Magic in the Greco-Roman world (Galatians 5)

Bilderesultat for ancient magic

Illustration: Person holding an ancient grimoire

Various types of magical practice flourished in the Greco-Roan world. Spells, charms, amulets, potions and even voodoo-type dolls were used to produce the favour of supernatural powers. The borders of magic were fluid; some “magic potions” may have been legitimate attempts at pharmacology, while certain “magical spells” had a strong component of prayer and worship. Nonetheless, the idea of magic as manipulating supernatural beings for one’s personal benefit still accurately represents this underground spirituality.

Various substances – anything from bits of the hair of a desired lover to baboon dung or drowned field mice – were employed in spells. These substances, combined with the “right” ritual practices and the proper magic words, supposedly guaranteed the compliance of the deity who was to accomplish the task. The words might be nonsense syllables or secret names of the gods. It was not unusual for such spells to end with an abrupt command such as “Quick! Quick! Do it! Do it!” While practitioners commonly called upon evil spirits of the underworld to do their bidding, any divinity was likely to be invoked. Some magicians even attempted to manipulate the God of Israel. Indeed, He is invoked frequently in the magical papyri, generally under the name “Iao”, a possible pronounciation of the name Yahweh by first century Christians.


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