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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Aramaic Incantation Bowls : Byzantine Period Terracotta Incantation Bowl
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Byzantine Period Terracotta Incantation Bowl - PF.5729
Origin: Mesopotamia
Circa: 400 AD to 700 AD
Dimensions: 3.125" (7.9cm) high x 6.75" (17.1cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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Terracotta incantation bowls such as this example are also known as "demon bowls." This term is used to describe vessels found in the Middle East that were created as forms of both protective and aggressive magic. They are identified by the writing on their interior (and occasionally on the outside) in either Jewish- Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, or Middle Persian (Pahlavi). Placed in the corners of rooms where demons were believed to sneak in through cracks in the floor and walls, the bowl was buried face-down to lure malevolent spirits inside in order to trap them. The script was presumably an enticement, attracting demons so they would not do harm to persons or property. The open area in the center, combined with the sinuous, flowing script along the flared sides, does give the impression of a swirling vortex. Elegant in its simplicity, powerful in its incantation, this extraordinary bowl is a tangible link to magical practices of the Middle East in Late Antiquity.

The interior of this extraordinary demon bowl is inscribed with nine lines of text, spiraling outwards clockwise from the center, in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic script. The text translates as:

This bowl for the sealing and protection of the house and dwelling of Babai, son of Batqina. I, Babai, son of Batqina, am standing on a great mountain. Upon a great mountain of stone, I am tying magic words. I am going out and flying against you, upon the ruins of the settlement and the trenches of the field, and upon the paths of human beings. The healing that I am revealing by it and the (…) that I am protecting by it. A knife is in my hand which exists from the earth to the sky which was given to me by the mother of all great demons, of demons and dews and satans and idols and Liliths. By it they are being injured and their blood flows to deep rivers. Because (…) I have killed, and thus I have obstructed, and thus I have struck you, the knife in your heart. By the name of SL SL SL SL SL SL SL, by these seven words, the heavens and the earth are bound. By them are sealed and counter sealed the house of Babai, son of Batqina. By the upper mystery, by the middle mystery, by the lower mystery, by the upper divine presence, by the middle divine presence, by the lower divine presence, by a mystery of the mother and her daughter, by the mystery of a bride and her mother-in-law, by the sun and moon fires, by the image of the signet ring of Solomon the King, son of David.

Just the language of the text alone is of another era; an era full of mystery, magic, and gods. Holding this bowl in our hands, we are transported back to a time of legends, to the time when the words of the Bible were just being written, to a time when great men like King Solomon ruled, a time that continues to touch and mold our lives today.
- (PF.5729)


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