“I am the Stone” – Imam Ali (as)
The idea of the Homunculus, a tiny artifically created human, goes back to Egypt, Greek and Roman Antiquity and Aristotle. His theories of reproduction lead his followers to believe in the possibility of creating tiny humans without sexual intercourse between men and women. Artistotle attributed to male semen the role of creating form and life and to the female womb to provide the vessel. Thus, in Aristotle’s theory the major share of reproduction was due to the agency of the male semen. For Aristotle and his followers it seemed reasonable, that any kind of fertile vessel could replace the female womb to create new humans. Further it would also avoid the creation of more females, as the conception of females, according to Aristotle, was an accidental result of a surplus in purtrefied matter of the female womb. Too much menstrual blood (purtrefied matter) – in his theory – creates inferior female babies.
Aristotle mainly came to these conclusions by his observations of corpses and decaying matter. An example of this line of thinking can be also found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Bees come from rotting cattle, wasps from horses, scorpions from crab shells, snakes from decomposing spinals cords, and perhaps mice from slime”. The types of creatures allegedly produced from the corpses and bodies of animals and from the ground where seemingly connected to the putrified material provided. The understanding of the details of reproduction in animals, insects and humans where not yet understood and hence misinterpreted. However, many occult recipes started to appear over time, that claimed to enable the creation of animals and humans from decayed matter.
European magicians and alchemists like Paracelus picked up on the creation of the Homunuclus, the artificial man, who had to be created with male semen, put into a vessel for a prescribed number of days, and fed occassionally with some blood. Towards the end of this period it was said, that the ethereal outline of this new man would appear. It was smaller then a natural man, but it was supposed to possess mighty powers and abilties because it was made from human (male) will power, without the involvement of women and without all the other bothersome natural processes of procreation and life. This Homunculus was supposed to know all kinds of mysteries and all kinds of arcance secrets. Attempts to create an Homonculus became so wide spread in Europe that the Catholic church eventually stepped in and banned the practice. The origins of these recipes misleading the magicans of Europe and annoying the Catholic church can be traced back to the Islamic world, that took over certain ideas from Antiquity and Aristotle, in particular also the idea of the Homunculus, but transformed them into something wise and in parts also very funny.
An allegorical tale describing a process of creating an Homunculus was written down by the famous Persian medicus and Islamic scholar Avicenna. The story, written in Arabic, describes the ancient King Harmanus who wanted a male heir. His chief advisor told him to abstain from sexual intercourse with women and to create an Homunculus instead. He told the King, that all that was needed, was the sperm of the King which would be put into a Mandragora (Mandragora officinarum, contains hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids and the shape of their roots often resembles human figures), and apply an alchemical technique known by the King’s advisor, whose name was Qualiqulas. After some hesitation the King agrees and a beautiful boy is created which the king names Salaman. This boy however falls madly in love with the girl Absala that is really his foster mother and runs away with her. When they are eventually captured they both attempt suicide, but the boy survives. Qualiquals the advisor then promises to the boy to raise the spirit of the girl, after the boy spends 40 days with him in a cave to meditate. Instead of the girl however, the spirit of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love appears. After her appearance the boy is ready to take over the father’s kingdom.
The 20th century scholar and psycho-analyst Carl Jung, who was deeply interested in mystical themes and shared human archetypes, made the successful (and obvious) observation that the idea of the Homunculus may be nothing else but a disguised reference to the famous alchemical Philosopher’s Stone.
Tawkin – The Alchemical Process to Create a Better Man
In Islamic alchemy, the creation of the Homonculus (the Philosophers Stone) is called Takwin (Arabic: تكوين). European alchemists and occultists, but also later day scholars mis-interpreted Muslim alchemists, most notable Jābir ibn Hayyān , attributing to them the desire to create actual creatures and humans. It is a mistake made by many Western scholars, misinterpreting the Arabic language with it’s many subtleties and the world of Islamic philosophy, Imâmî myths and our methods and rituals.
Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān himself was a Muslim polymath and alchemist who lived approximately 80 years after the Prophet Muhammed (as) in Persia. He is often revered to as the father of early chemistry. His work was spread in Europe under the name “Geber”. It is said that he was a spiritual follower and a companion to Jafar as-Sadiq, the sixth Shia Imam. The French Philosopher Henry Corbin believes that Jabir ibn Hayyan was an Ismaili. Ibn Hayyan’s corpus of work is vast, it spans cosmology, music, medicine, magic, biology, chemical technology, geometry, grammar, metaphysics, logic, along with astrology, and symbolic Imâmî myths. In the Kitab Al-Ahjar (“Book of Stones”) ibn Hayyan describes the process of Tawkin.
The repeated instruction in ibn Hayyān’s “Book of Stones” to leave a Homunulus in a vessel to mature for 40 days reminds the initiate of the spiritual retreat time of Sufis, Ismaili, Shaykhi and Shia Muslims, who go into a so called Halwa for 40 days. There are also many others occassions when the sacred number 40 appears in Islam. All of ibn Hayyān’s alchemical and chemical investigations were theoretically grounded in an elaborate Imâmî Abjad numerical system.The nature and properties of elements was defined through numeric values assigned to the Arabic consonants present in their name, a precursor to the character notation used today. Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān’s influence can be traced throughout the whole historic course of alchemy and chemistry. He laid the actual intellectual ground work to develop the numerical systems in chemistry which are used to this day.
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With thanks to Wahid Azal, my husband, Islamic scholar and Shaykh of the Fatimiyah Sufi Order
Androids and Intelligent Networks in Early Modern Literature and Culture,
Kevin Lagrandeur, Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2013