"Journey with me unto the Divine Throne": Siyyid ʿAlī Muḥammad Shīrāzī, the Bāb, on the ars operativa of the Elixir

Siyyid ʿAlī Muḥammad Shīrāzī, the Bāb (d. 1850)

(Courtesy of the Bayānī community)

مَنْ عَرَفَ نَفسْهِ فَقَدَ عَرَفَ إمامهِ الّذي هُوَ رَبّهِ

Whosoever knows their Self, knows their Imām, who is their Lord!

-- Shaykhī-Bābī reiteration of the Delphic maxim (ours)

Below can be found my annotated and semi-critical translation of Siyyid ʿAlī Muḥammad Shīrāzī, the Bāb's short discussion of the alchemical ars operativa. The full article can be found here:

Trans. N. Wahid Azal

In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful![1]

As for the question regarding the science of letters (ʿilm al-hurūf):  take at the head of every ten the first letter [2] and calculate it by the first element of Fire (nār) around the name of God ‘the Constrictor’ (al-qābiḍ); and in the second element of Air (hawā’) around the name of God ‘the Living’ (al-ḥayy); and in the third element of Water (mā’) around the name of God ‘the Revivifier’ (al-muḥayyi); and in the fourth element of Earth (turāb) [4] around the name of God the ‘Taker of Life’ (al-mumīt). Then multiply the ten letters from the first to the fourth and from the third to [6] the second. Then deduct seven and evaluate by seven. Afterwards ye will observe from the twenty-nine [lunar] mansions[2] (manāzil), commensurate with the science (ʿilm) of their astrological houses (al-nujūm), according to the letter of Fire, the valuation of [8] Fire; and Air, the valuation of Air; and Water, the valuation of Water; and Earth, the valuation of Earth. This is the point of knowledge and its key that you will emerge from towards the path of the straight line (khaṭṭ)[3] of that gate. [10] There ye will find the Great [Sovereign] Angel (malak al-kabīr),[4] for that is the talismanic resolution that is [found] in the books of the Christians the likeness of which was not found until now amongst the talismanic-lunettes [i.e. aqlām, the occult pens]. So protect it with an utmost protection; and if [12] a result does not follow, do not be dismayed nor consider this to be a setback,[5] for verily indeed God will reveal from this [failure] the [true] talismanic-lunette according to the book. And neither is there humidity (rutab) nor aridity (yābis) other than what has been [14] recorded[6] in that book.

As for the question regarding the Elixir (iksīr): understand that[7] God has not created anything without also fashioning within it a letter of the Elixir in accordance with its station (maqām).[8] As for its hidden realities (haqā’iq): [16] journey with me unto the Divine Throne (ʿarsh) until thou hast gone beyond it with the [divine] assistance vouchsafed unto thee [and] until ye have witnessed the Fire of that Most Great Name of God (ism allāh al-akbar),[9] letting it flare up with a blaze (ashtaʿalhu) by the rending of the [18] veil (kashf al-hijāb)[10] of the inmost subtilised heart-flux (fu’ād).[11] Then place the retorta (al-qarʿ) upon the rim of the alembic (ambīq)[12] and take from the fruit of the Tree emerging from the Mount Sinā’i of the Exclusive Oneness (ṭūr al-sīnā’ al-aḥad)[13] unto the limit of the [Divine] Power (al-qadr)[14] within the [20] mystery of the [Divine] Predomination (al-muqtadir),[15] and allow it to fall[16] into its place (awṣiluhā ilā maḥalihā). There [in that locus] you shall find the Most Great Crimon Oil (duhn al-aḥmar al-akbar)[17] [emerge] from this [Siniatic] Fire (al-nār) more swiftly than the twinkling of an eye (aqrab min lamḥ al-baṣar). In that situs,[18] [22] towards God (ilā allāh), you are the very sign of God (āyat allāh)[19] and likewise throughout all the worlds according to its capacity (bi-ḥasbihi); that is, until the culmination of the matter[20] (al-amr) unto [the limit of] the mineral world (ʿālam al-jamād). [Wherefore] have we concealed from revealing[21] (khifnā min al-aẓhār) [this secret] from the gaze of all those contemplating  (lil-nāẓirīn) upon the penetrative [metaphysical] subtlety[22] of divergent contrariness (mashʿar al-aḍdād ),[23] [24] and have established it there,[24] in that leaf (waraqa), the secret of the two [cosmic] lines (ṣarayn) contained within the two mysteries [of depth][25] (sirrayn) that perchance someone may apprehend it;[26] and sufficient is God by the Proof[27] as witness to the truth (kafīya bi-Llāhi bi-l-hujjati ʿali-l-ḥaqq shahīdan).[28] And if you truly comprehend [this affair], [26] you will be able to undertake the Art of the Elixir (sanaʿ al-iksīr) and in that locus truly grasp the reality of the matter (ḥaqīqat al-amr).[29] And this is [an issue] well-known in the presence of one whom God has made to witness the creation of [28] Heaven and earth, and the creation of His Logos-Self,[30] for no power and no strength is there save in God, the Soaringly High, the Mighty![31] Glorified be God above what is attributed to Him, and praised be God, the Lord of all the worlds!


