Most ancient magical traditions were either verbally-transmitted, secret, or both. Most of the texts we have of historical occultism were highly ‘theoretical’ or metaphysical, and didn’t actually give us very clear clues as to how real magicians of the period actually did magic.
But fortunately, by sheer luck, in the 19th century we rediscovered some long-lost ancient texts that revealed what practical magicians were actually doing back in the time of the Roman Empire. These ancient papers, which today we call the “Greek Magical Papyri”, were in essence the working or teaching notes of a group of probably low-brow magicians (possibly professional wizards). They offer a fascinating glimpse into their magical world: clearly based on esoteric/spiritual principles, but not belonging to any single religion of the age (they weren’t Greek or Roman pagans, or Egyptian Pagans, or Jews or Christians, but used religious images and prayers from all of these traditions). Their spells were a mix of really lofty trippy spiritual experiences of angels, demons and gods, seeking for spiritual learning; mixed with totally mundane spells for getting money, sex, protection or curses. They were spiritualists, pragmatists, and even street-doctors engaging in super primitive medicine and science.
So I figured, why not share a bunch of these 2000 year old spells on Break.com? Check them out, and if you want, try them out for yourself!
1. Spell for Getting a Magical Spirit-helper
It’s clear that the ancient hermetic magicians felt that a wizard couldn’t get very much done if he didn’t have a connection to the larger universe. That connection came in the form of an “assistant spirit”, a kind of personal angel that provided a link to divine power, and helped the wizard’s magic to work. In some material it was clearly suggested that this guiding spirit was meant to represent one’s own inner divine spark, or higher self, or true Will. But the Greek Papyri don’t bother going into detail about that. They just tell you how to get one.
Unfortunately, the rituals for obtaining a guiding spirit are some of the longest and most complex in the documents, too long for me to fully explain in this article. In brief: first you had to spend a period of time purifying yourself (no meat, no alcohol, no sex). Then you had to go up on your roof at sunset, dressed in new robes, making a kind of invocation to the sun, while blindfolding yourself and holding a falcon’s head (a symbol of the sun god). Then you stay up there all night, and at sunrise you recite a different invocation while burning frankincense and rose oil in a special kind of bowl. At this point, a falcon should fly down toward you a drop a stone in front of you.
Then you have to go downstairs and carve an intricate image into that stone, plus some magic words, and then make a hole through the stone, string it, and wear it around your neck. Then it’s back up onto the roof by nightfall, where you perform a totally different invocation to the moon, holding a myrtle branch and burning myrrh. The Assistant spirit will then descend from heaven like a falling star. After all that, you’re ready for some hardcore magic!
2. Exorcism Spell
In the olden days, people used to get possessed by evil spirits a lot more often than they do now. Or at least, people thought they were. One of the big jobs a professional wizard would have had was to do exorcisms, so no surprise that the magical papyri have a spell for that!
If you know someone who you suspect is possessed by an evil spirit, this is what you have to do: get seven olive branches. Tie up six of them together end-to-end and lay them in front of the possession victim, while you stand behind your patient, with the seventh olive branch hidden in your hand. While they’re distracted by wondering why the hell you’ve laid those olive branches in front of them, start whipping the patient with the one you kept, while reciting “Hail God of Abraham, hail God of Jacob, Jesus the righteous, holy spirit, son of the Father, below the seven and within the seven! Come forth IAO SABAOTh, issue forth power from (name of patient), until you drive out the unclean Satan within them! I command you, demon, whatever your name, by the god SABARBARBAThIOTh SABARBARBAThIOTh SABABARBAThIONEHT SABARBARBAPhAI. Go out, demon, whatever your name, and stay far from (name of patient)! Make haste, make haste, now, now! Come forth, demon; I bind you with unbreakable adamantine bonds! I cast you out into the black chaos in damnation!”
After that, to be extra careful, the magician would make a magic charm to be worn as an amulet around the patient’s neck, to make sure the demon couldn’t sneak back in. The amulet would be made of tin, and have the following inscription: “BOR PHOR PHORBA PHOR PHORBA BES CHAR IN BAUBA TE PHOR BORPHORBA PHORBAB OR BAPHORBA PHABRAIE PHORBA PHARBA PHORPHOR PHORBA BOBORBORBA PAMPHORBA PHORPHOR PHORBA, protect (name of patient)”.
3. Spell for Invisibility
Every self-respecting wizard in the ancient world needed to be able to become invisible, especially if things went sour and they were being chased by some guy pissed off at being beaten with an olive branch. Here’s the formula in the magical papyri for invisibility:
Mix together either the fat or eyeball of an owl with the dungball of a dung-beetle, and some unripened olive oil. Grind it all up, and smear your entire body with it while making this invocation to the Sun God: “I call you up by your grand name: BORKE PHOIOUR IO ZIZIA APARXEOUCH THYTHE LAILAM AAAAAA IIIII IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO NAUNAX AI AI AEO AEO EAO!”
