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Old 23rd July 2022, 12:59 AM   #1
A. G. Maisey
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One of the major aspects of the keris that has received very little attention in this discussion group is the matter of mystic/spiritual/religious values attached to the keris.

I receive quite a lot of private correspondence from keris interested people across the world, and in recent months there seems to have been an increase in interest in these keris characteristics that form a part of the lore associated with the keris.

It has occurred to me that perhaps contributors to our discussions here might be interested in expressing their knowledge and/or opinions related to this matter.

Does anybody feel inclined to open discussion?
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Old 23rd July 2022, 02:42 AM   #2
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I would just like to second this idea. I must say that it the past it has often seemed that these aspects of the keris were something that many collectors, especially Western collectors, either had little interest in or avoided discussing. However i have always found it an important part of understanding how the keris fits into the culture that has birthed it. While i am not sure what knowledge i can personally add to such a discussion i certainly encourage it.
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Old 23rd July 2022, 03:45 AM   #3
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Knowledge is good David, but belief or opinion in a matter such as this is, I believe, just as good.
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Old 23rd July 2022, 09:40 AM   #4
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Having lived in Indonesia for 3 years (in Borneo so not in the heartland of the keris) and been superficially exposed and basically interested about this aspect of the keris, I have come to the conclusion that unless someone is taught by a keris & spiritual expert as Alan did (quite impossible these days) and willing to learn it, it is a waste of time to try to understand the subject.
Sorry for being so straightforward and I feel the same about the religions, this whole stuff is just human invention....
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Old 23rd July 2022, 10:07 AM   #5
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To a degree I do agree with what you have written, Jean, and I think you have probably identified precisely the reason why I personally think it might be a very good idea to open this topic up to public discussion.

One of the things that has caused me to start thinking about this and to weigh the pros & cons of public discussion is that I have become aware of several gentlemen with an internet presence who are taking advantage of this lack of understanding that does seem to exist with many keris interested people.

The essence of keris belief in esoteric & arcane characteristics & powers is not really all that different from similar beliefs in other cultures & societies. If we are aware of the things that might be so, then it becomes easier for us to identify those things that are just plain old lies dressed in Javanese or other exotic adornments.

Yes, it is true that I have had very lengthy instruction from several acknowledged authorities in Jawa, but apart from that I have also had, and continue to have, very close personal contact with several of my own relatives who do have acknowledged gifts.

Some things are real.

Other things are not.

For a person who has somewhere between no understanding and very little understanding it is difficult to determine just what might be real, and what might be, let us say, just snake oil.

My thoughts were that a free exchange of beliefs, opinions, experiences, and perhaps a little knowledge, might help those who have heard stories and who cherish hopes, but who do not yet have the foundation of understanding.
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Old 23rd July 2022, 10:35 AM   #6
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I tried to read one foundation book about Kejawen "Javanese Traditional Spiritual Teaching" by Suryo S. Negoro (in English language), but quickly gave-up as I realized how different it was from my own mindset. However interested people should read this book.
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Old 24th July 2022, 12:56 AM   #7
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Jean, my own early years were spent in a distinctly rural Irish household, in Australia, yes, but the tone of the household was that of my mother's parents. I believe I can identify some similarity between practices & beliefs that existed in that household, with practices & beliefs that I have lived with in Central Jawa.

I really do not find it particularly difficult to shift my world view from the one I was surrounded with in my early years, to the world view I have needed to live with during the last 50 years or so.

My principal teacher in the Keris was Empu Suparman Supowijoyo, AKA Pak Parman or sometimes PP, and to his close friends "Pak Mendung". He lived in Komplang, a suburb of Solo and his house was diagonally opposite a mesjid (mosque). When the call to prayer became too loud he would tolerate it for a while, but then he would complain that it was "disturbing his kebatinan" and he would walk over to the mesjid and ask them to tone it down a bit, which they would do.

Now, an alternate name for "Kejawen" is "Kebatinan". However, there is a difference between Kejawen, which is mainly concerned with the outer expression of a philosophy, and Kebatinan which is centered on the attainment of inner peace & strength. There are various schools of both philosophies, and for many people the two can overlap.

To attempt to come to an understanding of Kejawen, from outside Javanese society & culture, would be, I feel, almost an impossibility unless one were to approach the learning process in a structured way. That structure would necessitate the gaining of an understanding of Javanese indigenous beliefs, Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, Sufic Islam, and perhaps some understanding of Theosophy might also assist.

This is a big ask for somebody who just wants a superficial, packaged idea of the way in which grassroots Javanese people understand the world around them, so we need to take a few shortcuts. Perhaps one of the better shortcuts is a careful reading of Clifford Geertz's "Agama Jawa". This work was produced in the 1950's, and it is dated, the concepts probably do need to be addressed in light of the present day, however, although this might be something of concern to an anthropologist, for the purposes of somebody who wishes to come closer to an understanding of the keris, I feel that the time gap is immaterial.

All the above is my response to Jean's comments on Kejawen, and although there can be some relationship between Kejawen and the belief systems surrounding the keris and mystical beliefs, Kejawen is not central to the discussion that we could develop here.

I have heard stories of both good things & bad things that keris interested people have attributed to one or more keris, but I myself have never experienced anything, either good or bad, that I could rationally sheet home to any keris. I am not prepared to dismiss the possibility that for some people, rationally inexplicable things can occur, and sometimes, again for some people these rationally inexplicable things might be associated with a keris.

Along this line there is the story of a keris that was supposedly responsible for the death of a number of people, another keris I heard about had been responsible for the bankruptcy of several people, still another keris was regarded by its custodian as being responsible for the foundation of his successful small business.

