Magic Bowl with Attached Prayer Tablets

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Magic bowl with attached prayer tablets Probably 19th or 20th century, Iran Brass Historic Scientific Instrument Collection, Special Collections, Hatcher Graduate Library, GL7

Magic bowl with attached prayer tablets

Every surface of this metal bowl is incised with inscriptions framed by variously shaped cartouches. It also depicts the signs of the zodiac. In the Islamic world, this type of magic bowl was used for healing purposes and/or divination. When filled, the vessel was believed to transfer the power of the word into the liquid, which then was consumed by a patient or customer to cure various ailments or discern the future.

The central protrusion inside the dish is called an omphalos, or göbek in Turkish, meaning "navel." A hole in the rim allows for a string of tablets to be affixed to the bowl. These tablets—known in Turkish as kırk anahtar (forty keys)—include bismillah prayer formulas. It is believed that these tablets function like prayer beads or rosaries. Although they are attached by a string to this particular magic bowl, other surviving exemplars show the tablets attached to the rim by a metal wire or else affixed around the central omphalos. Whether located on the outside of the bowl's rim or else encircling its central göbek, these tablets would have rattled while the bowl was in use.

Bibliography: Perk and Paksoy 2011, 11, 108, 118, 134–135, and 139; Savage-Smith 1997, pt. 1, 72–97; Ittig 1982; Spoer 1935; Willemsen 1993; Bates 1991; Kriss and Kriss-Heinrich 1962, pl. 109; Khan 2013, 237–238; and Silverman 1991; 2007.

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