Sunday, May 29, 2016

New spells from Oxyrhynchus

ANCIENT MAGIC: Ancient 'Mad Libs' Papyri Contain Evil Spells of Sex and Subjugation (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
Ancient, magical spells of love, subjugation and sex: It may sound like a "Game of Thrones" episode, but these evildoings are also found on two recently deciphered papyri from Egypt dating to around 1,700 years ago.

One spell invokes the gods to "burn the heart" of a woman until she loves the spell caster, said Franco Maltomini of the University of Udine in Italy, who translated the two spells. Another spell, targeted at a male, uses a series of magical words to "subject" him, forcing him to do whatever the caster wants.

The two spells were not targeted at a specific person. Rather, they were written in such a way that the person who cast the spell would only need to insert the name of the person being targeted — sort of like an ancient "Mad Libs." [In Photos: Two Ancient Curses Discovered in Italy]

Researchers date the two spells to the third century A.D., but the names of the ancient spell writers are unknown. The spells are written in Greek, a language widely used in Egypt at the time.

Archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt discovered the spells in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, more than 100 years ago, among a haul of hundreds of thousands of papyri. Over the past century, scientists have gradually studied and translated the papyri. Many of them are now owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and are housed and studied at the University of Oxford in England.

Greco-Egyptian magical literature was generally of pagan origin, but it was also generally heavily influenced by Jewish and Christian religious traditions. I suspect that some of those "magical words" mentioned above would show such influence. They usually do. And the article mentions later on that "The deciphered love spell invokes several gnostic gods." Gnosticism originated (in my humble opinion) as a late-antique Christian movement, but one that, again, was familiar with many Jewish traditions. Late antique esoteric religious traditions, like their analogous New Age counterparts today, were very eclectic.

For many, many, past posts on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, start here and follow the links.