The Seal of Solomon

seal of solomon2

Several early Muslim exegetes, most notably al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim and al-Suyūṭī, narrated from one the earliest Qur’an scholars and Companions of the prophet Muḥammad, Ibn ‘Abbās, the story of the Abrahamic prophet and king Solomon’s ring. In short, the narration describes how Solomon owned a powerful ring with which he was able to command men, Jinn and animals, holding power (mulk) over all living beings. He wore the ring to uphold his kingship, contain the demons and carry out God’s will on earth. This is described in the Qur’an as: “And gathered for Solomon were his soldiers of the Jinn and men and birds, and they were in rows” [27:17]. One night however, he entrusted his ring to his favorite wife, Jarāda. A demon, who Ibn ‘Abbās and Qatāda called akhr and Mujāhid called Āsif, came to her in the form of her husband and asked her to give him the ring.

When Solomon returned, his wife blamed him of being an imposter, but by the time they both realized what had happened, the demon had already taken over the king’s realm and ruled in his name. The Qur’an reads: “And we certainly tried Solomon and placed on his throne a body; then he returned” [38:34]. The demon threw the ring in the sea, hoping to expel Solomon forever. Initially, Solomon did wander his lost kingdom, befriending a fisherman. The fisherman had caught a fish, and when cutting his catch open, he found a ring in its abdomen. The ring of Solomon. He presented his ring to the king, who returned to his court and drove away the demon. As he wielded his powerful ring once again, he ruled his kingdom and armies like before. 

It shouldn’t surprise that such magical relic became a popular subject of Abrahamic lore and symbolism. Its exact engraving is not described in Muslim sources, other that that its signet beared the name of God. Its current hexagram or pentagram form only appeared later on, when the symbol gained wide popularity throughout the Middle-Ages.

Although the story of the Seal of Solomon was developed primarily by medieval Muslim writers, it was adopted by Jews and Christians as well. According to Israeli philosopher and historian Gershom Scholem, the name “Seal of Solomon” apparently originated with the Arabs. In his opinion, the five-pointed and the six-pointed stars were called by one name for a long time, the “Seal of Solomon,” and no distinction was made between them. The earliest Jewish usage of the symbol was inherited from medieval Arabic literature by Spanish Kabbalists for use in talismanic protective amulets.

Initially, the seal only played a religious or decorative role in houses of prayer, on drinking cups, on coins or on state banners. The symbol referred to Solomon, an important figure in all monotheistic religions. It stood for piety and faith, and the loyalty of a believer towards God. According to the Catalan Atlas (1375), the two Anatolian beyliks of respectively Karaman and Candar featured a Seal of Solomon on their flags, as did a local emirate under control of the Zayyanid Kingdom of Tlemcen. The symbol was popular among the Ayyubids, Mamluks, Turkish beyliks and atabegs, and was later used extensively by the Ottomans and Moguls in their mosque decorations. It’s often featured on 13th century silver Ayyubid and 19th century copper Moroccan coins. As the star and crescent replaced the Seal of Solomon as an important public symbol of Islam, especially because of the Ottoman influence on flags and banners, the hexagram gradually slipped away into the realm of occultism and apotropaic magic.

As it was believed that Solomon could contain the evil spirits and demons with his signet ring, the hexagram became a common talisman and amulet in occultist and mysticist spheres and even among popular belief. It is used as a warden against evil, similar to the Khamsa or Nazar charms, or as a connection to the world of spirits in order to summon them and command them. Consequently, and influenced by Jewish and Islamic occultist traditions, the Seal became a popular tool in the so-called Renaissance Magic, the European rediscovery of ancient magical practices, and the later European occultist movement of the 18th-20th century. Famous 19th century French occult author Éliphas Lévi featured a Seal of Solomon on the front page of his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, and it also appears several times in English occultist Francis Barrett’s The Magus. 

Today, the Seal’s meaning and origin is almost entirely lost to the modern Muslim world. Featured on the flag of Israel and popularized as a solely Jewish symbol, the hexagram evokes enmity among many opponents of the Zionist movement. The only state to still feature a Seal in its flag, albeit as a pentagram, is Morocco. The 5-pointed depiction of the Seal of Solomon was added to the traditional red flag in 1915 by king Yūsef of Morocco when his country was subject to the rule of France.

Some examples featuring the Seal:

For more examples, please visit this thread on my Twitter.

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