Amulets, Angels and Invocations, Michele Klein

Confronting the risks of pregnancy, Jewish women have resorted to magical customs, in addition to conventional prayers and donations to charity. Since the earliest days of Jewish history, women have used amulets, magic stones, incantations, and protective bindings in the hope of safeguarding their pregnancy.Pregnancy with flowers

Jewish amulets for protecting pregnancy from misfortune bear a supplication, or more generally, God's name or permutations of its letters, with relevant biblical verses or an acrostic of the verses. Extant examples from post-talmudic Palestine have revealed invocations to helpful angels to protect pregnancy, as well as efforts to bind or expel some harmful spirits. One such amulet bears Psalm 116:6 ("The Lord protects the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me") to protect against premature delivery. Another amulet invokes the help of the rod of Moses, the ring of Solomon, and possibly the shield of David in expelling an evil spirit. An amulet preserved in the Cairo Geniza, dating from medieval times, invokes names of God to protect against "any of those seven spirits that enter into the entrails of women and spoil their offspring" and to ensure that she should not abort her fetus.[1]

A medieval Judeo-Arabic text on the magical use of psalms recommended an amulet inscribed with Psalm 1 to protect against miscarriage, advice repeated in a widely circulated medieval guide to the protective use of psalms. The latter also recommended the writing of Psalm 128 (". . .Your wife shall be as a fruitful vine . . .") on kosher parchment, which a pregnant woman could carry on herself at all times.[2]

A kabbalistic manuscript compiled in Damascus in the mid-sixteenth century, Shoshan Yesod Olam, offered seven formulas for the preparation of amulets for protection of pregnancy, including magical names for God, angelic invocations, formulas against evil spirits, magic squares, the seal of Solomon, and the shield of David (Magen David). A popular book, Toldot Adam, published in Eastern Europe in the early eighteenth century, drew from these formulas in the "tried" advice it gave for protecting against pregnancy loss. Furthermore, it specified that only a God-fearing mekubbal (a man trained in Kabbalah) over forty years old should inscribe such amulets. Many Yiddish-speaking Jews as well as Jews in the Ottoman Empire used this book. Amulets for protection against pregnancy loss used by Persian Jews before emigrating to Israel bear similar magical formulas.[3]

Jews invoked God's name in incantations and over potions for protecting pregnancy, not only on amulets. For example, a prescription dating from the talmudic era against miscarriage even if a woman bleeds vaginally entailed whispering the unspoken name of God before drinking from a cup of wine, every day for a week. Toldot Adam offered a protective incantation invoking angels for a pregnant woman to recite whenever she leaves her home.[4]

Kabbalistic elements were also featured in a remedy book from Yemen, written in Hebrew in the nineteenth century, but certainly copied from earlier sources. For an amulet for a pregnant woman, the book instructed the scribe to write the names of the angels Michael, Gabriel, Shamriel, and Raphael, who guard the baby in the womb, followed by these adjurations: "By the power of the angels, by their strength, their holiness, and their purity, may they guard, protect, help and cause to fructify the fetus in its mother's womb [the woman's name is inserted here] . . . that it should not be moved by anything bad, not by demons or harmful elements and not by an evil spirit. I adjure you, Lilith and your escorts, I adjure you, by the power of . . ." the tetragrammaton and a series of other names for God,". . . check on the fetus in its mother's womb [the woman's name is again inserted here] that it should not be moved by anything bad . . ." After some further exhortations, the text finished with some angel script (magical signs) and a magic square.[5] A Yemenite Jewish woman rolled up the parchment bearing this inscription and wore it in an amulet case on her necklace until her pregnancy reached full term.

An Ashkenazi Hebrew manuscript recommended use of an amulet in a different way for protection against a future miscarriage: the names of three angels Starbiel, Gastrakhiel, and Sandalphon were written in Hebrew on kosher parchment and put in a grave together with the last aborted fetus.[6]

footnotes 1. Naveh J. and S. Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993). pp. 93, 102, 155. [back]
Isaacs, H. Medical and Paramedical Manuscripts in the Cambridge Geniza Collections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) Shimmush Tehillim (Cracow: 1648), see Psalms 1 and 128; for an English translation, Jewish Encyclopedia (London: 903), "Bibliomancy." [back]
Tirshom, Joseph, Shoshan Yesod Olam, Sasson ms. 290. Luntz, Elihau ben Moshe¸ Toldot Adam (Zolkiew: 1720) sections 44 and 75 provide formulas for making amulets for protection of pregnancy. Rozenberg, Y.Y., Rafael ha-malakh (Piotrkow: 1911). Davis E. and Frenekl, D.A., Ha-kame'a ha-ivri (Jerusalem: Institute for Jewish Studies, 1995) amulets 296, 340-42. [back]
Gaster, M. Studies and Texts: The Sword of Moses, (New York: Ktav, 1971), p. 332. Another incantation for the same purpose was recorded in Luntz, E. 1720, op cit. no.149. [back]
Gross YM, 11.39, Collection Bill Gross, Tel Aviv, translated by the author. [back]
Grunwald, M. "Charms and Magic Recipes," Edot 1 (1945): pp. 241ff. [back]
excerpted From: Michele Klein, A Time to be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth. � copyright 1998 by Michele Klein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America), pp. 90-91. Permission of the author and Jewish Publication Society of America.



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