Then pour a bit of water over yourself while reciting: “Make me invisible, lord Helios! AEO OAE EIE EAO! Invisible in the presence of any man until the sun sets! IO IO O PHRIXRIZO O EOA!”
4. Spell for Opening a Door
What good is being a wizard if you can’t perform some breaking and entering? Here’s a spell to open any door:
Take the belly-skin of a male crocodile, the egg of a scarab beetle, and a baboon heart, and put them all into a pot with blue-green glazing. When you need to open a sealed door, touch the pottery to the door, while reciting the following: “I call you forth by THAIM THOLACH THECHEMBAOR THEAGON PENTATHESCHI BOTI, who has power in the depths, for my self, that now the way may be open unto me! For I say unto thee: SAUAMBOCH MERA CHEOZAPH OSSALA BYMBEL POUO TOUTHO OIREREI ARNOCH!”
5. Spell for Memory
Need to study for the big test? Worried you won’t remember half the periodic table? Here’s an ancient magical ritual from the papyri that’s supposed to give you perfect memory:
First, mix up some magical ink: mix up about 4 teaspoons of myrrh with 3 figs, 7 date pits, 7 dry pinecones, 7 stems of wormwood, 7 feathers from an Egyptian Ibis, and some spring water.
Then, when the Moon is in the East, get a new sheet of papyrus and write the following with the magic ink: “KAMBRE CHAMBRE SIXIOPHI HARPON CHNOUPHI BRIONTATE NO PHRIBRISKYLMA AR AOUAZAR BAMESEN KRIPHI NIPTOUMI CHMOUMAOPH AKTIOPHI ARTOSE BIBIOU BIBIOU SPHE SPHE NOUSI NOUSI SIEGO SIEGO NOUCHA NOUCHA LINOUCHA LINOUCHA CHYCHBA CHYCHBA KAXIO CHYCHBA DETOPHOTH II AA OO YY EE EE OO”.
Then take the papyrus and soak it into a container full of water from seven different springs until the ink has washed out into the water. Then spend the next seven days drinking the water, on an empty stomach.
6. Spell for Causing a Charioteer to Drive Slowly
Romans were great believers in luck, and loved to gamble. But why put it all in the hands of Fortune when you could even the odds by using a bit of sorcery? This spell was made to cause chariot-drivers to move more slowly. So it was a type of curse, to help you win at bets placed at the races.
The spell required making three small tiles, each with the names of the chariots, drivers and horses written on them, along with the magical word IAEO; all written with cinnabar ink.
Then, the obvious next step: ritually drown a cat in a basin of water, and tie the three tiles around its corpse. The cat would then be ritually buried, in a tomb or a burial place facing the East. You’d place seven lamps on seven unbaked bricks, and burn storax gum incense, reciting a prayer of the angel SEMEA, asking the angel to restrain the charioteer(s) by name, invoking the names of the implacable god PHOKENSEPSEUARE, and the greath cthonic god ARIOR EUOR.
After that, take some of the water from the basin in which you drowned the cat, take it with you to the stadium, and sprinkle it on the grounds, reciting: “I call unto thee, Mother of all Mankind, who has brought together the limbs of Meliouchos, even Meliouchos himself, OROBASTRIA NEBOUTOSOUALETH; entrapper, mistress of corpses, Hermes, Hekate, Hermekate, LETH AMOUMAMOUTERMYOR! I summon thee, spirit called to this place, and to you, the spirit of the cat that has been made into a spirit, come to me at this very time and on this very date, and perform for me the task of binding those named!”
7. Spells to Avoid Bad Breath, or For Magic Viagra
To avoid bad breath: get some beetroot, bake it, and eat it.
OK, so not really a spell. The papyri also had a bunch of stuff related to herbalism, which the writers understood as being the same type of ‘natural philosophy’ as magic.
Another ‘spell’ of this sort was a formula to get an erection: “grind up a pepper, mix it with honey, and smear this on your penis”. No idea if this really works. Maybe some reader with erectile dysfunction wants to give it a shot?
8. Spell to Cure a Cough
Coughing was serious business in the ancient world. Before modern medicine, a bad cough could kill you! Nowadays, it can just threaten to lose you an election. You’d think the papyri would present some kind of sensible herbal remedy (maybe involving honey, which was plentiful back then); but no, instead we get another spell!
To cure a cough, you must first get some parchment made from the skin a hyena. Then write in that parchment, in black ink “TEUThRAIO ThRAITEU ThRAITO ThABARBAORI”, then an x drawn in a circle, then “LIKRALIRETA – free (name of patient) from the cough that clings to them”.
It is not explicitly stated in the papyri, but analysis of the magical traditions in question would suggest that the treatment was then meant to proceed in one of two ways: either the parchment would be placed over the patient’s chest for a prolonged period of time, or (as in one of the spells above) the parchment would be soaked in spring water until all the ink washed out into the water, and the water would then be fed to the patient as medicine.
