What to do to improve one’s luck in love? How to ward off sickness and protect house and home from ill? Who would turn to gods, angels, and demons for such help, and how? Magical handbooks help us to understand how the ancients approached these questions. Traditions of ritual knowledge can be traced across time, space, culture, language. We can also see the innovations of individual copyists and owners of magical books.
Graeco-Egyptian Magical Handbooks
I am a contributor and member of the editorial board of a project to collect, edit, translate and interpret some of the most important sources for instructions for magical practices in the Graeco-Roman world: a group of over one hundred manuscripts, conventionally called “the Greek magical papyri” (in fact there are also Egyptian-language texts, and other substrates besides papyrus) from Roman Egypt. Preview Volume One, on the formularies from the first century BCE through the third century CE, published by California Classical Studies.
From Greek to Coptic: A Bilingual Magical Codex of the Fourth Century CE
A palm-sized parchment codex from Egypt of the fourth century CE, now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, preserves recipes in Greek and Coptic (the latest written phase of the Egyptian language) for healing and protection through magic and more conventional treatments. I have co-authored a re-edition and detailed study of its position in the cultic as well as linguistic landscape of Egypt. The recipes show the interaction of traditional Egyptian religion and ritual with ritual and medical practices of Graeco-Roman culture. ArchaicCoptic incantations featuring the Egyptian gods Amun and Thoth accompany another in Greek constructed from the verses of Homer and invoking the angel Gabriel.
Late Ancient and Medieval Afterlives: A Coptic Magical Archive
Since 2016 I have participated in a collaborative research project based at the British Museum to apply advanced conservation, imaging, and materials-analysis techniques to better understand some further handbooks in the Coptic language on a unique material: strips of leather. The resulting, forthcoming monograph provides a new model for interdisciniplary study of ancient magical artifacts.