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The Armenian Magical Scroll and Outsider Art

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Unordained clergy make Armenian prayer scrolls, which go back to the amulets against the Child-stealing Witch. They are analogous to the MSS of Ethiopian Christians, made often by charismatic and socially marginal figures. This art found a niche in East Christian society; but none was provided for the appropriately named "outsider" art and the art of the insane in the West, which often expresses religious visions and sentiments that the artistic and mental health establishments—rather than an ecclesiastical order this time!—have forced to the margin of society or beyond it.Despite the early efforts of Frederic Macler, though Armenian magical and talismanic texts have been edited and published there has been little study of the art as such of the manuscripts that contain them. Perhaps because of their greater flamboyance and their situation partially in an African context, it is the analogous material of the Ethiopian Christian tradition that has received art historical attention. And modern avowedly religious art of almost any kind in the West became so generally marginalised in criticism that much of it, including the art of people labelled insane, has come to be studied, if at all, under the rubric of art brut or outsider art. Since the makers of folk-religious-magical art in Armenia (the tirac'u) and in Ethiopia (the debtera) are sometimes marginal figures like outsider artists, I have attempted in this essay to initiate an approach to Armenian magical and talismanic art that employs the comparative method and takes advantage of the insights of studies of outsider art, the art of the psychologically abnormal, and the art of self-taught religious visionaries.

Affiliations: 1: Harvard University


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