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British library fragment of the testament of BA

A Book of Tibetan Sorcery (On the Power of Invocation)


A seasoned trance invokes desire; an unknown monk and magician penned this manual and catalog of ritual and the most essential spells of the Pre-Buddhist period.

When in the 20th century, Taoist monk Wang Yuanlu discovered the secret caves of Mogao Ku, a sort of spiritual antique library was reborn. The passages revealed a pre-Buddhist exoticism that included more than 400 temples. Among these, as if indelible scars, survives an impressive body of murals, sculptures and manuscripts. Following the “Legend of Dunhuang,”, these works where introduced in the caves during one century, beginning in 36C.E.

Particularly fascinating are the manuscripts which have been found in this timeless sanctuary. Here lie writings as old as their mentors’ languages: in Tibetan, Chinese, Sanskrit, Sogdian and many other tongues.

Thanks to the luxurious spirit of collecting made possible by the internet, we can now find collections such as these ancient symbologies in an easily accessible format. An example is the collection that the International Dunhuang Project maintains on its website. Its essential purpose is to collect information on this area of ​​China, and such is the case of the ritual manual of Bhiksu Prajñāprabhā, a kind of Tibetan spellbook.

The manuscript was hand stitched and written onto a kind of recycled paper (something like a Sikh pothi). On the first page is the name of one Bhiksu Prajñāprabhā. The pages that follow are divided into nine sections and contain only spells, which contain ritual treatments against diseases and evil spirits. Descriptions of amulets and medicinal protocols that refer to the corpus of knowledge from the first magician monks in history are also included.

The Buddhist inclination toward studies of medicine and alchemical processes has been well documented. Compendia include medical treatments like acupuncture, herbs, amulets, physical exercises, sounds and mantras, to name but a few. This manual allows us to imagine some of them.

The spells provide for the conjuring of forces to intercede in the will of nature, the body or the mind. We read, for example, of a cure for madness that involves a ritual in which metal filings are cast into a fire. A mantra, Kilaya (Vajrakilaya), involves the metaphor of an embedded dagger, a destroyer of obstacles. Divinations are performed in practices that involve using mirrors and healings of physical illnesses served by all of these spells. They’re organized as follows:

If a prophecy is desired
To drive out the demons (gnod sbyin) under your power
To appease evil people
To overcome wild animals
To invoke a spring for the relief of thirst
To sharpen understanding (prajñā)
To acquire several valuable objects
To find a treasure
To cure a disease
To cure illness serious to the point of death
To capture the ghost of disease (nad pa ‘dre) in a trap
To cut curses and bad births
To reverse water, making it flow upward
To make it flow down again
To cure madness
To avoid being bitten by a dog
To have sha dru in your power
To divide two lovers (pri ya)
To reconcile two friends
If you cannot talk to other people
If you want to be friendly with someone
To force someone

Each ritual includes a practical guide, images and the recitations of the necessary mantras.

The manual pays homage to provisions that have indispensably governed the planet. Cultures as atavistic as the lamas of the Pre-Buddhisht period knew, without doubt, the (favorable and perhaps risky) capabilities supported by words specifically intended.

Beyond the communicated ideas, the conjured word warns of the consequences of desires that are voluntarily articulated. Rituals, spells, blessings or litanies: the words (or maybe their vibration) have shaken, to their own favour, hundreds of fates. And yet it must be admitted that these are the medicines (and possibly the evils) of a particular magic.

Image: British Library Or.8210/S.9498A, fragment of the Testament of Ba’ / Public Domain

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