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The Hermetic Wisdom of Quran — Part 3 (The Cornerstone)

This article continues the series of “The Hermetic Wisdom of Quran”, though it can be read independently without loosing much sense in the context. The section of Quran I shall endeavour to interpret here is the chapter 15 called Al-Hijr, which means “The Stone”. The title of this chapter is essentially a reference for “The Cornerstone”, which in turn is symbolic of the Eclipsed Sun. The mystery involved in the chapter is quite fascinating, and is worth an enterprise of detailed description from a hermetic viewpoint. I will encourage the reader to pay particular attention to the language, tone, and overall style of this chapter as they are the key to unravelling its mysteries.

The symbol of the Cornerstone is a celebrated ancient one, pervading in about every sacred tradition of human history. The depth of the meaning associated with it is immense in its scope, but the most conclusive interpretation from a hermetic standpoint is that of representing the mystery of solar eclipse. The Cornerstone of Islamic tradition is placed in the cubic temple called Kaaba at Mecca, and in that of Jewish tradition it is the Foundation Stone placed at the temple in Jerusalem. The adherents of every sacred tradition throughout history have been offering obeisance and sacrifices to the altar of their respective Cornerstones, and defending them as the prime objects of value to their cultures. Therefore, we shall try to understand the underlying mystical wisdom in the mystery of Cornerstone expressed in the chapter 15 of the Quran.

The Power and the Purpose

Before delving into the text of the Quran, I would like the reader to be aware of certain astrological concepts because they are very essential to the understanding of the symbolic language used in the Quran. As I mentioned earlier, the Cornerstone metaphorically represents the eclipsed Sun. The solar eclipses occur when the Sun and the Moon conjoin together at the axis of the Lunar Nodes. The Lunar Nodes are the intersecting points of the solar and lunar orbits in the northern and southern side of the ecliptic. The Northern intersection is called the North Node or the Dragon’s Head, whilst the Southern intersection is known as the South Node or the Dragon’s Tail. The Lunar Nodes always move opposite to each other, and in the direction reverse to the motion of Luminaries (Sun and Moon) in the sky which is why their movement is called the Retrograde motion. The Luminaries always exhibit the direct motion, while the Lunar Nodes always the retrograde motion, but the five planets beside them that include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn exhibit a combination of direct and retrograde motions according to their relative positions to the Earth. Meaning that the five planets individually have movements at times similar to the Luminaries, and at other times the Lunar Nodes. Now, what does it all mean astrologically?

The Luminaries are the symbols of power in astrology, whilst the Lunar Nodes are the symbols of purpose. The Luminaries represent the awareness that ushers humanity into the future with a better design and architecture to inhabit the earth, while the Nodes make them discover the original intent in their creation by the knowledge of their historical experiences from the most ancient times. The awareness of the future gives power, and the awareness of the past brings in purpose, and together they give an objective value to the human existence because their works acquire a sacred and noble nature. The movements towards the awareness of future and past, towards power and purpose is consistent with the direct and retrograde motion of the Luminaries and the Lunar Nodes. When the Luminaries that represent power come in contact with one of the Lunar Nodes that represents purpose, they produce the solar eclipse. Therefore, the solar eclipses are essentially the trials for human integrity.

Another important thing to remember here is that Sun and Moon are the Luminaries of Day and Night respectively. Sun represents the power of six day signs of the zodiac from Aries to Virgo, and Moon represents the power of six Night signs of the zodiac from Libra to Pisces. In a similar fashion, the Lunar North Node represents the purpose of the six day signs, and the Lunar South Node represents the purpose of the six night signs. Thus, the power of the Sun connects to the purpose of the North Node, and the power of the Moon connects to the purpose of the South Node. The rest of the planets when in direct motion in the day signs connect to the power of the Sun, and in retrograde motion connect to the purpose of the North Node; While in the night signs in direct motion they connect to the power of the Moon, and in retrograde motion they connect to the purpose of the South Node.

Now after this astrological understanding of the power and the purpose, we are sufficiently prepared to read the mysteries of chapter 15.

The Chapter 15: Al-Hijr (The Stone)

“The Stone” here is the term analogous to the Cornerstone. The Chapter 15 starts in the following manner, kindly note the tone of the language used.

