THE INFLUENCE OF ANIMISM ON ISLAM
MAGIC AND SORCERY
IN no monotheistic religion are magic and sorcery so firmly entrenched as they are in Islam; for in the case of this
religion they are based on the teaching of the Koran and the practice of the Prophet. In one celebrated passage, we
read: "they follow that which the devils recited against Solomon's kingdom; it was not Solomon who misbelieved, but the devils who misbelieved, teaching men sorcery, and what has been revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut
and Marut, yet these taught no one until they said, We are but a temptation, so do not misbelieve. Men learn from them only that by which they may part man and wife; but they can harm no one therewith, unless with the permission of God, and they learn what hurts them and profits them not.
And yet they knew that he who purchased it would have no portion in the future; but sad is the price at which they have
sold their souls, had they but known. But had they believed and feared, a reward from God were better, had they but
In the commentaries we have a long account of how these two angels, Harut and Marut, had compassion on the frailties
of mankind and were sent down to earth to be tempted. They both sinned, and being permitted to choose whether they
would be punished now or hereafter, chose the former and are still suspended by the feet at Babel in a rocky pit, where
they are great teachers of magic. There are other passages
1"The Qur an,"; E. H. Palmer, Part I, Sura 11:96 ff.
2 Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p. 168. In a beautifully illustrated Persian book of Traditions found in the Sultaniah Museum, Cairo, there is a picture of these culprits.
in the Koran dealing with magic, in fact the book itself, as we have already seen, has magical power. The superstitions
that obtained in Arabia before Islam have been perpetuated by it. No orthodox Moslem doubts that men are able to call
forth the power of demons and Jinn by means of magic (sihr). Everywhere there are professional magicians, wizards and witches. The popular belief in them to-day in Arabia is well described by Doughty (Vol. II, p. 106).
"Wellah," he said, "Sheykh Khalil, one of them sitting on such a beam, may ride in the night-time to Medina and return
ere day, and no man know it; for they will be found in their houses when the people waken. "How may a witch that has an husband gad abroad by night, and the goodman not know it?"
"If she take betwixt her fingers only a little of the ashes of the hearth, and sprinkle it on his forehead, the dead sleep will fall upon him till the morning. But though one knew his wife to be a witch, yet durst he not show it, nor put her away, for she might cause him to perish miserably! yet the most witches are known, and one of them, he added darkly, is a neighbor of ours. When it is the time to sleep they roam through the village ways: and I warn thee, Sheykh Khalil! for a thing which we looked not for may happen in a moment! have a care in thy coming home by night."
"I would willingly see them."
"Eigh! speak not so fool-hardily, except thou know some powerful spells to say against them. I have heard that Dakhilallah (a menhel, or man of God), once meeting with the witches did cry against them words which the Lord put into his heart, out of the Koran, and they fled from him shrieking that the pairs of hell were come upon them."
"The witches," said the melancholy Imam," are of all ages: they have a sheikh, who is a man, and he also is known."
"And why are they not punished?"
"Wellah, it is for fear of their malice. The hags assemble in dead hours of the night, and sitting in a place of ordures, they strip off their smocks, and annoint their bodies with cow milk (which in Arabia is esteemed medicinal), and then the witches cry, We be issued from the religion of Islam. So they gad it in the dim streets, and woe worth any man returning lateward if they meet with him! For they will compel him to lie with them; and if he should deny them, they will change him into the form of some beast an ox, a horse, or an ass: and he shall afterward lose his mind, and in the end perish miserably. But they eat, wellah, the heart (and he is aware of it) of him who consents to them, and suck the blood of his living body; and after this he will become a fool, and be a dazing man all his days."
The sorcerer who desires to exercise his magic art begins by sacrificing a black cock. He then reads his spell, ties his knots, or flings his magical readings into the wells. All this is done in the same fashion to-day as was customary before Mohammed. To such practices the last two chapters of the Koran refer. Much more important and more widespread than the magic of producing demonic influence is the magic of acting against them what might be called"antimagic." Illness, especially in the ease of children, is caused by Jinn. The one remedy is therefore magic. And consists in stroking or rubbing, the tying of knots, or spitting and blowing. I have seen an educated kadi in Arabia solemnly repeat chapters from the Koran and then blow upon the body of his dying child, in order to bring back health again.
