Flying carpets have long been a device used in folklore to permit the protagonist (or antagonist) to achieve their mysterious devices as fast as possible. This legendary rug is an integral part of stories in the Eastern World, appearing in ancient Jewish texts, the Arabic One Thousand and One Nights, and most recently in Disney’s Aladdin.
Known manuscripts of One Thousand and One Nights date back as far as the ninth century. The collection of Arabic folklore is told mainly by the Queen Scheherazade and other characters of her court. Here, the magic textile is introduced in the tale of an Indian prince named Hussain who travels to the area then known as Bisnagar.
Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba gifted King Solomon a green and gold flying carpet studded with precious jewels, as a token of her love. It is said that a flying carpet was woven on an ordinary loom, but its dyes held spectacular powers. Made from a special type of clay with magnetic properties (and since the earth is a magnet) it held the ability to hover several hundreds of feet above the ground.
Other stories say it was God who bestowed Solomon with the magic carpet. The carpet flew swiftly, bringing Solomon from Damascus to Media in just a few hours. The iconic carpet was extremely large, with room for up to 40,000 men. Then one day, God became irritated by Solomon’s pridefullness. God shook the carpet in the wind, sending all 40,000 men into the air, and presumably to their deaths.
In nearly all the legends and folklore, the magic carpet is used to portray the power of the carpet’s master. Solomon was one of the most powerful, most legendary Jewish kings. With the carpet, he was able to travel vast distances as well as transport armies. It seems to be a metaphor for his power and reach, though it also shows that the man is just that – a man, and he is not infallible to the forces of nature or the divine.
Most dear to my heart is the magical carpet ride from Aladdin. Taken high over Agrabah, Jasmine and Aladdin begin to fall in love. The magic carpet in this Disney portrayal does not portend to Aladdin’s power, but serves as a guide to future riches and success. It is the carpet that leads him and his trusty monkey into a cave full of gold and jewels. It is also the carpet that helps him woo and, ultimately win the heart of the Sultan’s daughter. A magical carpet only makes itself available to the most extraordinary of men. It does not discern between good or evil, but to the pursuit and manipulation of power. In its magic and mystery, we find where the flying carpet’s beauty lies.