This may be the last place you’d expect to find content like this, I’m sure. At the time of this writing, the world is currently stuck in the clutches of the awful Covid19 pandemic. Naturally my our energies are spent on more important things than writing on a niche website. But this particular bit of papal magic was not only extremely interesting, but also quite moving. More importantly, it is living history unfolding before our eyes.
Last week was the Pope’s semi-annual Urbi et Orbi declaration, where he traditionally pontificates on the state of the Church and the world, took place in an emptied St. Peter’s square. After his address, the small number of clergy present performed the rites of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Here, the pope took the ostensorium in his hands, and blessed the whole city of Rome, and perhaps the whole world, with the sacred host. As he did so, the basilica and the surrounding churches began to PEEL with thunderous resounding, while the sirens of the gendarmeria blared in salute. As soon as the pope had finished, the bells stopped and silence again fell over the empty square. It was like watching something from the end of the world.
Also present was a miraculous crucifix which was reported to cure the City during a plague in 1522. The pope reverenced this relic as it was also exposed to the open square, obviously in the hopes that the pandemic will soon end. We shall see what efficacious qualities this rite may bare.
It looks like the Catholic Church has pissed off one too many women in Mexico, where on March 9th, the local march for International Women’s Day reached an apparent frenzy of righteous feminine anger. Several masked protesters launched an attack against the exterior of the Cathedral of Hermosillo, covering it in ♀ symbols and other graffiti. They were unable to destroy the inside however, since the congregants inside barricaded the doors with heavy pews.
I think it’s just great that people are finally acting out after 2,000 years of Christian oppression. It makes me wonder what the French Revolution may have looked and sounded like. We are living in such interesting times! I’d love to see these kind of riots go down on say, Capitol Hill, the White House, or even the Vatican. Let’s tear down the old structures of power already, they are killing the planet.
Good job, ladies. And better luck next time, I say.
It is difficult to speak of ancient Egypt in concrete terms because of the great length of Egyptian history and culture, which spanned a period of almost 3,800 years and over 30 dynasties. As such it can’t be treated monolithically. Still we can recognize certain themes which repeat themselves over the ages, especially in magic and religion which are slower to change. In ancient Egypt, magic and religion were both part of a broader holistic worldview which also included medicine, astronomy, law, politics and beyond. It is hard to even use the word magic in the context of Egypt, since our word magic comes from the Greek μαγεία, which carries a connotation of trickery, malice or charlatanism. In Egyptian thought, there was no such thing as evil magic. To them, magic itself was deified in the person of Heka. Heka was often depicted in cooperation with the Sun and other gods of creation, and was the power they possessed. So, magic was an integral part of their religion. Because their magic, Heka, was a god, there is no place in Egyptian life where magic was illegal, except if used against the pharaoh (which to them would be blasphemy).
Magical activity was present in almost every facet of Egyptian life. Scholars usually identify three aspects of magical practice: apotropaic, curative and transformative magic. Magic was conducted by all manner of people: priests, physicians, local wise men and the pharaoh were all magicians. It was this group of practitioners who were able to summon gods and the liminal beings we would now refer to as demons. Spells for protection can be found on numerous objects, amulets, papyri, coffins, jars, books, murals and figurines for example. Curative magic was used for healing, and spells are often found on statues meant to heal the sick. Medico-magical texts were used in earnest by physicians. Transformative magic, equally popular around the rest of the Mediterranean, was used in the form of not only love and binding spells, but for Egyptians in the Books of the Dead where the deceased would use magic to transform themselves into a god, a plant, a bird or a perfected spirit.
Magical characters, tools or spells can often be identified by their common elements, especially by the presence of the serpent. Could this have also shown how Egyptian magic was understood by other cultures such as the magical battle between Aaron the the court magicians (Ex. 7:9-12)? Gods, magicians, priests and demons could be seen with serpent wands and other attributes if they were performing spells.
How were gods and demons distinguished? They were often represented in similar forms. Gods appeared in myths of creation whereas demons did not. Gods took care of mortals both living and deceased. Demons could communicate with humans but mainly they just needed to be appeased. Gods were also distinguished by their worship in cults, and so they had a more fixed iconography.
There is an issue of translation of modern to ancient concepts and terms. The modern idea of demons is formed by the Judeo-Christian sense of an evil spirit sent to punish sinners, or as symbols of temptation. The ancient Greek δαίμων served as an intermediary between gods and mortals.