The Rev. Edwin E. Calverley tells this story:
" What do you suppose I have just seen?" exclaimed an excited Jew to a Christian in a Moslem city of Arabia.
"What was it ? Where did you see it?"
"There was a whole group of Arab women standing outside the big door of the mosque and they all had cups or glasses in their hands."
"Oh, they were beggars, and they were waiting for the men to get through reciting their prayers."
"But no, they were not beggars, because I saw the beggars at another door, and besides, I watched the men as they came out of the mosque, and, it is hard to believe it, they spat right
into the cups and glasses and bowls that the women and children and even men held out to them. Some of the Moslems spat into one cup after another, into every cup that was put near them. I never saw the like in all my life!"
"That is indeed most strange and revolting! What were they doing it for ? I m sure I don't know. Why don't you go and ask some Moslem about it?"
Soon he came back, utterly disgusted. "Did you find out what the purpose is?"
"Yes, and that is the most repulsive thing of all! I wouldn't have believed it about them if anybody but one of their own religion had told it to me. Those people with the cups and bowls have some friend or some one in their family who is sick, and they are collecting the spittle of the men who have just finished their prayers for their sick ones at home."
My Moslem friends could not give me the religious authority supporting their unhygienic custom, but such authority exists nevertheless. Al Bukhari (Sahih VII, p. 150) gives two traditions reporting Mohammed's sanction for the practice. After recording the usual "chain of witnesses, Al Bukhari relates that" Aisha (May Allah be pleased with
her) said that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told a sick man, In the name of Allah the earth of
our land and the saliva of some of us cure our sick, by the permission of our Lord.
Spitting is used for all difficult performances, for example, to open locks that will not otherwise yield to the key. (See Doughty Vol. I, p. 527 and Vol. II, p. 164.) In this way they cure sick camels. Doughty says (Vol. II, p. 164):
"Another time I saw Salih busy to cure a mangy thelul; he sat with a bowl of water before him, and mumbling there over he spat in it, and mumbled solemnly and spat many times; and after a half-hour of this work the water was taken to the sick beast to drink. Spitting (a despiteful civil defilement) we have seen to be some great matter in their medicine.
Is it that they spit thus against the malicious jinn? Parents bid their young children spit upon them: and an Arabian father will often softly say to the infant son in his arms, Spit upon babu! spit, my darling.
Another case he gives as follows: (Vol. I, p. 527): "A young mother yet a slender girl, brought her wretched babe, and bade me spit upon the child s sore eyes; this ancient Semitic opinion and custom I have afterward found wherever I came in Arabia. Meteyr nomads in el-Kasim have brought me, some of them bread and some salt, that I should spit in
it for their sick friends. Their gossips followed to make this request with them and when I blamed their superstition
they answered simply, that l such was the custom here from time out of mind.
In regard to blowing and spitting as methods of healing or conferring a blessing, it is important to note the Arabic distinction between nafakha and nafatha, the latter means to blow with spittle. A Moslem correspondent in Yemen points out this distinction and says that there is no real healing power or hurting power in the dry breath. It is the spittle or soul-stuff that transfers good or ill.
Among the animistic tribes of West Africa spitting is one of the means of conferring a blessing. The same thing is
true among the Barotse of South Africa. Mr. Nassau writes:
"The same Benga word, tuwaka, to spit, is one of the two words which mean also to bless. In pronouncing a blessing there is a violent expulsion of breath, the hand or head of the one blessed being held so near the face of the one blessing that sometimes in the act spittle is actually expelled upon him." 3
Concerning South Africa he quotes a testimony of Wilson: "Relatives take leave of each other with elaborate ceremony.
They spit upon each other s faces and heads, or rather, pretend to do so, for they do not actually emit saliva. They also
pick up blades of grass, spit upon them, and stick them about the beloved dead. They also spit on the hands: all this is
done to ward off evil spirits. Spittle also acts as a kind of taboo. When they do not want a thing touched they spit on
straws, and stick them all about the object."
In India, we are told, many women with their little children go to the mosques at the prayer hour and stand near the
door. After prayers as the people come out from the mosques still repeating their wazifas they breathe on these children.
