We are proud to present our third article on ancient supernatural Arabic art, history, culture & mythology - All written, researched and translated by Palestinian resident creative Sireen El Araj.
Kitab al-Bulhan (Arabic: كتاب البلهان :, romanized: Kitāb al-Bulhān), or Book of Wonders, or Book of Surprises) is a 14th century Arabic manuscript that was compiled – and possibly illustrated by an obscure man known by the name of Abd al-Hasan Al-Isfahani. Although not much is known about the writer, his intricate manuscript is considered as a classic work in understanding the astrological and dark knowledge prevailing in those times in Iraq and other regions in the Middle East and North Africa. The codex were probably bound together in Baghdad during the reign of Jalayirid Sultan Ahmad (1382-1410), the period of the book’s publication, coincided with the period of witchcraft and sorcery in Europe, and the increase in the number of alchemists, and the development of metaphysics.
This book includes texts on astronomy, astrology, geomancy and a section of full-page illustrated plates dedicated to each discourse topic, (e.g. a folktale, a sign of the zodiac, a prophet, etc.) Above all else, the book contains vital knowledge about jinn, Satanic and Demonic rituals, explained with the help of numerous detailed illustrations which depict many dark concepts. Some believe that the Book of wonders is a work of magic and sorcery, just as it is in the book "Shams al-Ma'arif " which is the most familiar among people, and this may be partially true. However, the value of the book historically lies in its representation of the rare part of popular Folklore and literature pertaining to the occult and parallel worlds at that time. Although many of its paintings are quite mythical, they are characterised by scarcity and strangeness that some historians see a special beauty in them. Such books are banned in many Islamic countries because they contains detailed texts for summoning the jinn, which is a strictly forbidden in the Islamic law.
The writer begins with (In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful) describing himself as the weakest of the servants of God and the most in need of his mercy and forgiveness, then he mentions his name (Abd al-Hasan bin Ahmad ibn Ali Ibn al-Hassan al-Isfahani al-Baghdadi) and then begins to praise God and says (I thank God who created entities and excelled The creatures raised the high heavens and the two earths...)
Here's a gallery of all the artwork included within 'The Book of Wonder', continue reading the article to learn about the history of this supernatural manuscript and gain a unique insight into the fascinating origin stories and different folkloric character types depicted in each of these paintings.
History Of The Manuscript
One of the first challenges that faces scholars when studying the manuscript is properly translating its title. The word kitab كتاب (book) is straightforward but bulhan is an unusual term stemming from the root (b-l-h بله) which According to Lisan Al-Arab means ' Ignoring evil and not doing good to it'. the word ablah, which comes from the same root (b-l-h) means ‘someone who has little knowledge of uncommon things’ When the manuscript was studied in depth for the first time by D. S. Rice in an article on the ‘Seasons and Labours of the Month’, he translated it as ‘The Book of Wellbeing’ stemming from the root (Blahn بلهن ) which means felicity. According to Stefano Carboni: "a more suitable translation of this title is ‘The Book of Surprises’, which would appropriately place this manuscript into the literary body of ʿajab عجب (wonder) literature exemplified by the text of Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazvini who wrote his celebrated work ʿAjaʾib al-makhluqat wa gharaʾib al-mawjudat عجائب المخلوقات وغرائب الموجودات (‘The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existing Things’) in the late-13th century".
The calligrapher, copiest and compiler, ʿAbd al-Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn ʿAli ibn al-Hasan al-Isfahani, whose family came from Isfahan in Iran was a native of Baghdad where he studied the Aristotelic ‘demonstrative’ (burhan) sciences. It seems the Kitab al-Bulhan was commissioned by, or the idea of, Shaykh al-Diya Husayn al-Irbili’—originally of Irbil near Mosul in northern Iraq — who sold it to Haydar ibn al-Hajji ʿAbd al-Karim ibn Muhammad in Dec 1409 - Jan 1410. The original codex comprised a series of treatises, which came apart and when sections were reassembled and some lost, it became jumbled and incoherent. The work includes extracts copied from the Kitab al-mawalid or ‘Book of Nativities’ of the astronomer and neo-Platonist Abu Maʿshar al-Balkhi (787-886 CE) of Balkh (modern-day Mazar-i Sharif) in northern Afghanistan.
