Apotropaic magic

Apotropaic magic (from Greek apotrepein "to ward off" from apo- "away" and trepein "to turn") is a type of magic intended to turn away harm or evil influences, as in deflecting misfortune or averting the evil eye. Apotropaic observances may also be practiced out of vague superstition or out of tradition, as in good luck charms (perhaps some token on a charm bracelet), amulets, or gestures such as crossed fingers or knocking on wood. The Greeks made offerings to the ‘averting gods’ (ἀποτρόπαιοι θεοί, apotropaioi theoi), chthonic deities and heroes who grant safety and deflect evil.

Apotropaic magical rituals were practiced throughout the ancient Near East and Egypt. Fearsome deities were invoked via ritual in order to protect individuals by warding away evil spirits. In ancient Egypt, these household rituals (performed in the home, not in state-run temples) were embodied by the deity who personified magic itself, Heka. The two gods most frequently invoked in these rituals were the hippopotamus-formed fertility goddess, Taweret, and the lion-demon, Bes (who developed from the early apotropaic dwarf demon-god, Aha, literally "fighter").

Objects were often used in these rituals in order to facilitate communication with the gods. One of the most commonly found magical objects, the ivory apotropaic wand (birth tusk), gained widespread popularity in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1550 – 1069 BCE). These wands were used to protect expectant mothers and children from malevolent forces, and were adorned with processions of apotropaic solar deities. Likewise, protective amulets bearing the likenesses of gods and goddesses like Taweret were commonly worn. Water came to be used frequently in ritual as well, wherein libation vessels in the shape of Taweret were used to pour healing water over an individual. In much later periods (when Egypt came under the Greek Ptolemies), stele featuring the god Horus were used in similar rituals; water would be poured over the stele and—after ritually acquiring healing powers—was collected in a basin for an afflicted person to drink.

Among the ancient Greeks, the most widely used image intended to avert evil was that of the Gorgon, the head of which now may be called the Gorgoneion, which features wild eyes, fangs, and protruding tongue. The full figure of the Gorgon holds the apex of the oldest remaining Greek temple where she is flanked by two lionesses. The Gorgon head was mounted on the aegis and shield of Athena.

Eyes were often painted to ward off the evil eye. An exaggerated apotropaic eye or a pair of eyes were painted on Greek drinking vessels called kylikes (eye-cups) from the 6th century BC. The exaggerated eyes may have been intended to prevent evil spirits from entering the mouth while drinking. Fishing boats in some parts of the Mediterranean region still have stylised eyes painted on the bows. The defunct Turkish budget airline, Fly Air, adopted the symbol nazar boncuğu (nazar bonjuk) on the vertical stabilizer (fin) of its aeroplanes. The apotropaic Yiddish expression, "kain ein horeh" ("no evil eye", קיין עין הרע‬) is somewhat equivalent to the expression, "Knock on wood."

People believed that the doorways and windows of buildings were particularly vulnerable to the entry or passage of evil. On churches and castles, gargoyles or other grotesque faces and figures such as sheela na gigs and hunky punks were carved to frighten away witches and other malign influences. Figures may also have been carved at fireplaces or chimneys; in some cases, simple geometric or letter carvings were used for these. When a wooden post was used to support a chimney opening, this was often an easier material for amateur carving. To discourage witchcraft, rowan wood may have been chosen for the post or mantel.

This page was last edited on 14 June 2018, at 12:00 (UTC).
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apotropaic_eye under CC BY-SA license.

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