The Face of a Person

October 22nd, 2008

Speaking of eyes and wings, a talismanic scroll presented in Mercier’s 1979 Ethiopian Magic Scrolls.

“The central design, a face within an eight-pointed star, is the most common and most characteristic motif in Ethiopian scrolls. The face is known as gätsä säb’e (‘face of a person’). It is the face connected with the prayer that goes with the talisman, and its presence is necessary for the effectiveness of the scroll. Thus defined, the face has a sort of ‘local’ identity. A generic meaning can also be attributed to it, interpretable with help of the accompanying prayer: the face of God, an angel, a demon, a man, and so on.

“The eight points indicate the four directions of the talisman’s protective power: ‘Whoever comes from the East, etc…’. In relation to the face in the center, they are luminous radiance or the wings that enable it to move in all directions. One dabtara has said that each of the eight wings is an angel serving the central face. He is referring implicitly to a passage from the Apocrypha of Clement (or Qälémentos): ‘The family of angels is numerous. They have no single aspect. Indeed, there are some who have many eyes; some who are only eyes; some who are a burst of light brighter than the light of the sun; some who have faces like a man’s face; some who have two wings; some who have one wing; some who are two wings; some who are all one wing’. Therefore, in a picture like this, eyes, face, and wings can all be angels” (p9).

One Response to “The Face of a Person”

  1. The Penetrating Gaze « Unurthed Says:

    […] image is recognizably a development of the eight-pointed star [c.f. previous post]. Here the image tends towards formal perfection. A double movement animates it: expansion following […]

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