6 December 2013
ETHIOPIC MAGIC SCROLL, In Ge'ez, PAINTED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [Ethiopia, 19th century]
Approximately 1950 x 10 mm, three membranes, two columns in red and black in a traditional hand separated by a decorative patterned vertical band, three painted diagrammatic images in black, blue, ochre and red, vellum tie. Provenance: Philip Hofer (1898-1984), Harvard librarian.
Amulet scrolls carry magic formulas or prayers specific to the person, most often a woman, for whom they were made. They were prepared and written by a dabtara, an unordained cleric, a class thought to have particularly close association with the spirit world. The scrolls carried a variety of spells, prayers and magic formulas that offered protection or cure against the Evil Eye, malevolent spirits and physical ailments. Small undecorated scrolls were rolled and worn but it is thought that larger and more decorative ones, such as the present example, may have been hung as 'wall amulets'.
One almost standard inclusion in these scrolls, known as the seal of Solomon or 'captive devil', shows a face surrounded by eight horns within a grid of nine squares. It appears here in two forms and represents a demon trapped within the confines of the spell written in red around it, testifying to its efficacy and thus scaring away any other evil spirits. The scroll ends with an illustration of a decorative Ethiopic Cross.
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