Friday, November 10, 2023

Questions about Baha'i Symbols on Reddit

Questions about Baha'i Symbols on Reddit


Illustration, my non-artistic depiction of the Haykal pentagram. Maybe some artist can supply me with a better one.

jet nov 2023 response to this question in reddit:

I am a post-graduate student who is studying about Baha'i. There are so many questions arise in my mind when studying about the symbols of Baha'i Faith, which from what I know of, including the Ringstone symbol, The Greatest Name and the nine-pointed star. Could you recommend any academic study that related to these symbols (and may add in any other symbols if I'm missing) or anything I should read to know more about the faith? Also (do) these symbols have any spiritual or sacred meaning to Baháʼís' life or faith?

We've been studying the Tablet of the Temple, or haykal, and the Lawh-i-Maqsud, etc., and this is what I have learned about this over the past year.

The symbology of Sufism is taken directly from the Qur'an, and the symbols of Baha'u'llah are taken directly from Sufism, not unaltered, but at least nominally. The entire early Writing career of Baha'u'llah both roots into and separates itself off from Sufi thought. Thus the official or exoteric symbol of the Faith is the nine-point star, which simply means unity, the main goal of this religion. However, the "real" or esoteric symbol of the Faith is the five point star, or pentagon, or haykal, temple, or the Greatest Name. Taken all in all, this is a symbol of God as reflected in the heart. In material form, it is instantiated in the Mashriqu'l Adhkar or "Dawning Place of the mention of God," which we are building in communities around the world. The latest one to step out of planning to construction is here in Canada, in part of Toronto. "Adhkar" is the superlative form of Dhikr, or remembrance, or devotion, or worship of God. Baha'is repeat our Dhikr 95 times daily.

So yes, the haykal is extremely sacred and utterly central to the devotional life and service of every Baha'i. Ideally and eventually, every believer will say dawn prayers in the local Mashriq and then, often, serve the community through the several benevolent institutions that will one day surround it. So these are symbols and more than symbols, they lead through thought to active service in the most holistic way. It all starts and ends in the "master key" or symbol of the haykal star, which is a symbol of the knowledge of God.

When we "Grok" God -- the meaning of Heinlein's word "grok" is almost identical with the Baha'i (and other faiths') concept of knowledge of God, knowing God by becoming His image in the mirror of the heart. Baha'u'llah uses in several places the symbol of three "words" of God, creating us, bringing us to recognition of Him, and protecting the purity of that gift. Entranced by that knowledge of the divine and holding to His values utterly with passionate, self-sacrificing love, we pass it into a career of service to all humanity. 

The pentagon reflects the five Sufi realms of God, the top point being Hahut, or "himness", for the Godhead, the originator of all, the One universal, inaccessible ruler. He, through His holy spirit and Manifestation, rules over creation with the same "sovereignty" that the brain rules over the body. This is symbolized in the next level down, the highest level possible for any but God, the realm of Láhút.

You can read all about this on the "Baha'i symbols" Wikipedia page that has already been pointed to, as well as here:

This is the realm of the Manifestation of God. Down under that, from our viewpoint, the left "leg" of the haykal, is the realm of nature, Nasut meaning humankind, or Ensan (humanity) in Arabic. We are children of the half light, the light of nature and the light of the Divine. If we are wise, we reflect the latter, and rule wisely over the natural realm, as Gen 1:26 says,

"Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over..." (NIV) basically the entire natural world. As Baha'u'llah says in several important places, God leaves all that external sort of rule up to us and our leaders. God's desire is only to rule over the Haykal, the heart, which is the best thing anyway. Hence the first Arabic Hidden Word, which tells us to "posses a pure, kindly and radiant heart" in order to gain the eternal and imperishable dominion bequeathed to mankind in Genesis 1:26. So, again, referring to your question,

"Also (do) these symbols have any spiritual or sacred meaning to Baháʼís' life or faith?"

There is a footnote in the article I pointed to that should not be ignored as most footnotes tend to be,

"Moojan Momen states that the "last four realms appear to be addressing the first realm in the Long Obligatory Prayer (salát-i kabír): "I testify unto that whereunto have testified all created things (násút), and the Concourse on high (malakút), and the inmates of the all-highest Paradise (jabarút), and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur itself from the all-glorious Horizon (láhút), that Thou art God... " Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, No. CLXXXIII, (the terms in between brackets do not occur in the original text. The terms used are: ashyáʼ, al-maláʼ al-aʻlá, jannat al-ʻulyá, and al-ufuq al-abhá.)"

