Thursday, March 22, 2018

Incantation Bowls

This past weekend, I was at the Sacred Space convention in Hunt Valley, MD.  It's my favorite witching conference, and I came home all abuzz with new ideas.  Among the many wonderful classes I saw, I also taught a class on Babylonian-style incantation bowls, a type of home protection charm which appear to have originated, likely among Jewish communities, in the Near East in late antiquity. Approximately two thousand such bowls have been discovered, primarily in Iran and Iraq, dating from the 2nd to 8th centuries CE.  Most often, from the outside, the vessels appear to be plain clay bowls. Inside, the bowls contain an incantation (usually in Aramaic), usually written so it spirals in from the rim to the center of the bowl.  In addition to the words, there are often illustrations of demons in chains. Some bowls, instead of writing, have squiggles and waves, thought to be used by illiterate magicians to imitate writing. Almost every bowl has a purpose-specific incantation; they were likely individually composed by the magician making the bowl for the particular circumstances it was to be used in.  However, many bowls contain familiar symbols (like the snake who swallows his own tail, called ouroboros) or magical names, such as those found in the famed Greek Magical Papyri.

There was a large Jewish community in Nippur (in modern day Iraq) in the 3rd century. This community was especially fond of these demon bowls. Nearly every house excavated has contained at least one.  They are all very similar, likely made by the same magician, and often contain passages from the Torah, usually Psalm 104:20; Exodus 15:3; Psalm 24:8; Psalm 10:16; and Exodus 15:18.

some demon illustrations from various bowls

The bowls are usually found buried upside down, most often in the corners of rooms, thought to be a place where demons could sneak into a home through the crack between wall and floor. Occasionally, two bowls are found glued together to make a hollow ball. In these cases, there are often items inside; eggs are particularly common in this case. There are, broadly, four types of incantation bowls:

  1. The most common type are house protection and general anti-curse talismans.
  2. Another common type are intended to protect specific people from particular curses.
  3. Sometimes, they are intended to cure people of specific afflictions, such as migraines.
  4. The final kind have “pseudo-script” and were likely created by illiterate people for their own use.  
    1. One imagines these have the same spread of uses as the literate ones

The text on the bowls is pretty formulaic.  Most include some, but not all of the following:

  1. An introductory formula giving them name of the magician and their magical titles or pedigree, etc.
  2. Brief quotes from Torah.
  3. A description of the function of the bowl.
  4. A “divorce decree” of exorcism formula, casting out  / divorcing demons and Lilith(s).
  5. A restraining order against demons and etc.
  6. Voces Magicae and “Barbarous” Names
  7. A concluding formula. (such as “amen, amen, selah” or etc)
  8. An illustration of a demon in chains. (or occasionally other things, shapes, etc)

Bowls such as these can be easily made from wooden salad bowls, which I frequently find at thrift stores for less than $2 each.  They can also be made with ceramic bowls, or even papier m√Ęche bowls. Personally, I like wooden bowls best, because the porous nature of the wood allows you to incorporate magical oils into the enchantment.  No matter what sort of bowl you use, a Sharpie-style permanent magic marker is the best choice for adding the inscription. If you’re using a wooden bowl, you’ll also need a variety of grades of sandpaper. You’ll also want some paper and a pen, for planning your inscription.  The first step is to decide what your bowl should say. You’ll most likely want to include your own name, the name of your home, and then to call on your personal gods and spirit allies to protect you. You may also choose to include an illustration of a demon in the middle of the bowl, and any magical symbols you like.  Practice writing out the inscription several times to make sure it will fit properly inside the bowl. When you’ve settled on an incantation, it’s time to prepare the bowl itself. You need to awaken the bowl as a magical object. Speak to it, pet it, treat it with love, as a living thing. If you are using a wooden bowl, sand it to a super smooth finish, loving and speaking to it the whole time.  Rinse off any sawdust, and prepare yourself to write the incantation. Speak the incantation aloud as you write it. If you choose to write in a spiral, it should spiral in from the rim. When you're done writing, let the ink dry for a bit, and then wax the outside of the bowl with the wood blessing wax below. Let it sit for a day or two, and then wipe off any excess wax.

Wood Blessing Wax
melted beeswax (4 oz)
lemon oil furniture polish (I use this brand)
Magical oils appropriate to the task (for this, I use dragonfire protection oil)

Slowly mix the oil into the wax until a thick paste is formed.  Mix in the magical oil. Apply with fingers or paper towel. Let sit for a few days, then wipe off excess.   Emergency/Temporary Bowls

These are especially good for hotel rooms, which I find to often by psychically/spiritually "crudded up".

You will need:
2 paper or styrofoam plates.  Paper is better.
an egg (optional)
a sharpie marker
a sterilized needle
a stapler

Take two paper bowls, and draw a demon trap of some kind.  This can be a pentagram or a labyrinth to "trap" the spirit.  Even better, write an incantation spiraling in towards a picture of a demon in chains) on the bottom of each bowl.)

Pray over the bowl, asking that your gods (or G-d, or whatever) trap all evil spirits within the bowl. Take a whole egg, prick your finger and drip one drop of your own blood on the shell (as bait) and put it in one bowl. 

Put the other bowl upside down on top and staple them together. 
Hide the whole thing under your bed or in the closet or something (because that's where monsters live, obviously!).  If the trouble is localized, put it near the epicenter of the disturbances, but somewhere a little out of sight.

After three days (or when you are leaving), take the whole thing outside (DO NOT OPEN IT) and burn, bury, or otherwise dispose of it. If you have been tending a sacred spot, bury it there, and ask the land to neutralize it.

If you can't burn or bury it, put it in a plastic ziplock bag, pour a whole canister of salt in after it, seal the bag closed, and go put it in metal dumpster (ideally one far away from your house)