Impossible occultists

Practice and participation in an Islamic tradition

by ALIREZA DOOSTDAR

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Since the turn of the 21st century, many middle‐class Iranians have turned to the Islamic tradition of occult sciences to find solutions to difficult life problems. Despite the intensity of their engagements, these Iranians often consider occult practice impossible. Their struggles elucidate differences between practicing a tradition and participating in it: In practice, one's purposes (healing a friend, cursing an enemy, winning a love interest, acquiring wealth) are aligned with internal goods like esoteric insight and realizing connections between the microcosm and macrocosm of God's universe. In participation, purposes and internal goods exist in tension and remain unreconciled. Participation may thus appear as a negation of practice, but it can also emerge as a possibility for learning or creating something new.

Talismans sold in the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran. The sign above lists their functions as “sorcery cancellation, problem solving, sustenance, love and affection, deflecting calamities, the evil eye.” Each packet includes a folded paper talisman with printed text and designs, and a separate sheet with instructions on how to use it.
Talismans sold in the Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran. The sign above lists their functions as “sorcery cancellation, problem solving, sustenance, love and affection, deflecting calamities, the evil eye.” Each packet includes a folded paper talisman with printed text and designs, and a separate sheet with instructions on how to use it.