Sorcery, Status, And Scandal In "Arabian Nights"

1431 words - 6 pages

Whether drowned, dismembered, burned, beheaded or poisoned, it is prudent to say that sorcerers and sorceresses in the Tales from the Thousand and one Nights almost overwhelmingly meet their demise in some unfortunate way. Their fates reveal the mentality of the times; practitioners of sorcery were viewed as malevolent schemers. These outcasts violated the natural order of things and deserved punishment. The tales are set in an age when “implicit belief in magic is entertained by almost all Muslims”. This leads to the examination of the forbidden nature of magic, and why sorcerers are viewed in such a negative light. Furthermore, the wider question of the implications status may have on the portrayal and punishment of magicians will be explored.
Magic in the time of the Arabian Nights was divided into two categories: spiritual and natural. Natural magic involved prestidigitation and sleight of hand ; those who practiced it were regarded as frauds and tricksters. Spiritual magic however was an entirely different notion, itself being split into the categories of high and low. High magic was considered divine, practiced only by the good for good. All users of high magic were said to have been drowned in the floods hence only wicked sorcerers practicing low magic influenced by the devil remained. Sorcery is referred to as Sihr. Although it has no explicit definition it has been described as, “man attempting to bend nature to his wishes by sheer force of spells and enchantments”. Some of the acts within sorcery’s realm include: divination, discovery of hidden treasures, enchantment, and harming/killing others. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, Sihr is the equivalent of apostasy, a hadith of the renowned scholar Ibn Hanbal even goes as far as saying, “kill every sahir [sorcerer]… and sahira [sorceress]”. The carrying out of this statement can be seen in almost every magician’s demise in the discussed tales.
In the Dawood collection of Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, from which all quotations unless specified otherwise come from, all users of sorcery save one are killed as a result of their blasphemous practice. Additionally, several of them are depicted as malicious beings that cause great suffering to others for their own self gratification. Two particularly striking examples of these can be found within the Tale of the Enchanted King, and Aladdin. The spiteful sorceress in the first tale uses her knowledge of the dark arts to first cuckold her husband, and later transform his entire kingdom “into fishes of four different colors”. (101) Initially this is done so that she may satisfy her own desires and spend time with her Negro lover, and later as revenge on her husband for putting an end to this. Prior to these events, the palace slaves express obvious displeasure with their mistress, “that black souled whore!” (99) and a strong desire to see her harmed, “Allah’s curse on all adulteresses!” (99) Similarly, in Aladdin the...

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