Prayer Bowls

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Nazarani Prayer Bowls, like other [incantation bowls] are a feature of Semitic culture with a very long history. The bowls themselves are generally speaking regular sized bowls used in food service, but painted with prayers and sometimes even drawings of entities which those who made them believed would protect them. Assyrians, Drüze, Jews of all types, Mandæans, Nabateans, Samaritans and other Semitic civilizations have all used them at various times in their history.

Traditionally these bowls were buried under the thresholds of houses in order to guard the occupants from evil. Either way, most bowls are broken after their first use, because houses are built on them. Although they care quite commonly found in Middle Eastern archaeological digs, it is very rare to find one intact. The use of prayer bowls in house building stopped around the time of the final Hellenization of the church, during the 7-8th centuries A.D..

Unlike the prayer bowls which were used in some other Semitic cultures, Nazarani prayer bowls don't have demons painted in them. Instead they feature the Lord's Prayer written in them in Aramaic, and sometimes also the Name of God (i.e. "YAH").

The Bowls in the Nazarani Collection

In 2014, His Excellency, Hadrian Mar Elijah Bar Israel made twelve (12) Nazarani incantation bowls by hand. They were blessed at the archepiscopal qurbana celebrated on Holy Thursday 2016.

To learn more about this amazing tradition and to see examples of ancient Semitic incantation bowls, please visit the: Virtual Magic Bowl Archive at the University of Exeter.


  1. Hadrian Mar Elijah Bar Israel, Nazarani Incantation Bowls, Righteous Endeavour, 2016
  2. Willis Hatfield Hazard, A Syriac Charm, Haryard University, Cambridge MA, 1892
  3. Erica C.D. Hunter, Who are the Demons an Iconography of Incantation Bowls, 1998
  4. Roland Grubb Kent, Etymology of Syriac Dastabirā, University of Pennsylvania
  5. James A. Montgomery , "A Syriac Incantation Bowl with Christian Formula" The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 34, no. 2 (Jan., 1918): pages 137-139, DOI: 10.1086/369853