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——, A tale of two pregnancies, in D. A. Gordon and man was walking and in the second case behind
R. Behar (eds.), Women writing culture, Berkeley the two stones. The status of the tightrope walker,
1995, 339–49.
J. Boddy, Wombs and alien spirits, Madison, Wis. 1989. as someone dealing with an unusual business, in
R. F. Burton, A personal narrative of a pilgrimage to al- danger of his life, attained a certain degree of
Madinah and Meccah, New York 1893. supernatural power, at least in this context, which
A. Eliyahu, 2001 International Romani Union Report.
would purify the woman of the affliction. Central
The Gypsy people of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank,
Dom Research Center, 2001, <http://www.domre- Asian women believed that a woman who broke
searchcenter.com>. the rule of keeping chilla, i.e. who visited a home
H. M. El-Shamy, Tales Arab women tell and the behav- with a newborn child during the first 40 days, and
ioral patterns they portray, Indianapolis 1999.
T. Fahd, La divination arabe. Etudes religieuses, soci- thus was struck with chilla (chilla zada, or uftoda)
ologiques et folkloriques sur le milieu natif d’Islam, and was at risk of becoming sterile, could rid her-
Leiden 1966. self of it by passing it to another woman. To do
——, Kahana, in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-Rom this she had to cross the street where a bride was
Edition vol. 1, Leiden 2001.
E. Graefe, D. B. MacDonald, and M. Plessner, Djadwal, going to pass, or cross the roof of the house where
in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-Rom Edition vol. 1, there was a wedding ceremony. For the defense of
Leiden 2001. the bride from all kinds of malign influences, the
N. S. Hanna, The Ghagar of Sett Guiranha. A study of a
Gypsy community in Egypt, in Cairo Papers in Social
role of the wife of her maternal uncle was very
Science (American University in Cairo) 5:1 (June important. Her responsibility was to guard her
1982). niece from magical inflictions which could be cast
S. H. Hurreiz, Folklore and folklife in the United Arab on her during the wedding. In Iran, Afghanistan,
Emirates, London 2002.
S. M. Kenyon, Five women of Sennar, Oxford 1991. and Central Asia it was thought necessary to open
E. W. Lane, Manners and customs of the modern locks and untie knots everywhere in the house
Egyptians, London 1908. since it was believed that closing a lock or tying a
S. A. Morsy, Gender, sickness, and healing in rural
knot on the clothing of the bride during the cele-
Egypt. Ethnography in historical context, Boulder,
Colo. 1993. bration could hinder the intimacy of the spouses.
This is an example of imitative magic – the action
Katherine Zirbel of closing or tying something results in blocking
KEY WORDS: gender, magic, amulets, fortune- the sexual potency or fertility of the spouses. In
telling, Arab states Central Asia fire was believed to possess certain
purgative virtues, which is perhaps a vestige left
from Zoroastrianism. Barren women, for instance,
Iran, The Caucasus, Central Asia, and would uncover their bellies and expose them to
Afghanistan open fire. Or the carriage with the bride had to
pass through a fire set in the yard of the bride-
This entry deals with the occult practices and groom.
objects used by and for women in Iran, the Aquatic symbolism is prominent in many magi-
Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, mainly cal rites performed to inhibit barrenness, water
connected with the spheres of childbirth, fertility, being the symbol of life and of the beginning of all
marriage, defense of the progeny from evil influ- creation, and, in many cultures, being associated
ences, and eroticism. with semen (interesting to note that in Persian the
word àb, water, in some contexts denotes semen,
Magic cf. àbash àmad, he ejaculated). For instance, a
In Iran, in order to avert barrenness, women woman who could not conceive, would go to a
used to pour oil on certain types of stones and Jewish bath where the person who ran the bath
crawl under them. There was also the practice of (àbgìr) poured some water onto her head. Then
binding knots on certain trees (as symbols of fer- she had to cut 40 stalks of a certain kind of greens
tility), done for the same purpose, which can be called tarre into small pieces and throw them into
observed as well in the South Caucasus, Central the furnace of the bath. After this, she would wash
Asia, and Afghanistan. In Khwarazm, during the her face with a handful of water and leave.
