The Magician's Craft


Relations with the gods

magic vs. religion -- unsatisfactory criteria

supplication vs. coercion

sacrifice vs. complex ritual

abstract ends vs. practical goals

public vs. private - open vs. secret


Structural shift - in heaven as it is on earth

agonistic vs. centralized

locative vs. utopian

celebrative vs. rebellious


Magic and Mystery cults


ritual of initiation

direct contact with divine


Initiation and transformation of status

van Gennep - rites of passage




marking and making the transformation of status

performer and audience


Divine revelation and special knowledge

revelation and authority

epiphany vs. katabasis or anodos

systasis (meeting with the god) vs. parhedros (assistant daimon)


Specialists - religious craftsmen

crisis and troubleshooters

business and competition

authority and legitimation

tradition and innovation

coefficients of weirdness and familiarity

multiculturalism and exoticism

passing on the secrets

tools of the trade - handbooks and formularies


The Greek Magical Papyri

Dates and styles of handbooks

increasing complexity of spell procedures

voces magicae start around 1st century CE

scholarly tradition in the PGM - copying, redaction, and annotation

Special Collections

The Anastasi Collection and the Demotic papyri

For Thursday:

Analyze one of the PGM texts from the readings (a. IV 26-51, b. IV 154-285, c. XIII 1-343) in terms of van Gennep’s tripartite schema:  separation, liminality, reaggregation.  Use Graf’s discussion of PGM I.1-42 (pp. 109ff.) as a model. Pay particular attention to the liminal phase as the central part of the ritual.  What characterizes this phase?  What kinds of things take place during separation? reaggregation?



 Origen, Against Celsus, 6.22

After this from a desire to parade his erudition in his attack on us Celsus also describes some Persian mysteries, where he says: "These truths are obscurely represented by the teaching of the Persians and by the mystery of Mithras which is of Persian origin. For in the latter there is a symbol of the two orbits in heaven, the one being that of the fixed stars and the other that assigned to the planets, and of the soul's passage through these. The symbol is this. There is a ladder with seven gates and at its top an eighth gate. The first of the gates is of lead, the second of tin, the third of bronze, the fourth of iron, the fifth of an alloy, the sixth of silver, and the seventh of gold. They associate the first with Kronos (Saturn), taking lead to refer to the slowness of the star; the second with Aphrodite (Venus), comparing her with the brightness and softness of tin; the third with Zeus (Jupiter), as the gate that has a bronze base and which is firm; the fourth with Hermes (Mercury), for both iron and Hermes are reliable for all works and make money and are hard-working; the fifth with Ares (Mars), the gate which as a result of the mixture is uneven and varied in quality; the sixth with the Moon as the silver gate; and the seventh with the Sun as the golden gate, these metals resembling their colors.  He next examines the reason for this particular arrangement of stars which is indicated by means of symbols in the names of the various kinds of matter.  And he connects musical theories with the theology of the Persians which he describes.  He waxes enthusiastic about these and gives a second explanation which again contains musical ideas.


Hesiod, Theogony 23-34

And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me-- the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis:

 "Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things."

 So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things that were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last.


Plutarch, fragment 178

The soul suffers an experience similar to those who celebrate great initiations...  Wandering astray in the beginning, tiresome walkings in circles, some frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then immediately before the end all the terrible things, panic and shivering and sweat and amazement.  And then some wonderful light comes to meet you, pure regions and meadows are there to greet you, with sounds and dances and solemn, sacred words and holy views. 


Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 10, 81de

Persons who are being initiated into the mysteries throng together at the outset amid tumult and shouting, and jostle against one another, but when the holy rites are being performed and disclosed the people are immediately attentive in awe and silence. 


Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11


Isis’ epiphany

'But this you must remember well and keep forever stored up in your inmost heart: the remaining course of your life right up until your last breath is now solemnly promised to me. It is only just that you should make over all the rest of your time on earth to her by whose beneficence you will be made human again. And you will live happily, you will live gloriously under my protection; and when you have completed your lifespan and descend to the shades, there also in that subterranean hemisphere I, whom you now behold, shall be there, shining amidst the darkness of Acheron and reigning in the secret depths of Styx, and you shall dwell in the Elysian Fields and constantly worship me and be favoured by me. But if by diligent observance and pious service and steadfast chastity you shall have deserved well of my godhead, know that I alone also have the power to prolong your life beyond the bounds fixed for you by your Fate.'


Lucius’ initiation

Then with everybody present he ordered me to abstain from the pleasures of the table for the next ten days and not to eat the flesh of any animal or drink any wine. This abstinence I observed with reverential restraint as instructed. Then the day came which was fixed for my pledged appearance before the goddess. Towards sunset there came flocking from all sides crowds of people, all bearing different gifts in my honour, according to the ancient practice of the mysteries. Then the uninitiated were all made to leave, I was dressed in a brand-new linen robe, and the priest took me by the hand and conducted me to the very innermost part of the sanctuary.


