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David Frankfurter

Abstract

As an introduction and overview to “the Materials of Ancient Magic,” this chapter discusses the general nature of the corpora and artifacts historically used by scholars to substantiate a “magic.” Instructions for spells are not “magic” but ritual manuals with a variety of historical and religious contexts for their writing; amulets and defixiones also must be situated in particular places and circumstances; and apotropaic building materials (e.g.) belong to the habitus of creating social spaces.

Series:

Albert de Jong

Abstract

This chapter examines illegitimate ritual forms in ancient Iran as practices deemed unacceptable by Zoroastrianism. It surveys specific negative roles and opponents listed in textual sources as “evil,” beginning with the daevayasna (worshippers of incorrect gods), yatu (sorcerers), and paririka (witches). Next, it looks at the supposed dewesn sect of devil-worshippers and jadugih, the legal charge of sorcery in later Zoroastrian texts. Finally, the chapter explores the reasons for difficulties in reconstructing illicit ritual practice in Zoroastrianism as well as challenges posed for any archaeological reconstruction of such activities.

Series:

Gideon Bohak

Abstract

This chapter focuses on Jewish Aramaic and Hebrew ritual materials from Late Antiquity to the early medieval period including: Palestinian amulets and spells, Babylonian magic bowls, and the recipes preserved in the Cairo Genizah. Materials are interrogated for evidence of social context (gender of clientele) and the status of these kinds of materials in Judaism at the time of composition. Finally, it compares Jewish materials to non-Jewish analogues.

Series:

David Frankfurter

Abstract

This essay explores the ways that material substances and objects can be invested with supernatural agency, whether by tradition, ritual procedure, or charismatic craftsmanship. Many ritual recipes specify bizarre ingredients or assemblages meant to signify something ambiguous, impure, or dangerous. In other cases the mere fact of anthropomorphic representation allows ritual focus and miniaturization but also signifies a potentially dangerous agency as well. Through these various dimensions of things we can speak of “magical objects.”

Series:

David Frankfurter

Abstract

This chapter examines why and how the written word was so often credited with material power in antiquity. Much of the magic of the written word in Greco-Roman culture stems from Egyptian traditions of the hieroglyph as divine writing, an idea embraced by Greeks and Romans as a particularly exotic medium for materializing ritual procedures (binding tablets, amulets, etc.). The essay reviews the magic of the written word in Egypt, then moves to Greek views of writing as a medium for sounds and voices – i.e., not materially sacred – symbolized in the use of voces magicae and vowel arrangements in amulets and incantations. The idea of the hieroglyph in Greco-Roman culture inspired the notion of Ephesia grammata (magical “letters”) and the more specific practice of charaktēres – symbols that were meant to function as an otherworldly writing system.

Series:

Daniel Schwemer

Abstract

This chapter surveys forms of ritual considered dangerous or potentially harmful in ancient Mesopotamia. It first delineates the wider context of ritual lore in Babylonia and Assyria, focussing in particular on the profession of the āšipu. It then describes the ideas and concepts associated with kišpū, the Akkadian term for malevolent and taboo ritual acts, and includes a discussion of the stereotypical female perpetrator of kišpū. Finally, it examines ambiguity in these ritual practices and the concept of “evil” ritual as a cultural narrative in the context of the first-millennium Mesopotamia.

Series:

David Frankfurter

Abstract

This chapter justifies the arrangement of the Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic: beginning with indigenous constructions of ambiguous or illegitimate ritual as the discursive field that -- in most cultures -- calls for terms like mageia, the volume moves to the materials most often discussed as documents or artifacts of “magic” but here put in proper cultural or religious context, and finally to a series of essays proposing uses of “magic” that do not juxtapose it to religion but instead capture features of language or artifact.

Series:

Jacques van der Vliet

Abstract

This chapter surveys constructions of ambiguous and illegitimate ritual in Christian sources from Roman and Byzantine Egypt, looking at monastic, Gnostic, ecclesiastical, and other materials. The chapter turns first to polemical constructions of mageia and pharmakeia as the practices of dangerous ‘others’ (e.g., Origen). Then it moves to a series of internal monastic texts condemning mageia as inappropriate practice for Christians (canons, Shenoute of Atripe). Finally, the chapter turns to literary texts that explore the nature of mageia and pharmakeia or its specialists through dramatic stories.

Series:

Magali Bailliot

Abstract

This chapter follows the evolution of Roman juridical views on formulas and gestures thought capable of modifying the natural course of events. First, it considers the malum carmen and veneficium, criminalized in the Twelve Tables and Lex Corneilia. Both terms appear ambiguous in contemporaneous sources, yet they were proscribed in the legal codes, prompting Romans to develop various strategies to protect against them. The chapter also looks at the more ambiguous defixio, demonstrating how one can gain by investigating practices on their own terms.