THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

14 February 2019

Jewish love potions: a user's guide

Would you like some help in your pursuit of your beloved? Our Hebrew manuscript collection can offer numerous love potion recipes and incantations, and now is the best time of year to share some of this wisdom with you.

Whether you are a diligent pupil of magic, or just a desperately love sick muggle, you can find a long list of love potions, incantations and amulets by browsing our digitised Jewish manuscripts. Finding the required ingredients and following all of the instructions might prove to be much more difficult. What鈥檚 more, the preparation of many of these potions involves starving animals to death, slaughtering, or mutilating them. Such cruelty would be unacceptable nowadays, even in the name of love. Luckily, we have been able to find some less gruesome prescriptions.

The collection at the British Library holds several manuscripts on folk medicine and kabbalistic-medical miscellanies, mostly from the 16th-18th century. Many contain prescriptions of kabbalistic amulets alongside with medical remedies, which demonstrates the lack of a strict differentiation between what we would now call medicine, magic, and astrology. Superstition and the belief in supernatural powers were an inherent part of folk medicine. So do not be surprised if you find a love potion after a protective incantation against dogs, or after a recipe on how to stop nose bleeding.

士Ets ha-da士at by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6
士Ets ha-da士at
by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion and amulet (right), incantation to obtain favour in the eyes of kings and princes (left) (BL Or 12362 , ff. 30v-31r)
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The majority of these magical/medical manuscripts are small in size, and don鈥檛 look anything special at first sight. One exception is a 16th-century Italian copy of 士Ets ha-da士at (Tree of Knowledge) by Elisha ben Gad of Ancona, a treatise containing 125 kabbalistic formulae (keme士ot). Our copy was written in a neat Italian hand and is decorated with initial-word panels and diagrams throughout. Do not trust the pretty looks though. The scribe made a fatal mistake when copying this love potion.

士Ets ha-da士at by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion recipe (BL Or 12362 , f. 30r)
士Ets ha-da士at by Elisha士 ben Gad of Anconah, Italy, 1535/6: love potion recipe (BL Or 12362 , f. 30r)
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诇讗讛讘讛 鈥 诇讛专讘讜转 讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 讻砖转讘讗 讛讻诇讛 诪讛讞讜驻讛 诇讗讞专 讙诪专 注砖讬讬转 讛讘专讻讛 讻转讜讘 砖诐 砖谞讬讛诐 注诐 讚讘砖 注诇 讘' 注诇讬 住诇讜讜讬讗讛 讜转谉 诇讗讻讜诇 讛注诇讛 砖讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 讛讗讬砖 诇讗讬砖 讜砖诐 讛讗砖讛 诇讗砖讛

For love 鈥 to increase love between bridegroom and bride 鈥 when the bride comes from the huppah [canopy under which the Jewish couple is standing during the wedding ceremony] after finishing saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man鈥檚 name on it to the man and the one with the woman鈥檚 name on it to the woman.

A less impressive volume from the 18th-19th century includes the same recipe but this time correctly (Or 10268). Can you spot the difference?

Collection of medical recipes, Italy?, 18th-19th century: love potion (BL Or 10268 , f. 10r)
Collection of medical recipes, Italy?, 18th-19th century: love potion (BL Or 10268 , f. 10r)
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诇讛专讘讜转 讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 鈥 讻砖讬讘讗讜 诪讛讞讜驻讛 诇讗讞专 注砖讬讬转 讛讘专讻讛 讻转讜讘 砖诐 砖谞讬讛诐 注诐 讚讘砖 注诇 讘' 注诇讬 住诇讜讜讬讗讛 讜转谉 诇讗讻讜诇 讛注诇讛 砖讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 砖诐 讛讗讬砖 诇讗砖讛 讜砖诐 讛讗砖讛 诇讗讬砖

To increase love between bridegroom and bride 鈥 when they come from the huppah after saying the blessing, write their names in honey onto two sage leaves and give the leaf with the man鈥檚 name on it to the woman and [the one with] the woman鈥檚 name to the man.

This latter manuscript might have been someone鈥檚 personal notebook, who took better care when recording the recipe compared to the scribe of the neat looking Italian volume (Or 12362), perhaps because it was for his personal usage?

The recipe must have been considered a very effective one, since we also found it in an abridged form, in a 17th-century Ashkenazi collection of recipes and kabbalistic charms, probably written in today鈥檚 Belarus or Lithuania. This version written in Hebrew peppered with some Yiddish, recommends to apply the potion before the wedding night:

Collection of kabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love potion (in the middle) between instructions on how to avoid persecution and how to find favour in the eyes of rulers (BL Or 10568 , f. 10v)
Collection of kabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love potion (in the middle) between instructions on how to avoid persecution and how to find favour in the eyes of rulers (BL Or 10568 , f. 10v)
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诇讗讛讘讛 讞转谉 讜讻诇讛 讘诇讬诇讛 专讗砖讜谞讛 讬拽讞 讘' 讝注诇讘谉 讘诇注讟讬专 讜讻转讜讘 注诇讬讜 讘讚讘砖 讜转谉 诇讜 诇讗讻诇 砖诪讜 讜砖诪讛

For love between groom and bridegroom at the first night: take 2 Selben(sic!) bletter (鈥榮age leaves鈥, in Yiddish) and write on them in honey and give him (ie. them) to eat his name and her name.