I dare say, attentive reader, that you are all agog to know what was then said and done. I should tell you if it were lawful to tell it; you should learn if it were lawful to hear it. But then your ears and my tongue would both incur equal guilt, the one for sacrilegious loquacity, the other for importunate curiosity. But since it may be that your anxious yearning is piously motivated, I will not torment you by prolonging your anguish. Listen then, but believe; for what I tell you is the truth. I came to the boundary of death and after treading Proserpine's threshold I returned having traversed all the elements; at midnight I saw the sun shining with brilliant light; I approached the gods below and the gods above face to face and worshipped them in their actual presence. Now I have told you what, though you have heard it, you cannot know. So all that can without sin be revealed to the understanding of the uninitiated, that and no more I shall relate.


Morning came, and, the ceremonies duly performed, I came forth attired in the twelve robes of my consecration, a truly mystical dress, but nothing prevents me from mentioning it since a great many people were there and saw it at the time. For in the very heart of the sacred temple, before the statue of the goddess, a wooden platform had been set up, on which I took my stand as bidden. I was a striking sight, since though my dress was only of fine linen it was colourfully embroidered, and from my shoulders there fell behind me to my ankles a costly cloak. Wherever you looked, I was decorated all over with pictures of multicoloured animals: here Indian serpents, there Hyperborean griffins with bird-like wings, creatures of another world. This is what initiates call an Olympic robe. In my right hand I held a flaming torch and my head was encircled with a beautiful crown of palm, its bright leaves projecting like rays. Equipped thus in the image of the Sun I stood like a statue while the curtains were suddenly pulled back and the people crowded in to gaze at me. Following this I celebrated my rebirth as an initiate with enjoyable feasting and good-humoured conviviality. The third day too was celebrated with similar ceremonies and a sacramental breakfast, marking the formal conclusion of my initiation.

Pausanias IX.39.5-14

What happens at the oracle is as follows. When a man has made up his mind to descend to the oracle of Trophonius, he first lodges in a certain building for an appointed number of days, this being sacred to the good Spirit and to good Fortune. While he lodges there, among other regulations for purity he abstains from hot baths, bathing only in the river Hercyna. Meat he has in plenty from the sacrifices, for he who descends sacrifices to Trophonius himself and to the children of Trophonius, to Apollo also and Cronus, to Zeus surnamed King, to Hera Charioteer, and to Demeter whom they surname Europa and say was the nurse of Trophonius. At each sacrifice a diviner is present, who looks into the entrails of the victim, and after an inspection prophesies to the person descending whether Trophonius will give him a kind and gracious reception. The entrails of the other victims do not declare the mind of Trophonius so much as a ram, which each inquirer sacrifices over a pit on the night he descends, calling upon Agamedes. Even though the previous sacrifices have appeared propitious, no account is taken of them unless the entrails of this ram indicate the same; but if they agree, then the inquirer descends in good hope.

The procedure of the descent is this. First, during the night he is taken to the river Hercyna by two boys of the citizens about thirteen years old, named Hermae, who after taking him there anoint him with oil and wash him. It is these who wash the descender, and do all the other necessary services as his attendant boys. After this he is taken by the priests, not at once to the oracle, but to fountains of water very near to each other.  Here he must drink water called the water of Lethe (Forgetfulness), that he may forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto, and afterwards he drinks of another water, the water of Memory, which causes him to remember what he sees after his descent. After looking at the image which they say was made by Daedalus (it is not shown by the priests save to such as are going to visit Trophonius), having seen it, worshipped it and prayed, he proceeds to the oracle, dressed in a linen tunic, with ribbons girding it, and wearing the boots of the country.

The oracle is on the mountain, beyond the grove. Round it is a circular basement of white marble, the circumference of which is about that of the smallest threshing floor, while its height is just short of two cubits. On the basement stand spikes, which, like the cross-bars holding them together, are of bronze, while through them has been made a double door. Within the enclosure is a chasm in the earth, not natural, but artificially constructed after the most accurate masonry. The shape of this structure is like that of a bread-oven. Its breadth across the middle one might conjecture to be about four cubits, and its depth also could not be estimated to extend to more than eight cubits. They have made no way of descent to the bottom, but when a man comes to Trophonius, they bring him a narrow, light ladder. After going down he finds a hole between the floor and the structure. Its breadth appeared to be two spans, and its height one span. The descender lies with his back on the ground, holding barley-cakes kneaded with honey, thrusts his feet into the hole and himself follows, trying hard to get his knees into the hole. After his knees the rest of his body is at once swiftly drawn in, just as the largest and most rapid river will catch a man in its eddy and carry him under. After this those who have entered the shrine learn the future, not in one and the same way in all cases, but by sight sometimes and at other times by hearing. The return upwards is by the same mouth, the feet darting out first. 

