Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ahmadinejad Calls For Iranian Witchcraft Study

Since this spring a power struggle has been going on in Iran between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As an "Islamic republic," the structure of Iran's government is such that the power of the elected president is substantially limited and much executive authority rests with the nation's spiritual leader, Khamenei. The split between the two seems surprising, given that Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election that was reputedly wrought with irregularities. But back in May several Ahmadinejad associates were arrested and charged with using magick to further his political career.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

If any of the accused were really invoking the Djinn, I'm curious how common copies of the Picatrix are in Iran. As far as I know that's the principle grimoire used for such work, though there may be other Persian or Arabic texts with which I and other Western magicians would be unfamiliar. Ahmadinejad has responded to the charges leveled by Khamenei's Guardian Council by calling for a public study on Iranian witchcraft.

One of the Council's favorite tactics is to accuse Ahmadinejad's allies of practicing black magic and witchcraft. Ahmadinejad has responded by backing a public study of these practices in Iran, apparently in the belief that this will implicate some Islamic conservatives, or at least provide more exposure of the fiscal corruption so common in the families of senior clergy.

While I recognize that backing the study has strong political ramifications for Ahmadinejad's career, I hope this is more than a stunt and will lead to some genuine research. At least according to folklore, there is a long tradition of magick in the Middle East that remains largely hidden and I would love to take a look at an objective academic analysis of its inner workings. It also makes me wonder - does Iran's Guardian Council use magick for its own ends? If so, how far back does it go? Magical assistance would certainly help to explain some of the events surrounding the 1978 Iranian revolution.

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Rob said...

The Djinn, and a belief in djinn, is tied into Islam and they are even mentioned in the Koran.

Islam is a lot like Christianity in the sense that it technically believes that only those types of spirits specifically named in the spiritual texts exist. With Christianity, these are angels and demons. So Christians believe any type of spirit that isn't an angel must be a demon or demonic in origin, and so everything is named demon.

Islam believes the same thing, except there's also another class of spirits called Djinn, which are based in pre-islam beliefs from the middle-east.

Djinn itself was originally used as a catch-all term for spirits. The term is sometimes even used to refer to angels and demons, which causes even more confusion.

However Islam only believes certain types of spirits can exist, and so Muslim religious scholars have determined all of the different types of Djinn that do exist based on what is written in the spiritual texts.

Today these are usually the types of spirits that are classified as Djinn. However there were other types of spirits that were classified pre-Islam, and there still are people working with these pre-Islam works, and there still are folk traditions, so the Islamic classifications are still far from absolute.

In any case the Picatrix is inconsequential. Djinn, and a belief in them, are deeply tied into the Islamic religion. It's really no different than a Christian who believes in demons, which is something far more common in the west and thus easier to understand.

I'm also sure the Picatrix is in use in parts of the middle-east, it was written in Arabic after all, but I'm not sure it's in heavy use inside of Iran. The official language of Iran is Persian, and considering the amount of government control on the press I doubt there are any modern translations being published. So only bilingual Iranians would be able to use it.

Ananael Qaa said...

The reason that I mentioned the Picatrix by name is that it's the only grimoire I know of that for sure has an origin in the Arabic/Islamic world. I know that other sources mention the Djinn, and in fact what I'm curious about is whether or not some Persian grimoire that none of us have ever heard of might be in use in Iran. Maybe something dating back to Zoroastrian days? Now that would be cool to get a look at.

Of course, there's a good chance this is a plain old political witch hunt with magick as a convenient excuse, but if that turns out not to be the case there could be some interesting forthcoming revelations.

Rob said...

I have a pdf of an unpublished doctorate dissertation that explores references to the Djinn in the pre and post Islamic world that someone sent me a while back. It's the most comprehensive source on the early history of the djinn that I've found. If you'd like, I can email it to you. Just send me an email with the addy you'd like me to send it to as an attachment.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that this is all about political games and nothing to do with advancing the understanding of Djinn or magic in the Middle East. But let's wait and see :-)

I did get a chance once to ask someone from the ME which country to go to find out the most about magic in that region, the answer they gave was: Morocco.

Ananael Qaa said...

@Simon: You're probably right. The situation in Iran has "political gamesmanship" written all over it. Still, it would be nice to see some real research come of it, even if the motivation for said research is primarily political.

@Rob: That dissertation sounds very interesting indeed! If you're willing to send me a copy I would love to check it out. You can send it here.