The Elder Sign and its Occult Associations in Arab Magic

“The Elder Sign is sometimes confused with the Pnakotic Pentagram and the swastika-like Sign of the Old Ones.  However, the actual Elder Sign is a symbol which is often compared to a tree or tree-branch, and consists of a central line with three lines branching off to the left and two lines branching off to the right:

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This symbol seems to be all but completely unknown to Western occultists.  However, it is easily recognizable as a relatively common symbol in Arabic magical traditions.  It appears to be one of the 28 graphemes attributed to the first century Turkish physician Diagoridos (سوديروقسيد).  The symbol became more popular in Arab occult traditions in the mid-9th century because of its inclusion in the text Shuq al Mastaham Fi Ma’arifat Rumuz al Aqlaam by Ibn Wahshiyya (ةيشحو نبا). Wahshiyya is famous for his contributions to the Arabic grimoire known in the West as Picatrix, which he made via his text Kitab al Falaha al Nabatiyya.  He is likewise famous for his decipherment of many Egyptian heiroglyphics centuries before a similar breakthrough occurred in the West.

Below is a summary of the esoteric associations of the Elder Sign based on the writings of Wahshiyya, and supplemented with additional material, primarily from Ibn ‘Arabi (يبرع نبا).  Hopefully, this might provide some insight into the significance and use of this symbol within Arab magical traditions, and perhaps by extension, the magick of the Cthulhu mythos:

The name of the sign is “Zai” (ياز)
It is a Solar Grapheme [huruf ash-shams (سمشلا فورح)]
Its numeric value is 7 (٧)
It is associated with the 19th lunar mansion [manzil (لزنم)] which is called “The Sting” [ash-shaula (ء(وشلا)]
Its zodiacal sign is Scorpio [burj al ‘aqrab (برقعلا جرب)]
The divine name associated with this sign is “The Living One” [al Hayy (يحلا)]
Terrestrially it is associated with the element Water and celestially it is associated with the element of Air.”

– Ryan Parker, The ‘Elder Sign’ and its Occult Associations in Arab Magic

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Ahl-i Haqq and the Kurdish Devil-Worshipers

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“I had a Persian friend in Tehran, an avant-garde playwright and member of a sect called Ahl-i-Haqq (‘People of Truth’ or ‘People of God,’ ‘haqq’ being a divine name) who traveled to the valley of the Satan-worshippers in the mid-1970s.

A Kurdish sect influenced by extreme Shi’ism, Sufism, Iranian gnosticism, and native shamanism, the Ahl-i Haqq consists of a number of subgroups, most of whose adherents are non-literate peasants.  With no Sacred Book to unite these subgroups in their remote valleys, they often developed widely divergent versions of the Ahl-i Haqq myths and teachings.  One subgroup venerates Satan.  I know of almost nothing written about the Shaitan-parastiyyan or ‘Satan-worshippers,’ and not much has been done of the Ahl-i Haqq in general.  Many secrets remain unknown to outsiders.

The Tehran Ahl-i Haqq were lead by a Kurdish pir, Ustad Nur Ali Elahi, a great musician and teacher.  Some old-fashioned Ahl-i Haqq considered him a renegade because he revealed secrets to outsiders, i.e., non-Kurds, and even published them in books.  When my friend asked him about the Satan-worshippers, however, Elahi gently rebuffed him:  ‘Don’t worry about Shaitan; worry about the shay-ye tan‘ (literally ‘the thing of the body,’ the carnal soul, the separative ego).  My friend ignored this doubtless good advice, and with his brother set off for Kurdestan in their Land Rover.

… At last they were there – and their little caravan was met by a dozen or so long-tressed tribesmen in traditional Kurdish costume: baggy pants, turbans, guns.  Scowling fiercely they greeted the brothers thus:

‘Ya! Zat-i Shaitan!’ – Hail, O Essence of Satan!

Compared with the thrill of that moment the rest of the trip proved anticlimactic.  The villagers had long ago given up banditry (they said), and naturally there was no evidence of nocturnal perversion.  Abjectly poor, they possessed nothing so exotic as a pig or a flagon of wine.  As for their religion, they professed to know virtually nothing about it; either they were protecting secrets from outsiders, or they had really forgotten almost everything.  Considerable knowledge can be lost in a nonliterate society devoted to secrecy and cut off from the world; leaders can die without passing on certain details, and whole villages, stricken by disease or drought, can perish or disperse and vanish.

No doubt the devil worshippers knew more than they told my friends, but in the end they seemed no more sinister than any other group of mountain Kurds, a generally noble-hearted and hospitable people when not engaged in blood-feuds, vendettas, or guerrila warfare.

