Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/154

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PERSIA.

the first passage on which their eyes chance to fall. They put great faith in the virtue of charms, which they buy of the learned in the stars, and bind not merely about their own persons, but those of their horses: some are composed of prayers sewed up in morsels of linen, in various shapes, such as lozenges, circles, and triangles. The more costly amulets are certain sentences from the Koran, exquisitely engraved on cornelian, and which are usually worn by persons of rank, round the neck or arms. The lower orders have talismans to avert the influence of evil eyes, curses, and the like; in short, they neither look, move, nor speak, without attention to some occult fatality or other.

Sir Robert Porter informs us, that in the course of his journey, several peasants, hearing of his destination and wishing to travel that way, begged to be admitted to the protection of his company, on account of the unsafe state of the roads. The request was granted, and the men mounted their horses; but just at the moment of setting out, one of these strangers happened to sneeze. This dreadful omen suddenly stopped the whole party; it was a sign foreboding evil, and no arguments could prevail on them to move on that day.

Another species of superstition very common among the Persians, is the faith they have in a charm called the dum, or breath, which, they say, secures them against the bite of snakes and the sting of scorpions; and the courage with which those who are supposed to possess it encounter those reptiles, is remarkable. Among the servants who accompanied the British embassy with Mr. Morier, one or two had this charm: whenever a snake or a scorpion was found, they were immediately called to seize it. The ferash-bashi, or chief of the tent-pitchers, was remarkable for his prowess in such encounters. I saw him one day, says the above-mentioned traveller, seize a snake with his naked hand, but the animal turned upon him, bit him, and hung upon him till blood came. The snake was not venomous, and therefore perhaps he seized it with confidence.

Not long before Mr. Morier was at Shiraz, there lived in that city a man greatly celebrated for his sanctity, who had the reputation of possessing the dum to such a degree, that he communicated it to his disciples, who again dispensed it to the multitude. A young mirza, brother to the then acting visir of Shiraz, gave to the British ambassador, as a great present, a knife, which he said had been charmed by this holy man, and if rubbed over the bite of a snake, would instantly cure it. One of his disciples was at Shiraz while we were there, says Mr. Morier, and he willingly complied with our request, that he would communicate his charm to us. The operation was simple enough. From his pocket he took a piece of sugar, over which he mum-