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The Hermetic Wisdom of Quran — Part 1 (Joseph)

The lore of Joseph is narrated in the twelveth chapter of Quran, which in contrast to any other chapter deals entirely with the sequential biography of Joseph, the son of Jacob. He is the protagonist around whom much of the wisdom and heroism of the narrative revolves. Also, the hermetic symbolism associated with the style and characters of this story is truly remarkable in the depiction of astrological archetypes. The Quran states in this chapter,

We narrate unto thee (Muhammad) the best of narratives in that We have inspired in thee this Qur’an, though aforetime thou wast of the heedless. (12, 3)

The Redemptive Principle of Love

In the article “The Hermetic Wisdom of Quran — Introduction”, I had explained about the mystery letters of Quran as they appear in the prefixes of certain Quranic chapters. This chapter begins with the mystery letters of “Alif Lam Ra (Aries Taurus Leo)”, that can be allegorically interpreted as “The conflicts about wealth and community”, thus forming the main theme of this chapter. Joseph represents here the archetype of Leo, the brightest sign of the zodiac ruled by the Sun expressing the redemptive and renovative powers of the heart. Jacob, the father of Joseph and his eleven brothers, metaphorically represents the Sun whose rhythmic movements from northern to southern portions of the ecliptic gives birth to the twelve zodiacal signs. In this story, Jacob (the Sun) is in love with Joseph (the sign of Leo) because that is where it feels most comfortable in the zodiac due to the brightness and brilliance of the mid-summer sign. But Joseph in order to deserve this esteemed position with his father, has to earn it by surviving the conflicts of his brothers about ‘wealth’ and ‘community’, the two major attributes of the fixed zodiac signs. The Sun in alchemy represents ‘gold’, therefore Joseph has to undergo transmutation in the alchemical crucible of the zodiac into the consciousness of gold in order to prove himself worthy of the love of his father. The Quran states,

When Joseph said unto his father: O my father! Lo! I saw in a dream eleven planets and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves unto me. He said: O my dear son! Tell not thy brethren of thy vision, lest they plot a plot against thee. Lo! Satan is for man an open foe. Thus thy Lord will prefer thee and will teach thee the interpretation of events, and will perfect His grace upon thee and upon the family of Jacob as He perfected it upon thy forefathers, Abraham and Isaac. Lo! thy Lord is Knower, Wise. (12, 4–6)

In these verses, the eleven planets of the dream of Joseph are metaphorical for the eleven signs of the zodiac besides Leo; represented here by the eleven brothers of Joseph whilst the Sun and Moon stand for the father and mother respectively. ‘The interpretation of events’, mentioned here seems to indicate the sensitive or receptive property of the heart to recognize the motives behind all kinds of activities by understanding the perspective of the other side, and thereby treating all actions as per their intentions. The narrative continues,

When they said: Verily Joseph and his brother are dearer to our father than we are, many though we be. Lo! our father is in plain aberration. (One said): Kill Joseph or cast him to some (other) land, so that your father’s favour may be all for you, and (that) ye may afterward be righteous folk. One among them said: Kill not Joseph but, if ye must be doing, fling him into the depth of the pit; some caravan will find him. (12, 8–10)

The above verses demonstrate that the fundamental roots of all conflicts in human communities are in the quantitative value judgment of its people. The brothers of Joseph got envious on account of his beauty which is essentially a qualitative factor, they were inclined to justify their malignant intentions due to the ill perception of the father who could not see the reason of appreciating the strength of numbers. This also led to the self deception that righteousness could actually be achieved by undertaking the necessary evil actions, or one might still get the promotion though being failed in the examination. It further says,

They said: O our father! Why wilt thou not trust us with Joseph, when lo! we are good friends to him? Send him with us to-morrow that he may enjoy himself and play. And lo! we shall take good care of him. He said: Lo! in truth it saddens me that ye should take him with you, and I fear lest the wolf devour him while ye are heedless of him. They said: If the wolf should devour him when we are (so strong) a band, then surely we should have already perished. Then, when they led him off, and were of one mind that they should place him in the depth of the pit, We inspired in him: Thou wilt tell them of this deed of theirs when they know (thee) not. And they came weeping to their father in the evening. Saying: O our father! We went racing one with another, and left Joseph by our things, and the wolf devoured him, and thou believest not our saying even when we speak the truth. And they came with false blood on his shirt. He said: Nay, but your minds have beguiled you into something. (My course is) comely patience. And Allah it is Whose help is to be sought in that (predicament) which ye describe. (12, 11–18)

This part of the story shows such levels of depravity as can afflict human consciousness so as to blatantly beguile an individual or group to achieve some devious ends. The major psychological part played here is by arousing the instinctual temptations for pleasures such as enjoyment and game, which is the province of the sign of Aquarius (opposite Leo). The ‘wolf’ symbol is also often associated with the sign of Aquarius due to the animal’s wild and independent nature, and its ability to endure extreme cold. The suggestion of a Leo child (Joseph) being devoured by a wolf in the unprotected wild seems rather reasonable only if the child is not purely true to its purpose or archetype. But the father Jacob is not easily deceived in this matter because of his awareness of the true potential of Joseph which he would realize after passing through the trials of ‘community’ and ‘wealth’. Furthermore, the faith of Joseph in his ability to grow and transform into a more commanding state by learning the wisdom offered by the trials and spiritual experiences keeps him continent in that hour.

