Today we are going to be talking about Papyri Grecae Magicae. You may have heard of this term before, or not. Now what is that, really?It sounds kinda strange, doesnt it? Yeah you guessed it, its latin.
Basically, its latin for Greek Magical Papyri. Now, the Greek Magical Papyri or PGM in short, is actually a body of papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt containing a variety of magical spells and formulae, hymns and of course rituals.
We humans, when we think about the past, we tend to idealize it. But people in the ancient world had also their worries, problems, difficulties and challenges. Therefore, they also used magic to bless, heal, bind, curse, etc just like we do today. The context of the spells may have differed a little bit and the connotations attached to It but they also did practice magic. But lets dive into these magical papyri.
First, I would like to clarify something: this body of material represents only a small number of spells that once existed.
Now, we know from literary sources that a large number of magical books in which spells were collected did exist in antiquity. Most of them, however, as you may probably have guessed have disappeared as the result of systematic suppression and destruction (conflicts, wars, etc).
As a result of these acts of suppression, people who practiced magic and their literature had to go underground if that makes sense.
~But how do we know that?~
The papyri themselves testify to this by the constantly recurring admonition to keep the books secret. Their practices had to remain secret. Thus, the suppression of this magical literature has deprived us of one of our most important sources of ancient religious life.
~But was everything lost? You may be wondering.~
No, thankfully, not everything was lost. At the end of antiquity, some philosophers, theologians, astrologers and alchemists collected magical books and spells that were still- available. Moreover, the Greek magical papyri are original documents and primary sources. Now, during the 19th century, lots of people, scholars mostly showed interest in these ancient papyri. The discovery of the Greek magical papyri was and often still is the outcome of sheer luck and almost incredible coincidences.
Long story short, large collections of papyri mostly from Egypt, among them sizable magical books were brought together by scholars and scientists. Today, we refer to this body of magical papyri as PGM which stands for Papyri Grecae Magicae.
Now, this was only a brief introduction to this subject. I think it would be interesting to look into those ancient texts , those papyri and I feel it would be fascinating to examine:
- How these so called ancient people practiced magick?
- What were their worries and concerns?
- What kind of tools did they use?
- Could anybody practice magic?
We are going to focus on questions similar to these and attempt to give an answer to them so stay tuned.
Sources used for this post:
1) University Notes: Papyrology II (EEF151 - DMT - 2015)
2) The Greek Magical Papyri in translation including the Demotic spells, by Hans Dieter Betz. The university of Chicago Press. Chicago & London.
3) Magic in the Ancient World by Fritz Graf.