The alchemical creation of life (takwin) and other concepts of Genesis in medieval Islam

Kathleen Malone O'Connor, University of Pennsylvania


The concept of the alchemical creation of life (takwin) found within medieval Islamic alchemy expresses the metaphysical and material process of the generation of life (animal, vegetable, and mineral). The textual occurrence of this concept and "experiment" within the works of a semi-legendary eighth-century alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, is examined through selective translation and analysis. This expression of artificial generation is compared and contrasted with the other concepts which relate to the creation and generation of living things from the broader spectra of medieval Islamic alchemical, magical, mystical, and cosmological works, as well as from Islamic revelatory and prophetic literature (Qur'an and Hadith Qudsi). This work explores the religious nature of alchemical creation as a theurgic act. From the emic perspective of the alchemist, the act of takwin was an emulation of the divine creative and life-giving powers of Genesis and Resurrection and tapped the physical and spiritual forces in nature. At the same time it was an act through which the alchemist was inwardly transformed and purified, a spiritual regeneration. Such an act highlights the creative and often uneasy interrelationship of Islamic magic and science with Islamic revelation and tradition. Through the examination of alchemical creation as both a magical and profoundly religious act, this dissertation offers a reflection on the religious nature of magic within Islam and suggests this perspective as a useful theoretical approach to the subject of magic within the history of religions.

Subject Area

Religious history|Middle Eastern literature|Middle Ages

Recommended Citation

O'Connor, Kathleen Malone, "The alchemical creation of life (takwin) and other concepts of Genesis in medieval Islam" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9503804.