Often in case of sickness in the family some one is sent for (such as an Imam) who repeats some suras or verses of the
Koran and either directly breathes on the sick or on a little water which is given to the sick to drink. Sometimes he
touches his tongue with his forefinger and then the tongue of the sick, and in this way saliva is used for healing purposes."
"In Yemen,"; writes a Moslem correspondent, "it is common to blow on the sick or use saliva for healing. But it is
necessary that the one who blows or uses spittle should be a pious man, and that before he does it the Fatiha be repeated.
This practice is in accordance with the example of the Prophet as he worked miracles in this way and his Companions did likewise."
In Tabriz, Persia, a holy man often is asked to say prayers for the sick and breathe on them.
"Some people," says Mr. Gerdener of South Africa, "who Fetichism in West Africa," p. 213. have been to Mecca are supposed to possess the power to breathe on the face of the sick and cure them. Passing the hand in front of the face is also resorted to, especially for children."
In Bahrein, Arabia, saliva mixed with oil, is used as an ointment and is also taken internally. It is collected in a cup from various contributors!
The Mullah's breath is supposed to be efficacious in sickness. He receives a fee for this treatment. 'Mrs. D. called on the women of Sheikh J s household, and he was in the room doctoring a sick boy. He sat beside him," writes Miss Kellien, "muttering pious phrases supposedly from the Koran, and punctuating every few words by spitting towards the child s face, and then watching her to see how she took it. She said his wives were convulsed with laughter which they were careful to hide, and had apparently little faith in the virtue of such treatment."
To cure headache in Algeria the taleb will take hold of the patient s head with the first finger and thumb across the brow and gently blow upon the patient s face until the pain has disappeared. A taleb will spit in the mouth of a patient supposed to be possessed by jinn, knock him sharply on the back between the shoulder-blades, and the evil spirit will
In Tunis if a person is ill, some one is brought who spits on his own hands and wipes them over the sick person s face
Among Moslems everywhere sneezing has an evil significance and may have bad results. To ward these off, those who are present utter a pious formula. This was the custom before Islam as well as to-day. Gaping is of the devil (Bukhari
2: 180), therefore it is followed by the expression, "I take refuge in God (from Satan)." The chief danger, however, always present to the Semitic mind, is that of the "evil eye" not only of him who envies but also of him who admires. It is also feared in the glance of the Jinn and the afrit. Mohammed was a believer in the baneful influence of the evil eye. Asma Bint Umais relates that she said, "O Prophet, the family of Ja'far are affected by the baneful influences of an evil eye ; may I use spells for them or not? "The Prophet said," Yes, for if there were anything in the world which would overcome fate, it would be an evil eye." 4
Again we read, 5 "Anas says: The Prophet permitted a spell (ruqyah) being used to counteract the ill effects of the evil eye; and on those bitten by snakes or scorpions. (Sahih Muslim p. 233.)
Um Salmah relates "that the Prophet allowed a spell to be used for the removal of yellowness in the eye, which, he said, proceeded from the malignant eye." (Sahih Al-Bokhari, p. 854.)
"Auf ibn Malik says The Prophet said there is nothing wrong in using spells, provided the use of them does not
associate anything with God. (Mishkat, Book XXI, ch. I.)
The magic resting in knots is also referred to in the Koran.
In the Chapter of the Daybreak 8 we read: "Say, I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak, from the evil of what
He has created; and from the evil of the night when it cometh on; and from the evil of the blowers upon knots."
That the custom is animistic is clear from Frazer s description of it in his work on Taboo 7:
"At a difficult birth the Battaks of Sumatra make a search through the possessions of husband and wife and untie everything that is tied up in a bundle.
4 Mishkat, XXI, C. I., Part 2.
5 Hughes Dictionary, p. 303.
6 Surah 113.
7 Vol. II, pp. 296-7 and 300.
In some parts of Java, when a woman is in travail, everything in the house that was shut is opened, in order that the birth may not be impeded; not only are doors opened and the lids of chests, boxes, rice-pots, and water-buts lifted up, but even swords are unsheathed and spears drawn out of their cases.
