• News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: Bodily fluids in Egypt and the Middle East Conference in Montpellier (5-7 September 2019)

    Last week, we had the chance to participate at what some of the attendees called a “revolutionary” conference on bodily fluids in sunny Montpellier. Marginal topics, especially touching upon the anthropology of the body, have not been the focus of events and publications up until the very recent years. The attendance was high, with many academics coming from France, Germany, Italy, or the United States. The topic of the body and its fluids is certainly gaining in popularity in the last few years, with many monographs, PhD theses and articles written on this issue. Therefore, it did make sense for the researchers to come together to discuss the matter. As…

  • Theory of Magic

    Anthropology of Magic IV: Lévi-Strauss on Magic

    In this week’s post, we are going to explore the famous article by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) “The Sorcerer and His Magic” which appeared in 1963, and is still a classic study for anyone interested in healing rituals. The question we are trying to find an answer to in our research on Coptic magic is whether and how we can reconstruct ritual practices when many pieces of the puzzle are missing. How could Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of indigenous North American thought be useful for us? Lévi-Strauss was an influential French anthropologist and one of the founders of structural anthropology. Among his most important works are Mythologiques I-IV, an important study of mythologies…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: Concepts of Humans and Nature between Specificity and Universality. Conference, Mainz, 15-17 July, 2019

    The Research Training Group 1876 “Early Concepts of Humans and Nature: Universal, Specific, Interchanged” welcomed over 30 speakers and 4 poster-creators to the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz in the middle of July. This research training group, based at the same university, explores concepts of humans and nature intra-culturally and also trans-culturally, with textual, iconic and material sources being their starting point. The group also regularly update their blog, where their activities can be followed. The aim of the conference was to attempt to find universal, cross-cultural basic patterns of humans and nature and their specific implementations in various early societies. The conference was divided into 3 panels: (1) on the…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: The Language of Magic Conference, Pescara

    At the end of May 2019, the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) committee on “Charms, Charmers and Charming” organised the 12th annual interdisciplinary conference in Pescara, Italy. What was the topic? The language of magic. As this is a subject very important for our project, we decided to participate as well, particularly to hear what other academics have to say on the matter. The event was hosted by the D’Annunzio University of Chieti–Pescara. Pescara is a coastal city and the capital of the Abruzzo region. The settlement predates the Roman conquest and one of the most important historical figures was the 6th century bishop Cetteus, who is also…

  • Greek Magic

    Tantalus amulets: Image, word and body

    In today’s blog post, we are going to take a break from Coptic sources, and we will focus on Greek magical gemstones. Several thousand engraved magical gemstones have been discovered, with the peak of production in the second and third centuries CE, although they had already been in use for centuries by that time, and would continue to be used for hundreds of years after. Although their origin is generally unknown, it is assumed that they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean area; they combine Egyptian and Greek elements, together with Hebrew or Babylonian influences. The script is generally Greek, but the deities or symbols depicted are often Egyptian…

  • Theory of Magic

    Anthropology of Magic III: Superstitions in Antiquity and Today – Nothing Has Changed

    Even those who consider themselves to be “rational” sometimes slip and fall into the pit of superstition. Some of us, however, happily dwell in it. Nonetheless, calling a particular belief a “superstition” can have terrible, even life-threatening, consequences. One who believes in what others may call superstition, generally takes it seriously and does not consider it some “erroneous belief”, but a matter-of-fact. The Merriam-Webster gives two definitions of superstition: “(1) a belief or practice resulting from ignorance (…) and (2) an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition.” A contemplation of this emotionally burdened term is called for, due to the two, starkly…

  • 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,…

  • 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…