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The Sakas Part nine Michael McClain

June 29, 2019 by  

Michael McClain

The question of Shi’ism in Muslim Spain is too complex to treat here, but note that Shi’a influence is evident in various aspect of Spanish Catholicism, particulaly in the celebrations of Holy Week. St. John of the Cross was also influenced by various Hispano-Muslim Sufies, notably Ibn Arabi of Murci a, Ibn Masarra of Almeria Ibn Abbad of Ronda and Shakir ibn Muslim of Orihuela (near Alicante) Here we also note that the influence of Ibn Arabi of Murcia is evident in the works of Dante Alighieri, particularly the Divina Commedia Now we shall note Some of the typical Sufi elements which appear in the works of St, John of the Cross:
۱٫ The wine of mystical intoxication, so dear to the Persian Sufi poets, the Spanish mystic even using the wine or juice of the pomegranate (a glance at an Iranian cookbook will demonstrate how much pomegranate juice is used in Iranian cuisine) as symbolizing the unity which us the basis of the multiplicity of the grains of the pomegranate. This last is most appropriate as we shall see; the Spanish word for “pomegranate” is “granada”, so the pomegranate is the symbol of Granada, where St. John of the Cross lived for six years, and where he no doubt learned most of his Sufi kore from Moriscos.
۲٫ Then there is the interior fountain where the eyes of the Beloved) “The Beloved is, by itself, a Persian Sufi symbol) appear immediately before the mystical union. In Arabic, “’ayn” may mean “eye spring” (of water), or, less commonly, “identity”, and the great Spanish mystic seems to have been aware of this.
۳٫ There is also the lock of hair that serves as a hook to entrap the Beloved, something so typical of Persian Sufi poetry.
۴٫ The foxes and cattle which appear in the poetry of St. John of the Cross symbolize sensuality or animal lusts, another typically Sufi symbol.
۵٫ In the works of the great Spanish mystic we also find the caterpillar which by metamorphosis becomes a splendid butterfly, thus symbolizing the soul’s development. The Sufis knew this​ symbol well.
۶٫ Nor must we forget the orchard or garden which must be watered or irrigated by spiritual waters. How very Persian!
۷٫ Then we have the solitary bird symbolizing the soul in mystical flight, which includes all colors, but us itself colorless, because it is free of attachment to any created thing How Sufi, how reminiscent of the Persian Simorgh! We shall have much more to say of this solitary bird.
By far the work of St. John of the Cross. is in prose. However, the poetic works of St. John of the Cross are of such high quality that many consider him to be the finest lyric poet of the Spanish language. while many Sufis were great poets, this talent is quite rare among Christian mystics.
Annemarie Schimmel says that St. John of the Cross never appeared to her to be a strange poet, because she read him as though he were a Sufi. I also never found St. John of the Cross to be a strange poet, no doubt for the same reason.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was the Persian Sufis rather than the Hispano-Muslim Sufis who most strongly influenced St. John of the Cross; we can only mention a few; Rumi, Hafiz, Avicenna, Attar, al – Ghazzali, as well as a host of others obviously, there is no space here to deal with this vast topic.
However, as Luce Lopez Baralt has noted, it is Suhravardi who is the Sufi – indeed the person – who most influenced the works of St. John of the Cross. Now, Suhravardi was not only a Persian who wrote in Persian, he was, if one may use the expression, a most patriotic
Persian. In great part his philosophy was, according to his own words, derived from the wise men of Zoroastrian Persian, and the very concept of “Illuminism” (Ishraqi) by which his philosophy is often known, is of Zoroastrian precedence.
There obviously is no space here to detail the influences of the Persian Sufis in the works of St. John of the Cross However, since it was Suhravardi who most influenced St. John of the Cross, we will deal with one aspect of said influence; the solitary bird, but first an introduction by Hafiz: in my own literal translation:
O Royal Falcon of lofty gaze, perched on the Sidra (lotus) tree,
Not your nest is this corner of woe
From the battlements of the Throne of God they are whistling for you
In this place of worldly snares, vanities and deceptions
I do not know what has happened to you.

Below is the translation of H. Wilberforce Clarke:
O Falcon of lofty gaze sitting on the Sidra tree (of lofty degree)
Not thy nest is this corner (of this world of)
From the highest heaven’s pinnacle, they utter a cry for thee
In this snare-place of the world, I know not what (fortune)
Has befallen thee (that thou art fascinated with it).