Customs of the same sort are practiced with the same intention in other parts of the East Indies." He goes on to say, "We meet with the same superstition and the same custom at the present day in Syria. The persons who help a Syrian bridegroom to don his wedding garments take care that no knot is tied on them nor buttoned, for they believe that a buttoned or a knot tied would put it within the power of his enemies to deprive him of his nuptial rights by magical
Among the Jews also knots played an important part in magic. "Even today among the children of Kiev one of the
ways of determining who shall be it is to tie a knot in a handkerchief; the children pick out the corners, and the one
selecting the knotted corner is it. In Kovno, when a wart is removed a knot is tied around it with a thread and this
knot is placed under the threshold." 8
Commentators on the Koran relate that the reason for the revelation of the chapter quoted above was that a Jew named Lobeid, had, with the assistance of his daughters, bewitched Mohammed by tying eleven knots in a cord which they hid in a well. The Prophet falling ill in consequence, this chapter and that following it were revealed; and the angel Gabriel acquainted him with the use he was to make of them, and told him where the cord was hidden. The Khalif Ali fetched the cord, and the Prophet repeated over it these two chapters; at every verse a knot was loosed till on finishing the last words, he was entirely freed from the charm. 9
8 The Jewish Encyclopedia, article Knot.
9 See "Al Razi," Vol. VIII, pp. 559-564.
Here we also learn that an In Malay magic, heathen practices are so thoroughly mixed up with Mohammedan prayers that it is hard to disentangle the threads of superstition. Skeat tells us that in order to injure an enemy the method followed is as follows:
"Take parings of nails, hair, eyebrows, saliva, etc., of your intended victim (sufficient to represent every part of his
person), and make them up into his likeness with wax from a deserted bees comb. Scorch the figure slowly by holding it
over a lamp every night for seven nights and say:
"It is not wax that I am scorching.
"It is the liver, heart and spleen of So-and-so that I scorch. After the seventh time burn the figure, and your victim will die." 10
The following prayer is also used in burying a wax image of one s enemy after piercing it with the thorn of the palm
"Peace be to you! Ho, Prophet Tap, in whose charge the earth is, Lo, I am burying the corpse of Somebody, I am bidden (to do so) by the Prophet Mohammed, Because he (the corpse) was a rebel to God.
Do you assist in killing him or making him sick; If you do not make him sick, if you do not kill him, You shall be a rebel against God,
A rebel against Mohammed,
It is not I who am burying him, It is Gabriel who is burying him.
Do you too grant my prayer and petition, this very day that has appeared,
Grant it by the grace of my petition within the fold of the Creed La ilaha." 11
afrit used to tease Mohammed, so Gabriel taught him to repeat this chapter at bed-time. It was also given him as a
charm against the /evil eye.
10 " Malay Magic," p. 570.
II " Malay Magic," p. 571.
In this way the one who performs magic absolves himself from blood-guiltiness by shifting the burden of his guilt to the
shoulders of the Angel Gabriel.
The teaching of the Koran is to blame for other forms of magic; is it not the inspired word of God? Among the Moslems Solomon is a great historic figure. He is still looked upon as the ruler of the animal world; the very trappers in
the jungle address their prey in the name of "God s prophet, Solomon." His adventures with the Queen of Sheba are recorded in romance, his seal (the pentacle) is drawn by sorcerers on talismans and gives its name to the five-pointed
starfish, and his wealth, like the treasure of Korah, is much sought for by local magicians.
Miss Holliday says that one of the most prevalent forms of magic in Persia is filling a metal bowl with water, holding
money or some metallic object between the thumb and forefinger and stirring the water with it; they divine by looking
in the water. Sometimes a cloth is placed in the bowl and chirping sounds, like the voices of sparrows are heard. I have heard of a woman in Urumia who has a familiar spirit, who is sometimes visible and whose answers to questions have a muttering or chirping sound. Sometimes a metal plate is used with letters on the rim from which answers are deduced. "The family of my Moslem cook,"; writes Miss Holliday,"
have a singular distinction, their house being what is known as an 'ojock,' literally, a hearthstone, or fireplace.
