Western Esoteric Influences on the Nation of Islam’s Cosmology

Interesting symbolism.
Interesting symbolism.

Interesting symbolism.

Beginning our cult series, James and I will also conduct upcoming podcasts based around his research into some of the more bizarre, outlandish cults in modern America.  Below is the primer for our first installment. -Jay

© James L. Kelley 2015

Scholars have taken notice of the kinship between The Nation of Islam’s teachings and western esotericism. These efforts have gone far in establishing links between the NOI and esotericist forerunners such as the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Theosophical Society [1]. However, a sustained study of the western esoteric basis of the NOI’s doctrines has yet to appear [2]. I hope to push the discussion further with a few words on the NOI’s cosmogonic myth, which could better be labeled a myth of God-man-nature’s origin [3].

The Nation of Islam’s teachings are put forth mainly in a number of short books and pamphlets authored by NOI leader Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole [1934-1975]). In one important compilation of Muhammad’s sayings—Yakub: The Father of Man-Kind—the African-American religious leader offers a cosmogony according to which God created himself (or spontaneously sprang up) out of a cosmos of “total darkness” or blackness [4]. As in many systems of ancient Gnosis, the NOI cosmo-theogony presents God as a first manifestation of light out of a primal darkness or abyss. The following passage will afford the reader a notion of the substance of the myth, as well as a feel for Muhammad’s rhetorical style:

This is the way [God] was born; in total darkness. (-) Out of the total orbit of the Universe of darkness there sparkled an atom of life. (-) How could that atom of life make a record of its own creation? It could not write its own creation, the record of it, because He was the First; there was no recorders around Him. He was First to record His Own self. (-) He had to wait until the atom of life produced brains to think what He needed. (-) But he was a Black Man! Coming out of total darkness at that time, we all could say that we are produced by a white god, but there was no light nor any white anywhere; there was All Darkness. (-) In that Darkness, which had no end to it there—that Darkness Created an atom of Life, and the Color to be the Color had to be Black, as there was no light; therefore, it had to be the Color of the thing that Created it! [5].

Here Muhammad presents the birth of God (and, by extension, the birth of the cosmos and man) as the appearance of light from an original darkness. And this God is spatio-temporal, since its primal form is an “atom of life” that rotated as it “sparkled.” That Muhammad has in mind an analogy between this first splinther of divine light in the cosmic darkroom, on the one hand, and the emission of white seed from a black human body, on the other, is evinced through statements of his such as: “…[I]f, by nature, we can think through darkness, and bring light out of that darkness by our own brains, we did so with the white race. Look right into the sperm of life and find him—here’s an unlike. Take it! Separate it! Your first separation from the white and Black was done”; and “Out of the womb of our mother did we come. We were created there out of the sperm that was emitted into that total dark room, the womb. It took that to make that child. He couldn’t be made in the light” [6].

Just to show that Elijah Muhammad’s notion of God-man-nature’s birth as an emission of a luminous life-water is not a metaphor, but is in fact to be taken literally, note the leader’s words:

‘1’ was already in the darkness, but nothing did not give it to us until the time brought it about. When the time brought it about, it was out there in our view as a revolving light; light revolving that’s hidden there in the dark. We don’t know how many trillions of years it was there, but it was there. With a fine atom of water out there, it made itself out of an atom of water that was found in the darkness of the universe. We could not see light emerging out of the space without water, because we can’t produce life without water; therefore, it was some water out there in that darkened world of space [7].

Another aspect of the NOI’s “white seed-black body” theme is underscored in this excerpt: as in the hermetic Poimandres and in the Gnostic Apochrypon of John, the NOI cosmogony is communicated to the gnostic visually, as a spectacle that must be taken in by the eye. Specifically, the NOI teaches that God is the “ALL-EYE-SEEING”; God’s status as supreme origin and highest divinity is dependent upon His being seen by humans, by those having brains (and thus thought) [8]. God, we remember, was born as a drop of rotating, luminous life-fluid; apparently, God was not able to define Himself until trillions (yes, trillions) of years of evolution produced a black human being who could look at his own viscous, chalky issue and make the Gnostic analogy between his onanism and the birth of God from the primeval darkness [9].

