Ethiopian Healing Scroll


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19th century AD. A protective prayer scroll on three lengths of thin leather or vellum sewn together, with many lines of manuscript text in two columns in black and red pigment with coloured figural illuminations at head (mostly lost), near centre depicting the winged male figure of the Archangel Michael brandishing a drawn sword and at end depicting a standing lion. See Jäger O.A. & Deininger-Englhardt, L.,

Some notes on illuminations of manuscripts in Ethiopia in Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, Vol. 17 (1961), pp.45-60.51 grams, 1.4m (55"). From the private collection of Stephen Keynes (1927-2017").

Ethiopian healing scrolls eliminate illness by purging evil spirits and demons from a sick person. Part of a larger healing ritual, the scrolls were commissioned by the illiterate to combat grave illnesses. While plant and animal medicines alleviate physical symptoms, the medicinal scrolls alleviate spiritual symptoms. A pan-religious phenomenon practiced among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the northern regions of Amhara and Tigray, the scrolls restore health by utilizing written words and talismanic images imbued with magical protective powers. There is no fixed interpretation for the imagery on healing scrolls. Instead, the meanings of saintly, demonic, and angelic images vary according to region, or according to the däbtära interpreting the designs. Angels are among the most frequently incorporated figures in talismanic images. They may pose frontally as guardian archangels with drawn swords, or they may appear as a face encircled by eight stylized wings.