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Jewish Magic and Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg, [1939], at

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A MAGICAL performance was rarely a simple act, such as the recital of a Biblical verse or of a series of names. It was usually determined by such considerations as the qualifications of the magician and the attendant auspices, called into play the magic potencies of numbers, and comprised a variety of actions, such as the recitation of an incantation composed after certain rules, the performance of one or several of a number of traditionally accredited acts, and the application of sympathetic devices. An examination of these elements, which were variously combined in practice, is essential to an understanding of the operation of the craft.

The magical action was not one to be entered upon lightly. It was a dangerous adventure which might recoil disastrously upon the unwary practitioner. He was about to establish relations with the powers of the supernatural realm and the least breach in his physical and psychic adjustment to the task could cost him his life. The magician therefore often observed an arduous preparatory rite, lasting three days or longer, during which he purified himself by fasting, or abstaining from certain foods, by chastity, by ritual cleansings, by devoting himself exclusively to prayer and study. Coupled with his reputation for piety and learning he trusted that this would see him through.

The element of time was also very vital to the success of his enterprise. The formulas usually specify just when they are to be carried out. Astrological considerations loomed large in determining this factor, and new and full moon appear frequently as the most appropriate occasions. Often, however, the expiration of the Sabbath and the beginning of the new week was favored as most propitious, and it was suggested, indeed, that magical charms were best recited during or immediately following the Habdalah ceremony. The commonest specification was that the magical act be performed before sunrise, for the rising sun vitiates magic and drives the spirits into their hiding-places. Another frequent injunction was that one

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must be silent while performing the act; incantations were not to be uttered above a whisper.1


The incantation was the most prominent element in Jewish magic. Sometimes it was accompanied by a varied "business," but most often it was considered all-sufficient in itself to produce the desired effect. Many of the formulas were captioned baduk umenuseh, "tested and proved," an appeal to experience rather than tradition; this phrase is reminiscent of the non-Jewish usage, which, following the example of Galen, attached to magical and medical prescriptions such expressions as "this has been experienced; it works unceasingly," or "a remedy tested in many cases." The incantation comprised several ingredients, all more or less constant: an appeal to ancient masters of magic, such as the statement that a certain charm for intelligence was "performed by our teacher Moses on behalf of Joshua"; citations from or allusions to Biblical passages; the invocation of angels; the enunciation of holy names; and finally the specific request or command. Sometimes this last was put in the form of a prayer, beseeching that it be God's will that such and such an act be done by His angels, by virtue of certain mystical names, etc.; or again the spirits were baldly and unceremoniously ordered to obey the will of their master, who had just uttered their names. The body of the formula, the command, often reads very much like a legal document in its solicitude to include every least aspect of the function it wishes performed, to leave nothing to the imagination or the initiative of the spirit addressed.2

A curious feature of the spell was its manner of identifying the individual in whose behalf it was voiced. In the Talmud we read that "all incantations are in the name of the mother," and Talmudic incantations followed this rule, despite the general principle that people are to be identified as children of the father rather than the mother. Apparently the spirit world recognized a different principle than did the human. This conception was not peculiar to Jews; among the Mandæans the "sacred" name of a person included his mother's name, and the same rule appears in Greek and Arab magic. In post-Talmudic Aramaic incantations, and in the medieval texts, it was quite consistently adhered to, the father's name occurring only rarely. This practice has been excused on the ground that

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pater incertus, mater certa; the Zohar (Lech Lecha) adopted this view when it counselled that certainty of identification in all appeals to supernatural beings, whether in prayer or in charms, is a prime requisite, and that the mother's name must therefore be specified. But it is very unlikely that a conscious aspersion on the character of the mother lies at its root. It is much more probable that we have here an illustration of the exceeding tenacity of magical tradition, and of the hoary antiquity in which this tradition had its beginnings. The practice seems to reflect the original matriarchal condition of society, when relationship was traced through the mother and not through the father. Of course medieval Jews had no thought of such an origin, but based it on the Zohar's theory, or on Menaḥem Recanati's explanation that "all magic comes from woman," or on the precedent voiced in Ps. 116:16, "I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid."3

