Saturday, March 26, 2016

Incantation Bowl: Technologizing the Words for Magical Power.

An incantation bowl is a form of protective magic found in Iraq and Iran. Widely used during the Late Antiquity from 6-8th century CE, the bowls were usually inscribed in a spiral, beginning from the rim and moving toward the center. Most are inscribed in Aramaic languages. They were normally placed upside down, sometimes stacked one on top of another. Putting them upside down may have been a way of magically trapping the offending demons inside them so that they could not bring harm. 

The bowls were buried face down and were meant to capture demons. Thus also known as a demon bowl or devil trap bowl. They were commonly placed under the threshold, courtyards, in the corner of the homes of the recently deceased and in graveyards.The bowls were often built into walls or foundations. 

A subcategory of incantation bowls are those used in Jewish and Christian magical practice. Incantation bowls were used in magic to protect against evil influences such as the evil eye, Lilith, and Bagdana. Jewish incantation bowls were inscribed with magic texts in Hebrew-Aramaic script and Christians were in Syriac.

The bowls are inscribed with magic texts designed to protect one's wife, children, house or other property. A sample of the text of a Persian Incantation Bowl inscribed for some Bahram-Gushnasp, son of Ishtar-Nahid were as below-

"You are bound and sealed,
     all you demons and devils and liliths,
by that hard and strong,
     mighty and powerful bond 
     with which are tied Sison and Sisin....

The evil Lilith,
     who causes the hearts of men to go astray
     and appears in the dream of the night
     and in the vision of the day,
Who burns and casts down with nightmare,
     attacks and kills children, boys an girls.

She is conquered and sealed away 
     from the house and from the threshold of 
     [Bahram-Gushnasp, son of Ishtar-Nahid]
by the talisman of Metatron, the great prince 
     who is called the Great Healer of Mercy....

who vanquishes demons and devils,
     black arts and mighty spells and keeps them away 
     from the house and threshold of 
     [Bahram-Gushnasp, son of Ishtar-Nahid].
Amen, Amen, Selah.

Vanquished are the black arts and mighty spells.
Vanquished the bewitching women,
     they, their witchery and their spells,
     their curses and their invocations, and kept away 
     from the four walls of the house of 
     [Bahram-Gushnasp, the son of Ishtar-Nahid].

Vanquished and trampled down are the bewitching women --
     vanquished on earth and vanquished in heaven.
Vanquished are their constellations and stars.
     Bound are the works of their hands.
Amen, Amen, Selah." ---[Translation by R. Patai]

When you see a Incantation Bowl, a question arises to you- ‘What possessed those people to do something like this?’

Thus It is our interest to know the common feature of Incantation Bowl genre –namely, the illocutionary act –in order to illustrate its fundamentally performative nature. In short, how they inscribed a Incantation Bowl, what is the main parts of an Inscription, What is the system of writing text and what will be their sequence.

Actually, the texts of Incantation Bowl seem to betray our high expectations of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of literacy. The handwriting of their authors is almost always sloppy to the point of illegibility, their language variously characterized as ‘corrupt,’ ‘debased,’ or ‘full of mistakes,’ and their content often described as ‘formulaic,’ ‘repetitive and stilted. Pognon was of the opinion that those were created by ‘charlatans’ in imitation of legitimate scribes in the hopes of duping the predominantly unlettered and therefore presumably gullible public. The Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic, Macuch expressed his opinion as follows:

"Magic bowls and rolls usually contain a mass of hardly decipherable or completely incomprehensible nonsense. They were written against the demons who were supposed to understand their magic language. Their defective and often careless writing makes their reading difficult and their interpretation doubtful. The picture of the language they give us is very incomplete." -(Macuch 1965: lix).

But this is not the case actually, those texts are completely formulaic and repetitive; not according to their languages and literatures. The writing which was a reflection of the oral composition, ‘trapped’ as it were within the bounds of the circle formed by the rim of the bowl, was quite possibly of secondary importance, and the circumstances of its execution (on an unglazed plain-ware bowl during the course of a ritual) certainly did not lend themselves to great feats of calligraphy, in any case. The fact that writing is typically much slower than speech (being typically about one tenth its speed), it is not surprising that some magicians may have merely mimicked the act of writing during the course of the ritual, thereby producing the so-called ‘pseudo-script texts’. We therefore need not dismiss their creators as charlatans, as they would also need to be need not dismiss their creators as charlatans, as they would also need to be completely versed in the other components of the ritual in order to satisfy their clients.

In fact, as hastily scrawled transcriptions of the actual speech of the magician, presumably recorded more or less verbatim, they offer us insight into aspects of the spoken language that are not provided by the more prestigious literary texts.

