Kashifi's Asrar-i qasimi: A Late Timurid Manual of the Occult Sciences and Its Safavid Afterlife

This article examines a short Persian work on the occult sciences of illusionism and conjuring (sīmiyā, rīmiyā) by the renowned late Timurid-era polymath Ḥusayn Vāʿiẓ Kāshifī (d. 910/1504–1505), titled Asrār-i qāsimī, which came to serve as the core of a greatly expanded interpolation, composed during the high Safavid period, that covered the remaining occult sciences of talismanic lettrism (līmiyā), astral magic (hīmiyā), and alchemy (kīmiyā). Although Kāshifī himself was not a Shiʿi, he was adopted by Safavid Shiʿi culture on account of his imamophilism, Sufism, and esotericism that transcended confessional boundaries. His Asrār-i qāsimī was by his own account inspired by the early ninth/fifteenth-century Sufi master, Persian poet, and occultist Qāsim-i Anvār. The bulk of the interpolation is devoted to the talismanic arts and is supposedly based on a work called Ḥall al-mushkilāt. The anonymous interpolator, whose identity has long been a mystery (as scholars assumed incorrectly that Kāshifī was the author of the interpolation, which retained the title Asrār-i qāsimī), appears to have been Jalāl al-Dīn Munajjim (d. 1028/1619), the court astrologer of the Safavid shah ʿAbbās I (r. 995–1038/1587–1629). He describes in detail the talismans fashioned for various purposes, often for well-known political figures, by such eminent Shiʿi religious scholars and Sufis as Shaykh Bahāʾ al-Dīn Muḥammad ʿĀmilī (d. 1030/1621), who allegedly based many of his operations on those of the legendary Indian master known as Ṭumṭum-i Hindī. Kāshifī’s Asrār-i qāsimī offers a fascinating glimpse into the arcane and secretive arts of illusionism and conjuring, while the Safavid interpolation of his work provides a rarely documented perspective on the exercise of political power in Iran and demonstrates the great esteem in which the occult sciences were held at the highest levels of Safavid society.