The Origins of the Flying Carpet Myth

Flying Carpet

Flying carpets became a part of popular modern culture thanks to Disney’s Aladdin, but not many know that the origins of this myth date back as far as the ninth century (yes, they’re older than Turkish rugs.) Existing manuscripts of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folklore narrated by Queen Scheherazade to King Shahryār to keep him captivated long enough to delay her execution at his hands, introduce the character of a prince named Hussain.

This young prince travels to a place called Vijaynagar (in India) and stumbles across a magic carpet. It is said that the carpet moved by reading its master’s thoughts and would travel to whichever place his mind desired.

The literary traditions of various other Eastern world cultures also mention magical carpets, which would literally fly instead of transporting their passengers immediately from one place to another. In most folklore, the carpets let the heroes (and sometimes villains) achieve their goals as quickly as possible.

Another popular story is that of Solomon’s flying carpet, which was said to be composed of gorgeous green silk, studded with precious stones and a gold weft that stretched for sixty miles, both in width and length. Legend states that it was the Queen of Sheba who gifted the King this carpet as a token of her love. The royal alchemist of the Queen’s court first demonstrated his magical skills on a small brown coloured rug, which managed to hover a few feet off the ground. Many years later, the alchemist managed to perfect his skill after realizing that the trick lay not in the spinning process of the carpet, but in its dyeing process.

Anyway, the King was too busy with building a temple in Jerusalem to receive the gift his beloved had sent for him, and instead gave it to his courtiers. When this news reached the Queen, she was understandably heartbroken and swore never to do anything ever again with magic carpets. The couple eventually reconciled, but the art of creating a magic carpet was lost forever.

Another version of the legend states that it was God himself who presented Solomon with a magic flying carpet. The carpet was said to fly very quickly, travelling between Damascus and Media in just a matter of a few hours. It was large enough to hold up to 40,000 men, but with every day that Solomon had the carpet, his pride grew. God, extremely angry at Solomon for his pride, shook the carpet in the air with all 40,000 men on it, letting them fall to their deaths.

Russian folk tales talk of Baba Yaga who gave Ivan the Fool a flying carpet (with variations of the tales stating that the magical gifts were sometimes a towel that could turn into a bridge, or a ball which when rolled, showed the protagonist the path he had to take) which helped him accomplish the task of finding his way “beyond thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom.”

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