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Ceramic bowl with Aramaic magic inscription
Sasanian / Myic, about 6th century AD
From Kutha (Tell Ibrahim), south Mesopotamia
A magic bowl for protection from demons
This is one of many Late Sasanian and post-Sasanian ceramic bowls and lids which were used in magical ceremonies intended to protect individuals and their relatives or belongings from evil spirits. Spells were written on these vessels in a variety of different scripts and occasionally, the bound spirit and/or magicians were also depicted on the inside of the vessel. The abstract stick-like figure in the centre of this bowl may be a demon.
This form of magic was practiced across the western province of the Sasanian Empire, from northern Mesopotamia to south-west Iran. It was an extension of the practice, widespread during the fourth to seventh centuries AD, in which talismans written on metal sheets were used in order to ward off the powers of evil, to heal people, or to gain the love of a person.
The majority of bowls of this type found in excavations come from south Mesopotamia. Some may have been found in their original positions, placed upside-down, and some scholars have suggested that they may have served as traps for demons.
The inscription on this particular bowl is in Aramaic; although it cannot be meaningfully translated, it does contain references to female demons known as 'liliths'.
J.B. Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and M (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)