Amulets and Intermediaries in Egypt and Elsewhere, Pt.1: Confronting the Afrit

A variety of amulets, charms, and other means of warding off pernicious spirits – as well as propituating the help of benevolent spirits and saints – have been common in Islam, Judaïsme, and Christianity throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Sudan for centuries.

In this and a few future blogs I will discuss several of my own experiences with these forces – both benevolent and otherwise.  First, in Egypt:

During the years of doctoral  fieldwork in rural Egypt I spent considerable time in an ‘izba (hamlet) located in Upper Egypt, where I lived with a delightful widow.

The hamlet in which I lived was a bit like this.

One day, after residing with Umm M. for about six months and working in the area, she asked me (as she often did) inti mabsuuta?!  (Are you happy/at ease?).  And as always, I replied ta’ban! (etc) (of course!).  Then she smiled sweetly, and fingering my heavy cardigan, asked shyly, “well, if you are happy and at ease, why do you keep wearing your sweater inside-out?)

Indeed, the cardigan did appear inside-out, as in this picture.  It was made that way and was a rather pricey gift from a friend in London.

Interpretation: If one is feeling ill-at-ease, as during and after a transition or event that is thought to weaken one’s ‘immunity’ to afrit, ghouls, and other nefarious creatures,  wearing clothing inside-out is a wonderful and successful way of confusing them and driving them away.

When I explained to Umm M. that the sweater was a present from an English friend and that it was actually made that way – to appear inside-out – she smiled broadly and said “Oh, wallahi! (by God), those English – how clever to make sweaters that will confuse the evil spirits!”

Well.  So.  What could I say?  She was the honored widow on a much-beloved umdah (mayor) and considered very wise.  Then, she glanced at me with a wink and twinkle of the eyes.

This sweater has inside-out stitching only on the upper arms and along the base. Wonder what afrit would make of it….

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Egypt-Recent, Magic, Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Amulets and Intermediaries in Egypt and Elsewhere, Pt.1: Confronting the Afrit

  1. torwen says:

    Thanks for this beautiful story! I will remember to wear my pullover inside-out when in need of it 🙂


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