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An Excerpt from the Book

An Excerpt from Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of the Late Antiquity


Many bowls were found placed in their original position upside down, a fact which has led scholars to assume that they may have served as traps for demons, being meant to keep the evil spirits imprisoned inside them. This view may gain some support from the fact that in some cases two bowls were found placed facing each other forming between them a closed sphere.8 Such an enclosed ball-shaped area might be an ideal prison for evil spirits. This theory was rejected by Gordon,9 who argued that it would be absurd to assume that any house-owner would want to have demons permanently locked in his house. It seems, according to Gordon, much more likely that they would want to get rid of the maleficent spirits and to have them removed from the house. He therefore suggests that the shape of the bowls resembles that of a skull, which may have been regarded as magically effective. We must confess that this argument fails to convince us. The idea of keeping demon-traps in the house need not strike us as more ridiculous than that of placing mouse-traps. In both cases the hated victim, once caught, is incapacitated and is made powerless to cause harm. A harmless demon caught by the bowl constitutes no menace to the safety of the house. The text of the bowls very often talks of chaining and pressing the evil entities; at the same time it may also bid them go away, leave the house and desist from bothering the house-owner. The bowl thus serves both to entrap the evil powers and to reject them; there is no real contradiction between these two propositions.



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