performances of tightrope walkers, barren Another method was to put a live centipede into
women, in order to conceive, would walk under the water, take it out, and on Thursday pour this
the rope. Women used also to pass between two water on herself. Similarly, women would use the
rocks standing close to each other. The symbolic water from a mortuary, with which a corpse had
meaning of these actions was to leave the afflic- been washed, or water which had just been used
tion, in the first case behind the rope on which a by a recently confined woman. The Jewish bath
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20 amulets, fortune-telling, and magic


certainly had occult connotations, Jews embody- friends, and throw apples and sweets at her. The
ing “the other,” and therefore possessing some same custom still exists among the Yezidis in the
occult power. The same could be said about the South Caucasus (Armenia and Georgia). The sym-
water from a corpse, as something closely con- bolism of fecundity is expressed also in the image
nected with the realm of the dead, and in the last of trees, widely represented almost everywhere in
case there is imitative magic. In Khwarazm barren the world. The sweets and apples to be thrown at
women used to jump over streams. But especially the bride during Yezidi weddings are attached to
revered for its ability to cure sterility was the Amu a branch of a tree held by the bridegroom or one
Darya river. Women unable to bear children often of his friends. Sweets are also a strong means for
crossed it on small boats offering various sacrifices increasing the sexual potency of the couple. The
to it, such as bread and salt. Tajiks, for instance, used to hold a piece of sugar.
Touching the walls of churches has the same In Iran, among the gifts presented to the couple,
connotation as going to a Jewish bath. Here also, there should be a big cone-shaped piece of sugar,
“the other,” especially when it is a sacred place, called kalleghand, the peculiar phallic form of
attains a certain degree of supernatural power. In which may signify the remnants of phallic cult.
potions made by boiling grass collected from the Due to the fact that sheep- and cattle-breeding
dome of the mosque of Emàm Rezì the sacred constitute an important part of Central Asian
powers of the Muslim saint were believed to be in agriculture, there are animal as well as plant
action. Swallowing the skin left after circumcision images in the fertility rituals. The eating of differ-
is an example of partial magic. Along with rites ent parts of a sheep by the bride is a fertility ritual
for making the woman able to bear children and practiced among the Tajiks. Among the Uzbeks,
pseudo-medical recipes, in Iran there have existed upon the arrival of the bride at the house of her
certain magical actions for preventing weak future husband, the mother-in-law thrice promises
women from becoming pregnant, such as putting her a red cow.
an umbilical cord into a small bag and placing it Another concern of women was to defend their
beside the woman. offspring or themselves during the period of preg-
The association of woman with the earth has nancy. Since during the chilla the woman and her
been widely attested in many parts of the world. child were considered especially vulnerable to evil
In spring in Central Asia and some parts of powers, they had to be strongly guarded. The most
Afghanistan women used to cook a certain type of dangerous enemy of the mother and the newborn
meal, called sumalak, and the process of the child, in the whole territory from the Caucasus
preparation contained many magical elements and to Central Asia, including Iran and Afghanistan,
was followed to enhance the ability of women to was the evil spirit called al (ol, or almasti, albasti).
produce children and increase the quantity of In order to protect them from al, relatives sur-
crops in the following year. Sumalak was cooked rounded the bed of the woman with a rope – the
with sprouted wheat; and the whole process was so-called magical circle. A powerful means against
led by a woman who had many children (imitative all kind of evil spirits were the onion, garlic, and
magic). The parallel between earth and woman also metallic objects: a knife or scissors were
can be seen in the custom of eating pomegranate placed under the pillow of the mother or the child.
seeds in Central Asia. In the Caucasus, seeds of In Iran, after a child is born, a needle is stuck into
various cereals, especially those of rice, are thrown the placenta and buried with a piece of charcoal.
on the head of the newly married couple upon Magical power was ascribed to these objects, per-
their entry to the house of the bridegroom. Eating haps for the sharp sensory associations connected
eggs was also a type of imitative magic. Fruits, with them and their pungent smell and taste and
also symbolizing fecundity, until today play an their ability to cause physical pain.
important role in wedding ceremonies in Central In Central Asia and Afghanistan, in order to
Asia and the South Caucasus. In Khwarazm the deceive the evil powers, a child was “sold” to
mother of the bridegroom had to throw fruits other people and taken to their house, whence he
onto the ritual veil of the bride, called kushayana, was returned for a symbolic fee. Until recently an
which was endowed with magical power and pro- unusual custom existed in Tajikistan. In order to
tected the bride from evil powers; an important make the evil spirits leave the child, his mother cut
role in its preparation was played by women who a small piece from the edge of the ear of the baby
had many children. In Khwarazm, on the second and swallowed it.
day of Ramazàn the bridegroom would go to the Being impure in her chilla, the woman had to
garden where his fiancée was walking with her observe certain taboos, such as not approaching
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iran, the caucasus, central asia, and afghanistan 21


water or the fireplace, not milking cows, and not increase fertility, and for exorcism. In fact, as was
making dough. During this period the child was seen, many magical rites and incantations were
also subject to malign powers; the mother, in order combined with talismans. Among the most widely
to guard the child from demons, put pins into the used type of talismans everywhere in these regions
swaddling clothes of the baby and kept them for were pieces of paper with extracts from sacred
40 days. The Tajiks believed that before the child texts, namely Qur±àn and prayers, mostly in
was 40 days old, it might be called by the dead. Arabic. In Iran, the Suras 109, 112, 113, and 114
Therefore, if someone died in the vicinity, they (in Persian they are commonly called chahàr qol,
used to anoint its right ear with soot so that it did all of them starting with the word “say”, Persian
not hear the call from the grave. qol) were believed to be especially powerful for
Attracting someone’s love is an extremely defense from malign powers. There are also
important domain of women’s magical activities. amulets with undecipherable signs. Sometimes,
In Iran, if a woman feels that her husband loves these are Arabic letters or imitations of them.