A familiar characteristic of magic is the injunction to do things in reverse, to walk backward, to put one's clothing on backward, to throw things behind one's back. The same principle applies in incantations, and Talmudic and medieval Jewish charms amply illustrate its operation. Biblical quotations were often recited both forward and backward, mystical names were reversed; sometimes the words were actually written backward as they were to be uttered, so that it requires considerable mental agility not to be taken in by the unnatural rendering. Phrases that are capable of being read alike in either direction were especially highly prized. The purpose was to capitalize the mystery of the bizarre and unfamiliar, and the power that is associated with the ability to reverse the natural order of things.4

One type of incantation whose power derived from its form rather than its content was especially suited to dispel demons. Its Jewish archetype is found in the Talmudic spell against the demon Shabriri, which runs:


[paragraph continues] As Rashi explained its effect, "The demon shrinks and finally vanishes as he hears his name decreasing letter by letter." This theory is based

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upon the primitive identification of the individual with his name. A charm directed against a fever demon, quoted from Eleazar of Worms, runs: Ochnotinos, chnotinos, notinos, otinos, tinos, inos, nos, os. According to Perles, the incantation against the demon of forgetfulness, Poteh or Purah, which was recited at the expiration of the Sabbath and on the occasion of a child's admission to school, was also originally built on this model, reading: Armimas, rmimas, mimas, imas, mas, as. Sefer Raziel contains two examples of this formula, one involving the gradual diminution of the nine words of Cant. 7:6, probably intended as a general protective charm against demons, as the choice of a verse containing nine words would indicate, the other, for a "dream question," requiring the same operation on the name M’abrit. The latter recipe, which ordinarily requires the invocation of a spirit and not its exorcism, and the corruption of the Poteh formula, suggest that the specific use of this kind of incantation had been forgotten in the Middle Ages and it had come to be employed for general purposes. On the other hand, the reverse of this method was occasionally employed to enhance the potency of an invocation, by building up a name. One such charm, from the Hebrew version of the famous Clavicula Salomonis, employing the word Tetragrammaton as a mystical name, reads: ton, ramaton, gramaton, ragramaton, tragramaton, and concludes triumphantly, tetragrammaton.5


The mystical virtues and powers of numbers were a favorite subject of speculation in the ancient world, and in the Sefer Yeẓirah and the later medieval Kabbalah this theme came in for a great deal of elaboration. But long before Pythagorean philosophy and Kabbalistic theosophy exalted the conception into systems of thought the common man had recognized the occult potency of numbers by according them an honored place in his superstitions. Medieval charms and magical recipes reflect this universal attitude. Just as the recurrent blows of a sledge-hammer drive a wedge inexorably into a recalcitrant block of wood, so repetition of an incantation enhances its force, by making it so much more difficult for the spirits to escape its compulsion. Directions must be meticulously observed; "incantations which are not repeated the prescribed number of times must be said forty-one times," we read in the Talmud.6 Yet repetition

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may destroy the power of the spell if the number associated with the repetition has been improperly selected. For there are numbers whose effect in magic is negative, and others that possess a positive value. Similarly the number of objects used, the number of verses recited, etc., are a matter for careful consideration and choice, lest the effect of the magic be the reverse of that desired.

The common superstition that there is "luck in odd numbers" found its Jewish version in the Talmudic belief that even numbers are not merely unlucky, but actually dangerous. (This belief was more prevalent among Babylonian Jews than among Palestinian.) According to this idea even numbers, "pairs," invite demonic attack. Though this superstition was said by R. Samuel b. Meir to have lost its hold in post-Talmudic times, the thirteenth-century author, Jacob b. Judah Hazan of London, still reports a reminiscence of the Talmudic dispute over the number of cups of wine to be drunk at the Passover Seder, in which it was decided that four cups would do because Passover night was a "night of protection" against the demons. According to him, however, "a sick or weak man" had best imbibe a fifth cup, for his condition rendered him peculiarly susceptible to demonic attack, and the "night of protection" might not prove an adequate shield.7