In the late 16th century two Turkish copies were made from the original for the two daughters of the Ottoman sultan Murad III (r. 1574–95.), one for Aysha Sultan, (c. 1582), the other for Fatma Sultan. These manuscripts are complete and establish the original order of the treatises of the Kitab al-Bulhan. The codices are now held at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City and the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris". A number of folios are missing in the Kitab al-bulhan and the codex is now bound in random order so that it looks like a jumble of incoherent different treatises. There exist, however, two Turkish copies of the Kitab al-bulhan made at the time the manuscript must have been created in Ottoman Turkey when its pages were still bound in their correct sequence. Consequently, they provide the models for a proper reconstruction of the original codex.
The Djinn Kings
The djinn/jinn are a race of invisible beings in Middle Eastern and Islamic folklore. They are Free-willed creatures just like human beings. Unlike humans however they are supernatural spirits born of smokeless fire long before the creation of humanity and are said to live in tribes and nations with their own rulers. They can present themselves through dreams and are said to be responsible for many illnesses and important life challenges.
The names of the jinn appeared in spiritual books, especially the book Shams al-Maarif, as well as the book “The Source of Fundamentals of Wisdom” these names were Inherited through the ages, and the stories of the jinn and demons have been transmitted through generations to reach us in a terrifying way, Al-Bunni wrote many stories and spiritual experiments in evoking the jinn and methods of dealing with them. At the same time he warned us against the consequences of negligence when reading such incantations because the world of jinn and demons is considered one of the hidden worlds that no one is allowed to dive into and uncover its secrets. Therefore, we find that the books dealing with the jinn or the books of summoning the jinn are often warned about, many spiritual scholars say that one shouldn't dive too deep into the world of jinn, because they believe that they will cause you harm because you invaded their world, and they will not be late.
There are Seven Djinn Kings associated with planets and the days of the week which have a strong relationship with magic. According to Al-Bunni, magic is associated with the planets, as some magicians and some jinn or demons worship the planets and draw close to them based on ancient rituals of worship, that are based on getting close to God through his close intermediaries by worshiping in the temples, which are the seven planets because they are the masterminds of this world. Since the jinns are creatures that have separate worlds, then there must be laws that govern these societies, the king who has power, and authority is supported by a group of ministers that are usually depicted within the frame of the painting and the talismanic symbols needed to exorcise him.
The books of the jinn divide the hidden worlds into three, the upper spiritual world of the jinn, the black underworld and the earth world, which in turn is divided between water, clouds and land. The depictions of the jinns may be fictional, but they combine the descriptions that the people of the region conveyed in their stories and their heritage. In the Kitab al-bulhan a couple of images are missing in this section on the jinns and we can refer to the Ottoman copies in order to reconstruct the full series of the seven ‘Kings of the Jinns'. The jinns of Sunday and Monday, the ‘Golden King’ and the ‘White King’ are missing in the Kitab al-bulhan but we used the Ottoman copy "The Book of Felicity" to trace their name and appearance.
Al-Mudhib (The Golden King)
Al-Mudhib (The Golden King)"المذهب" is the ruler of Sunday and the offspring of the sun goddess Shams, he is a master of alchemy and possesses all secrets of occult knowledge such as the transmutation of dirt into gold and the workings of the sun. This jinn is associated with the sandarus (Arabian sandarac) or whatever incense that is yellow and reddish in color, his corresponding element is Fire, his metal is gold and he is monitored by the angel Ruqiayil. He was named the "golden one" after his blonde horse who has a saddle and a bridle made of pure gold and written on it in his own native language are the glories of his Jinn ancestors.
He is of the Jinn tribe Banu Danair al-Jan Jamlith, a powerful and mighty family known for their wisdom, knowledge, and mastery of the occult craft. Al-Mudhib is one of the kings of the East and was present in the time of King Solomon so he is one of those entrusted with the treasures of the earth and rules over 360 tribes of jinns and has seven palaces that track the movements of the sun. He travels around them every hour to manage each kingdom. He's identifiable here by devouring the snakes. An infernal spirit flanked by two acolytes. Painted in light blue, his head is topped rounded with long ears, and flaming eyes. His head is surrounded by a halo of golden fire, his upper torso flames above his pink body and he is shown wearing large orange pants. On each side of the image there are two talismans which show his seal, one is shown as a six-pointed star-shaped talisman which represents the seal of Solomon and on each triangle of the star a written part of his name without the inclusion of “bin” and another shown as rectangular with his full nicknamed written in the centre.
