• 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…

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in Coptic Magic V: Magic and Gnostic Ritual

    Last week we introduced Sethian Gnosticism, used to refer to a particular body of Gnostic texts, so-called by scholars because of their shared features, in particularly the importance of Seth as a revealer and saviour. This body of texts is also called “Classic Gnostic”, since it contains many of the features typically associated with “Gnostic” systems.* In our last post we also looked at how some of the figures which occur in the Sethian system – such as the luminary Davithe – also show up in magical texts. In most cases, we suggested, this is a result of shared cultural background rather than the dependence of Sethian or magical texts…

  • Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri IV: Sethian Gnosticism and Magical Texts

    Gnosticism is one of the major areas of research within Coptic Studies, and yet, like magic, it is a controversial concept, deconstructed by its specialists to the extent that most scholars use the term “gnosticism” in scare quotes, or avoid it altogether. Yet studies of Gnosticism continue to appear, perhaps demonstrating that, despite its problems, the term still has some usefulness. In this post we will use “gnostic” and related terms as shorthands, but it is worth remembering that these are problematic labels, which may not have been those used by those we would call “gnostics”. Readers of this blog may already know that “gnostic” comes from the Greek word…