Farid Alakbarli. Medical Manuscripts of Azerbaijan. Page 9.

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Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine that is gaining popularity in the United States and Europe. Specialists in this field believe that flowers and herbs have value beyond their wonderful smells - perhaps these plants even have the power to heal.

The practice of aromatherapy is believed to date back several millennia to the Egyptians and Babylonians, who often took baths with aromatic herbs and other substances for hygienic and medicinal purposes. For instance, Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known to bathe regularly with rose petals.

In Azerbaijan as well, aromatherapy was once considered to be part of mainstream medicine. Medieval Azerbaijani doctors regularly prescribed essential oils and other fragrances for their patients. For example, a bath that smelled of roses - such as Cleopatra used to take - would have been prescribed for someone who was feeling melancholic or who had a headache. Today, this term usually refers to treatment with essential oils. These fragrant extracts come from flowers, fruits and herbs - such as rose, violet, thyme, lavender and marjoram - and are usually breathed in or applied to the skin.Although the term "aromatherapy" was only coined in 1937 by Ren-Mauric Gattefoss, a French cosmetic chemist, the technique itself is thousands of years old.


In the ancient kingdoms of Mannai (9th-7th centuries BC) and Atropatena (4th-1st centuries BC) - now situated in the provinces of Eastern and Western Azerbaijan (Iran) – people believed that they had to be clean and beautiful in order to attain a higher spirituality. For these purposes, ancient Azerbaijanis used aromatic oils such as frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, rosemary, hyssop, cassia, cinnamon and spikenard.

Some fragrant herbs and trees served a religious purpose. For example, the cypress, with its fragrant needles, was known as the tree of the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster). The dispersion of oils was also thought to purify the air and provide protection from evil spirits.

According to ancient Turkic beliefs, all fragrant flowers were created by Tangry, the Supreme God of the Blue Sky. The Goddess of Grasses and Trees, Oleng, was his wife. Oleng was also considered to be the patroness of physicians. Each year, at the beginning of spring, the Turkic peoples held solemn festivals in honor of this goddess and burned fragrant herbs such as wormwood.

Ancient Turkic legends tell that the souls of all children arise inside flowers and are then moved to their mothers' bodies. In a 7th-century legend, the elder named Gorgud says: "I was created inside a flower... moved to my mother's body, and born with the assistance of the gray-eyed Angel." [31]

Azerbaijanis treated diseases and injuries with aromatic substances. One scene describing such an occasion comes from the ancient Azerbaijani epic "Dada Gorgud" (Grandfather Gorgud), a compilation of legends that were set down in writing during the 11th century but contain stories that can be traced back to the 6th and 7th centuries. [70]

Aromatic plants weren't just for healing. For instance, as far back as the 4th century AD, the people in Caucasian Albania (now northern Azerbaijan) used the herb thyme as both a tonic and an aphrodisiac.


After Islamic invaders conquered the region in the 7th century, Azerbaijanis began studying the chemical properties of essential oils. They learned from the experience of Muslim alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (702-765) and other scholars who had helped to develop and refine the distillation process. In those times, Azerbaijanis could easily have extracted rose oil and prepared rose water, substances that were very popular throughout the entire East. Other essential oils used by medieval Azerbaijanis were fennel, lemon balm, spearmint, nutmeg, dill, chamomile, cinnamon, lime, orange, bergamot, lemon, myrrh, coriander, black cumin, tarragon, birch, cedar wood, cypress and myrtle. According to existing Azerbaijani manuscripts, at least 60 plant species were used in aromatherapy at the time. Unlike today, even aromatic animal species were used. Our documents identify eight of them.

By studying essential oils, medieval Azerbaijani doctors were able to expand their understanding of aromatherapy and its ability to cure disease. Specific oils were used to treat certain ailments. For instance, basil oil was believed to relax the muscles and have a calming effect. As an ointment, it could heal wounds, cuts and sores. Basil and camphor mixed with flour was used against scorpion bites, and bergamot root was known to alleviate insect bites and act as a repellent.

According to the poets Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) and Muhammad Fuzuli (1494-1556), rose oil was used as a remedy for headaches and as a topical antiseptic. Muhammad Yusif Shirvani (18th century) recommended an unguent of cumin for sword wounds. Though the concept of antibiotics was not known at the time, physicians did use ointments of cumin, honey and raw onion juice as topical antiseptics. [72]

We know that juniper oil was also used as an antiseptic because Haji Suleiman Iravani, a 17th-century Azerbaijani physician, recommends using ointment from juniper cones to heal wounds. Cypress was used as a strong diuretic for treating urinary disease. And for a person with a cold or a stuffy nose, doctors recommended inhaling the vapors from an infusion of thyme, peppermint or spearmint. [38]


Not everyone could aff o rd these treatments. While substances like violet oil and rose water were fairly inexpensive, imported essential oils were quite costly and only available to the wealthy. Rich people liked to dab themselves with aromatic ointments, substances that also functioned as a form of currency. Kings would barter and buy land, gold, slaves and wives with their crudely extracted oils.

