Despite the current popularity of Picatrix the Shams Al-Ma'arif or the Sun of Wisdom is a much more widely known and used book of magic in the Arabic speaking world. Traditionally attributed to the 13th century Sufi and master of the esoteric science of Arabic letters Ahmad bin Ali Al-buni. While current scholarship has cast doubt on Al-Buni's authorship of the received version of the Shams Al-Ma'arif its influence on Arabic magic is vast. Like Picatrix the Shams al-Ma'arif is much more than simply a recipe book of talismans, which are typically secondary to its main purpose of elucidating esoteric knowledge and occult sciences as well as exemplifying Sufi wisdom.
The Shams al-Ma'arif combines magic squares, Arabic letter magic, Quranic verses and the names of Allah with astrological timing. Since there are 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet and 28 Arabic Mansions of the Moon, the letter correspondences of the Mansions are particularly influential. The section translated below on the Mansions of the Moon from Chapter 2 of the Shams al-Ma'arif goes into significant detail on these correspondences and their use in astrological magic.
May Allah lead us to His obedience and to the understanding of His secrets and His providence! Allah, exalted be He, has spoken about the Sun and the Moon, and He mentioned them in His Exalted Book with His words, "And the moon - We have determined for it phases, until it returns." Noble Quran, Ya-Sin, Surah 36, ayat 39. Exalted be He!
The Moon, when she is placed in the First Mansion, al-Nath, which is the letter alif, there she participates in the secret of the alif, and then reveals the spiritual power of the alif, so that anger is present in the different parts of the world and increases among the most important people and authorities on earth, revealing inside each created human anger (qahr) and spiritual contraction (qabd), according to the degree to which it has been infused into each person. Whoever studies this will find it true.
At that time one should make an effort to be calm and use their strength in the worship of Allah, exalted be He!, and in the frequent exercise of praise (zhikr) to Him and in the persistence of ritual purity during those moments, because in it there is a spiritual constriction of the souls, so that one does not know the reason for his oppression and he remains absorbed. That is because the alif is the first of numbers and letters, and it has no comparison; hence disturbance in the lower world ensues. Understand that if you wish to disturb someone that this can be done through the letter alif because disturbance and a property of oppression harmonize with the heat and dryness existing in the letter alif. Thus souls are constricted and oppressed by the heat and dryness that there is in al-Nath, and it is the phase (waŷh) of al-Ahmar [the spirit of alif], since al-Ahmar is of hot and dry nature, corresponding with that of fire, incendiary by its natural quality.
Write alif one hundred eleven times, either in copper or iron or red terracotta pottery along with the name of whoever you want to disturb, and suffumigate it in incense of clay and periwinkle. Then, when the Moon rises in the 1st Mansion, al-Nath you will invoke with names which are hot and dry one hundred and eleven times, which is the number that results in the extension of the letter alif and the names with which you will invoke it. This results from taking the letters of the name of those who want to disturb and oppress, you will extend them and you will see that natural quality predominates in them, if it is heat, dryness, cold or humidity. Then you will take those warm and dry letters of your name, you will arrange them in a square and add to them the letters of al-Mirrīj (Mars), al-Nath and al-Qamar (the Moon), and you will form from them one or several of the Names of God, exalted be!, with whom you will invoke the mentioned number of times, fervently desiring the repression and coercion of that person.
