Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Hermetic & Avicennan "Recital of Salman and Absal"

From Corbin Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, pp. 210-215; 224-6.


In ancient times, before the deluge of Fire, there was a king named Hermanos son of Heraql. He held the Byzantine Empire to the shore of the sea, including the country of Greece and the land of Egypt. It was he who had caused the building of those immense theurgic constructions called the pyramids, against which neither the elements nor the centuries in their thousands have been able to prevail. This king possessed profound knowledge and extensive power; he was versed in the influences of the stars, knew natural properties, and practiced theurgic operations. Among his intimates was a Sage, Aqliqulas the divine, by whom he had been initiated into all the secret sciences. For a whole cycle this divine man had devoted himself to spiritual practices in a cave called the Sarapeion; for nourishment he ate only a few herbs every forty days, and his life reached the length of three cycles.

To this Sage the king one day complained that he had no child. The reason was that Hermanos had no inclination for women and could not prevail upon himself to approach them. As he continued to refuse to do so, despite the Sage's advice, the Sage realized that only one solution remained: to determine a suitable "ascendant" by astrological observation, procure a mandragora, and put a little of the king's semen in it, the Sage then undertaking to treat the mixture in an environment suitable for the operation, until it should be ready to receive a soul to govern it and become a complete human being. The proposal was carried out; the child born of this alchemical operation was named Salaman.

A nurse had of course to be provided for him. A young woman of great beauty, aged eighteen years, was found; her name was Absal; she set about caring for the child. Hermanos now asked the Sage what he could do to show his gratitude; the Sage advised him to undertake the construction of a gigantic edifice that neither Water nor Fire could destroy. For the Sage foresaw the revolt of the elements: the edifice was to be of seven stories; it would have a secret door to be known only to the Sages, for whom it would be a secure refuge; as for the rest of mankind, they might as well perish in the cataclysm. To these precautionary measures the king responded by proposing the construction of two edifices: one for the Sage and another that would serve at once to shelter their treasures, their sciences, and their bodies after death. Thus the two pyramids were built.

As for the child Salaman, when he had grown the king wanted to take him from Absal, but the boy was in despair, so great was his attachment to her. So the king left them together until the boy should have grown older. Thus Salaman's affection for Absal changed into love, and a love so passionate that he was entirely taken up with her and frequently neglected the king's service. The king summoned his son and addressed him in the terms usual in such cases. Their apparent brutality is, however, at once offset by the prospect that opens before a Hermetic Sage, and before him alone: the human being must seek to draw constantly to the world of the higher Light, which outshines every other light and is his true abode, whereas the abode of sensible things represents a condition lower than all others. An intermediate degree is attained when man becomes the contemplator of the "Lights of Victory," but the higher degree is to attain to knowledge of the ideal realities (haqa'iq) of all beings. Hence Salaman must abandon Absal: he has no need of her, she cannot help him toward this sublime goal. Let him act as a man, strong in his isolation, until Hermanos finds him a bride, a maiden of the celestial world who will be united to him for the eternity of eternities, and let him thus make himself pleasing to the Lord of the worlds.

It goes without saying that Salaman was not convinced by these most sage exhortations. He hastened to repeat the entire conversation to Absal, who advised him in her turn: "Pay no heed to that man's words. He would deprive you of present joys for the sake of promises of which the greater part are vain. I am a woman who answers to all that delights your soul. If you are an intelligent and determined man, go and reveal our secret to the king: you are not one who can abandon me, nor I one to abandon you." It would no doubt be better not to announce this decision in person. So Salaman confided it to the vizier, who undertook to transmit it. The situation now seemed hopeless; the king gave way to violent grief. His remonstrances remained as unconvincing as before, even when the idea of a compromise was suggested: let Salaman divide histime into two equal parts, one in which to profit from the teaching of the Sages, the other to be given to Absal. And so it was decided. Unfortunately, when Salaman, after having devoted all the stipulated time to the study of the exalted sciences necessary to his education, found that he must still serve the king, he had only one idea—to return to Absal and play with her. The king could not but admit that he was again defeated. He consulted his Sages: would not the only way to get rid of Absal be to have her killed? But the vizier protested firmly: let none make bold to destroy what he cannot himself raise up. If the king put this project into effect, it was to be feared that the very foundations of his dwelling would be overthrown and that the elements brought together to constitute his nature would dissolve. And this would not open the way for him to the choir of the Kerubim (in other words, the therapy of the soul can have as its goal not the destruction but only the sublimation of the sensible nature). The "child" must little by little discover for himself what it was incumbent upon him to do.