Tenth-century Arabian writer Abu Ali Tanuhi observes that shahs and sultans possessed hundreds of jars of rare aromatic ointments in their treasure houses. Some of the ointments - which were worth their weight in gold - were brought from India, Egypt and Byzantium. Tanuhi writes of a miserly ruler who opened his jars, looked at his aromatic ointments with pride, then closed them again, explaining: "I can't bring myself to touch these treasures." [78]

Animal substances like musk, castor and ambergris were particularly ex-pensive, as they had to be imported from China, Russia, the Persian Gulf and India. Not only were these fragrances supposed to attract the female sex; they were also believed to have therapeutic properties. A dab of ambergris - a gray, waxy substance from the intestinal canals of sperm whales - would strengthen the brain and heart, believed 17th-century physician Hasan ibn Riza Shirvani. This substance is often found floating in tropical seas; to reach Azerbaijan, it had to be imported from the coastal regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans. [39]

The scent of musk, it was believed, would strengthen the heart and nerves and help to get rid of melancholy. To alleviate a headache, musk was mixed with saffron; a single drop on one nostril would be sufficient. Castor, a substance secreted by male beavers to attract mates, often served as a substitute for musk. One or two drops of castor applied to the face and arms would make a person more ap-pealing, it was believed. In 1311, Kabir Khoyi wrote that a bandage with a few drops of castor was good for treating headaches. Beverages containing castor and vinegar were also used to treat abdominal pain. [89]

Fourteenth-century Azerbaijani scholar Yusif ibn Ismail Khoyi describes eight different methods for administering aromatherapy: (1) Use a pillow filled with medicinal plants. (2) Carry a small pouch filled with dried medicinal plants. (3) Inhale the boiling decoctions of medicinal herbs. (4) Inhale the scent of flowers in special gardens. (5) Hang bunches of healing grasses inside the house. (6) Breathe the odor of burned medicinal plants. (7) Use an aromatic ointment. (8) Take an aromatic bath. [89]


From ancient times through the Middle Ages, different nations of the Mediterranean and Near East used aromatic herbal baths widely for medical purposes. Over time this practice, which began in Ancient Egypt and Babylon and was further developed by famous Greek scholars and practitioners, spread throughout Southern Europe and the Near East and, later, influenced medical practices in Western Europe.

Herbal baths, which were highly valued by the ancients, are not completely forgotten today. Modern science proves that bathing can relieve muscle tension, dilate blood vessels, and slow the heart rate. Herbs can contribute to these benefits. Bathing with infusions of fragrant herbs is used traditionally to treat many diseases, may eliminate physical and mental tiredness, and is beneficial for the skin and hair.

Since the late 1960s, owing to the widespread use of phytotherapy in the United States and Europe, herbal baths have become even more popular. Many unique methods of application of herbs in our daily life have been developed, and today a number of medicinal preparations and cosmetics are produced with herbs and sold throughout the world.

Soaps, shampoos, and shower gels containing various herbs and other plant-derived aromatic substances are now widely available for bathing or hand washing. However, volatile oils are not the only agents working in an aromatic bath. Fragrant plants contain numerous other constituents (tannins, flavonoids, alkaloids, etc.) that are also therapeutic in an herbal bath. The infusion of a whole fragrant herb is often considered to be more effective than its pure volatile oil.

Despite the number of modern works on phytotherapy, compared with the ancient medical manuscripts, they contain limited information about aromatic baths. Many ancient recipes have been forgotten. To revive them, one must refer to the ancient books on medicine and pharmacy. These sources contain numerous recommendations that might be of interest to modern physicians and could enrich modern herbal medicine.


