A Magician of Cairo
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Dr. Paul Brunton
A Search in Secret Egypt
Once again I kicked up little dust-clouds as I walked through the narrow lane leading to the aged magician's rambling old house. This time I had come from the Poultry Bazaar which lies a short way behind the Ataba el Khadra Square, a plump little white fowl tucked under my right arm. I could feel the warm beating of its breast under the pressure of my hand and I wondered what malign fate the old man had designed for it.
When I arrived, the magician's face lost its usual gravity and broke into a smile. He expressed his pleasure at my obedience to his request. He asked me to set the fowl down in the centre of the floor-rug and then step three times over an incense brazier which stood in a corner. Having done this and passed through the cloud of fragrant smoke, I settled down on the divan and watched both man and bird. The former took a sheet of paper and drew a small square upon it, which was next sub- divided into nine smaller squares. Within each of the latter he inscribed a kabbalistic sign or Arabic letter. Then he began to mutter some half-audible mystic incantation, with eyes fixedly regarding the fowl, while now and then his whispers were punctuated by a commanding gesture of the forefinger of his right hand, which was stretched out as though he were issuing an order. The poor creature became frightened and ran off into a corner of the room, where it took refuge underneath a chair. The magician thereupon asked me to seize it and bring it back to the centre of the floor. I did not care to touch it again and told him so. His son, who had now come in and joined us, captured the bird and put it down at the point whence it had fled.
Once more it twisted about and made as if to run back to the corner a second time, when the magician commanded it in a firm voice to return.
The fowl stopped at once.
I then noticed that it started to tremble all over its body, so that the feathers shook to and fro.
The magician asked me to step three times over the incense brazier as I had done before. When I returned to the divan I noticed that the fowl no longer looked at the magician but had turned its beady eyes in my direction, a direction which it never thereafter changed.
And then I observed an extraordinary thing. The little creature's breathing became laboured and heavy; each breath came in a sharp gasp, while the beak was never once closed, as though the bird were constantly engaged in a struggle to get air.
The magician had placed his kabbalistic paper on the floor nearby, slowly he retreated until he had withdrawn from the room and stood in the open doorway, where he began to mutter his strange spells, intently watching the fowl all the time. His half-chanted incomprehensible words, uttered in a most commanding voice, gradually swelled in tone and were followed by the slow decline of the bird into a half lifeless state.
At last, the animal weakened to such an extent that its legs gave way and it sank to the floor, though it was still able to maintain the upright posture of its body. Two minutes passed and then, even this became impossible. It turned over on its side and stretched itself out on the floor. And then its spirit revolted against its doom; it made a tremendous effort to struggle on to its legs again, only to fall back exhausted. Another couple of minutes passed and it made a convulsive gesture, moved its body in spasmodic jerks and fluttered its feathers feebly. Thereafter, its movements lessened until they finally stopped. The flesh became stiff, the head became rigid, and I realized that the warm little creature which I had brought from the bazaar only a half-hour ago was now a corpse. I stood up, speechless at the amazing sight. There was a sickly feeling in my heart.
The source of the experience
Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image
References and further reading
Brunton, Dr. P. (1936) A Search in Secret Egypt, 2nd revised edition, New York: Samuel Weiser, Inc
Observation contributed by: Monica Van Rossem