Walking into a Phenomenology of Christmas and Stumbling Over 654 Incantation Bowls

The Eighth Bowl

The Eighth Bowl (c) Ann Isik 2014

“Study hard what interests you in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”
Richard Feynman

I started this post bemoaning the lack of proper Christmas weather and ended-up lost in the phenomenological domains of Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. Oh, and Magical Literature. Did you know that the Sumerians were a witty folk?

Bowl Made from Beech with White Rot: Bernhard Hofmann

Bowl Made from Beech with White Rot: Bernhard Hofmann

Of course, the weather could change for the proper in time for Christmas and bring us those wonderful sub-zero temperatures and oodles of snow that we all so long for.

Unlikely. It’s eerily warm and sunny outside. But I want frost patterns on my windows,  a frozen pond to skate on; I want to have to wear boots and thick socks; I want to build igloos and snowmen. I want to roast chestnuts on an open fire.  Fly down a snow-covered hillock on a toboggan. Slug back bucketfuls of mulled wine under mistletoe in front of a roaring applewood fire. Sing carols at midnight in a church with flying buttresses.

Green Glass Bowl, V & A Museum, London

Green Glass Bowl, V & A Museum, London

The Victorian Christmas.  Of course, I only want to experience the idea of it. The reality would be far too uncomfortable. My top half would be laced into an over-tight whale-bone corset and my buttress would be buckled to a bustle apparatus complete with leather straps. My button boots would be fashionably too small for my feet and I’d have to pull the nasty tight little buttons through their holes with a hook. There’d be no room for thick socks and I’d soon be cold and wet from toe to ankle once the thin leather had soaked up the wet snow I’d have to trudge through to get to the draughty, musty church at midnight to sing those carols.  Mulled wine is too sweet, roast chestnuts are fiddly to peel and I would turn into a fossil (I’m close to fossilisation anyway, at my age) waiting under mistletoe to get kissed.

Glass Bowl Cream Blue YellowIt can’t be nostalgia, this Victorian Christmas thing. Nostalgia is a yearning to go back to a happier time. I’m not (quite) old enough to have experienced a Victorian Christmas. If not nostalgia, what is it, then?  I set off across a non-snowy landscape to find out and got lost in Phenomenologyland and discovered that what’s going on in my head is something like what is defined, in Transcendental Phenomenology as Empty Intention. It’s something to do with, as an example, looking at bowls. Now inside The Philosophy of Phenomonology ( if you intend to look at a bowl, it’s called intuiting it. If you intend to look at a bowl that isn’t there, you’re not intuiting it, but intending it emptily. Intend in phenomenological-speak doesn’t mean intend as we ordinary folks know the word, but more in the sense of reaching out to … in our example, a bowl. Don’t think you know what Intuition, or Emptily means, either. Though you might get clues from the latin roots of the words, where intuition is about looking, contemplating. Intention is about stretching towards something. Empty seems to have something to do with not meeting.

Now bowls are bowls. And these (654) incantation bowls I stumbled over or in phenomenological vernacular, have been stretching out to, contemplating, are intuited, i.e. they really exist.  They are from the Near East and date to between 5-7 AD (or CE). Most have incantations against demons written inside, in Aramaic and about 200 quotes from The Bible, in Hebrew. Here’s the exciting bit:

… over 90 [of the quotes] are not present on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which makes them the earliest witnesses to the original text of the Old Testament.

The above quote is from the academic and educational resource website – Magical Literature section – for The Schøyen Collection.

Incantation Bowl for Buktuya and Household, Mandean, Mandaic Language, Script, S Mesopotamia, 200-600 AD Ontario Museum

Incantation Bowl for Buktuya and Household, Mandean, Mandaic Language, Script, S Mesopotamia, 200-600 AD Royal Ontario Museum

On the left is an incantation bowl housed in the Royal Ontario Museum. Mandaic (see caption) is a variety of Aramaic.

I was interested to note that incantation bowls were placed bottom up to trap demons at the corners of rooms or buried under the thresholds in houses or at the entrances to tents.

I think I’ll  make one for the entrance to our house, which is beset with demons every weekend, after they are poured out of the local pubs and nightclubs.

Bowl with Cells and Seeds

Eighth Bowl with Cells and Seeds

The top image is of a mixed media and encaustic artwork of a bowl I began making some time ago. It’s called Eighth Bowl because in a development I included the number 8, which symbolically is a number signalling new beginnings – 7 representing a complete cycle.

The image to the right here is a further development of Eighth Bowl to include seeds and representations of cells, both of which symbolise new beginnings.

My work with bowls is to do with my overarching art project Below the Line. There’s something to do with music in there too; so it’s also a Singing Bowl.

The other images are shots I took  a while back of bowls housed in the V & A Museum (London).

We’re a week away from a new beginning, Christmas being about an historically-significant birth. Perhaps my phenomenological and magical walk was to remind me of this.

I shouldn’t complain about the weather. Shortly before Christmas Day I will be digging up potatoes planted in September.  Aside from the potatoes, on our plates on Christmas Day will be our own brussels sprouts, kale or chard.

Potatoes are also seeds.

If Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) gets to know about these Incantation Bowls; or  George Lucas (Indiana Jones) …


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Schøyen Collection
The Grammar of Matter
Archaeologies of Text


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
This entry was posted in Art, Blogging, Encaustic Art, Inspiration, Mixed Media, spirituality, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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