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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2017 Vol. 12.1

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Introduction: Characterizing Astrology in the Pre-Modern Islamic World

Shandra Lamaute, Elizabeth Sartell

This brief introduction outlines the purpose behind this particular special issue and collection of articles, and provides a concise overview of each paper and how each relates to the larger themes of the collection. This collection of papers uses the particular case study of medieval astrology as a means to study the broader implications of boundary-work. The papers examine the intersections among science, the occult, and the religious cultures that lived in the medieval Islamic world—including Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. The authors, in various ways, help complicate the categories of magic, science, and religion by looking at how boundaries between these fields were articulated by medieval scholars.

Astrology in Hebrew Texts Before and After Islam

Marla Segol

This article examines the constitution of astrology in four Hebrew works, two written before and two after the emergence of Islam. It argues that there is a significant difference in both form and substance in pre and post-Islamic works. In all cases the works strive to nativize a cosmopolitan tradition, and to integrate partially theorized or decontextualized concepts. The pre-Islamic works use a cosmopolitan model of astrological medicine that they particularize by means of remythologizing and an appeal to experience. The post-Islamic works differ from each other and from the pre-Islamic works in their use of Islamic discourse to authorize their views, and in terms of their relation to earlier texts.

Stars and Saints: The Esotericist Astrology of the Sufi Occultist Aḥmad al-Būnī

Noah Gardiner

The Ifrīqiyan cum Cairene Sufi Aḥmad al-Būnī (d. c. 622/1225) is a key figure in the history of the Islamic occult sciences, particularly with regard to the "science of letters and names" (ʿilm al-ḥurūf wa-l-asmāʾ). This paper examines his lettrist treatise Laṭāʾif al-ishārāt fī al-ḥurūf al-ʿulwīyāt (The Subtleties of the Allusions regarding the Superior Letters) to argue that parts of it amount to an esotericist unveiling of the hidden realities underlying "profane" astrology. Al-Būnī identifies the world-shaping efflux of forces from the celestial spheres with the continuous flow of the letters of God's creative speech, and implies a central role for Sufi saints and adepts in mediating these astral-lettristic radiations. He thereby adds an occult-scientific twist to views deeply embedded in Sufi tradition of the saints as key executors of God's word and will on earth. Al-Būnī's approach to astrology can be seen as part of a transconfessional wave of esotericism in the late-medieval Mediterranean that heralded shifting ideas about the order of nature and the relationship between divine and human agency.

Practicing Astral Magic in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Istanbul: A Treatise on Talismans Attributed to Ibn Kemāl (d. 1534)

A. Tunç Şen

This article examines a particular Ottoman treatise on talismans, written likely in the first half of the sixteenth century against the backdrop of the royal attempts to ward off the bubonic plague. Unlike other well-known examples of the celestial magic lore that enumerate detailed prescriptions and occult methods, this short text rather employs a theoretical approach and discusses at great length the astrological foundations and astronomical requirements of talisman making. The text has intriguingly been attributed to Ibn Kemāl, one of the most prolific and prominent traditional scholars of the time. While more evidence is needed to ascertain its authorship by him, both internal evidence from the text and circumstantial evidence from his other writings as well as the works of his intellectual peers vindicate such ascription. Regardless of the question on the authenticity of its authorship, this short text provides valuable insights into the entangled stories of exact scientific pursuits, magical practice, and royal patronage in the sixteenth-century Ottoman courtly context.

Afterword: Conjuncting Astrology and Lettrism, Islam and Judaism

Matthew Melvin-Koushki

Review Essay

(De)colonizing Early Modern Occult Philosophy

Matthew Melvin-Koushki


Witchcraft in Early Modern Poland, 1500–1800 by Wanda Wyporska (review)

Hans Peter Broedel

The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims: A Medieval Woman Between Demons and Saints by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski (review)

Fabian Alejandro Campagne

The Theatre of the Occult Revival: Alternative Spiritual Performance from 1875 to the Present by Edmund B. Lingan (review)

Christine Ferguson

The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for his Mother by Ulinka Rublack (review)

Alinda Damsma

A History of Science, Magic and Belief: From Medieval to Early Modern Europe by Steven P. Marrone (review)

Ronald Hutton

Dissimulation and Deceit in Early Modern Europe ed. by Miriam Eliav-Feldon and Tamar Herzig (review)

Benedek Láng 

City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity by Dayna S. Kalleres (review)

Mar Marcos

Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation by Jan Machielsen (review)

P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

The Law of Possession: Ritual, Healing, and the Secular State ed. by William S. Sax and Helene Basu (review)

Raquel Romberg 

The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland by Maeve Brigid Callan (review)

Andrew Sneddon