Menaldi (2022 Congress)

Veronica Menaldi
(University of Mississippi)

“Talismanic Protection
through Magical Multi-lingual Use in Morisco Spells”

Abstract of Paper
57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“Alter(n)ative Alphabets in the Iberian Middle Ages”

Co-sponsored by
the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Ibero-Medieval Association of North America (IMANA)

Organized by Donald W. Wood

2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies Program



A closer look at the mixed-language usage in a late sixteenth-century (possibly early seventeenth-century) hidden Aljamiado manuscript on presumably licit magical solutions highlights the religiously fluid views of the Morisco compiler and readers. Like most surviving Aljamiado manuscripts, the folios of the Dichos de libros maravillosos fluctuate between Ibero-Romance and Arabic with no warning and often within the same sentence, all represented in Arabic script. These 576 folios also include a sprinkling of other languages as well, such as Hebrew, Latin, possibly Greek and Persian, in addition to lunettes and sigils. While Arabic and Ibero-Romance are used interchangeably for the same term throughout, the Hebrew is always a variation of the phrase from the Torah “ehyeh ašer ehyeh ašer” ( אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה or “I Am That I Am“). Curiously, this phrase or its variations are used as part of the instructions or the protective talismans themselves — many of which suggest a collegiality among the monotheistic believers and require the assistance of or protection from jinn.

I argue that the repeated presence of this phrase in this manuscript made exclusively for Moriscos, a group for the most part already fluid in their religious identity and practice, highlights further fluidity among the three major Abrahamic traditions. While one religion was always prioritized — and indeed many Moriscos strived to remain faithful Muslims despite their outward conversion — they were still all siblings, as it were, with followers who can be considered the children of God. Familial bonds can create unity and networks across entities. As such, the use of this particular phrase reinforces its own message of what “being” is. It is focused upon God’s self-declaration and can be interpreted as meaning existence itself. Its presence, particularly in its original Hebrew, thus helps erase divisions among believers through the shared God-sanctioned magical practices.