Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jewish Magical Rings of Power

[Ring inscribed with the Hebrew "fire in his faith-he will live it", appearing at blingdomofgod.com]

J.R.R. Tolkien gave us the most famous magic ring in human imagination, but certainly not the first. Rings and seals of power have a long history in Jewish tradition, beginning with King Solomon.

According to the Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic work of late Antiquity that serves as the basis for a whole genre of Solomonic magical lore, King Sol created a ring using a divine name of power and inscribed it with a seal, either a pentagram or hexagram (traditions vary). With this ring, he was able to enslave demons and he compelled them to help him construct the Temple in Jerusalem - a mythic illustration of the Jewish belief that there is nothing in the universe that is irredeemable, or cannot be bent to divine service.

But this is not the only ring of power in Jewish literature. Josephus also mentions a magical ring used to perform an exorcism in his native Judea (Antiquities 8).

In the Hechalot literature, rings and seals a recurrent theme. Both angels (Hechalot Rabbati) and adepts (Merkavah Rabbah) use rings with seals to tap into divine forces.

But it is Solomon’s ring that has captured the imagination of readers over the centuries. Not only is it good for exorcisms and demon management, but it also gives you the power to speak with animals. Discussions, recipes, and diagrams of the ring repeatedly appear in works such as the medieval work, Mafteach Shlomo (The Key of Solomon) and is invoked on amulets for protection against demons (Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, p. 93).

In the 17th-18th centuries, during the height of the “Baal shems,” the wondering working shamans of eastern Europe, we find several references to silver rings of protection of healing, so-called “segulah rings.” They are mentioned in personal correspondence and a few published texts, such as Kav haYashar. The latter even describes the process of fabricating such a ring, these rings were credited with controlling epilepsy and proving “security” day and night. This may be just as it sounds, a shield against physical dangers, but also may be a euphemism for sexual incontinence (conscious temptations, erotic dreams, and nocturnal emissions). 

To learn more about the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, visit http://dracontius.net/ragwad/ejmmm