Our vignette of NOI cosmology would be incomplete, however, if we failed to mention its mathematical aspect: God indirectly constituted himself by creating a cosmos that produces a black human race with the power to think God’s original manifestation of white fluid out of the original Black womb. But this human thought is only efficacious because it can measure the motion of the rotating, glowing secretion. As Elijah Muhammad recorded the NOI’s original teacher W.D. Fard as saying: “Mathematics…is Islam, and Islam is Mathematics” [10]. NOI leader Louis Farrakhan gives us further insight into the mathematical basis of the Nation’s doctrine:

In the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 40, the questions are asked: “Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured the heavens in his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the Earth, or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?” What kind of Man is this Who came among us? Master Fard Muhammad told us that the total area of land and water of the planet Earth is 196,940,000 square miles; that the circumference of our Planet is 24,896 miles; that the diameter of our Planet is 7,926 miles; that the Land is 57,255,000 square miles; the Water is 139,685,000 square miles. The Atlantic Ocean covers 41,321,000 square miles; the Pacific Ocean covers 68,634,000 square miles; the Indian Ocean covers 29,430,000 square miles; the Lakes and the Rivers cover 1,000,000 square miles. The Hills and Mountains cover 14,000,000 square miles; The Islands are 1,910,000 square miles; the Deserts are 4,861,000 square miles. Mount Everest is 29,141 feet high; the Producing Land is 29,000,000 square miles, and that the Earth weighs six sextillion tons, the unit ‘6’ followed by 21 zeroes [11].

It seems that the NOI logic goes something like so: (1) God gave birth to himself in time as rotating, glowing life-fluid, but he did not know himself, since he had no brain and thus no thought; (2) life evolved over trillions of years until a black human race originated, which had a spark of divinity within it, and which could measure anything in the cosmos through empirical observation and experimentation; (3) NOI founder and prophet W.D. Fard knows the measurements of the earth and everything in it; thus W.D. Fard is Allah; (4) through the NOI, W.D. Fard’s self-divinizing knowledge is available to all black men; (5) ergo, black men discover their inner divinity (and God, as a nice side-effect, overcomes his ignorance of himself) by following the teachings of the NOI.
It is important for us to note that we are not dealing with a straightforward message here. It is not simply that blacks are given a few measurements (most of them empirically inaccurate, it should be noted) and that is that. Rather, in true Gnostic fashion, the mathematical Islam of the NOI is a consciousness-raising praxis designed to elevate the worshiper to the original cosmogonic effulgence, the joyous outpouring of living water of which we have already said so much.

Into the bizarre.

Into the bizarre.

We will end by pointing out a few ancient parallels to the NOI cosmo-theogony:

(1) Many gnostic texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD present a theogony at the heart of which is a luminous life-water in which God is born, not unlike a fetus in amniotic fluid. The Apocryphon of John, for instance, has God waking up in a bath of “light-water”: “He who perceives himself in his own light which surrounds him—he is the source of the water of life, the light which is full of purity. (-) [God the Father] knew his own image when he saw it in the pure water of life which surround him” [12].

(2) I have written elsewhere of what I have tentatively termed “Indo-European homogenesis,” which is the tendency in I-E religious texts to consider all forms of generation (either of gods, cosmoi, or humans) as properly having a male “father” as birthgiver and a male “son” as the issue, the latter being the only true “image” of the father [13]. This religeme, I am convinced, is reflected in

(3) the Vedic belief in amtra or soma as a divine reproductive secretion that confers life and power upon its human quaffer. The reader is referred to the studies of David Gordon White and Gordan Djurdjevic for links to modern religious practices [14].

(4) Finally, the NOI’s divine secretion theme may be a variant of the “blood piety” found in Western Christianity in the late Middle Ages and beyond [15].



[1] See Karl Evanzz, The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (New York: Vintage, 2001), p. 403, for comments on Muhammad’s teacher W.D. Fard’s association with the Theosophical Society. On the Moorish Science Temple of America’s influence on the Nation of Islam, see Ernest Allen, Jr., “Identity and Destiny: The Formative Views of the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam” in Yvonne Yezbeck Haddad and John Esposito, eds., Muslims on the Americanization Path? (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), 163-214; and Stephen C. Finley, “Hidden Away: Esotericism and Gnosticism in Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam,” 259-280 in Histories of the Hidden God: Concealment and Revelation in Western Gnostic, Esoteric, and Mystical Traditions, edited by April D. DeConick and Grant Adamson (Durham: Acumen, 2013).

