Investigating the overlap between “magic” and mysticism, this essay explores the ways that language can facilitate mystical experiences of ascent and divine transformation. In Greek tradition (Derveni Papyrus) words could have an immediate connection with divine beings. In early Jewish tradition (Qumran Sabbath hymns) liturgical descriptions assumed a transformative efficacy on the ritual environment. In multiple ancient traditions the pronunciation of divine names or voces magicae both invoked the divine being and transformed the speaker. And beyond pronunciation, some early mystical traditions (“Mithras Liturgy”) involved breaths, clicking and other oral sounds as part of a process of ascent.
Drawing Down the Moon is an outstanding contribution to the contemporary debate about ritual practices and magic. My review focuses on two intersecting points, the definition of magic as discourse in Chapter One and the analysis of “love charms and erotic curses” in Chapter Four. I begin with the second issue, the category love magic, and will return to the first, magic as discourse, at the end. I have a fairly narrow point to make about the category love magic: the modern classification incorporates but does not sufficiently analyze ancient notions of agency. On the issue of definitions of magic, Edmonds’s careful study reveals the problems of classifying rituals based on a narrow notion of discourse.