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A comparison of the Seven Seals in Islamic
esotericism and Jewish Kabbalah




Lloyd D. Graham



Frontispiece / Graphic Abstract:

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A comparison of the Seven Seals in Islamic
esotericism and Jewish Kabbalah*




Lloyd D. Graham



In Islamic mysticism and theurgy, the Seven Seals represent in graphic form the
Greatest Name of God; in Jewish Kabbalah, the Seals bear individual Divine Names
which collectively form a “Great Name.” We review and compare the primary
interpretations and secondary associations for each Seal in Islam and Judaism, from
which it is clear that the two traditions have developed largely independent
understandings of the individual symbols. Nevertheless, points of convergence – such
as the interpretation of the fourth Seal as a ladder and an ascent to/of goodness – do
exist. Conversely, the attributes of the third Islamic and seventh Jewish Seals have a
surprising amount in common. Collectively, the Seals have been linked via word- and
letter-counting to key affirmations of each religion: the Islamic ones to the Shahāda,
the Jewish ones to Psalm 46:7,11. In contrast to the Islamic Seals, individual
correspondences are rarely given for the Jewish Seals and are inconsistent across
sources. Kabbalistic amulets are more likely to employ the Names of the Seals than
their symbols, and when present the latter are often much degraded; in contrast,
Islamic talismans make frequent use of the symbol series. In Islamic magic, the
Seven Seals are associated with the seven Ṭahaṭīl Names, which exhibit possible
similarities to the Names of the Seals in Kabbalah. Intriguing overlaps of the Jewish
Seal Names with Egyptian mythology and Vedic Sanskrit are explored, but
ultimately it is thought more likely that the seven Names derive from the Names of
God’s fingers and eyes (five plus two, respectively) in the Shīʿūr Qōmah of the
Hekhalot literature. Fittingly, exegesis of the Seals in both Judaism and Islam
contains general themes of hands/fingers and sight/blindness.



Introduction



The Seven Seals (Fig. 1a) are a series of arcane symbols that feature prominently in
Islamic mysticism, magic texts and talismans.1,2,3,4 Although they are sometimes called
the Seven Seals of Solomon,5,6 their discovery is traditionally attributed to ʿAlī ibn Abī
Ṭālib (d. 661 CE), cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muḥammad, who is said to have
found them inscribed on a rock and to have recognized them as the Greatest Name (al-
Ism al-Aʿẓam) of Allāh.7,8 The poem describing the symbol series usually reads as shown
below (p.3, top); for clarity, a number giving the position of each Seal (Fig. 1a) has been
placed in angle-brackets after its description.9




* Formatted for the journal Studia Occulta Islamica, which unfortunately ceased operation without
publishing an issue. Its website has long been defunct, but its 2011 transliteration guidelines are archived at
https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/15836185/download-the-transliteration-guidelines-directly-
societas-occulta-. In an exception to these instructions, the Hebrew letter ׁש is in this paper represented by
sh rather than š, to better match the transliteration (sh) of the cognate Arabic letter, ش .

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employ the Names of the Seals than their symbols, and when present the latter are often
much degraded, as seen in Fig. 4. Occasionally (e.g., Fig. 4c and elsewhere283), Jewish
amulets conclude with disordered symbol sequences that display some Islamic
characteristics, which suggests some (potentially quite recent) cross-cultural awareness
on the part of their Kabbalist authors. Islamic amulets employing the Seals are most
commonly written on a paper sheet in black and/or colored ink (Fig. 3), but the Seals can
also be found engraved on silver medallions (Fig. 5a), armbands284 and finger rings (Fig.
5b),285,286 on brass plaques287 and bowls,288,289,290,291 on carnelian292 or agate gemstones,293
on walls294 and doorways,295 and even on shirts.296 Kabbalistic amulets are typically
written in black ink on small vellum scrolls (Fig. 4b).



