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Magic 2, Requirement 2

Describe magic as it exists in one non-Indo-European culture, describe how it has influenced or could influence the magical system of an Indo-European culture, and describe what lessons you could take from the non-IE culture into your own personal practice. (min. 600 words)

Unlike the Mediterranean Indo-European cultures, the culture of Egypt provided fertile ground for magic and religion to exist side-by-side with little to no issue with regular religion. Indeed, priests from the temples would spend their spare time hiring themselves out as miracle workers, magicians, or wandering priests, sometimes changing their title on the fly. There are old magical books that detail parlor tricks that the Egyptian priest might have in his repertoire, such as the ability to ride crocodiles or to put a person in chains and free him. (Graf, 109)

What is truly interesting about Egypt and its eventual effect on magic, though, is that it becomes a fertile ground for Greek magic to truly flourish as what is known as "Hellenistic magic". This is what we find in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM): a synthesis of Greek and Egyptian magic, occurring (or at least being written down) during Roman occupation of the province. (Luck, 26)

Egypt, of course, was an important and rich province of Rome. It was also a major Hellenistic center, having been settled by the Greeks earlier. The established capital, Alexandria, was a center for learning and knowledge, and Egypt itself was a crossroads of Western and Easter ideas and thoughts. As Hellenic religion was shaped by Egyptian syncretism, so too was Hellenistic magic. (Luck, 24)

Luck points out some particularly Egyptian aspects of Hellenistic magic in Arcana Mundi:

"Some typically Egyptian features of Hellenistic magic are:

  1. Magic is not practiced primarily as a necessary protection from evil powers, [but as] a means of harnessing good or evil powers in order to achieve one's goals and desires.
  2. The operator of the magical papyri pretends to be a god in order to frighten the gods.
  3. Magical power is clearly linked to certain words that are clearly differentiated from normal language.
  4. Power is also linked to certain gestures and rites." (Luck, 25-26)

We find that the Greeks borrowed much into their magic from the Egyptians: names, concepts, and rituals were sometimes wholly borrowed, as attested by the Greek Magical Papyri. A good amount of this information seems to have been simplified (and, potentially, misinterpreted), giving ways to survivals of Egyptian religion through transformation into magical doctrine. (Luck, 6)

Thoth, for instance, becomes identified as Hermes in the PGM. Deities who were not underworld gods before, such as Hermes, Aphrodite, and the Jewish Iao become underworld deities through an egyptianizing influence. The comparisons to deities like Osiris, Isis, and others began to change the way the Greeks themselves saw their own deities. (PGM, xlvi-xlvii)

Over the past few years, I have incorporated some of this Hellenistic magic into my own workings, particularly divination. The Homeric Oracle I created is an excellent example of utilizing today's technology to bring something forward and make it relevant, but a better example is the Jimmy Buffett Oracle I created. While considering ways to apply ancient techniques to my own magical life, I found that I could use the Hellenistic Homeric Oracle, and replace it with things I found relevant to my own life. The results have been astounding.

Beyond that, I have also occasionally added some of this Hellenic syncretism to my own workings by seeking out simple spells from the PGM that I could personally use. While few in number (most involve sacrificing doves or ingesting things that are somewhat harmful to my body), a number have proven to be seemingly useful. Most importantly, though, they expand the options I have in my magical practice, showing me ways to think about things and do things that traditional magical techniques (particularly modern ones) simply do not help with.


Apuleius, Apology. 

Betz, Hans Deiter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells: Texts. University Of Chicago Press; 2nd edition. 1997

Frazer, Sir James George. The Golden Bough

Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World. trans. Franklin Philip

Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi.


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