During the Middle Ages, a cult of bathing was formed in Azerbaijan, Persia and Turkey. Contemporary sources attribute great healing properties to bathing. An 11th century Iranian writer, Keykavus Ziyari, wrote, "Since architects began to raise buildings, they created nothing better than a bathhouse." [91]

In order to maintain health, it was recommended that a person visit a bathhouse at least two or three times each week. Bathhouses served as both beauty parlors and health clinics. Medieval Middle Eastern bathhouses usually offered services such as bathing and massage with the application of aromatic oils. Many large public bathhouses had a staff of masseurs for this purpose, because it was believed that massage alleviates physical and mental tiredness, and improves circulation. Aromatic oils were also used to treat various diseases. For example, thyme ointment (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae) was applied for rheumatism, and an ointment with henna (Lawsonia inermis L., Lythraceae) or onion (Allium cepa L., Liliaceae & Alliaceae) was used for herpes. The staff of many bathhouses included a barber who cut hair and shaved the customers, and then applied henna (Lawsonia inermis L., Lythraceae), dyer's woad (Isatis tinctoria L., Brassicaceae), or other dyes to their hair.

After a bath and a massage, visitors to the bathhouse could rest and relax in a special room where they would drink coffee or tea with fragrant herbs that included peppermint, thyme, sweet marjoram, rose petals, cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton var. cardamomum, Zingiberaceae) or cloves (Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M. Perry, Myrtaceae). In Azerbaijan, customers could also ord e r sweets, dinner, or a pipe. Stays in the bathhouse were so pleasant that some people would spend all their free time there; some even slept there. As a rule, after a visit to the bathhouse, people felt rejuvenated, attractive, healthy, strong, and energetic. The Azerbaijani authors of the Middle Ages suggest numerous plants to use in one's bath, including grape leaves (Vitis vinifera L., Vitaceae), chamomile (Matricaria recutita L., Asteraceae), pomegranate (Punica granatum L., Lythraceae & Punicaceae), basil (Ocimum basilicum L., Lamiaceae), anise (Pimpinella anisum L., Apiaceae), violet (Viola sororia Willd.,

Violaceae), almond oil, garlic (Allium sativum L., Liliaceae & Alliaceae), and barley (Hordeum vulgare L., Poaceae) [12]

Ancient manuscripts provide evidence that during the 9th-14th centuries the aromatic oils of about 50 species of herbs and flowers were used for treatment through bathing and external application. Medieval sources provide information about methods of preparation and the curative properties of these baths. Azerbaijani bathhouses used fragrant substances in several ways, including:

1. Aromatic decoctions or infusions were added to the water in a bath. For example, Mumin (d. 1697) wrote that bathing in a decoction of pine needles (Pinus spp., Pinaceae) is good against diseases of the uterus and rectum.

2. Ointments containing aromatic herbal oils were applied to patients' bodies after or before bathing. For example, it was recommended to massage a patient's body with the ointment of pine pitch, euphorbium juice (from Euphorbia spp., Euphorbiaceae) and gug-gul (resin of Commiphora wightii (Arn.) Bhandari, Burseraceae), which was considered a good cure for stones in the bladder if applied after bathing with a special decoction. Some caution must be taken when using euphorbium juice, which is caustic.

3. Usually, fragrant fruits or perfumes were placed near a bathing person. It was believed that aromatic substances strengthen the heart and have a sedative effect. "[Hot] water in a bath should not cover the patient's breast and heart," wrote Ibn Sina. It was recommended to bathe as long as the skin continues to redden and swell. [1]

However, one was advised to stop bathing after the skin began to pale. According to the folk medicine of Azerbaijan, after a hot bath or nap, one was advised to apply rose, narcissus (Narcissus spp., Liliaceae & Amaryllidaceae), or violet aromatic oil to the face and body. Women especially liked these oils since they make the skin tender and silky when applied after bathing.


The medieval Azerbaijan bathhouse was a very beautiful architectural object, usually a stone building with arches, domes, and beautiful gates. In Azerbaijan, the inner part of the public bathhouse consisted of the entrance hall and one or several large bathing halls with pools. There was also a cloakroom and rooms for rest. Bathhouses were heated by hot steam circulated in pipes under floor and walls. Several large medieval bathhouses are still preserved in Baku, including the Haji Gayib Bathhouse (built during the 15th century C.E.) and the Gasim bey Bathhouse (built during the 17th century C.E.), which now houses a museum of medieval pharmacy.

In medieval times, the bathhouses would serve men one day, and women the next. The Shirvanshah Palace within the perimeters of the "Inner City" (Ichari Shahar) also had a large bathhouse dating from the 15th century, but it lies in ruins now. The Palace in Baku was erected in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Shirvanshahs, the rulers of the Shirvan state (eastern part of the present-day Azerbaijan Republic). Within the Palace complex, there is a two-story main building, which once held an elaborate gold-plated throne. In front of the main building stands the mausoleum of 15th-century scholar Seyid Yahya Bakuvi, who treated diseases with special Sufi prayers and invocations. Anearby building called the Divankhana (Court of Law) features portals that are adorned with beautiful stone carvings. The lower yard of the Palace contains the burial vault of the Shirvanshahs as well as a mosque and the remains of an ancient bathhouse.