This is a rare thing; women bring their small infants to him and making a noose of a handkerchief round his gun, pass the child three times through it, which is supposed to protect it from the evil eye. All the sons of this clan have this power of blessing and protecting which is unknown to other Moslems. They have peculiar customs; one is, that after the
birth of a child all in the house must abstain from all food of animal origin for a week, till the mother has gone to the bath. The majority are monogamists and divorce is rare among them. My cook thinks there is but one other clan in this city which has the power of being an ojock.
Women here wishing to avert the evil eye from a young child, will bring it to my cook and give it to him as his own, then
will give him money, with which he hires the mother, as the child s nurse, and she takes it away to her home. " She continues:" Two or three onions were pierced by a spit because the woman said the evil spirits did not like the odor or the looks of the sharp iron. Three eggs were put in a bowl at the pillow and stayed there till the mother was taken to the bath. When they left the house, one was broken and thrown out to attract the attention of the jinns to that, another when half way to the bath and the last when they reached the door, so that she could enter while their curiosity detained them without. A copy of the Koran was usually tied in a headkerchief and laid at the pillow.
"One must not come in on top of the baby till the forty days are expired. So they would hold the baby over the door and I would enter the room under it. This was only for one who was not present at the birth."
"One form of magic very common in Cape Town," says
Mr. Gerdener, "is the casting of dice, also human bones and pebbles of varied color. In fact all through the country even by Europeans, Moslem magic is believed in and they send for Malay doctors, paying them large sums for humbug. The term Malay is synonymous in local newspaper circles with Moslem. Amber beads, dried dates, flowers, Zem Zem
water and sand or earth from Mohammed's grave are all used for good luck ; dates and flowers for sickness, the flower
being put into water and the newly born child bathed in it.
The flower is subsequently taken out, dried and kept among the child s garments, until the next arrival. The sand or
earth is worn in a rag round the neck to ward off sickness or to keep off evil spirits, of which the Moslem world seems
to swarm. These rags are also worn by criminals to escape the police."
Mekkeya, a Moslem convert at Bahrein, Arabia, says that people who deal in magic often take the head of a sheep, bury it in the cemetery and every night for seven days go to the place, where they first curse father and mother forty times, and then open the grave. If the head salutes him for each of these seven nights he digs it up and takes it home with him where it is kept in state and gives an answer regarding all the owner s intended magic. Should it fail to answer during one of the seven nights, it cannot be used.
For magic purposes pieces of the Kaaba-covering, Zem Zem water, earth which is mixed with water and used as medicine, date stones from Mecca, etc., are kept in a box in the house because of the blessing they are supposed to contain.
The following is one form of magic prevalent in Algeria.
A dish of semoule is placed before a dead body dug out of its grave and placed in an upright position before the dish, while some one takes the dead hand and presses it over the semoule;
it is then made into little figures of various descriptions and sold as charms.
Sometimes words are written on paper which is then pounded up and given to some one in their coffee or food.
"Writing is also put into the mouth of a toad. The mouth is then sewn up, the toad s limbs are bound together and the
toad is put into a hole in the ground. As the toad pines and dies the person for whom the charm is bought also pines and dies.
Sometimes a ketuba is tied to the neck of a tortoise and the tortoise put at the doorstep of the person hated with his or
her name attached, who will then also pine away and die.
Sometimes a viper s head is cut off, dried in the sun and pounded up and mixed with the food or drink of the victim, who dies. All these things are the work of talebs. There are numerous other forms of magic of the same sort for bringing about the illness or death of some one, or as love-charms.
Many animistic customs are in vogue among Moslems in connection with their marriage ceremonies. The reader is referred to a complete treatise on the subject by Edward Westermarck ("Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco," Macmillan, London, 1914), from which we quote one example: "As a protection against magic the gift removed from the wheat which is to be used for the wedding is thrown into a river, water-course or spring, or buried in the ground; the bridegroom steps three times over the bundle of old clothes containing his shaved-off hair; the bride is carefully guarded by women on her way to the bridegroom s place, particularly for fear lest some malevolent person should in a magical manner deprive her of her virginity; she shakes out the henna powder from her slippers and throws it into water; and when the young wife pays her first visit to her parents she goes and comes back in the evening, being still very susceptible to the evil eye."
