Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sacred Writ & Kameot: Psalms.....Psalms.....Everywhere! - Part 3

Whilst writing this investigation into the use of Psalms in Hebrew amulets, I kept wondering why the anonymous author of the Sefer Shimmush Tehillim chose those specific uses for each psalm, whilst there are other listed applications. It is clear that he had derived much of his suggestions from timeworn traditional sources pertaining to the “magical” uses of the Book of Psalms, some of which can be found in the Talmud and in various Midrashim. There are however many more magical uses of individual and groups of psalms, which did not find their way into the Sefer Shimmush Tehillim.
As it is, it is not only the first Psalm which is used to avoid miscarriage. In fact, Genesis 21:1 and Exodus 11:8 are also often used to lighten childbirth. Furthermore, not only selected verses from the Torah were used to ease childbirth, but in this regard the entire Sefer Torah (the scroll of the Pentateuch or “Five Books of Moses”) became a most venerated “amulet,” so to speak. Many still believe that an exhortation in the name of the “Torah” is good enough to get a womb to respond in the required manner. For example, Joshua Trachtenberg in Jewish Magic and Superstition, relates a popular Ashkenazic incantation which reads: “Baermutter (womb) lie down! With these words I adjure thee with nine Torahs, with nine pure Sefer Torahs!”
We should also remember that in Judaism there are very stringent rules as far as ones behaviour towards a Torah scroll is concerned. However, the very fact that it is considered an extraordinary special “sacred object,” looked upon by many to be a manifested portion of the very “Being” of the Divine One, often encouraged the ordinary folk to use it as a most powerful talisman so to speak. Even though any act of impiety towards the Torah would be met with strong retribution, Trachtenberg tells us that some Jewish clergy actually allowed “such practices only in case a life was in danger.” For example, “when an infant was ill and could not sleep, or a woman was convulsed in labor pains, the Scroll was brought in and laid upon the sufferer to alleviate the pain.” The many voices objecting to this kind of practice, and the statement of a Rabbi in the Talmud that “it is forbidden to heal by words of Torah,” whilst allowing their use for protection only, proved quite fruitless when we observe the magical and theurgical uses Scripture was put to down the ages to this day. “The Bible performed functions for which its inspired creators had never intended it,” noted Trachtenberg laconically.
We are reminded that the usual formula in the magical use of holy writ is: “Recite this verse with its name...,” with the understanding of course, that the power of the verse derives from the Divine Name which is claimed to be hidden in certain words in the Biblical text. This is quite a standard pattern in magical texts of this nature, but I should add that the Bible is used in Jewish Magic for both incantational and talismanic purposes. For example, the verses from Genesis and Exodus referred to earlier were not only employed in magical incantations, but were equally used in Hebrew amulets, i.e. to be worn by the woman in labour. Sometimes not even the entire verse was engraved on an amulet, but only the initial letters of each word were used to construct what was considered to be a most affective amulet which will successfully work the purpose of its design.
Now, the second Psalm is also employed for “health purposes." It reads:
(Verse 1) Lama rag’shu goyim ul’umim yeh’gu rik
(Verse 2) Yit’yatz’vu malchei eretz v’roznim nosdu yachad al YHVH v’al m’shichu
(Verse 3) N’nat’kah et mos’roteimo v’naslichah mimenu avoteimo
(Verse 4) Yoshev bashamayim yis’chak adonai yil’ag lamo
(Verse 5) Az y’daber eleimo v’apo uvacharono y’vahaleimo
(Verse 6) Va’ani yasach’ti malki al tzion har kad’shi
(Verse 7) Asap’ra el chok YHVH amar eilai b’ni atah ani hayom y’lid’ticha
(Verse 8) Sh’al mimeni v’et’na goyim nachalatecha va’achuzat’cha af’sei aretz
(Verse 9) T’ro eim b’shevet bar’zel kich’li yotzer t’nap’tzeim
(Verse 10) V’atah m’lachim haskilu hivasru shof’tei aretz
(Verse 11) Iv’du et YHVH b’yir’ah v’gilu bir’adah
(Verse 12) Nash’ku var pen ye’enaf v’tov’du derech ki yiv’ar kim’at apo ashrei kol chosei vo
(Verse 1) Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?
(Verse 2) The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together against YHVH, and against His anointed:
(Verse 3) ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’
(Verse 4) ‘He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, Adonai hath them in derision.
(Verse 5) Then will He speak unto them in His wrath, and affright them in His sore displeasure:
(Verse 6) ‘Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.’
(Verse 7) I will tell of the decree: YHVH said unto me: ‘Thou are My son, this day have I begotten thee.
(Verse 8) Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the end of the earth for thy possession.
(Verse 9) Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’
(Verse 10) Now therefore, O ye kings, be wise; be admonished, ye judges of the earth.
(Verse 11) Serve YHVH with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
(Verse 12) Do homage in purity, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, when suddenly His wrath is kindled. Happy are all they that take refuge in Him.
Regarding the earlier mentioned "health" application, we are informed to write down the first nine verses of this Psalm up to the phrase "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron" on clean parchment. This is to be worn like a pendant on ones person in order to alleviate headaches. Be that as it may, the Sefer Shimmush Tehillim lists a further application of the second Psalm. In this instance it refers to instances when one should find oneself caught in a violent storm at sea. In order to be saved from the deluge it is suggested that one should first recite Psalm 2 in its entirety, then write it on a potsherd, and afterwards cast the latter into the raging sea.
More to follow)

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