Sacred drift essays on the margins of islam

In reality the miniature serves a minor decorative function as an embellishment of the book. The central art form in Islam is writing, with the ancillary arts that serve it, especially calligraphy. Writing itself is sacred, and Moslems like Jews preserve every scrap of it, not just Koran and Torah, because the Arabic and Hebrew letters themselves are revealed and cabbalistic.

The mysticism of writing was carried to an extreme in the twelfth century by the sect of the Hurufis also known as the Abecedarians or Letterists. They traced letters in the shapes of human faces, noble animals, and plants and trees: the alphabet of Revelation revealed in the alphabet of Nature. Hurufi doctrines were condemned as heretical but survived amongst the Sufi orders especially the Turkish Bektashis , who created a beautiful new art form of calligrams —heraldic devices made entirely of letters.

Western art tends to separate the arabesque from the crystal, the Baroque from the Neoclassical, and even to value one over the other—whereas Islamic art tends toward a coincidencia oppositorum, a mystical reconciliation or harmony. In this it resembles Romanticism. In Islamic art the rose and the star have never been rendered unintelligible to each other because they are seen as signs of each other.

Some forms of writing seem to share elements of both alphabetism and naturalism for want of better terms. They stand somewhat outside the semiotic in that they use written signs but meanings are assigned by esoteric transmission. In this category belong the Neolithic signs such as the incised rocks of megalithic Ireland and Brittany. The esoteric keys to these writings are lost and they cannot be deciphered.

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The wampum of the Iroquois was not only money but also writing, and in this case the elders responsible for decipherment have preserved the keys in collective memory. The enigmatic Effigy Mounds of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio, are written on the pages of the landscape, interpreting Nature while becoming part of it.

If the keys to European heraldry were lost, its blazons would appear just as enigmatic and tantalizing. Here meaning seems to hover behind a thin veil in these lost sign systems, in somewhat the same way that meaning seems to lurk behind the scrim of Nature itself.

Peter Lamborn Wilson

This blind immanence of significance resembles the sensations associated with certain phantastica or hallucinogenic drugs. In fact one theory of the marked stones at the megalithic sites of Newgrange and Gavrinis attributes them to entoptic hallucinations of the carvers, to a kind of Soma Function that is rooted in the body. They seem to be common to all cultures, and are patterns which can be enhanced by psychotropic agents.

It persists in occult circles and resurfaces as aesthetic theory in the Romantic era. Baudelaire and Rimbaud speak of correspondences but few take them seriously. Without synesthesia the perception of sound as color, for example, or of form as meaning the imagination could never arrive at a system of correspondences or even at a concept of symbolization. The alphabet itself is deeply implicated in such magical doubling or splitting of consciousness.

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Marbled paper was probably invented in China during the Tang Dynasty. Sometimes, paste was prepared from honey locust pods mixed with croton tree oil and water, with black and colored inks on its surface. Colors were scattered when ginger was added and gathered when dandruff was applied with a hair brush. The various designs which looked like human figures, clouds, or flying birds were transferred from the surface of the liquid to the paper, and in this way a marbled paper was made.

Unfortunately no samples of these papers survive, though they must have resembled the simple suminagashi marbled papers made in Japan from the twelfth century to the present. No doubt the Japanese learned from China, as with so much else. The celestial emperors received rare and precious treasures as tribute from Southeast Asia, Central Asia, even Europe and Africa.

Schafer for exhaustive and brilliant studies of the Tang Tribute Treasures. Some of this material, including much Persian art, somehow ended up long ago in Japan at the treasury repository of the Shosoin in Kyoto. If there exists a strange resonance between Persian and Japanese art, as a few art historians have bemusedly observed Arthur Upham Pope most notably , perhaps the Tang Tribute Treasures help explain it.

Suminagashi appears in Japan around the end of the Heian Period twelfth century , and was said to have been revealed, by the god Kasugamyojin, to one Jiyemon Hiroba, at the shrine of Nara, on February 1, although earlier samples have been found, one dating to The ninth-century poetess Ono no Komachi is said to have known this secret. After the Hiroba family was granted a monopoly on the technique of suminagashi and only the royal family was permitted to use it. The fifty-fifth-generation descendant of Jiyemon, Sennen Hiroba d. Of course China invented paper itself, another reason to suppose it also invented marbled paper.

Bukhara and Herat were famous for paper because they had ancient Chinese connections via the Silk Route. Silk was used to write on long before paper. The taste of this erudite alchemizing and refined poetic path also called Mao Shan was deeply entwined with a related set of motifs: clouds, mist, dragons, stalagmites, convoluted gemstones and minerals, water, everything swirling, baroque and curvacious. In Shang Ching dream-yoga possibly enhanced by cannabis and other psychotropics one meditates on fairy grottoes sparkling with cinnabar and festooned with magical fungus, dripping with elixirs, haunted by the music of lithophones, cave upon cave winding through the hollow interiors of sacred mountains, peopled with celestial maidens, jade lads, phoenixes, various minor deities.