Medieval Azeri sources attribute great healing properties to bathing. In order to maintain good health, it was recommended that a person visit a bathhouse at least two or three times each week. Medieval authors suggested several plants to use in one's bath, including grape leaves, chamomile, pomegranate, basil, anise, violet, almond, garlic and barley.

All public bathhouses had masseurs who applied healing and aromatic oils on the visitors' bodies. It was also possible to get meals, drinks and medicine, and you could even rest or sleep in the bathhouse.

To treat a cold, the bathhouse would offer a formula like the following: "Take 20g of basil leaves and flowers, mix with 20g of thyme leaves, and infuse in 1 liter of hot water for 15 minutes. Add two spoons of honey to the infusion and stir. The diseased person has to take one spoon of this medicine every half hour." [72]

Gasim bey's bathhouse doesn't look like modern bathhouses or saunas because it was based on the Oriental style of architecture, which uses domes and arches. It has several large pools and a number of separate rooms for individual bathing.


According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, after a hot bath or nap, one should apply rose, narcissus or violet essential oils to the face and body. Eastern women especially liked these oils because they made the skin silky and soft.

Pine Needles.

Some Azerbaijanis use pine branches to prepare an extraction for bathing, a substance that is supposed to strengthen the nervous system. The essential oil from pine is condensed to thick syrup, then dried and pressed into tablets.


In Azerbaijan, people with low blood pressure are advised to take a bath with rosemary. It is believed that this fragrant plant stimulates the circulation and serves as a tonic. The recipe has even been documented. To prepare the solution, pour 4 cups of boiling water into a pot containing 5 tablespoons of rosemary leaves, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the infusion and add to warm bathwater. The optimal duration for such a procedure is half an hour.


According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, bathing in a lavender decoction has anti-spasmodic and calming effects and is used for neurasthenia and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat).


Taking a bath with a marjoram decoction is good for flatulence and nervousness and has a diuretic effect, Azerbaijani folk healers say.


According to Azerbaijani folk medicine, bathing in a Melissa (lemon balm) decoction is good for heart disease, relief of tachycardia and lowering of the blood pressure. The bathwater must be warm, but not hot.


Medieval Azerbaijani physicians believed that the smells of these aromatic substances could help cure ailments. Scholars proposed a type of therapy that may be called "therapeutic use of flower gardens." Medieval Eastern rulers and nobility were advised to spend their leisure time in flowering gardens, for their own treatment and relaxation. If they inhaled the fragrances of flowers, it was believed that they would relax and be cured.

Considering that medieval Azerbaijani doctors were working without the advances of modern scientific medicine, aromatherapy was a fairly ingenious way to treat patients with natural substances that were readily available. For instance, physicians had figured out how to use frankincense and myrrh as natural antiseptics. Herbs like spearmint and chamomile were also known to have antiseptic and healing properties. Today, scientists know that these fragrant herbs contain essential oils that are able to kill microbes and clean and heal wounds. Here are some quotations:

SMELL OF VIOLET OR ROSE are healthy in headaches which are caused by excessive bile in organism. In these cases it is also healthy to smell flowers of YELLOW WATER-LILY. [60]

INHALATION OF QUINCE'S SMELL makes the mood better, strengthens the organism natural energ y, and is helpful in inner hemorrhages. [38]

SMELL OF CITRON'S SKIN tones up nervous system, makes the mood better. [88]

SMELL OF APPLES refreshes brain, raises its workability. [89]

Physicians prescribed smells of different cultivated and wild plants in treatment and prophylaxis of some diseases.


Although skeptics may doubt the curative powers of music, scientists have known for centuries that music does contribute to the healing process. In plants, music has been proven: modern scholars have established that the regular playing of classical music greatly enhances the growth and development of plants. Tests have been carried out using Western classical music such as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. If music can affect the well being of plants, should it come as a surprise that human health can be affected as well?

Here's what medieval scientists and physicians from Azerbaijan and the region had to say about the curative powers of music. Many centuries ago, physicians were well aware of the potency of music. Seven hundred years ago, Azerbaijani scientist Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi (or Urmavi, 13th century) w rote treatises, explaining his ideas about musicology. "Sharafiyya”, the most famous book by Urmiyayi, was wellknown throughout the Muslim World from Spain to India. Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi is considered to be the "Father of Mugham" (the genre of traditional modal music). He was the first person to develop a scientific theory for this genre, create musical terminology and identify and teach modal scales. He wrote about the positive influence of music on human health.

