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2022 Review: The Fourth Year of the Coptic Magical Papyri Project

Michael accompanied by his two Powers from P. Heid. Kopt. Inv. 686 (KYP M166), intended to be copied onto an amulet.

Four years of the Coptic Magical Papyri project have passed, and just a little bit less than one remains. We’ve managed to achieve a lot, but we still have much more to do, and we hope to have some pleasant surprises for our followers in the next few months.

The team once again underwent some changes this year – we said goodbye to Matouš Preininger, who since 2020 has been providing us with invaluable IT support. But we were able to welcome back Stella Türker, who has returned to continue helping us by compiling data on manuscripts in the database, and had a new member join the team – Selina Schuster – who is helping us format text editions.

The Kyprianos Database

While our updates have been less frequent this year with our IT support gone, the Kyprianos database has continued to grow. This year we have added a further 152 manuscript entries, and translations of a further 73 texts, accompanied by 10 tracings of magical drawings, and made the raw data of Kyprianos available for download – for more information on these, see our last update. For this Christmas, we decided to focus on editing manuscript information on Christmas hymns preserved on papyrus, and thanks to the hard work of our doctoral researcher, Julia Schwarzer, you can now find basic descriptions of (nearly) all of them in Kyprianos. You can also read about them in a blog post from our friend and colleague Ágnes Mihálykó, who provided us with the basic information on the corpus.

Conferences and Publications

The cover of the volume Magikon Zˆon.
The cover of the volume Magikon Zōon: Animal and Magic from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, featuring as its cover image Gleipnir by Walton Ford.

This year was our biggest yet for communication, with team members presenting 25 talks at in-person or online conferences and seminars, and a total of 14 articles, reviews, monographs, and text editions submitted. It was also a very big year for publications, so we thought it might be worth briefly summarising some of them here:

