Ancient Assyrian healing practice revived at national convention 

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By Joe Snell | September 2022 | Photos by Joe Snell

An ancient healing practice thousands of years old was revived Sept. 4 in Arizona.

Incantation bowls are ceramic bowls inscribed with healing prayers.

The first found bowls date back to the 2nd century in the Middle East, but scholars believe the practice could trace back to the ancient Babylonian empire.

The bowls were used to cure physical injury, safeguard during childbirth and protect against wild animals.

And they would be used differently across Assyrian, Jewish and Nazarean Mandaic communities.

But in the 1800s, Christian missionaries stifled the practice, believing it to be involved with magic and sorcery.

Incantation bowls were revived by Esther Elia, an Assyrian artist in Albuquerque, who last year began a project to recreate these bowls.

“The more Assyrians that contribute to this project will make our name greater, will give more awareness about who we are as I start to put these exhibitions in our contemporary galleries,” Elia said.

“I think people are interested in who we are and this is a great, easy way for people to start to understand who we are, what we care about, what we’re praying for and what our stories are from our own mouths. Not from people who have interviewed us, not from people who are writing about us in the past tense or in the current, ‘This is who the Assyrians are,’ we’re telling people who we are.”

On Sept. 4, Esther led a workshop at the Assyrian American National Convention to teach the history of these bowls.

Participants then wrote down their favorite verses or stories and created bowls of their own.

“[It’s] our ability to name ourselves, to put our history down, recapture an artform that has been lost to time and tell our story in our own words,” said Mariam Pera, a workshop participant and Assyrian based in Chicago.


You can learn more about the Prayer Bowls project here: Esther Elia Prayer Bowls

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