Ancient Greece - using magic for love and mischief
Unbinding the Love, Lust, Infatuation, Desire, or Any Romantic Notions of a Man to a Woman – an Erotic Spell
In the Classical world, such as Ancient Greece, it was common for men and women to turn to magic to aid them in their desires – whether they sought the advantage over a competitor in sports, business, or love; to seek revenge against a perceived injustice, or have stolen goods returned – and many turned to a magician, wizard or perhaps sorceress to create an appropriate spell or curse. Recovering scrolls, tablets and associated paraphernalia has allowed historians and archaeologists to glean a picture of how magic fitted into everyday life during that time period. From information available I have created an unbinding spell, designed specifically to stop a man desiring a woman. These were not as common as the binding spells used to gain the object of one’s affection, but there is certainly evidence of them. Firstly, I will take each part of the spell – translated back into English from Greek - and explain what I used, and why. Then I will show why someone would procure one, and give examples.
On this scroll I used a Greek font, but not a Greek translation.
A As this is written backwards, so shall it be read in such a way as to symbolise the undoing of any binding which has previously held 1 to 3 with regard to romantic thoughts, feelings, and actions of any kind. Once this has been written in full then so shall the binding be undone and ended.
Writing backwards on the lead tablets, or for the creation of any spell, was creating a symbolic journey of reversal and unbinding of the feelings shown by the man to the woman.
B Athena, goddess of wisdom, spread your truth throughout the body and soul of 1 so that he may realise the folly of continuing his infatuation with 3, and move on to seek out desire elsewhere.
Athena is called upon to dispense her wisdom over the situation, and help the male realise the folly of continuing an infatuation which is not reciprocated.
Her symbol is the owl, and this is associated directly with wisdom.
C Ares, most powerful god of war, use your spear to break the bonds of romantic feelings which bind 1 to 3, thus releasing them both to find true happiness with partners more suitable.
Ares, as the god of war, is known for the skill he wields with his weaponry, which could be seen as able to cut the emotional bonds which ties the male to the female.
D Just as this lead tablet will be completely and deeply buried, Aphrodite, great goddess of love, so are you commanded to bury the feelings of love and desire 1, son of 3, has for 2, daughter of 4 but to bring 1 another love so that he may turn his focus from 3 to a new love.
Aphrodite, being the goddess of love, is entreated to use her powers to redirect the desire which the man feels towards the woman, away from her and to put a better romantic prospect in front of him. The mothers of the two people involved are also listed, as in ancient Greece it was common to identify people by their maternal ancestors.
E This curse tablet is entrusted to Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Asclepius, and to Hecate, goddess of the underworld and mistress of ghosts, men and women who have died untimely deaths. I beseech you to do my bidding in this matter, and swiftly.
The gods and goddesses are called upon because of their associations; the deceased are called upon because it was believed that those who’d met untimely ends were exceedingly angry, and stuck in some sort of limbo. The magician, sorceress or wizard was supposedly able to harness and direct this negative emotion and incorporate it in a spell or curse. Obviously, the client wants results quickly.
F With a nail driven in his genitals, so shall 1 feel nothing but pain, and so shall his penis lay as if cold and dead, any time he even tries to have desirous thoughts about 3.
The Greeks were fairly graphic in their detail, and not shy about any areas on their bodies, hence the usage of ‘genitals’ and ‘penis’. The nail being driven into the genital area is symbolic of targeting the area which would be of most importance to someone experiencing lust. The specific use of ‘penis’ is also because of this. The client wants to make absolutely sure that the male experiences no feelings of desire for her any longer.
G I undertake that whoever is in this grave will, upon completion of this task, be able to go on to complete their journey to the underworld, and there rest peacefully.
This is giving the deceased an incentive to aid the client in the matter. The magician would promise the ghost that they would never have to serve again once this deed was carried out, and in fact would be able to finish their journey to permanent rest.
H Asclepius, god of healing, I entreat that you do your work of healing wounds and seal up the hole in 1’s heart which will be created after the bonds are cut by the most fearsome Ares.
