Late Antiquity – The Coptic wizard’s hoard

Greek amulet with a pseudo-Hebrew inscription

Greek amulet with a pseudo-Hebrew inscription

Today I dived into the magic of Late Antiquity. This whole universe of magical spells, amulets and papyri which the mediterranean melting pot in that period of time produced – Greek, Coptic, or Hebrew – is certainly one of the important backdrops of the western grimoire tradition. We must not to think in clear-cut categories of Greek, Coptic and Hebrew magic however, because evidence shows that spells could be easily adapted, by changing the language and altering only a few key elements.

These magical papyri form a large and still growing corpus, and shed light on this interesting aspect of life in Late Antiquity, magic. Archeological excavations revealed corpses that actually had amulets on them, thus demonstrating ‘magic at work’, and occasionally researchers succeed in matching a written manual with an inscribed metal object. Based upon many parallels in the papyri and amulet inscriptions it’s assumed that some master copies were circulating back then, compendia to which most likely a class of minor literati (like court-clerks) had acces to and from which they extracted their customizable spells. Of course it’s tempting to think of these conjectured texts as the lost grimoires of Late Antiquity.

In some cases though, larger collections are found. One example is the so-called Coptic wizard’s hoard, a group of papyri kept at the University of Michigan, which was produced sometime in the 4th through 7th centuries and originating from a now unknown location in Egypt. It provides us with a rare glimpse into the activities and literary production of a magical workshop in which several individuals, perhaps working together, produced a written collection of magical texts. The collection consists of twelve manuscripts containing as many as eight texts written by five scribes. Two of the most striking common features among the manuscripts is that none appears to have any significant signs of wear from practical use or textual alterations by later hands, suggesting that the collection was used little, if at all. As to the contents, the book contains a prayer, an invocation of the seven archangels, credentials, editorial notes on ritual purity, the secret Hebraic names of the twenty-one powers, a list of 32 tricks and prescriptions, and a whole bunch of magical words, voces magicae, which sound like chararn larouth rourouth outh êthith chôchôô …

05

Translation Sample

God, Lord Lord, all powerful One, whose body has the appearance of fire which is light in the hidden things. The one who is born of flesh does not know your name, but only you yourself know it, the entire way of wisdom who alone is from the aeons of light, who is unknowable, and is surrounded by all of the powers who are each appointed over your work and your service. Grant to me everything related to this prayer and to every ritual action which I perform!

You seven angels, each appointed over his work and his service, act on my behalf! For I am Seth the son of Adam, the first revelation of the unformed fingers! Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Ouriel, Saraphouel, Souriel, Anael; and also his other ministrants: Amoel, Anathael, Ananael, Anael, Phriel, Thriel, Ariel, Israel; and the other authorities: Mosul, Osul, Phael, Ioel, Arphael, Tremael.

(…)

I am Seth the son of Adam. I have purified myself forty days until its power is revealed and the power of its Hebrew (language) and all of its manipulations, so that it can assist in every action which I perform. Perform it while you are pure and in awe.

References

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