This chapter covers the body of binding spells or defixiones dating from the 6th century BCE to the 8th century CE. It provides an overview of the major published collections of defixiones and discussions of six exemplary defixiones, as well as the significance of lead, the most common medium for defixiones. The chapter examines verbal and mythological characteristics of defixiones, such as simila similibus and committal formulae and invocations of the dead. Binding spells, it is argued, were never the exclusive province of expert scribes.
Scholarship on ancient Greco-Roman magic over time and place, has largely focused on the role and identity of ritual practitioners, investigating the nature and source of their perceived expertise and often locating it in their linguistic skills. Less attention has been paid to those identified as the targets of magical rituals, who tend to be described as passive recipients of the ritual or victims of the social power of another. In contrast, drawing on the theory of ritual form developed by Robert McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson, alongside the ritualization theories of Catherine Bell, this article argues that victims of magic were also agents of ritual. Focusing on an experience of hostile magic reported by the fourth-century c.e. orator Libanius, it explores how conceptions of magical power were co-created by spell-makers and their so-called victims and should be regarded as relational, that is, as emerging from the interactions of people and groups.
This chapter looks at magic as a discourse of suspicion, accusation, imagination, as well as deployments of ritual materials that arise in situations of social tension. The chapter first looks at individual cases of binding and curse rites – e.g., as efforts to gain supremacy in competitive circumstances or in response to the fraught nature of a particular social situation (theft, love, arena) – and the various social and psychological models that have been applied to them. Then the chapter turns to collective panics – resulting in, e.g., judicial proceedings – and the consequent efforts to define malfeasance (mageia?) and criminal nature (pharmakos?). Ultimately, the appearance of such discourses of suspicion, accusation, and protection demand our close examination of historical and social circumstances
This article discusses the challenges facing scholars exploring the nature of belief in ancient Greek religion. While recent scholarship has raised questions about individual religious activities, and work on ritual, the body, and the senses has broadened our methodological palette, the nature and dynamics of generally held “low intensity” beliefs still tend to be described simply as “unquestioned” or “embedded” in society. But examining scholarship on divine personifications suggests that ancient beliefs were — and our perceptions of them are — more complex. This article first explores the example of Tyche (“Chance”), in order to highlight some of the problems that surround the use of the term “belief.” It then turns to the theories of “ideology” of Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller and argues that these can offer provocative insights into the nature and dynamics of ritual and belief in ancient Greek culture.
This article examines the role of mistrust – especially in constructions of purity, impurity, and purification – in ancient Greek religion. It begins by examining so-called scapegoat or pharmakos rituals, in which an individual was expelled from the city, apparently as a purificatory offering to the gods. Recent analyses have argued that these rituals were outlets for community aggression, and/or were resonant with myths of self-sacrifice. This article will suggest a different analysis of the evidence. I offer an alternative way of interpreting these rituals that sets them in a wider context of Greek ritual and belief: it suggests that the ritual of the pharmakos arose in a context of social and spiritual insecurity. This created, I argue, a prevailing dynamic of social and spiritual mistrust, within which the pharmakos ritual emerged – and which it exacerbated.