Later, his work continued other Azerbaijani musicians - Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi (1353-1433) and Abdul-Latif Shirvani (16th century AD), the author by “Fil-Musiqa” (On Musicology). To alleviate tiredness and provide relief from neurosis, to lift one's spirits or to induce sleep, our ancestors used to listen to music performed on the ancient Eastern musical instruments such as the rubab, ud, dutar, tambur, ney, mizmar, surnaya, chang, shahrud and kanun.

Between the 9th and 14th centuries, the medical properties of music were elaborated by well-known Oriental scientists such as Abu Nasr al-Farabi, al-Khorezmi, Abu Reyhan Biruni, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi and others.

What did they define as the curative nature of melodies? The Great Turkic scholar Abu Nasr al-Farabi (873-950) in his "Great Book about Music" observed: "Music promotes good mood, moral education, emotional steadiness and spiritual development. It is useful for physical health. When the soul is not healthy, the body is also ill. Good music, which cures the soul, restores the body to good health." [50]

Do you have a headache? Relax beside a flower bed or a trickling fountain, or invite a musician to come and perform so you can fall asleep to the gentle sounds of dutar (Eastern stringed instrument)! It was advised by the great physician Ibn Sina (980-1037).

Seven centuries later “Tibbname” (1712) prescribed melodies of stringed instruments for those who were suffering from melancholy and insomnia. The well-known 18th century's doctor Sultan Giyasaddin in his work "Kitab al-Sinaat" challenged his colleagues to study music, noting that "scholars of India recommend that physicians study melodies and the theory of music. This science is necessary for the doctor, just like his search to understand the subtleties of diagnosing the pulse. In addition, some illnesses may be cured when the patient listens to certain melodies." [76]

Some Indian melodies are still performed in Azerbaijan, such as the mughams known as Humayun and Maur-Hindi. Indian melodies were brought to Azerbaijani by numerous Indian traders and colonists who came in Azerbaijan and stayed here permanently. For example, many villages in the Mughan lowlands of Azerbaijan were settled by Turkic tribes who came here from northern India and Pakistan in the 17th- 18th centuries. Some of the men had fought in the armies of the Safavid shahs who, in turn, granted them land in Azerbaijan for their loyal services.

The physicians of the Middle Ages tried to understand what was known about the curative powers of music (elm almusigi), but it was not so easy. Music was such a subtle and exacting science that the Central Asian scientist al-Khorezmi (783-850) included it in a section of mathematics, specifically in the discussion of his famous work on algebra.

"The Musical Treatise" by Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi and "Large Book on Medicine" by Abu Reyhan Biruni (973-1048) are both filled with mathematic, geometrical figures, sketches and drawings of musical instruments. But it seems that physicians did not mind spending time to study the powerful effects of music, as they considered it invaluable for the health of their patients. [42]

What kind of music did doctors use to treat their patients in medieval Azerbaijan? At that time, 12 basic kinds of mugham and 12 musical modes were known. Maraghayi wrote: "Turks prefer to compose in the "usshag", "nova" and "busalik" mugham styles, though other mughams also are included in their compositions". [42]

Sharaf-khan Bidlisi (16th century) described a feast of the Azerbaijani ruler Shah Ismayil Safavi: "Sweet-voiced singers and sweet-sounding musicians started singing a Ushshag melody with both high and low pitched voices, and then the tears of the harps and lyres kidnapped reason and logic from the listeners, both great and the small." [69]

Music promoted the development of a number of mystical sciences. Special music and songs were performed during mystical rituals and meditation in many Sufi Orders of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani philosopher Sukhravardi (died in 1191) who was close to the Sufi mystics wrote: "Know that those engaged in the exercise of the spirit sometimes use a gentle melody and pleasant incense. Therefore, they are able to obtain a spiritual light that is habitual and sustained for a long time". [73]

In the 13th century, the Turning Dervishes (Mavlavi) in Turkey, considered that knowledge of God was possible only when they fell into a trance brought on by listening to special music and which slowly turned into a mystical dance.

At the end of the 10th century, a group of the Shiite philosophers İxvənües-səfa (Brothers of Purity) had developed a science about the relationship between music and various elements of a nature: animals, herbs, minerals and color. According to this theory, each musical sound corresponds to a specific color and is associated with a certain mineral, herb and animal. Some sounds were equated with bright colors, bright metals, beautiful flowers and active animals.