In theory these stones are not made but found, though some may have been helped a bit. The best ones are carved by water and are full of sinuosities, holes, protuberances, all rounded off by centuries in some rushing stream. The owner and guests could utilize the stone in Shang Ching meditation, or simply admire its strangeness. Marbled paper looks like cross sections of these stones. The artist collaborates with chance.

Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Rare stones and gems were appreciated for their natural patterns, whorls, liquidities, grotesqueries. Faux marbre is the technique of fake marbling mastered by fine decorators who can paint walls to look like ancient temples—a craft in itself and one very congenial to the hermetic and alchemical spirit. Glassmakers interested themselves in the art of artificial gems a sideline of alchemy dating back to its Greco-Egyptian origins ; the seventeenth-century Florentine vitrologist Antonio Neri published secret recipes for faux chalcedony, jasper and agate, which attracted the attention of paper-marblers Wolfe, Early suminagashi was always compared to wind-blown white cloth or running streams coursing through meadows.

In the fifteenth century marbled papers were used as artworks to be contemplated during the Tea Ceremony; a cloud motif in blue and black was popular.

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  • Staring at certain marblish stones can result in hallucinations or visions. The artist Odilon Redon used to gaze at a crumbling limestone wall outside a tuberculosis hospital where the patients spat blood and sputum and mucous; he claimed the wall was beautiful, like an other world.

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    According to him, flying saucers came from inside Hollow Earth through a hole at the Pole well known to explorers and were piloted by evil Deros, Nazi-like humanoids of gnomic proclivities. Shaver later went mad or madder and began to create paintings based on cross-sectional slices made through certain stones. By polishing the slice he revealed messages and images placed in the very inner structure of the stone by the subterranean Deros. The Chinese scholar, alone and drunk in his misty hermitage, dreamed himself into the miniature cave-cosmos of his prize stones.

    And the same effects can be obtained in two dimensions, as with the Rorschach inkblots or the finest cloud papers. An hermetic or mystical air hovers around the origins and early history of marbling, like many other guild mysteries. The alchemist and polymath Athanasius Kircher described marbling in his book on light and shadow. Was he in direct contact with Turkish marblers and miniaturists through his hermetic connections?

    Fugger connections with Istanbul through Venice? Turkish Sufis in Hungary or Italy? Quite plausible, I think. In France the Order of the Saint-Esprit founded in during the Rosicrucian craze made early use of marbled papers in its heraldic albums. A seventeenth-century recipe for marbling is found amongst the alchemical manuscripts of the Ferguson Collection in Glasgow.

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    Ben Franklin, member of the Hellfire Club, dabbler in various arcana, reputed Rosicrucian, demonstrated great enthusiasm for marbling and used it on paper money printed by him in Philadelphia: a clever device for protection against forgery and counterfeiting Wolfe, passim. In fact marbled paper is made by floating pigments on the face or surface of a tankful of water, then lifting the colors making a one-off print of them by transference to a sheet of paper which is placed onto the surface then gently removed. Every raindrop has its own angel according to a hadith. To be caught outside in a rain shower in Iran is said to be a sign of luck and blessing—the opposite of European feelings about rainy days!

    The prototype myth, to be found in the Alexander Romance tradition, has Khezr himself given immortality by the fountain. Importantly, Khezr found the Water of Life unsought, without suspecting it, while Alexander the Great deliberately sought after it to no avail. Khezr always wears green, and where he walks, flowers and herbs spring in his footsteps.

    In India he appears as a water spirit; in Islamadom he rescues lost desert travelers dying of thirst, and initiates seekers who have no shaykh or murshid amongst mortal humans. Khezr is the Islamic equivalent of St. George, and many others —and why not, since he lives forever?

    As the poet Umid says:. So that you may become acquainted with the state of my weeping eye. Not only the Koranic metaphor field of Pen and Tablet but also the theosophy of water helped shape and inform all the arts and crafts connected with literacy. Pens, pen boxes, inkwells, fine bindings, brushes and pigments for illumination and miniature-painting, even a ruler a cardboard frame with threads to make guidelines for the calligrapher —not to mention poetry itself, and of course paper: all played symbolic roles in a mystique based on Sufi motifs of wine, rose, nightingale, beloved, cup bearer, minstrel, love—a liquid world of reflections.

    The Glance, the Gaze. The poem on the page of ebru is like the Moon on the face of the water:. Tears on the cheeks of a chaste young woman Are not more beautiful than the tears of a reed pen on a page. The pages of day. A treatise of longing on the page of the heart Writing the complaint of the nightingale on the rose garden With the hand of the morning breeze —Ahmad Pasha Turkish, eighteenth century. The Spring cloud makes its ruler from the threads of rain When the air writes the description of the rose on cloud paper.

    Sometimes calligraphic amulets are washed in water and the patient drinks the water as medicine. I knew a Sufi master in Tehran who was also an M. Once one of his disciples was sick and the shaykh wrote a prescription for him for some medicine. Your blessing has saved me, master.

    Islamic calligraphy is said to resemble water, while Hebrew is like fire.