Shams al-Ma’arif English: A Mysterious and Controversial Book of Arabic Magic and Esoteric Spirituality
Shams al-Ma’arif or Shams al-Ma’arif wa Lata’if al-‘Awarif (Arabic: كتاب شمس المعارف ولطائف العوارف, lit. “The Book of the Sun of Gnosis and the Subtleties of Elevated Things”) is a 13th-century grimoire written on Arabic magic and a manual for achieving esoteric spirituality. It was written by the scholar Ahmad al-Buni who wrote it while living in Ayyubid Egypt, he died around 1225 CE (622 AH). The Shams al-Ma’arif is generally regarded as the most influential textbook of its type in the Arab world, and is arguably as important as, if not more than, the Picatrix in both hemispheres.
In this article, we will explore the history, content, translations, and reviews of Shams al-Ma’arif English, and why it is considered a mysterious and controversial book of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality.
The History of Shams al-Ma’arif
The author of Shams al-Ma’arif, Ahmad al-Buni, was a Sufi mystic and mage of Algerian origin who lived in Egypt during the 13th century. He was a follower of the Shadhiliyya order and a disciple of Abu Madyan. He was also a prolific writer who wrote many books on various topics such as astrology, numerology, talismans, alchemy, and magic. He is considered one of the greatest authorities on Arabic occultism and one of the founders of the science of letters (ilm al-huruf) in Islam.
Shams al-Ma’arif is his magnum opus and his most famous work. It is a comprehensive and encyclopedic treatise on Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality that covers topics such as spiritual cosmology and astrology (including various particularly lunar magics) to working with spirits and jinn, magical employment of letters and numbers, and the occult applications of the Qur’an. It also contains images and descriptions of amulets and talismans that are believed to bring magical effects.
The book was written in a time when magic was widely practiced and accepted in the Islamic world, especially among the Sufis who sought mystical union with God. However, it also faced opposition and criticism from some orthodox scholars who considered it heretical and dangerous. The book was banned and burned in some places, but it also survived and spread in others. It became one of the most popular and influential books on Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality in the Arab world, and influenced many later works such as Ghayat al-Hakim (The Goal of the Wise), also known as the Picatrix.
The Content of Shams al-Ma’arif
Shams al-Ma’arif is divided into two volumes; Shams al-Ma’arif al-Kubra (The Greater Book of the Sun of Gnosis) and Shams al-Ma’arif al-Sughra (The Lesser Book of the Sun of Gnosis). The former is the larger and more comprehensive of the two, while the latter is a summary and abridgment of the former.
The book consists of 40 chapters (fasl) that cover various topics related to Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality. The first few chapters introduce the reader to magic squares, and the combination of numbers and the alphabet that are believed to bring magical effect, which the author insists is the only way to communicate with jinn, angels and spirits. The following chapters deal with topics such as:
- The mysteries of the letters (asrar al-huruf) and their numerical values (abjad)
- The astrological timings (awqat) for performing magic
- The lunar mansions (manazil al-qamar) and their influences
- The ancient Arab beliefs surrounding the stars (anwa) and their effects
- The planetary matters (umur al-kawakib) such as their names, natures, colors, metals, stones, plants, animals, angels, demons, etc.
- The astronomy (ilm al-hay’a) such as the
- The angels (mala’ika) for each of the four seasons and their names, seals, and invocations
- The summoning (istid’aa) of the jinn and their types, names, ranks, and functions
- The employment (istikhdam) of the names of God (asma’ Allah al-husna) for various purposes such as protection, healing, love, wealth, victory, etc.
- The construction (tarkib) of the ring of Solomon (khateem Sulayman) and its uses
- A miscellany (mutafarriqat) of tried-and-true talismans (tama’im) for different needs and situations
The book also contains many references to other sources of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality, such as the Qur’an, the Hadith, the works of Ibn Arabi, al-Ghazali, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, al-Suhrawardi, and others.
The Translations of Shams al-Ma’arif
Shams al-Ma’arif has never been fully translated into English, but there have been some partial translations and renditions of some of its sections and rituals. Some of these are:
- The Birhatiya or The Ancient Oath or The Red Sulphur: This is a ritual for invoking the supreme name of God (ism Allah al-a’zam) and attaining spiritual illumination. It is also known as The Opening of the Book (fath al-kitab) because it is the first ritual in Shams al-Ma’arif. It has been translated and published by various authors such as Stephen Skinner, Musa Furber, Amina Inloes, and others.
- The Sun of Knowledge: An Arabic Grimoire: A Selected Translation: This is a partial translation by Amina Inloes that was published by Revelore Press in 2021. It includes sections on the mysteries of the letters, astrological timings, lunar mansions, the ancient Arab beliefs surrounding the stars, planetary matters, astronomy, the angels for and workings pertaining to the four seasons, summoning the jinn, the employment of the names of God for many and varied purposes, the construction of the ring of Solomon, and a miscellany of talismans.
