Magical squares

A selection of Persian amulets in silver and brass

A well-known variety of the number amulets is the so-called magical square: a numerical arrangement that has magical meaning. The most widely used square is the ‘buduh’-square: an arrangement of the numbers 1 through 9 with 5 in the middle, that reads 15 in all directions. This square is first encountered in a 9th or 10th century copy of the writings of Jabir ibn Hayyan, and is said to ease childbirth. Its origins probably are much older and to be found in China. The square derives its name from the four letters on the corners of the square when noted down in the Abjad letter-numerals: b-d-w-h. Its powers were believed to be so strong that the name ‘buduh’ itself was enough to invoke that power.

Since the use of the buduh-square, many other magical squares have been developed and worked into silver amulets. Their use is not limited to the Islamic world. A Christian version of a magical square can be found on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, where the numbers read 33 in all directions. In this square however some numbers are repeatedly used, while it is preferred to use the same number only once in a magical square. The square is also not limited to 3 x3 rows, but can be expanded as well.

Magical squares are often used in jewelry. The magical square has been, and still is, in use throughout the Middle East in Islamic, Christian and Jewish tradition.