Liana Saif The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy (2015)

The present book explores different mystical and metaphysical ideas related to astrology and magic that fall under a philosophical framework that assigns the living cosmos a hierarchical order of influences that make the mechanics of the cosmos possible. The works studied here are chosen for their inherent worth, but here also for their influence over the developments in Western Occult Philosophy of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. They are termed ‘Arabic’ by virtue of the language the authors wrote the works in, although some of these authors were not themselves Arabs at all. Furthermore, Liana Saif strikes a very insightful balance in that she strives to truly understand this tradition of occult thought from the inside out, as a coherent system of thought from its own vantage point and not in relation to later philosophies.

It must be highlighted that the Arabic treatises explored in this book are of a ‘rational’ character, even if treating of magic and astrology. As Alfred Ayer —who would nonetheless be against notions of magic, said regarding systems of thought— explained in Language, Truth and Logic about philosophy and metaphysis: the only requirement for them to be valid is coherence. From then on, the connection that a system of thought has to ‘reality’ has to do with how its accuracy is gauged, and so how it is applied to achieve any kind of results. In the case of these Arabic influences, “knowledge of resemblances, analogies and sympathies,” played the role of mechanistic causality in these system, even though the system was treated as a living organism in which forces —dynamis, according to Georg Luck— are spirits with volition in a graded hierarchy of beings of descending intellectual power and self-awareness.

Astrology is said to be first of all dependent on a knowledge of astromony. But whereas astronomy attempts only a mathematical calculation of the movements of the heavens, astrology seeks to find causal relations between said movements and the states of beings on our ‘sublunar’ plane (basically, the planet Earth). To this end, many a creative rule of resemblance, sympathy and anipathy is applied, but with the ultimate end of finding a sense, not of feeding superstition. If the conjured explanation is unable to provide a satisfying unifying pattern of ideas with the actual manifest movements, then it is invalid. Furthermore, and most obviously, if within the parameters of the worldview no actual predictions or results are achieved from any presumed astrological knowledge or magical working, these are not supposed to be valid either. It is in this sense that astrology and magic are treated rationally, from its own chosen metaphysical premises.

Liana Saif tells us that explanations based on “causality,” even those that are now deemed “scientific,” do not in any way invalidate interpretations of a spiritual or semiological kind. In this regard, Carl Jung has stressed that human reality lies within phantasia, and neither in the purely physical nor the mental. What this means is that we percieve and act in a world that comes together between the two, and which phantasia eventually follows its own rules and patterns independent yet fed by the upper and lower worlds of the physical and the mental, correspondingly. And so, if a consistency of signs and meanings is achieved from an observation of nature in relation to the human mind and its ability to perceive details, then the efficacy of magic has thereby been attested.

The book itself is pleasant to read in many respects, not least of which is the fluid prose which, while academic in tone, is not bogged down by a lack of style or attention to clarity. What makes the present work powerful and congruent in that respect is that the author uses all modern advantages of systems and knowledge in the service of better understanding and explaining the worldviews and metaphysical propositions of these medieval Arabic thinkers on occult philosophy. It is exciting and fulfulling to read Liana Saif move seemlessly into the mentality of medieval occult thought with full attention and in an apparent “inner comprehension,” even as if she held a stake in this alternate “world,” only to then slide out and provide respectful commentary in the light of modern academic research.

“…the natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and clear to us and proceed towards those which are clear and more knowable by nature.”

—Aristotle, Physics

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17 thoughts on “Liana Saif The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy (2015)”

  1. DA says:

    Great book – nice to see it reviewed here. I can also attest to its quality having read it earlier this year.

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

      This is of course just an amateur review aiming at introducing and recommending the book in these circles for those worthy enough to catch the importance of the reference.

      There is no pretension here at comprehending everything or being aware of the historiography or other academic technicalities.

      1. henry says:

        It’s amateur allright…

  2. Flying Kites says:

    How do you find this stuff?

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

      By avoiding “popular” literature, “bestsellers,” and other nonsense, and instead looking for solid leads on actual knowledge.

      1. Flying Kites says:

        Gutenberg has a great selection of epic poetry from the ancients. I don’t do much searching though I might fumble around with translations of words, like γνώση, that’s “knowledge” and “gnosis.” Γιγνώσκειν, that’s “gignoskein” or “to know.”

      2. Dispirited says:

        It is nice to see your contributions on this site D.A.R.G. The best way to approach these topics is, as you said, to avoid popular bestsellers, which could be entertaining to some but do not provide any useful information, and even worse, can further confuse the public. Looking forward to reading more of your articles.

  3. Nietzsche says:

    Only those who lack power in this world seek out another… whether via the left or the right hand path. It matters not.

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

      Very well said. Those who seek power in “another world” are often deluded.

      This is why treatises such as these philosophical occult works are so great: they are all about understanding the power of this world, and drawing all strings together.

      1. Nietzsche says:

        “Carl Jung has stressed that human reality lies within phantasia, and neither in the purely physical nor the mental”

        What is this ‘phantasia’ – this realm ‘neither in the physical nor mental(?! this is part of the physical world, too)’ – if not other-worldly…

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

          Not “the physical” as you would term it.
          Of course, it is reasonable that ultimately everything is “in the physical,” but there are serious problems with that definition that make it prone to oversimplification.

          Besides, I do not know what you mean by “other-worldly”.
          I am certainly not referring to anything I would understand as such.

          1. Nietzsche says:

            Ok, but you’ve just told me what ‘Phantasia” is NOT.

            I challenge you to tell me what it IS.

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

              Here you go, since you are lazy, although obviously your mundane character is the biggest obstacle to understanding:

              Keyword: “Phantasy”
              In: Carl Jung, Psychological Types, pp. 69-83

              Will you sensitively read all 14 pages, though?

              1. Nietzsche says:

                I asked you to explain it to me.

                You purport to be a writer, and you were pushing Jung in your article.

                Please do not shift the burden on me to make your ideas clear.

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

                  The idea is not mine, it is Jung’s.
                  And so I am giving you my reference.

                  If you are too lazy to read and study proper sources as they are clearly provided to you, then there is nothing to talk about here.

                  1. Nietzsche says:

                    Why would one bother to read 14 pages trying to push the idea that “Human reality lies…neither in the purely physical nor the mental”?

                    If I told you to read 14 pages trying to push the idea that 1+1=78, I would not expect anything but refusal.

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

                      Why would one bother, indeed.

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