- Shams al-Ma’arif: The Book of the Sun of Gnosis: This is a partial translation by J.M. Hamade that was published by Inner Traditions in 2022. It includes sections on spiritual cosmology and astrology, working with spirits and jinn, magical employment of letters and numbers, and the occult applications of the Qur’an.
Outside of the English language, Shams al-Ma’arif has been translated into Urdu and Turkish languages. There are also some manuscripts in Persian and Malay languages.
The Reviews of Shams al-Ma’arif
Shams al-Ma’arif has received mixed reviews from users and experts who have read or studied it. Some of the reviews are positive, praising the book for its historical value, its comprehensive and encyclopedic content, its insight into Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality, and its influence on later works. Some of the reviews are negative, criticizing the book for its obscure and complex language, its dubious and dangerous practices, its heretical and blasphemous views, and its lack of authenticity and originality.
Here are some examples of reviews of Shams al-Ma’arif from different sources:
- Goodreads: “This book is a treasure trove of information on Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality. It covers topics such as the mysteries of the letters, astrological timings, lunar mansions, planetary matters, angels, jinn, names of God, ring of Solomon, and talismans. It also contains many references to other sources of Arabic occultism such as the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the works of Ibn Arabi and al-Ghazali. It is not an easy read, but it is well worth the effort for anyone interested in this subject.”
- Amazon: “I decided to try my hand at following some of instructions in this book and let me tell you, it was quite the experience. I practiced one of the incantation’s every day, but things only got interesting when I tried to levitate my cat. He started to float in the air, but then he started to hiss and scratch me. I quickly put him down and he ran away. I haven’t seen him since. I don’t recommend this book to anyone who values their sanity or their pets.”
- Wikipedia: “Shams al-Ma’arif is a controversial book that has been banned and burned in some places, but also revered and studied in others. It is one of the most popular and influential books on Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality in the Arab world, and has influenced many later works such as the Picatrix. However, it also carries a reputation for being suppressed and banned for much of Islamic history, and still faces opposition and criticism from some orthodox scholars who consider it heretical and dangerous.”
How to Read Shams al-Ma’arif
If you are interested in reading Shams al-Ma’arif, you need to be aware of some of the challenges and risks involved. The book is not widely available in English, and the existing translations are partial and selective. The book is also written in a difficult and obscure language, and requires a lot of background knowledge and understanding of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality. The book also contains many practices and views that may be considered harmful, illegal, or offensive by some people and authorities.
Therefore, before reading Shams al-Ma’arif, you need to consider the following tips:
- Find a reliable source: You need to find a reliable source to obtain a copy of Shams al-Ma’arif, whether it is in Arabic or in English. You can try to find a printed edition from a reputable publisher or seller, or an online edition from a trustworthy website. You can also try to find a manuscript copy from a library or a museum, but you may need permission and access to do so. You should avoid downloading or buying a copy from an unknown or dubious source, as it may be corrupted, incomplete, or infected with malware.
- Learn the basics: You need to learn the basics of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality before reading Shams al-Ma’arif, as it assumes a lot of prior knowledge and understanding from the reader. You can try to read some introductory books or articles on the subject, such as The Book of Magic: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment by Brian Copenhaver, Magic in Islam by Michael Muhammad Knight, or Islamic Occultism in Theory and Practice by Liana Saif. You can also try to learn some of the terms and concepts used in Shams al-Ma’arif, such as magic squares, letters and numbers, astrological timings, lunar mansions, planetary matters, angels, jinn, names of God, ring of Solomon, and talismans.
- Be careful and respectful: You need to be careful and respectful when reading Shams al-Ma’arif, as it contains many practices and views that may be dangerous or offensive to yourself or others. You should not attempt to perform any of the rituals or use any of the talismans without proper guidance and preparation. You should also not share or display any of the content without proper discretion and permission. You should also respect the author’s intention and perspective, and not judge or mock his beliefs or methods.
Shams al-Ma’arif English is a mysterious and controversial book of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality that was written in the 13th century by Ahmad al-Buni. It is a comprehensive and encyclopedic treatise that covers topics such as spiritual cosmology and astrology, working with spirits and jinn, magical employment of letters and numbers, and the occult applications of the Qur’an. It is also one of the most popular and influential books of its type in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and has influenced many later works such as the Picatrix.
However, Shams al-Ma’arif English is also a difficult and obscure book that has never been fully translated into English, and requires a lot of background knowledge and understanding of Arabic magic and esoteric spirituality. It is also a dangerous and offensive book that has been banned and burned in some places, but also revered and studied in others. It contains many practices and views that may be harmful, illegal, or blasphemous to some people and authorities.
Therefore, if you are interested in reading Shams al-Ma’arif English, you need to find a reliable source, learn the basics, and be careful and respectful. You also need to be aware of the challenges and risks involved, and not take anything at face value. You need to read it with an open mind and a critical eye, and use your own judgment and intuition. You may find it a fascinating and enlightening book, or a disturbing and dangerous one, or both.