• Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri II: Formularies and Applied Texts

    Once we have defined magical texts, the next thing we need to do is categorise them. This week we’ll discuss one of the major divisions we use to classify magical papyri – their separation into formularies and applied texts. The distinction is fairly simple: formularies – also called handbooks or grimoires – contain one or more recipes for performing rituals. By contrast, applied or activated texts are objects – such as amulets or curse tablets – created in the course of these magical rituals. One way of understanding this distinction is by thinking about the process of performing a ritual. Before an individual could carried out a magical ritual, they…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri I: Defining Magical Texts

    This week we passed a milestone in our project – we finished entering all of the Coptic magical texts known to us into our database, Kyprianos. There is still a lot of work to do – the next stage will be to finish gathering the metadata for these texts, before we seriously begin the process of (re-)editing and analysing them. But to mark this event we’re going to begin a new series of blog posts, Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri. This series will discuss and analyse the texts themselves – looking descriptively and statistically at the text’s forms, formats and linguistic features. This material will be more slightly technical…

  • Theory of Magic

    Anthropology of Magic II: Frazer and the Golden Bough

    In our previous blog post of this series, we had a look at the influence of evolutionary theory on anthropology. In this blogpost, we will continue with this topic, but this time from the perspective of James George Frazer (1854-1941), author of the famous The Golden Bough (1890-1915), a gigantic twelve volume corpus of “primitive” beliefs and traditions. Although Frazer was a disciple of Tylor, he had a very different approach to the material he studied. While Tylor derived his theories, at least partially, from his own fieldwork, Frazer did not feel it was necessary to actually conduct fieldwork – a story is told of how Frazer, as a child,…

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri IX: Judaism and Coptic Magic

    The Jewish people – the ethno-religious group who trace their origins to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah – have a long relationship with their larger neighbour, Egypt, even leaving aside the complicated questions of the historicity of the Exodus story and the pre-exilic kingdoms. In the fifth and sixth centuries BCE there was a significant Judaean community in the city of Elephantine in the far south of Egypt, many of whose members served as soldiers in the army of the Persian kings who then ruled Egypt. This city was even home to a second Jewish temple – one of two attested in Egypt before the destruction of the main…

  • Theory of Magic

    Anthropology of Magic I: Darwin, Tylor, and the Origins of Religion and Magic

    At the beginning of his book Magic’s Reason (2017), the American anthropologist of magic Graham Jones, describes his encounter with the illusionist Jack Alban. When Alban found out he would be interviewed by an anthropologist, he asked a friend who “knew something about anthropology” to give him advice regarding the topic. When they finally met in a Parisian café, Alban handed Jones a piece of paper with a short bibliography related to the anthropology of magic, written by his friend – Golden Bough by Frazer (1900), Mauss and Hubert’s Outline of a General Theory of Magic (1902-1903) and Durkheim’s Elementary forms of Religious Life (1912). Indeed, Alban’s friend really “knew…