What, however, is the ‘essence of Satan’?  In a book devoted to the teachings of Ustad Elahi, Satan is said to exist, bound and powerless, a mere fallen angel.  Moreover, ‘apart from man, evil does not exist in nature … the ‘devil’ is simply the way that the domineering self … expresses itself in us. … The story of Satan was over long ago; it only concerns God and him.’  In other words, the Koranic version of the Temptation and Fall (very similar to that of Genesis) is literally true, but irrelevant.  The Satan from whom all believers ‘take refuge’ in prayer is, in truth, a projection of their own spiritual imperfection.  Needless to say, this is not orthodox Islam or the opinion of most Sufis; it is, however, a very interesting resolution to a very thorny theological problem.”

– P. L. Wilson – Iblis:  The Black Light (Satanism in Islam)

Origins of the Cult of Senor la Muerte

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“The Cult of Senor la Muerte consists of hundreds of thousands of followers who are spread out across Argentina and nearby countries. These devotees wholeheartedly worship and praise the Scythe-Bearer, whose magic is ritually invoked in order to gain money and riches, attract the person they love, open the paths to happiness and success, protect them against all dangers, help them to acquire power, heal and banish sickness, cast or deflect curses, and dominate or annihilate their foes.

Within this cult, Senor la Muerte is represented by the image of a skeleton, often cloaked in black, and holding a scythe in one of His hands. The origins of both this representation and the current form of the cult Senor la Meurte is believed to have originated in 1767. It was during this year that King Charles III of Spain gave the order for the expulsion and persecution of the Jesuits who had established themselves in Cuenca del Plata. This political decision was made due to the fact that the Jesuits in Paraguay and Argentina had, at that point in time, gained enough power, wealth and influence to worry the Catholic Church, which in turn convinced the Spanish monarch to act against the Jesuits in a campaign aiming to remove them from the colony and confiscate their wealth.

These Jesuits, who had, with the help of the local tribes of the Guarani Indians, built many richly adorned churches and temples, refused to surrender to Spain. This resulted in an even more forceful approach from King Charles, who more or less declared war upon the Jesuits and all their followers. With their superior military power, and led by General Carlos Francisco de Croix, the Spanish military force wiped out most of the Jesuits, seized their riches, and burnt to ash many of their churches and temples.

In one of the most important of these temples was a very special icon carved out of the holy wood of the Palo Santo tree. This life-sized icon depicted Jesus, Satan and Death in the form of the Skeletal Reaper of Souls. The group of Guarani Indians who themselves had carved this icon for the Jesuits, managed to save the wooden image from the fires that consumed the temple. They brought the great icon with them into the jungle and, before returning home to their respective villages, split the carven image into three separate pieces. They then divided the three parts amongst themselves so that one tribe got the image of Jesus, the second tribe got the image of the horned Devil, and the third got the image of Death, in the familiar form of the skeleton armed with a scythe.

Thus, the three cults of Senor Jesus, Senor Diablo/Satan and Senor la Muerte evolved amongst these tribes of the Guarani. All three cults were more pagan than Christian, for they had deeper connections to their own ancient shamanistic religion and magic, than the religion to which the Jesuits had attempted to convert them.

According to folk tradition, the lineage of the modern day cult of Senor la Muerte is traced directly back to the Guarani tribe that decided to equate the Skeleton Wielder of the Scythe with their own ancient god of death and venerate it as a magical fetish, ascribed with the power to both protect the faithful against ‘bad death’ and punish all of their enemies.

Additionally, influences from Afro-Brazilian religions and systems of witchcraft can be seen within certain manifestations of the cult of Senor la Muerte in Argentina, and these are believed by some to have also been spread to Argentina by the Guarani.

Because of the influence of the African traditions, some followers of Senor la Muerte have compared Him to, or identified the Lord of Death as, an Exu. The Exus that SLM has most often been identified with are the ones connected to graveyards and the skeleton lines of Kalunga and Caveira, such as Exu Lorde da Morte, Exu Morte, Exu Caveira, Exu Tata Caveira, and the ruler of the souls of the dead, Exu Rei das Almas Omulu.

Within some parts of Argentina, this syncretism has developed quite naturally because of the obvious and simple similarities that exist between the two cults. For example, Monday is the day of both Exu and SLM, both utilize black-and-red or black-and-white talismans and candles, and both receive offerings of tobacco, red carnations, red and black candles, liquor, beer, red palm oil, fried or raw pork chops and spicy food.

Like Exu, SLM is viewed as a potential ‘path-opener’ who holds the keys to all locked roads and gates, and has the power to both grant blessings and bring death. Similar to how Exu uses his trident to remove all obstacles that block the path, SLM uses His mighty scythe to cut down, transform, remove or eliminate that which blocks the flow of His power. Both Exu and SLM are also petitioned and paid for their favors, which range from banishing and healing, to committing acts of magical murder.

The above-mentioned syncretism between the two cults may be interesting, but if considered from the initiatory perspective of Quimbana and its views regarding what Exu really is, the syncretism in question will not be valid. The same goes for the more esoteric perspective of the SLM cult, which also makes it clear that the folk-magical syncretism between Exu and SLM is not well grounded and is based only on the similarities of outer attributes of the two cults.”

Liber Falxifer: The Book of the Left-Handed Reaper