1. Alif. Lam. Ra. These are verses of the Scripture and a plain Reading.

2. It may be that those who disbelieve wish ardently that they were Muslims.

3. Let them eat and enjoy life, and let (false) hope beguile them. They will come to know!

4. And We destroyed no township but there was a known decree for it.

5. No nation can outstrip its term nor can they lag behind.

6. And they say: O thou unto whom the Reminder is revealed, lo! thou art indeed a madman!

7. Why bringest thou not angels unto us, if thou art of the truthful?

8. We send not down the angels save with the Fact, and in that case (the disbelievers) would not be tolerated.

9. Lo! We, even We, reveal the Reminder, and lo! We verily are its Guardian.

The first verse starts with the abbreviated mystery letters Alif. Lam. Ra. which if you can refer to my introductory article of this series, they mean that this chapter is to be about the conflicts about wealth and community. The first nine verses show a derogatory attitude towards people with wealth and power who lack true purpose in their lives. It suggests that the gruesome fate awaits them because their power shall fail if not aligned with the true purpose. Also, their denouncing the prophet as a madman constitutes the deviation from the right course because their minds do not correspond with that of the prophet’s, and thus shall suffer punishment of destruction. The verse nine metaphorically means that the connection between power and purpose is divinely ordained, and thus shall be protected.

13. They believe not therein, though the example of the men of old hath gone before.

14. And even if We opened unto them a gate of heaven and they kept mounting through it,

15. They would say: Our sight is wrong — nay, but we are folk bewitched.

16. And verily in the heaven we have set mansions of the stars, and We have beautified it for beholders.

17. And We have guarded it from every outcast devil,

18. Save him who stealeth the hearing, and them doth a clear flame pursue.

19. And the earth have We spread out, and placed therein firm hills, and caused each seemly thing to grow therein.

The verse 13 suggests that the course of humanity towards its destiny is like a cyclical process of trials and errors that amounts to the exploration of all possibilities for exalting the human stature. In order to understand the verses 14–19, we must acquaint ourselves with the nature of awareness. In the Quranic tradition, which we shall soon see in the verses ahead, the angels are considered extremely subtle creatures entirely constituted of light energy, the devils or jinns are creatures of heat energy (subtle but nevertheless denser than light), and humans are constituted of the earth materials (extremely dense). For the angelic knowledge or message to reach the human mind, the subtle awareness must stay intact in a very dense environment. For such a process to transpire, the earth itself will have to be transformed through moulding and crystallisation to become a transparent gem that could sustain or reflect the light perfectly without loosing it. This transformation is indeed a hard process involving higher temperatures and pressures. Notwithstanding, the gemstone can carry out the work of light easily afterwards, but in doing so it usually becomes way more denser and harder than looser earth materials. And still not every hard substance on earth is a gemstone either. The point here is that heat energy being way less denser than earth material can easily subvert, manipulate, or even sabotage the subtle light communications. This it strives to accomplish by appealing to the humans in the form of their passions. Passions being the form of heat accessible to the humans.

For instance, let’s investigate how could the angelic message in the above mentioned verses 14–16 be subverted by human passions. The message says that there is a path to the heaven that could be mounted, and on seeing it people would be surprised, and more so even there are mansions of the stars that are very beautiful to behold. Anyone who is prone to passions on hearing such phrases would likely react by saying, “Wow! Look God has set mansions of the stars. How beautiful…” etc. Note that here the emphasis in the passionate reaction is more on the stars, and much less on the mansions. This is understandable also, since if I declare to someone that I have many boxes of Jewellery, then the person’s focus is more likely to be on the jewellery than the boxes because mere boxes are totally valueless. The case about mansions of the stars is on the contrary different because the stars here are quite valueless and serve only as decoration pieces for the invisible but powerful mansions of the twelve zodiac signs around the ecliptic. Passions therefore, can really trick humans if they do not possess a deeper realization that God does not care much about physical beauty as compared to the beauty of the souls or human integrity.

26. Verily We created man of potter’s clay of black mud altered,

27. And the jinn did We create aforetime of essential fire.

28. And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered,

29. So, when I have made him and have breathed into him of My Spirit, do ye fall down, prostrating yourselves unto him.

30. So the angels fell prostrate, all of them together.

31. Save Iblis. He refused to be among the prostrate.

32. He said: O Iblis! What aileth thee that thou art not among the prostrate?

33. He said: I am not one to prostrate myself unto a mortal whom Thou hast created out of potter’s clay of black mud altered!

