• The Magic Symbol Repertoire of Talismanic Rings from East and West Africa

    Lloyd Graham (see profile)
    Islamicate Studies
    Magic, Magic--Religious aspects, Religions, Africans--Religion, Africa, Area studies, Islam--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Tuareg, Tifinagh, Ethiopia, talisman, Jewelry, Magico-religious systems, African religions, African studies, Islamic studies
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    In West Africa, Berber groups such as the Tuareg use inscribed silver jewelry – rings, pendants and plaques – as talismans. A ring with a curved or flat frontal area may be inscribed with a linear cipher or, if large, carry a “magic square” design. A survey of 132 Tuareg/Berber items revealed that the symbol repertoire appears to be drawn from overlapping categories that include Eastern Arabic and Perso-Arabic numerals; Arabic letters; Tifinagh and Libyco-Berber characters; and the Islamic Seven Seals. Most items combine symbols of different types, and reflections and rotations are common. The magic squares sometimes display symmetry, with diagonals containing repeats of a single symbol. No two designs were identical, but it was possible to define sub-groups. With numerical considerations seemingly secondary to aesthetics, none of the magic squares were mathematically competent. Tuareg gri gri plaques and rings also carry magic square designs, but seem to contain mainly Tifinagh letters. Cryptic apotropaic rings are also found in East Africa. In Ethiopia, especially among the Oromo, smiths inscribe metal rings with talismanic symbols. The symbols are typically arranged evenly around the ring band; there are usually two circular series. The Ethiopian symbol repertoire appears to be drawn from Eastern Arabic and possibly Devanagari numbers; Arabic letters; the Islamic Seven Seals; and unique symbols that resist identification. Most Ethiopian rings combine numerical and non-numerical symbols, and reflections and rotations are common. As one might expect from this makeup, there is a significant overlap with the symbol repertoire of Tuareg rings. The most extreme similarities occur in the small subset of Tuareg and Ethiopian rings that carry complete sets of the Islamic Seven Seals.
    Additional tags: amulet, Islamic/Arabic talisman, Berber jewelry, gri gri, gris gris, inscribed silver ring/pendant, marabout, Amazigh, Oromo, Jimma, magic symbol/glyph, magic square, inaden, folk magic, apotropaic objects, Seven Seals of Solomon, ism al azam, Ethiopian magic scroll, dabtara, al Buni, ruhani
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    Last Updated:
    3 years ago
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