Ghayat al-Hakim: Book I, Chapter One

The Ghayat al-Hakim, “The Goal of the Wise,” was originally written in Arabic around the year 1000 C.E. and made famous throughout Europe by its Latin translation titled Picatrix. The importance of the text is paramount to those who would inquire into the true roots of not only modern occultism of the European lineage, but even of Western mysticism (and hence also theology) as a whole —if the esoteric roots of propagandistic exotericism are sought. While most English editions are based on the different Latin texts, there is an edition presumably translated directly from the original Arabic by Hashem Atallah and edited by William Kiesel. This latter is precisely the edition to which we will be making reference in this brief, amateur reccount of what is presented in the first chapter of Book I.

The first chapter of the Ghayat al-Hakim is an essay dealing concisely and to the point with the subject of knowledge originating in wisdom. All wisdom starts by recognizing the One Being, from whom everything else takes their “truth” and their properties, yet It is not limited by any set of properties nor does It derive Its truth from anywhere else. Wisdom appears to be directly granted by Allah, and which particular conception of wisdom appears to be defined as an insight into the abstract workings of reality. From wisdom stems the ability to obtain knowledge through different kinds of disciplines, also referred to as “arts of wisdom.” The essay ends by stating how philosophers, those seeking knowledge, develop themes with subjects and predicates, and by the use of informational statements that are either true or false.

Of the One Being it is said not only that everything else derives essence, reality and identity from It, as in the emanations that later Jewish and Christian mystics would derive, but also that It is “all-knowing” of these things. More precisely, the One Being is all-knowing of the different ranks of all beings. That there are those who come first and who themselves have no cause, have effects under them. That there are those in the middle who have causes and effects. And finally, that there are the last, who are the end of the chain, having causes but no effects. Interestingly, it is said that these ranks are not fixed, but that the last in this hierarchy of beings may ascend until they reach the first. The ranks serve the mechanics of emanation, by the first being able to understand how order is imparted, and then this understanding moving downwards until all of manifestation accepts it.

Of wisdom it is said that it has three subjective characteristics. The first is that it “grows and never vanishes.” The second that “it chastises and disciplines.” And lastly, that “it will not approach anyone who is not interested in it.” Simple words, and mayhaps a bit quaint, but they are as an open book to read for those who want to gain a basic yet heartfelt understanding of how to start to think about things. To seek wisdom, “is an obligation, as well as a virtue.” From here, knowledge only comes as a conclusion from work inspired or motivated by wisdom, which is itself obtained only as grace from the Allah, to whom all things are subject. We can therefore extrapolate that it is inspiration as fuel of the will comes from an holistic awareness of a reality in which we are contained, and into which we only gain insight by the adoption of a higher view, and an openess to the numinous. That it is clearly stated that Allah is also able to visit ruin upon any one It wishes, is quite clearly the sinisterly in this un-stated, and only apparent dichotomy.

“I have only created djinn and men so that they may serve me.”

“And not I have created the djinn and the mankind except that they worship Me.”

—Sura 51, verse 56

Knowledge is consequently obtained through the previously mentioned arts of wisdom. These arts are said to be religious, natural, theological or logical and analytical. The arts are obviously philosophical in character, but they are not only different lines of inquiry, but rather different “methods.” The religious art includes not only “revelation” (what can be glimpsed from scripture), but the practice of asceticism, and the study of jurisprudence, and hence of proper human behavior, relations and ethics. The natural art includes observations of the celestial (astronomy and astrology?), the world and the universe. The latter classification revealingly includes the study of evil as part of the natural art. It is interesting that what is here called the theological art is not confounded, as the Christians do to this day, with philosophy proper itself, and is rather abscribed to the “knowledge of the self and Creator”—perhaps what we today would consider Jungian psychology. Finally, and apparently as a fourth level of concrete understanding, comes the logical and the analytical, through which clear and unequivocal statements and derivations are made in the development of ideas.

Thus comes to an end the first chapter of Book I of the Ghayat al-Hakim, The Goal of the Wise.

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23 thoughts on “Ghayat al-Hakim: Book I, Chapter One

  1. Flying Kites says:

    Salvation is deception.

    1. bloodypulp says:

      salvation is a tool, but it is also true that you can’t cut with a hammer.

    2. D.A.R.G. says:

      And what does this have to do with anything written here?

    3. Krabapple says:

      This term is really ‘blanket’ when in reality there are a lot of subtleties on exactly what ‘salvation’ might mean. Of course this might appear to be all ‘deception’ anyway.

      In the case you are seemingly identifying it would be the idea of claiming “I’m saved!”. Salvation in the monotheistic religions is a more theo-metaphysical sort of cosmological force stemming from a given event which resolves the poem of damnation (Christianity is THE soteriological religion in this sense). It is deception insofar as people blind themselves into thinking they are saved as a way of servicing parts of their ego IE “I’m saved and that means I can impress what I believe on other people owing to my insecurity” or “Now I don’t have to put effort into working on other parts of myself because I’m saved.”

