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GENERAL BELIEF IN CHARMS.
Like nostrums in medicine, these amulets are believed to defend the wearer from sickness and accidents, from the malice of enemies, from balls in a battle, from robbers by the way,
, from the evil eye, evil spirits, and, in short, from every species of calamity. There are some so potent that the possessor is rendered invisible to robbers, is perfectly safe in the hottest battle, and need fear neither jan, ghoul, nor devil by night or day. While I was wandering about with the Egyptian army during the revolt of Palestine against Ibrahim Pasha in 1834, I was assured by officers of respectability that Ibrahim would come in after a skirmish with the rebels, loose his girdle, and shake out the balls which had been aimed at him, beaten quite flat, but none of them had injured him. This was ascribed to the potency of the charms about his person. The Moslems generally wear portions of the Korân, which they call hejabs, or they write an endless string of the names and attributes of the deity, or the equally numerous titles of Mohammed. These curious and absurd combinations are deposited in tin or leather cases by the poor, and in silver and gold by the wealthy. The Moslems, Druses, Metāwelies, Nusaireans, Ismailîyehs, Yezidies, Bedawîn, Nowr, Jews, and Christians, all have not only their peculiar charms, but also their separate counter-charms, to defeat and neutralize those of their enemies. Any one who has read the Arabian Nights, with Lane's notes, will have obtained a tolerably complete acquaintance with this whole
subject, and the customs are identical down to the present hour.
Another kind of charm, very common, seems designed not so much to ward off the approach of evil as to relieve from its actual presence and pressure. Thus, when a person is sick, the relatives place at his head a copy of their most sacred books, Koran, Bible, Church book, or whatever they most reverence, a picture, image, or relic, or some treasure brought from Mecca or Jerusalem, or from the tomb of some dead saint, or the body of some living one. In the absence of Doctor V-, I was lately called to see the sick son of one of the most respectable Moslems of Sidon. At his head was an old rotten rag, as filthy as the vilest hermit could make it. This could on no account be removed. It was part of the sheet of a very holy man now living in Joppa. It had cost several thousand piastres, and was possessed of most potent efficacy. The child, however, died, greatly to the dismay of the father. About the same time, a Christian father called me to visit his son, dangerously ill. I found a peculiarly-formed gold button placed under the lad's cap, in order to charm away the disease. He recovered, and I suppose the button will be famous a long time to
I was once dragged in the utmost haste to see an Arab friend, said to be bleeding to death at the nose. The friends had stuck various Arabic seals about his tarbush, and the blood stopped, as they said, through their potency.
This sort of superstition is not confined to the East. Scott's fair lady of Branksome's Tower, when she drew the splinter from the breast of bold Deloraine, performed her magical rites: “And with a charm she stanched the blood.” Indeed, Scott himself seems to be more than half a believer in his own prodigies; and Scotland and Ireland boast of as many, as potent, and as complicated charms as any country in the world. They are equally rich in medicinal and magical compounds. Most of them, it may be, are made and used without any definite reference to invisible beings, good or bad, but others are done with their avowed assistance. And so it is even among the Christians of this country.
The belief in the malignant potency of the evil eye is very prevalent with all classes of Syrian society. So ridiculously afraid are they of this blight, that if you merely look at a child, especially if it be pretty, you must repeat the name of the Prophet, of God, or of the Virgin, with a brief petition for protection, or at least say Mâshallah (an exclamation of admiration or praise to God). If you extol the beauty of a horse, you must immediately spit on it, and the same is done sometimes to a child ; more frequently, however, they merely blow in its face and repeat a charm. The bright red or white figures made on fig-trees are designed to attract the eye from the fruit, lest it should wither and fall. In short, against this mysterious source of evil there are countless charms and counter-charms.
Another superstition is that of fortune-telling. This is practiced mainly by female gipsies, as in other countries, and with the same fooleries. Nor need we wonder that this world-wide practice should prevail in the semi-civilized East, since it is found in such countries as England, France, and America. Who has not read the story of the Empress Josephine and her fortune-telling negress?