Al-Abyad (The White King)
The White King (الملك الأبيض ) is the father of the Light, the lord of Monday, the Moon, the color White, the metal Silver and is monitored by the angel Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation in Islam. This jinn king came from the tribe of Marid - this is the oldest jinn tribe. They are the giant kings of the jinn, but still taking a humanoid shape. He is known to be the closest to Satan/iblis in his court. Al-Abyad constantly chased the prophets and tried to seduce them to sin, however, they were protected from him, this was the devil who lured the monk Barsisa into seducing and killing a woman under his charge.
He was an enemy to the Prophet Muhammad and used to appear to him in the image of Gabriel so god had bestowed on the Prophet the necessary knowledge by which he would discern between Gabriel and this devil, who was other than the devil attaché (qarīn) that had submitted (to the Prophet and become a Muslim). Gabriel eventually pushed him away. By this, he was thrust away from Mecca and landed in the furthest parts of India and has been keeping a close eye on him ever since. He appears as an old, wrinkled Djinn as shown on the right with yellowish tanned skin. His shoulders are girdled with a blue stole and he wears orange shorts. He is shown with his knees bent while addresses two demons turned towards him, who listen carefully. The demon with the light pink complexion is seen kneeling, pointing a finger up to his mouth while the other demon, painted in bluish-green, stands behind him. In order to invoke him, one must fast off meat products for 40 days then perform a specific ritual in a special time during the month.
Al-Ahmar (The Red King)
The Red king "الملك الأحمر" of the red planet, Mars, the planet of war, is the lord of Tuesday, his metal is Copper or Red Mercury and he is monitored by the angel Samsama’il. He is one of the leaders of prince Morrah son of Iblis' army. He is a mighty king who has followers, armies, ministers and countless entourage by his side & is distinguished by extraordinary power in terms of physical strength as he has never lost a war in his life. King al-Ahmar has a very serious and nervous nature, as he rarely smiles. This fierce king is known for his thirst for blood so he joins most wars, always carrying his mighty sword and is known for using military tricks on his enemies. The Sabians of Harran gave to the spirit of Mars (Ārīs) the name Lord of the Blind and Mara-Samya, which means the blind (Samya) lord (Mara) in Aramaic, and they call him blind because of his extreme violence and because in his rage he strikes without regard. Interestingly the angel of this planet, Samael, is known as the "Blind One", whose duty is to seal the hearts of those who disbelieve.
The Red King is ruler of the Qarins, the djinn counterpart and companion that each human is assigned. It is said King al ahmar is one of the kings who believed in god and did not rebel like satan and is one of the extremists in religion. The iconography of the Red King is one of the most interesting of this group especially when compared to two illustrations in the Kitab al-Mawalid in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The jinn is depicted in here as a frontal monstrous figure with multiple heads, the only common attribute being the sword in his hand. However, another illustration shows a second jinni called Tarish sitting on a lion and biting the body of a snake. Tarish is not present in the Kitab al-Bulhan nor in the Ottoman copies, but the image of the Red King seems to incorporate his attributes too. Here the talismanic symbols are evident both in the monotonous repetition of individual letters (in this case, the letter ‘ta’), and numbers, and in the so-called ‘spectacle symbols’ originally deriving from the Kabbalah or other mystical and magical traditions.
Barqan The ‘Black King’
Barqan برقان ("Two Lightnings, father of Wonders"), the sorcerer king is the king of Mercury, the lord of Wednesday, the color Blue, the metal Brass and was the lord of the City of Carnelian, and the Castle of Gold, and under his rule were five hill-strongholds, in each five hundred thousand Marids; and he and his tribe worshipped the Fire, not the Omnipotent Sire. Also known as The ‘Black King’, King Barqan is the youngest king of the djinn kings and is distinguished by his remarkable intelligence and cunning in wars, he is known by his extreme wisdom among all the other kings.