The medieval writings contain many warnings against doing two things at one time, or repeating an action, such as "taking fire twice from the hearth when there is an invalid in the house, or a woman who has not yet passed the ninth day since her confinement." An unhappy fate was foreseen for any two couples who were married on the same day (in one community, of course). The rationalization that this would be a heaven-sent consequence of their disregard of the prohibition against "commingling two occasions of joy" was effectively blasted by those impertinent commentators who insisted that the proof match the proposition; how did this apply, they inquired, when the weddings occurred in unrelated households? To marry off two children at one time, or two sisters or brothers in one week, or indeed, to celebrate any two weddings within a week was to invite trouble. One of the couples would inevitably experience poverty, or exile, or untimely death. We can piece together a schedule of unlucky marriages involving "pairs": two stepchildren in one family; two brothers who marry sisters; a man who marries two sisters (the second after the death of the first); two brothers who marry a mother and daughter, or two sisters who marry a father

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and son; in short, any dual unions within two families. Nor should a man be permitted to serve as godfather for two brothers, else one of them must die.8

Three is the favored mystical number of all times—the first odd numeral after the unit. Religion, no less than superstition and magic, has done it obeisance; we need recall only the popularity of trinities of gods, or the three Biblical festivals and cities of refuge. The number three occurs more often in magical texts than any other. Actions and incantations were to be performed three hours before sunrise, or three days before the new moon, or three days in succession; preparatory rites were to last three days; the magical act comprised three stages, or required three objects; diviners could obtain answers to only three questions at any one time; the great Ineffable Name consists of 72 triads of letters; any experience that was repeated thrice was regarded as a portent; incantations were most often to be recited three times. The number three came to be recognized as a mark of magic, so that "anything that is repeated three times is magical" was a frequently quoted rule.9

"All sevens are beloved," says the Midrash, and we may well accept its verdict when we recall the manifold sacred associations of that numeral in Judaism. In magic the seven was second only to the three in popularity. Time and time again the instructions run: repeat seven times, draw seven circles on the ground, do this daily for seven days, etc. But what I imagine may be accepted as the classic illustration of the number seven in magic is this Talmudic prescription to cure a tertian fever: "Take seven prickles from seven palm-trees, seven chips from seven beams, seven nails from seven bridges, seven ashes from seven ovens, seven scoops of earth from seven door-sockets, seven pieces of pitch from seven ships, seven handfuls of cumin, and seven hairs from the beard of an old dog, and tie them to the neck-hole of the shirt with a white twisted cord." Extravagant as medieval magic often was, it cannot duplicate such an outbreak of sevens in one recipe.10

The number nine also has a long mystical history, resting upon its peculiar virtue as the square of three, but it appeared hardly at all in Jewish thought until the Kabbalah shed its fantastic light upon it. In the Jewish magic and superstition of Northern Europe, however, nine achieved a sudden importance for which there was no warrant in Jewish tradition. Demons have an especial affinity for this numeral: they congregate in groups of nine, and in nut trees

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which have nine leaves to the branch; incantations must be repeated nine times; if one has seen a demon he must not mention it to anyone for nine days; cures are effected with nine kinds of herbs, and are successful in nine days; "whoever wishes to heal a demoniac must recite the exorcism nine times, as they do in Germany, where they count nine knots, or they heal him with nine bits of wood called 'stilleti' which are obtained from nine bridges at the gates of nine cities." "As they do in Germany" is the key to this novel Jewish enthusiasm for nine, for native Teutonic magic was characterized by the doctrine of the nines, and in medieval German magic nine occurs very frequently. Along with other German folk-beliefs the potent nine wormed its way into Jewish superstition.11

These three numerals, of course, are not the only ones we meet in Jewish magic. Multiples of them occurred occasionally, and sometimes even numbers were inadvertently permitted to slip through the censorship exercised by superstition.12 But these other numbers do not appear often or consistently enough to warrant the supposition that they were accredited with any special occult powers. Three, seven and nine were the potent numbers par excellence of medieval Jewish magic.


The common idea that the essence of magic lies in a mysterious and mystifying activity is a product more of our theatrical pseudo-magic with its waving of hands and hocus-pocus, than of a knowledge of the facts. Medieval Jewish magic depended for its effects mainly upon the spoken word. But incantations were frequently accompanied by incidental actions whose significance lay in their symbolic or connotative values, some of which, in the course of millennia, have come to be recognized as of distinctively magical import.