One has only to compare these practices with the marriage customs of pagan tribes to see how much of animism lies back of them. The whole question of sexual pollution in Islam can be explained best of all by animistic belief. To refer
once more to Westermarck: "The Moors say that a scribe is afraid of evil spirits only when he is sexually un
clean, because then his reciting of passages of the Koran the most powerful weapon against such spirits Avould be of no avail. Sexual cleanness is required of those who have anything to do with the corn, 12 for such persons are otherwise
supposed to pollute its holiness, and also, in many cases, to do injury to themselves."
12 Cf. Frazer, The Corn Spirit, in his "The Golden Bough."
In another place he shows how the bride brings blessing to others just as she does among the pagan races of Malaysia.
"When milk is offered to the bride on her way to the bridegroom s place, she dips her finger into it or drinks a few drops and blows on the rest, so as to impart to it a little of her holiness, and the milk is then mixed with other milk to serve as a charm against witchcraft, or poured into the churn to make the butter plentiful; or when, on her arrival at the bridegroom s place, his mother welcomes her with milk, she drinks of it herself and sprinkles some on the people. She hurls the lamb, which is handed her, over the bridegroom's tent so that there shall be many sheep in the village."
Astrology with its belief that the sun, the moon and the planets preside over the seven days of the week and govern by their good or bad influences, is generally prevalent among the uneducated classes. Books on astrology are among the
best sellers even in the shops near the Azhar in Cairo. The following invocations taken from the "Book of Treasures"
of the celebrated physician and philosopher, Ibn Sina (died A.D. 1035), are still used and published widely (one would
hardly call the prayers monotheistic):
Invocation to Venus. O blessed, moist, temperate, subtle, aromatic, laughing and beautiful Princess, who art the mistress of jewels, ornaments, gold, silver, amusements, and of social gatherings; O Lady of sports and jokes, conquering, alluring, repelling, strengthening, love-inspiring, match making! O Lady of joy, I pray thee to grant my wishes by the permission of God the Most High!
Invocation to Mercury. O veracious, excellent, just, eloquent Prince who art pleasant to look at, a writer, an arith
metician, a master of wickedness, fraud, trickery and helper in all stratagems! O truthful, noble, subtle and light one,
whose nature and graciousness are unknown, as they are boundless, because thou art boding good the well-boding ones, and boding evil with the evil-boding; a male with males, a female with females, diurnal with diurnals, and nocturnal with nocturnals, accommodating thyself to their natures, and assimilating thyself to their forms. Everything is thine. I ask thee to do my will, by the permission of God. 13
In astrology it is generally believed that Saturn presides over Saturday, and his color is black; the Sun presides over
Sunday and his color is yellow; the moon presides over Monday and his color is green; Mars presides over Tuesday and his color is red; Mercury presides over Wednesday and his color is blue; Jupiter presides over Thursday and his color is sandal; Venus presides over Friday and her color is white.
There are also seven angels, one for each day of the week, and special perfumes which are to be burned in connection with these incantations. The modus operandi in the books on this subject is to take the first letters of the names of the persons concerned and use them with the tables of astrology. We then take the first letter of the planet relating to the person or thing asked for, writing them, and putting the sign of the accusative case on a hot letter, that of the nominative on a dry one, and that of the genitive on a moist one, and the thing is done. E.g. if we wish to join the letters of Mahmud and Fatimah with the letter of the planet representing the thing asked for, namely Venus (Zuhrah), we take the first letter of Mahmud, the first of Fatimah, and the first of Venus.
Then we operate with them, fumigating them with the appropriate perfumes ; you must however have your nails cut, put
on your best clothes, and be alone; and your wish will be granted by the permission of God. It is still customary to
get the horoscope of new-born children from astrologers. We can also learn the future by Geomancy which is called in
Arabic Ilm ar raml (sand) because the figures and dots were
13 From the article on Magic by E. Rehatsek, M.C.E., in the Journal
of the Asiatic Society, Vol. XIV, No. 37.
formerly traced on that material, instead of on paper as at present; the operator is called Rammal, and he not seldom
calls in astrology to aid him in his vaticinations and prognostications. Books on Geomancy are numerous enough, but
the actual modus operandi must be learned from a practitioner. See the illustration on page 185.
Of many other magical practices in vogue among Moslems to-day we cannot write at length. I may mention, however,
the use of magic bowls or cups, which goes back to great antiquity. Generally speaking the cups are of two kinds.