In mulling over this startling footnote over the past year, I have come to the entirely personal opinion that it is impossible to fairly "try out" the Baha'i Faith without correctly saying this long obligatory prayer over a given period. You can read a thousand books, but (I'm paraphrasing something Baha'u'llah said) saying that prayer right, even once, is enough.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

p39bwri On the new online version of the search engine Ocean, with sample on two Great Being statements

 The new online version of the search engine Ocean, specifically version 2.0, gives an unprecedented glimpse into secondary Baha'i literature, that is, books about the Faith. Since we have been studying the "Great Being" statements in the Tablet to Maqsud, I include the following example, from Nader Saiedi, "The Birth of the Human Being: Beyond Religious Traditionalism and Materialist Modernity." The full text (which Ocean 2.0 includes in its results) is available online at:

Specifically Saiedi is discussing Great Being statements numbers six and seven, "Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth... It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." Saiedi proposes that this statement has the following consequences for the baseline from which human ethics will, as a result of this Revelation, operate:

"In this statement Bahá’u’lláh identifies the human being as one who is characterized not by the will to domination but by dedication to the universal interests of the entire human race. Universalistic orientation of service is the defining feature of the human being. In this statement, a social and political interpretation of Darwinism which finds human society a jungle of struggle for existence is replaced by a consciousness of the oneness of humanity, an attitude of service to all human beings, and a morality that is not based upon naturalistic ties of kinship, blood, or habit. That is why Bahá’u’lláh immediately identifies a new sense of morality.

"According to Durkheim, the boundary of morality is the boundary of the social group. Human beings identify themselves collectively in terms of their own group and follow a moral double standard in their behavior towards insiders and outsiders. People outside the group become strangers, objects, and enemies whose domination, enslavement, plunder, and murder are perceived as heroic moral acts. In fact, the premodern definition of human beings was primarily based upon such a conception of humans as members of specific communities and their sense of natural belongingness to the group. However, this “social belongingness” was based upon naturalistic feelings, ties of kinship, and habits of everyday interaction. 

"Such a naturalistic morality was a pact of collective violence against other groups. Rejecting that premodern definition of the human being, Bahá’u’lláh proposes a new sense of morality and honor based upon the universal and rational concept of humanity. We now leave the realm of natural feelings and enter the realm of spirit. Honor is not for the one who loves his own country but rather for the one who loves the entire human race. Such a novel framework requires a new conception of identity, in which human beings are not defined in terms of opposition to others but instead by their mutual interdependence and symbiosis. 

The entire planet Earth becomes the home and neighborhood of a person: the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." 

(The Birth of the Human Being: Beyond Religious Traditionalism and Materialist Modernity, by Nader Saiedi, published in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 21:1-4, pages 1-28, Ottawa: Association for Bahá'í Studies North America, 2011)

Thursday, November 02, 2023

p39bwri Notes on Talismans

 jet essay on talismans 2002

jet November 2023; I stumbled upon this old essay I wrote 21 years ago on Talismans. Here also are some more recent notes on Talismans.


Of Temples and Talismans

28 December, 2002

"... I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple." (Isa 6:1)

someone asked,

>>>> what does Haykal mean? Does it mean Temple, or Talisman or both?

The article on that site with the tablets of the Báb written as five pointed stars quotes Peter Smith as saying that,

"the idea that a physical object can provide the wearer with some form of supernatural protection is common in religions around the world. The Báb instructed his followers to make and wear talismans, and there are numerous references to these in his writings."

This is a partial quote from Smith's excellent "Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith," which has a very short article on "talismans." In this article Smith goes on to say that the Bahá'í Faith de-emphasized the mystical use of talismans that was prominent in Bábísm in order to exalt reason and science. He closes the article by mentioning at least two remaining talismanic promises of protection in the writings. One is the last part of the long healing prayer, "protect the bearer of this blessed Tablet ... and whoso passeth around the house wherein it is..." 

The other is the Master's promise (Lights of Guidance, 520) that anyone will be protected who hangs His portrait, a copy of the Greatest Name, and wears the ring stone symbol. I would note that the House cites that tablet in a way that seems to interpret the specific evil being fended off in this context as that of covenant breaking. Here is how they cite the same tablet,

"Bahá'ís recognize that evil is negative and has no existence in its own right, but that does not mean that there is no power in evil. Do not Bahá'u'lláh and Abdul-Baha warn us repeatedly of the spiritual infection of Covenant-breaking? In one of His Tablets, Abdul-Baha wrote:"

"...if you seek immunity from the sway of the forces of the contingent world, hang the Most Great Name in your dwelling, wear the ring of the Most Great Name on your finger, place the picture of Abdul-Baha in your home and always recite the prayers that I have written. Then you will behold the marvellous effect they produce. Those so-called forces will prove but illusions and will be wiped out and exterminated." (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1998, Dec 16, Traditional practices in Africa)

I think this gives a good insight into the talismanic use intended for the Haykal tablet. It is meant to bolster our understanding and thus defend against false imaginings that degrade the station of mankind. This is entirely in consonance with science and reason. Remember, corporations spend billions of dollars on pollsters and advertising to protect and manipulate their image in the public mind. Few doubt that this is money well spent. The truth has to have a good "image" if it is to win over damaging errors and contagious prejudice.