In both traditions, the amuletic use of the Seven Seals confers protection against illness,
oppression, attack or disaster. In Islam, the magical uses of the symbols include exorcism,
curing epilepsy, evading execution, releasing a prisoner, winning battles, finding hidden
treasure, and securing respect and love.297 Writing the series at the end of a book will
assist the reader to acquire its knowledge, a claim attributed to Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn ʿArabī
(d. 1240 CE).298 The symbols are reputed even to forgive sins.299 Some modern amulets,
whose manufacture in Mali and France was carefully documented, employ the Seals for
love-magic and rainmaking.300,301,302 Although the later Shams al-Maʿ ārif al-Kubrā
advises that a different symbol series (ا ا٩٩٩٩ ال should be used for malevolent (ال
purposes,303,304 al-Būnī’s original Shams admits that the Seven Seals intimate not just
goodness but suffering as well,305 much as the associated seven sawāqiṭ signify not just
Beautiful Names (Table 3) but also evil and harm.306,307 Accordingly, it seems possible to
use the Seven Seals negatively to punish wrong-doers or to afflict one’s rivals; with them
one may burn down their houses, sink their ships, make them forsake their land, and
confer upon them anxiety, insomnia, blindness, diseases and death.308 In Judaism, while
“only one in a thousand knows their secret,” the Seal symbols ensure the safety of a
person who carries them, and protect against misadventure by water and fire.309 Specific
uses of the symbols are focused on women’s reproductive issues – for overcoming
barrenness and (especially) for safety during childbirth310,311 – but they also can be hung
on a ship’s mast for a speedy and secure voyage, particularly when fleeing persecution.312
A combination of Seal symbols, their Names and words from the 22-letter Name of God
(Fig. 4a,b) protects against an encyclopedic assortment of ills, including fear, horror,
coercion, the evil eye, witchcraft, sickness and plague.313 Reciting the Names of the Seals
inspires repentance, while amulets containing them protect the bearer against all evil;314
they can also overcome female infertility and ease childbirth.315,316



It is interesting to note that Divine Names in pre-Kabbalah Hekhalot texts (mentioned
above) set precedents for the protective and sometimes punitive powers subsequently
associated with the Seven Seals. Thus, in Hēkhalōt Zūṭartī, the house within which the
“Book of the Mysteries of the Divine Names” (approximated by the text of Hēkhalōt
Zūṭartī itself) is deposited “will not suffer from fire, dearth, and all sorts of other
disaster,”317 just as a house containing the Seals cannot be burned.318 Likewise, the
possessor of the Book is able to dry up the sea, extinguish fire, and kill whomever he
desires.319

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Fig. 4. Kabbalistic amulets containing Seal symbols. (a) Amuletic template from Shorshē ha-
Shemōt, an encyclopedia compiled by Rabbi Moses Zacuto (d. 1696 CE). The formula in the book is
linear, but has here been presented in a layout matching that of the handwritten amulet in the panel
below; this involved relocating the Seal symbols from their original positions (red discs) to new
positions, as indicated by the red arrows. The Hebrew text includes five Seal names: Y’ṭath, Ṭath, S’ṭīṭ
(line 2), S’ṭīṭyah (line 3) and Shamrī ʾēl (line 4). It also includes three acronyms representing the
Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) (line 1);320 three words from the 22-letter Name of God (Table 4):
ʾAnaqtam (line 1), Pastam (line 2), and Paspasīm (line 3); and the name of the angel Sandalfōn (line
3). The acronym אנרנל (last line) is shown in gray at positions where it is repeated in the handwritten
amulet but not in the book; it stands for “Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee” (Numbers 12:13), and
is often used against fever.321 (b) Detail from a protection and/or healing amulet handwritten on a
vellum scroll, Morocco, late nineteenth or early twentieth century CE. While it clearly follows the
template of the panel above, the degraded execution of the Seal symbols is striking. (c) End of an
undated Kabbalah scroll, printed on paper and sold in Jerusalem, whose symbols may be derived from
the Seven Seals. From top to bottom: the lattice resembles the form of the fourth Seal in the preceding
panels; the central four wāws of the “word” below it match the fifth Seal (Fig. 1e(i)); the row below
that presents (at left) the simple form of the fourth Seal, and (at right) what could be an incomplete
pentagram, an Islamic form of the first Seal (Fig. 1a(ii-iii)); below them is what appears to be a fusion
of the third and sixth Seals in their Islamic forms (Fig. 1a(ii)); then a figure that may be derived from
the second Seal; while at bottom is a Star of David (containing Shaddaī, Almighty), which would
match the hexagram form of the first/last Seal in the eight-symbol Islamic series (Fig. 1a(i)). If this is
indeed a Seal series, then the symbol sequence has become disordered (largely reversed) and shows
some Islamic characteristics. Items (b) and (c) are from the author’s collection.

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344 The same is true for the hāʾ and (modified) inverted wāw near the end of the early/prototype sequence in

the Dīwān of ʿAlī (Fig. 1b), but in that series the four strokes occupy position 7.
345 Sabine Dorpmueller, 2012, Seals in Islamic Magical Literature, In: Seals and Sealing Practices in the

Near East: Developments in Administration and Magic from Prehistory to the Islamic Period, ed. Ilona
Regulski, Kim Duistermaat & Peter Verkinderen, Uitgeverij Peeters, Leuven, p.189-208.