34. He said: Then go thou forth from hence, for lo! thou art outcast.

35. And lo! the curse shall be upon thee till the Day of Judgment.

Notice that in the above verses, the phrase “potter’s clay of black mud altered” has been repeated four times in eight verses because it is highly significant and symbolic. Though the creation of man has also been described with greater comprehensive detail in some other chapters of Quran, rarely has it resorted to such extraordinary terminology. So, this phrase definitely owes special attention. The words ‘potter’s clay’ seems to denote the flexibility or malleability of material, suggesting that the stuff was pliable enough to be moulded. Secondly, the black mud should contain plenty of humus or organic substances and probably had the origin in some delta region of a river or sea. Also, the term ‘altered’ alongside it suggests that the material was very old and been through a lot of phases in its development of texture and chemical composition, and contained just about every element known in the periodic table. Now, when the Lord had commanded the angels to show obeisance to man, He actually placed him as the Cornerstone for His creation. The angels had very little in common with man on account of being extremely subtle, and man being extremely gross and dense, so they did not really care in their obedience of the Lord, but the jinn had some affinity with the matter because fire does tend to heat up or burn inflammable substances. The jinn refused to obey. The Lord had made man into the Cornerstone of His temple because man’s very substance was formed of endless struggle, trauma, suffering, and sacrifices. Man was truly fashioned out of misery material, carrying the gravity of tremendous weight from ages of agonizing struggle from the most precarious of environments through contortions and distortions. Man was not very bright, but his material had seen it all. Therefore, in the sight of the all-knowing Lord, man was fit to be the Cornerstone, and thus deserved to be fully honoured. Unfortunately, the honour came with a price in the form of man’s perpetual struggle with his passions, and his tendency to self-sabotage.

36. He said: My Lord! Reprieve me till the day when they are raised.

37. He said: Then lo! thou art of those reprieved.

38. Till the Day of appointed time.

39. He said: My Lord! Because Thou hast sent me astray, I verily shall adorn the path of error for them in the earth, and shall mislead them every one,

40. Save such of them as are Thy perfectly devoted slaves.

41. He said: This is a right course incumbent upon Me:

42. Lo! as for My slaves, thou hast no power over any of them save such of the froward as follow thee,

43. And lo! for all such, hell will be the promised place.

44. It hath seven gates, and each gate hath an appointed portion.

45. Lo! those who ward off (evil) are among gardens and watersprings.

46. (And it is said unto them): Enter them in peace, secure.

47. And We remove whatever rancour may be in their breasts. As brethren, face to face, (they rest) on couches raised.

48. Toil cometh not unto them there, nor will they be expelled from thence.

49. Announce, (O Muhammad) unto My slaves that verily I am the Forgiving, the Merciful,

50. And that My doom is the dolorous doom.

In the verse 44, the seven gates of hell represent the abused power of the seven planets in deviation to the course of its original intent. When the power and its purpose do not sympathize, it results in gruesome consequences. But in those special cases they do work out owing to a man living with the proper course of his conscience, they result in exceedingly happy situations. The following verses in this context are very interesting.

51. And tell them of Abraham’s guests,

52. (How) when they came in unto him, and said: Peace. He said: Lo! we are afraid of you.

53. They said: Be not afraid! Lo! we bring thee good tidings of a boy possessing wisdom.

54. He said: Bring ye me good tidings (of a son) when old age hath overtaken me? Of what then can ye bring good tidings?

55. They said: We bring thee good tidings in truth. So be not thou of the despairing.

56. He said: And who despaireth of the mercy of his Lord save those who are astray?

57. He said: And afterward what is your business, O ye messengers (of Allah)?

58. They said: We have been sent unto a guilty folk,

59. (All) save the family of Lot. Them we shall deliver every one,

60. Except his wife, of whom We had decreed that she should be of those who stay behind.

The news of a boy possessing wisdom, and the destruction of the guilty folk is consistent with the notion of death and rebirth associated with the solar eclipses. The weak old physical state of Abraham did not cause despair in him due to his righteousness, while the great self confidence of the guilty in their power could not save them as they were doomed. The solar eclipse had acted like a Cornerstone to order the earth according to the right course in the heaven. It served as a surgical stroke that cut off the malignancy which threatened the well being of noble lives, so that the characteristics of upright nature may survive. The goodness can truly be sustained only once the suffocating influences of the corruption are removed.

One thing I have most keenly observed in this chapter is its association with the fixed signs of the zodiac. It seems that the resilient character of the fixed signs correspond nicely with the durability of the Cornerstone. The story of Abraham receiving the good tidings of a wise son in the older age from his uninvited guests is as surprising a case as the nature of Aquarius. And the guilty folks of Sodom are definitely the corrupt representatives of the sign of Scorpio. The signs of Taurus and Leo are also mentioned in the chapter as we shall see.

61. And when the messengers came unto the family of Lot,

62. He said: Lo! ye are folk unknown (to me).

63. They said: Nay, but we bring thee that concerning which they keep disputing,

64. And bring thee the Truth, and lo! we are truth-tellers.

65. So travel with thy household in a portion of the night, and follow thou their backs. Let none of you turn round, but go whither ye are commanded.

