Andy Vowles

“BY MEANS OF A SKULL.” It is difficult to write on the idiosyncratic surface of a skull; reading a skull inscription can be equally difficult. Like the inscriptions on incantation bowls, the skull text is surrounded by a squiggly line. Although the inscription on the Moussaieff skull is very hard to decipher, one thing is clear: It contains names of people for whom the incantation was made. One of the names, Shilta, is derived from an Aramaic word meaning “after-birth.” The skull itself was probably that of a woman. The exact manner in which this skull was used, however, remains a mystery. A contemporaneous source, the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 65b, offers a possible clue: “There are two kinds of necromancy: the one where the dead is raised by naming him, the other where he is invoked by means of a skull.”