Thursday, 3 May 2012

Greek Magical Papyri

I was so much happy and excited when I got to know about such ancient text as "Greek Magical Papyri" (Papyri Graecae magicae). It eventually gives and answer on the question about practice of magic in ancient Greece and Hellenic countries as well as it gives us first magical instructions in a written form. I have also found that there is not much information in the internet about it and moreover, not so many images of it though I found some and I hope they are genuine.
"Greek magical papyri" is the name given by scholars to a body of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulae, hymns and rituals. The  materials in the papyri date from 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. The manuscripts came to light through the antiquities tarde, from the 18th century onwards. One of the best known of these texts is the so-called Mithras Liturgy (Wiki).
I must say that the papyri has a very strange look, it has not only script in it but some pictures too and I would like to know the reason. It looks more like some kids' drawing to me as well.

Greek magical papyri sheet
I found the text of "Greek magical papyri" here. So what is the content of this papyri. Mainly the texts included in it are :
  • instructions for magical rituals
  • different magical spells
  • guidance on how to deal with demons
  • formulae
  • curses
  • hymns
and other miscellaneous.
The text of "Greek magical papyri" contains references to various gods and demons, Greek, Egyptian and Jewish. In "Papyri graecae magicae III. 1-59" are found names of Hermes, Hekate (papyri spelling), Hermekate (perhaps merging of Hermes and Hekate) and some Meliouchos. In another papyri IV.4-25 there are names of Egyptian and Jewish gods: Osiris, Anubis, Thoth, Sabaoth. Also Zeus is mentioned there. Moreover, angles are also met in the text.
As I had said above there were images in the papyri too. I consider them to be images of Gods or demons with the spells written in the borders of their body.
Greek magical papyri sheet
 The "Greek magical papyri in translation Including the demotic spell, Second edition" book  explains pretty well the origin, history of discovery and the meaning of "Greek magical papyri". The author of the "Introduction to the Greek magical papyri" Hans Dieter Betz says that beside the insight into syncretism of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish and even Babylonian ancient religions, the papyri also "provides many insights into the phenomenon of magician as a religious functionary(...) Some of the magicians writing and using the spells may have been associated with temples of Egyptian and Greek deities".
The author had good words about the meaning of magic in the time of papyri creation: " In a transitional culture like Graeco-Roman Egypt, a religious functionary who operated as a crisis manager became a necessity to the lives of ordinary people. This role the magician was bale to fulfill". This is what I was saying about the origin of magic   , that it appeared as a support for those who needed it, and the person who performed had a special knowledge, so that he or she could communicate with the world of demons and dead.
Papyri is an amazing written source for the study of magical knowledge in ancient times and we also shall value it as any other opportunity to get a little bit closer to the understanding of how our ancestors lived.  

Origin of Witchcraft - Greek Hecate

 I had opened a big topic related to a reflection of a witchcraft in ancient Greek literature. Therefore, I would like to continue my thoughts on the subject of the first witch/wizard in the human's history. And I would like to descry ancient Greek mythology and Goddess Hecate and her relation to witchcraft.
Hecate is an ancient Goddess who is presented mostly as a triple formed Goddess: triple headed, triple bodied, six armed and six legged. I also found that  "earliest Greek depictions of Hecate are single-faced, not three formed" (wiki), and that her mystic nature was created later.
Ancient Hecate, 3rd century BCE
Goddess Hecate has associations  with a variety of phenomenon as fire, light, the Moon, crossroads, entrance ways, knowledge of potions and herbs, necromancy, sorcery, magic and witchcraft. Hecate also has a universal rule over the earth, sky and the sea, what might be reflected in her triple bodied figure.
Modern Hecate
Hecate's image as a witch can be treated as much valuable and powerful than any other. I must say that Hecate also figures in a myth about Jason and the Argonauts, discussed here in regard with Medea. Nevertheless, Hecate shall be considered as the source of witchcraft, probably it's origin, or the origin of belief in it.
In the Michael Strmiska's book "Modern paganism in world cultures" I found the lines about the origin of witchcraft and Hecate's cult, where the author says that Hecate conflated with Diana (Roman Goddess) was a protector of witches and sorcerers in their work and was most active at night. This then, in late antiquity and early medieval period, gave a ground for association of Hecate with witchcraft and night rituals.
According to Greek tradition Hecate can be called the first Goddess in humans history which used to have links with witchcraft and officially could be called as a Goddess of witches. However, in my opinion, we can't really know how she was treated by ancient Greeks and did they really worship this side of her deity. For that matter I also would like to know about the magic as a tool of mortal people in ancient Greece. How they used magic and how magic was treated that time.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Beltane festival and Walpurgis night