66. And We made plain the case to him, that the root of them (who did wrong) was to be cut at early morn.

73. Then the (Awful) Cry overtook them at the sunrise.

74. And We utterly confounded them, and We rained upon them stones of heated clay.

75. Lo! therein verily are portents for those who read the signs.

The family of Lot were instructed to travel during the night, but forbidden to turn round to see anything. The question is whatever could they have witnessed in the darkness of the night, if there was indeed any darkness, because the morning or sunrise might well have been a reference to the solar eclipse. The punishment does not really have to wait till morning to transpire itself because that sort of daybreak happens everyday, unless it is symbolic of the solar renewal in the form of eclipse. The instructions of following the back of guilty people and never turning back also confirms to the astrological nature of solar eclipses whereby radical actions for cleansing oneself from the diseased remnants of the past is highly recommended. Especially considering the way destruction is described here seems rather extraordinary, as the awful cry must have been a blast of some kind, followed by the aerial bombardment of heated stones. Not just the leaders of the guilty had to perish in order to serve as examples to their people, but every single inanimate object in the area had to be demolished to make it the historical event for eternity. This demonstrates how serious the divine forces can be when it comes to the fulfilment of the divine plan, for it is not merely about dispensation of justice to them, but outright vengeance. And there are more examples of divine vengeance being meted out in the following.

78. And the dwellers in the wood indeed were evil-doers.

79. So we took vengeance on them; and lo! they both are on a high-road plain to see.

80. And the dwellers in Al-Hijr (The Stone) denied (Our) messengers.

81. And we gave them Our revelations, but they were averse to them.

82. And they used to hew out dwellings from the hills, (wherein they dwelt) secure.

83. But the (Awful) Cry overtook them at the morning hour,

84. And that which they were wont to count as gain availed them not.

The reference to ‘the dwellers in the wood’ is concerning the people of the city of Midian, whose practices of monetary malfeasance and greed for exorbitant profits had led them to destruction. They represent the corrupted faction of the sign of Taurus. It is also proper to term the corrupted folks of Leo to be the dwellers in Al-Hijr (The Stone), because Leo is ruled by the Sun which in eclipsed state becomes the Cornerstone of divine creation. As strong as they may have been, but could not withstand the ordinance of fate and were destroyed. Again here the morning hour metaphorically refers to the solar eclipse.

85. We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save with truth, and lo! the Hour is surely coming. So forgive, (O Muhammad), with a gracious forgiveness.

86. Lo! Thy Lord! He is the All-Wise Creator.

87. We have given thee seven of the oft-repeated (verses) and the great Qur’an.

88. Strain not thine eyes toward that which We cause some wedded pairs among them to enjoin, and be not grieved on their account, and lower thy wing (in tenderness) for the believers.

89. And say: Lo! I, even I, am a plain warner,

90. Such as We send down for those who make division,

91. Those who break the Qur’an into parts.

92. Them, by thy Lord, We shall question, every one,

93. Of what they used to do.

94. So proclaim that which thou art commanded, and withdraw from the idolaters.

It is quite astonishing the number of times we see the planets and the zodiac mentioned either directly or figuratively in this chapter. The stairway to heaven in verse 14 representing the orbits of planets, the mansions of stars in verse 16 representing the zodiac, the seven gates of hell in verse 44 representing the malevolent nature of the planets, and now in the above mentioned passage ‘seven of the oft-repeated (verses)’ represent the orbital movements of the seven planets whilst ‘the great Qur’an’ represents the zodiac. The verses 85–94 I believe are the very hallmark of hermetic texts, because these have components of comprehensibility and wholeness seldom found elsewhere. The verse 85 combines the heavens and earth and all that is between them with truth, and the expression of truth being the Hour of destiny. The wedded pairs in verse 88 metaphorically represent the combined powers of the Sun and the Moon, the night and the day, the mind and the body, the thought and the action, the force and the movement, and the order and its strength. To make divisions in anyone of them is essentially like breaking the Quran into parts and that certainly has to be answered for. Thus, man always would require greater and greater levels of wisdom to protect himself from such divisions.

The End Note

Humans in their psychological nature try to make sense of their existence by holding on to something sacred with a fetish of adoration and devotion in order to stand together. Their common pursuits are directed and driven by the agency that binds them so strongly that it becomes the part of their very nature itself. The bondage whether accepted or imposed, never fails to transform an individual and prepares him to be dissolved in a greater whole. The rings of gemstones and markings for instance have always been traditionally used as marks of fraternity among individuals living at great distances from each other, but still striving for a common purpose based on the nature of their idealism. The Cornerstone of Islam which is the black stone placed in Kaaba serves to connect the earliest aspirations of Islam to the realization of their grand future lurking way ahead on the horizon. But the attachments also bestow a greater realization on a man, that he is a part of something bigger than himself, which frequently induces him to bring forth the best in himself. I should conclude this article by stating the following verses from Quran.

But when sight is confounded. And the moon is eclipsed. And sun and moon are united, On that day man will cry: Whither to flee! Alas! No refuge! Unto thy Lord is the recourse that day. On that day man is told the tale of that which he hath sent before and left behind. Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself, Although he tender his excuses. (Chapter 75, Verses 7–15)