Friday, September 30, 2022

Ancient paperwork give distinctive glimpse into Malta’s magic historical past

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Credit: Brill Publishing

From love charms to eliminating demons and curing sickness, historical paperwork give a novel glimpse into how wealthy and poor in Malta used magic to enhance their lives.

Papers recording the trial of a Muslim slave hauled earlier than inquisitors present fascinating element about Maltese society within the seventeenth century.

Unlucky Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur in all probability confronted expenses as a result of his magical practices did not work in the way in which those that had paid him had hoped. Shopkeepers, cobblers, carpenters and knights had thought his companies would treatment their diseases or discover them love and wealth.

They appeared voluntarily earlier than the workplace of the Roman Inquisition on Malta within the spring and early summer time of 1605 to admit that that they had employed Sellem to do magic for them.

Sellem was additionally accused of working towards different, extra discovered kinds of magic. Vittorio Cassar, an architect and servant-at-arms of the Knights of St John, who dominated the island on the time, claimed Sellem taught him a type of divination known as geomancy, which concerned drawing dots in random patterns after which deciphering the outcomes to reply questions concerning the future. Cassar additionally gave the Inquisitors a treatise that he claimed to have written beneath Sellem’s course. He claimed that Sellem had provided to show him a type of magic known as in Latin reuchania (from the Arabic rūḥāniyya), which concerned summoning up demons.

Later witnesses, reminiscent of a French knight of the Order of St John named Pietro La Re, mentioned Sellem had known as up demons for him and had recited incantations from a magic guide.

The proceedings towards Sellem have been recorded in a trial doc, now preserved within the Metropolitan Chapter Archives in Mdina, Malta. The analysis is now printed in a guide,” Magic in Malta, 1605: Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur and the Roman Inquisition,” edited by Alex Mallett, and Dionisius Agius and Catherine Rider from the University of Exeter.

Sellem did finally admit to working towards therapeutic and love magic for some purchasers, though he additionally mentioned that he didn’t actually know magic and his spells have been “jokes” or fakes, which he made as much as earn cash from gullible Christians. He admitted educating Cassar geomancy and informed the Inquisition that he had discovered astrology and geomancy from his father in Cairo. However, he repeatedly denied realizing something about find out how to name up demons and mentioned he had by no means owned a magical guide. Even when the Inquisition put him nose to nose together with his accusers and used torture, he refused to confess that he had used these extra critical and demonic types of magic. “If I knew that,” he mentioned, “then I would not be a slave in Malta!”

Sellem was discovered responsible and sentenced to be paraded across the cities of Birgu and Valletta after which tied to a pillory in Valletta’s foremost sq. for an hour. After this, he was despatched again to jail for an unknown interval and disappears from the historic file.

The Inquisition in Malta was established by the papacy in 1542 by means of the papal bull Licet ab initio, primarily as a response to the perceived risk from Lutheranism but additionally as a method of defending the Catholic trustworthy from a greater variety of errors.

Professor Agius mentioned, “At the time Muslim slaves made up approximately ten percent of the population. The freedom they were given fluctuated. It was restricted at times when they were thought to be over-familiar with Maltese housewives and or became involved in robberies. Slaves who were involved in trade were believed to have a negative effect on the morals and beliefs of Maltese women; not only were some slaves thought to be intimate with Maltese women, but the love magic potions which they sold were particularly dangerous from the point of view of the Inquisition. Only a very small number of slaves could have made significant money from their activities, and what they did make was usually spent on food, wine, tobacco, medicines, and women.”

Professor Rider mentioned, “Sellem’s case sheds light on attitudes towards on magic in the early seventeenth century and gives a glimpse into Islamic and North African practices and attitudes to magic, as well as forms of love magic, divination and healing more commonly found in Christian Europe. It also tells us about everyday relations between Christians and Muslims at the time.”



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University of Exeter


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Ancient paperwork give distinctive glimpse into Malta’s magic historical past (2022, September 23)
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