Our ancestors believed that musical instruments were similar to medicinal plants and aromatic spices. The tar (stringed instrument) was compared with health-promoting and fragrant saffron. The naghara (small drum) was identified with the curative powers of cloves or ginseng. The ud (stringed instrument) was associated with the soothing effect of valerian or lemon balm. The zurna (a nasal-sounding wind instrument) was associated with strong coffee.

The medical properties of these and other instruments are provided below. Information about the healing properties of instruments is documented in such books as "Gabusname" by Keykavus Ziyari, and from books by Abdul-Kadir Maraghayi, Farabi and Safiyaddin Urmiyyayi. Primarily, however, this information comes from Azerbaijani verbal folklore of the 19th-20th ashugs (minstrels), a large heritage of which has been collected and kept at the Baku's Institute of Manuscripts.



The melodies performed on tar were considered useful for headache, insomnia and melancholy, as well as for eliminating nervous and muscle spasms. Listening to this instrument was believed to induce a quiet and philosophical mood, compelling the listener to reflect upon life. Its solemn melodies were thought to cause a person to relax and fall asleep.

The author of "Gabusname" (11th century) recommends that when selecting musical tones (perde) to take into account the temperament of the listener. He suggested that lower pitched tones (bem) were effective for sanguine and phlegmatic persons, while higher pitched tones (zil) were helpful for those who were identified with a choleric temperament or melancholic temperament. [91]


The gentle sound of the ney (wind instrument that produces a sound resembling the flute) calms the nervous system, reduces high blood pressure and tiredness, and promotes good sleep. The ney is believed to awaken a reflective mood, causing a person to appreciate and enjoy nature. It is linked to deep philosophical ideas.


Our ancestors considered that listening to the sound of ud (pronounced as "ood") was an excellent remedy against headache and melancholy, reducing muscle spasms and creating a strong calming action. The ud was one of the most widespread and favorite instruments in medieval Azerbaijan.

It is related to the ancient Greek harp. Instruments, similar to the ud are depicted in ancient Egyptian frescos.


Music performed on the saz (national stringed instrument) calms the nervous system and enhances and lifts one's mood. It is useful in treating melancholy and for eliminating feelings of pessimism.


This wind instrument is said to stimulate the spirit of battle and sometimes even to instigate aggression and war-like characteristics. The sound of zurna helps to reduce apathy, indifference, and increase the blood pressure.


This instrument helped the doctors to deal with bad mood, melancholy, intellectual and physical exhaustion, as well as low blood pressure. It was considered that the Naghara could substitute for some medicinal plants and tones like spicy cloves. The rhythmic beating of the naghara is believed to lead to the strengthening of the heart. The naghara is described in the Early Middle Age Azerbaijani literary epic, "Kitabi Dada Gorgud" (The Book of my Grandfather).

Instruments resembling the Naghara were also well known in ancient Egypt. Thus, according to the rich scientific and musical heritage of our ancestors, it seems that not only did they listen to music for enjoyment and entertainment, but they perceived music a potent force in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.


In antiquity, the medicine, religion and magic were intimately linked with each other. Numerous texts from the sacred books, magic formulas and spells are generously scattered in the medieval medical treatises. The people of those times believed that praying to gods, religious ceremonies, and the magic actions are capable to cure the people from illnesses. The medical papyruses written in Ancient Egypt are filled with mysterious magic spells, which hazy meaning the scientists still can not decipher.

It is considered that the ancient Greek physicians were rationalists, although even they not always were able to distinguish mysticism from a science. For example, Aristotle (384-322 BC) has heard or found in a book that: "a roasted heart of lion makes the man brave and strong." «What is it? Is it mysticism or a scientific fact? " - Aristotle could reflect before writing these words. Probably, he decided that deals with the fact and included this statement in his book. In the 12th AD, this citation has passed from the book by Aristotle to treatises by Muslim scholars including Ibn al-Beithar.

Aristotle believed that he quotes the scientific fact while the modern scientists consider it as a legend. The same things are typical to the works by Hippocrates (460-377 BC), Dioscorides (1 BC) and Galen (130-200 BC). In particular, Galen informs that an amulet from the testicles of male starling treats epilepsy. In the Middle Ages, this legend was repeated by Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) and many other authors.

Aristotle was the most irreconcilable opponent of attraction of mysticism and all irrational things in a science. For this reason some readers frequently reproached him with narrowmindedness, absence of imagination and pedantry. However, neither indestructible logic, nor healthy skepticism has saved Aristotle from mysticism. That not knowing he has included in his books a lot of legendary and mystical items.