        Such a coincidence that I have started "Witchcraft and Literature" just 4 days before Beltane Festival and Walpurgis Night. I am  so glad to make this post just on time! Now let me tell  you why it is so significant.
       Beltane Festival is a Gaelic festival celebrated on the first day of May. In Wiki source it is said that Beltane (and other spellings like "Bealtaine") is simply the name of the month of May. Beltane marks the beginning of summer and celebrated usually with the bonfires on some open areas in the hills." The bonfires will mark purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of good harvest later in the year, and are accompanied with ritual acts  to protect the people from any harm of Otherwordly spirits". Same could be down to a cattle which had to be lead between two bonfires in order to be purified (Wiki).
Beltane (image credit: Hamish Burgess)
     Beltane takes place in Neopagan culture among Wiccans who celebrate it as one of the eight solar holidays. In this sense it is more related to Germanic May Day. And perhaps related to Walpurgis Night.
       I think that Beltane celebration is a beautiful tradition which I can connect to such Russian festival like Maslenitsa, which marks the beginning of spring.
      Walpurgis Night is a traditional spring festival celebrated on 30th of April or 1st of May in Northern and Central  Europe. The current festival got it's name after English missionary Walpurga canonized on the 1st of May. However this day became associated with May Day. This day is known as Walpurgisnacht (German and Dutch).
    Walpurgis night was traditionally considered to be witches' "get together" - Sabbath. I remember I used to read that this night witches were believed to meet with devil. There were also lit bonfires, around which witches would dance and do rituals.
Walpurgis Night
These two festivals are remarkable for understanding of some of the attributes and phenomenon related to witches. They are night, fire, togetherness, nature itself, seasons.
Yours sincerely,
Witchcraft and Literature

Monday, 30 April 2012

Witch - good and bad? Classical literature

   Long time back I started reading Greek myths. I was more than fascinated with them, I was stunned by them. I don't  really know what I found so close to my person in them, but there was definitely something special. Oh yes... there was magic in them. All those Gods and Goddesses endowed with supernatural powers made me my imagination go far beyond the rational. My favourite Goddess was Artemis. I used to play as I was her, hunting in the forests with a bow, which was made from a simple hanger :)
Modern Artemis
Classical Artemis
   Well, when I grew up I got to know that besides Greek myths there is also a classical literature, in which Homer's "Odyssey" takes the most attention. A heroic epos, full of adventures, stories about love and, of course, magic. One of the most famous witches in all ancient Greek literature was of course Circe. Was she a good or a bad witch? Let's see what are her actions in "Odyssey".
    Circe is a minor Goddess of Magic. Sometimes she used to be described as "witch" too. "Circe transformed her enemies or those who offended her, into animals through the use of magical potions" (Wiki). If you remember she did the same with the Odyssey crew, when turned them into pigs and only Odyssey could resist her magic as he was warned by Hermes and given a special drug called "moly". As I had said in a post Witch - good and bad? Russian Baba-Yaga, witch as I found out, could play a dual role as a helper and a dreadful ruiner. Circe's function in Odyssey is similar to that of Baba-Yaga. 
   Circe guides Odyssey and his crew in their further journey. Though she doesn't do it by virtue of her kind nature, she does it only after Odyssey agrees to stay on her island Aeaea for one year as in return of her turning Odyssey's crew into humans again. Hence the witch remains witch - she does good but not forgetting about her own profit.
  Another not less famous than Circe witch is Medea. Her character is presented in Greek myths as well as in an ancient Greek literature. Mythological Medea figures in a myth about Jason and the Argonauts. Her actions start when Jason is asked by Medea's father Aeetes to perform tasks in order to obtain Golden fleece. Medea helps Jason to get Golden fleece with the means like herbs and ointment. In  late work by Apollonius of Rhodes "Argonautica" (3 century BC) Medea fell in love with Jason and promised to help him only of he succeed in the tasks and then take her with him and marry.
I was rather puzzled with the statements that Medea was either Hecate's daughter or her priestess, because this difference makes her less or more powerful witch then.
Jason and Medea
     Obvious that in whatever written sources Medea figures she is said to use such means of a witch as potions, herbs, hypnosis, drugs. However in contrast with Circe, Medea is a mortal woman who has strong emotions and strong character. In Euripid's tragedy "Medea" her personage lives through the Jason's betrayal. Medea takes revenge by murdering Jason's new wife by sending her poisoned dress and coronet. More, she also kills her own children in anger and despair. One important note is that in Euripid's tragedy Medea herself says that she was hated because she was considered to be too wise and cunning. These qualities of a witch, which help her to solve complex issues with an outstanding knack.
   I attempted to understand whether witch is good or bad as shown in classical Greek literature. Witch's good as soon as she acts for a success of the main hero, otherwise her actions are viewed as wrong and punishable.

Yours sincerely,
Witchcraft and Literature