Here is my own poetic translation:
O high nesting Royal Falcon of lofty and lordly gaze
And high degree perched on the Sidra, noblest of trees
Not your nest is this miserable corner of the world of woe
From the battlements of the Throne of God
They’re whistling for you to come home
In this place of worldly snares, deceptions and vanities
I do not know what dire fate has befallen you
It has been noted by Luce Lopez Baralt, St. John of the Cross was author of a treatise titled The Properties of the Solitary Bird. Said treatise has been lost, though one may hope that a copy may yet be discovered. Fortunately, St. John of the Cross made some rather scanty references to the solitary bird in the Sayings of Light and Love and in the prose commentaries of Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Spiritual Cantical Luce Lopez Baralt has written a monograph on the mentions of the solitary bird in the extant works of St. John of the Cross, and it is the work of Luce Lopez Baralt which has inspired me to delve into the question of the solitary bird.
Says St. John of the Cross in the prose commentary to Ascent of Mount Carmel:
“Says Psalm CI:8: I was awake and found myself as a solitary bird on the roof”. “Solitary” means that all things are abstractions and “on the roof: means that the mind is lifted to the Most High. And so, the soul remains ignorant of all things, because it knows only God without knowing why. The bride declares in the Song of Songs (VI: II) that among the effects of her sleeping and forgetting was this unknowing, when she came down to the garden saying “Nescivi”, That is to say, I did not know. Though the soul in this state of knowing appears to be doing nothing and to be doing because it does not work with the senses nor the faculties, it should be aware that it is not wasting time, because, although the soul and its faculties it should be aware that it is not wasting time, because, although the soul and the faculties are no longer in harmony, the intelligence of the soul is as we have said. Thus, the bride, who was wise, in the Song of Songs answers this doubt herself, saying: “I am asleep in, but my heart is awake” Song of Songs, (V:2), as if she had said:  “Although I sleep according to my human nature, naturally ceasing to work, yet my heart was awake, supernaturally raised in supernatural wisdom.”
In the prose commentary to the Spiritual Cantical, St. John of the Cross says:
“In this spiritual state, one sees the natural understanding elevates in a strange new way above all natural understanding to the Divine Light, as after a long sleep, one opens the eyes to an unexpected light. This wisdom tends to lead to understanding the psalmist when he said: I opened my eyes of my understanding and found myself above all natural intelligence, alone without them on the rooftop which is above all things here below. And the psalmist says here that he was made to be like a solitary bird, because while the soul id in this type of contemplation, it was the properties of the solitary bird, which are five:
۱٫ The first, because the solitary bird generally sits upon the highest places; thus, the soul in this state is immersed on the highest contemplation.
۲٫ The second, that the solitary bird always keeps his beak in the windward direction, the direction from which the wind blows, even as the soul turns the beak of its attention and affection towards the direction from which comes the spirit of eve, which is God.
۳٫ The third is that generally the solitary bird is alone, and will tolerate no other bird near him or he will fly away from his perch. Thus, the spirit in this state of contemplation is removed from all things, separated from all of them, nor does it tolerate anything save being alone with God.
۴٫ The fourth property is that the solitary bird sings softly and sweetly. The soul does the same in this state of contemplation, for the praises which it offers to God are of the gentlest and sweetest love, the most exquisite for the soul and the most gracious to God.
۵٫ The fifth property is that the solitary bird has that it is not of any defined color. Thus, the perfect soul, which in this excess or superabundance has no color of sensual affection and sel=love, nor even of superior or inferior, nor can it speak of this in any mode nor manner, because it is immersed in the fathomless wisdom of God, as we have said.
In sayings of Light and Love, No. 120, St. John of the 

Cross says:
“Properties of the solitary bird are five:
۱٫ The first, that he flared to the highest place.
۲٫ The second, that he tolerates knop company, not even those of his own species;
۳٫ The third, that he points his beak to windward, in the direction from which the wind blows;
۴٫ The fourth, that he is of no specific color;
۵٫ That he sings softly and sweetly.
The same properties must possess the contemplative soul; that that it must fly above all temporal and transitory things, ignoring them as though they did not exist, and must be so enamored of solitude and silence that it does not tolerate the company of any other creature; if must point its beak to the breath of the Holy Spirit corresponding to its inspirations so that the soul makes itself more worthy of the company of the Holy Spirit: must not be of any particular color not being arched to nor determined by an y thing that is not the will of God: must sing sweetly and softly in the contemplation and love of the Beloved.”

As Henry Corbin says:
“The “Simurgh”, for example from which all souls emanate and whose Arabic equivalent is the bird “Anqa”) is also a figure of Gabriel the Archangel Active Intelligence And it is the same attributes as Christianity confers on the white dove as symbol of the Holy Spirit.”
“Anqa is feminine in Arabuc, as “Saena Meregha” is feminie in Avestan; we have therefore kept this gender in translating the name given in the Persian form “Dimurgh” (we mention above the connections between the symbol of the “Simurgh” and the Holy Spirit, which is feminine in Aramaic [and Syriac] e.g., the expression of Jesus in the (Apochriphal) Gospel According to the Hebrews: “M Mother is the Holy Spirit.”

Henry Corbin continues:
“The Simurgh is a mythical bird whose name already appears in the Avesta in the form “Saena Meregha”.  In Persian literature it appears in a twofold tradition, that of the heroic epic and that of mystical poetry and prose.”

Says c.s. Nott of the Simurgh:
Saena Meregha the great bird. In the Mahabharta, “Garuda” There are two Simurghs. One lives on Mt. Elburz in the Caucasus, far from man. Its nest is of pillars of ebony, sandal and aloe wood. It has the gift of speech and its features possess magical properties It is a guardian of heroes, a symbol of God. The only other (Simurgh” is a horrible monster which also olives on a mountain, but it resembles a black cloud”

Says M. Schwartz:
“Hukairya”, the one place retaining its primeval perfection, connecting the upper and lower regions, and being a cosmic center from which come light and liquid, may be seen as the Iranian form of the “Axis Mundi” found in many archaic cultures. Related to this idea of a central axis or pole is the World Tree (Tree of Life, etc. …) In Iran, this was located in the center of the Vourukasha (Sea). It is the “well-watered tree on which grow the seeds of plants of all kinds by the hundreds, thousands, myriads (Vdevdad V-15).
This tree, which contained all manner of medicaments, was also known as the tree of healing. In it rested the giant Saena bird, whose wing beats scatter the seeds of the tree. This bird is the original form of the Simurgh of Classical Persian literature.” 
to be continued

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