Asclepius is the god called upon when healing is needed. The Greeks would be thinking of both a physical and metaphoric hole in the heart.
I Just as this corpse lies dead and cold, so may all the romantic and lustful feelings 1 has towards 3 lay dead and cold.
This is used as a symbolic suggestion as to the consequence of placing the lead tablet in an occupied grave. It was thought using metaphors held more power.
-write out this spell backwards on a lead tablet, from the bottom right of the page
-insert the names in spaces indicated, but in sigil form
1 = man, 2 = man’s mother, 3 = woman, 4 = woman’s mother
-take the tablet, and at the time of the waning moon, bury it in the grave of someone who has died an untimely death.
-put with it a tithe, so as to beg favour of the gods, goddesses and restless spirits from which this favour was demanded.
-fashion a lead doll, bind it, and stick in its genitals a nail; bury it in the grave with the tablet
Doing this spell at the time of the waning moon is in the belief that this is the phase in the moon’s cycle where things are dying down, so it’s symbolic for the spell that the feelings of desire die down also. Putting a tithe in with the spell was a traditional gift to curry favour from the gods or goddesses, an adaptation of the libations offered during the new moon in appeasement to the ghosts of a town or city, and their mistress, the goddess Hecate. Making a lead doll and sticking nails in it was a very common thing to do, helping to reinforce what the client wanted to happen, in the form of sympathetic magic. Binding it was common, and symbolic of what was being done to the ‘victim’. Using lead as the medium to write the spell on was because it was a long-lasting metal, just as the spell needed to last the lifetime of the client. If it had been a short spell, curse or amulet I would more likely have chosen a piece of crystal, for the added power of whichever attribute/s the crystal was known for. A sigil is a symbol or glyph created for magical purposes, and believed to make it a more powerful way of both writing someone’s name, and invoking it. It could be used to ‘hide’ the real name of the ‘victim’, the client, and even the gods and goddesses called upon in the spell or curse. Drawings and symbols representing the people or supernatural beings named in the spell were commonly used, possibly as a tool for the subconscious to solidify the focus and intent of the tablet, and to show the enactment of what the client wished.
"Written in Greek, the curse on this lead tablet targets Demetrios and Phanagora who were husband-and-wife tavern keepers who lived in Athens around 2,400 years ago. Photo Credit: Jessica Lamont/Live Science."
In the classical world, curse tablets were a common tool for seeking aid against an enemy, be that a sports competitor, courtroom opponent, or business rival. In erotic matters – love, lust and romantic angst - binding spells were common. Generally, a client would approach a magician, wizard or sorceress and procure their services, specifying what they wanted to happen. The magician would, more often than not, use a ‘recipe’ from his collection and only have to insert names and mix & match a few details to suit the situation, a formulaic approach. ‘…the best prose sources for ancient love magic are the numerous discussions of the magical powers of plants, minerals, and animals that can be gleaned from naturalist, medical, or encyclopaedic writers.’1
Through archaeological evidence, scholars have built up a picture of the social function of curses, and love magic, as both papyrus and lead texts have survived, as have inscribed magical gemstones, and amulets. Lead was a favourite medium to write on, in order to enlist supernatural help, but other media has been found too, such as lead alloys, pottery, papyrus, crystals, ceramics, and even wax. It has been found that magicians from throughout the classical world kept books from which they had an array of spells to choose from. ‘…tradition that is heavily dependent on professional magicians using handbooks…in which we find a fascinating mélange of Greek, Roman, Jewish, Syrian, and Egyptian forms of invocation and ritual…’2 There was a general acceptance of the practice throughout the community, as many sought out this form of aid for one reason or another. A binding spell was used more for ‘restraining’ the ‘victim’ of the client, a rival for the target of their affection, or even to stop their partner from straying. ‘…May he (Dionysophon) indeed not take another woman other than myself, but let me alone grow old by the side of Dionysophon and no other woman.’3 Like within the spell used here, there has been evidence that magic had been used to ‘cause someone to fall in love with a third person’4, although most often in spite. ‘…the poet Homer, when rebuffed by a priestess, cursed her with a lust for old men.’5
