Double, Circular and Pentadic Talisman of the Bab
Haykal and Dhar`ia :
Talismanic Temples and Circles and other esoteric writings of the Bāb.
Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
Written early 1980s - under revision and updating - last updated 04-03-2017
In many of his works the Bāb shows a knowledge and concern with popular as well as established aspects of religious learning and al‑ḥikmat al‑ilāhiyya (divine wisdom, gnosis). In an early Persian response to questions relating to the Bāb and Bābism by one of the major amanuensis of the Bāb, the Shaykhī and Bābī believer, Mīrzā Muḥammad `Alī Zunūzī (entitled Anīs, `Intimate’, d.1850) it is Indicated that from the outset of his mission the Bāb fashioned hayākil (`talismanic pentacles’,`amulets’) aḥraẓ (sing. ḥirz, `protective talismans’, `charms’) and ṭilismāt (`talismans’) after the practise of the people (KZH III:32; cf. MacEoin, Sources, 99). That talismanic knowledge was important to the Bāb from the very outset is evidenced by the fact that two consecutive sūras of his Qayyūm al‑asmā’ are possibly in allusion to his name entitled, Sūrat al‑tathlīth (QA. 90 `Sūra of the Threefold [Name?]’ cf. the three letter of Alī) and Sūrat al‑tarbī` (QA. 91 `Sūra of the Fourfold [Name?]’ cf. the four letters of Muḥammad)’1 In the 29th Sūrat al‑ḥuriyya (`Sura of the Maiden) of this first major work he refers to himself as "this Arabic Talismanic Remembrance (al‑dhikr al‑ṭil[l]ismī al‑`arabī, QA. XXIX:105).
The early ṣāḥifā bayn al‑ḥaramayn (`Epistle Between the Two Shrines’; late Dec.1845) of the twenty‑six year old Bāb dates to about six months after the Qayyum al-asma'. A multi‑faceted Arabic work it was written in reply to questions of the leading Shaykhī, Mīrzā Muhammad Ḥusayn, Muḥīṭ‑ i Kirmānī (d.12XX/18xx). Included within it is a roughly ten page section about talismanic matters which Mīrzā Muḥīṭ had apparently heard (or read) in connection with the Bāb and about which he desired clarification. The Bāb’s response to these matters illustrates that for him the parameters of talismanic gnosis went far beyond any mundane concern with amulets and charms. For the Bāb, talismans encapsulated cosmological, prophetological and other arcane mysteries:
The second section [of the Sahifa bayn al-haramayn]...
As for the matter which the questioner hath (re)cited from my [own] tongue respecting the path[s] of the triangular and the quadrangular [talismanic configurations] (min subul al‑tathlīth wa’l‑tarbī`) and that which comes forth, with the sanction of thy Lord according to the straight Path (`alā ṣirat al‑qawīm), in connection with talismans (al‑ṭilismāt). Know of a certainty! Be aware through the knowledge of certainty! Then bear witness with the eye of certainty [unto] the decree of thy Lord in the Manifest Book. Had you gazed upon the Countenance of the [Divine] Will (wajh al‑mashiyya) the [two] limits [of this world and that] (ḥaddayn) would have been negated for you with respect to the [acquisition of the] knowledge of the two [aforementioned] talismans (`ilm al‑tilismayn cf. Q.28:88; 55:26‑27). And it would have been demonstrated that they are the (two) ancestors (fathers= archetypes?, robes] of origination (al‑ābā al‑ibdā`) and that the path of their secret [mystery] (fī sabīl sirrihā) is attained [in the journey] unto God, the Originator, the Chosen.....
And there would be manifest from the inmost heart of the letters (fu`ād al‑ḥurūf) in the [celestial] world of laudation (`ālam al‑subuḥāt) what hath not been encompassed by the science which originates with the people of the Book (`ilm min ahl al‑kitāb) for such is the decree of God respecting the [Muslim] believers whom God made upon [ to sit upon] the Throne of the divine Intention (`arsh al‑irāda). So be conscious of the decree [Cause] of God if you [aspire to] be [numbered] among the righteous. (Ḥaramayn, INBA Ms. 6007C, 360ff; Browne Coll. Or. F7(9), 27ff)
In consideration of the Triangular [Talisman] (al‑tathlīth) the Bāb counselled Kirmānī not to be misled by the heretical implications of Christian cross :And inasmuch as you were of the people of the tempestuous billows of the waves in the midmost‑heart of a mighty Exultant Expanse(buḥbuḥat fī `izz al‑ibtihāj). know then the regulation of the Triadic [Threefold] [Talisman] (ḥukm al‑tathlīth) through thine own knowledge and pay no heed to that fact that the Christians had deduced from this shape, the form of the cross (haykal al‑ṣalīb) and the [heretical] descent of the Divine (lāhūt) into the [mundane] world of the creatures(al‑nāsūt). So praised be God! Exalted and Glorified above the depiction of those given to [incarnationalist] assimilation (al‑shubhāt). Recite! This the Book [Letter] of your Lord. Judge not except through wisdom, by God One Who Heareth, Knoweth... (Ḥaramayn, INBA Ms. 6007C, 360ff; Browne Coll. Or. F7(9), 31‑2).
These passages attest the Bāb’s early fascination with numerology and talismans and certain of their cosmological, theosophical and other implications. Such pasages, for example, find some reflection in certain works of Shihāb al‑Dīn Suhrawardī, Ibn al‑`Arabī, Muḥyī al‑Dīn al‑Būnī and the first two Shaykhs of emergent Shaykhism. In the complex Ishrāqī (Illumationist) philosophy spelled out in his Ḥikmat al‑ishrāq , Suhrawardī saw everything in the universe as a ṭilasm (talisman) or ṣanam (image) of the angels associated with the latitudinal order (Ḥikmat al‑ishrāq, 143‑5; Netton,1999:233). While it is possible that something of the form and content of the talismanic devices of the Bāb derive from his very probable association with contemporary Jews (or Jadīd al‑Islam) and /or other people of the Book, the speculations derived from it are reflected in such Islamic sources as have been indicated.
Certain of the cryptographic alphabetic signs used in Bābī talismans are also found inscribed on Jewish as well as Shī`ī Muslim charms and amulets according to some Shī`ī traditions of the Imams (Majlisī, Bihar, 94:296‑7). Add FN. In Shirāz and / or Bushire there may well have been Jews knowledgeable in the Jewish mystical tradition (kabbalah) with whom the Bāb had come into contact.
Reading certain of the Bāb's works is sometimes reminiscient of reading such Jewish mystical classics as the Sepher ha‑zohar (`the Book of splendour') in which Biblical texts and certain names of God are expounded in all manner of abstruse gematric ways. Parallels exist between Bābī and Jewish qabbalistic terminology, though this is often echoed in Islamic gnostic (irfānī) or esoteric literatures as well, for example, as certain the Hurūfi texts. While the matter cannot be taken up in detail here, the Zoharic doctrine of emanation from a "primordial point" (see Zohar 1. 25a.f.etc) and the secrets of the hekhalot ("temples") of the Merkabah world, find some parallel in the Bāb's cosmology and his ideas about manifestations of the mashiyya (Primal Will) as talismanic pentacles (`temples’, hayākil) and dā’ira (`circles’).1
1 Allusion is perhaps made to the (Arabic) name of the Bāb Alī Muḥammad (= 3 letters [Alī]+ 4 letters [Muhammad] name).
1 The Sepher ha‑Zohar of Moses de Leon (written in the 1280's CE) was not unknown in 19th century Iran. On Zoharic doctrine see for example, Scholem, 1960:205ff.