      In other words, these ‘faulty interpretations’ are phenomena clearly attested to in neurotic people- a big chunk of modern life itself. “Salvation” is probably a very easy way of getting out of dealing with real problems- and thus you are correct in that capacity.

      But if we start getting into what salvation implies about the nature of humankind and so forth we start to see a picture of mankind as ‘lost’- ie the common root of all Abrahamic religions in Adam and Eve as the origin of The Fall. This concept/picture is a very multifaceted one.

  2. DA says:

    This version is shit.

    citation: me, one of maybe 10 Picatrix scholars in the world.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      So far, it was intelligible and insightful in my opinion.
      Though it is entirely possible that it is inaccurate and that it might miss some of the “glory” of the original document.

      Reading Liana Saif’s Arabic Influences On Early Modern Occult Philosophy.
      I read that she is working on a translation of the Ghayat al-Hakim; directly from the Arabic, I presume.

      1. DA says:

        The problem with it is just that it’s one book our of four – I don’t read Arabic so I can’t exactly attest to the quality of the work, I just know it’s incomplete.

        I know Liana personally and I think her edition will be excellent (her book is great by the way – it helps to soften the overemphasis on ‘paganism’ and ‘neoplatonism’ in the European Renaissance, and highlights the quasi-mechanistic contribution of Abu Mashar and Alkindi and their integration of theories of rays).

        We translated a scholarly edition of the Latin version, and that’s coming out in the first quarter of 2019. Took us six years, which is how long it took Al-Qurtubi to write the damn thing.

        Anyhow, it was a pretty big shock to find an article on Picatrix here… I’ve been reading DLA since I was 12 or something… Cheers!

        1. D.A.R.G. says:

          Actually, the four books are translated in the edition mentioned here.

          You know her? And here I was just wondering if I would ever have the opportunity to contact her.
          Although I would not want it to be through someone who presents himself in the way you have.

          The problem with it is just that it’s one book our of four – I don’t read Arabic so I can’t exactly attest to the quality of the work, I just know it’s incomplete.

          Based on this, which is incorrect, you called the work “shit”?
          This also seems in line with the persona you project on that twitter account.

          1. DA says:

            This is, the effort behind my comments is commensurate with the rest of the quality of comments here.

            Having done a bit more digging on this edition, I see that you are correct in that it’s the full edition – it was just broken up into two publications, Vol 1 in 2002 and Vol 2 in 2008. There was just no way the one book was a full edition unless the script was microscopic since it’s a nearly 400 page book in Pingree’s Latin edition, and that Latin version is truncated relative to the Arabic.

            That said, there are all sorts of methodological issues looking even just at the cover – for example, “Picatrix” is a title given to the author in the Castilian/Latin world, and that name has nothing to do with the original Arabic Gayat Al Hakim. Moreover, this version tries to make an ahistorical synthesis of the various traditions (that is, there is recourse to the Latin edition, even though it had no bearing on the reception of the Latin text). They are two fairly different texts with different traditions in different parts of the world. The intro is also less than three pages, and focuses on European reception, even though this is not the text that was received in Europe (like the Kracow manuscript, for example). The author and century of the work are also incorrectly identified (it’s 10th century al-Qurtubi, not 11th c. al-Majriti or Pseudo-Al Majriti). If you read German, you’d find the Ritter/Plessner translation to be more rigorous. Both it and the Latin are freely available as PDFs through the Warburg Institute. If this version were up to snuff, I don’t think Liana would be spending a decade putting together a new edition.

            1. D.A.R.G. says:

              This contribution here, sir, enriches the content for all of us.
              Thank you very much.

  3. Gorsplorbadorb says:

    If you’re looking for the “true roots” of Western mysticism, you look at Plotinus, Proclus, Iamblichus, Corpus Hermeticum, etc. Not a text written around 1000 AD. Even most of the texts in the Philokalia are older than this one.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      Grades of development.
      It is not enough to look for the “oldest roots,” because then we can go back to shamans making “magic fire” with a flintstone and worshiping thunder as a primal force.

      Plotinus and Proclus are certainly not the root of Western Mysticism.
      Iamblichus is a gate.

    2. DA says:

      There are no “true roots” of Western mysticism – there is only a continuously ongoing synthesis, and we deal with its surfaces.

      1. pita gyros says:

        still, in the article it says
        ‘as in the emanations that later Jewish and Christian mystics would derive, but also that It is “all-knowing” of these things’
        Plotinus was a number of centuries earlier than pictarix and neither jewish nor christian.
        His version of emanations is certainly not ‘derived’from picatrix.

