Will I Be Happy, Will I Be Rich?


occult sciences
lot books (qurʿas)
Mamluk period
Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq
chance versus fate


This article deals with a collection of three divinatory lot books (qurʿas) that were once owned by Qāniṣawh al-Muḥammadī, an early tenth/sixteenth-century governor of Mamluk Damascus: Qurʿat al-Imām Jaʿfar, Qurʿat al-Dawāzdahmarj, and al-Qurʿa al-mubāraka al-maʾmūniyya. Beginning with a transcription and translation of their introductions and some samples of their main texts, I analyze the books’ divinatory technique and show it to be a combination of choice and chance, the latter generated either through a muqāraʿa or through a khaṭṭ procedure. I lay bare the mechanics that inform the seemingly haphazard arrangement of the 3,856 divinations included in the books, identify the books’ sources in Quranic or (Perso-)Indic astrology, and conclude with a discussion of the historicity of the various user strategies, based on supplementary manuscript evidence. In the appendix, I provide a full transcription and translation of the first lot book, with instructions for making one’s own divinatory device.

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