So I think that we must acknowledge that for some people, some keris might have some sort of notable effect.

However, on the other side of the ledger we have the charlatans who buy a keris in Pasar Triwindu early on Monday morning, and by Tuesday evening that keris has become a magical pusaka that materialized from the earth during meditation on Gunung Lawu. It has probably acquired a certificate or two along the way that guarantees it is the residence of a powerful and ethical khodam who will invariably assist the custodian in achieving his earthly desires. A powerful presence, something like Aladdin's genie of the lamp, except that you usually don't get to see the khodam.

Some of these charlatans have now become international, and they are actively besmirching the truth and reality of the keris. To be frank, this is something that offends me, I would very much like to encourage a better understanding of the real esoteric aspects of the keris, so that people might have some chance of identifying the possible from the impossible, or put another way, identifying attributed powers that might be accepted by a learned ahli keris, and powers that might be dismissed with a smile.

Perhaps a little bit of understanding of the way in which the elements of the Hidden World do function might help people with a minimal understanding of these forces to differentiate between the possible & the impossible, the real & the unreal.

Perhaps this understanding might be assisted by the opening up of opinions, beliefs and experiences of keris interested people.
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Old 24th July 2022, 09:11 AM   #8
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Thank you Alan and I hope that other members (especially Indonesians & Malaysians) will positively participate in this discussion.
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Old 24th July 2022, 11:43 AM   #9
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some years back when I was working in an American MNC I got to travel often to Thailand and Indonesia. One time I asked one of my Thai friends and work colleague "As a buddhist, don't you feel offended that Buddha statues are sold in art galleries ,weekend markets or worse and non Buddhists buy then and use these merely as room decoration ?" His answer was that it is OK with him as all these statues were either already de-consecrated or were never consecrated by priests. So they are just plain statues like any other statues.

And so with keris. A big majority of keris were made purely using just technical know how by keris smiths without the added rituals , prayers and special rites that were more commonly done in 'the old days' particularly for keris commissioned by important people. I would guess virtually all keris that are made in this century in Malaysia at least are made without any rituals hence there is nothing imbued in these keris. And so, these keris are as plain as kitchen knives in term of whether they contain secret khodam or possessing any special magics.

Despite all that, you can not sit with keris collectors for five minutes before being regaled with unexplained things that happened to them or people that they know which were caused by this or that particular keris. And many still believe that certain 'ketandaan' (symbols/marks) on keris give particular benefits or other wise . In short, majority of keris lovers and collectors have deep awe and respectful of (old/antique) keris because despite being pious muslims and Islam strictly prohibiting belief of power other than Allah the old superstition still persist and the way most people get aroud this is by saying "all these power (of the keris) is by the leave of Allah"
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Old 24th July 2022, 10:42 PM   #10
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Yes Green, you have identified a major area of misunderstanding --- actually two major areas of misunderstanding.

Firstly there is the fact that not all keris were created equal.

Then there is the fact that not all creators of keris were equal.

The keris that was created with the intention that it would have some quality that might be able to accessed by its custodian was created by fire and physical force, but with the addition of ritual, and that ritual was not known to every person who could use the forge and its tools.

The man who knew the correct mantras and offerings and days and hours and methods of production that were necessary for the creation of a keris with power was the Empu (Mpu).

This then raises the question of how it might be possible to identify the work of an Mpu.

Hopefully this question will be addressed later.

The word Empu/Mpu should be looked at to understand exactly what this word means. The word exists in Old Javanese, the language that was in general use in Jawa prior to approximately 1600. At that time this word was simply an honorific used to show respect.

However, as the Javanese language developed over time into Modern Javanese, it came to be used as a title for an outstanding craftsman, a literary person, a poet, an artist, or a maker of keris. Since these people were, in Jawa, usually attached to a court, it then became a title that was accompanied by one of the other formal titles bestowed by the court.

In Bahasa Indonesia the word can be understood in several different ways:- master craftsman, armourer, master.

So, if we are looking for a keris that a person who is knowledgeable in keris belief will accept as having the possibility of possessing some sort of power or force or essence that is out of the ordinary, than that keris needs, first & foremost to be able to be identified as the work of a master.

Just because a keris is old, that does not mean that the possibility of an extraordinary nature does exist.
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Old 25th July 2022, 08:25 AM   #11
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I'm from a Sundanese, Muslim family whose culture has experience and knowledge around matters of the unseen or esoteric. It is largely informed by:
  • Pre-Islamic Sundanese folk beliefs like ancestor or nature worship
  • Esoteric, syncretic Islam or "tasawwuf". I often avoid the words Sufic or Sufism as I find that this often connotes it being a separate sect outside orthodox Sunni Islam - which it is not.

From my observations and studies, an enduring keris culture with links to past traditions and beliefs doesn't seem to exist in Sundanese culture today. If it ever did, I am not confident that it can be found intact today. Nevertheless we can still find beliefs regarding the keris' unseen qualities which we have explored in this forum previously. For example:
  • The keris can act as a bridge between the seen and the unseen worlds
  • It can be used to call upon the custodian's ancestors
  • It can be a vessel for both good and bad entities

Interestingly, how the unseen is described will depend on who is asking. In public life, everyday speech or something published for lay audiences, it leans more Islamic. That is to say that the unseen world that humans often encounter or meddle with is made up of jinn. Jinn are a type of non-human entity that are distinct from humans and angels and we co-habit earth with them. They can be good or bad, but in this context is usually brought up with negative connotations. They are said to make their homes in nature - rocks, trees, mountains etc, but can be "called" into empty vessels like keris to harness whatever power they might have. Inasmuch as this is acknowledged to be possible, it is a deeply shunned practice if it is sought after or practiced deliberately.

