Voices of Fire, Indian Alchemy, and a Sufi Master’s Letters

Welcome to our September newsletter,

• We begin our monthly selection with an article by Algis Uzdavinys, “Voices of Fire: Understanding Theurgy,” which situates in a comparative perspective, and within the philosophical tradition proper, the major traits of ancient Graeco-Egyptian religion and initiatic mysteries.

In the Neoplatonic view, all manifested reality consists of different modes of divine speech, or different levels of revelation which operate with a system of signs and symbols that simultaneously manifest and conceal the One.

• Next we present an article “On the Use of Tonics and Elixirs in Sanskrit Medical and Alchemical Literature,” that is, dealing with rasayana, the “path of mercury,” or the “path of vital energy.”

One who has thus become fully perfected through mercury, who has left behind misery, ageing and death and is endowed with good qualities, continually roams all the worlds through moving in the sky. He will also become a giver and creator here in the triad of worlds, like the lotus-born; one who maintains [the world] like Vishnu; and a destroyer like Rudra.

• Finally we present a selection of overviews and commentaries on some letters by the famous 17th-century Syrian shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi. Ranging from the everyday worship minutiae to the depths of metaphysical insight, they give a clear picture of Sunni spirituality in Ottoman times.

Do not be content with the bodies over the spirits, nor preoccupy yourself with the spirits over the bodies. You should bring together both the outward and the inward. And you should know that, to achieve that, there is no escape from entering “lawful solitude” (al-khalwa al-shar‘iyya) and undergoing its “lawful training” (al-riyada al-shar‘iyya). By “solitude” I do not mean other than your individual witnessing of the real actor (fa‘il), not the metaphorical one; then witnessing the real object of attributions, not the metaphorical one; then witnessing the real existent, not the metaphorical one; then maintaining this witnessing until it consumes the senses and the mind. This is real spiritual solitude.