9. Spell for Success in Business
The ancient Roman world had a thriving economy (when there wasn’t civil war or barbarian invasions getting in the way), and we know Roman merchants of all varieties made use of both religion and magic to help their prosperity. A lot of these aids involved the making of statues or charms or amulets for wealth. It makes sense that a professional magician would have a ready spell for helping a client make money in his business. Here it is:
Make a small statuette of Hermes out of a ground-up mix of orange beeswax, mistletoe and ivy. The statuette should be hollow at the bottom. Hermes should have his caduceus wand in his left hand, and a small bag in his right hand.
Next, on fresh papyrus, write these magical names: “CHAIOCHEN OUTIBILMEMNOUOTh ATRAUICh. Bring wealth and work to this place, a home of Psentebeth” (Psentebeth was presumably a spirit of trade and commerce).
You would then roll up the papyrus, put it into the hollow part of the statuette and seal the hole with beeswax. Then put this statuette into a hidden niche in a wall (of the business, presumably). Put a crown on the statuette (this probably meant a wreath), sacrifice a rooster, and make an offering of Egyptian Wine (which you would then drink). Light to him a lamp, which can be of any color except red.
It says that if you perform this ritual, you will see ‘continuous business’.
10. Spell for Getting a Prophetic Dream
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were all big-time believers in prophetic dreams. And of course, prophetic dreams also feature in Jewish tradition, as the Bible notes on several occasions. Any dream that anyone had that was even a little bit weird was considered potentially prophetic, a message from the Gods. The problem was that usually, they were very hard to understand. So one job a professional magician had was interpreting the meaning of dreams for regular people, being trained in the meanings of different symbols that might appear in dreams. But besides that, magicians were said to have the power to willingly travel into their own dreams, kind of like “Inception”, and get answers to a question they might have through that dream. With dream-magic, they didn’t have to wait around for the Gods to decide to get off their butts and send them a prophecy, they could go get them.
To have a prophetic dream, you had to do the following: get a strip of new (clean) linen cloth, and write the following on it: “HARMIOUTh LAILAM ChOOUCh ARSENOPHRE PHREU PHThA HARChENTEChThA”. You then had to roll up the cloth, put it on a lamp of olive oil, and light it (the linen would act like the wick of the oil lamp).
Then, when you were ready for bed, and having avoided impurities (meat, alcohol, sex) for the whole day, you would stand over the magical lamp and recite the following seven times: “SAChMOUNE PAEMALIGOTEREENCh, you who shake, you who thunders, you who hath swallowed the serpent, you who surround the moon, and who hour after hour raises up the Sun-disk, ChThEThONI is thy name. I ask you, Lord of Gods, SETh ChREPS, show unto me revelation of those things I wish to understand”!
When you finish this invocation, extinguish the lamp, and then go immediately to sleep. The answer to whatever you wish to know will appear to you in the form of a dream.
11. A Spell for Restraining Anger
Conflict-resolution hadn’t really been invented yet in the ancient world. People didn’t go to therapists. Magicians were often hired to perform magic that would put curses on one’s enemies (though this was kind of illegal in the Roman empire). A less evil alternative would be to perform magic that would hold back the wrath of someone who had a grudge against you, so that their rage would pass, or would at least be ineffectual and couldn’t harm you.
To make someone stop being mad at you, you would need some of the magical Myrrh ink (the same kind in the “memory spell” above). Write the word “ChNEOM” (a name probably derived from the God Khnum, an Egyptian god that was said to grant protection) on some blank papyrus. Hold the name in your left hand, and say “I am restraining the anger of all, particularly of he, (name of angry person), by the name which is ChNEOM”.
12. Spell to Make Someone Fall In Love With You
In the ancient world, it seems that there were four big reasons people got involved with magic or magicians: for love, for money, for revenge or resolving personal conflicts, and (probably a distant fourth) for spiritual growth. It’s pretty much the same as today, really. So while angelic visions and dream revelations, curses, and money/gambling/robbery magic were all well and good, no magician’s repertoire would be complete without some Love Magic. Except for maybe curses, there was more love/romance/sex magic going on in the ancient world than anything else. These ran the gamut from spells to find your true love, spells to get some quick sex, spells for virility, or even magic to get someone else’s wife/husband to cheat with you.
Here’s one example: To win over the love of a beautiful woman, you must first be purified for three days (again, no meat, no alcohol, no sex). Then burn an offering of burnt frankincense (ideally, at a shrine of Aphrodite/Venus/Hathor; or else just in the name of one of these love goddesses. While you make the offering, chant the name “NEPHERIERI” over the smoke of the incense (“Nepherieri” is an Egyptian word meaning ‘beautiful to the eye’). You must do this once a day for seven days.
Then, go find the woman you wish to win, getting close enough to be able to gaze at her eyes, and while you do so repeat the chant “NEPHERIERI” in your mind while you look at her, seven times.
Success, the papyri claims, is guaranteed. But be careful what you wish for!