Many a client was desperate to rectify a case of unrequited desire for another, and often quite violently. ‘Drag Heronous by her hair and by her guts to me, Poseidonios, every hour of time, by night and day, until Heronous comes to me, Poseidonios….Now, now. Quickly, quickly.’6 ‘Burn, torch the soul of Allous, her female body, her limbs, until she leaves the household of Apollonius. Lay Allous low with fever, unceasing sickness, incomprehensible sickness.’6 It seems that people in the classical world thought little of taking a person they desired from another, even if that couple were happy together – the easement of their own angst was a priority. In fact, this was not limited to humans, but the gods and goddesses were not averse to using this sort of trickery themselves. ‘In the fourteenth book of the Iliad Aphrodite lends Hera her magical belt (kestos himas) to repair her parents’ estrangement, but Hera uses it instead to seduce her husband, Zeus.’7
It was common practice to call upon the gods and goddesses for aid in one’s endeavours. One reason to call on a god such as Asclepius to bring forth healing to a victim or client was that to the ancient Greeks, erōs – erotic seizure - was seen as a mental illness or disease, and which could well manifest in physical symptoms. ‘…Anacreon says “Eros struck me with a massive hammer, like a bronze worker, and then doused me (i.e., red-hot) into a frigid stream,”…’8 People were desperate to ease their angst and deep-felt romantic longing, willingly going to great lengths to achieve this, and procuring a spell was merely normal. As part of a spells ritual, using the deceased seems to have also been a generally accepted practice. Not only did the magician bury curse tablets in occupied graves, but they called upon the ghost of the deceased to aid them in their work in various ways. ‘The Corinthian tyrant Periander sent his henchmen to the oracle of the dead to ask where he had lost something.’9 [And just as] this corpse lies useless, [so] may all the words and deeds of Theodôra be useless with regard to Charias and to the other people…’10
Ancient Greek poppet - Hellenistic Kolossos from Delos
(notice that it has been bound, as part of the curse or spell work)
Spells and curses were an accepted part of the classical world’s social function, utilised both by humans and those of higher powers. The gods and goddesses had many human characteristics, as was reflected in the similarities of their problems and feelings, which their stories portrayed. The spell which I created was specifically designed to unbind the romantic feelings one person held for another as they were neither reciprocated nor wanted, but this form was not as common as the spells sought to gain either a reciprocal desire or sexual liaison from another. People in the classical world saw nothing wrong in this practice. Today, the manner of procurement may be different, but the basic feelings and longings are still experienced by people, as they seek out a mate, whether it be for a short liaison or a life partnership.
This essay was one I wrote as an assignment, wh ile obtaining my University degree. I have included the reference list and bibliography - reference materials I used while writing - just as I’d had to for its submission. It has never before been published anywhere public, though. Images have been added for visual interest.
1 Faraone, Christopher A. Ancient Greek Love Magic. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 10.
2 Ibid., p. 16.
3 ibid., p. 13.
4 ibid., p. 22.
5 ibid., p. 22.
6 ibid., p. 3.
7 ibid., p. 5.
8 ibid., p. 44.
9 Petropoulos, J.C.B (ed). Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Oxford: Routledge, 2008, p. 14.
10 Gager, John G. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p. 90.
11 Owls were known as symbols of wisdom, hence the link between Athena – the goddess of wisdom, amongst other things - and the owl. Owl line drawing, adapted from a larger drawing, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com/image-files/cartoon-owl-4.jpg.
12 The symbols of Ares are almost all ones of weaponry – spear, dagger, and shield. He is associated with war, battles and bloodlust. Knife drawing, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://www.childrensbiblestudy.com/clipart/sword.gif.
13 Aphrodite is known as the goddess of love, but more supportive of the female side of romance. This symbol is more commonly known as the sign for Venus, her Roman name. Aphrodite symbol, retrieved 8 December 2009, from: http://www.worldofmolecules.com/elements/75px-Copper-symbol.png.
