Ever since the origin of writing, written spells have made very powerful amulets. ‘Word magic’ has been attested since early civilization. Currently, written spells usually consist of the names of Allah, Qur’anic verses or pious exclamations like bismillah (‘in the Name of God’) or mashallah (‘what God wills’). These texts are worn in purpose-designed jewellery: silver containers called higab (cover), that can still be found from the Maghreb to Syria.
The amulets themselves are called do’a (prayer), ta’wid (charm) or hirz (protection) in Arabic. In Persian, they are also known as afsun (incantation) or damdam (disturbance).
Numbers are as powerful as words in the symbolism of the Middle East. Usually, the number of bells and dangles on a particular pendant or amulet will be uneven, believed to be a way of warding off the evil eye. The numbers three, five and seven hold strong power and are repeatedly worked into jewelry decoration. When numbers are an important element of an amulet, their significance is often known only to the wearer and the maker and the amulet is very personal as a result.
Click on the examples below to learn more.
In many Islamic societies, the writing board itself also possessed power. Interestingly, this wooden figure carried by girls resembles the shape of the writing board.
A well-known variety of the number amulets is the so-called magical square: a numerical arrangement that has magical meaning.
A silver amulet container from Iran, containing its original contents. Click here for more information on the meaning of numbers
These zar-amulets are in the shape of a writing board, thus carrying even more power.