Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Friday 07 May |
Saint of the Day: St. Rose Venerini
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Ever heard of ancient “devil-trap” bowls?



Daniel Esparza - published on 07/31/17

These early forms of “magic” were used to protect people’s houses, farms, workshops and cemeteries from any evil influence.

Devil-trap bowls (also known as “incantation bowls” or simply “magic bowls”) are, in a way, not that different from the blessings we might nowadays hang on a wall or behind the main door to our home. Chaldeans, Zoroastrians and Jews would bury these bowls, face down, to keep demons at bay (some would also place them in the threshold, or in any corner of the house). Even Middle Eastern Christians (in particular, Syriac Christians) would keep one or more of these in their own homes.

At least, that was the case around 1,200 to 1,500 years ago, give or take.

The bowls were inscribed in a spiral, from the rim to the center, generally in either Hebrew or Aramaic. The inscription included a blessing for the house (or the owner of the bowl) and a reprimand addressed to any demon who would dare threatening the peace of that house. Syriac Christians would use the Syriac alphabet instead in their inscriptions. Most of these bowls, though, were produced by Jewish communities in Babylon living under the rule of the Sassanian Empire, but some non-Jewish communities (mostly Zoroastrians) would also use these bowls quite commonly.

Nowadays, “devil-trap” bowls constitute an important archaeological source of historical knowledge regarding Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian cultural exchange in Middle Eastern communities from the 2nd to the 6th or 7th centuries.

You can take a closer look at one of these bowls, preserved in the British Museum, here.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
I.Media for Aleteia
These 30 shrines will lead the Rosary Relay for end of the pandem...
Cerith Gardiner
7 Ways to strengthen your relationship with the Virgin Mary
SAINT Januarius
J-P Mauro
Watch the blood of St. Januarius liquefy in May 2021
Sarah Robsdottir
Dad’s priceless reaction to newborn goes viral
Philip Kosloski
How to pray the Chaplet of St. Joseph
Francisco Veneto
Former Jehovah’s Witness to be ordained Catholic priest in ...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.