Incantation Bowl-1
The bowl incantation rituals, which may be considered as ‘magical’ insofar as they do not bear the hallmarks of contemporary religious rituals,[for example, that the bowl texts are, as a rule, composed in the profane language of the people rather than the sacred language of scripture; for more on the distinction between sacred and profane language in the context of magical and religious rituals,-Tambiah 1968: 179–82.17] but nonetheless represent an important element of the ancient Near Eastern relationship between the human and the supernatural.-[model established by Graf: ‘...it will be necessary for us to consider and analyze the ancient use of the term magic as it constitutes an element of the indigenous discourse on the relationship between the human and the supernatural’ -(Graf 1997: 19)]

While rituals are a universal feature of human societies, it has long been acknowledged that magical rituals (strictly defined) are more typical of preliterate cultures than literate ones. The incantation texts in particular bear many of the hallmarks of oral compositions rather than of literary compositions:

"They were composed in the popular language rather than any literary standard, most are attested in multiple variants, similar to one another in their content and formulaic structure, but nevertheless differing in some way from one another as well."

Additionally, although these texts are obviously only attested in written form, they are wholly absent from the canons of the contemporary religions that have survived to the present date, perhaps because magical rituals such as these were generally anathematized by the normative religious traditions of the region. As a result, it is likely that they were transmitted from person to person, and the evidence of the bowls, which preserve multiple attestations of many incantations, suggests that the same incantations were performed repeatedly over time. For these reasons, they are best classified with other artistic forms of communication conventionally described as folklore. [Cf. Dundes 1999: 2: ‘...the basic distinctive criteria of folklore: namely, multiple existence and variation.’]

Understanding those texts and refining their interpretation, researcher divided the script of an Inscription in to following parts-

I.   Introductory Formula.
II.  Preamble/Recitals.
III. Body.
a.  Divorce/Expulsion Formula. or, Injunctions.
b.  Restraining Orders.
IV. Voces Magicae.
V.  Ending.
VI. Concluding Formula (optional).

These parts of the contract always appear in the same order, although they are not always reproduced in full, and one of the Mandaic versions interpolates some additional material into the body of the incantation that is not found in any of the other variants. Likewise, of those versions which are framed with introductory and/or concluding formulae, no two agree.

I. Introductory Formula
[Haḏen giṭṭā lə-šeḏā u-l-[....] u-l-Sāṭānā u-l-Neriḵ u-l-Ḏaḵyā u-l-ʾAḇiṭur wə-li-ḏnā liliṯā ḏi-yiḇṭəlun min Bahrānduḵ baṯ Newānduḵ wə-min Māhdāḏ bar Iṣpandārmuḏ wə-min-bayṯah kulleh.] ‘This deed of divorce is for the demon and for [....], Satan, Nerig, Dakyā, Abiṭur and for this lilith so that they may withdraw from Wahrāmduxt, daughter of Nēwānduxt, and from Māhdād, son of Spandārmad (Esfandārmoz), and from her entire household.’ 


Incantation Bowl-2
The various maleficent influences against which the geṭ is intended to protect are drawn from a variety of backgrounds. The šeḏā is ultimately of Mesopotamian origin, but also known from the Bible (Deut. 32:17; Psalm 106:37). Sāṭānā is, of course, the infamous Adversary. Neriḵ resembles the Mandaic Neriḡ, whose name is ultimately derived from Nirgallu, the Babylonian god of war and pestilence; in the Mandaean tradition, this being is usually idenidentified with the planet Mars. Daḵyā is an otherwise unattested being whose name would appear to mean ‘the pure,’ and ʾAḇiṭur superficially resembles the Mandaean Aḇaṯur, guardian of the final purgatory through which the souls of Mandaeans must pass and be weighed before they may enter the world of light. Liliths, who are the focus of this particular incantation, are a special class of female demons who prey upon women and small children.

Note that the names of the clients are typically followed by the names of their mothers rather than their fathers, possibly on the grounds that mater certa, pater incertus. All four names are unmistakably Iranian. This suggests that the clients were Zoroastrian, rather than Jewish or members of any of the ther ethno-religious communities of late antique Mesopotamia, but in the absence of further evidence one cannot necessarily assume this to be the case -(Segal 2000: 24).

II. Preamble/Recitals
The Preamble identifies the contract by name and indicates the primary parties to it, typically the enchanter’s client or clients and the lilith. Recitals provide some background to the contract (in this case, the activities of the lilith that have necessitated it) and any third parties, such as those beings to whose authority the enchanter appeals. 

