Reviews

An unusual feature of this genre of publication intended for a general audience, the world of Islam has been devoted a relatively significant room in this encyclopaedic dictionary. A short set of general articles deal with “Arabic” alchemy (Calvet Antoine, “Alchimie arabe [Arabic Alchemy],” 28-31, 2 ill.—with developments on spiritual alchemy from al-Jabir to the Shaykhi religious movement in Qajar Iran) and astrology (Bresc Henri, “Astrologie arabe [Arabic Astrology],” 97-102, 3 ill. — including a paragraph on the role of astrology in the comprehension of a spiritualised cosmos in the Isma‘iliyya). They commonly cast light on the impact of the Hellenistic heritage, on its gradual Islamicisation after the twelfth century CE under al-Ghazali’s influence and on the spiritual practices and symbols associated with these two disciplines. (See also Zouache Abbès, “Carrés magiques [Magical Squares],” 165-9, 2 ill. — on the influence of al-Buni’s Shams al-Ma‘arif on generations of amulet and talisman makers —; Bresc Henri, “Geber, Jâbir,” 298-9, 1 ill. — notably on al-Jabir’s influence amongst hermetic circles —; Weill-Parot Nicolas, “Picatrix,” 559-60, 1 ill. — with insistence on the role played in this Latin translation of the Ghayat al-hakim, a compilation of Arabic magic, by planetary spirits of Sabaist [and animist] ancestry). Interestingly, a majority of these notices contain a final paragraph on the transmission of the Arabic corpus to the Latin world through a wide variety of canals — an idea sharply discussed in French academic circles in the summer 2008.

They are intermingled with a more limited amount of contributions more focusing explicitly on the most varied aspects of Central Asia’s contribution — e.g., Sabaist influence in conceptions by the ninth-century theoretician of astrology from Balkh Abu Ma‘shar on the influence of celestial bodies on terrestrial ones (Calvet Antoine, “Abû Ma’shar [sic],” 19-20); a short reassessment of the apocryphal character of some of Ibn Sina’s work (Charmasson Thérèse, “Avicenne, Ibn Sîna,” 126-7); a generic definition of Shamanism as the belief in a bipolar world, linked by a set of possible interactions through the figure of the shaman, whose role consists of preventing imbalances and responding to misfortunes (Perrin Michel, “Chamanisme et chamanes [Shamanism and Shamans],” 175-80, 3 ill.). It is perhaps to be deplored that, in spite of the presence of indexes usually ignored by French general publishers, each notice is not followed by a short bibliography of its own. This reserve notwithstanding, this richly illustrated encyclopaedic dictionary provides a rare example of a simultaneous approach to magic and occult sciences in the most varied cultural areas, from ancient times to our days.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-4.1.A-326