For example, Zayd and Amrū. You will put the letters separated and extended in this way: 'ayn, mīm, rā', wāw, mīm, rā', yā', jā', nūn, tā', hā', qāf, mīm, rā', and these are fourteen letters between which there are igneous - tā' and mīm, and terrestrial - hā', 'ayn, rā' and jā'. Between the warm and wet letters there are three that are wāw, yā' and nūn; and between the letters of coldness and humidity there is only one that is the qāf. The repeated warm letters are four: mīm, mīm, mīm, tā', and the repeating dry ones are six, and they are āā', 'ayn, rā', rā', rā', jā'; the warm and humid are three, which are written before], and the letters of cold and humidity is also written without repetition. The fourteen letters are then counted, and heat and dryness predominate in them. Then we have obtained from among the names of Allah, exalted be He, these that you will say:
"I conjure you, oh angel Samsamā'īl, by Who has created you, for by transforming you it equates to a light in your sphere, it distinguishes you with His strength and protects you, so that you may be my assistant in whatever I desire. I order you to avenge me on So-and-so, son of So-and-so, weaken their senses, take the natural heat of Mars and inflame in it a heat of fire with which you repress their limbs, with which you oppress their heart and their vitals and you damage their mind. Make the angels of torment descend upon him and the fire of Mars, provoking fever, headache and other ailments with the power of Mars and the misery and the fire that is in it, with the power of your abode of enormous dryness and warmth avenging the ignorance of the impious and heretical tyrants. Send the spiritual power of Mars and of the angels of fire, of torment, annoyance and suffering to the spirit of this heretic, arrogant and impious tyrant, make the torment of punishment live in his body and instigate inside him the secret of discomfort, anger and revenge. I conjure you by the Strong, Who surrounds everything, Who covers everything, the Living, the Subsistent, the Light, the Trustworthy, the Near, the Far, Who extends the lights, Who divulges the secrets, by the power of fire and sparks, by the red planet, and by Allah, the One, the Dominator. Respond, oh angels, obedient and hurried to the names of the Lord of the worlds. "
Paragraph on the Letter ALIF
You must know, oh brother, Allah lead us to the right thing, that the letter alif has a magic square related to the element of air, its planet is Mars and its servant (jādim) is al-Ahmar, and it is a very effective letter, and if it multiplies its numerical value by itself, it becomes visible Obedience, because it is the alif is the limit of the units. And you must know that this noble letter has power over the disposition of the rest of the letters, because she is like the father: she tries to understand.
And as for the peculiar virtues (jawāss) of alif, if you want to use it for love, write it
as we have explained to you previously but do so in a benefic manner, and permute the letters of the name of the person or object of the work with the letters of the magic square, it will be better and more powerful in the desired effects. This is the invocation:
"I conjure you, O Samsamā'īl, your subordinates and your helpers of the higher and lower spheres, and the subordinates of the letter alif all together, for I conjure you to listen and obey, and to that stimulate and incite the desire of So and so. By the power by which I conjure you, by the power of the letter alif and the secrets that God made descend in it, which not known by anyone except the highest Gnostics, and by the power of the arrangement of the letters (abŷad) and the peculiar virtues that are in them, so that you respond obediently in that for which that I invoke you and submissive to that by which I conjure you".
Try these operations and actions that agree, and you will prosper, God willing, exalted be! And this is the magic square of the letter alif, whose secret and virtue is known among the wise. If you want to use it for the work of the disturbance, then do as we have indicated, and you will achieve your goal, because God tells the truth and He shows the way.
On the Lunar Mansions and their Spiritual Powers in Relation to the Letters
THE SECOND LUNAR MANSION is Al-Butain to which corresponds the letter bā'. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends through her by order of Allah exalted be, a spiritual power that is suitable for stilling anger and what was mentioned in the previous Mansion. When the Moon is in the 2nd Mansion is an appropriate time to take medicine, but the powerful, the inhabitants of the earth and their rulers are disturbed. This is because it is in the second decan (waŷh) of Aries, which belongs to the Sun, and the exaltation of the sun is in its sixth degree in April with the Sun auguring well, except for his nature which like Mars is hot and dry. Because the Sun indicates good and his dignity in this decan, this Mansion causes one to obtain the acceptance and the good reception of kings and causes them to give you what you want from them and do what you and your needs will be met. The Moon in this Mansions works for love affairs, for the acceptance and the attraction of hearts, and for accomplishing what is desired. It is also appropriate to carry out works related to divine Wisdom, of the golden elixirs and their preparation.
THE THIRD LUNAR MANSION is al- Thurayyā and corresponds to the letter ŷīm. When the Moon is in this Mansion, by the decree of Allah, exalted be He, there descends a spiritual power of heat and humidity, which augurs well for traveling, frequenting illustrious people and visiting notables, the lords of the Earth and the people of science. This is because al-Thuurayyā is composed of a multitude of stars, and therefore meeting with what we have mentioned is good. It also has a sublime magical square that should be made when the Moon is in this Mansion. Carry the magic square when you visit the powerful, and you will get what you want from them, and they will appreciate you, they will comply with their desires and not deny what you want and ask for. By virtue of this Mansion Abū Ŷa'far al-Barmakī had the favor of Caliph Harun al-Rašīd and got what he wanted from him. And it will be arranged in this way as you see, try to understand and prosper, Allah willing, exalted be!