[ʾal-ʾissur Buḡdānā malḵəhon d-šeḏe u-d-diwe wə-šalliṭā rabbā ḏ-lilyāṯā mašbaʿnā ʿălaḵi Ḥəḇalus liliṯā baṯ bəraṯah də-Zarnay liliṯā.....ʾim dəḵar ʾim nəqeḇā‘By the ban of Buḡdānā, king of demons and devils, and great ruler of liliths, I adjure you, Ḥbsls the lilith, daughter of Zrny the lilith’s daughter .....whether male or female.’
[mašbaʿnā ʿălaḵi ḏə-ṯimməḥan bə-ṭerpəsā lə-libbəḵon u-ḇ-morāniṯeh də-Tyqs gibbārā ḏ-hu šalliṭ ʿal-šede wə-ʿal-lilyāṯā‘I adjure you that you (f.sg.) be struck in the pericardium of your (m.pl.heart and with the lance of the hero Tyqs, who has control over demons and liliths.’

III. Body
The Body contains the heart of the contract, including the formula which divorces or expels the lilith, injunctions demanding that the lilith leave, and orders restraining her from troubling the clients and their property in the future. 

[u-np̄aq kulhon qəryāṯā min bayṯah də-māraṯ Miryām paṯ Mādanoš Həze ḏə-ḇaṭṭelteḵ min bayṯeh də-Yohānān hā həze ḏi-ḵraḵteḵ min zireh wə-min bazireh wə-min bəneh wə-min bənāṯeh də-Yohānān wə-min māraṯ Miryām paṯ Mādanošand all mishaps hereby leave from the house of Lady Miryām daughter of Mādanōš. See that I hereby suspend you from the house of Yoḥānān. Look, see that I hereby circumvent you from the semen and seed,[Cf. JB 202: “from his ‘night seed’ (semen) and from his ‘day seed’ (seeds of grain).] and from the sons and from the daughters of Yoḥānān and from Lady Miryam daughter of Mādanōš.’

a. Divorce/Expulsion Formula
[hā ḵəṯaḇiṯ bə-ḵon hā hā ḇaṭṭəliṯ yāṯəḵon minnah wə-min bayṯah də-Ḇahrānduḵ baṯ Newānduḵ wə-min bərah‘Look, I hereby write concerning you. Look, look, I hereby suspend you from her and from the house of Wahrāmduxt, daughter of Nēwānduxt, and from her son.’
[hā paṭṭəriṯ yāṯəḵi wə-hā šabbəqiṯ yāṯəḵi wə-hā ṯarrəḵiṯ yāṯəḵi bə-ḡeṭ piṭṭurinLook, I hereby divorce you! Look, I hereby divorce you! Look, I hereby divorce you with a deed of divorce!’ -(Iraq 5497)
[paṭṭəriṯ wə-šabbəqiṯ wə-ṯarrəḵiṯ yāṯəḵi‘I hereby divorce, divorce, and divorce you!’ -(Iraq 11113)

Most versions in the square script continue with a simile, comparing the client’s act of divorcing the lilith to the parallel institution of divorces between demons:

[kəmā ḏə-ḵāṯḇin šedin giṭṭin wə-yāhḇin li-nšayhon wə-ṯuḇ lā-ḥāḏrin ʿălayhon šəqulu giṭṭayḵon wə-qabbəlu mawmāṯḵon‘Just as demons write deeds of divorce, give them to their wives, and never swarm over them again, take your deeds of divorce and accept your oaths.’-(Segal 013A)

Two of the Mandaic versions, Segal 098M and 099M, dispense with this simile, at least explicitly:

[hā ʾekkəṯiḇyān wə-həzen ʾap̄ṭartəḵen min Bā-ḏə-ros paṯ Qāqāy kəmā ḏi-ḵṯiḇ šəmeḵ šəqul giṭṭeḵ wə-gabbil ʾumāmāṯḵen‘Look, they are written, and see, I hereby make you leave Bā ḏə-Ros, daughter of Qāqāy, [. . .] just as your name is written. Take your deed of divorce and receive your oaths!’ -(Segal 098M)
[həze ḏə-ḵṯaḇleḵ giṭṭā kəmā hāzen giṭṭā kəṯaḇiṯ ḏə-həḇile lə-Yoḇhānān u-l-ḵol mān də-hāzen puḡdāmā mekkəṯiḇleh wə-meqqəbarleh bə-ḇāḇeh‘See, he (or: they) hereby writes a deed of divorce for you like this deed [that] I hereby write to destroy her for Yoḥānān and for all for whom this command is written and buried at his gate.’ -(Segal 099M)

Once the deed of divorce has been written and served, the enchanter follows with a series of injunctions to leave, often specifically enumerating the people, places, and things from which the lilith is barred:

or. Injunctions
[wə-p̄uqu u-qḏuḥu wə-ʿiruqu wə-ʾizelu min bayṯah də-Ḇahrānduḵ baṯ NewānduḵAnd go out, flee, scram, and depart from the house of Wahrāmduxt, daughter of Nēwānduxt.’ -(Segal 013A).
Segal 098M qəḏā ‘flee’ [1st injunction] ʾəqir ‘uproot’[2nd injunction] puq ‘go out’[3rd injunction] ʾeṯrahhaq ‘depart’[4th injunction].