14 The goddess Hecate, who in Ancient Greece had an association with magic, curses, and witchcraft, among other things, is generally represented in a triple aspect form, as this symbol shows by a design of three crossroads, or she can be shown as having three heads – each one said to be watching/guarding one of the roads. Hecate’s symbol, retrieved 8 December 2009, from: http://www.world-enlightenment.com/Circle-Symbols/image053.jpg.
15 The rod of Asclepius is made up of two symbols – the rod and the snake - which were attributed to this god, who was supposedly a practitioner of medicine in Ancient Greece, and whom Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, followed. It is sometimes confused with the Caduceus, which actually has no healing association. Asclepius symbol, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Rod_of_asclepius.png.
16 The sigil template was used to create a special symbol by drawing lines between letters to spell out a name, which – usually secretly – represented the name of the person, or god, or other focus, to be used in some form of magic or special intent. Sigil creator, in English, retrieved 26 November 2009, from: http://www.wisdomsdoor.com/wb/hwb-sigil.shtml.
17 It has been accepted that the moon has influence over energies, and each quarter has a different effect – waxing is time of growth and movement forward, full moon is the peak of energy, waning moon is slowing down and clearing out, black moon is stagnation, stillness. Waning Moon, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://faculty.icc.edu/easc111lab/labs/labk/waningGibbous.gif.
18 Figurines representing the ‘victim’ of the curse or spell were often made and placed with the tablet, as another way of cementing the intent of the client. They could include being pierced with nails, or even have hair or pieces of clothing with them. Binding Curse doll, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://z.about.com/d/altreligion/1/0/n/7/9/sglossarybinding.jpg.
Aphrodite symbol, retrieved 8 December 2009, from: http://www.worldofmolecules.com/elements/75px-Copper-symbol.png.
Asclepius symbol, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Rod_of_asclepius.png.
Binding Curse Doll, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://z.about.com/d/altreligion/1/0/n/7/9/sglossarybinding.jpg.
Cook, Arthur Bernard. “Greek Votive Offerings”. Folklore 14, 3, 29 Sep 1903: 260-291, retrieved 17 November 2009, from:
Faraone, Christopher A. Ancient Greek Love Magic. Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2001.
Gager, John G. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World. Trans. Franklin Philip. Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1997.
Greek Alphabet, retrieved 26 November 2009, from: http://www.ibiblio.org/koine/greek/lessons/alphabet.html.
Greek Alphabet, retrieved 29 November 2009, from: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.hellenisti.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/greek-script.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.hellenisti.com/2009/02/tutorial-14-more-help-for-learning-greek-letters-and-sounds/&usg=__qkLf6VQZ2oSZTm3AGJHxZSa2fWM=&h=733&w=468&sz=11&hl=en&start=7&um=1&tbnid=4TScxETZTfV13M:&tbnh=141&tbnw=90&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dancient%2Bgreek%2Bsymbols%26hl%3Den%26rls%3Dcom.microsoft:en-nz%26um%3D1.
Greek Gods, retrieved 26 November 2009, from: http://www.greek-gods.info/theogony/.
Hecate’s symbol, retrieved 8 December 2009, from: http://www.world-enlightenment.com/Circle-Symbols/image053.jpg.
Knife drawing, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://www.childrensbiblestudy.com/clipart/sword.gif.
Nock, A.D. “Greek Magical Papyri.’ The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 15, 3/4, Nov. 1929: 219-235, retrieved 17 November 2009, from:
Owl line drawing, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com/image-files/cartoon-owl-4.jpg.
Petropoulos, J.C.B. (ed.) Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Oxford: Routledge, 2008.
Sigil creator, retrieved 26 November 2009, from: http://www.wisdomsdoor.com/wb/hwb-sigil.shtml.
Sigils, retrieved 26 November 2009, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigil_(magic).
Tully, Caroline. The Importance of Words and Writing in Ancient Magic. Retrieved 25 November 2009, from: http://necropolisnow.blogspot.com/2009/04/importance-of-words-and-writing-in.html.
Waning Moon, retrieved 7 December 2009, from: http://faculty.icc.edu/easc111lab/labs/labk/waningGibbous.gif.