THE FOURTH LUNAR MANSION is al-Dabarān and has the letter dāl. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of evil in which are performed works of corruption and disturbance.
THE FIFTH LUNAR MANSION is al-Haq'a and has the letter hā'. When the moon is in it, there descends a mixed spiritual power of intermediate agitation. Do in it works of good and some of the opposite.
THE SIXTH LUNAR MANSION is al-Han'a and has the letter wāw. It is an auspicious Mansion that it is appropriate for friendship and reconciliation for those that are in conflict, because when the Moon is in this Mansion a spirit of reconciliation, kindness and happiness descends from it.
THE SEVENTH LUNAR MANSION is the mansion of al-Dhirā and has the letter zay. When the Moon in this Mansion, a spirit descends that is propitious for the preparation of medicines. And when the Moon is in this Mansion the mystics are inspired in their spiritual retreats, and whoever meditates while in this Mansion, a secret of the angelic world (Malakūt) is revealed to him. It is good for the exercise of asceticism and the search for Truth, and it is appropriate for all works.
THE EIGHTH LUNAR MANSION is al-Nathra and has the letter hā ', When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends from it an evil spirit, creating corruption.
NINTH MANSION LUNAR is al-Tarf and has the letter tā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion, a spirit descends whose effect is malignant as in the previous case.
THE TENTH MANSION is al-Ŷabha and has the letter yā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends from it a spirit of mixed good and evil.
THE ELEVENTH MANSION is al-Zubra and has the letter kāf. When the Moon is in this Mansion descends from a spirit of good which increases possessions and provides what is needed when asked and under which you can work what is convenient to it.
THE TWELFTH MANSION is al-Sarfa and has the letter lām. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil under which you can work what is convenient to it.
THE THIRTEEN MANSION is the mansion of al-'Awwā ' and has the letter mīm. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil under which you can only travel by sea, nothing more.
THE FOURTEENTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Simāk and has the letter nūn. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit that is not conducive to good, so do not do anything in it at all.
THE FIFTEENTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Gafr and has the letter sīn. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit propitious for all earthly activities and related to the Other life, so do with it what as you wish and your work will succeed.
THE SIXTEEN MANSION is al-Zubānā and has the letter 'ayn. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit, by order of Allah, exalted be He, that while it is mixed, you should not provoke anything except good.
THE SEVENTENTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Iklīl and has the letter fā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit that is not destined for the works of good, so if you wish to be successful only attempt matters that are appropriate to it.
THE EIGHTEENTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Qalb and has the letter sād. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit that assists good actions.
THE NINETEEN MANSION is the mansion of al-Šawla and has the letter qāf. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil under which no initiative should be taken concerning earthly needs.
THE TWENTIETH MANSION is the mansion of al-Na'ā'īm and has the letter rā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil, which manifests itself by quieting hearts and making souls happy, and which is good for everything related to earthly affairs as well as those of the Hereafter.
THE TWENTY FIRST MANSION is the mansion of al-Balda and has the letter šīn. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil that is not destined for good, so no you can do no good in it.
THE TWENTY-SECOND MANSION is the mansion of Sa'd al-Dhäbi and has the letter tâ '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit, by the command of Allah, exalted be He, of mixed good and evil that is not appropriate for any earthly affairs, nor is it profitable to move about in it.
THE TWENTY-THIRD MANSION is the mansion of Sa'd Bula and has the letter tā'. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil that is not appropriate for anything, nor is it profitable to move, but neither is it harmful.
THE TWENTY-FOURTH MANSION is the mansion of Sa'd al-Su'ūd and has the letter jā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of good, approprite for travel and of a balanced nature. Do what you want in it.
THE TWENTY-FIFTH MANSION is the mansion of Sa'd al-Ajbiya and has the letter dāl. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit auspicious for all benign works, for harmony, love and affection.
THE TWENTY-SIXTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Farg al-Muqaddam and has the letter dād. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of good fortune, destined to all works of good. Do in it works for the good you want.
THE TWENTY-SEVENTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Farg al-Mu'ajjar and has the letter zā '. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of mixed good and evil, in which you will abstain from making any preparation.
THE TWENTY-EIGHTH MANSION is the mansion of al-Rišā and has letter gayn. When the Moon is in this Mansion there descends a spirit of good, praiseworthy and benign spirituality, which the wise ones devott to the study of the sciences. In it the prayer is attended and devotional works are prosperous.
