• News

    2019 Review: One Year of the Coptic Magical Papyri Project

    It’s hard to believe it, but a whole year has now passed since the three members of our project first sat around a table in Würzburg and began to talk about our new project on Coptic magic. In this post, we’ll discuss some of our achievements so far, and what we have coming up in the next year. The Kyprianos Database Our biggest achievement so far is the Kyprianos database, which we’re already using as a work tool in our study of ancient magic.  The core of the database consists of the Coptic magical manuscripts. We began with two pre-existing lists of texts, one created by Franziska Naether for Trismegistos…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: The 29th International Congress of Papyrology, Università del Salento, Lecce, 28 July-3 August 2019

    This year’s summer conference season ended with the International Congress of Papyrology, one of the largest events in our field, with over 400 attendees visiting the city of Lecce in the sunny south of Italy. As usual, we will only discuss the papers touching on ancient magic here, but the range of topics was very diverse, touching on subjects from the economics of Ptolemaic Egypt to newly discovered ancient novels, and the future of the discipline of papyrology, and the abstracts for the other talks can be found on the conference website. Andrew T. Wilburn (Oberlin College, Ohio) presented a fascinating paper looking at the relationship between magical texts from…

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    This ten-part series gives an overview of Egyptian religious and social change from the first to thirteenth centuries CE, looking at some of the ways that these changes are reflected in Coptic magical texts. I: “Paganism” and Christianity II: Greek Gods in Coptic Magic III: Manichaeans and Magic IV: Sethian Gnosticism and Magical Texts V: Magic and Gnostic Ritual VI: Christianity and Magic VII: Monks and Magic VIII: The Bible and Magic IX: Judaism and Coptic Magic X: Islam and Coptic Magic

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri X: Islam and Coptic Magic

    The inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula have a long history with their neighbours in the land of Egypt. Herodotus tells us about a garrison of Arab soldiers stationed at Elephantine in southern Egypt, a claim perhaps confirmed by Arab names in fifth-century BCE papyri from the city. Arabs later appear in Ptolemaic and Roman papyri in professions as diverse as barber, farmer, and gymnasiarch (magistrate of a culturally-Greek city). But Egypt’s relationship to the Arab peoples was transformed with the development of Islam in the early seventh century CE, as the Prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632) forged a new state in the Arabian Peninsula, founded upon a monotheistic religion which understood…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: 7th Biannual Conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (Amsterdam, 2-4 July 2019)

    With conference season still in full swing, last week saw the seventh biannual conference of ESSWE – the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism – in Amsterdam. This was an incredibly diverse conference, with papers on fields ranging from Christian Kabbalah to spiritual cinema, and from the anthropology of modern New Age practices to the second sight in Victorian Scotland. Over a hundred talks in all, they were bound together by a set of common themes – consciousness, altered states, and extraordinary experiences. Here we will only be able to summarise very briefly the papers which discussed topics related to the ancient Mediterranean, but for those who would…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: The 19th Conference of the Association Francophone de Coptologie (Ottawa, 19-22 June, 2019)

    Northern-hemisphere summer is typically conference season in our field, and the conferences continued last week with the meeting of the Francophone Coptology Association (Association Francophone de Coptologie, or AFC) in Ottawa, Canada. Founded in 1982, the AFC is one of the world’s largest membership organisations for Coptic studies. French-speaking scholars have long been interested in Coptic – Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered hieroglyphs in the 1820s, claimed in a letter to have studied the language so much that he dreamed in Coptic, and the tradition of French-language scholarship, in countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and of course, France, has remained vital to the present day. The topics covered in the…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: Greek Curse Tablets of the Classical and Hellenistic Periods, Athens

    Last weekend (7-9 July 2019), I was fortunate enough to serve as a chair for the third conference in the series “Curses in Context”, organised by Christopher A. Faraone and Sofía Torallas Tovar of the University of Chicago at the Norwegian Institute at Athens. This fascinating conference series is aimed at understanding the material remains of curse rituals in the ancient Mediterranean – the short texts, usually written on lead, with which speakers of Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Coptic, and other languages tried to destroy their enemies and seduce potential lovers. These texts are particularly important for our knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean – not only because they are rich sources…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri VI: Writing Materials

    Our previous posts in this series have defined and problematised magical texts, and the difference between applied texts and formularies, before looking at their spread over time and space. This week we’re going to look at them as physical objects, focusing on the materials or “supports” on which they are written.  These can tell us a great deal about the production and function of their texts, and their place in the history of writing. Although our project is called “Coptic Magical Papyri”, a more accurate, if less catchy title, would be “Coptic Magical Manuscripts”. Alongside papyrus, Coptic-language magical texts were written on a wide range of other materials, including parchment…

  • News

    Temporal Tracings and Magical Manuscripts Exhibition Opening

    On the 11th-12th of May 2019 our project participated in our first public event, the opening of the exhibition Tracés temporels et manuscrits magiques at the Atelier Mélusine in La Trimouille in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. This show was a way for us to present Coptic magical manuscripts from another angle – treating their images as artistic creations, and using them as a way to explore how ancient magic was practiced and experienced. We were first contacted by the curator of Atelier Mélusine, Sally Annett, in December, and in collaboration with her we developed an exhibition that would allow the magical papyri to be experienced in new ways – visually, as art…

  • Coptic Charms

    Coptic Charms I: Horus, Isis and the Three Agrippas

    In previous posts we’ve talked about some of the characteristic features of Coptic magical texts: they often begin with speech acts directed to the supernatural beings they summon, phrases such as “I invoke you” or “I adjure you”, and they often contain the magical signs we call kharaktēres, and the magical words we call voces magicae – both understood as divine languages containing superhuman power. There is an important subset of Coptic magical texts, however, which don’t follow this model, the group which I like to call “charms”. These take the form of short stories, often called historiolae, set in the mythic past, whose characters are gods, saints, and other…