July 01, 2005

Curious George - The Occult in Islam Quid's post below reminded me that I could go here with a question I have been having trouble with. I am in the middle of the research phase of writing a screenplay that takes place in Iraq. Since the theme of the story has at least partially to do with the occult and demon possession, I've been reading all kinds of stuff on the history of Mesopotamia and Babylonian religion and the occult in that tradition as well as the history of Satan, demons, possession and the occult in Christianity and Judaism. Now I want to find out about the history of the occult, demonology and possession in Islam and am finding very few sources at my library as well as online. Does anyone in monkeyland have ideas about info resources on this admittedly fringe topic?
  • Most of the stuff I've read about sihr (magic or sorcery) in Islam claim that it originates from African influences on the religion. Apparently there are some places in Nigeria and other countries in Africa where the people practice a blend of Islam and Animism (ancient polytheism).
  • Here's a small crappy Geocities site [I say crappy not because of the content, but because of Geocities] with regards to Islamic mythology. I myself have been very curious about this subject (Home for me is split between the U.S. and Indonesia, and I have experienced some freaky "supernatural" things while in Indonesia), but always "hit a wall" whenever I tried to talk with the locals about such matters. If you find any good sources, please do post. And good luck with the screenplay!
  • Start with the Sufi mystics, squiddy. Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) is an American born investigator of things mysitic in Islam. Here's one link The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote on origins and connections of hypermedia with influences such as sufism and mentions the names of a couple of Sufi mystics with whom you may want to start: Gysin and Burroughs saw also the link between their work with cut-ups and the possibilities to apply this to music, though they did not make an immediate connection. Gysin pondered the way sounds are transformed on Mylar tape into repetitive patterns of magnetic oxides deposited on the surface. Gysin and Burroughs both lived in Morocco then, and they compared their rhythmic repetition of patterns on tape to the music of the Gnauwa musicians of the Atlas Mountains, who are descended from the line of Sufi mystics such as Ul-Haqa'iq or Abu 'Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Musa of Khuwarizin, from whose name the terms algorithm and algebra are derived (Miller “Synchronia”). Mysticism, ritual, repetition, and systems of numbers from which patterns to organize information flowed from the initiate-transmission-system of the Sufi brotherhood down through the peer-to-peer file sharing network of cybermedia. The sharing of information from one-who-knows to one-who-seeks of the P2P networks remediates the information transfer of Sufi initiates.
  • Not sure if this is entirely relevant Squid, but your question made me look up something I remembered from 'Religion and the Decline of Magic' about Arab influences on astrology - though in many ways it was as much early science as the occult. Googling some of the names in there this Arabian Astrology with the key figure seemingly Albumasar. The only other thing that popped into my head was Dr John Dee's use of the Book of Soyga in his spirit conjurations link also pdf of essay I haven't actually read which may have been of Arab origin. It seems Dee definitely did mention 'Arabic bokes' but maybe they are not this one. Not too relevant either but maybe it'll lead you somewhere more useful.
  • I've actually tried to help people with this research before and it's proven - even with major University libraries and a degree in Near Eastern Archaeology - to be really hard to find anything. There's a little in the (e)HRAF about folk magic. The primary problem that comes up is that pre-Islamic Arabia wasn't writing stuff down, and what was recorded didn't keep. Everything in the other databases had to do with, at best, number sigils. If you have access to the eHRAF, you can check it out, or I might have the excerpt chunks I sent a friend still around in a file. It's not that impressive, though. I'll add more when I get back home, and e-mail's in the profile.
  • You're not writing part 5 of the Wishmaster series, are you squidranch? Please say yes.
  • No tenaciouspettle, but it deals with similar themes.
  • So do you want the occult, demonology and possession in Islam or in Iraq? Because the weird stuff is much more open the farther away from Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi central) you get; I can recommend good stuff about Islam/Sufism in the periphery (for Indonesia, John R. Bowen's Muslims Through Discourse; for Africa, Kenneth W. Harrow's The Marabout & the Muse, just off the top of my bookshelf), but for Iraq/Mesopotamia it's trickier, as cobaltnine says. You'll want to investigate the Yazidi, who have had much nonsense written and said about them, and whatever you can find on the Babylonian Chaldeans that's more scientific than this. Good luck!
  • languagehat, I realise the paucity of material on this topic so I am casting my net wide. I want to find out as much as I can about demonology and the occult in Islam in general as well as in Iraq in particular. I have a lot of material on ancient Babylon/Iraq/Mesopotamia beliefs but have very little on contemporary Islamic folk beliefs about evil spirts and spirt posession.
  • There are a couple of books, I think, about Zar, a practice in the pre-Islamic world that persists today. It's a gathering of women where they pass around ceremonial amounts of alcohol, dance and sing, and take turns being possessed by spirits. I would guess it's a way of reintegrating the women back into their community, and smoothing over trouble spots by offering an excuse for behavior that might cause problems otherwise.
  • Couple of small pieces here on djinns and black magic.
  • Islamic exorcism. You've probably got this stuff already.