There are many who pretend to discover thieves and stolen goods by incantations and other means. I spent the summer of 1835 at Brummanah, and my Moslem servant, without my knowledge, resorted to an old sheikh, with a present, to inquire after some spoons which had been stolen from my house. He made his rude diagrams in the sand, muttered his cabalistic adjurations, and engaged that the stolen property would be returned to a specified place at a given time. I have forgotten the particulars, and also the explanation by which the servant accounted for the failure of the operation without casting discredit upon the supernatural powers of the sheikh. Men who acquire a reputation for success in this business are greatly honored, and resorted to from all quarters. One of our Protestants in Merj Aiyûn was formerly celebrated for skill in this department. Of course he has renounced all such practices now, and also denounced them, but he has often amused me with anec
dotes about this trade. Once he was returning home through the Hûleh, and found a poor woman at a mill on the upper Jordan beating herself in despair because some one had stolen her meal-bag. There were Arab tents not far off, and, as Arabs are by profession thieves, he suspected that one of them had the missing bag. Calling them all before him, he told them his suspicion, and declared that he had an infallible test by which to detect the thief, and to it they must submit, or he would lodge a complaint against them with the governor. They all stoutly denied the charge, and offered to submit to his test. He then cut bits of straw, equal in number to that of the Arabs, all of the same length, and kept the measure himself, giving a bit to each of them. “Now,” said he, in his most imposing manner, “ keep these bits till the morning, each one by himself ; then bring them to me, and I will measure them; if any one of you has the bag, his stick will have grown longer by so much.” Of course, each hid his splinter in his bosom, and in the morning one was found as much too short as he said it would grow while in possession of the thief. The credulous rascal, not doubting but that it would actually grow, had broken off just the length which he supposed had been added during the night. When thus detected, he confessed the theft, and restored the poor woman her bag.
Our friend was an adept in all sorts of divination. On a certain occasion, when traveling in Belad Beshara, he met a man on his way to consult another celebrated thief-detector. Greatly rejoiced to meet our friend, he earnestly requested him to return and spend the night at his house, in order to detect who had stolen from him a bag containing a hundred Spanish dollars. He found him living in a large house, with three brothers, all married, and he suspected that one of the wives had stolen the money. When evening was far advanced he told his suspicion, and demanded that the women should be brought before him, each one alone. Putting on his most terrific look, he ordered each one to turn from right to left, then from left to right, to sit down, get up, stand still, etc., muttering all the while some horrible gibberish in a
hollow, sepulchral voice. One of them became deadly pale, and trembled exceedingly. This he fixed on as the thief. Watching his opportunity, he gave her a significant look, and then said aloud, “I find the house very hot”-it was summer—"and I shall sleep on the terrace, under the vinearbor."
As he expected, about midnight the woman crept stealthily to him, bringing the bag of money, and begging him to keep her secret. He did so, and the next morning gave the man his money, but would answer no questions as to how he got it. This man is doctor after the Arab fashion, and often resorted to magical combinations and charms to eke out his small pharmacopoeia and more scanty knowledge. He did this more especially in his treatment of maniacs, and those supposed to be bewitched, and he has had surprising success, mainly, I suppose, on the principle that “faith worketh wonders." These poor people and their friends had unbounded confidence in his ability to relieve them; hence they did just as he directed, and his general prescriptions were quite judicious.
He was also an adept in astrology, so far as that very ancient science, falsely so called, is found in Arabic books. There are but few who now practice it, but I lately had a call from an old Moslem who wished to ascertain the exact latitude of Sidon, as he needed this item to complete one of his astrological combinations. There are many more who practice alchemy; indeed, not a few have spent their life and fortune in costly experiments in search of the universal alkahest by which all metals are to be transmuted into gold, and all diseases cured. They uniformly deal in charms and incantations.
One of the names in our catalogue has reference to serpents, and David, in Psalm lviii. 4, 5, speaks of serpentcharming, as does Solomon in Ecclesiastes x. 11, and Jeremiah viii. 17; and this kind of enchantment is still practiced.
I have seen many serpent-charmers who do really exercise some extraordinary power over these reptiles. They carry enormous snakes, generally black, about them, allow them to crawl all over their persons and into their bosoms, always,