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Magic Scrolls of Ethiopia

ethiopian magic scroll
Ethiopian magic scroll

Image of a gorgon from an Ethiopian magic scroll

Whenever I travel somewhere, I try to do a bit of paranormal research to see what magical traditions are in the area. (It’s nice to have a quest). So before I took off for Ethiopia I ran a Google search for Ethiopia + Magic and found magic scrolls. The quest was on, and I didn’t think I’d actually succeed in finding any. But a friend took me to this funky antique shop in Addis Ababa called the Zebra Gallery, where I was escorted behind a hidden panel to a secret room glittering with icons and silver crosses, and the owner dug out a plastic grocery bag full of scrolls.

Most magic scrolls in existence today are from the 18th and 19th centuries. The vellum gets cracked, falls apart, and no more scroll. Two centuries is all we’ve got.

Generally designed for protection or healing, Ethiopian magic scrolls contain a mix of text and images, prayers and incantations. Images are a mix of Judaic, Islamic, and Christian art and animism. Incantations are typically in red ink, and the writing is in Ge’ez, the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, though the scrolls themselves are “outside” the church.

Generally, scrolls are/were commissioned, and personalized. The scroll is made from the dried skin of a sacrificed animal, sewn to match the height of it’s buyer, and prayers, incantations and images are copied onto the scroll (The Magic Protective Scrolls of Ethiopia). The scroll is then stored in a case and worn, so it is necessarily narrow. But there are scrolls for display in the household as well, and these may be wider and longer.

Scholars have divided the images into two categories: pictures and talismans. What’s the difference? Pictures are figurative and meant to represent something real, such as St. George slaying the dragon (a common theme). Talismans are more abstract, representing something hidden, for example a spirit or a demon.

ethiopian magic scroll

A telem, or demon trap.

The “devil’s seat” is an example of a common talisman in Ethiopian magic scrolls. The purpose is to trap or drive off a demon.There are different theories as to how it works. The image of the demon may frighten the demon off – the sight of its own visage too frightening to contemplate. And/or, the grid, called a telsem, may act as a trap, locking the demon in. If the owner of the scroll looks at the grill, any dark spirit that might have taken up residence inside him or her, will leave the host and move over to the throne  – a more “regal” place for the demon. The spell in red ink above and below the image “traps” the spirit on the throne  (Chernetsov, 193). My friend, Elizabeth Barton, pointed out that the demon appears to be surrounded by “Kaphs” from the Hebrew alphabet. We’re speculating here, but since Kaph can mean to tame or subdue, this makes sense for a demon trap.

Ethiopian magic scroll


Ethiopian Magic Scrolls, NYT

Ethiopian Magic Texts, Sevir Chernetsov

Ethiopian Magic Scrolls

Ethiopian Magic Scrolls, For African Art

About the Gorgon

About the Author:

Kirsten Weiss works part-time as a writer and part-time as an international development consultant. She writes the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels. Her fifth book in the series, The Elemental Detective, will be published in December, 2013. Her last magical research quest was to Iceland, and her friends have recently begun launching quests on her behalf, such as a photo expedition for Parisian gargoyles.



  1. Thanks for posting this great article on Magic Scrolls! I love this blog!

    Red Ink is universally used to write manifestations, spells and magical symbols. Why?
    The average bear would say it is because red is the color of blood, but it is more than that, it has to do with the vibratory frequency of the color red.
    Red is the first color that we see in the color spectrum. Red has the longest wave length. Red is the color associated with the first chakra, Red is the color associated with action, the planet Mars, the womb, and on and on……
    When writing a manifestation, red ink will purportedly help to ‘activate’ the base energy, helping to bring the manifestation to fruition.

    The colors of the visible light spectrum[

    1] color wavelength interval frequency interval
    red ~ 700–635 nm ~ 430–480 THz
    orange ~ 635–590 nm ~ 480–510 THz
    yellow ~ 590–560 nm ~ 510–540 THz
    green ~ 560–490 nm ~ 540–610 THz
    blue ~ 490–450 nm ~ 610–670 THz
    violet ~ 450–400 nm ~ 670–750 THz

    Each frequency of color has a sound equivalent. And each sound frequency is connected to sacred geometry.
    Check out this YouTube video. You will see so many of the different shapes that have been used on sacred buildings, art and texts.

    It all ties in to the mystical matrix of life!

    What the Ink would be made of is another story, one of Moon phases, herbs and passion!

    Kirsten, you rock! Thanks for all you do!

    Thanks Elizabeth Barton

    • Elizabeth:

      That’s so interesting! Thanks for sharing that information and creating a blog within a blog. I hadn’t thought of the vibration of the colors before but it makes sense.


    • abraham says

      U r write but in geez the words written in red color are god’s name and other powerfull names i can read and understand geez

      • Hi, Abraham!

        What a pleasure to hear from someone who can read geez. I kept hearing vague explanations about the red ink – that they were prayers or incantations. Thank you for the translation!

  2. Martyn Graham says

    I have just returned from Ethiopia and seen several of their Religious Books. All are written in Ge’ez and can be read only by the religiously trained. Anyone who can read Amharic can read Ge’ez but not understand it as the “letters” are the same as modern Amharic. Most of the books kept in Monasteries are printed on goat skin and we saw several that were said to be up to 500 years old but in daily use. The red print signifies any one of the Trinity.

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