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Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children [Kochi, Kerala, India, 18th century)

Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children
Collected in India (before 1976)
Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew square script
Ink on vellum, pasted on stitched cardboard
Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase, Bernard Kimmel collection, 68.83 (2007.0.65; A5)

Amulet for the protection of pregnant women against infertility and miscarriage, and of newborn children against “the evil Lilith” on the eve of the ritual circumcision (brit milah). Lilith is depicted at center as a bird of prey, surmounting a throne or chair (possibly a depiction of the “chair of Elijah,” or kise shel eliyahu, used in the circumcision ritual). The central figures are inscribed and surrounded by multiple texts (Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish in Hebrew square script) of various origins and significance, relating to magic and mysticism, within a rectangular outer frame.

Outer frame divided in 145 squares each containing a three-letter word, following a sequence based on the “72 names (of God)” (after Exodus 14:19-21), beginning at the bottom left corner of manuscript with the letters ו-ו-ו (vav-vav-vav). Each of four corners marked by four five-pointed stars inscribed in four squares. Each star contains at its center one of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, fully spelled as יוד-הא-ואו-הא (yud-he-vav-he) in the sequence: top right, top left, bottom right, bottom left. Within the points of each star five letters spell the word אלהים (elohim), and outside the star five letters spell the word צבאות (tzevaot).

Top section includes Hebrew text on seven lines, with quotations from the Book of Psalms (Ps.90:19 and Ps. 91:1ff), interpolated by names of angels (אמתרואל , מטטרון , מיכאל…), and the repetition of the word אהיה (eheyeh, after Exodus 3:14) twenty-one times, with each letter fully spelled as אלף-הא-יוד-הא (alef-he-yud-he). Below top section, surmounting central figure, a truncated inverted triangular text box containing the text: קנני קנדלר קנדילאס יה לה יה צבאות אס  אס אס. The words kandlar kandelas (in Judeo-Spanish) may refer to a candle-lighting ritual.

Central figure depicts a bird of prey, identified on top by the Hebrew word, נשר (nesher), which indicates both eagles and vultures, flanked by two sets of fifteen feathers, each containing a Hebrew letter. Six of the feathers (at top, middle, and bottom of each set) also contain three sets of palindromic words:

1. אגלא and אלגא (agla and alga, or aquila, for “eagle”), an acronym for atah gibor le-‘olam adonay (“Lord, you are forever mighty”), after the second section (gevurot) of the daily ‘amidah prayer.

2. אזגובה and הגובזא (azbogah and hagovza), which may refer to one of the seven Gnostic emanations of God, or Aeons (see for example G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, New York, 1960: 66).

3. ץסיןד and דןיסץ.

The bird surmounts a chair, or throne, which may be a depiction of the “chair of Elijah” (כסא של אליהו), used in the ritual circumcision ceremony. The chair contains three Hebrew inscriptions:

1. אל שדי צוה פחד סמנגלף מזרח שמור

2. יהוה ת”ת זעיר יצירה (the acronym ת”ת may refer to tiferet)

3. אדם וחוה (Adam and Eve)

Below the central figure is the name, פפמיאל (pafmiel).

Central figure surrounded by four circles of texts composed from biblical quotation. From the inner to the outer circle:

1. Ps. 91:1-9 (incipit: יושב בסתר עליון)

2. Priestly blessing, Num. 6:24-26 (incipit: יברכך יה וישמרך), displayed with each letter encapsulated in a semi-circular roundel

3. Song of Songs 3:7-8 (incipit: הנה מטתי שלשלמה), repeated three times, and displayed with each word surmounted by a decorative motif

4. Proverbs 30:17 (incipit: עין תלעג לאבות) repeated multiple times, each time with a different word sequence.

Text on the right of central figure includes two sets of  Hebrew Aramaic formulas in “oath form” (incipit: משביע אני עליכם כל מין עינא גישא עינא אוכמא עינא צהובא עינא תכלתא… כדכתיב הנה לא ינום ולא ישן שומר ישראל) for the protection of mothers and newborn children, and quotations from the Book of Psalms (Ps. 121:4; “Behold, He who guards Israel does not slumber nor sleep”). The text follows the formulas for protection against the “evil eye” known as “oath of rabbi Azulai” (or לחש לעין הרע בדוק ומנוסה מהרב חיד”א), attributed to Chayyim Yosef David Azulai (“ha-chida,” Jerusalem 1724-Livorno 1806), after his work, ‘Avodat ha-qodesh (Moreh be-etzba’, Livorno, Sa’adun, 1793-1794). Several of Azulai’s books are included in the volumes from the Sassoon Library of the Jewish community of Kochi, Kerala, now at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life (UC Berkeley).

Text on the left of central figure includes Hebrew and Aramaic formulas (comprising biblical quotations), including an “oath” against the “evil Lilith who harms children,” and against the evil eye and “satan” (incipit: ועליך לילית הרשעה המזקת הילדים ועל הכל כת דילך אני משביע גוזר ואמר ואוסר וחותם ומקיים עליכון ועל כל מין עינא בישא).

Bottom section includes, from left to right:

1. Square text box containing the words שדי and יהוה (names of God) and, at center, the acronym  לתמובאמיא, after Exodus 23:26: לא תהיה משכל ועקרה בארצך מנוקדות יא (“None shall miscarry nor be barren in your land”).

2. Three quadrants with the Aramaic words (right to left): סיסיא, סרגא, סוסיא.

3. Central quadrant containing six 3-letter words, graphically related to the 3-letter words in the adjacent outer frame.

4. Hebrew letter “tet” inscribed with Kabbalistic permutations of the “name of God,” אנקתם פסתם פספסים דיונסים (after Moshe Cordovero, Pardes rimonim, Cracow, 1592, 21:14).

5. Names of angels: סנוי, סנסנוי, סמנגלף, סמנגלון (sanui, sansanui, samengalaf and samangalon), intercalated by the name, לילית (lilith).

Description by Francesco Spagnolo, PhD, Curator, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.
With thanks to Prof. Yuval Harari and Chen Avizoar, Ben Gurion University of The Negev for their precious feedback.


17" x 23" (43x58 cm.)

Collection #


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