Do not judge the scholar too strictly. Whether there is a guarantee that after one thousand years our own conclusions will not seem to the descendants as mysticism? Despite of all wisdom, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen hardly could assume that after many centuries, in the 8th-11th AD, Muslims will translate their works into Arabic, and together with antique philosophy, mathematics and medicine will acquire elements of the Greek magic.

However, the educated Muslims of that time were the ardent opponents of any mysticism. It was rejected by such great scholars as Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD), Bahmanyar al-Azerbaijani (d. 1065/1066 AD), Biruni (943-1048 AD), Farabi (873-950 AD), etc. For example, Nasiraddin Tusi (1201-1274 AD) quoted the information on magic properties of stones, but analyzed it critically.

Actually, the Muslim thinkers did not resemble at all the wise Buddhists of mysterious India - they were not neither visionaries, nor dreamers. Except for few Sufi mystics and wandering dervishes these people were completed rationalists. The strict mathematical thinking which has been brought up by the Aristotle's logic was peculiar to them.

Being the true scientists, medieval Muslim thinkers trusted only that it is possible to measure, calculate and scientifically explain. The basic essence of their philosophy: «The useful things are good. The legal actions are correct. The proved ideas are true». Analyzing magic the scientists were guided by the same principles. Abu Reihan Biruni (943-1048 AD) wrote in his "India": “If one similar to the ignorant people will consider witchcraft as performance of different impossible things, then witchcraft lays outside of limits of authentic knowledge ... Hence, witchcraft has nothing to do with science." [9]

Denying "different impossible things", Biruni, Farabi, Ibn Sina, Bahmanyar al-Azerbaijani and their adherents came close to denying all supernatural including any religion. Actually, it has not taken place, as the scholars did not consider religion of Islam as something supernatural and irrational. To them, the God was an integral part of the canonized, logically proved, and scientifically grounded by Aristotle, Plato and other ancient thinkers system of the Universe. In reply to it, some Muslim theologists were up in arms against the scholars. They were indignant and declared: "Do you really trust Aristotle more than the Prophet Muhammad? The devout man should simply trust in the God, instead of proving his existence by logical reasons!"

In response to it, the Baghdad philosopher Abu Ali Zur'a (b. 982 AD) said: "The purpose of logic consists in distinguishing true from a nonsense, and lie from sincerity. Everyone who asserts that the scholar building a chain of logical proofs neglects religion is similar to the man with false coins who escapes with them from those who criticizes him and makes his way to the one who is ignorant." [16]

Later, the philosopher and theologist Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD) has tried to reconcile the contradictory views of priests and philosophers. For this purpose, he has developed a special doctrine which has united the Greek philosophy and Muslim religion.

So, the existence of soul and God was scholarly proved. For a scientific basing of canons of the Musim religion the scholars used the same strict mathematical logic with which help they rejected all heathen religions, magic and astrology. For example, Abu Nasr al-Farabi (873-950 AD) wrote about magic: " Magic, alchemy and astrological prediction have no any natural bases and do not correspond to logical thinking. They are designed for feeble-minded persons and those who does not understand at all a science." [50]

Abu Reihan Biruni (973-1048 AD) in the book "India" also notes: "The witchcraft is an action through which something seems to our sensual perception as something embellished and distinct from its real condition. One of the kinds of witchcraft is alchemy... Whether you believe that if somebody takes a bit of cotton and shows him in such a manner that it seems to other persons as if it is a piece of gold, it can be put down only to witchcraft?" [9]

Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) also pointed out that: "Alchemists can make good imitations painting a red metal in white color that it became similar to silver, or changing his color for yellow that it reminded gold... However, the nature of metals does not change." [32]

Thus, the Muslims were rationalists in a much more degree than ancient Greeks and Romans whose rich heathen imagination has framed a set of legends about magic properties of animals, plants and stones. Azerbaijanis, Iranians and Arabs living in pre-Islamic epoch also believed in the numerous gods, malicious and kind spirits, fantastic jinns, peris, devs and ifrits. Their faith, prays and spells were alien to the Muslim doctrine which regarded it as superstition and magic.

Abu Reyhan Birinu wrote about pagans of India: “Difference existing between us and them in tongue, religion, customs and traditions, and also their excessive remoteness from concepts of cleanliness and foulness makes impossible the dialogue and eliminates ways of mutual discussion." [18]

Jewish magicians living on a neighborhood with Muslims believed in magic circles and planetary spirits. Their doctrine (Cabbala) was distributed during the Middle Ages in the Muslim Maghrib (northern-western Africa). Then, through Spain, the Cabbalistic doctrine has penetrated into Europe where was practiced by both devout clericals and wizards. The Catholic church sometimes approved Cabbala, but sometimes ruthlessly burnt on fires its followers.