However I have found that depending on the nature and depth of the conversation, and who is present in the conversation, discussion about the unseen turns into one that involves ancestors and spirits - both referred to as hyang/eyang. This can mean ancestors in your lineage or kinship group, but it also extends to any personage that has passed into the unseen world several generations ago and are treated with the same respect as the former. As for spirits, these are those that the Muslim stream of thought would call jinn, but are spoken about in a way that is much more neutral and less negative or taboo. The nature of these spirits varies - sometimes they are from nature; sometimes they are animals; ghosts, monsters or demons. Basically any non-human entity that is not adequately explained by Islam. It is within this intimate, private conversation and context that the "true" understanding of the unseen is approached.
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Old 25th July 2022, 08:42 AM   #12
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Yes Green, you have identified a major area of misunderstanding --- actually two major areas of misunderstanding.

Firstly there is the fact that not all keris were created equal.

Then there is the fact that not all creators of keris were equal.

The keris that was created with the intention that it would have some quality that might be able to accessed by its custodian was created by fire and physical force, but with the addition of ritual, and that ritual was not known to every person who could use the forge and its tools.
To add to my previous post, I will elaborate my understanding of this based on what I have gathered and come to learn from my culture.

As previously mentioned, there is no intact Sundanese keris or keraton culture today, so there is no Empu role to draw on here.

However there is the belief that a person can be born with spiritual sensitivity to the unseen world. This is usually confirmed by a sensitive elder, who might be able to act as a medium for ancestors who come into them to share wisdom and warnings to those present, as well as for those ancestors to confer their blessings or confirmation of sensitivity to this person. It is not uncommon for these to be further supported by the elder/ancestor referring to some happening in the person's life that perhaps they had not told to others, such as a significant dream or inexplicable event.

This event is what marks the legitimacy of this person's sensitivity to their family or community. It is a very private and spontaneous affair.

This person can then choose to hone their sensitivities under an older, sensitive mentor through meditation, fasting, forced isolation in austere conditions and so on. But it is also believed that a non-sensitive person could obtain these aptitudes through rigorous practice and study under a teacher, albeit it with great difficulty and with great cost to their psyche.

In the context of this culture, I think this person could fit the bill as someone who could create a keris that is able to call on ancestors or to act as a conduit for the unseen. But I do not know precisely "how".
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Old 25th July 2022, 10:08 AM   #13
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As a new member i didn't want to get active so quickly, but this is a topic i can't resist. I am coming from the black forest area of Germany where the mystical is still a kind of reality and now living in Indonesia where the mystical experience happens all around, ghost busses, people who fell asleep and awake dozens or hundreds Km away only to name a few. And things that happened to me/my family and only stopped after i bought a protective Keris ( chinese witch and muslim Ustad failed). Or the pusaka Keris of my wifes family, buried because to scared of them, yes one of it flies too. All this is real, in Indonesia. I doubt one could replicate these things lets say in Germany or England. Probably my Keris would there only be some iron and wood in a funny shape with some interesting patterns on it, without doing its magic. I think everyone who has lived here in Indonesia for a longer has similar experiences in one way or another. And there is more than only one reality.
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Old 25th July 2022, 02:12 PM   #14
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Jaga, I used the word "Sufic" because this is an English word.

The root, "Sufi" was first used in 1653 and was used to refer to a member of a Muslim mystic ascetic sect.

From Sufi we have Sufic, ie pertaining to the Sufis or their mystic system.

In the first half of the 19th century the word "Sufism" was first used as an English language word, and the meaning attached to this word is "Islamic Mysticism".

"Islamic Mysticism" in Arabic is "Tasawwuf".

I am writing in English, I could have used "Islamic Mysticism", or "Sufism", I chose "Sufism", principally because that word is commonly used in publications written in English that deal with Islamic Mysticism.

It would have been incorrect of me to use "Tasawwuf", even if I had a very clear idea of the implications of the use of this word, which I do not have. Moreover, "Tasawwuf" is not found in Old Javanese, Modern Javanese or Bahasa Indonesia. "Sufi" does occur in Bahasa Indonesia where its meaning is "mystical", & especially in reference to Islamic mysticism.

The importance of the Sufic path in Javanese culture is that with the early spread of Islam, there was quite a lot in Islamic Mysticism that was in harmony with the existing ideas of the Javanese people. Islamic Mysticism merged with Javanese Mysticism that had developed from indigenous beliefs overlaid with Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, and Kejawen was the result.

Pretty much the same story that you have told for Sunda.

Much of the present mystical belief that surrounds the Javanese keris is the product of the Islamic campaign for domination of Jawa. The ideas and the words used to refer to these ideas are often not from the pre-Islamic Javanese lexicon, and this is the point at which it can become quite difficult to separate the real from the unreal.

It can be helpful to trace the history of the use of a word in a society and then to consider the trends in that society at the time when the word began to be used. This exercise can be quite illuminating when applied to words that have come into use Indonesian society within, say, the last 50 years.

When we consider the recent ideas that apply to the mystic aspects of the keris and we look at the words used to refer to these aspects we might feel just a little bit confused as to whether we are dealing with truly Javanese belief systems, or whether we are looking at concepts and beliefs that have been transplanted from a totally different cultural setting.