[2] However, see Stephen Carl Finley, Re-imagining Race and Representation: The Black Body in the Nation of Islam, Ph.D. dissertation, Rice University, 2009; Jacob Michael King, Clearing the Planet: The Adoption of the Teachings of L. Ron Hubbbard by Louis Farrakhan, and its Significance for the Eschatology of the Nation of Islam. M.A. thesis, Claremont Graduate University, 2014; and chapter 2 of Martha F. Lee’s The Nation of Islam: An American Millenarian Movement (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996) for discussions of various topics relating to NOI theology.

[3] The term “God-man-nature” is borrowed from Anoine Faivre, who on p. 7 of his Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism, translated by Christine Rhone (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2000) spoke of a “God/Human/Nature Triangle.” In my Anatomyzing Divinity, I used the term “cosmotheanthropic rhythm” to limn the core feature (or cluster of features) that define what Wouter Hanegraaff and some other scholars of western esotericism have agreed to term “Gnosis.” However, I have since opted for the less unwieldy “God-man-nature.”

[4] Elijah Muhammad, Yakub: The Father of Man-Kind, accessed 28 May, 2015, http://www.scopeandability.com/wp-content/uploads/yakub-jacob-the-father-of-mankind.pdf [Orig. pub. Atlanta, GA: Secretarius MEMPS Publications, 2002], chapter 1.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., emphasis added.
[7] Ibid., chapter 8, emphasis added.
[8] Elijah Muhammad, The Supreme Wisdom: Lessons by Master Fard Muhammad to His Servant, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad for The Lost-Found Nation of Islam in North America, accessed 28 May, 2015, http://www.ciphertheory.net/supremewisdom.pdf, 17.
[9] “In the [self-]making of God Himself, He could not have had a Will until he had brains capable of thinking. He was created, self-created from an atom of life [who as well] produced flesh, bones and blood from the earth that He was created on—self-created” (Muhammad, Yakub, chapter 1).
[10] Ibid., 6.
[11] Louis Farrakhan, “God Will Send Saviours,” accessed 29 July, 2015, http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Minister_Louis_Farrakhan_9/article_7630.shtml,
accessed 29 July, 2015. Farrakhan’s text is, in part, an explication of the teachings of Master Fard Muhammad (W.D. Fard), who founded the NOI around 1930 in Detroit, Michigan.
[12] Apocryphon of John 26.15ff. and 27.1ff.; trans. David Hill in Werner Foerster, Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts, Volume 1: Patristic Evidence, edited by R. McL. Wilson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 108. Cf. idem 30.1ff (p. 109): “[Barbelo] turned to [the Father], and gave birth to a blessed spark of light…”, a passage that recalls the NOI’s cosmogony, which features a liquid atom of life that “sparkles” (see above).
[13] See James L. Kelley, “The Indo-European Homogenesis,” accessed 29 July, 2015, https://romeosyne.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/the-indo-european-homogenesis/; and idem, “The Indo-European Homogenesis, Part Two: Marriage, Laconian Style,” accessed 29 July, 2015, https://romeosyne.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/the-indo-european-homogenesis-part-two-marriage-laconian-style/.
[14] See David Gordon White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); idem, Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in Its South Asian Contexts (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003); and Gordan Djurdjevic, India and the Occult: The Influence of South Asian Spirituality on Modern Western Occultism (Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), esp. pp. 30ff.
[15] On Medieval blood piety see James L. Kelley, “The Zombie Mass: The First Crusade and the origins of Zombie Hysteria,” accessed 29 July, 2015, https://romeosyne.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/james-l-kelley-the-zombie-mass-the-first-crusade-and-teh-origins-of-zombie-hysteria/.

4 Comments on Western Esoteric Influences on the Nation of Islam’s Cosmology

  1. Reblogged this on romeosyne and commented:
    Read the mini-article I wrote to go with the first installment of my upcoming “Cults” interview series on Jay Dyer’s superblog. Look for the accompanying interview in a few days…

  2. stirner max // August 5, 2015 at 12:10 am // Reply

    I’ve been waiting a very long time for you to deal with Nation of Islam on here! I am very, very happy it’s come to pass!

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