“For the divine does not mix with the mortal, and it is only through the mediation of the daimones that mortals can have any interaction with the gods, either while awake or asleep.” -Symposium, 202d, 13-203a
This fits well with the Egyptian idea of demons as liminal figures who communicate between the world of the main gods and humans. While the Greeks distinguished between good and bad demons, the Egyptians mainly did not. These spirits were guardians and servants of greater gods. They were often depicted in mortuary settings such as tombs and sarcaphogi, because they were known to guard specific regions or gates of the netherworld. From the 1st century BCE, coffins were often used similarly to papyrus by being covered in written spells. The Egyptians wanted these spells as close to the body as possible. They could only be dangerous to the one who did not have the specific knowledge needed to approach them. This knowledge was contained in spells written in papyri and coffins, which listed their names and told which gates they guarded. Their names often illustrated their appearance or function, such as “The Hearer”, “Sad of Voice”, “One Who Stretches Out His Brow”, “One With Vigilant Face”.
Demons could be conjured to protect from other demons, although malicious demons are never depicted in Egyptian art. Wandering spirits, bringers of disease, and godly messengers all fell under this category of demon. One XIX Dynasty headrest depicts demons with the head of a crocodile or vulture, spitting out serpents, holding snakes and daggers, which was meant to ward off evil spirits. These more malicious beings were controlled by the main gods. Demonizing an illness may have psychologically helped patients cope with their suffering, which is why we have so many spells where medical prescriptions are also included. Egyptian doctors used magical spells together with medical knowledge to great effect.
Article based on notes from public lecture given by Professor Rita Lucarelli to the Harvard Semitic Museum, Feb 21 2019.
Having recently watched The Satanic Temple’s new documentary Hail Satan?, I am very excited to see this. The Church of Satan’s own documentary, perhaps an alternative to the TST’s recent work. It looks very promising. Coming to the Sitges Film Festival this October.
Clay figure with 13 bronze pins, discovered with a lead tablet engraved with a binding spell. A Roman “love magic doll”, showing a nude female bound and stabbed with 13 pins. Found in Antinoopolis with a lead curse tablet, this artifact is likely dated to the 2nd or 3rd century C.E.
1. brain: only think about me;
2. eyes: only have eyes for me;
2. ears: only have ears for me;
1. mouth: only speak about me;
1. heart: only have feelings for me;
1. vagina: only have desire for me;
1. anus: only have desire for me;
2. hands: only work for me;
2. feet: never walk away from me…
Antinoopolis was the pageant ground for a lavish and outrageous new mystery religion to rise up at the dawn of the new celestial epoch, the Age of Pisces. The priests of Antinous were supported and funded well by the state, and worshiped in great luxury and delight. Here, the Pax Deorum thrived as the cult of Antinous strived to commingle all the cultures and religions of the Empire. They were Greco-Roman Pagans trying to uphold Olympus in the middle of the Egyptian desert, surrounded by wild Gnostics, austere Catholics, genius Mathematicians and natural philosophers, the Roman garrison and every assortment of conjurer, and prophet of debauchery that could make his way up the Nile.
The Priests of Antinous venerated the beauty of young men, as living examples of Antinous, one superb manifestation of which was held to be the Divine Ephebe in living flesh, a boy of about nineteen years of age, perhaps the winner of the Antinoean Games, who was worshiped as the carnal and spiritual habitation of Antinous the God. We can be certain that the elegant priests were of the doctrine of the Libertines, placed as they were on the very edge of the world, surrounded by unknown Africa, clinging to the edge of the fertile Nile, with endless desert all around. The citizens of Antinoopolis must have felt as though they were not part of the world, that they were special, not subject to the normal rules and customs, and that they were the champions of civilization in the very extreme of barbarity.
The priests of Antinous kept the fire of the name of Antinous burning by reciting his ceremonies and oracles with a combination of Greek Chant and Egyptian bells. Flutes and harps accompanied the gestures of their ritual. The Christian Fathers tell us that all inflamed with drink, the priests fell upon each other in unholy lust. The Ancient Priests were also well-known for their magical spells, and a papyrus fragment bearing an Antinous Love Spell survives to this day. Thousands upon thousands of pilgrims came to Antinoopolis over five centuries to worship the beautiful god, and to hear the sayings of the oracle. Toward the end, as the Empire disintegrated, Antinoopolis became a place of magic and superstition, and the evidence from this period is that Antinoopolis had become a market for charlatans.
Still recovering from a little trip to Brooklyn, what a blast. And of course I visited a few museums in my spare time! Here, from the Brooklyn Museum, is Salvatore Albano’s depiction of the Fallen Angels. Interestingly, the base was carved 10 years before the upper figures. This is one of those incredibly eye-catching pieces, one where Lucifer and his company are depicted as utterly seductive and beautiful, though bound and in anguish. This sculpture was, believe it or not, not made for a religious institution but likely for an American tourist (with good taste).
Details of Zuber’s engravings from the 1926 biographical work by Maurice Garçon, La Vie Execrable de Guillemette Babin, Sorciere. These scans are from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at the Cornell University Library.