Expectorating before or after the recital of the spell is one such universally known act, the mere performance of which was taken to indicate the intent of the recital, even though the words may have been altogether innocent of magical significance. Human saliva, especially that of a fasting man, was believed to possess anti-demonic and anti-magical, that is, generally protective, powers. Galen tells of a man who undertook to kill a scorpion by means of an incantation which he repeated thrice. But at each repetition he spat on the scorpion. Galen claimed afterwards to have killed one by the same

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procedure without any incantation, and more quickly with the spittle of a fasting than of a full man. Maimonides wrote, in his capacity of physician, that the spittle of a fasting person is hostile to poisons. In consequence of this belief charms to heal an ailment or to drive off demons or to counteract magic were usually prefaced by a threefold expectoration.13

The circle is another ancient and universal magical symbol. The invocation of demons is a dangerous business, and the magician must take steps to protect himself in the event that his spirit adjutants get out of hand. What simpler or more obvious device than to exclude them from his immediate environment? "Those who invoke demons draw circles around themselves because the spirits have not the power to trespass from the public to a private area," explained Menaḥem Ẓiyuni. By this magic act the ground and atmosphere surrounding the magician become a private, forbidden precinct. One of the most picturesque of ancient Jewish miracle-workers was Ḥoni HaMe‘agel (first century B.C.E.), whose penchant for standing within a circle while he called down rain from heaven won him his title, "the circle-drawer." During the Middle Ages diviners who operated through the demons began their rites by inscribing the protective circle upon the ground. People who were believed to be peculiarly susceptible to demonic attack were defended by a similar invisible rampart; a widespread custom among German Jews was to draw a circle around the bed of a woman who had just been delivered of a child. In speaking of the dangers that beset a dying man several writers pointed out that his bed serves the same purpose as the magic circle, and that if a limb should project beyond it the demons will immediately seize him. In this connection it is interesting that in the Orient the general practice at a funeral is for the mourners actually to encircle the coffin seven times, reciting the "anti-demonic psalm." Similarly the late custom among East-European Jews (which also prevails in the Orient) for the bride to walk around her groom under the wedding canopy three, or seven times, was probably originally intended to keep off the demons who were waiting to pounce upon them. The magician's circle was usually inscribed with a sword or knife, and sometimes the directions require three, or seven concentric circles, the metal and the number adding to the protective virtues of this device.14

Of similar magical import was the insistence upon the use of new things, which is universally encountered. When the prophet

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[paragraph continues] Elisha was asked by the people of Jericho to purify their water, which had been polluted, he said to them, "Bring me a new cruse and put salt therein" (II Kg. 2:20). Many of our medieval charms have the same provision. The apprentice sorcerer was instructed to place his decoction in a new cup or bowl; spells were to be engraved upon metal plates with a new knife; the circle was to be inscribed with a new sword; virgin earth was to be used to mold an image; water was to be drawn from a swift-flowing stream or a spring which continually renews itself; amulets were to be written on virgin parchment; the "first-born of a first-born" made a highly potent magical offering; one was to purchase the first object prescribed which he encountered, and at the first price demanded for it; the first person met in the morning, the first action performed at the beginning of a week, or month, or year, were portentous for the ensuing period. Such instances can easily be multiplied many times. New things, first actions, are innocent and virginal, like the boy or girl who were the best mediums in divination, uncontaminated by use or repetition or by years and experience. Therefore they serve the magician's purpose best, for they can exert their greatest inner potency on his behalf. An interesting variation on this theme, however, is the frequency with which "old wine" occurs in these charms, perhaps because of its natural superiority over the new, which men expected the spirits to appreciate as much as they did, or perhaps because it, too, was a "first."15

Despite the universal respect and fear which primitive peoples display toward magic, there is discernible in magic itself a paradoxical under-current of skepticism which expresses itself in various efforts to strengthen the omnipotent word. The many methods of transferring the word to the body, of bringing it into physical union with the person in whose behalf it is to operate, reveal the very human propensity to assist the supernatural with material reinforcements. This means of applying magic is best exemplified in the field of medicine, where the spells or the mystical names were frequently consumed just as though they were so many cathartics to expel the disease-demons. The same procedure was favored in charms to obtain understanding and wisdom, and to sharpen the memory. The injunction is frequently encountered to write the names, or the Biblical verses, or the spell upon a cake (the preparation of which was often quite elaborate), or upon a hard-boiled egg that had been shelled, and to devour it. According to a Geonic account, "all the

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scholars of Israel and their pupils" used to eat cakes and eggs so inscribed, "and therefore they are successful"; it has been suggested that the name of the famous poet Eleazar Kalir was derived from the collyrum, or cake, which his father fed him as a boy, and to which he owed his accomplishments. During the Middle Ages such delicacies were proffered to school children when they began their studies, "to open their minds." Magic cakes were also prepared for a bride, to ensure fecundity, and were administered on various occasions for good luck.