It seems that it would be quite easy to make this recipe, and it might be delicious. However, if you do not manage to charm your beloved with honey and sage leaves, you can also experiment with some of the more laborious, but also more gruesome prescriptions. A 17th-century Italian folk medicine collection includes a recipe for a creamy substance that, after having applied it on your face and body, allegedly makes you irresistible. We have not tried it, and are rather sceptical about its success鈥 Moreover, on a practical note, the identification of some of the ingredients is challenging.

Collection of folk remedies, Italy, 17th century: love potion (BL Or 10161 , f. 34r)
Collection of folk remedies, Italy, 17th century: love potion (BL Or 10161 , f. 34r)
 noc

诇讗讛讘讛 拽讞 注讬谉 爪驻专讚注 讛谞拽' 讘讜讟谉 讜注讬谉 注讜专讘 讜转注专讘诐 注诐 砖诪谉 专讜住讟谉 讜诪砖讞 驻谞讬讱 讜讙讜驻讱 讜讬讗讛讘讜讱 讻诇 讛讗讚诐 讜转诪爪讗 讞谉 讘注讬谞讬 讻诇 专讜讗讬讱 讘讗讛专

For love: take an eye of a frog called 'boten' and an eye of crow and mix them with 'rus峁璦n' oil and rub it onto your face and body, and every man will love you and you will find favour in the eyes of all those who see you [鈥

The next recipe found in another 17th-century medical collection is much easier to prepare, though it may be tricky to administer it to the person of your desire.

Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion (Or 10462 , f. 11v)
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion (Or 10462 , f. 11v)
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注"讗 - 讞转讜讱 爪驻专谞讬讱 讘住讻讬谉 讗讞"讻 专讞爪谉 讘诪讬诐 讜转谉 诇砖转讜转 诇诪讬 砖转专爪讛 讜讗讛讘讱 讗讜 讞转讜讱 讘讜 转驻讜讞 讜谞转谞讛讜 诇讗讻讜诇

One more [for love] 鈥 cut your nails with a knife and then rinse them in water and give it to drink to whoever you want to fall in love with you or slice up some apple with the nails [put the nail into the apple] and give it to eat.

If you prefer not to bend over a cauldron for hours stirring concoctions, uttering the right magical formulae may also help. You only need a good mirror and some proficiency in medieval magical Hebrew, because the instructions are a bit confusing鈥

Collection of cabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love magic (BL Or 10568 , f. 12r)
Collection of cabbalistic charms and remedies, 17th century: love magic (BL Or 10568 , f. 12r)
 noc

诇讗讛讘讛 拽讞 诪专讗讛 讟讬讛专讗 讜砖驻讬专讗 讜转讗诪专 诇诪专讗讛 转转住讻诇 讘爪讜专转讬 讜讗谞讬 讗住转讻诇 讘爪讜专转讱 讜讗转讛 转住转讻诇 讘爪讜专转' 讜转讗讛讘转讛 讗讜转讛 注诇讬讜 讜讻谉 转注砖讛 讙' 讬诪讬诐 讝讛 讗讞专 讝讛 讜转谞讞 注诇讬讜 讙' 诇讬诇讜转 讜转讗讛讘讜讱

For love 鈥 take a clear and good mirror and say to the mirror: 鈥楲ook at my figure and I will look at your figure and you look at her figure and you will make her fall in love with him.鈥 Do this for three consecutive days and lie on it (the mirror) for three nights and she will love you.

Our collection can offer advice and help also for those who have already found the love of their life, but something or someone has cast a shadow over their marital bliss. This next recipe is especially recommended if you suspect that someone put a curse on your husband. Or if you just want to have a tasty breakfast together.

Image 8-Or 10462 f.11r_2000
Image 8-Or 10462 f.11v_2000
Collection of remedies, Orient, 17th century: love potion preceded by a recipe to stop menstrual bleeding (BL Or 10462, f. 11r-11v)
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诇讗讛讘讛 讘讬谉 讗讬砖 诇讗砖转讜 讜讗驻讬' 诪讻讜砖祝 拽讞 诪讬诐 诪谉 谞讛专讜转 讜讬讬谉 讜诪讜专 讜驻诇驻诇 讜砖谞讬 讘爪讬 讬讜谞讬诐 讜砖谞讬 讘爪讬 转专谞讙讜诇转 讜砖讞拽诐 讜注专讘 讛讻诇 讬讞讚 讜讛砖拽讛 讛讗讬砖 讜讗转 讛讗砖讛 讜讬讗讛讘讜 讝讛 讗转 讝讛

For love between husband and his wife or even he is under a spell [i.e. impotent]: take spring water, wine, and myrrh, and pepper, and two dove eggs and two hen eggs and break them, and mix them together, and give the mixture to drink to the man and the woman, and they will love each other.

Good luck in your amorous endeavours and if you try any of these recipes, please, send us feedback on how they worked.

Zsofi Buda, BL Hebrew Project
 CC-BY-SA