Medium Tai Grimoire (Parabaik) Manuscript in red and black with complex and finely executed Prasad drawings, human figures, and magic squares beautifully bound with magic square on cover, early 20th C
A medium rectangular leporello manuscript of cream khoi paper written in black and red ink and dotted margin lines.
160 x 290mm: 14 fols. Burmese text. 16 lines to a page.
Condition: Excellent condition. Beautiful brown ‘leather-looking’ covers with magic square drawn on front cover. All folios fully attached without large chips and tears and covers, uncommon for this type of manuscript. COMPLETE
History: Like grimoires of the West, Magical Manuscripts, sometimes called Parabaik manuscripts, records spells, methods for conjuring and exorcising various spirits, and other magic rituals – a traditional belief system of the La Na and Shan States running parallel with their professed adherence to Theravada Buddhism. They are produced by an expert in the arts of the supernatural, known locally as Sala. The word, maw paeng describes a practitioner who deals in negative power (black magic). They are made on a long strip of paper that folds out, concertina-style. The paper is made from the inner bark of the local mulberry tree. The covers comprise paper thickened and hardened with black lacquer. The manuscripts are designated to a male Sala of the next generation while the present owner is still alive. If no one is willing to take on the role, the manuscript is burned as part of last owners cremation rite or offered to a local temple where it is cleansed before being placed in the library.
Contents: The majority of the manuscripts that appear on the market similar to the present manuscript are actually tattoo portfolios or esoteric picture books created as a curiosity. This manuscript is a practical handbook of spells (or ‘grimoire’) that once belonged to a Sala (or ‘magician monk’). The manuscript contains many magical diagrams called prasad. The prasad outlines are tiered to represent planes of existence from the highest to the lowest. According to Buddhist cosmology, there are thirty-one planes. They comprise 20 planes of supreme deities (brahmas); 6 planes of deities (devas); the human plane (Manussa); and lastly 4 planes of deprivation or unhappiness (Apaya). The 31 planes are divided into three separate levels or realms: Arupaloka, Rupaloka and Kamaloka. A prasad typically focuses on on tier such as desire and the numbers equal specific auspicious values. Of particular interest, is a large prasad in the shape of a person. Another spell depicts a figure holding a scale, possibly Nang Kaew (also known as Nang Chang) a female spirit of good luck. The cover of Susan Conways 2014 book, Tai Magic, depicts this spirit used in a spell for attracting consumers into a store to purchase goods. In addition, this manuscript contains numerous magic squares made of both letters and numbers for various ends as well as other figure and magic square combinations.
Many of these manuscripts cannot categorized as good or evil because they can be used for more than one use. This is achieved not by altering the illustration but altering the spell, incantation, or ritual materials or moving the venue where the operation is performed. Illustrations that are burnt and residual ash diluted in water, are taken as cures for illness or as protective potions. When the ash is mixed with oil and herbs it is prescribed as protective ointments. In certain rituals ash is used in exorcism rituals and moved to a special site.
You will notice that some sections contain extensive sections of text and others have individual letters, syllables, and phrases. This is a form of shorthand for the spells. Symbols are used to represent methods for breathing and blowing on ritual objects and also signifying magic noises made by spirits calling and the strange utterances of the possessed. The texts are also codified to restrict the usage of the magical knowledge. This was done by systematically removing one word and repositioning in another another. Or, letters are written upside down and in a mirror image or split into syllables and placed inside gridded diagrams in pattern formations. There is no date when magic began to be recorded in manuscripts but the use of mulberry is probably thousands of years old. The cryptographic treatment of magical texts in the West is probably only as old as Trithemius, circa 1499. (Conway, 2014, 11, 21, 41, 78, 81, 88-89, )