  • Korshi Dosoo, Edward O.D. Love, and Markéta Preininger. “The Coptic Magical Papyri Project: Progress Report”, Journal of Coptic Studies 24 (2022): 43–100. URL
    This article represents a summary of the work of the project so far, and in part grew out of our blog series, Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri, which is still online and available to read (although some of the wordpress plugins for maps and graphs are unfortunately no longer supported).
  • Christopher A. Faraone and Sofía Torallas Tovar (editors), Greek and Egyptian Magical Formularies: Text and Translation, Berkeley: California Classical Studies, 2022 (vol. 1). URL
    Greek and Egyptian Magical Formularies (GEMF) represents a huge step forward in the study of ancient magic, presenting two volumes of editions (text, translation, and notes) of Greek, Demotic, and Old Coptic formularies, thus serving as a partial update to the Greek Magical Papyri of Preisendanz and Betz. Project member Korshi Dosoo and ex-project member Edward Love were both contributors to the first volume which appeared this year, containing the formularies dating from the first century BCE to the third century CE. The second volume, in preparation, will contain most of the remaining formularies, dating between the fourth and early seventh centuries CE. While these volumes don’t represent the end of the study of these manuscripts – much work remains to be done – they make them much more accessible, and will hopefully open the door to future studies. The full volume is available to view online in open access.
  • Christopher A. Faraone and Sofía Torallas Tovar (editors), The Greco-Egyptian Magical Formularies: Libraries, Books and Recipes, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2022 URL
    A companion volume to GEMF, this volume presents studies on magical formularies which arose in the course of editing and re-editing the Greek and Demotic magical formularies. Project member Korshi Dosoo has three articles in this volume – the first two, co-written with Sofía Torallas Tovar, provide overviews of magical archives and the formats of magical handbooks, while the third is a detailed study of the composition of the Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (PDM/PGM XIV; GEMF 16). 
  • Markéta Preininger, “BnF Copte 129 (20) fol. 178: Three Healing Prescriptions”, Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete 68.2 (2022): 344-357 URL
    Project member Markéta Preininger produced an edition of the unpublished BnF Copte 129 (20) fol. 178, a codex sheet containing several healing prescriptions. The first text is a fumigation recipe for a gynaecological issue including a prayer to be spoken during this procedure, the second is a prayer for healing deafness referring to Malchus, and the third is an unknown prescription. Markéta has compared these healing prescriptions with some older Egyptian, Greek, and later Arabic medical and magical texts.
  • Korshi Dosoo and Jean-Charles Coulon (editors), Magikon Zōon: Animal et magie dans l’Antiquité et au Moyen Âge | Animal and Magic from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Paris-Orléans: Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes, 2022 URL
    This volume publishes the proceedings of a conference on the role of animals in ancient and mediaeval magic in the Near East, North Africa, and Europe which took place in 2016. Project member Korshi Dosoo was one of the two editors, and along with a bilingual introduction, he provides three articles offering overviews of the role of animals in Graeco-Egyptian and Coptic magic, as well as on a case study – the use of animal mummies in Greek and Demotic magical texts. The full volume is available to view online in open access.
  • Korshi Dosoo,  “Heathen Serpents and Wingless Angels? Some Notes on Images in Coptic Magical Texts”, in Raquel Martín Hernández (editor), The Iconography of Magic. Images of Power and the Power of Images in Ancient and Late Antique Magic (Leuven: Peeters, 2022), 117–168 URL
    Another volume of proceedings from a 2016 conference, this volume contains an excellent selection of articles examining images and iconography in Egyptian and Greek magic; project member Korshi Dosoo offers another overview here, this time of drawings in Coptic magical texts.
  • Korshi Dosoo, “Ministers of Fire and Spirit: Knowing Angels in the Coptic Magical Papyri”, in Delphine Lauritzen (editor), Inventer les anges de l’Antiquité à Byzance, Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2021, 403–434 URL
    Another overview article, this one focuses on the role of angels in the Coptic magical papyri, looking at their predecessors in Jewish and Graeco-Egyptian practice, and focusing particularly on their functions in two quite different types of ritual – healing rituals and love spells.
  • Korshi Dosoo, “Two Body Problems: Binding Effigies in Christian Egypt”, in Jay Johnston and Iain Gardner (editors), Drawing Spirit: The Role of Images and Design in the Magical Practice of Late Antiquity, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022), 135–184 URL
    The final article we highlight here is quite wide-ranging, beginning with a discussion of the history of the term “voodoo doll”, before shifting to look at parallels in the cross-cultural use of these objects, better described as “effigies”, in rituals from the ancient and mediaeval world from India to Great Britain. The third part turns to examine how these general principles are instantiated in Coptic magical practice – in literary texts and in magical handbooks – both the instructions and the drawings found in them.

We should also note another exciting forthcoming publication – Markéta Preiniger, now our post-doctoral researcher, successfully defended her thesis this August, Conception of the Body and its Liquids in Coptic Magical Texts. We’re very proud of the work Markéta has done, and look forward to seeing it in press soon!

Remember that our online bibliographies also contain a near-comprehensive list of works related to ancient Coptic, and to a lesser extent, Greek magical texts. Markéta Preininger, Julia Schwarzer, and Selina Türker have been working hard keeping these up to date over the last year.

Podcasts

Finally, Markéta continued to produce the Coptic Magical Papyri podcast, producing some interviews with some excellent scholars – these were Greek and Egyptian Deities in Coptic Magical Texts with Roxanne Bélanger Sarrazin, Intersection between Christian and Jewish Magic with Joseph Sanzo, and Talking Ancient Magic with David Frankfurter. All of these are definitely worth listening to; David Frankfurter’s memories of working on the famous Ancient Christian Magic will be of interest to anyone who, like us, uses this book almost daily. More exciting guests are lined up for the coming year.


The coming year is the last one of the project (at least, in its present form), but we still have a lot more to do, and we look forward to sharing it with you. As always, we’d like to thank all of our colleagues and followers for the time they spent with us last year, and for their help and support. 

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