Incantations were also written upon apples and citrons and other foods, and thus consumed, or they were imbibed with liquids. To gain understanding it was enough to recite a group of seven names seven times over a cup of old wine and drink it, though usually the procedure was more naïve. Some prescriptions required that the spell be written on leaves or bits of paper and then soaked in wine or water, or that it be written with honey on the inside of a cup and then dissolved in water, and the resulting decoction swallowed. This was the essential character of the love-potions that were so popular during the Middle Ages; however fantastic their ingredients, their purpose was to transmit the charm in physical form to the body of the desired one.

Liquids that had been magically charged were also applied externally. To gain favor the suggestion was to recite various Psalms over oil and to anoint the face and hands with it. An undoubtedly effective restorative for an inebriate was to recite a charm over a bowl of cold water and to douse him with it. "To behold great wonders" one must bathe in scented water over which a spell has been uttered. And finally, material objects might be invested with the potency of the charm and become the agents of the magic so far as the world beyond one's person was concerned. To destroy an enemy's power one should recite given charms over wine or water and pour the liquid in front of his door, "but be careful not to spill a single drop on yourself"; or if one found his road blocked by highwaymen he should hurriedly grasp a handful of salt or earth, whisper the incantation over it, and fling it in the direction of his attackers, and they would be powerless to harm him. Again, if one's enemy was on a sea-voyage and one would rather he didn't return, it was a simple matter to inscribe a spell upon a sherd and cast it into the deep to seek out its victim. To calm a storm at sea, a similar clay-charm, or a mixture of rose-oil, water and salt over which the charm had been

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whispered, were recommended. Such prescriptions are legion, the purpose of all being to provide a physical agent to transmit the magic of the name to its destination.16


Besides such magical procedures, which were incidental to the incantation, there was a host of operations in which the activity really took precedence. Not many required such heroic feats as the recipe for a spring which prescribed that one "dig his thumbs into virgin soil to the depth of a mile"! Most, a good deal easier of performance, were of the type that Frazer has characterized as sympathetic magic (comprising the two divisions, homeopathic or imitative, and contagious), in which the magician's acts were supposed to be duplicated on the person of his subject or in nature. The outstanding instance of this type of magic is the world-wide practice of attempting to injure or destroy an enemy by injuring or destroying a representation of him. Its survival may be observed even today in the more innocuous custom of burning or hanging a hated political figure in effigy. Behind the demonstration there lurks, we may be sure, the wish, if not the expectation, that the person of the victim might experience the fate thus visited upon his double.

During the Middle Ages this death-spell, the most terrible of all, was widely employed and universally feared; serf and king were overwhelmed with dread at the thought of the terrible fate that might at any moment be in the making for them through such machinations. There are many accounts of image-magic directed against the persons of high-placed people. In 1574 a Florentine, Cosmo Ruggieri, was arrested for having made a waxen image with hostile intent against Charles IX; the king died a month later of a mysterious consumption. In 1560 a waxen image of Queen Elizabeth, with a large pin stuck in the breast, was found in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and aroused consternation in the English court. The Sword of Moses, written during the Geonic period, contains one such prescription: "If you wish to kill a man, take mud from the two sides of the river and form it into the shape of a figure, and write upon it the name of the person, and take seven branches from seven strong palm-trees, and make a bow from reed with the string of horse-sinew, and place the image in a hollow, and stretch the bow and shoot with it, and

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with each shot say . . . [a series of names] and may —— be destroyed."17

Medieval Jewry was acquainted with this technique, as several references to "witches who prepare images of wax" indicate, but, apart from the two instances cited below, I have found no suggestion that it be employed either to harm or to kill an enemy. Its only common use seems to have been in forcing thieves to return stolen objects. This magic used against thieves differed somewhat from the more usual procedure in that it comprised drawing an image of the suspected thief on a wall, and striking or driving nails into some portion of that image, usually the eye, causing the original such severe pain that to gain surcease he would deliver himself up.

The frequent accusations that Jews had made attempts, sometimes successfully, upon the lives of Christians by this means, find absolutely no confirmation in Jewish literature. Jewish works on magic were by no means reticent or squeamish in such matters, and were subjected to no censorship, self-imposed or enforced from without, for they were intended solely for Jews, and were circulated among small, select bands of initiates. Had such a method ever been more generally employed, these works would bear testimony to that fact.

The two instances noted above are found in a fourteenth-century manuscript; though the technique differs they belong in the same category. To cause the death of an enemy "write his name upon leaves and let them shrivel up over a fire"; or "boil them in milk and say 'may the heart of —— boil in like manner' and your enemy's heart will boil and he will die." The same work suggests that this device may be employed to arouse love: burning a name causes that person's heart to burn with passion. A fifteenth-century work in mixed Hebrew and Yiddish, which shows unmistakable German influence throughout in its language and prescriptions, makes a similar suggestion concerning the more orthodox image-magic. This recipe is worthy of full quotation because it illustrates the "business" that often accompanied the charm. "Take virgin wax and make a female figure, with the sex organs clearly delineated, and with the features of the person you have in mind. Write on the breast ——, daughter of —— [father's name] and ——, daughter of —— [mother's name], and on the back between the shoulders write the same, and say over it, 'May it be Thy will, O Lord, that N daughter of N burn with a mighty passion for me.' Then bury the figure,

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and cover it carefully so that its limbs are not broken, and leave it thus for twenty-four hours. Then bury it under the eaves, being careful that no one witnesses your acts, and cover it with a stone so that it doesn't break. When you disinter it, dip it carefully in water three times, so that it is washed clean, once in the name of Michael, again in the name of Gabriel, and the third time in the name of Raphael, and immerse it in some urine. Then dry it, and when you wish to arouse passion in her, pierce the heart of the image with a new needle, in that spot where it will cause most pain. So will she daily experience now this pain, now that."18 Apparently the poor girl is to suffer doubly, from the pain of her love and her wound. Incidentally, this entire prescription is written backward.

There is one point that should be stressed in connection with this image-magic, which is true of all medieval Jewish magic. Among primitive peoples homeopathic and contagious devices, accompanied though they often are by spells, are believed to operate automatically; nowhere, in the many examples cited by Frazer and others, is there any intimation of the intervention of spirits. The simple act, by the rule of sympathy, produces its parallel effect. Jewish practice, on the other hand, while it utilized the general principle, as here, in theory at any rate, relied primarily upon the spirits for its results. The incantations that accompanied these acts contained all the customary elements which were intended to bring the spirits under the magician's sway, and several writers explicitly account for the transformation of cause into effect on the ground that the deputy angels of the images or figures transmit the blows to the deputies of their originals, who in turn produce the hurt in the intended victims. This spirit mediation, which distinguished the later from the more primitive magic, was also recognized by some Christians. William of Auvergne, for instance, wrote that "the only way in which the occasional seemingly successful employment of such images can be accounted for is that when the magician does anything to the image, demons inflict the same sufferings upon the person against whom the image is used, and thus deceive men into thinking that the virtue of the image accomplishes this result."19 The point is important because it marks the distinction between the legally forbidden type of magic, which operated exclusively through "the performance of an action," namely, the sympathetic principle, and the more acceptable spirit-magic which the medieval rabbis hesitatingly tolerated.

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The belief that anything that binds or in any way implies a binding may have a restrictive or harmful effect is widespread in ancient and modern superstition. It has found its way into Jewish folklore in such precautions as to loosen the bride's hair before the marriage, to untie all the knots in the clothing of bride and groom, and to be careful that no knots are found in a shroud. These precautions were based not only on the general superstitious dread of knots, but equally on the fear that such knots might have been the subject of a sorcerer's interest. For binding knots was a common homeopathic device, and even served as a description of magic, which, in the Talmud, was said to consist of "binding and loosing." In the book of Daniel (5:12,16) the ability "to loose knots" is listed as one of the magician's accomplishments. Talmudic literature contains several examples of this knot-magic, and the commentaries on the well-known reference in the Koran (Sura 113) to the magical use of knots relate that a Jewish magician bewitched Mohammed by tying knots, so that he became weak, refused food and neglected his wives. Nor was the physical act of tying a knot required; the magician could produce the same effect by word of mouth. The idea of binding is the constantly recurring refrain of a post-Talmudic Aramaic incantation: "bound, bound, bound" may be all the spirits and the demons and the magicians; and another Geonic spell summons the "evil spirit who sits in the cemetery and takes away healing from man" to "go and place a knot in N N's head, in his eyes, in his mouth, in his tongue, in his throat, in his windpipe. . . ."

The prophet's neglect of his wives is reminiscent of the most usual effect of knot-magic which, it was commonly believed, could prevent the performance of the marriage act. In medieval Germany this practice was known as Nestelknüpfen. There is at least one reference in Talmudic literature to "binding" a bride and groom on the prima nox, but the general credence placed in the power of this device by medieval Jewry was due more to the example of their German neighbors than to this remark. We hear much complaint in medieval Hebrew literature about the bewitching of man and wife so that they cannot cohabit, and the word asar, "to bind," occurs more than once with the meaning "to tie somebody by a knot-charm so that he cannot enjoy relations with his wife."20

There were many other magical acts which utilized the sympathetic principle, though its presence is sometimes obscured by the incidental details of the sorcery. A few illustrations may suffice to

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indicate the countless possibilities of this type. "To root a thief to his spot: gather some dust from the house in which the theft occurred [the dust on which he trod, like his clothes, or his nails and hair, is endued with the essence of his personality; such objects find an important place in contagious magic everywhere], bind it in a linen cloth and bury it in a grave, whether of a Jew or a non-Jew, and say, 'Just as this cloth, which contains the dust, cannot leave this spot without my consent and aid, so shall the thief be unable to stir from the spot where he now stands or sits without my leave.'" The operation of this principle is not so clear or direct in the following charms, but it is none the less present. To arouse passion, one must purchase a small hand-mirror at the first price demanded, scrape some of the pitch from the back of the glass, and write the name of his beloved in this space three times. He should then hold this glass in front of two dogs that are copulating, so that their image is reflected in it, and should also induce the girl to glance into it; then he must hide it for nine days in a spot which she passes frequently, and when that period has expired he must always carry it on his person. The intention is to excite the girl when she is in his company through the magic power of the sexual act, fixed in the mirror that has been associated with her name and person. Or again, to behold one's future wife: take salt from one house, flour from a second, and an egg from a third, knead them together secretly and eat the mixture at night before retiring; or, take salt, bread, and a knife which have been left behind on a table, and place them under your head at night. Here the intention, though admittedly far-fetched, is no doubt to create the illusion of a household by assembling household articles, and thus to induce the apparition of the woman who will preside over one's home.21

The use of parts of the human body and of animals in sympathetic magic was very common in medieval Europe, but exceedingly rare in Jewish practice. Although Jews were aware that the body suffers from misuse of any cast-off part of it, such as burning hair or finger-nails, or covering excrement with hot ashes,22 this knowledge entered hardly at all into their magic. Christian sorcery prescribed the most various and obscene ingredients, such as human and animal blood, fat, hearts, sex organs, brains, excrement, etc., for internal and external application, largely because of their homeopathic virtues. Parts abstracted from corpses were highly valued, and were especially in demand for thieves’ magic; scattered around

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a house they had the power of fastening a deep sleep upon its inmates; candles made from the fat or the finger of a dead person, particularly of a new-born or unborn babe, enabled the robber to see in the dark while himself remaining invisible. That medieval Jews forbore to employ these objects is perhaps not so much to their credit, as it is incidental to the force of certain stringent prohibitions in ancient Jewish law. The command against tasting any blood at all, or consuming flesh from an animal not slaughtered according to ritual prescription, or making any use whatsoever of a corpse, had become so deeply ingrained in the Jewish consciousness that the employment of such objects was abhorrent to them. A few of these practices found their way into Jewish magic, as was inevitable, but they are more illustrative of contemporaneous German usage than of Jewish. Of the small number that I have found, which I cite below, all but three are from late manuscript works which owe a great deal to German superstition, and can easily be matched in non-Jewish writings. Most of them are love-charms and prescriptions for love-philtres.