Jaga, your comments relating to the abilities of some people to touch and be touched by an alternate reality are I believe generally more or less close to the mark, however, one thing I know as an absolute certainty is that not everybody who has this ability regards it as something positive, there are those who regard the possession of these "gifts" as a curse.
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Old 25th July 2022, 11:07 PM   #15
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Interesting conversations so far.
At this point i would just like to interject that the concept of the seen and unseen worlds is not isolated to a relatively small area in South East Asia. It is a universal concept. The names change, and certain entities can be specific to various locations, but the concepts remain the same. It's just another example of the "Name Game". Perhaps the reason that many Westerners have difficulty grasping these concepts is because of the intense indoctrination of Abrahamic religions, specifically Christianity, in Western cultures. In the United States, where i grew up, Christianity became so dominate that many people have come to believe we were always an intentional Christian nation. Anything outside those beliefs were to be considered foreign and shunned. Though a deeper investigation of these Abrahamic religions can still find a mystical current that lies beneath. It has simply been surpassed for centuries as a means to control the population. I have spent many years investigating and studying various pagan currents such Wicca and traditional Western witchcraft as well as diving deeply into the ceremonial lodge magick that arose in Europe in the 18th-19th centuries. And through my interest in drumming i have studied quite a bit about Haitian Vodoun and the African diaspora practices where i have found some remarkable parallels there to the beliefs to be found in various Indonesian cultures. Again, these concepts are universal. We are one human species living on our one and only planet. The spirits change names, many are may be specific to the exacting environments where people have interacted with them, but ultimately it is all one and the same.
This is all to say that despite what i have heard some people say, i do not believe that one must be raised in Indonesia or spend a great deal of time there to grasp these concepts of the seen and unseen world. This "magick" exists all around the world if we open ourselves up to it and though the specifics may vary the basic operations are pretty much the same. To use a computer analogy, the software changes, but the hard drive remains the same.
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Old 26th July 2022, 12:21 AM   #16
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David, in respect of the Hidden World, I agree with everything you have written, these concepts are a part of human existence.

Australian Aboriginal culture was the oldest untouched culture in the world, up until the arrival of Europeans a couple of hundred years ago.

Some Aboriginal groups in Northern Australia had previously had intermittent contact with fishermen from the Archipelago, and family ties still exist between Australian Aboriginal people and people from Sulawesi. First contact with these Sulawesi people dates back to the 1700's.

But until that time, Australian Aboriginal people had been isolated from the rest of the world for around 60,000 years.

Still, in spite of this lengthy isolation, similarities in Australian Aboriginal spiritual beliefs can be found that are not that much different to the spiritual beliefs of other populations throughout the world.

However, although I do agree that some understanding of the Hidden World will assist in an understanding of mystic/spiritual/religious values attached to the keris, I would like to see our attention brought back to the beliefs that we find to be associated with the keris itself.

For example, just how much of present day mystic belief that is attached to the keris can be considered to be belief that is re-enforced by other long standing cultural & societal belief, and just how much of this present day belief that is associated with the keris can be identified as something comparatively recent and that echoes other changes within Indonesian, and indeed, world societal change?
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Old 26th July 2022, 12:28 AM   #17
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David;

Not coming from a Christian tradition my knowledge of Christianity is very little so my opinion below may be erroneos.

But I always believe that Christianity is full of fantastical stories about the other world, satan , exorcism and all that. Just as much as eastern religions.

The way I see it, the westerners are now much less concerned about mysticism and alternate realities/universe , not because they profess Christianity or live in Christian culture but the opposite. They have come away from this culture and turn primarily to secularism which eschew the unproven unknowns.

I guess the western worlds in the dark ages or even in the 19th century were as much as the eastern world in their belief of the unexplained.

Would the swords of the knights of the crusaders for example were believed to be magical as the keris in Indonesia today? My guess is, many believed they were.
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Old 26th July 2022, 06:49 AM   #18
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Jaga, I used the word "Sufic" because this is an English word.

The root, "Sufi" was first used in 1653 and was used to refer to a member of a Muslim mystic ascetic sect.

From Sufi we have Sufic, ie pertaining to the Sufis or their mystic system.

In the first half of the 19th century the word "Sufism" was first used as an English language word, and the meaning attached to this word is "Islamic Mysticism".

"Islamic Mysticism" in Arabic is "Tasawwuf".

I am writing in English, I could have used "Islamic Mysticism", or "Sufism", I chose "Sufism", principally because that word is commonly used in publications written in English that deal with Islamic Mysticism.

It would have been incorrect of me to use "Tasawwuf", even if I had a very clear idea of the implications of the use of this word, which I do not have. Moreover, "Tasawwuf" is not found in Old Javanese, Modern Javanese or Bahasa Indonesia. "Sufi" does occur in Bahasa Indonesia where its meaning is "mystical", & especially in reference to Islamic mysticism.
I understand, Alan. Thank you precisely clarifying. Sufi(-ic, -ism) is a perfectly appropriate word to label what we are talking about, especially in English. My preference to use "Tasawwuf" instead, especially when first establishing my point, is related to my experience with the varieties of meanings, assumptions and associations around the word "Sufi" - many of which I believe are erroneous or untrue. But in hindsight I don't think that was necessary for this discussion and it might even cause some confusion. In any case, we're on the same page.

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The way I see it, the westerners are now much less concerned about mysticism and alternate realities/universe , not because they profess Christianity or live in Christian culture but the opposite. They have come away from this culture and turn primarily to secularism which eschew the unproven unknowns.
I agree with this, Green. I think the difference is that the West's relationship with religion and spirituality is framed through having a personal religion or spirituality. Contrast this with, say, Japan - who statistically on paper are highly irreligious but commonly do Shinto-Buddhist practices as part of public life, like going to shrines to give thanks or offer prayers. It's a socio-cultural form of religion which demands very little when it comes to personal conviction and belief, which makes it much easier for the society to have a relationship with the divine. It's spirituality as something you do, not as something you have. If the West had this - whether it was through a persistence of its pagan folk beliefs or otherwise - I think we'd see even secular Westerners "doing" religion, because it doesn't entail the same seemingly irreconcilable cognitive dissonance of claiming to be secular while also having a personal belief in the Grace of Christ.

