Wednesday, December 05, 2007


The circle is another ancient and universal magical symbol. The invocation of demons is a dangerous business, and the magician must take steps to protect himself in the event that his spirit adjutants get out of hand. What simpler or more obvious device than to exclude them from his immediate environment? "Those who invoke demons draw circles around themselves because the spirits have not the power to trespass from the public to a private area," explained Menahem Ziyuni. By this magic act the ground and atmosphere surrounding the magician becomes a private, forbidden precinct. One of the most picturesque of ancient Jewish miracle-workers was Honi HaMe'agel (first century B.C.E.), whose penchant for standing within a circle while he called down rain from heaven won him his title, "the circle-drawer." During the Middle Ages diviners who operated through the demons began their rites by inscribing the protective circle upon the ground. People who were believed to be peculiarly susceptible to demonic attack were defended by a similar invisible rampart; a widespread custom among German Jews was to draw a circle around the bed of a woman who had just been delivered of a child. In speaking of the dangers that beset a dying man several writers pointed out that his bed serves the same purpose as the magic circle, and that if a limb should project beyond it the demons will immediately seize him. In this connection it is interesting that in the Orient the general practice at a funeral is for the mourners actually to encircle the coffin seven times, reciting the "anti-demonic psalm." Similarly the late custom among East-European Jews (which also prevails in the Orient) for the bride to walk around her groom under the wedding canopy three, or seven times, was probably originally intended to keep off the demons who were waiting to pounce upon them. The magician's circle was usually inscribed with a sword or knife, and sometimes the directions require three, or seven concentric circles, the metal and the number adding to the protective virtues of this device. (Trachtenberg, JEWISH MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION, p. 121)

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