A kindly informer reported this conversation to Salaman, who immediately conveyed the news to Absal. Together they considered how best to frustrate the king's plans; finally, they resolved to flee beyond the Western Ocean. But the king received information of what they were doing; for he possessed two golden reeds, decorated with thaumaturgic designs and pierced with seven holes corresponding to the seven climes. By blowing on one of these holes, after placing on it a pinch of ashes, which then broke into flame, one was informed of what was taking place in the corresponding clime. Thus Hermanos learned where Salaman and Absal had hidden; he learned too that they were suffering all the miseries of exile (ghurba); he was touched, and ordered that they receive some little help. But since Salaman persisted in his voluntary exile, Hermanos' wrath presently turned upon the spiritual entities (ruhaniyat) of their passion, and he resolved to destroy these. For the two lovers, this was the most intolerable suffering and the most sinister torture: they gazed at each other, felt ardent desire, but could not unite. Salaman understood that what had befallen them was also caused by his father's anger; so he rose and went to the king to obtain remission. In a last effort, the king tried to make his son understand that he could not assume the throne and at the same time remain Absal's companion, for either kingship or Absal would claim him entirely. While he clung to the throne with one hand, Absal would be like a fetter fastened to his feet, preventing him from attaining the throne of the celestial spheres. And to confirm his words by a convincing experience, he had the two lovers suspended in this awkward position for a whole day. At nightfall they were set free.


Salaman and Absal were half brothers on the mother's side. Absal was the younger; he had been brought up in his brother's presence, and the more he grew, the more marked his beauty and intelligence became. He was well instructed in letters and the sciences, he was chaste and brave. So it came about that Salaman's wife fell passionately in love with him. She said to Salaman: "Bid him frequent your family, so that your children may learn from his example." And Salaman asked him to do so, but Absal absolutely refused to associate with women. Then Salaman said: "For you, my wife holds the rank of a mother." So Absal came to his brother's house.

The young woman showered him with attentions, and after a time privately told him of her passion for him. Absal showed distress, and she realized that he would not yield to her. Then she said to Salaman: "Marry your brother to my sister." Salaman gave him her sister to wife. But meanwhile Salaman's wife said to her sister: "I did not marry you to Absal in order that he should belong to you alone, to my injury; I intend to share him with you." Finally, she said to Absal: "My sister is a maiden of great modesty. Do not go to her during the day, and do not speak to her until after she has become accustomed to you." On the wedding night, Salaman's wife slipped into her sister's bed, and Absal came in to her. Then she could no longer contain herself, and hastened to press her breast against Absal's. Absal became suspicious, and said to himself: "Modest maidens do not behave in this fashion." At that moment the heavens became covered by dense clouds. A flash of lightning shot through them, its brilliant light disclosing the woman's face. Then Absal pushed her violently away, left the room, and resolved to flee.

He said to Salaman: "I wish to conquer all countries for you, for I have the strength to do it." He took a troop with him, waged war on several peoples, and, without incurring a reproach, conquered countries for his brother on land and sea, in East and West. Long before Alexander, he was master of the earth's entire surface. When he returned to his country, thinking that the woman had forgotten him, she relapsed into her old passion and tried to embrace him; but he refused and repulsed her.

An enemy having appeared, Salaman sent Absal and his troops to meet him. Then Salaman's wife distributed great sums to the leaders of the army so that they would abandon Absal on the battlefield. And so they did. The enemies were victorious over him; after wounding him, they left him lying in his blood, believing him dead. But a wild beast that was nursing young came to him and gave him milk from her teats. Thus he was fed until he was perfectly recovered and healed. Thereupon he sought out Salaman, whose enemies were then besieging and humiliating him, while he bewailed his brother's disappearance. Absal found him, took the army with its stores, and once again attacked his enemies; he routed them, took the greater part of them prisoners, and made his brother king.

Then Salaman's wife came to terms with a cook and a majordomo: she gave each of them a large sum, so that they served Absal a poisoned drink, and he died. He was a faithful friend, a being great in lineage and in desert, in knowledge and in act. His brother was in great grief over his death. He renounced the kingship and conferred it on one of his allies. Then he went into seclusion in secret conversations with his Lord. The Lord revealed to him the truth of what had taken place. Salaman made his wife, the cook, and the major-domo drink the poison that they had given Absal to drink, and they all three died.