And I think the keris is so attractive to people who crave this kind of spirituality but who wish to remain secular, or for those who want to be able to neatly compartamentalise their public secularity and private spirituality. It is a tool by which you can remember or contemplate the metaphysical, without necessarily needing to adopt Javanese mysticism, Islamic mysticism or anything else. For me, it is one way that I can constantly be reminded of the divine and of my ancestors. For others, it might be the only gateway to the spiritual that they can relate to, even though it is not from their culture.

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..we have the charlatans who buy a keris in Pasar Triwindu early on Monday morning, and by Tuesday evening that keris has become a magical pusaka that materialized from the earth during meditation on Gunung Lawu. It has probably acquired a certificate or two along the way that guarantees it is the residence of a powerful and ethical khodam who will invariably assist the custodian in achieving his earthly desires. A powerful presence, something like Aladdin's genie of the lamp, except that you usually don't get to see the khodam.

..Some of these charlatans have now become international, and they are actively besmirching the truth and reality of the keris. To be frank, this is something that offends me, I would very much like to encourage a better understanding of the real esoteric aspects of the keris, so that people might have some chance of identifying the possible from the impossible, or put another way, identifying attributed powers that might be accepted by a learned ahli keris, and powers that might be dismissed with a smile.

Perhaps a little bit of understanding of the way in which the elements of the Hidden World do function might help people with a minimal understanding of these forces to differentiate between the possible & the impossible, the real & the unreal.

Perhaps this understanding might be assisted by the opening up of opinions, beliefs and experiences of keris interested people.
What I've written above I believe partially explains why these charlatans never seem to go out of business. People want real magic, real spirituality in their life. If they don't find it in orthodox, organised religion, they will seek it elsewhere. For how popular Islam is in Indonesia, if public religiosity is anything to go by, I actually believe that it's the result of a deep unseen iceberg of being socially, culturally, spiritually untethered from its syncretic roots. And if it can't be accessed, experienced and practiced as a people without coming under scrutiny or serious accusations of idolatry, then it will be sold by the charlatan or it will be at the behest of being defined by people claiming to know things they don't.
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Old 26th July 2022, 03:13 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Green View Post
Not coming from a Christian tradition my knowledge of Christianity is very little so my opinion below may be erroneos.

But I always believe that Christianity is full of fantastical stories about the other world, satan , exorcism and all that. Just as much as eastern religions.

The way I see it, the westerners are now much less concerned about mysticism and alternate realities/universe , not because they profess Christianity or live in Christian culture but the opposite. They have come away from this culture and turn primarily to secularism which eschew the unproven unknowns.

I guess the western worlds in the dark ages or even in the 19th century were as much as the eastern world in their belief of the unexplained.

Would the swords of the knights of the crusaders for example were believed to be magical as the keris in Indonesia today? My guess is, many believed they were.
One of the big differences to be found between Christianity and Eastern religions is the rigid dichotomy that is found in the former. God (as it is understood) is good and Satan is evil. So all spirits that are good (angels) are of god and all other are of the devil and therefore "evil". If something is not "of God" it is to be shunned. This is not the case with the various gods and goddess of Hinduism, for instance. Concepts of good and evil are not so cut and dry. A good Christian in the Western world can't fully comprehend a goddess like Kali, for instance, who in her many manifestations can be both beneficial and destructive. The average Christian in the Western world does not think much about the unseen world that exists around them at all times. Certainly not on a daily basis. Stories about pacts with the devil and exorcisms are not really the same thing as that kind of daily existence. The concept that spirits exist in everything, from rocks, grass and trees to rivers, oceans and skys and all parts of the animal kingdom is not really a part of their daily understanding. In the exoteric church there is God, in the triad of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and then there is the adversary of the devil that tempts one from the path of goodness. This is a very different way of experiencing the world and deity than in the East. Again, we can find the mysticism of the Gnostics, for instance, but that is a path of Christianity that was considered heretical by the Church and punishable by death in many cases.
Regarding "magic" as it pertains to the swords of the crusaders, i have no doubt that many crusaders may have had their swords blessed by priests and felt that that helped them to victory on the battlefield. I am not aware, however, of crusader swords that were created from the start with magickal intent, that were imbued with power by the smith fasting, chanting and praying over them during the forging process. Forging itself has always been considered magickal in some regard. Their is something alchemical about it, taking the raw materials of iron ore and transforming them into useful and/or deadly tools and objects. But i do not believe the same kind of spiritual/magickal intention was ever applied to Western blades in quite the same way as the keris, certainly not in such a culturally ingrained manner.
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Old 26th July 2022, 03:34 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey View Post
However, although I do agree that some understanding of the Hidden World will assist in an understanding of mystic/spiritual/religious values attached to the keris, I would like to see our attention brought back to the beliefs that we find to be associated with the keris itself.

