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Excerpts from Ritual Practices to Gain Power

Hekhalot adjurations and ritual practices of late antiquity

The Hekhalot adjurations do not stand in isolation; they participate rather in a larger
phenomenon of incantation, adjuration, and use of amulets in late antiquity. Rituals
similar in structure and purpose to the Hekhalot revelatory adjurations exist in Egyptian
texts for ritual power in Greek, Demotic, and Coptic, and in the Jewish collection of
adjurations, Sefer ha-Razim. The Hekhalot rituals of ascent to the Merkabah are also
similar to ascents to heaven occurring in Gnostic literature and the Greco-Egyptian ritual
texts. Hekhalot images of the world of the divine throne and the angels recur in Jewish
Aramaic amulets from Palestine and Babylonia and in a Jewish visionary text known as
the Visions of Ezekiel.
Revelatory adjurations form only one part of the ritual literature of late antiquity in
Greek, Latin, Demotic, Coptic, Hebrew, or Aramaic. The Greco-Egyptian papyri, for
example, contain many spells for healing from various diseases, gaining love, improving
memory, overcoming one's enemies, ridding a house of insects, and consecrating amulets.
Sefer ha-Razim similarly includes spells to influence nobles and powerful people to help
the adjurer. In addition to the texts on papyrus, numerous amulets inscribed on metal
strips, earthenware bowls, gemstones, or papyrus have come to light in archeological
excavations. These texts include erotic spells, spells against one's enemies, incantations
seeking victory in the chariot races or court, success in business, protection of children,
and expulsion of demons. This literature is concerned both with the transcendent goals of
contact with divine or semidivine beings, and the mundane problems of everyday life.
The goals of these texts may vary widely, but their techniques are related, especially the
use of mystical names consisting of divine and angelic names or strings of
incomprehensible letters.
Showing seals (hotamot) to angels
The Hekhalot adjurations differ significantly from the Sefer ha-Razim and the Greco-
Egyptian adjurations in the use of material objects, offerings of various kinds, and the
killing of animals. Symbolic use of objects, offerings, and slaughter of animals are
ubiquitous in the Greco-Egyptian adjurations; the written or spoken adjuration is only one
part of the entire ritual. Materials used in the rituals include bowls or lamps for
divination, amulets or seals, altars or tripods or tables, and statues of the gods. The only
object that is mentioned frequently in the Hekhalot literature is the seal, mentioned both
in connection with the adjuration of angels for wisdom and in connection with the ascent
to the Merkabah. Meir Bar-Ilan interprets those passages that prescribe 'sealing oneself'
for protection at the time that angels descend as a physical writing or engraving of names
or symbols on the limbs of the body.
In the adjuration of the Angel of the Presence in Ma'aseh Merkabah, for example, R.
Ishmael says: "Seven seals I sealed on myself when Padqaras the Angel of the Presence
descended." He gives different names to protect the different parts of the body: "on my
feet," "on my heart," "on my right arm," "on my left arm," "on my throat," "for guarding
my soul," and "above them all, 'P PT YHW YW YW ZHW YHW TYTS above my
head." Bar-Ilan says, "It is not clear how exactly they (the seals) were made, but it seems
that different seals were engraved on the limbs of the praying mystic, and were an
inseparable part of his methods for the attaining of the divine vision." In his discussion he
points both to Jewish precedents for the writing of letters or symbols on the body as a
sign that the person was a slave of God, and to the same phenomenon in the magical
If you are interested in magic and ritual power in late antiquity in general, Gideon Bohak
has put up an extensive on-line magic exhibit.It has text and pictures of various kinds of
amulets and Aramaic incantation bowls.
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Last revised January 4, 2006