So observe, my brother, the powers that Allah, exalted be He, erected in the letters. Since it is from the letters that the word of Allah is constituted, exalted be He, and through them the Names of Allah are recognized, exalted be He!, and through them His speech is understood, for the meaning that resides within them descends through the spirits of the Lunar Mansions. And just as in the sublime Qur'an there are verses of mercy and verses of punishment, mercy has benign angels to provide mercy to the virtuous one, and the ayahs of punishment correspond to nefarious angels for one who is tormented by them. There are also executing verses of the promise and the threat, and they are those that we have designated as the mixed spirituality, because it only concerns the essence of man, since there is no defect in the essence of the angels because they are a pure good.
In man also resides a pure good, which is the faith that is in him, but there is also a pure evil, because he is a sinner; and there is a mixed good, which is the believing sinner, of whom Allah said, exalted be He: " And [there are] others who have acknowledged their sins. They had mixed a righteous deed with another that was bad. Perhaps Allah will turn to them in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." Noble Quran, Al-Tawbah, 9:102.
These are the secrets in each letter as it turns through the cycles of the Moon and the dispositions of the stars until the time of their appearance and manifestation in each lunar Mansion with each spirit and each letter lying hidden in the orbit of the Moon until the last of the lunar Mansions and the last of the letters with the last spirit manifest auspiciously or inauspiciously. And were it not for the distinction of the letters through this celestial cycle men would not recognize the causes of their happiness that come from the auspicious [letters and spirits] nor the causes of their misfortune from the nefarious [letters and spirits] nor the causes of things of mixed good and evil and their source in the mixed spirits, for all of this is poured into the spirit of man.
Since the lunar Mansions are scattered among the twelve Zodiacal constellations their hidden meaning manifests through twelve letters in six syllables, and they are the letters of Lā 'ilāh illā Allāh (there is no god but Allah) in this way: lām, alif, alif, lām hā' , alif, lām, alif, alif, lām, lām, hā '. And they are twelve letters according to the number of the twelve zodiacal constellations, since they are erected on each zodiacal sign. And since between the zodiacal constellations there are fixed signs (ābit) and there are mutable [common] signs (munqalib), because also among these twelve letters there are fixed ones and there are some that are mutable, because the affirmation is fixed, while the negation makes a transit from existence to the nonexistence from which it comes. And the sphere of the Moon participates in the circular mystery of these letters, because the Moon is closer to the earth than the other planets and the letters are closer to us than the Moon, because they are inculcated in the nature of each man, and we have already mentioned the letters that correspond to each lunar Mansion so we will not repeat them. Each thing increases with the growth of the Moon and decreases with her decline, due to the authority of her position and the knowledge of your degree, do you not see how the darkness and its opposite increases?
And since Allah, exalted be He, deposited on the seven planets, which are the Sun, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury-, the secret of the good guide (al-ihtidā '), according to His saying, exalted be He!: "He gave you the stars to guide you in the darkness of the earth and the sea" Noble Quran, Al-Anam, 6:97, because in them also resides the secret of the Designation (al-ŷa'l), which is a feature of Omnipotence, because among His most beautiful names are 'Who designates' (al-Ŷā'il), according to His saying, exalted be! "Designate as messengers to the angels" Noble Quran, Fatir, 35:1, and His saying, exalted be! "I will appoint a vicar on earth" Noble Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:30. So the virtues of these seven planets are taken from the virtues of the occult syllables in Lā 'ilāh illā Allāh, for they derive from these sacred divine entities
First, let me repeat my initial Commentary introduction as follows: Since I am not even fluent in Arabic, let alone a master of عِلْم الْحُرُوف Ilm al-Hurūf, the esoteric science of Arabic letters, there is much in the Shams Al-Ma'arif that is a mystery to me. Nevertheless, the light of wisdom shines very clearly through it. A basic component of the science of letters is the fact that in Arabic, the letters denote numbers and thus can be used numerologically. Many complex number calculations and letter correspondences are used. The key insight that is invisible to modern materialists is that this is not a symbolic system, rather there are fundamental underlying spiritual realities that the letters embody and are intiminately connected to. For Sufis versed in this art the realization dawns that the One has manifested reality and continues to sustain and control it through the divine letters and words. Thus the written symbols and spoken sounds that we take as words and letters are only a shadow of these divine letters and words. As it says in the Noble Quran, "When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is." Noble Quran, Surah 3 Ali-Imran, verse 47. The saying here is the divine manifestation of the appropriate name, i.e. its letters and words. These names, these interrelationships can therefore be used magically, but their true knowledge brings gnosis, direct awareness of reality and the One.