DLI 12448

[1] The opening benediction, the bismillāh, does not occur in Bay.B38 but is included in DLI 12448 (Pdf p. 233 final line, that is, the bottom of the page preceding the scan of the page displayed here). Bay.B38 simply has “the seventeenth question” (السؤال السابع و العشر).
[2] Two scribes in two separate MSS. have التاسعة و العشرين and this is certainly noteworthy since the Bāb appears to be weighing in on a longstanding debate among Muslim occultists and on the side of the twelfth century Tunisian polymath of the arcana, Shaykh Aḥmad al-Būnī  who proposed (that is, if the لآ be considered the twenty-ninth letter of the Arabic alphabet, or twenty-eighth when ي  be made the twenty-ninth) the number of lunar mansions to be twenty-nine, see Shams al-Ma’ārif al-Kūbrā (the Great Sun of Gnoses) (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Nūr lil-Maṭbūʿāt, 1420/1999), 10. This is usually not the case with some notable occult and astrological texts from the Islamic east, and neither is it the position of Pseudo-Majrītī either in the Picatrix (ghāyat al-ḥakīm).
[3] In DLI 12448 but not in Bay.B38. One has سبيل الخطّ المستقيم while the other has سبيل المستقيم (the straight path).
[4] Or ‘Great Sovereign/King’ (malik al-kabīr). However, we prefer reading malak rather than mālik simply because all such operations in the manuals of Islamic white magic (rūḥānīya), as well as in Islamic alchemy (al-kīmīyā), usually involve an encounter with an Angel or spirit guardian (muwwakil) of some rank or description during the actual course of an operation. Of course it goes without saying that in this general perspective each malak (angel) is often also regarded a malik (sovereign king) in its own specific domain within the greater hierarchy of its own administering rank and station. Without wishing to cite copious references here from various sources on angelology (Islamic or otherwise), we refer the general reader to Corbin’s most illuminating discussion of this subject – a discussion on angelology that in our opinion has not been superseded - in the second chapter of Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series LXVI, 1968; reprinted 1988), 46-122.
[5] DLI 12448 فلا تحّزن و لا تظنّ . Bay.B38 only has لا تحّزن .
[6] DLI 12448 has مستورا with a ت rather than with a ط as in Bay.B38. We disagree with DLI 12448’s phrasing here.
[7] DLI 12448 فاعرض انّ الله . Bay.B38 ان الله .
[8] Or ‘existential rank’.
[9] DLI 12448 has this specific phrasing. Bay.B38 simply has اسم الاكبر (the Most Great Name). We have preferred this one because Lambden indicates it per INBMC 67. We note this is just another way of saying the Greatest Name. See above.
[10] Lambden’s translation has this line of the passage as “to remove the covering (al-ḥā’ib).” Neither one of our two MSS. has this. Instead both have كشف الحجاب (to rend/the rending of the veil). Since we do not have access to the text of INBMC 67 we cannot compare the disparity here; but the identical phrasing of this line in both of our two MSS. should be noted for any future comparisons and in establishing any final critical texts of the original Arabic because this changes both its thrust and its subtle meaning.
