṣádoomeh, who flourished in Egypt in the latter half of the last century, an account is given in my translation of the Thousand and One Nights, chap. i., note 15.
(4) . Or, “Ṭarsh” and “Ṭaryoosh;” the final “un” being the inflexion which denotes the nominative case.
(5) . He generally requires some benzoin to be added to these.
(6) . The numbers in this magic square, in our own ordinary characters, are as follow:—
It will be seen that the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal rows give, each, the same sum, namely, 15.
(7) . This reminds us of animal magnetism.
(8) . Dark blue is called by the modern Egyptians “eswed,” which properly signifies black, and is therefore so translated here.
(9) . Whenever I desired the boy to call for any person to appear, I paid particular attention both to the magician and to ‘Osmán. The latter gave no direction either by word or sign; and indeed he was generally unacquainted with the personal appearance of the individual called for. I took care that he had no previous communication with the boys; and have seen the experiment fail when he could have given directions to them, or to the magician. In short, it would be difficult to conceive any precaution which I did not take. It is important to add, that the dialect of the magician was more intelligible to me than to the boy. When I understood him perfectly at once, he was sometimes obliged to vary his words to make the boy comprehend what he said.
(10) . A few months after this was written, I had the pleasure of hearing that the person here alluded to was in better health. Whether he was confined to his bed at the time when this experiment was performed, I have not been able to ascertain.
(11) . I have been gratified by finding that this hope has been realized. I wish I could add that the phenomena were now explained. In No. 117 of the “Quarterly Review,” pp. 202 and 203, it has been suggested that the performances were effected by means of pictures and a concave mirror; and that the images of the former were reflected from the surface of the mirror, and received on a cloud of smoke under the eyes of the buy. This, however, I cannot admit; because such means could not have been employed without my perceiving them; nor would the images be recersed (unless the pictures were so) by being reflected from the surface of a mirror and received upon a second surface; for the boy was inking dowm upon the palm of his hand, so that an image could not be formed upon the smoke (which was copious, but not dense,) between his eye and the supposed mirror. The grand difficulty of the case is the exhibition of “the correct appearance of private individuals unknown to fame,” as remarked in the “Quarterly Review,” in which a curious note, presenting “some new features of difficulty,” is appended. With the most remarkable of the facts there related I was acquainted; but I was not bold enough to insert them. I may now, however, here mention them. Two travellers (one of them, M. Leon De Laborde; the other, an Englishman), both instructed by the magician ’Abd‐El‐Ḳádir, are stated to have succeeded in performing similar feats. Who this Englishman was, I have not been able to learn. He positively denied all collusion, and asserted that he did nothing but repeat the forms taught him by the magician. Since the foregoing note was written, I have twice witnessed performances of this now‐notorious magician, which were absolute failures; and so, I have been informed by others, have been almost all of his later attempts. Hence, and from an observation made to me by him in the presence of the late Lord Nugent (that he was generally successful in the life‐time of ’Osmán, who was his usual interpreter, and who died shortly after my second visit to Egypt), 1 can hardly help inferring that, in most cases, leading questions put unconsciously by ’Osmán, as well as by others, who were persons of education and intelligence, and in other cases shrewd guesses, were the main causes of his success. I cannot, by the supposition of leading questions, account for his succeeding in the cases that fell under my own observation; but these, as I have stated above, “fell short of what he had accomplished, in many instances, in presence of certain of my friends and countrymen.”