One is called Taset al Khadda from the Arabic root khadda which means "to shake your cup." 14 This kind is also called Taset al Turba. These all are used for healing, and to drive away the ills of the body. A specimen of this sort, so
carefully kept by old families, may be seen in the Arab Museum, made by an engraver called Ibrahim in 1581 A.D.'
According to a Coptic writer the owners of such goblets often lend them to others who need them. The right manner to
use the goblet is to fill it with water in the early morning, place some ordinary keys in it and leave them until the
following day, when the patient drinks the water. This operation is repeated, three, seven, or forty consecutive nights
until the patient gets rid of the evil effects of his fright.
It would not be strange if the oxide of iron acted on the patients.
The Moslem goblets generally contain Koran inscriptions and the keys spoken of are suspended by wires from the inner cup which rests in the center of the Taseh. This is fastened to the cup by a screw allowing the inner cup to revolve so that the keys reach every position of the outer goblet. Two magic cups which I purchased, the smaller one at Alexandria, the larger at Cairo, are both made of brass, the larger measuring a little over eight inches in diameter and two inches in
14 See Lane s Dictionary.
height ; the smaller one five inches and a quarter in diameter and one and a half in height. The inner cup or basin in
both cases is two inches in diameter. The keys are suspended from perforations numbering thirty in the case of the larger cup and twenty in that of the smaller. (See illustration opposite.)
To begin with the larger cup; on the inside we have round the rim certain numerical signs equivalent to the number
1711 - which may have magical significance but the numbers are not distinct nor are they uniform. Then follows the
inscription taken from the chapter "Y.S." of the Koran (Surah XXXVI) "In the name of the Merciful and Compassionate God. Y.S. By the wise Quran, verily, thou art of the apostles upon a right way. The revelation of the
mighty the Merciful! That thou mayest warn a people whose fathers were not warned, and who themselves are heedless.
Now is the sentence due against most of them, for they will not believe. Verily, we will place upon their necks fetters,
and they shall reach up to their chins, and they shall have their heads forced back; and we will place before them a
barrier, and behind them a barrier; and we will cover them and they shall not see; and it is all the same to them if thou
dost warn them or dost warn them not, they will not believe.
Thou canst only warn him who follows the reminder, and fears the Merciful in the unseen; but give him glad tidings or
forgiveness and a noble hire."
The remainder of this section of the Koran is given on the outside of the cup on the outer circle and reads as follows:
"Verily we quicken the dead, and write down what they have done before, and what vestiges they leave behind; and
everything we counted in a plain model.
"Strike out for them a parable: the fellows of the city when there came to it the apostles; when we sent those two
and they called them both liars." The outside of the cup also contains in bold characters five of the beautiful names
of God, namely, "O Healer, O Sufficient One, O Thou Who Carest, O Thou Who Givest Health, O Thou Who Judgest."
Here also we have a number of mystical symbols, Arabic numbers, etc.
The smaller cup also has on the inside the first portion of the chapter already indicated and in addition the following verse from the twenty-fourth chapter of the Koran:
"God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth; His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, and the lamp is in the
glass, the glass is as though it were a glittering star," and a portion of the seventeenth chapter, "The Night Journey":
"And we will send down of the Koran that which is a healing and a mercy to the believers." There is no inscription on
the outside of the smaller cup. Each of the keys is inscribed with the words, "Bismillahi ar Rahman ar Rahim." 15
Another cup is used for evil purposes. It is manufactured at Medina and bears the inscription in Arabic, "Al Medina
the Illuminated. In the year 1305 A.H." It is made of aromatic wood with a yellow tinge and a bitter taste, turned by hand and with no verses from the Koran. This cup is called Al Kubalya al Kimiya, or "the cup of Alchemy."
Its strange use is to separate husband and wife or by sorcery to injure a woman or draw her away into unlawful love.
Two verses of the Koran are written backward with semen humanis on the inside of the cup and it is filled with water
and the woman is made to drink it secretly. The verses are the following: "And the whoremonger shall marry none
but a whore or an adultress; and the whore shall none marry but an idolater; God has prohibited this to the believers."