He is a very powerful king, both in physical and intellectual strength, always leading in wars and acting on things. As for his normal life, this king is very humble and has a constant, calm smile. He listens to whomever decide to speak to him, even children, he deals with the jinn, large and small, with great respect, this king is a teacher of magic. Some sorcerers are known to invoke him in order to ask for blessings and magic themselves, but it is not recommended. His talisman is elaborate and also his helpers are quite extraordinary. He is seen here in this panel teaching the evil jinn all about magic and how to use it against humans for malevolent purposes.
Shamhurish (Arabic شمهورش ", father of the New Born") is the king of Jupiter (the lord of Thursday, the color Purple, the metal Tin and is monitored by the angel Tzedeqel), He is one of the eldest kings of the jinn & governs matters of law, justice, abundance, and children. Shamhurish is a judge and has an incredible knowledge. He teaches the other kings wisdom, firmness and how to manage their kingdoms and he is the one appointed by all the kings of the jinn to hold the greatest trials where humans and jinn alike are held accountable. His court sessions are very intense that no jinn king would miss it, even Satan himself attends his sessions. Although he is a powerful and mighty king he is merciful & often allows humans to make amends.
Shamhurish is venerated as a saint in some parts of Morocco by many ministers, pashas, and other traditional civil servants. There is a shrine in his honour predating Islamic settlement near the village of Aroumd, the largest village in the valleys beneath the Atlas mountains hollowed out of the ground beneath a massive boulder, which locals have painted white and crowned with green and white flags, surrounded by swarms of crows ”haunted by spirits". According to the Moroccan popular belief: Shamhurish the king of the jinn Kings lives in this place, this shrine considered by many as the “highest authority of the jinn in which disputes between humans and Jinn are resolved. You can tell a trial is happening when thunder and Lightning appear in the sky and many humans would report crowds of whispers and shadowy figures while facing the mighty jinn king. Upon the arrival of Islamic settlers, a Masjid was built next to it, and since then, Sidi Chamharouch subsequently converted, later becoming a Qadi (judge) and expert in Islamic law. We notice in the painting that Shamhūrash is holding a naked child as he is also known as Abū al-Waleed ('Father of the New Born'). This is probably the reason why he is represented with him in his hands, held upside down, although it is unclear whether Shamhurash’s influence over him is positive or negative. The talismanic symbols are complex and include also the hexagon, the ‘Seal [on the ring] of Solomon’ (khatam sulayman) formed by two triangles, one upright and the other upside down, symbolising the entire universe combining the upper and lower spheres. The title specifying he is nasrani (‘Christian’) this is probably before crossing paths with Prophet Muhammad, and converting to islam.
Zawba'ah زوبعة "which means Whirlwind" as he often appears as Whirlwinds ("Father of the Handsome"), the king Zawba'ah is the lord of Friday, Venus the color Green, the metal Iron and is monitored by the angel Anael. He is a very mighty king but cannot fight many wars due to his old age as he is one of the oldest Ruling kings after King Shamhorsh.
Zawba'ah is a four-headed jinnni their names are [Mazer - Tikal - Kummum - Qaswara] his appearance is similar to "div" the monstrous creatures in Iranian, Armenian, Turkic and Albanian mythology. Div have human bodies and animal heads: their eyes are bulging, they have long ears or horns, and often spit flames. Their arms and wrists are encircled by broad bracelets. Zawba'ah was one of the nine jinns who listened to the prophet Muhammad recite the Qur'an and is considered to be a very religious king that likes to eavesdrop on the angels discussing fate. He is called Zawba'ah the white because he is one of the white jinns, he also wears bright white clothes (as if there is light coming through them) and wears a white crown with a big circle on it and when he smiles, he sees his face lit up and an intense light comes out from between his teeth. This jinni is presented here with a combination of monstrous horned heads and harmless facing equines which is quite extraordinary. The upper head is distinguished by its two cattle horns turned inwards. The devil is sitting cross-legged in a royal pose, supported by a group of ministers. Two talismans on the top of the image are used to invoke this spirits. Evoking Zawba’a and asking him to send a Djinn unto you in order to attract love or lust is not uncommon.