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One of the nerdy mythology books I have around is this one:

And one of its appendices includes translations of various writing found on bits of papyrus from ancient Greek times. The magical spells in particular interested me (these are part of the Greek Magical Papyri, if you're curious), because they are exactly as bizarre and specific as anything Willow ever whipped up on a Buffy episode, or any Herbology or Potions extra credit Hermione ever undertook. For example, check out the instructions for preparing the Spell To Make Aphrodite Attract One's Lover:

* * *

Offering to the star of Aphrodite: A white dove's blood and fat, untreated myrrh, and parched wormwood. Make this up together as pills and offer them to the star on pieces of vine wood or on coals. And also have the brains of a vulture for the compulsion, so that you may make the offering. And also have as a protective charm a tooth from the upper right jawbone of a female ass or of a tawny sacrificial heifer, tied to your left arm with Anubian thread.

* * *

Even in the age of Ebay, a person would be hard pressed to collect all that stuff. I, for one, am all out of Anubian thread and have no idea where to get more. Do you think dental floss would work?

But that spell is less scary than the All-Purpose Magical Prayer to Selene (who is identified with Hecate here). In that one, you're supposed to carve a three-faced Hecate on a lodestone, then dip it "in the blood of one who has died a violent death." Yikes. Is that just a polite way of saying "sacrifice someone for this spell"? Or are you expected to find a recently-violently-dead person lying around by chance?

"Honey? Do we know anyone who died a violent death today? I need it for a spell."
"Let me check the pantry. Nothing here...oh wait! I found one by the back door. That was lucky."


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
*smile* Such things would not have been difficult at all to get in ancient Greece. Remember that death was all around back then. There was no one who had never seen a dead body, for instance, unlike now where exactly the opposite is true - few of us have any experience with corpses. And what we call Greece was at that time steeped in warfare, and damn bloody warfare at that. And animal butchering was just as common and nothing like the hidden-away never-seen practices we have now. No, this wouldn't have been hard to do.

That said, it's very interesting. Things like this make one think about how the world has changed, indeed.
Jul. 8th, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
Oh, indeed--despite my flippant tone, what mainly struck me was how easy (or at least not too difficult) it apparently was to get these ingredients back then, when nowadays we'd have a very hard time collecting them all. And of course I wonder how they decided upon this precise combination as the way to get the magical job done. :) It's cool to see that, in some cases at least, the popular image of witchcraft is actually rather accurate. (Or used to be!)
Jul. 9th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
It's funny to think how our attitudes have changed. Now a person reads this spell and thinks it's horrible and gross and evil, when back then it would have been practical. Blood and viscera were hardly rare, so why not use them? And life being what it was, the gods were not the sweet pretty things we pagans tend to think of now, but fearsome creatures who dealt in rage, madness and pain just as much as they dealt in rewards. I remember reading that the most feared gods in the Greek religion were Ares, Dionysus and Aphordite, because all three could strike a person with unreasoning madness, and were to be appeased as much as possible. It's striking the contrast between modern ideas of God ("please, Daddy, give me stuff") and the Greeks' image of their gods ("here's all this stuff you like, now please LEAVE ME ALONE!"). The last thing they wanted most of the time was for their gods to take any interest in their lives!
Jul. 9th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
Hah, totally. In a world without modern conveniences like reliable medicine and law enforcement (or reasonable laws in the first place), it'd be easy to see why one's view of deities would be more like, "Why the hell are you doing this to us? Leave us alone!!" And actually, another part of that same spell to Aphrodite included a "compulsion" part, where you basically recite a threat to her and say that if she doesn't do as you wish, she won't see Adonis come back from the dead for her. That was intriguing to me too--on the one hand, really, you want to threaten the gods? On the other hand, well, yeah, this appears to be war between us and them, so some kind of negotiation is probably wise. :)
Jul. 9th, 2013 02:16 am (UTC)
The problem I have with that first spell was before I got near the Anubian thread (what is Anubian thread?) It's the upper right jawbone tooth of a female ass or tawny sacrifical heifer, and it's because I have left/right blindness. I can just picture trying to get the ingredient.
"Now, upper right tooth... um. Which way is right again?"
*looks at hands*
"okay, that one has the wedding ring so it has to be left. So that means that the other is right, which means I have to get the tooth from THIS side...no wait, is it right the way I'm facing or right the way that donkey is facing? Um... maybe if I turn the donkey to face the same way as me... yeah, that'll do it. This way was right, right? I think... where's the wedding ring again?"

Any self respecting donkey would have bitten me and taken off by now.

(I look at my hands A LOT, trying to work out which way is which. My wedding rehearsal video has my husband-to-be explaining, very patiently, that I need to hold out my OTHER hand for him to put the ring on.)
Jul. 9th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC)
Hee! That is a good point. If Aphrodite indeed cares whether one uses a left jawbone or a right, it could be challenging to those with left/right blindness. And incidentally, I'm not sure I had realized till now that that was an affliction some people have, but it makes sense. Now that you mention it, I think I knew someone in high school who had that. When she was driving and we were giving her directions, we had to put turns in terms of "Peggy" or "Molly" vs. left or right. (i.e., Who was sitting on which side of the car.)

At least it makes for a cute wedding video moment. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )