The Gift of the Word

Ethiopian Magic Scroll

Ethiopian magic scroll, segment 1

The top register is occupied by a figure whose origin lies in the Greek Gorgon Medusa, signified by the depiction of snakes.  A processional cross sits atop the Gorgon's head to represent his piety.  Scholars note the common inclusion of disguised angels to fool a demonic presence; it can be surmised that the Gorgon is in fact an angel masquerading as a demon.

This highly individualized manuscript, coveted for its protective and curative powers, is commonly referred to as a magic or healing scroll.  Although it is currently in two pieces, it was originally a single long scroll which was constructed from four pieces of goatskin vellum, and which correlated in length to the height of its original owner.

Stylized eyes appear throughout the scroll's ornamental border and are present in each of the scroll's figures.  Eyes are a crucial aspect of the object's protective ability, and hold significance as symbols thought to ward off demons.  References to the scroll's first owner have been written over with the name Walatta, daughter of Michael, indicating that ownership of the manuscript was transferred at least once.  During a period of crisis or sickness, it would have been carried on one's person throughout the day, and then hung and displayed at night.  Written in Ge'ez, the liturgical language of Ethiopia, the text and imagery relate to St. Susenyos, who is associated with protection during pregnancy and childbearing.

Click here to hear more about the Ethiopian Magic Scroll on the Gift of the Word podcast.

Ethiopian magic scroll, segment 2

The second thematic section depicts two guardian angels.  These figures are unnamed, but are thought to be St. Michael and St. Gabriel because of their association with guardianship of mother and child.

The lower right register contains three figures.  The character to the left holds a processional cross and leans on a prayer stick; he possesses the features typical of a guardian angel.

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