346 Gardiner, 2012, “Forbidden Knowledge?”
347 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.153 & 176-178, and reiterated in English by Hehmeyer, 2008,

“Water and Sign Magic,” 87-88.
348 Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabī, 2008, The Seven Days of the Heart: Prayers for the Nights and Days of the Week,

trans. Pablo Beneito & Stephen Hirtenstein, Anqa Publishing, Oxford, p.117-119.
349 Ibn ʿArabī, 2008, The Seven Days of the Heart, p.117-119.
350 Ibn ʿArabī, 2008, The Seven Days of the Heart, p.118-119.
351 Ignaz Goldziher, 1967, “Linguistisches aus der Literatur der Muhammedanischen Mystik,” In:

Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Joseph DeSomogyi, vol. I, Olms, Hildesheim, Germany, p.165-86, at p.166.
352 John D. Martin III, 2011, Theurgy in the Medieval Islamic World: Conceptions of Cosmology in al-

Būnī’s Doctrine of the Divine Names, M.A. Dissertation, The American University in Cairo, p.75.
353 A scan of the “translation” can be seen (in the entry Loh e Hijjab Mubarrak) on the Urdu rūḥānī website

http://en.roohanialoom.com/?p=1851, accessed 20 Oct, 2012. The appellations for Seals 1-5 feature in
a ḥadīth of ʾAnas ibn Mālik, a companion of the Prophet; Muḥammad reportedly indicated that these
epithets form part of the Greatest Name (Sunan of ʾAbū Dāwud, Book 8, No. 1490). The phrase for
Seals 4 and 5 comes from Qurʾān 55:27 and 55:78.

354 Ibn ʿArabī, 2008, The Seven Days of the Heart, p.119.
355 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.187.
356 Canaan, 1936, “Arabic Magic Bowls,” 95.
357 Spoer, 1935, “Arabic Magic Medicinal Bowls,” 242.
358 E.g. Maʿaseh Merkavah, §588, cited by Peter Schäfer, 1992, The Hidden and Manifest God: Some

Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism, SUNY Press, Albany, NY, p.80.
359 Horowitz, 1996, The Generations of Adam, p.68.
360 Graham, 2011, “Repeat-Letter Ciphers.”
361 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.94 & 187-191.
362 Schrire, 1982, Hebrew Magic Amulets, p.103.
363 Shorshē ha-Shemōt (see fn 28, source 4, for details), p.434.
364 If the niqqūd is simply Tiberian vowelling reflected above the line, then the pronunciation would be we-

wa-we.
365 Fishbane, 2009, As Light Before Dawn, p.234-237.
366 Kaplan, 1997, Sefer Yetzirah, p.124-131.
367 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.194.
368 Samaʾēl in Table 4, columns 5-6 leads – via his canonical assignment to Mars – to Tuesday and the third

Seal in the most likely of Jewish correspondences (Table 4, columns 1-4). For direct evidence of the
correspondence of Samaʾēl with Mars/Tuesday in Kabbalah, see Kaplan, 1997, Sefer Yetzirah, p.168.

369 See the discussion earlier in the text under the section heading Names.
370 In this manuscript’s Seal series (Bohak, 2014, A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic, p.65),

what looks like an inverted Arabic wāw appears not only in seventh position but also between the
second and third Seals, its raised tail providing the former with the horizontal over-bar. Later in the
manuscript (Bohak, 2014, A Fifteenth-Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic, p.147), the seventh Seal
symbol is shown where the third one is required, and no symbol is shown for the seventh Seal.

371 Y.M. Almagor’s Book of the Treasures of Angels, a modern (Hebrew) compilation of amuletic formulae
published in 2006 by Almagor & Sons in Hod ha-Sharon, makes a similar mistake; on p.206, under the
heading “Excellent Protection,” it shows the seven Seals with the seventh symbol – which again looks
like an inverted Arabic wāw – in both the third and seventh positions. Such confusion is rare, but not
completely unknown, in Islamic series.

372 Richard Gordon, 2002, “Another View of the Pergamon Divination Kit,” Journal of Roman
Archaeology 15, 188-198, at 190. The author is speaking about magical charakteres in general, but his
comments apply perfectly to the seven Seals.

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373 Algis Uždavinys, 2008, “Metaphysical Symbols and Their Function in Theurgy,” Eye of the Heart 2, 37-

59.
374 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.94.
375 Anawati, 1967, “Le Nom Supreme de Dieu,” p.27.
376 MacEoin, 1994, Rituals in Babism and Bahaʾ ism, p.145.
377 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.175-195.
378 Dawkins, 1944, “The Seal of Solomon.”
379 Mircea Eliade, 1959, The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask,

Harcourt, Orlando, FL, p.129.
380 Friedrich W. Gesenius, 1846, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, [Reprint: Baker Book

House, 7th edition, 1979], p.236; Ernest Klein, 1987, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the
Hebrew Language for Readers of English, Carta Jerusalem/Univ. Haifa, p.197.

381 Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, Preface to the Book of the Zōhar, “An Essay About Letters,” Sect. 189; online at
http://www.kabbalah.info/eng/content/view/frame/27744?/eng/content/view/full/27744&main,
accessed 30 Jan, 2015.

382 Winkler, 2006, Siegel und Charaktere, p.109.

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