Marcela Garcia Probert
PhD candidate at Leiden University. Research project: Amulets within the context of ziyāra. Based on the Tawfik Canaan Collection of Palestinian Amulets. Supervisor: Prof.dr. P.M. Sijpesteijn.
My PhD research consists in studying selected objects from the Tawfik Canaan Collection of Palestinian Amulets that were obtained or made in the context of ziyāra, the non-official pilgrimage carried out by Muslims, and used as a means of getting blessings or baraka.
Due to their widespread use, their transmission from generation to generation and the important role they play in popular religiosity, amulets are sources of great historical value from which we can study diverse aspects of Palestinian folklore, such as the belief in spirits and jinns that inhabit the natural world such as caves, springs, fields, trees; the belief in the power that tombs and shrines of auliya’ and prophets convey to people when blessings are sought for specific purposes; the belief in the efficacy of amulets and talismans that come from or are connected somehow with a shrine or a tomb.
Most amulets of the T. C. Collection, excluding those that lie into the category of jewellery and that were bought in the markets of Jerusalem, were collected in exchange of medical treatment. If we revise Dr. Canaan records, we may find the different ailments and illnesses that people wanted to get protected from. In general all these amulets did not serve magical purposes, but were used as means to get blessings in order to be protected.
The approach to my selection of amulets follows a mixed methodology. The analysis of the materiality of the objects through their physical features is accompanied by the analysis of Dr. Canaan’s records on them at the time he collected them; as well as the revision of his writings about Palestinian folklore, from where we know the important role Saints (auliya’, shuyukh, anbia’) have played in Palestine, the relevant position of the Sanctuaries attributed to them, their relation with the natural landscape, and the protocol that a per- son must follow when entering their domains. Another important source for the study of the amulets is the oral tradition, that have passed through generations in the form of folk- tales, and sayings from which we can get interesting information about the origin of certain practices, the role of Saints and blessing in the dynamics of superstitions, and explanations for the use of particular objects as amulets.