• Old Coptic Magic

    An Introduction to Old Coptic

    As an offshoot to the mini-series of posts on “Old Coptic Magical Texts”, that is, magical texts featuring Egyptian text written in an Old Coptic script, this post provides a brief introduction to Old Coptic writing – at once the parent and sibling of standard Coptic writing. As implied by the name itself, Old Coptic writing is, in most cases, ‘older’ than standard Coptic writing. As such, it is often seen as a predecessor of Coptic writing. But this is only an accurate distinction when the different Old Coptic scripts are compared to the later, standardised, Coptic script. When Old Coptic scripts were first  developed, in the 1st century CE…

  • 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: 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…

  • Old Coptic Magic

    Old Coptic Magical Texts III: The Bilingual Solar Divination through Boy Medium of PGM IV

    This post is the third in a mini-series about bilingual recipes in Egyptian and Greek from the 3rd/4th century papyrus codex PGM IV (Greek Magical Papyrus 4) – the “Bilingual Solar Divination through Boy Medium” (PGM IV. 88-93). This practice, inscribed upon page 5 of the codex, is paralleled among Demotic examples of divinations using boy mediums but here is attested in a bilingual Greek and Old Coptic text. Through bringing about the manifestation of a deity, the practitioner could ask the boy to ask the deity about anything that they wished to know. Although a relatively short recipe compared to those we have looked at earlier, the series of…

  • 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…