For example, just how much of present day mystic belief that is attached to the keris can be considered to be belief that is re-enforced by other long standing cultural & societal belief, and just how much of this present day belief that is associated with the keris can be identified as something comparatively recent and that echoes other changes within Indonesian, and indeed, world societal change?
That is a very good question and i am not really sure how well we can really sort that out, though i am certainly open to the attempt. Certainly it does seem that their is quite a lot of mystical beliefs that has been attached to the keris in more recent times. While the roots of beliefs attached to Kejawèn go back for centuries, as an organized practice it seems to have a fairly recent history. While Alan has already expressed that Kejawèn is not central to our discussion about practices and beliefs associated with the keris, it does seem to me that many of the people in Jawa or other parts of Indonesia who espouse the mystical aspects of the keris have at least some belief or involvement in the Kejawèn movement. So it does seem to me that this philosophy has had at least some influence on more recent beliefs on the mysticism surrounding the keris in modern times. How much these beliefs have evolved or changed since ancient times is a question i do not have the information to answer, though i would be very interested to hear from those that do.
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Old 26th July 2022, 09:05 PM   #21
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David, in Jawa some of the concepts & ideas that are found within the Kejawen system of belief can also be found within keris systems of belief, but these concepts & ideas came from somewhere else before they entered either system of belief.

Kejawen is not central to keris belief, but both the keris and the belief system that is Kejawen might in some instances be related to one another.

However, this can be so only in Jawa.

How much of Javanese keris belief is found in Bali, and for that matter, how much of Balinese keris belief still exists in Jawa?


We are considering a wide swath of ideas when we set out look at some of the beliefs that can surround the keris, so it might help if we try to narrow things down a little and address some of these elements one at a time.

There are two very basic concepts that need to be clearly understood before we can advance, those two concepts are encapsulated in two words:-

tuah and isi

perhaps we could express our understandings of those two words within the context of keris belief?
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Old 27th July 2022, 02:34 AM   #22
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There are two very basic concepts that need to be clearly understood before we can advance, those two concepts are encapsulated in two words:-

tuah and isi

perhaps we could express our understandings of those two words within the context of keris belief?
Thanks for focusing the discussion, Alan. Here is my understanding of these words.

Isi means 'contents' or 'filling'. When a keris has "isi" this means that it is inhabited by a spirit - either good or bad. The old Javanese belief would have it that this spirit is one of or from nature. Newer beliefs attributable to Islam would say that jinns can inhabit keris. I think those that believe the latter would just say that the former are just types of jinn anyway. The keris as a vessel for spirit habitation or visitation is consistent with the idea that the keris is also a shrine.

Tuah - I'm not sure what the direct meaning or etymology of this word is in Javanese or BI. But anyway it refers to the keris' talismanic power or qualities. Only an Mpu can produce a keris with tuah due to their role in keris cultures as not only being masters of their craft but also having esoteric skills and knowledge. The methods by which a keris can be given power or life is known only by an Mpu. The tuah is usually tailored/matched for a particular person. Because it's a personalised affair a keris that has tuah cannot be passed onto someone else while expecting the talismanic effects of that keris to be available, let alone the same for the new custodian.

Given that keris that were made by Empus are vastly outnumbered by those that were not, most keris neither have the ability to have isi, nor do they have tuah.

Please do correct me if I'm wrong anywhere.
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Old 27th July 2022, 10:01 AM   #23
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Yep, pretty much so Jaga.

As for "wrong" I'm a bit inclined to the idea that where opinions concerning beliefs are concerned nobody can be out & out wrong, but respected masters might well have opinions that vary from the lay opinion, or even the opinion of the bulk of keris literate people.

With this sort of thing we are talking about esoteric understanding, and the very meaning of esoteric is that things of an esoteric nature are only understood by a very limited number of people.

I think I'll be out of this discussion for a few days, I'm off to look for rocks.
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Old 27th July 2022, 11:32 AM   #24
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The literal meaning of the word Tuah in Malay (and bahasa Indonesia) is Luck.
When you add the prefix ber as in bertuah it means Lucky or fortunate.
Hence a keris that is deemed bertuah would give luck or fortunes to the owner. That is at least the theory. The opposite is a keris that is cursed, i.e bringing bad luck. Many people believe there exist both types of keris. How a keris has tuah or a curse is something I have not heard people explain .


One time a woman friend told me her friend wanted to let go of a keris. She and her friend have no interest or understanding about keris and hence offered it to me. It is a very old spokal type from the state of Perak Malaysia. She did not tell me about the background of the keris but I quite liked it and hence bought it. Much later I met again with her friend and asked him why he wanted to sell it. He told me that it was a pusaka in his family and has been handed down for several generations but nobody wanted it now. And I asked him why? this time he told me. It is because every family that kept this keris always had fights and bad fortunes. Basically it is a cursed keris! The bugger didn't tell me this when he wanted to sell it before!

But it didn't seem to give either bad or good luck to me as far as I can tell. It is still with me.
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Old 28th July 2022, 04:34 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Green View Post
The literal meaning of the word Tuah in Malay (and bahasa Indonesia) is Luck.
When you add the prefix ber as in bertuah it means Lucky or fortunate.
Hence a keris that is deemed bertuah would give luck or fortunes to the owner. That is at least the theory. The opposite is a keris that is cursed, i.e bringing bad luck. Many people believe there exist both types of keris. How a keris has tuah or a curse is something I have not heard people explain .
In this case every Javanese to English online dictionary also seems to translate "tuah" as "luck", though i must say that i never quite trust these source (and strangely STILL have not obtained a good Javanese to English dictionary for myself!). But it should be noted that whenever we look at these words related to keris they are almost always of Javanese origin so we need to go to that source rather than BI or Malay, since even when these words appear in all three languages they sometimes have different definitions and/or implications.
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Old 1st August 2022, 09:30 AM   #26
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In post #21 this is what I wrote:-

"There are two very basic concepts that need to be clearly understood before we can advance, those two concepts are encapsulated in two words:-

tuah and isi

perhaps we could express our understandings of those two words within the context of keris belief?"


To consider the word "tuah".