They say that no one who has made the descent has been killed, save only one of the bodyguard of Demetrius. But they declare that he performed none of the usual rites in the sanctuary, and that he descended, not to consult the god but in the hope of stealing gold and silver from the shrine. It is said that the body of this man appeared in a different place, and was not cast out at the sacred mouth. Other tales are told about the fellow, but I have given the one most worthy of consideration. After his ascent from Trophonius the inquirer is again taken in hand by the priests, who set him upon a chair called the chair of Memory, which stands not far from the shrine, and they ask of him, when seated there, all he has seen or learned. After gaining this information they then entrust him to his relatives. These lift him, paralyzed with terror and unconscious both of himself and of his surroundings, and carry him to the building where he lodged before with Good Fortune and the Good Spirit. Afterwards, however, he will recover all his faculties, and the power to laugh will return to him.  What I write is not hearsay; I have myself inquired of Trophonius and seen other inquirers. Those who have descended into the shrine of Trophonius are obliged to dedicate a tablet on which is written all that each has heard or seen.

B1 - Petelia in Southern Italy, 4th century BCE (45 x 27 mm)

You will find in the halls of Hades a spring on the left,

and standing by it, a glowing white cypress tree;

Do not approach this spring at all.

You will find the other, from the lake of Memory,

refreshing water flowing forth.  But guardians are nearby.

Say: "I am the child of Earth and starry Heaven;

But my race is heavenly; and this you know yourselves.

But I am parched with thirst and I perish; but give me quickly

refreshing water flowing forth from the lake of Memory."

And then they will give you to drink from the divine spring,

And then you will celebrate the rites[?] with the heroes.

This is the tablet[?] of Memory, when you are about to die …

 … ?write this? … … ?? shadow covering around


P1 - Pelinna in Thessaly, 4th century BCE (40 x 31 mm)

Now you have died and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this day.

Say to Persephone that Bacchios himself freed you.

A bull you rushed to milk.

Quickly, you rushed to milk.

A ram you fell into milk.

You have wine as your fortunate honor.

And rites await you beneath the earth, just as the other blessed ones.


A1 - Thurii in Southern Italy, 4th century BCE (51 x 36 mm)

Pure I come from the pure, Queen of those below the earth,

and Eukles and Eubouleus and the other immortal gods;

For I boast that I am of your blessed race.

But Fate mastered me and the Thunderer, striking with his lightning.

I flew out of the circle of wearying heavy grief;

I came on with swift feet to the desired crown;

I passed beneath the bosom of the Mistress, Queen of the Underworld,

I came out with swift feet from the desired crown.

"Blessed and enviable one, a god you shall be instead of a mortal."

A kid I fell into milk.


A2 - Thurii in Southern Italy, 4th century BCE (47 x 28 mm)

Pure I come from the pure, Queen of those below the earth,

and Eukles  and Eubouleus and the gods and other daimons;

For I boast that I am of your blessed race.

I have paid the penalty on account of deeds not just;

Either Fate mastered me or the Thunderer, striking with his lightning.

Now I come, a suppliant, to holy Phersephoneia,

that she, gracious, may send me to the seats of the blessed.


Anastasi collection included:

P. Holmiensis - a 15 page codex of Greek alchemical recipes, written by the same scribe as the other alchemical treatise and PGM XIII.


P. Leid. J 397 - a 10 page codex of Greek alchemical recipes, written by the same scribe as the other alchemical treatise and PGM XIII


PGM IV - a 36 page codex of spells in Coptic and Greek, 3274 lines long.


PGM V - a 7 page codex of spells in Greek, 489 lines long.


PGM Va - a loose page with a Greek magical spell in 3 lines, found among the pages of P. Holmiensis.


PGM XII - 3.6 m papyrus roll with 19 columns of spells on one side (verso) in Demotic and Greek, dating to 4th CE.  On other side (recto) is Demotic literary text from 2nd BCE.  Written by the same scribe as PGM XIV, the great Demotic Magical Papyrus, and PDM supplement.


PGM XIII - a 1078 line collection of Coptic and Greek spells in codex form, written by the same scribe as the two alchemical texts (P. Leid. J 397 and P. Holmiensis).


PGM XIV - papyrus roll of 29 columns on one side and 33 on the other with spells in Old Coptic, Greek and Demotic.  The scribal hand is the same as on PGM XII and PDM supplement.


Probably from the same collection:

PGM VII - papyrus roll of 1027 lines in Greek.


PGM LXI - Papyrus roll with 8 columns on one side (recto) in Demotic, with some Greek and some Coptic voces magicae; the other side (verso) has 2 columns of Demotic and 4 columns of Greek.


PDM supplement - a roll of 7 columns of Demotic on one side and 1 on the other (along with an effaced Greek text).  Written by the same scribe who wrote PGM XIV and PGM XII.


Possibly from the same collection:

PGM I - complete papyrus roll with 5 columns of Greek in 347 lines.


PGM II - papyrus roll with 4 columns of Greek in 183 lines.


PGM III - papyrus roll over 1.5 m long with 734 lines of writing on both sides in Greek and Old Coptic.

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Initiation Grades for Mithraic syndexioi

1.    Corax (Raven)

2.    Nymphus

3.    Miles (Soldier)

4.    Leo (Lion)

5.    Perses (Persian)

6.    Heliodromus

7.    Pater (Father)


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