© Waldo Tomosky, 2018
It is known — that there exist spiritual thoughts within some men – men endowed with a yearning to understand why they exist. These thoughts are born with these men; yet refuse to die with them.
Abū Ḥamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm was such a man. His yearning started in 1145 AD; yet this yearning was not allowed to die (with his body) in 1221. He has, throughout the centuries been known by three names; Farīd ud-Dīn (فرید الدین), ʿAṭṭār (عطار) and Apothecary. Attar lived in Nishapur in Persia, where he wrote about “The Conference of the Birds.”
He was not the only poet who wrote in the Sufi style; a style which invites every man to interpret the story in his own way. Most of these men lived near Nishapur, then known as “New City of Shapur”, a city in Razavi Khorasan Province, situated at the foot of the Binalud Mountains. You may — or may not — recognize the names of some of these men;
Mazdak; a Zoroastrian prophet, reformer and religious activist
Kanarang; commander of the Sassanid Empire’s northeastern most frontier province
Behafarid; an 8th-century Persian Zoroastrian heresiarch
Abu al-Abbas Iranshahri; philosopher, mathematician, historian of religion
Ibn Khuzaymah; Muslim scholar
Abu al-Hassan al-Amiri; a Muslim theologian and philosopher
Abū al-Wafā’ Būzjānī; a mathematician and astronomer
Hakim al-Nishaburi; a Sunni scholar and historian
Tha’ālibī; a Muslim philologist, writer and poet
Ahmad ibn ‘Imad al-Din; a Persian physician and alchemist
Abū-Sa’īd Abul-Khayr; a Persian Sufi and poet
Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tha’labi; an 11th-century Islamic scholar.
Abd al-Karīm ibn Hawāzin Qushayri – a Philosopher and Sufi
Omar Khayyám; a Persian, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet.
Mu’izzi; an 11th and 12th-centuries poet
Haji Bektash Veli; a Muslim mystic
These men, who yearned to know the Beginning and the End, lived in the territory and times of Attar. Possibly, through the multiple faces of God, some of Attar remained in them after his body died. On the other hand, possibly some of these men remained in Attar (or us) after they had died.
The following account of spirituality and yearning continued in the American territory of Dakota; which accidentally and minimally, crossed over into Canada.
The Nakota Sioux lived in the Dakota Territory prior to the arrival of European settlers. They were visited by Lewis and Clark in August of 1804 on a Missouri River bluff. I was introduced to Chief Pale’ne’a’pa’pe in 1856. This will be verified by George Kingsbury in 1915 on page 115 of the tome he is currently working on. Two years after my meeting with Chief Pale’ne’a’pa’pe the signing of the Yankton Treaty (1858) opened the territory for settlement.
I was trapping beaver hard by the Dakota Trail near Fort Pierre Chouteau at that time. Settlement was encouraged; however, the Dakota territory had not received the protection that formal states were acquiring. European settlers kept coming for farm land, despite the fact a treaty with the Sioux had not yet been signed. Scandinavian settlers had fled to the fort to find relief from Indian raids. The fort was located on the confluence of the Missouri and Bad rivers in Dakota.
I was inside the fort in the year 1857, and I hunted after the coins that had been held by Scandinavians who were unsure of the American currencies. The Scandinavian Monetary Union had provided fixed exchange rates and stability in monetary terms, but the member countries – Denmark and Sweden — continued to issue their own separate coinage. The coins were accepted, with a small exchange rate, equal to the coins normally used throughout the area. It was apparent to me that the individual Danish and Swedish coins would soon be disappearing. Investors would be clamoring for these coins if the over-burdened American budget collapsed.
These old coins represented the past. I was happy to escape from the muddy Dakota trail, and, to exchange the smell of semi-dried beaver pelts for the inspection of skillfully engraved images of kings, queens and a variety of birds. One of my favorite coin sellers was Mr. Gould, an old gentleman, whose one room store was located inside the fort.
Gould’s store was not particularly rich in paper currency; quite the opposite, it specialized in small silver and gold coins. Scarcely four or five hundred dollars-worth at any one time. They were carefully washed, cleaned, and arranged with great care in glass enclosed cabinets. On the top shelves, Danish and Swedish coins; on the lower shelves, the American and Canadian in the majority, with some French and English. Such was Mr. Gould’s specialty; it appeared as if he absolutely ignored Mexican coins, and as if, in his mind, the coinage of that country did not go beyond the copper of the United States’ one cent piece.
What, at my first purchase, struck me most about those coins, was Gould’s low exchange rate compared with his meager inventory. They had, evidently, not been bought in a lot, at so much an ounce, like the dross of a coin auction typically held in Saint Louis. Yet, the handsomest, the most ancient, the most admired for their diameter, thickness and quality, were not exchanged higher than an eight percent rate.
Therefore, Gould was a logical man if ever there was one. And he was all the better for it; he was faithfully patronized by investors and collectors who were heading west for the newly opened territories. He renewed his stock at a rate which more assuming speculators might have envied.
