Modern medicine distinguishes between several sleep disturbances and disorders – such as night terror, insomnia, hypersomnia, teeth grinding (bruxism), and so on –, which may be primary conditions or may be secondary to other physiological or psychiatric disorders. Sleep disorders do not represent psycho-pathological conditions restricted only to the modern world, but clearly affected also our ancestors. The ancients paid great attention to phenomena related to sleeping and dreaming and feared that an evil dream might draw misfortune and sleeplessness might even lead to death. As already attested by ancient Babylonian and Egyptian sources, the ancients usually explained the occurrence of good/evil dreams and the lack of sleep as the result of a divine/ demonic action. The ancient belief that demons and other non-human beings were in charge of sleep and dreams gave rise to various magical rituals, aimed at controlling and affecting the sleep of a third person with the aid of a demonic/ angelic assistant. Therefore, spells for sending evil dreams or causing insomnia in a chosen victim – such as those preserved in the late antique collection of the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri – were commonly used in antiquity for different purposes. Equally, people turned to magicians in order to protect themselves from possible aggressive incantations of this kind and to prevent the demons from appearing in their dreams or troubling their sleep. Starting from the Hebrew Bible, which includes passages on dreams and revelations during sleep, Jewish literature counts several accounts which describe or debate sleep and dream techniques in relations with angels and demons, thus attesting that these phenomena played an important role in the ancient Jewish tradition. The article discusses a selection of late antique and medieval Jewish sources attesting to the existence of magical rituals related to insomnia and nightmares, which belong to a category of ancient magic identified as ‘oneiric aggressive magic’. The article examines relevant passages from the famous magical handbooks Sefer ha-Razim and Ḥarba de-Moshe, the corpus of the Babylonian incantation bowls, and the corpus of the Cairo Genizah fragments. Based on these sources, the article analyses Jewish conceptions on demonology and the origin of dreams in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the article discusses some analogies and dissimilarities between Jewish rituals aimed at causing/protecting from nightmares/insomnia and similar practices developed in the neighboring cultures.

“Oneiric Aggressive Magic: Sleep Disorders in Late Antique Jewish Tradition.”

Alessia Bellusci
2017-01-01

Abstract

Modern medicine distinguishes between several sleep disturbances and disorders – such as night terror, insomnia, hypersomnia, teeth grinding (bruxism), and so on –, which may be primary conditions or may be secondary to other physiological or psychiatric disorders. Sleep disorders do not represent psycho-pathological conditions restricted only to the modern world, but clearly affected also our ancestors. The ancients paid great attention to phenomena related to sleeping and dreaming and feared that an evil dream might draw misfortune and sleeplessness might even lead to death. As already attested by ancient Babylonian and Egyptian sources, the ancients usually explained the occurrence of good/evil dreams and the lack of sleep as the result of a divine/ demonic action. The ancient belief that demons and other non-human beings were in charge of sleep and dreams gave rise to various magical rituals, aimed at controlling and affecting the sleep of a third person with the aid of a demonic/ angelic assistant. Therefore, spells for sending evil dreams or causing insomnia in a chosen victim – such as those preserved in the late antique collection of the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri – were commonly used in antiquity for different purposes. Equally, people turned to magicians in order to protect themselves from possible aggressive incantations of this kind and to prevent the demons from appearing in their dreams or troubling their sleep. Starting from the Hebrew Bible, which includes passages on dreams and revelations during sleep, Jewish literature counts several accounts which describe or debate sleep and dream techniques in relations with angels and demons, thus attesting that these phenomena played an important role in the ancient Jewish tradition. The article discusses a selection of late antique and medieval Jewish sources attesting to the existence of magical rituals related to insomnia and nightmares, which belong to a category of ancient magic identified as ‘oneiric aggressive magic’. The article examines relevant passages from the famous magical handbooks Sefer ha-Razim and Ḥarba de-Moshe, the corpus of the Babylonian incantation bowls, and the corpus of the Cairo Genizah fragments. Based on these sources, the article analyses Jewish conceptions on demonology and the origin of dreams in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the article discusses some analogies and dissimilarities between Jewish rituals aimed at causing/protecting from nightmares/insomnia and similar practices developed in the neighboring cultures.
Demons and Illness: Theory and Practice from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/3743993
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