• Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri V: …and Space

    Our project is tied up with the land of Egypt, and not only because the texts we’re studying are written in Coptic. Egypt has a unique place in the study of the ancient Mediterranean because of its proverbial “dry sands”. Most of the population has always lived along the narrow stretch of the Nile valley – extending nearly 1200 km from Aswan in the south to Alexandria in the north, but only 3-20 km wide at any point along its course. On each side of the valley stretches the mountainous desert, filled over the centuries with towns, tombs, temples, churches, and monasteries. While elsewhere ancient texts often rotted away, the…

  • Case Study

    Jesus and the Unicorn: Easter and the Harrowing of Hell in Coptic Magic

    As we saw in our Christmas post, the Coptic Church celebrates the major Christian festivals at a different date to the Western churches because it uses the older Julian calendar rather than the now dominant Gregorian calendar. For this reason, Coptic Christians, along with the members of several other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, will celebrate Easter (Coptic ⲡⲁⲥⲭⲁ, paskha) on the 28th April 2019. While modern Christians, especially those in cold climates, often think of Christmas as their major celebration, Easter is the first festival attested in the ancient church, and remains for many the most important. We find the basic outlines of its story in each of the…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri IV: Time…

    Now that most of our corpus has been entered into our database, we can begin to visualise it in various interesting ways. In the next few posts of this series we’ll examine some of the statistical features of the manuscripts containing Coptic magical texts, beginning with their distribution over time. In our project description, we say that the texts which we study date to between the third and twelfth centuries CE. This coincides with the period that Coptic was used as a written form of the Egyptian language; the earliest texts in standard Coptic probably date to the third century. By the twelfth century it had largely been replaced by…

  • News

    Exhibition Announcement: Tracés temporels et manuscrits magiques

    We are very pleased to be able to announce our first public event, an exhibition titled Tracés temporels et manuscrits magiques, which will be held at the Atelier de Mélusine in La Trimouille, France. The exhibition will consist of 24 tracings of drawings from Coptic, Demotic and Greek magical papyri, produced by our team members in collaboration with Dr. Raquel Martín Hernández whose project, To Zodion, is dedicated to such images. These prints will be accompanied by music created for the event by Dr. Luis Calero, an expert on ancient Greek music and performance, as well as a soloist singer, who has recorded reconstructions of the Hymn to Typhon from…

  • 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…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri III: Boundary-Crossing Texts

    Our last post in this series established two categories of magical manuscripts – formularies, which contain magical recipes, and applied texts, created in the process of magical rituals and embodying their power. We deliberately chose a very clear example to illustrate this division, but in many cases the line between the two is not so obvious. This week we’ll look at a few confusing examples of magical objects which show features of both formularies and applied texts. In most cases, these texts are ambiguous because they show features that we would consider typical of both categories of manuscript. P. mag. copt. Saqqara hypogees F17.10, a small piece of paper with…

  • 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…