Monday, March 9, 2009

Tales captured in Cylinder Seals

Cylinder seals represents a secret story engraved upon a small bead. In ancient civilisations, they served a number of functions that were both practical and magical. As seals, they were a 'signature' for official communications. As beads, they were worn as amulets long after the deaths of their original owners. There were a number of exquisite cylinder seals on display at the 'Beyond Babylon' Exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As a young girl, I loved the tiny Egyptian amulet figurines made of faience, turquoise and other precious and semi-precious stones on display at museums throughout the world. They were among my favourite exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the British Museum in London. As a child, I first became aware of the magic of ancient amulets through 'The Story of the Amulet' by E. Nesbit. In fact, E. Nesbit's imagination defined my own childhood visions of the worlds beyond this one.

I love miniatures and the idea of a story that is engraved upon a small bead fascinates me even now. The participation of the owner of the bead is required in order to view the story. One must prepare a surface in the form of wax or clay, then roll the bead along that surface, allowing the story to unfold. This in itself is an act of magic. In an age where the click of a button can produce an entire book on a computer screen, I would find the mechanical act of rolling a cylinder along an impressionable surface extremely appealing. True magic requires a sacrifice both of time and of energy.

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