Al-Khidr, The Green Man and the Vegetation gods

To Sufis, al-Khiḍr holds a distinguished position. Although amongst the Sunni scholars there is a difference of opinion about him being still alive, amongst Sunni Sufis there is almost a consensus that al-Khiḍr is still alive, with many respected figures and shaykhs, and prominent leaders claiming having had personal encounters with him.

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In Sufi tradition, al-Khiḍr has come to be known as one of those who receive illumination direct from God without human mediation.

(see also The inner guide is the archetypal manifestation of knowing: The ‘Alam al-Mithal; Henry Corbin & the Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi )

He is the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path, like some of those from the Uwaisi tariqa. Uwaisis are those who enter the mystical path without being initiated by a living master. Instead they begin their mystical journey either by following the guiding light of the teachings of the earlier masters or by being initiated by the mysterious prophet-saint al-Khiḍr.

al-Khiḍr has had thus gained enormous reputation and popularity in the Sufi tradition due to his role as an initiator. Through this way come several Sufi orders which claim initiation through al-Khiḍr and consider him their master. Al-Khiḍr had thus come to symbolize access to the divine mystery (ghayb) itself. In the writings of Abd al-Karim al-Jili, al-Khiḍr rules over ‘the Men of the Unseen’ (rijalu’l-ghayb)— the exalted saints and angels. Al-Khiḍr is also included among what in classical Sufism are called the ‘’abdāl’’ (‘those who take turns’).  In a divinely-instituted hierarchy of such saints, al-Khiḍr holds the rank of their spiritual head.

The French scholar of Sufism, Henry Corbin, interprets al-Khiḍr as the mysterious prophet, the eternal wanderer. The function of al-Khiḍr as a ‘person-archetype’ is to reveal each disciple to himself, to lead each disciple to his own theophany, because that theophany corresponds to his own ‘inner heaven,’ to the form of his own being, to his eternal individuality.

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Khiḍr literally means ‘The Green One’, representing freshness of spirit and eternal liveliness, green symbolizing the freshness of knowledge “drawn out of the living sources of life.” Whatever the source for this green may he, it has come to symbolize the benign presence of the divine wisdom as imparted by the Divine Himself to Khiḍr and to Prophet Muhammad (UWBP).

In Muslim tradition, al-Khiḍr is widely known as the spiritual guide of Moses and Alexander the Great, a wali (saint), a prophet, and one of four immortals along with Enoch (Idris), Jesus, and Elijah.

Nizami_Ganjavi_-_Alexander_the_Great_and_the_Prophet_Khidr_(Khizr)_in_Front_of_the_Fountain_of_Life_-_Walters_W610320A_-_Full_Page
Nizami Ganjavi – Alexander the Great and the Prophet Khidr in Front of the Fountain of Life

Qur’ānic commentators say that al-Khiḍr is one of the prophets; others refer to him simply as an angel who functions as a guide to those who seek God. And there are yet others who argue for his being a perfect wali meaning the one whom God has taken as a friend.

Khiḍr is associated with the Water of Life. Since he drank the water of immortality he is described as the one who has found the source of life, ‘the Eternal Youth.’ He is the mysterious guide and immortal saint in popular Islamic lore and the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path.

In the Islamic tradition Khiḍr is alive and well and continues to guide the perplexed and those who invoke his name.   via Al-Khidr, The Green Man

Compare this “green man” with the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris, best known as god of the deceased/underworld, but also the god of vegetation. He was both a god of fertility and the embodiment of the dead and resurrected king. This dual role was in turn combined with the Egyptian concept of divine kingship: the king at death became Osiris, god of the underworld; and the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Horus, a god of the sky. Osiris and Horus were thus father and son.

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Wall painting in the tomb of Queen Nefertari. Osiris in his green form

Osiris resides in the underworld as the lord of the dead. Having been killed by Seth, who tricked his brother into climbing into a box which he then cast into the Nile. The coffin of Osiris was driven by the waves to Byblos, in Syria, and it was cast upon the shore. A sacred tree sprang up and grew round it, and the body of the dead ruler was enclosed in its great trunk. The king of the land marvelled greatly at the wonderful tree, because that it had such rapid growth, and he gave command that it should be cut down. Then the trunk was erected in his house as a sacred pillar. Isis had a revelation that she should go to Byblos, and there she befriended the wife of the king, and asked to be given the sacred pillar. This was granted, and she cut the trunk of the tree and discovered the box, which she then took back to Egypt. However, Seth discovered the box, ripped it open and tore the body into 14 pieces which he scattered along the banks of the Nile. Isis then searched for the parts and discovered all but the phallus, which had been eaten by a fish.  She buried the fragments where they were found, and for each she made a tomb, thereby giving new life to Osiris, who thenceforth remained in the underworld as ruler and judge. His son Horus successfully fought against Seth, avenging Osiris and becoming the new king of Egypt.

Through the hope of new life after death, Osiris began to be associated with the cycles observed in nature, in particular vegetation and the annual flooding of the Nile, the death and rebirth inherent in the agricultural cycle of planting and harvesting grain. Every harvest, the god was symbolically killed and his body broken on the threshing room floor, but after the inundation life would return to the land and the crops would grow again.

We read that when asked by his companions about Khiḍr, the Prophet Muhammad explained that after al-Khiḍr sat on barren land, the ground turned green with vegetation. Khiḍr’s transmission is “green,” and alive. John Matthews describes the archetype of the Green Man as “the spirit of nature … an ancient symbol of nature and fertility,” expressed in the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil, Attis and Adonis, Odin, Osiris, the King of the Wood, and the May King and Harvest King.

The vegetation gods sit at the top in the hierarchy of the gods, understand immortality, death and re-birth. New life after death. Possibly, this is one of the reasons there is a difference of opinion about al-Khidr being still among the living, owing to the cycle we observe in nature.

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Al-Khadir (right) and companion Zul-Qarnain (Alexander the Great) marvel at the sight of a salted fish that comes back to life when touched by the Water of Life. Public domain.

 

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