The Muslim clergy did not resort with so severe measures, though strict monotheism of Islam extremely skeptically and disapprovingly concerned to the magic texts and magic histories which have not been fixed in Koran or Hadiths (Canonized narrations about deeds and the statements of Prophet Muhammad). Nevertheless, the authority of antique culture has played its role: numerous magic texts which were not connected directly with Islam, penetrated in works of Muslim scientists. A lot of such texts are found in works written in Turkic (including, Old Azeri).

1. Magic texts related with Pre-Islamic beliefs.

As an example it is possible to mention the texts attributing unusual, magic properties to the wolf, which was a totem (legendary ancestor) of Ancient Turkic tribes.

THE WOLF. "Any enemy can not stand against the one who will make and dress on a girdle from the wolf skin. The one who wears at itself the right eye of the wolf, can get love and respect of the people" [81]

Other example - Mandrake, which was widely applied in Ancient Greece and Rome and has got in works of the medieval Azerbaijan authors from the books by Dioscorides. Later antique text was changed and is complemented by the name of the Muslim prophet Suleiman (corresponds to Biblical Solomon).

MANDRAKE ROOT. According to “Tibbname” (1711/12): "It is named as “tree of Prophet Suleiman.” This root was in the finger-ring of the prophet Suleiman, due to what he had authority above the people and jinns (demons - F.A.), and later Zulkarnein (i.e. Alexander the Great - F.A.) due to the same reason dominated above West and East: people speak that he also owned this root... The one who wears this root does not sink in water, does not burn on fire, and neither sabre, nor axe can harm him... " [72] It was considered that Mandrake is similar to the man, feels a pain and groans when one breaks him.

HOOPOE. In mythological beliefs of pre-Islamic residents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Greece and Rome the essential role was attributed to hoopoe. "The Man carrying with itself the claw of hoopoe can ask everything that he wants from anyone. In response he will get everything that will ask, and nobody can give up to him (“dilin baghlanmasi” in Azeri.) If the man will fry and eat hoopoe having thought desire to be invisible, he will turn in invisible man. After that, even if he will appear in a crowd from thousand men, nobody will notice him (gozun baghlanmas” - Azeri )" - “Tibbi-Jalinus” informs. [81]

2. Magical texts influenced by Islam.

Though herein provided magical texts are not related directly with Islam, nevertheless they have experienced immediate influence of this religion. Here we deal with primitive perception of Islam, which turned in usual superstition in mind of certain layers of the population. It is known, that wide range of the people always tries to simplify every complex doctrine.

Therefore, all widespread and complex religious systems like Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, being perceived by the certain layers of the population, are simplified and turn into “popular religion” (superstition, witchcraft). From the given below examples one can see how such different and alien to each other doctrines as Islam and witchcraft are easily combined in the mind of the some individuals.

PLAGUE. "To not catch a plague, it is necessary during seven days to comb each brow and after each combing to make Namaz (prayer). It saves from a plague" – informs “Tibbname” [72]

MEMORY. "If one will write on a piece of sugar the Fatiha sura, and then will grind and mix it with rose water and swallow, it will strengthen his memory" - informs“Tibbname”. [72]

It is necessary to emphasize one point: some magic texts attribute to the foul (according Islam) animals the ability to remove wasting disease and evil eye. For example, wizards applied various parts of pig (bacon, teeth, bristle) to struggle against evil-eye, witchcraft and illnesses. To secure the man against witchcraft he was “defiled” by something ritually foul (“murdarlamaq” in Azeri). For example:

WASTING DISEASE. "If someone will take the pork fat and grease with it his hands and legs, any witchcraft will not work on this man." If one will hang up a pork tooth on a neck of the child, he will protect the child from evil eye and wasting disease", - informs “Tibbname” and “Tibbi-Jalinus.” [81]

According to Islam the dog also was considered as a foul animal and, therefore, was widely used in magic. The dog feces were especially highly valued. In olden time, people in Azerbaijan used various ways of magic influence: read spells aloud, used the written magic texts, ate magic food and drinks, made magic actions and rituals, used magic ointments, amulets, etc.

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© Farid Alakbarli, 2006. // "Elm" History & Heritage Website // Each quotation should be provided with full reference to the author.