"In the Irish-Sufic Tradition": Robert Graves and Idries Shah

"In the Irish-Sufic Tradition": Robert Graves & Idries Shah

Michel Pharand
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Idries Shah (1924-1996) was thirty-seven when the sixty-five-year-old Graves met him on 17 January 1961. The Afghan writer was visiting Mallorca and wrote to Graves requesting a meeting, explaining that he was engaged on a study of ecstatic religions and experiments in mushroom-eating. Shah was probably familiar with Graves's Food for Centaurs (published the previous year) and two of its essays, "Centaur's Food" and "Maenads, Junkies and Others," on that topic.Graves's interest in mushroom cults was well-known and had begun in the mid-1950s when he met the American hallucinogenic-mushroom expert Gordon Wasson, with whom he was still in close contact. "I have learned a great deal from you," Shah wrote to Graves after their first meeting (R.P. Graves 326), and after they met again on January 22 and 23, he "very rapidly established himself as one of Graves's most trusted and most influential friends" (R.P. Graves 326).

There was even an Oxford connection: Shah would soon marry a woman who had coincidentally been brought up in Islip, where Graves had lived in the 1920s (R.P. Graves 333). On 30 May 1962, when Graves wrote to Wasson that Shah had some new information for him about mushroom-eaters, he claimed there existed "a scientifically inexplicable serendipitous nexus of thought between a few people" (O'Prey 213). Like the philosopher Basanta Mallik in the 1920s and Wasson in the 1950s, Shah was one of those people whose passion—in this case, Sufism—had its limited but important influence on Graves. The distinguished author, writes Miranda Seymour, "welcomed a philosophy which fitted in with his own ideas about intuition and the value of talismanic objects, while adding a spiritual dimension" (399). Graves the magpie had found another gem for his eclectic collection of theories and ideas. What fascinated Graves at the outset was Shah's introduction of the Islamic idea of baraka, variously translated as blessedness, holiness, inspiration, or virtue.

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"In the Irish-Sufic Tradition": Robert Graves and Idries Shah

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