[11] Fu’ād is a technical term in the lexicon of Shaykhī (and by extenstion, Bābī) thought replete with significance denoting a meaning beyond just a mere synonym for ‘heart’ (qalb). Idris Samawi Ḥamid’s quite insightful rendering of fu’ād as ‘heart-flux’ I have qualified further as ‘subtilised heart-flux’, see The Metaphysics and Cosmology of Process According to Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī (Buffalo: Ph.D. dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1998), where he notes, “…fu’ād is more specialized than the heart itself, and…a notion of motion or flux is fundamental to its meaning (my italics)…with Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī  fu’ād is more specialized than the qalb,” 101. Therefore, in its Shaykhī–Bābī denotation both these terms (‘qalb’ and ‘fu’ād’) carry far more multifaceted and expanded implications than usually assumed on first glance or otherwise gleaned from the definitions provided in Sufi technical handbooks. Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā’ī (d. 1826), for instance, appears to make the overall metaphysical function of fu’ād simultaneously cosmological as well as ontological turning fu’ād into the animating function of ‘being/existence’ (wujūd) itself. In the very First Observation of his Fawā’id al-Ḥikmīya (Subtilised Heart-Fluxual Observations of Wisdom) he states outright that fu’ād is ‘being/existence’ (and as Ḥamíd points out, he is speaking of wujūd in its non-delimited and universal sense), 277. To wit, “The [subtilised] heart-flux is the highest of all of [humanity’s] loci of cognition. It is the light of [God] which He [the Prophet] (upon whom be peace) mentioned in his dictum: ‘Beware of the penetration of the faithful; for [he/she] contemplates through the light of God’. It is existence because existence is the highest orientation of [humanity], that is, [its] direction in orientation is to [its] Lord, because existence does not contemplate itself at all but rather [it contemplates] its Lord; just as essence does not contemplate its Lord at all but rather [it contemplates] itself” [slightly modified translation from Hamid’s]. The scriptural root of this word as a technical term, of course, originates with Qur’ān 53:11 (al-najm, ‘The Star’), i.e. “the [subtilised] heart[-flux] hath not lied regarding what it hath seen,” which refers to the Prophet’s nocturnal ascension (mi’rāj) and his beholding of the Divine Face at “…two bow-lengths or nearer” (qāba qawsayni aw adnā) (53:9). In light of this, we shall offer our schematization of the hierarchy of the subtle physiology of the heart in Shaykhism and in Bābism as follows (ascending): 1. qalb (heart) 2. bāṭin (interior), 3. suwaydā’ (core), 4. ḥabbat (kernel), 5. sirr (secret) and 6. fu’ād (subtilised heart-flux = existence/being). The level of fu’ād is the level at which per the traditions of the Imāms we can speak of the ‘Hiero-Intelligence’ (i.e. the ‘aql). Our comments here should also be contextualized in light of Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī’s doctrine of alchemy, the double okhêmâ and the physiology of the resurrection body as detailed in Henry Corbin’s Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran, 180-221; this, since if the subtle physiology as detailed by Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsā'ī be divided into a basic ternary scheme (and further augmented) as jism, jasad and rūḥ  we may then correspond qalb to jism 1, bāṭin to jism 2, suwaydā’ to jasad 1, ḥabbat to jasad 2, sirr to rūḥ 1 and fu’ād to rūḥ 2. See Moezzi, passim, and especially Basā’ir al-Darajāt (the Degrees of the Apperceptions) for the special technical meaning of rūḥ in the esoteric teachings of the  Imāms. In the Persian Bayān 2:5 the basic quaternary scheme of the subtle body laid out by the Bāb (in descending order) is fu’ād (subtilised heart-flux), rūḥ (spirit), nafs (soul) and jism (body). This should demonstrate that, like Shaykh Aḥmad, the Bāb likewise considered the fu’ād to be the highest organ of perception.
