The Occult Sciences of Astrology, Alchemy and Magic and their Relation to Other Greco-Arabic Sciences
There is an increasingly persistent call for scientists to accept the tenets of astrology, magic and alchemy. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that most modern day scientists are incapable of achieving this. Perhaps more surprisingly though it is now equally apparent that many of those calling for this "recognition" betray an equal state of ignorance.
It is therefore imperative that those considering this question have a thorough understanding of what science is today and what it was in the past. And in particular, what the three occult sciences - astrology, magic and alchemy were in the past and what they have become today. In this article Robert Zoller drives to the heart of this very question.
It is important to be aware that Greco-Arabic Science was neither similar to nor inferior to modern-day Western Science. Equally, it was not the abject and ignorant superstition that some have tried to portray it as.
Zoller discusses the transmission of this science into Europe. He focuses on the Arabic side of the story so as to provide a balance to those who elaborate on the Latin European side. It is necessary that both sides are understood and contrasted.
Prior to the twelfth century the Medieval Christian world had nothing like the highly sophisticated science of the Arabs. It was not until Western European scholars thronged to Spain, Sicily and Constantinople to learn from Moslem sources that the gap began to lessen. In the preceding centuries into the ken of the Arabs had come the mathematical and astronomical works of the Indians, the astrological doctrines of the Babylonians, Chaldaeans, Persians and others; and the philosophical works of the Greeks. These included the hugely influential Neoplatonic and the Hermetic writings and the scientific writings of Aristotle.
As transmitted to the West, this knowledge was inextricably bound up with magic, alchemy and astrology. Indeed, these and the Arabic Neoplatonic Aristotle became the essence of the West's New Science.
Astrology and Medieval Science
Under Al-Kindi's influence, the famous Persian astrologer Abu Ma'shar linked astrology to both Neoplatonic Aristotelianism and to Hermeticism. This is further explored in the article by examination of his Introductorium Maius (Kitab al-mudkhal al-kabir ila 'ilm ahkam an-nujjum).
Alchemy and Medieval Science
The works of alchemists, such as Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan), often considered the greatest alchemists of Islam are examined. With especial attention given to alchemical teachings found in Geber's The Books of the Balances.
Magic and Medieval Science
Magic in Medieval Islam was more than what is commonly ascribed to witchcraft. The Medieval magician was not a rustic. He was a highly educated scientist, competent in both sciencia ('ilm) and sapientia (hikma).
Whereas we modern Westerners have but one word for that which "magic" denotes, Medieval Islam, a society steeped in age old traditions of such practices recognized numerous varieties of what we lump together and too often dismiss as magic. This is elaborated in the article.
Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah is examined. It reflects with fair accuracy those attitudes of 300 years earlier. The central concepts of his examination of the Kitab al-Ghayah (known to the West as the Picatrix) are explored.
This article is highly recommended.
Please see sister articles : Arabic Astrology, Jewish Astrology.