Thus, to arouse love: 1. Place a small copper plate upon which a spell has been incised in a new glass goblet filled with your sweat, and hide it in a place which the woman must pass. 2. (for a woman) Take a hot bath, cover the entire body with flour, and perspire profusely; wipe the sweat off with a clean white linen cloth, and wring it into a dish; mix in an egg; cut the nails from hands and feet and the hair from the entire body and burn these to a powder; bake them all together and serve. 3. Cut the finger- and toe-nails and the pubic hair, burn to a powder, leave standing in water for nine days and nights, and serve as a drink. 4. (written backward) Blow out the contents of an egg that was laid on a Thursday, and fill the shell with blood drawn from the left arm; place it under a setting hen, and as soon as its chicks are hatched, burn the contents of the egg-shell, together with some human excrement, to a powder; then buy the hen at the first price asked, tear it open and place its heart under your tongue "until it dies"; then burn the heart, too, to ash and mix the various powders together and serve; 5. or, more simply, buy a hen, tear its heart open, and place its tongue under your tongue. 6. Take some blood from the heart of a guinea-pig, leave it in a dish until it dries up, inject the dried blood into the quill of a feather, and place this surreptitiously between the two people when they are together. 7. Take a live mole, a male for a man, a

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female for a woman, and strike it on its right foot, "and it will bring you true love." This last is touted as "unequalled"! And finally, 8. "If a man will hang the tongue of the hoopoe at the right of his heart, he will vanquish every opponent, even the king himself; and if a woman will hang its left eye on her neck, her husband will love her, no matter how ugly she may be, and will never love another. Many Greek sages have tested this, and we also, and it is true."23

These few charms are altogether insignificant compared with the infinite variety current in Christian circles. One may marvel that such fantastic and often revolting concoctions and measures were expected to awaken the sweet sentiment of love, but to the medieval mind the connection was quite simple and logical. The man who has made his way into the body of his beloved through the medium of sweat, nails, hair, or blood, must surely find a place in her heart as well, while animals like the hen, the guinea-pig, and the mole, which were notorious for their ardent sex life and fertility, must move the most frigid individual to emulate them.

Animal parts, and articles associated with humans, were also employed magically for different ends, though on the same principle. For example, to cause a man who is far off to appear, one should take a piece of his clothing and spit on it (or cut it up), burn incense beneath the cloth in a new clay vessel, and while striking the vessel with a white stick, invoke certain names to produce the owner of the clothing. Or, to open a lock, smear the right foot of a male raven with the fat of a snake, and stroke the lock with it. And again, to torment an enemy with insomnia, take the head of a new-born dog, which has not yet seen the light of day, insert a metal plate inscribed with a spell in its mouth, seal it with wax, and stamp the wax with a seal bearing the impression of a lion; then hide it behind his house or in a place which he passes often. The incantation reads in part: "Bind him as with iron chains, tie him with bonds of brass and iron, and let him bark like this dog, and whine like its mother, and let no man loose him but I." The symbolism of the poor dog's struggles, and its mother's sleepless search for it, sealed, and stamped with the figure of the mighty lion, coupled with the magical binding, is calculated to rob the victim of his rest.24


Still another type of magical action comprised in essence an offering to the spirits, to gain their good-will and their aid, though its

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character was not perceived, or at least admitted, despite the recognition that "it is the custom of magicians to offer sacrifices and to burn incense to the spirits." One such prescription required that two white doves be slaughtered in a special manner, and their entrails mixed with old wine, pure incense, and clear honey, and the whole burned on the hearth; the smoke rising from this would induce a divinatory dream. Again, to produce rain, one must kill a white cock, tear it apart and extract its entrails, fill them with myrrh, frankincense, crocus, fine white pepper, "White Blossom," honey, milk, and old wine, and hold them up to the sun while reciting an incantation; if this doesn't work one must scatter milk, honey, and wine upon the earth seven times and utter the "mighty, fearful and sacred name," and "rain will descend immediately and the earth will be renewed." The first part is an offering pure and simple, the second combines this with the homeopathic device of imitating rain with the traditionally richest fruits of nature. A necromantic formula prescribes that one offer to the spirit of the grave a mixture of honey and oil in a new glass bowl, with the words, "I conjure you, spirit of the grave . . . to accept this offering from my hand and do my bidding." Such a frank confession of the purpose of a food offering was unusual indeed. These examples will suffice to illustrate a feature of magic that occurs frequently.25

Next: 10. Amulets