And there came a caravan, and they sent their waterdrawer. He let down his pail (into the pit). He said: Good luck! Here is a youth. And they hid him as a treasure, and Allah was Aware of what they did. And they sold him for a low price, a number of silver coins; and they attached no value to him. And he of Egypt who purchased him said unto his wife: Receive him honourably. Perchance he may prove useful to us or we may adopt him as a son. Thus we established Joseph in the land that We might teach him the interpretation of events. And Allah was predominant in His career, but most of mankind know not. And when he reached his prime We gave him wisdom and knowledge. Thus We reward the good. (12, 19–22)

The ‘waterdrawer’ in the above passage symbolizes Aquarius, which is the sign popularly depicted as the man carrying a pitcher of water. Joseph is not much valued by the opposite sign of Aquarius, but he receives an honourable welcome in Egypt because the land of Egypt is a metaphor for the sign of Taurus. There Joseph learns the art of conducting profitable business and the intelligent use of material resources to their best effects. Once educated in the affairs of civilization, Joseph undergoes the spiritual trials meant to determine his purity of intent and purpose in the life.

The Conflict about Community

And she, in whose house he was, asked of him an evil act. She bolted the doors and said: Come! He said: I seek refuge in Allah! Lo! he is my lord, who hath treated me honourably. Lo! wrong-doers never prosper. She verily desired him, and he would have desired her if it had not been that he saw the argument of his Lord. Thus it was, that We might ward off from him evil and lewdness. Lo! he was of Our chosen slaves. And they raced with one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind, and they met her lord and master at the door. She said: What shall be his reward, who wisheth evil to thy folk, save prison or a painful doom? (Joseph) said: She it was who asked of me an evil act. And a witness of her own folk testified: If his shirt is torn from before, then she speaketh truth and he is of the liars. And if his shirt is torn from behind, then she hath lied and he is of the truthful. So when he saw his shirt torn from behind, he said: Lo! this is of the guile of you women. Lo! the guile of you is very great. O Joseph! Turn away from this, and thou, (O woman), ask forgiveness for thy sin. Lo! thou art of the sinful. (12, 23–29)

The first spiritual trial of Joseph was conducted by the fixed sign of Scorpio which tested his commitment to the community. The wife of his employer represents Scorpio who attempted to seduce Joseph into betraying his master, but Joseph resisted and tried to get away from her. Scorpio is the fixed zodiac sign that follows after Leo, and therefore if the shirt of Joseph would have been torn from the front then he would have lost his archetypal value of being a Leo. But the shirt was torn from behind, and therefore Joseph had withstood the trial successfully. He did not allow the corrupt behaviours to spoil his spiritual integrity, and thereby justified his education and stay in the land of Egypt (Taurus).

And women in the city said: The ruler’s wife is asking of her slave-boy an ill-deed. Indeed he has smitten her to the heart with love. We behold her in plain aberration. And when she heard of their sly talk, she sent to them and prepared for them a cushioned couch (to lie on at the feast) and gave to every one of them a knife and said (to Joseph): Come out unto them! And when they saw him they exalted him and cut their hands, exclaiming: Allah Blameless! This is not a human being. This is no other than some gracious angel. She said: This is he on whose account ye blamed me. I asked of him an evil act, but he proved continent, but if he does not do my behest he verily shall be imprisoned, and verily shall be of those brought low. He said: O my Lord! Prison is more dear than that unto which they urge me, and if Thou fend not off their wiles from me I shall incline unto them and become of the foolish. So his Lord heard his prayer and fended off their wiles from him. Lo! He is Hearer, Knower. And it seemed good to them (the men-folk) after they had seen the signs (of his innocence) to imprison him for a time. (12, 30–35)

The above passage from Quran indicates that though Joseph proved himself truthful, but Egypt (Taurus) could not defend itself against the vile corruption of its women (Scorpio). The cutting of hands for releasing blood is symbolically done to swear an oath or personal undertaking, and thus it seemed evident that the womenfolk of Egypt had decided to fight for their case together. Therefore, in order to contain that scandalous situation, the men thought it to be necessary to imprison the innocent Joseph nonetheless. This episode demonstrates that however a culture may prosper materially, but without spiritual integrity there can be no justice expected from it.