The correspondence of the 28 Mansions of the Moon and the 28 Arabic letters has made the Mansions an important astrological correspondence in the Ilm al-Hurūf, the esoteric science of Arabic letters. The Mansions are, therefore, a significant component in Sufi cosmology and metaphysics and as we can see from this treatise, an important focus of contemplation and meditation. Seeing their ordered cycles, contemplating their interactions, both with the higher spiritual worlds and lower sublunary realm, we can better understand the structure of reality. But this knowledge is not merely symbolic. Understanding the nature of the individual Mansions, we can work with spiritual and magical techniques to produce spiritual and material effects. The first section on the letter alif is a good example. Note that since this is malefic I have not given complete or useable instructions for the creation of the magic square of alif for vengeance. One would be wise, instead of vengeance, if when the Moon was in the 1st Mansion, one followed the Shams' advice to be calm and do zikr because the natural effect of this Mansion is constriction, heat and anger.
It's interesting to see that the invocations for the alif talismans in the Shams al-Ma'arif seem very familiar, for vegeance calling on Mars and delineating his fiery nature and using appropriate names of Allah. Alif as a love talisman focuses more on the power of alif itself and even on the alphabetical order (abjad) of the letters, which reflecting an underlying spiritual order of course has spiritual and practical magical power. This is a far cry from the atheistic/materialist view which sees alphabetical order as merely conventional, created by humans and changeable by them, merely an arbitrary, but convenient arrangement.
I liked the description of the 3rd Mansion, definitely one of my favorite Mansions! Shams advises to carry the 3rd Mansion talisman/magic square for favor from the powerful, particularly if you carry it with you when you see them. It attributes the success of Abū Ŷa'far al-Barmakī with Caliph Harun al-Rašīd to a 3rd Mansion talisman. This is very interesting! The Caliph Harun al-Rašīd has an almost mythological status, al-Rasid means the "Just" or the "Rightly Guided". The Barmecides are also very interesting, being originally hereditary Buddhist leaders in Balkh, one of the Silk Road cities, that became viziers (prime ministers) for the Abbasid Caliphs like Harun al-Rašīd, thus, according to the Shams testifying to the potency of the talisman/magic square of the 3rd Mansion.
I was also very pleased with the Shams on the 7th Mansion, as it says that when the Moon is in the 7th Mansion, "...the mystics are inspired in their spiritual retreats, and whoever meditates while in this Mansion, a secret of the angelic world (Malakūt) is revealed to him. It is good for the exercise of asceticism and the search for Truth." It's worth going into a little more detail on Malakūt as in Sufi cosmology this is one of the worlds, we moderns might call it a dimension. It is an imaginal world, where the spiritual takes on form, and the material keeps its form but loses its weight and substantiality. Malakūt is considered to be a higher or rather more spiritual realm than the Alam al-Mithal which is the imaginal world closest to the material, accessed in dreams and visions. I've always been quite drawn to the 7th Mansion and see now how appropriate the Picatrix Bk IV, chapter 9 image of a man praying is.
I was particularly struck by the discussion of the cycles of the 28 letters through the 28 Mansions of the Moon. See the powers of the dvine letters, says the Shams, since through them the Names of Allah are recognized and understood, and this meaning descends through the Mansions of the Moon. The Mansion spirits are compared to benign angels, bringing good and angels of punishment, not in themselves evil, necessary in the divine structure of reality. The discusion of that humanity contains good, evil and a admixture of both, while the angels are only good, puts me in mind of the Sufi view of the Insan al-Kamil the perfect man, who is the archetype of humanity and the perfect microcosm, containing all that exists in all the worlds and dimensions of the Macrocosm.
Finally the Shams using letters integrates the Mansions with the 7 planets, through the expression of divine unity, Lā 'ilāh illā Allāh (there is no god but Allah) again pointing to the incredible spiritual order of the Cosmos, that ultimately derives from the One. Traditional astrology is thereby revealed, not just as a practical technique, which it most certainly is, but as a key component of cosmic reality. The Shams al-Ma'arif thereby revealing breathtaking vistas of the esoteric mysteries even if, we see these as lightning flashes in the darkness of our ignorance, itself a result of imagined separation from the One.