his other wife (havù, or vasnì) more than her, These were worn by women on a chain hanging
she goes to a mulla who tells her to bring the hair round their neck or attached to their clothes. In
of her husband and that of her rival. He recites Central Asia and Afghanistan such slips of paper
a prayer above these two and boils them. The would be attached to the aching part of the body
woman then makes her husband drink the water, of a woman or a child.
and from then on he is supposed to love her Remnants of the cult of plants can be found in
equally. Women also used to put a charm, written Central Asia, where women used to wear neck-
on a piece of paper, under the pivot of the door. laces made of stones or certain plants, such as
The more the husband opened the door, the more pomegranate, mulberry, hips, etc., which were
he would love her. Similarly, the wife put a finger- believed to make the woman more fertile. Small
nail with a spell on it near the chimney, and the pieces of mulberry tree in a square or triangular
more it was heated, the more the love of the man form were believed to defend women and children
toward his wife would increase. A dead body, as from evil spirits and the evil eye and enhance the
was seen earlier, possesses a certain supernatural fecundity of women. Bread was a powerful means
power; in love magic the women of Iran and for defending the newly confined woman from evil
Afghanistan often used subjects somehow associ- spirits and the evil eye. For erotic purposes women
ated with the dead. For gaining her husband’s in Central Asia and Afghanistan used to make
love, a woman went to a mulla who made an talismans from the fruits of a gray colored plant,
amulet, sold it with a bone and a hair from a which were of the size of a cherry, putting them
corpse to her, and told her to bury them the same into silver caps and wearing them on silver chains
night in a cemetery. Or, she had to make her hus- on their clothes.
band or beloved drink water with which a dead In many regions of the world stones have been
body had been washed. revered for the supernatural powers inherent in
Some traces of Shaminism are still preserved in them. In Central Asia cornelian was used for mak-
Central Asia, especially among its Turkic peoples. ing amulets which were believed to be wholesome
Among Tajiks, it was mainly the domain of for health. In Near Eastern beliefs this stone was
women. The functions of a shaman were expelling believed to be able to stop superfluous menstrua-
evil spirits from the body of a person with the help tion. In all areas turquoise was supposed to attract
of other spirits. In order to do this, the shaman the love of the husband toward his wife and
resorted to trance and was believed to have moved was the symbol of purity. Stones with holes in
into the realm of spirits, where she communicated them, which were likened to eyes, were used
with them. During this trance a tambourine or a against the evil eye. In Iran malachite had the same
mallet were usually used. property. Cowry shell is considered a useful
Finally, it should be noted that a certain degree defense aginst the evil eye, and corals are used to
of supernatural power was always ascribed to increase fertility.
women; in all these regions mostly women were Astral objects bearing symbolism, such as the
feared as possessors of the evil eye. moon, stars, and the sun, were very popular in
Central Asia. Adornments made in the form of
Amulets these luminaries were worn by brides since they
Amulets were used by women for almost the were believed to increase progeny.
same purposes as the magical actions described In Iran and in the Caucasus there are eye-like
above, that is, to attract someone’s love, to amulets made of blue glass which are used against
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22 amulets, fortune-telling, and magic


the evil eye. These have different shapes, and small dreams were considered to mean the opposite of
ones are attached to cradles of small children. what the woman had seen. For instance, if a
Women wear blue beads for the same purpose. woman saw something sad, something good
One can see these also on walls of houses, shops, would happen and vice versa.
etc. In Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia the A form of divination named Fà†ima was per-
color blue in general was believed to have purga- formed by Iranian women: 53 peas put in a sieve
tive properties. should be divided into small piles until in each
In some Central Asian amulets remnants of only two or three remained, and this was done
phallic cult can easily be traced. Here women with closed eyes. When the diviner opened her
wore triangular or tube-shaped ornaments, meant eyes, she drew conclusions from the positions of
to increase progeny. The newly married Yezidi the beans.
women in the Caucasus used to wear a pendant in
the form of a cucumber called Milyàqatè Qànj Bibliography
(Kind Angel) – a euphemism for a phallus, which
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T. Bois, The Kurds, trans. M. Wellard, Beirut 1966.
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