And two young men went to prison with him. One of them said: I dreamed that I was pressing wine. The other said: I dreamed that I was carrying upon my head bread whereof the birds were eating. Announce unto us the interpretation, for we see thee of those good (at interpretation). He (Joseph) said: The food which ye are given (daily) shall not come unto you but I shall tell you the interpretation ere it cometh unto you. This is of that which my Lord hath taught me. Lo! I have forsaken the religion of folk who believe not in Allah and are disbelievers in the Hereafter. And I have followed the religion of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It never was for us to attribute aught as partner to Allah. This is of the bounty of Allah unto us (the seed of Abraham) and unto mankind; but most men give not thanks. O my fellow-prisoners! Are divers lords better, or Allah the One, Almighty? Those whom ye worship beside Him are but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers. Allah hath revealed no sanction for them. The decision rests with Allah only, Who hath commanded you that ye worship none save Him. This is the right religion, but most men know not. O my two fellow-prisoners! As for one of you, he will pour out wine for his lord to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified so that the birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which ye did inquire. And he said unto him of the twain who he knew would be released: Mention me in the presence of thy lord. But Satan caused him to forget to mention it to his lord, so he (Joseph) stayed in prison for some years. (12, 36–42)

Since the unfair incarceration of Joseph in Egypt, he had learnt the wisdom that there were three kinds of people in the world. Firstly, those who would always do the right things for right reasons, and they were the monotheist or believers in one God (like Joseph); secondly those who would do the right things for wrong reasons or intentions, and they were the idolaters or worshipers of many gods (like his prison mates); and lastly those who would do the wrong things for wrong reasons, and they were the disbelievers in God (like those corrupt women of Egypt). Thus, once Joseph learned the wisdom of discriminating people on the basis of both their actions and intentions, he found that his two companions in the prison were of the idolatrous kind. Joseph being the Leo, his two neighbours therefore were Virgo and Cancer. Joseph knew that he could not preach them the truth unless they owed him some favour; and when they asked him for the favour of interpreting their dreams, he took the opportunity to preach to them the doctrine of monotheism. The vision of Joseph was not blurred due to any conflict of mind in human nature and as a result he could not only see through his own dreams clearly in regards to what they meant, but also those of others. From their dreams Joseph recognized that the Cancer person would be crucified at the sign of Capricorn, but the Virgo person would find redemption and thus pour out wine again. Joseph therefore asked the Virgo person to help him to secure his release from the prison, but because of the idolatrous nature of that man, his selfishness made him to forget to support Joseph.

The Conflict about Wealth

And the king said: Lo! I saw in a dream seven fat kine which seven lean were eating, and seven green ears of corn and other (seven) dry. O notables! Expound for me my vision, if ye can interpret dreams. They answered: Jumbled dreams! And we are not knowing in the interpretation of dreams. And he of the two who was released, and (now) at length remembered, said: I am going to announce unto you the interpretation, therefore send me forth. (And when he came to Joseph in the prison, he exclaimed): Joseph! O thou truthful one! Expound for us the seven fat kine which seven lean were eating and the seven green ears of corn and other (seven) dry, that I may return unto the people, so that they may know. He said: Ye shall sow seven years as usual, but that which ye reap, leave it in the ear, all save a little which ye eat. Then after that will come seven hard years which will devour all that ye have prepared for them, save a little of that which ye have stored. Then, after that, will come a year when the people will have plenteous crops and when they will press (wine and oil). (12, 43–49)

The king of Egypt is metaphorically the ruler of the sign of Taurus, which is Venus. The planets in their ruling signs are the best and strongest, but in the opposing signs they become detriment and weak. The king of Egypt alongside the high ranking officials of that country were idolatrous, and therefore could not understand the insights that came from the dreams. The person who had received the explanation of his dream from Joseph in the prison called him as “O thou truthful one”, because he knew of the purity and wisdom of Joseph’s mind. The seven fat cows in the above passage of Quran represent the planets in their domain (ruling signs), whilst the seven lean cows are the planets in their detriment (opposing signs). Here Joseph not only interprets the dream of the king of Egypt, but also advises him on how to deal with it. Overall, it is concerning the conflicts that arise due to the unequal distribution of resources resulting in the miseries of wars. Joseph actually advised the king to maintain the balance of resources among various classes of people in his kingdom so that all men could serve the kingdom to their best of abilities and potentials.

The End Note

I have neither quoted the whole chapter of Quran here, nor explained every bit of the symbolism present in it. Nevertheless, I hope to have gathered sufficient description of hermetic wisdom from the stand point of explaining the function of mystery letters of this chapter. Now, the reader is strongly encouraged to go through the chapter 12 of Quran in order to discover more aspects of hermetic wisdom in its contents. I should conclude this article by quoting the final verse of this chapter of the Quran.

In their history verily there is a lesson for men of understanding. It is no invented story but a confirmation of the existing (Scripture) and a detailed explanation of everything, and a guidance and a mercy for folk who believe. (12, 111)