Dr. Smith may have been rather too concise for his own good when he conflated voodoo and sympathetic magic with the use of talismans in religions of the book. There is a huge gap between the two, in spite of some superficial resemblances. In order to understand that, let us look deeper into the word, "Talisman," and its Judaic equivalent, "phylactery."

In spite of the analogy to the human body, the English "man" is not part of the Greek word "talisman." The plural is "talismans" and saying "talismen" would be false etymology. The word comes from the Greek, Telesma, which means consecration, which is related to Telein, to initiate into mysteries, or to complete. Both are tied to Telos, ultimate end, and Tellein, to accomplish. A talisman is a sign of a body of knowledge that accomplishes something, and is a precursor of "formula" in mathematics and "algorithm" in computer science. My dictionary defines talisman as, "a stone, ring, or other object engraved with figures supposed to have magic power, a "charm ... worn as an amulet to avert evil."

The one ring that rules the rest in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings is a good example of a talisman that turns good ends to evil. This ring makes the bearer invisible. Tolkein was a pious catholic and he had in mind the empty allure that evil can have, what Bahá'ís term the "spiritual disease" of covenant breaking. Tolkien may have been thinking of the ring of Gyges that begins the entire moral and political enquiry of Plato's Republic.

Invisibility is the mark of complete imperviousness to punishment. Every criminal, from Hitler on down, acts unjustly mostly because he believes he can get away with it; he sees himself beyond accountability. This magic ring of Gyges epitomizes that attitude because by making the bearer invisible he knows he can commit any crime he wants without fear of being seen or punished. Clearly, a perfectly good man would wear the ring of Gyges without the slightest alteration in his behavior; if there is only a hint of evil in him the impunity this talisman confers would ruin his innocence and elicit unjust acts. The ring or talisman is a metaphor for power, of course, since those with power can even do evil openly and nobody dares say boo; it is the same as being invisible. Since nobody can expect that every citizen would be so perfect all the time as to resist such temptation, the ideal Republic that Plato envisions uses the only possible compromise, placing at its head a philosopher king. He would be that rare bird, a man so perfect he can hold power without being corrupted by it. In Bahá'í terms this is the Manifestation of God. Bahá'u'lláh makes it clear in the tablet of Hikmat that such Greek insights were born from the Judaic prophets.

While the Greek "talisman" has a general meaning of anything that acts as a magic token or charm, as whatever seems to produce extraordinary results, the Judaic equivalent is more specifically tied to the word of God. 

"Phylactery" comes from roots meaning "amulet" or "guard," and is a leather case containing slips of paper with passages of Holy Scripture written on them. These objects Jewish men traditionally wear on the head (literally, on the temple) and left arm during weekday morning prayers, as a reminder to keep the law. Needless to say, keeping the law is our greatest protection, and the symbolism of this sort of talisman is hard to miss. The word phylactery also has taken on overtones of the sort of pharisaical or ostentatious display of piety that gives religion a bad name.

I would note that while Bahá'ís don't literally wear boxes on arm and temple, we are still required by law to pray and chant the Holy Words, preferably in the temple or Mashriq each dawn. In this context we can better understand how the Báb combines talisman with the reciprocal symbols of words, of Man, body and temple in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá (which also starts off by addressing itself to the "kings and sons of kings"),

"'Unto every people We have sent down the Book in their own language.' [Q14:4] This Book We have, verily, revealed in the language of Our Remembrance and it is in truth a wondrous language. He is, verily, the eternal Truth come from God, and according to the divine judgement given in the Mother Book, He is the most distinguished among the writers of Arabic and most eloquent in His utterance. He is in truth the Supreme Talisman and is endowed with supernatural powers, as set forth in the Mother Book..." (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 45)

Similarly, Bahá'u'lláh talks about the power of God's word and law as talismans,

"these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman. So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation." (Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 200)

end of jet essay

Some more recent notes

A sigil (/ˈsɪdʒəl/; pl. sigilla or sigils; from Latin sigillum "seal") is a symbol used in magic. The term has usually referred to a type of pictorial signature of a demon or other entity; in modern usage, especially in the context of chaos magic, it refers to a symbolic representation of the magician's desired outcome. The term sigil derives from the Latin sigillum, meaning "seal", though it may also be related to the Hebrew סגולה (segula meaning "word, action, or item of spiritual effect, talisman"). The current use of the term is derived from Renaissance magic, which was in turn inspired by the magical traditions of antiquity.

oct 2023 jet:

Baha'u'llah calls the human station a talisman in the Maqsud. A youtuber has made a few videos on how talismans are used in Muslim societies. Here is a short one:

Here is another,

And this longer one:

Talismanic Magic in the Islamicate World

As one commenter points out, talismans are not necessarily superstition if they are used to focus our thoughts in prayer and mediation. This would seem to be the Baha'i way of looking at it.