Magic in Medieval Ethiopian Christian Kingdom (Abstract)

The Circulation of Knowledges, Techniques, and Practices from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, 15th Century

Since the 15th century, the dabtara, cantors of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have performed divination, healed, and conducted exorcisms at the request of Christian believers. They are known to produce magic scrolls and amulets, use the Psalms or the Gospels for divination, as well as write books of prayers. The Ethiopian Orthodoxy, which developed within the Christian Orient, prohibits many of the dabtara’s practices and has classified them under the term “magic”.

The historiography of Byzantine, Greek, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian divination (or arithmancy) shows the reoccurrence of similar figures. Examples of these figures include:  Solomon and his testament and odes, containing recipes for making amulets; Alexander the Great to whom is attributed knowledge of spiritual mysteries; St. Cyprian of Antioch a fourth century mage converted to Christianity known for his substantial knowledge of demons. From the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, clerics, whose knowledge extended to beyond a singular belief system, were known to practice magic. Studies on the links and interactions between the Ethiopian Christianity and its neighboring worlds are beginning to adopt a transnational approach essential to our knowledge of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. Centered around magical Ethiopian Christian practices, this study aims to show the temporal and spatial trajectory of rites, beliefs and objects.

Ayda Bouanga, PhD

University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, Frankreich


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