In Malay the word "tuah" does mean "luck", just as Green has written, but not just any kind of luck, to use the word "tuah" to refer to luck, that luck must be luck that is pure good fortune, the word cannot be correctly used to refer to luck that has been generated by hard work or foresight.

In Bahasa Indonesia, "tuah" has several understandings attached to it:-

1) good luck, good fortune, 2) magic power, 3) respect, honour, prestige. Prefixes & suffixes used with the word convey similar, related understandings.(Echols & Shadily)

I asked three native speakers of Bahasa Indonesia, ordinary people, not academics nor even particularly highly educated, how they understood the word, two people gave the meaning as "a blessing", in the sense that one has been blessed by some happening or other, like finding a $100 note. The third person understood the meaning as any kind of "good fortune", not necessarily by chance, just good fortune, good luck, generated by anything at all.

In Javanese the word "tuah" does not exist, but in Modern Colloquial Javanese it might be used as a loan word from Malay/Bahasa Indonesia. The word does not exist in Old Javanese. I have been unable to find it, even with variant spellings in any dictionary of Modern Javanese

The word "tuah" does not exist in Balinese

In Sundanese (Rigg) it means a sin, a crime, an offence.

All the above is dictionary, conventional usage.

The word "tuah" in the context of keris, as explained to me by Empu Suparman is that it refers to the inherrent talismanic and/or magical qualities of a keris that are expressed by the pamor and dhapur of the keris, these qualities probably existed in the iron and other material used to make the keris before they were used to make the keris, but it took an Mpu working according to the sanctified way by using selected days of work, offerings (slametan), prayers and mantras to release the energy of the materials into the finished keris.

ONLY an Mpu has this power, no ordinary smith has the power, not even if he might know a prayer or two, or a mantra or two. This is what Mpu Pauzan Pusposukadgo meant when he refused to be called an Mpu, he considered the powers believed to be held by an Mpu to be contrary to the dictates of Islam.

The power of tuah is not necessarily restricted only to the person for whom the keris was made, the power in always there in the pamor and the dhapur, but it might not be available to everybody, the keris needs to be suited to the custodian of the keris, and the custodian needs to be suited to the keris.

For the person for whom it was made, this suitability is not a matter of chance, it is his keris, perhaps it will become pusaka in his family, for that one person, the power is certainly always accessible. For others it might be, it might not be, it depends upon the suitability one unto the other.

The true Mpu had extraordinary powers, part craftsman, part shaman, part magician, in Javanese "dukun". He could bring to life the power that was inherent in the material of the keris, and this life force was evidenced by the dhapur and pamor that he created.

Just because a keris is old, just because it might be a work of art, that does not mean that it has necessarily been made in a way that will provide the essence of its power to any custodian. The keris itself must be the production of a genuine empu, it must have been made by the sanctified method, it must be suited to its custodian, and the custodian must be suited to the keris.

All keris with tuah are good keris, "good" in the sense that when the keris was made it was made to provide a benefit to somebody, the pamor motif, and the dhapur, whether the product of an Mpu or not were never made with evil intent, only with intent to benefit the custodian.

So "evil" keris do not start that way.

Since it is obvious that not all keris can comply with the pre-requisites needed to be a keris that might have the possibility of providing some benefit to somebody, the question must then arise as to how we can identify such a keris. Again I must refer to Empu Suparman. His belief was that the quality and characteristics of a keris were the indicators of a keris made by an Mpu.

These days the art of pattern welding is understood by many people and there are references available that provide information relating to dhapurs.

There are gas forges, and I can tell you from personal experience, that welding & even pattern welding in a gas forge is not in my opinion as difficult as making a good chocolate cake.

But this was not always so.

The secrets of making complex pamors were secrets held closely by the Mpus, and only passed to their own children, either blood children, or adopted.

The correct forms of specific dhapurs were known only to Mpus.

So the ONLY keris that can be expected to hold some sort of genuine tuah are those keris that were made by a genuine Mpu and at a time when the relevant traditions were intact.

That is the starting point, but only the starting point. Even though a keris might have been made by a genuine Mpu, at a time, and in a place where there is a possibility that the keris concerned might have some special qualities, we cannot know if that keris does indeed hold those qualities until we have some indication that it does.

There are a number of ways that this matter of the power possessed by a keris might be able to be known, or at least suspected. I do not want to discuss these various methods, except to say that the person who can identify at will the power, or perhaps more properly, the force, is very, very rare.

These genuine people will not ever be specific about the force, and the idea that comes to them of this force does not seem to be something that they can summon at will, the idea can be elusive, and it will not be of the presence itself, but of something that represents the presence. The indicator might be a fleeting, spontaneous idea, it might be a feeling that penetrates consciousness, it might be a dream, but whatever it is, it will not be of the power itself, it will be a symbol of the power.

Here we need to understand that the way in which we visualise a spiritual entity is not really a representation of the spiritual entity, nor of a deity. A deity has no form, a deity is an unseen force, and the same is true of spiritual entities, the form that we give them only helps us to visualise the nature of the unseen force.

The genuine people who can sometimes detect a force associated with a keris do not hand out certificates with the stamp of some commercial operation or other. If they feel it is proper to pass on what they have felt it will almost always never be direct, it will usually be a suggestion of something that can be understood in more than one way, the way in which it is actually understood will depend on various factors.

The power of any keris is mostly dependent upon the understanding, belief and feeling of the custodian. If the keris is not a natural pairing with a custodian it will usually make the custodian aware of this in one way or another.

The key take-away in all this tuah business is that only a keris made by a proper Mpu in the proper way can have any mystic force at all, and ultimately only the custodian of the keris can understand if any positive force for him is present in that keris.

