marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece And Rome

Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece And Rome edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark

Volume 2.  Covering a large range of practice and theory -- and time.

The first section deals with practice:  the surviving lead curse tablets.  Apparently lead was also used to write letters, which may have been the start.  But having started with the practice of engraving names, wrapping it up, perhaps nailing it, and then depositing it in a well or some cthyonic sanctuary such as Demeter's or Persphone's, it got more elaborate.  With ligitiation, with compeitition, even with amatory curses -- the first amatory ones were to separate couples, only then did they lead to ones that united.  Also the increasing elaboration of formulas calling for gods and demons and angels to act, and using increasing magical words for it.  (Some of the nonsense words were apparently transformed into demonic names.)

Got admire the one where a woman calls down a curse on another woman for slanderously accusing her of using magic potions on her husband.

It was a counter-cultural practice, and could be prosecuted as impiety.  They knew it.  One formulary instructed the user to steal a cold water pipe from the water system.  Not because lead was hard to get, it was cheap, but apparently because vandalism made it more magical.  This may also explain why they identified people by matronymics, because patronymics were culturally normal.  Then again, they might have just wanted to be more sure of correctly identifying the right person; one tablet uses the formula "whom (name) claims as his daughter", and that one's probably just to make sure.  Or it could have just reflect Egyptian and Babylonian practice; we know they used matronymics in it.

Well, not entirely counter-cultural.  There were "prayers for justice" where the person called down divine vengeance on a thief, usually.  Those could be abject prayers, but they could also contain such things as donating the stolen goods to the god -- the thief had thereby commited sacrilege with all its penalties -- and then threatening the god with humiliation if he did not retrieve his stolen goods, for not being able to.

The next section moved into theory by moving to literary sources.  Everything from the precise terminology about things magical, and what their connotations were -- through the use of philtre to bind men and women to love, or to impotence (adulteress were often described as making their lover impotent if they went to marry) -- to the figures of magic.  At one end you had those like Circe and Medea, divinely descended and powerful; at the other extreme you had historical figures like Apulieus being accused of magic, and legends accretated about them.  Jesus had only a few traits in common with the stereotypical magos of the era, but a few centuries later, people were claiming he was taught magic in Egypt and stole the names of angels of might from Egyptian temples.  Simon Magus, in later, legendary texts was much more typical.  And then there were the complete fictious witches.

The final section deals with the demonization of magic.  Literally.  Christians attributed all of it to demonic beings, though it was not an even process.  Even the pagan Romans, whose laws at first required actual harm, took a harsher view of magic as it went on.
Tags: history reviews: classical, names, non-fiction: essays, world-building: creatures, world-building: law, world-building: magic (technique), world-building: religion

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