But how did he get those coins, which anywhere else, a dealer would have charged, at a minimum, eighteen percent exchange rate? Here also Gould had his method; it was as sure and regular as the return of the Snowy Owl. No one attended more assiduously to the destitute who had left the majority of their coins buried in a tin box while fleeing an Indian raid.
Gould’s store was often suggested by the cavalry men who knew that the farmers hardly had enough time to save their silver during an escape. The rarest, choicest coins passed before his eyes and Gould smiled at such opportunities. Once a bid had been made he would not add a penny, even if a rare doubloon was at stake.
But if occasionally, through inattention or weariness of the farmer, a coin was left uncounted, sometimes even two, joined together for want of having been cleaned of mud, Gould would, regardless, pay its full worth. Any other time, sellers more attentive might perhaps have increased the price of a gold coin. This, however, did not change Gould’s exchange rate; size and quality were the only rules.
Now, one week, after a considerable number of Indian raids had occurred, Gould exhibited, in his shop, coins more numerous than usual. I especially noticed some of Iberian mintage, however, more remarkable, Arabic in text. The metal, the engraving and the lettering — of which Gould informed me — was surely of Iberian/Granada origin, and which might well be nearly six hundred years old. The designation of one was, I believe, الطيور, another مرايا, and another هوههوه. I queried Gould as to the meaning of these identifies. He informed me that the previous owner, a Spaniard of Arabic decent, had written down the meanings of these three coins as “Birds,” “Mirrors” and Chasms.”
Birds, mirrors and chasms; what a collection of images! Yet, were it but for the sake of civility, I was bound to purchase something. After some hesitation, I chose the last coin, chasms — for sure – – but birds and mirrors; the objects were not frightening, and still less so the way in which it seemed to me to have been engraved. In short, I had the chasm coin for five cents United States, an excellent price.
That coin, in silver of some previous century, engraved in Arabic, and beautifully preserved, had other text unknown to me. The original minting was in the engraver’s hand, that of a perfectionist; there were however, additional engravings on the circular edge of the coin. These engravings, on the rim of the coin, were very distinctly engraved by another hand; to all appearances unique.
Our dealer in coins, Mr. Gould, had purchased it a few days before.
One thing is sure, the coin held spiritual powers. Not necessarily the spirits that are found in the works of Edgar Allen Poe (whose death has recently occurred) but rather mystical, such as those found in the sects of the Sufi Muslims and Jewish Kabbalists, as well as the spiritual ground of the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. This, I discovered, through the research of many libraries – plus – a mystical encounter with a Persian immigrant that I met under strange circumstances at a tavern in Saint Louis. This writing is a result of those library visits and that mystical encounter.
The philosopher, the confessor, or a therapist of illogical thought, possibly in conjunction with the robust faith of a Caribbean Pentecostal, will find in the following text, novel and ingenious views. The literary man and the curious will appreciate the solidity of reasoning, the clearness of style and the liveliness of narrations — for these are stories which are delicately told.
Many theologians have devoted several tomes to the question of mystical occurrences between living man and reincarnated man. Thick volumes have been written about the art of praying, and the merits of those works were slim as they only developed the normal thesis; but such was not the character of the Saint Louis Persian. The basis, from which he derived a truly original and philosophical attitude, is an entirely novel demonstration of the existence of thoughts that occur in the individual mind but never in the mind of an alliance of men.
Al Ghazali (1058-1111 AD) had an encounter with skepticism which made him believe that all events are not the product of — occurrences of random conjunctions — but, are due to the Will of God. Ibn Rushd’s [Averroes] (1126–1198 AD) writings opposed al-Ghazali’s claim. Averroes believed that that the deity knows only the general laws of the universe, those that apply not to the individual man, but rather to the group known as mankind.
Mystics, as rational animals, are both corporeal and spiritual like our-selves, who live in our midst, being born and dying like us, and finally redeemed, as we are, through the merits of God (Bal/Allah/Yahweh or “he whose name is never to be uttered”) and capable of receiving salvation or damnation. Salvation as being born again and again into a good human spirit, or damnation, being born again and again onto an evil corporeal body.
In the Saint Louis immigrant’s opinion, those beings endowed with senses and reason are thoroughly distinct from Angels and Demons, who are pure spirits. These beings, that he avoided describing, are none other than the Fauns and Sylvans – – made up of lustful, drunken woodland gods with a horse’s ears and tail – – or on the female side, which are like our imaginary spirit of the air – – a slender woman or girl sylph – – or my English elves and goblins; which I am more prone to believe in. On this score alone, not to mention the interest of details, the following text will have a claim to the attention of earnest readers; I feel convinced, that type of close attention will not be found wanting.
Please read on, in the next episode (S1:E2) to understand where this series is going.
The Dakota Explorer
Next Post: S1:E2 (An Emendation)