And also a verse from the sixty-fifth chapter: "O Thou Prophet! when ye divorce women, then divorce them at their
term, and calculate the term and fear God your Lord. Do
15 In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate.
not drive them out of their houses unless they have committed manifest adultery."
That this cup also is in common use is established by the fact that the person who gave it to me said that his father in
Ramleh (near Alexandria) used to let it out and receive one pound a night for its use. Apparently these cups are manufactured in large quantities at Medina by the Moslems and the virtue consists not only in the power of the Koran
chapters but in the material of the cup and the place of its manufacture.
Ahmed Zaki Pasha, an Arabic scholar and secretary of the Council of Ministers in Cairo, read a paper before the Egyptian Institute recently with regard to one of the healing cups now kept at the old Coptic Church as a relic. 16
From this paper we learn the following particulars: Magic Cups fall into two categories those which cure the sufferings caused by violent and sudden emotions which the Arabs call "Cups of Terror," and those which serve to cure maladies, physical as well as moral, and even domestic troubles. The "Cups of Terror" are jealously preserved by those who possess them, and are in general use to this day in Egypt. The owners willingly lend them to their suffering fellow mortals; one condition, however, attaches to such loans, non-compliance with which will cause the cup to lose its charm forever the borrower must make a monetary deposit. Zeki Pasha related that in the case of one of these cups, which he produced, he had had to pay the sum of 75 to the mother of the head of the family possessing it.
The following is the procedure that must be followed to work the charm of the "Cup of Terror." The cup has to be
filled with water at the hour when the Faithful proceed to the mosque for the dawn prayer. A bunch of keys and other
is A full account of another cup of this character was given by E. Rehatsek, M.C.E., in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Soc., Vol. XIV, No. 37. Our illustration is taken from this article, metal trinkets, all of them rusty, are then dipped in the water, which is left out in the open, and which the person to be cured has to drink the next morning. This ceremony, repeated three, seven, or forty consecutive nights, as the case may be, invariably cures any one suffering from the effects of strong emotions.
The other category, which is far more interesting from both the superstitious and the historic point of view, falls into two classes, those that are anonymous, i.e. undated, and those that bear either the name of a distinguished personage or a definite date. It is to the second class of this category that the cup forming the subject of the paper belongs.
This cup Zeki Pasha calls the Saladin Cup, because of the dedication which is inscribed upon it. The inside, made of
white brass, bears a circular inscription consisting of mystic and cabalistic letters, which, albeit several Arabic letters and cyphers are distinguishable, are so intermingled that it is quite impossible to make anything out of them. Above this
inscription are sixteen medallions, identical in form but with alternating Koranic and mystic inscriptions, on them. The
Koranic medallions contain the formula:
"In the name of God, the Merciful and All-Forgiving."The original bottom of the cup has disappeared, and has been replaced by a curious piece of copper, on which there are no inscriptions.
On the outside of the cup, which is made of red copper, is the dedicatory formula, which is worth reproducing. It runs as
"Honor to our Lord, the Sultan King, the defender of the cause of God, who is supported (by Him) the victorious, Abu-1-Mouzaffar, Yusef, the co-sharer of the Commander of the Faithful! (This cup) has been proved by experience (to be a cure for) viper and scorpion bites, fever, to bring about the return of her husband to the divorced and abandoned woman, to cure (the bite of a) mad dog, intestinal pains, colic, headache ... to destroy the effects of witchcraft, (to stop) bleeding, to exorcise the evil eye, to drive away sadness and heart qualms, and all ills and infirmities except death ... to prevent the vexations caused by troublesome children. (It should be) placed at the head (of the patient) and be used as a bath by the old maid (to help her get a husband)."
Below this inscription are ten medallions, alternately round and trapezoid in form. All are covered with mystic signs
entirely incomprehensible to us to-day. Underneath the medallions is a circular inscription in Arabic characters, some of which are obliterated, but from which with the help of contemporary cups in the Arab Museum, it has been possible to reconstruct the following text:
"Made after astrological observations reproduced and engraved during the apogee of the star and according to the
horoscopes derived from the astral tables. This has been agreed upon and adopted by the principal religious heads of the Rashidite Caliphs in order to safeguard the Moslem community. Executed at Mecca in the year . . . for all ills and infirmities."