Morocco is magically enchanted. And not just the carpet rides. From genies (jnun - plural/Berber, or jinn - singular/Arabic) to the evil eye, come with us and discover the secrets of Berber baraka, the magical artistry and visual language that often inspires and guides daily life, personal style and interior design. Learn how this belief in good vibes, protective symbols and positive energy are infused into each hand crafted ceramic, wood, textile, leather, metal and glass object by the artisans who make them.
Baraka is an ancient belief in magic that, through the process of creation, bestows blessings and good fortune on the creator, artifact and recipient, while at the same time may also have been designed for deflecting, confusing and confounding misfortune - should he attempt to stir up a ruckus.
Throughout history and dating back to ancient civilizations - i.e., Phoenicians, Babylonians, Romans, and so on - cultures have embraced the belief that at times certain objects may have magical powers, for good as well as to defend against danger, disease, misfortune and similar unwanted circumstances. And Berber tribes of Morocco, North Africa’s original inhabitants dating back to at least 3000 B.C., are no different.
When it comes to Moroccan design, Berber baraka is used as a positive power and source of inspiration by artisans. Infusing this positive energy into their handmade ceramics, jewelry, metalwork, leather goods, woodwork, and textiles is done through a distinct artistic vocabulary. By using a hand-picked combination of symbols, patterns, structures, colors and techniques, the power of baraka becomes part of the object - and its value. It is not uncommon to find an object whose value is not based on its technical skill or decorative appeal but on the baraka it is believed to embody.
Baraka, when used creatively, can be compared to the Western philosophy of aesthetics in which an artist attempts to attain a higher self through artistic expression that instills the work with a power to transcend the physical time and place of its creation. Berber artisans, designers and craftspersons embark on a journey to attain baraka for themselves through the experience of creation each time they design, weave, sculpt, chisel, or cut, as well as for the object being created.
Many times, in various parts of the world, it is known instinctively from mere observation of the intricate geometric patterning and chosen colors that the object is thought to have achieved and is also capable of bestowing baraka. Arriving at this level of artistic excellence also involves knowing at what point beyond which no additional amount of creative genius or technical execution can improve a piece.
Berber artists use the term blanc coeur (the white heart) to express the heart, the soul, the love and the labor they have invested in the process of creation, a concept that is well known among the creative class everywhere.
Berbers believe that baraka permeates all things to varying degrees, including plants, such as henna and oleander, and incense, such as sandalwood and myrrh. Designs that are drawn in henna on the hands and feet of a bride on the eve of her marriage incorporate protective and nurturing symbols that have evolved throughout centuries of use.
Protective symbols, such as magic squares and geometric shapes - triangles, spirals, crosses, eight pointed stars, circles, and diamonds - are included in the design of everyday objects and appear in all aspects of Berber hand crafted traditions.
Here are examples of artisan objects and how Berber baraka is infused into each one:
Magical Myrrh & Incense Burning
Well known as one of the gifts brought by the Magi, or Wise Men, the incense myrrh is believed to possess baraka. Burning of incense was a highly prized tradition and sign of social position used to perfume one’s clothing and rooms dating back to the Ancient Incense Market.
Today the burning of incense is still used as a sign of hospitality to welcome treasured guests while providing a modern day opportunity to bestow baraka, or blessings and good fortune, that can also fend off misfortune. Hand crafted incense burners, or mabkhara, often bear symbols and patterns that add an additional dimension to baraka rituals.
Blessed Handira Wedding Capes
It is believed that the tradition of creating a wedding shawl combined with the use of particular colors, symbols, materials and techniques infuses the piece with blessings, or baraka. In the case of sequins, they are incorporated in the design because metal is considered to have the power to deflect and protect the owner from misadventures. For this reason, the wedding cape is created to keep the bride warm during the ride to her new home where it will provide decoration once she arrives, and is also believed to deter misfortune while bestowing fertility and good luck on the newlyweds.
Enchanted Money Bags
When Berber Choukkara Money Bags were originally created, it was always as an exclusive design for a particular recipient. This is because the colors and elaborate embroidered pattern used for each satchel contained thoughtfully chosen Berber symbolism believed to have extraordinary powers, or baraka, to protect that individual on long journeys through the Sahara desert.
Baraka stitched into this bag is also believed to bestow blessings and positive energy to help the owner of the bag achieve success and prosperity. So imbued with the powerful energy ofbaraka, these bags are often valued more for the magical energy they are designed to contain than their highly skilled artisan craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal.
Flatweave wool rugs hand knotted by the Zemmour Berber tribe from the Middle Atlas mountain range are world renowned and instantly recognizable for their beautiful use of a red color palette, as well as their skill and extensive variety of horizontal and vertical geometric motifs and patterns.
Interwoven throughout the design of these textiles is the artisan's personal journal-like account of daily trials and tribulations, as well as inherited tribal messages passed down through generations.
Each rug is unique to the creator, who weaves their own hand selected combination of mystical symbolism, known as baraka, into the rug pattern. The mix of the color palette, symmetrical and asymmetrical designs, and curated array of structures is intended to misdirect unwanted circumstances while bestowing good fortune and blessings on the home and family.
Berber Baraka Babouche
Different parts of the body are considered easy entry points for evil jnun, or spirits, and feet are considered to be especially vulnerable to attack. Like all handcrafted Berber objects, embroidered motifs and symbolism, carefully considered colors, and protective talismanic stones are often included in the decorative designs adorning babouche. This practice is intended to bestow tribe footwear with baraka that wards off mayhem while infusing protective energy.
We all have ways of believing that positive energy can be encouraged and negative energy deterred or at least minimized. It’s no secret that every molecule in every living being or non-living object on this planet contains energy (protons, electrons) that can be impacted one way or another. And if we go deep enough, we find that many of the shapes in our everyday life have origins somewhere in the beginning of time - from electron orbits and galaxy shapes, to atomic particles and worm holes - when our universe first came into being.
Whether you believe in positive energy as a source of magic or not, just like whether or not you believe in a life force that causes your heart to beat or understand how the power of electricity charges your phone, it still works. Might as well do all we can to encourage and surround ourselves with the positive particles.
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Shop for magical designs today! Visit our curated collection of handcrafted Berber baraka-infused arts and crafts at the Moroccophile eSouk.