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The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at

The Sufis

The influence of the Crusades and their results upon the mind and life of mediæval Europe cannot possibly be exaggerated

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[paragraph continues] The true masters of the Western barbarians in philosophy, science, and many of the arts, were the Arabs, firstly, those of Syria, later, of Spain. Together with their learning they communicated other ideas, far different from those originally contemplated by their pupils. Nevertheless, the connection between their science and their secret creed was so intimate that, in reality, no other result was to be looked for. So much of primitive Gnosticism, before its admixture with Christianity, was based upon Magism, that is, upon astrological ideas, as to make it often difficult to determine whether a Gnostic monument involves a religious notion, or is merely a sidereal talisman. For example, the Decani of the Signs, whose figures, according to Teucer, were commonly worn as amulets, are often to be seen bearing the names inscribed of Michael and other Jewish angels. In the flourishing times of Mahommedanism, before the spread of universal ignorance had established everywhere the dull reign of uninquiring orthodoxy, there existed at its very heart (probably originating in Persia) an esoteric body, styling themselves Sufi, a title evidently derived from the Greek Σοφοί, their predecessors. Now this title appears assumed as equivalent to the previous Γνωστικοί, although with far more arrogance, since these "wise" men claimed the possession of that knowledge of things divine which the Gnostics by their own designation were only "desirous of knowing." Meantime, the tenets they held were precisely those of the old Antitactae, "ordinance-haters," as to the indifference of all things pertaining to the body, and the invalidity of the Jewish moral law (the mere appointment of the Demiurgus), as regarded the regulation of the life of the "Spiritual Man." Just as it is a constant charge of the Fathers against the primitive Gnostics that they outwardly conformed without scruple, in order to escape all annoyance, to the established religion of whatever place they chanced to inhabit, it is equally probable that the Manicheans and other sectaries of Asia, persecuted with like zeal by orthodox Byzantine and Zoroastrian Persian, would gladly shelter themselves under the easy cloak of the true religion of their Arab conquerors, during the two centuries following Justinian's reign, and either save

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their liberty by professing Mahommedanism, or else continue, as tributaries, in the unmolested exercise of their old faith, being confounded by the uninquisitive conqueror under the general name of Infidels* "The sects of Egypt and Syria," says Gibbon, "enjoyed a free toleration under the shadow of the Arabian Caliphs," and therefore may reasonably be supposed to have maintained their peculiar notions and observances down to the time of the Crusades. Of such protracted existence we have the most convincing proof at the present day in the numerous sect, the Mandaites, or Nazarenes of the Shat-el-Arab, and Bassora; veritable Gnostics, holding a creed, the true image of that of Manes, in their 'Book of Adam;' and detested by their Christian and Moslem neighbours alike.

Now, inasmuch as these Sufi were composed exclusively of the learned amongst the Persians and Syrians, at a time when learning signified little else than proficiency in medicine and astrology (the two points that brought the Eastern sages into amicable contact with their barbarous invaders from the West), it is easy to see how the latter may have imbibed the esoteric doctrines simultaneously with the other teaching of those who were their sole instructors in all matters pertaining to science and art. Now the Sufi doctrine was based on that grand idea--one universal creed that could be secretly held under the outward profession of any established religion--taking, in fact, virtually the same view of all religious systems as that in which the philosophers of old had regarded them. Such too had been a striking feature in the Gnostic teaching: the Naaseni, or Ophites, says Hippolytus, boasted in language truly Masonic, "We of all men are the only Christians, standing in the third gate, and anointed with the ineffable unction out of the horn like David, not out of the earthen vessel like Saul, who consorted with the evil spirit of carnal concupiscence." These same genuine Christians at the same time zealously celebrated all the Mysteries of Paganism, affirming that in their higher knowledge they possessed the only key to the one truth locked up under those superstitious ceremonies. And in our day the acknowledgment

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of one universal religion by the Freemasons, as expressed by their requiring from the candidate for admission nothing more than the declaration of his belief in one God, is denounced with pious horror by the bigots of every variety of the Christian scheme.

This recognition of one universal religion in fact pervades all the works of the lights of Mohammedan literature. In the Makamat of Hariri the sermons preached by his hero the Dervish are full of a sentiment more sublime when touching upon things pertaining unto God--a sentiment harmonising infinitely more closely with those of enlightened religious men of our times upon the same subject--in a word, these sermons breathe a spirit in every respect more Christian (to use the modern phrase) than characterises any writings of the actual Christian divines, the contemporaries of the author. * But this is necessarily so, Hariri and Mohammedans like him being guided by the traditions of the old philosophy still secretly maintained amongst them, whilst the spirit of modern Christianity is strongly, though unconsciously, directed by precisely the same influence revived, though under a different name, and professedly contemning its real source.

Again, the greatest of all Mohammedan sovereigns, the Mogul Akbar, was a true Sufi; equally so was his prime minister and historian, Abul Farez. It would be difficult to find in a modern Christian prayer-book, much less in any one composed in his age, an address to the Deity so sublime, so consonant with our present notions, as the invocation opening his Ayeen-Akbari. In all such outpourings of Oriental adoration no allusion whatever to their special lawgiver is to be detected, nothing to betray any distinctive sectarian prejudice; the reader, if unacquainted with the history of the author, would admire, but know not to what creed to adjudge the composition. Akbar, according to his vizier, "made a point of never ridiculing or condemning any form of religion." He had thus, perhaps without knowing it, reverted to the grand and distinguishing feature of the religion of Greece and Rome in their best times that discerned the same great truth, the real basis of universal

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toleration, that all religious systems were but expressions of the same idea,

"By saint, by savage, or by sage."

[paragraph continues] Wherever, in ancient times, the principle of toleration was apparently violated, it was in cases where the rites, by their corruption, had become prejudicial to public welfare, as when the Senate put down the Bacchanalia, or Claudius the Druids in Gaul, on account of their human sacrifices; exactly as hero of Syracuse had made it an article in his treaty with the vanquished Carthaginians, that they should discontinue their burnt-offerings of young children to Melcarth. Hesiod's maxim, Μὴ ἀρρητοῖς μωμεύειν, was that of his race, as well as of the Roman, and the same was the guiding principle of Akbar. From a hint dropped by his panegyrist it would almost appear that the Emperor had imbibed some slight tinge of Zoroastrian doctrine, for he remarks his particular veneration for the element of fire; and again the significant circumstance of his regulating his frequent daily prayers by the position of the sun in the heavens; and, what bears directly upon our subject, his favourite occupation was to converse with the Sufi and the learned of all nations and religions. It sounds also very odd to hear a Mohammedan grandee, like this writer, declaring that amongst the Brahmins were to be found "the most virtuous men upon earth," those very religionists in whom Akbar's successors, like Aurungzeb, could (quite according to our own ideas of what necessarily should have been his feeling) discern nothing but devil-worshippers, whom it was his bounden duty either to convert or exterminate.


415:* The semi-Magian Abdallah and his new Ismaelites have a strong family resemblance to Weishaupt and his illuminati in the last century.

416:* He flourished in the ninth century.

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