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Collection Overview

Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Princeton Collection of Ethiopic Magic Scrolls
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
2 boxes and 207 items
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (scahsvm): Box 4-5


Consists of an open collection of Ethiopic magic scrolls.

Collection Description & Creator Information


Ethiopic magic scrolls are textual amulets containing brief protective and healing texts in Ge'ez and occasionally Amharic. Ethiopian Christians wore these scrolls on the body in the belief that they prevented disease, death in childbirth, demonic possession, malevolent spirits, the Evil Eye, and other sources of personal misfortune. They were generally prepared by unordained clerics (debtera), who wrote on narrow strips of parchment arranged in scroll format. The magical efficacy of these scrolls is based in large measure on a selection of amuletic texts, apotropaic prayers, charms, incantations, prayers, Scriptural quotations, miracle tales, formulas, invocations of divine names and helpful saints, and images. Most magic scrolls were activated for the use of a particular person, whose name is given. Contributing to their protective power are painted images of guardian angels with drawn swords, St. Susenyos slaying Werzelya for the protection of mothers and infants, magic squares and eight-pointed stars, the net of Solomon for capturing demons, and other figurative illustrations and designs. The magic scrolls were generally rolled up in small leather capsules, enabling them to be worn on the body. Some fairly modern magic scrolls are sewn into the capsules so that they cannot be read, but most could be opened and even hung on walls for prayer and protection. Most extant examples in the Princeton University Library date from the 18th to 20th centuries. For more information, see Jacques Mercier's Ethiopic Magic Scrolls (1979) and Art that Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia (1997).


Arranged by item number, beginning with No. 163. (Nos. 1-162 form the Robert Garrett Collection of Ethiopic Magic Scrolls, C0744.04).

Collection History


This is an open collection acquired by gift or purchase.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

The Library has recently cataloged or recataloged its Ethiopic manuscript collections with generous support from the David A. Gardner '69 Magic Project, Princeton University, coordinated by the Council of the Humanities. This collection was cataloged by Professor David L. Appleyard, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Princeton Collection of Ethiopic Magic Scrolls; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (scahsvm): Box 4-5

Find More

Related Materials

Princeton University Library has two other collections of Ethiopic magic scrolls: Robert Garrett Collection of Ethiopic Magic Scrolls (C0944.04. which is part of the larger Robert Garrett Collection, and Bruce C. Willsie Collection of Ethiopic Magic Scrolls (C0943).


Ephraim Isaac, "Princeton Collection of Ethiopic Manuscripts," Princeton University Library Chronicle 42:1 (Autumn 1980), pp. 33-52. Richard Pankhurst, "Secular Themes in Ethiopian Ecclesiastical Manuscripts: V.: A Catalogue of Illustrations of Historical and Ethnographic Interest in Princeton University Library and Art Gallery," Journal of Ethiopian Studies 22 (November 1989), pp. 31-64. Don C. Skemer, "Princeton's Ethiopic Manuscript Collections at 100," Princeton University Library Chronicle 71:3 (Spring 2010), pp. 461-466.

Subject Terms:
Ethiopian magic scrolls.
Magic, Ethiopian.
Genre Terms:
Manuscript. Ethiopic
Ethiopia -- History -- Sources.