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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Book of Jewish Magic

Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk ReligionJewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion by Joshua Trachtenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today you would never know but back in Medieval Germany and Northern Europe Jews were feared as sorcerers and magicians. The Jews lived separately from non Jews so there was lots of room for misunderstanding. While Jews were sought after for their medical expertise and knowledge of Herbs they were also feared as poisoners thanks to that same knowledge. If a Jewish doctor healed someone he ran risk because if the person dies he would be accused of poisoning that person.

The Jewish people got most of their anti witch prejudice from the surrounding Christians. It was forbidden in the Old Testament to practice witch craft. Witches were seen as people flying on broomsticks and cavorting with the devil. For Christians the Devil was a big deal for the Jews he was a mere after thought. Jews were not allowed to practice magic that transformed the very nature of things. There were different penalties for different types of magic. There was no penalty for working with Angels and Demons. Most Jewish magic consisted of working with Angels, Demon and different names of God.

Demons were thought to be an ever present threat. They were thought to inhabit desolate places, abandoned houses and what not. If some one moved into a barren place or into an abandoned house they had to placate the demon with offering. Sometimes the demon would drive them out. Most Jewish demonolatry came from Greek, Roman, and Babylonian sources. From the Jewish perspective there were shdeim who had human form and yet could be invisible. They could eat and drink. The Lilin which were succubae and incubi made love to people and drank their blood. Humans and demon could have offspring together. They were high up in the demon echelon. Some Demon lore came from the Germans. Mares would cause bad dream. There were others as well. Demons were thought to be created by God before Sabbath but due to the onset of the Sabbath he did not give them bodies. Lilith Adams first wife created a bunch of demon also by cavorting with animals.

Angels were servants of God. They could only do his will, yet in seemingly contradiction the magicians could compel them as long as it was in line with the angel’s basic creation. The Angels name changed according to the name that it was given. There were names given to Angels in the bible and Talmud but during medieval times there names proliferated. Where did those names originate from? Some of them are acronyms while others are permutations. Still others were derived from the name of Greek and Roman Gods.

The Dead sometimes came back especially if they had unfinished business. Sometimes they would tell a friend or loved one what life was like on the other side. Sometimes part of their spirit would haunt places and an exorcism would have to be done. If someone was really evil they became a demon. Medieval Jews believed in Astrology and propitious times for doing things. They had certain hour for when it was beneficial to pursue healing operation and others for money. For each day and time a different angel or arch angel was assigned and those name could be changed. The waxing moon was thought of as good for building enterprise while waning moon was for death and destruction.

This book is an old classic. You will get lots of good background information on it but no particular magical workings that will take further research. The foot notes are well tracked and documented although it takes up to 40 percent of the book. Since the sources by and large are not in English that could be a bit of a draw back. The book covered more than what I summarized so you will have to read it yourself to dig out those precious nugget.

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One blond hair blue eyed Calfornian who totally digs the Middle East.