Stripped of all the lies and pretence, this is a pretty simple idea, and it comes back to the interaction between keris & custodian.

Jins & khodams & all of the transference of Islamic mysticism have no part in this, except in the minds of those who have not yet learnt.

For the last 500 years and more there has been an ongoing effort by Islam to replace the indigenous belief systems and the old Hindu-Jawa belief systems of the Javanese people, this job is not yet complete, and the changes that have been wrought in the old ways of relating to the keris and its earlier understandings is still relentlessly progressing.

And then we have the concept of "isi".

I'm still considering just how I should approach this concept.
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Old 1st August 2022, 06:58 PM   #27
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Very interesting Alan, thank you!
May I ask you whether you personally got any evidence of a keris with a mystic force of any kind?
Regards
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Old 1st August 2022, 10:44 PM   #28
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Jean, what I have written above is a very brief, very superficial outline of the major belief system concerning the way in which the concept of tuah was understood by the people in Solo who taught me.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, this is my own belief in respect of the way in which the observed qualities of a keris should be understood.

For about five years I lived in a very old house that had the reputation of being inhabited by a spirit presence, his identity was known, he had been seen by a number of people, including my three year old son, who regarded him as his friend. My wife at the time would avoid one of the rooms in this house and would close & lock the door to this room if I was not at home. If she entered the room she could feel a presence behind her, if she turned around quickly she would see a movement in the air. She was very uncomfortable in this house and in spite of its beauty and the sweeping views from the back verandah we eventually sold it and moved. During the entire time we were there I did not see, feel, nor experience anything even remotely unusual. I am not a sensitive person.

I have been given more than a few keris and tombak by various people, a few were given as tokens of friendship, but most were given because it was believed that they had brought misfortune to the previous custodians, one was given to me because of messages that a woman whom I did not know had received instructions in a dream from her dead husband, one was given to me for safe keeping until somebody in the family concerned was prepared to accept responsibility for its care.

Apart from the items of tosan aji that have been given to me I have one keris that I acquired through a normal commercial transaction. This keris was the central performer in a very unusual occurrence involving a Hungarian psychic who had never even seen a keris until he handled a few that I had, this occurrence took place in the same house with the spiritual presence. This same keris was declared "hot" & "evil" by a man who had been a spiritual advisor to President Sukarno. This same keris moved from the place where it had been left to a different place 3 meters away on the first night it was in my house, my house at that time was the one that did certainly have a resident spiritual presence.

Apart from these things mentioned above I have experienced a number of other inexplicable things throughout my life, things that might be able to be explained as coincidence in some cases, but that in other cases cannot be explained in any rational way.

For example, the knowledge of an acquaintance who burnt to death in bed 5000km away, at the time when it was happening. This was not something that I experienced, rather it was something that somebody who is very close to me experienced and this person does have acknowledged psychic abilities.

I do absolutely accept that there are unseen forces that are present all around us all the time. Everything in this world and beyond is connected.

But I am not one of the people who can cross from one place to the other.

I have never experienced any good fortune, nor any bad luck, that I can directly attribute to anything other than hard work & effort in one regard, and my own stupidity in the other.

Last edited by A. G. Maisey; 2nd August 2022 at 02:13 AM. Reason: text error
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Old 2nd August 2022, 02:21 AM   #29
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The word "tuah" in the context of keris, as explained to me by Empu Suparman is that it refers to the inherrent talismanic and/or magical qualities of a keris that are expressed by the pamor and dhapur of the keris, these qualities probably existed in the iron and other material used to make the keris before they were used to make the keris, but it took an Mpu working according to the sanctified way by using selected days of work, offerings (slametan), prayers and mantras to release the energy of the materials into the finished keris.
Thank you for your detailed explanation Alan. I imagine this is why Keris is considered as Prayers in Steel? An Empu forge a Keris as a form of prayer (represented by pamor and dhapur) suited according to the wishes/hopes of the custodian?

I'm waiting for your explanation on Isi.

Best Regards,

YS
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Old 2nd August 2022, 02:51 AM   #30
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Not quite YS.

This "prayers in steel" thing is, I believe, pretty new, but it is understandable.

It is not something I ever heard from the people who taught me, I have the feeling that the idea might have originated in the Jogja community.

There are a couple of things that we might consider when thinking about this "prayers in steel" thing.

Firstly, there is very, very little steel in a keris, so clearly the phrase was initiated by somebody who understood a minimal amount about the technology of making a keris.

Secondly there are some people who believe that when the Mpu prays during actual production of the keris the material records his prayers, and those prayers are embedded in the material of the keris forever. I did not hear this belief from the people who taught me.

Thirdly, if read from left to right when the tip of the blade is pointing up, and the gandhik is to the left of the person holding the keris, what we do have is a prayer.

Before praying to other deities many, if not most Hindu devotees offer a brief prayer to Ganesha, and the Kembang Kacang represents Ganesha, in the event that the Kembang Kacang has a Jenggotan, we will see the RonDha, and the Ron Dha can be read as the shortest mantra "AUM", the Blumbangan is representative of the Yoni, the Sogokan a representation of the Lingga, which in turn symbolises Siwa, where a greneng is present we see the RonDha again, so the prayer closes with the shortest mantra "AUM".

So:- AUM>Ganesha>Yoni>Lingga> AUM

and of course, apart from the symbolism related to Mount Meru (Mount Kailash), and the other ways in which the keris can be understood, we have the keris as symbolic of Siwa himself.

When the symbolism of the keris is understood it is very easy to understand why Islam needed to be very proactive in trying to remove the pre-Islamic symbolism from the keris and to replace that with ideas that were more acceptable to Islam.
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