Two Minutes with Dr. Yahya: Arabs Astrology in Spain
دقيقتان مع الدكتور يحيى: علم الفضاء العربي في بلاد الأندلس
The Arab Manifesto-ضمن مقالات مشروع النهضة العربي
Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds, Professor of Sociology
According to the Parapsychology Encyclopedia, the heyday of occultism, especially astrology and alchemy, occurred among the Arab race at the time when the Moors established their empire in the Spanish peninsula. In the eighth century an Arabian mystic revived the dreams and speculations of the alchemists and discovered some important secrets. Geber, who flourished about 720-750, is reputed to have written upwards of five hundred works on the Philosophers’ Stone and the elixir of life. His researches in these occult subjects proved fruitless, but though the secrets of immortal life and boundless wealth eluded him, he discovered silver nitrate, corrosive sublimate, red oxide of mercury, and nitric acid, for he was a brilliant chemist.
His tenets included a belief that a preparation of gold would heal all diseases in animals and plants, as well as in human beings; that the metals were affected with maladies, except the pure, supreme, and precious gold; and that the Philosophers’ Stone had often been discovered, but its fortunate discoverers would not reveal the secret to blind, , and unworthy man.
Geber’s Summa Perfectionis, a manual for the alchemical student, has been frequently translated. One English version, of which there is a copy in the library of the British Museum, London, was published by an English enthusiast, Richard Russell, at “the Star, in New Market, in Wapping, near the Dock,” in 1686. Geber’s true name was Abou Moussah Djafar, to which was added Al Sofi, or “The Wise,” and he was a native of Houran in Mesopotamia. He was followed by Avicenna, Averroes, and others equally gifted and fortunate.
According to Geber and his successors, the metals were not only compound creatures, but they were also all composed of the same two substances. By the nineteenth century, European chemists like William Prout and Humphry Davy were propounding similar ideas. “The improvements,” stated Davy, “taking place in the methods of examining bodies, are constantly changing the opinions of chemists with respect to their nature, and there is no reason to suppose that any real indestructible principle has yet been discovered. Matter may ultimately be found to be the same in essence, differing only in the arrangement of its particles; or two or three simple substances may produce all the varieties of compound bodies.” The ancient ideas, of Demetrius the Greek physicist and of Geber the Arabian polypharmist are still hovering about the horizon of chemistry. In the twentieth century, successful nuclear fission has validated the transmutation of metals.
The Arabians also taught that the metals are composed of mercury and sulphur in different proportions. They toiled away at making many medicines out of the various mixtures and reactions from the few available chemicals. They believed in transmutation, but they did not strive to effect it. It belonged to their creed rather than to their practice. They were hardworking scientific artisans with their pestles and mortars, their crucibles and furnaces, their alembics and aludels, their vessels for infusion, for decoration, for cohabitation, sublimation, fixation, lixiviation, filtration, and coagulation. They believed in transmutation, in the first matter, and in the correspondence of the metals with the planets, to say nothing of potable gold. It is not known where the ancient Arabians derived the sublimer articles of their scientific faith. Perhaps they were the conjectures of their ancestors according to the faith. Perhaps they had them from the Fatimites of Northern Africa, among whose local predecessors it has been seen that it is just possible the doctrine of the four elements and their mutual convertibility may have arisen. Perhaps they drew them from Greece, modifying and adapting them to their own specific forms of matter, mercury, sulphur, and arsenic.
Astrology was also employed by the oracles of Spain. Al-Battani was celebrated for his astronomical science, as were many others; and in geometry, arithmetic, algebraical calculations, and the theory of music, the list of Asiatic and Spanish practitioners is long, but only known by their lives and principal writings. The works of Ptolemy also exercised the ingenuity of the Arabians. But judicial astrology, or the art of foretelling future events from the position and influences of the stars, was a favorite pursuit; and many of their philosophers dedicated all their labors to this futile but lucrative inquiry. They often spoke highly of the iatro-mathematical discipline, which could control the disorders to which man was subject and regulate the events of life.
The tenets of Islam, which inculcate an unreserved submission to the overruling destinies of heaven, are evidently adverse to the lessons of astrology; but this by no means hindered the practitioners of old Spain and Arabia from attaining a high standard of perfection in the art, which they perhaps first learned from the peoples of Chaldea, the past masters of the ancient world in astronomical science, in divination, and the secrets of prophecy. But in Arab Spain, where the tenets of Islam were perhaps more lightly esteemed than in their original home, magic unquestionably reached a higher if not more thoughtful standard.
From the Greeks, still in search of science, the Arabs turned their attention to the books of the sages who are esteemed the primitive instructors of mankind, among whom Hermes was deemed the first. They mention the works written by him, or rather by them, as they suppose, like other authors, that there were three of the name. To one the imposing appellation of “Trismegistus” has been given, and the Arabians, presumably from some ancient records, minutely described his character and person. Illustrating their astrological discipline, they also published some writings ascribed to the Persian Zoroaster. (987 words) www.askdryahya.com/index.html
@Hasan Yahya, Michigan, June 2012
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