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.
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?)
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.