The Mezuzah as Amulet

Have you ever noticed that Jewish homes have a little box attached to the doorpost? It’s a slanted box on the outside of the home (and sometimes on doorposts of interior rooms).  This little box is called a mezuzah, and it’s one of the amulets that Jews have used throughout history to bring protection to themselves. (I have also written about another Jewish amulet- demon bowls.)

A mezuzah is a small box affixed to the doorpost of the home. It contains a scroll with text from the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:

Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L‑rd Your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L‑rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L‑rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates-so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L‑rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

 

The outside of the mezuzah is usually affixed with the Hebrew letter shin which stands for Shaddai- one of the names of G-d. The name Shaddai is often on the reverse of the scroll. Sometimes, other names and charms were written on the scroll as well- names of angels, kabbalistic imagery, etc

Historically speaking, the mezuzah was used as an amulet and talisman, both warding off evil and attracting blessings to those within the home. As you can see from the text, having the scroll affixed to the doorpost was seen as a method for ensuring prosperity, fertility, and long life. Traditionally, the belief was that the scroll had to be deemed kosher for the the mezuzah to be effective. At various times, when negative things would happen, it would be blamed on the person not having a mezuzah on their doorpost, or that the mezuzah was ineffective due to its non-kosher status. Many times, a person was urged to have their mezuzah checked to ensure it remained kosher after negative things happened.  

Many people claim that the mezuzah is not an amulet or talisman, but is simply an object used to fulfill a divine commandment. But, it can’t be argued that at times throughout history the object has been seen as having magical or mystical properties. The same goes for today- some do still view the mezuzah as an amulet. Whether or not a Jew believes the object has magical properties, the object is often placed, just as prescribed, kosher and on the doorpost. If the reason is to follow a divine commandment, I question why it is important to obey that command. Surely, a person gets something out of following an instruction- even if it is just feeling good about oneself. No matter how you look at it, the mezuzah does serve as an amulet in some way.

 

Demon Bowls

 

Magic bowls. Demon bowls. Incantation bowls. These bowls have gone by many names throughout the ages, but despite the various names, they all boil down to this: Judaism has a long history of magical practice (no matter how much some people want to deny it).

 

Magic bowls are pretty simple. They are a pottery bowl with an incantation written on them. The spell would generally start at the rim of the bowl and be written in a spiral around the outside of the bowl although sometimes the script was on the inside . Traditionally they were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and crafted by rabbis or magicians for their community members. But, they weren’t only crafted by or for Jews. Zoroastrians/Persians and Christians (as well as others) were customers for magic bowls

 

These bowls had many purposes. They could be used for healing or repelling demons. Lilith was a favorite for this. Many Jewish women would have a magic bowl for guarding against Lilith stealing her babies. Incantation bowls were also frequently used to call upon a deity for protection or guidance. In addition to the names of deities, the names of rabbis were also used within the incantations written on magic bowls. Many such bowls also included scripture as well as the names of angelic beings.

 

Once a person had commissioned and received a demon bowl, it was often buried, upside down, inside their home. The reason for burying the amulet upside down was to trap or bind the demon inside. Bowls were sometimes also buried right side up in order to attract something to the owner.

 

Magic bowls are just one example of magic in ancient Judaism. It’s easy to believe today that such things never existed, but they did. Magic has long been part of the history of Judaism.

Note: Image By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011), CC BY 2.5