b. Restraining Orders:
[wə-p̄uqu u-qḏuḥu wə-ʿiruqu wə-ʾizelu min bayṯah də-Ḇahrānduḵ baṯ NewānduḵAnd go out, flee, scram, and depart from the house of Wahrāmduxt, daughter of Nēwānduxt.’ -(Segal 013A)

Some versions also include an admonition against appearing to the client ever again in any form:

[wə-lā-ṯiṯḥăzin ləhon lā-ḇ-ḥezwe ḏ-imāmā wə-lā-ḇ-harhure lelyā wə-lā-ḇi-ḏmuṯ gaḇrā wə-ʾittəṯā‘And do not appear to them either in daytime visions or in nighttime fancies and not in the form of a man or woman.’ -(Iraq 5497)

IV. Voces Magicae:
The Body is typically followed by some voces magicae, mysterious words or phrases that have no apparent meaning. Several variants of this text incorporate some unintelligible voces magicae introduced by the phrase bə šum in the penultimate formulae of six variants of the incantation:

Segal 098M  Vox Magica [TMAHṢ ABD HYGUT AID AUD ṬṬUZ]
Segal 099M  Vox Magica [MATHIMIṢ]

[bə-šum kəḇišin dišin dariḵin‘In the name of: “Suppressed, trampled, and trodden....”.’ (Segal 043A: 3–4)
[bə-šum ʾiṭṭer yamin ḥayyāḇā bayṯā min šəmayyā‘In the name of: “The left-handed is condemned, the house from heaven [is] . . .”.’ -(Segal 044A: 10)
[bə-šum haškəḥit məšoḇədāyṯ ([lessthan]*məšaʿbədāʾiṯ)‘In the name of: “Submissively, I have found/attained . . .”.’ -(Segal 044A: 11)

V. Ending:
The contract concludes with an Ending which formally seals the document. The Ending ‘seals the deal,’ so to speak. Seven of the versions (including two of the Mandaic ones) make this metaphor explicit by employing the rhetorical device of a ‘signet ring upon which is engraved the great ineffable name’ of God, a device clearly borrowed from the lore of Judaism. This section contains more explicitly Jewish content than any of the other sections, and perhaps not surprisingly this content does not always survive intact in every attested instantiation of the text.

[ḥăṯimṯā bə-ʿizqəṯeh də-Tyqs gibbārā u-ḇ-ʿizqəṯeh də-ṣurgəli ḏə-ʿălohi šem məp̄oraš rabbāSealed with the signet ring of Tyqs the Hero and with the signet ring of Ṣurgəli (“Drawngrave”) upon which is the great ineffable name.’ -(Segal 013A)
[siddurʿālmā mi-ššešeṯ yəme ḇəreʾšiṯ‘the natural order since the six days of creation.’ (Schøyen MS 1928/47)
[hā ʾəsirā u-hṯimā ḏə-Ḇā-ḏə-ros paṯ Qāqāy ʾalāhā bə-šəmā ḏə-p̄ārušā ḏə-ḇeh ʾəmareh u-ḇ-'ešmeh kulləhon ʾalāme‘Look, the (geṭ?) of Bā ḏə-Ros, daughter of Qāqāy, is bound and sealed bə-ʾezqəṯon ḏi-ḡlip̄ with the signet ring of the god Gəlip̄ (‘Engraved’) in the name of the discerner with which he said it and in whose name are all things.’ -(Segal 098M)

Louvre AO 2629 introduces another element of Jewish origin, the Ring of Solomon, which is surprisingly not found in any other version, Mandaic or otherwise:

['əsirāṯe u-həṯimāṯe lilyāṯā ziḵre wə-nuqbāṯā bə-ʾezqəṯeh di-Šlemon malkā bar Dāwiḏ də-ṣirgəlip̄ ʾalāhā šəmeh rabbā wə-yaqqirāLiliths both male and female are bound and sealed with the signet ring of King Solomon son of David, of the god Ṣirgəlip̄, his name is great and honorable.’ -(Louvre AO 2629)
[gəlip̄ ʾalāhā šəmeh məp̄āršā mirešešaṯ šeṯ yawme bərešiṯ‘The god Gəlip̄, his name is held separate from the beginning, the six days of creation.’ -(Louvre AO 2629)

VI. Concluding Formula (Optional):
[ʾāmen ʾāmen ʾāmen selā‘Amen, amen, amen, selah.’ -(Segal 013A)

Compositions of this kind Incantation Bowl were likely composed not to be recited alone but rather in the presence of others, as a variety of performance. It is clear that the other components of this performance –the whispered incantations, the construction of a magical circle, the inscribing of a new bowl, and finally the burial of that bowl – would have to be done properly in order to satisfy this audience of the felicity and efficacy of the ritual. 

The End.
Not Yet Revised.
Picture: from net.

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