[12] DLI 12448 has العينين (‘the eyes’). Given the context, and apparently as الانبيق also seems to appear in INBMC 67 as well, we hold Bay.B38  as the correct wording here.
[13] DLI 12448 طور السينآء الاحد القدر (the Mount Sina’i of the Exclusive Oneness of the Divine Power/Destiny). We don’t know whether or not the scribe has misread على حدّ (unto to the limit) for الاحد (the Exclusive Oneness). Nevertheless we have kept its phrasing up to الاحد and combined it with Bay.B38’s على حدّ (unto to the limit), reading the line as Bay.B38 has it from there onwards.
[14] Or ‘Destiny’.
[15] Per INBMC 67 (according to Lambden), which has al-qadír fí sirr al-qadr, Lambden has rendered this part of the passage as “…the Divine Power in [the midmost heart] of the Divine Destiny [Power].” Both of our mss. have  القدر في سرّ المقتدر.
[16] Or ‘pour’.
[17] DLI 12448 has misread دهن (oil) altogether and by dropping the د has written in instead هنّ (‘to weep’ or ‘sigh’). As per Lambden, INBMC 67 has دهن. DLI 12448’s phrasing here does not make sense, in any case.
[18] Our rendering for هنالك .
[19] DLI 12448 has انت الله (‘thou art God’). Bay. B38 has انت آية الله which also seems to appear in INBMC 67. We have rephrased the sequence of the line of the passage from the original here somewhat. Lambden has “In that place you are the very "sign of God" both before God and towards God.” We don’t necessarily disagree with his reading. However, unless there is additional wording in INBMC 67 which isn’t in ours, الى الله (‘to/towards God’) simply means just that and this precise phrasing, without any additional wording, occurs in both of our mss.
[20] Even ‘cause’or ‘command’. Namely, the Opus.
[21] Or ‘presenting’.
[22] Or ‘mark’ as Lambden has it.
[23] Lambden has this line of the passage as, “Wherefore have We concealed from the vision of such as gaze towards that which bears the marks of contrariness…”
[24] Bay. B38 has it as اعتمد في ذلك. DLI 12448 has it as above. Lambden has it as, “have laid it down …there,” which tends to support the same reading as in DLI 12448 which is اعتهدت .
[25] Per Lambden.
[26] Here Lambden includes a line that does not occur in either one of our two mss. To wit, “Thus hath He taught Us [the elixorial mysteries]…”
[27] Namely, the Báb himself.
[28] DLI 12448 has the conjunction و (‘and’) after كفي بالله (sufficient is God).  Bay. B38 does not.
[29] Even ‘reality of the cause-command’.
[30] A technical term replete throughout the writings of the Bāb (and one with some Ismāʿīlī connotations as well) is nafs allāh. Literally this denotes the self, or even anima, of God. Stephen Lambden has consistently translated this term as Logos-Self and we fully concur with his quite beautiful rendering. In the theophanology of the Bāb this term denotes the divine ‘messenger-prophet’ (rasūl/nabī), vicegerent-providential guide (walī) and legatee (waṣī) as the manifestation of the Primal Will (mashī’a al-ūlā). Elsewhere in the universe of Islamic gnosis this would be classified as the Universal Intellect (ʿaql kull) or Pen (qalam). A corollary to this term in the Bāb’s diction is point (nuqṭa).
[31] Bay. B38 does not have العظيم (the Mighty). Both MSS. have placed a shadda over the ل of العلي  (the High), i.e. العلّي, thereby intensifying the tense.

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