        1. D.A.R.G. says:

          It seems I may be missing something.
          Who ever said that Plotinus got his version of emanations from Picatrix?

  4. Krabapple says:

    Since I’m in the presence of learned people I’d like to ask a few questions about mysticism in general.

    1.) Was its development spurred on by the intersection of Hellenic thinking with Monotheistic tendencies? Was their ‘baggage’ from the latter from more primordial avenues of thought that were ‘brought out’ by this intersection? Or is this just a given owing to the historic milieu mysticism emerged in?

    2.) Are mystical phenomena capable of receiving satisfying metaphysical definitions/designations? This bugged Kant for example.

    3.) To what extent was Scholastic theology influenced by mysticism and vice-versa (if at all?)

    I apologize if these are half-formed or poor questions.

    1. T. Desecration says:

      >2.) Are mystical phenomena capable of receiving satisfying metaphysical definitions/designations? This bugged Kant for example.

      I too would be curious to hear a response to this. Coincidentally I very recently finally got around to actually reading Kant’s Prolgomena and am about to delve into the Critique of Pure Reason, and questions/thoughts of this nature and their implications have been ruminating through my head all week.

      1. D.A.R.G. says:

        That all seems like a bit short-sighted misgiving.
        Kant was known for being extremely wordy, narrow-minded and having no experience in the world.

        Metaphysical definitions/designations by design are based on nothing tangible.
        So such a definition/designation only needs to be coherent; i.e. logically derivable and non-contradicting from its own chosen premises.
        To be “satisfying,” in the more objective sense of the word, the axioms from which that definition/designation is derived only need to not be in contradiction to known physical laws and phenomena. Here, “known” is a keyword, for it is not defined by what the “secular” (including modern “religions” people) majority believes, but by what is scientifically derived —and not including the speculations experts.

        Mystical phenomena can and have been given satisfying metaphyiscal definitions and designations. You will find those if you read a very rational work of Arabic literature on the subject, like this one. But you actually have to read it and consider it logically, and in terms of its coherence, not what your already established dogma is.

        Or if you like, you can also explore the text The Radical Sinister Philosophy of Anton Long.

        So the answer is: YES.

  5. pita gyros says:

    Nobody said Plotinus derived emanations from Ghayat Al Hakim. I did say the opposite.
    What you may be missing, or not, is the following.
    In your text you introduce the process of ‘deriving (the concept of) emanations’.
    You state that ‘later jewish and christian’ scholars derived the concept of emanations from Ghayat Al-hakim. Mayhaps true. Still, we, as readers, are not informed WHO derived their ideas on emanations from Ghayat, HOW that happened, and, WHY this is important. We are only told that they are (apparently exclusive) jewish and christian. The statement is a little broad, if not vague. Even though, as said before, it may be true.
    Furthermore, we are left in the dark, as to if, when and how, Ghayat al-Hakim ‘derived’ his concept of emanations from possible earlier sources. Or not.
    So it can seem, from the logic of your text, to some, that Ghayat al Hakim is the ‘source’, the ‘root’ or the inventor of the concept of emanations.
    Anyway some music for the masses

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      Those “some” who think that way may want to learn to read and not make up stories in their minds.

    2. DA says:

      Emanations came into the West through Plotinus, on through Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and his Great Chain of Being (which ultimately goes back to Aristotle too). By and large, until the 12th and 13th centuries, Europeans subscribed to an Aristotelian Ex Nihilo model of creation, and this was gradually softened with the introduction of new texts from Jewish and Arabic sources that relied more on Neoplatonic and “gnostic” emanationism. Picatrix was read by Agrippa, Pico Della Mirandola, and most importantly, Marsilio Ficino (proof is in the talismans in his Book III of Three Books on Life), who also is the man responsible for translating both the works of Plato and Plotinus (and Iamblichus, Corpus Hermeticum, etc.). There are three or four separate versions of emanationism mentioned in Picatrix, but chiefly they come from the “Pseudo-Aristotelian Hermetica” which was an Arabic fusion of Neoplatonic emanationism with physicalist theories of rays put together by the “Brotherhood of Purity” in Al Andalus. That said, Europe got emanationism from a whole bunch of sources, but the Picatrix (along with works like the Secret of Secrets, The Zohar, etc.) is definitely one of them, and then this spread into Protestant Europe with Agrippa, Francesco Giorgi, Francesco Patrizi, etc. Picatrix itself gets its emanationism from all sorts of sources, but chiefly late Neoplatonic ones (stuff like The Nabataean/Chaldean Agriculture). All this is important to moderns in so far as it feeds into ideas like “emergent properties,” but it was also an important part of, say, Newton’s studies in optics. Hopefully that answers some questions…

      1. D.A.R.G. says:

        A lot of Aristotelianism in these Arabic writers, right?

      2. pytagiros says:

        Your esoteric exposal did answer some questions. Greetings.

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