The Greek Magical Papyri




The Greek Magical Papyri is a collection of texts dating from about the second century BCE to about the fifth century CE. They represent a vast array of magical practices with influence from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Hebrew and other Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions. These texts are often referred to as the PGM after the Latin Papyrii Graeco Magicae.


The texts now collected the as PGM began to be collected in various museum collections in the 19th century. The initial publication as a collection recognizably similar to their current form was done in two volumes with an intended third by Karl Preisendanz in 1928 and 1931. This is still an important collection from an academic standpoint. Currently the standard is the edition by Betz.The papyri along with collections of amulets and inscriptions from the time form the primary basis for exploring the magical traditions of this period.


The papyri themselves do not form a singular tradition, despite attempts by contemporary magicians to address them as such. To fully understand them one would need to explore them within the ideological contexts of their various source traditions. This too would present an incomplete model. The period over which the papyri were written represents seven hundred years of philosophical, religious, and magical development. The earliest texts were written at a time when Egypt was primarily under the sway of Alexandrian Hellenistic culture but still with significant Egyptian influence. 200 BCE would place the earliest papyri within the end of the first century of Ptolemaic rule. At this time Egyptian magic and religion would have still presented a significant orientalizing influence over the Graeco-Egyptian culture developing in Alexandria. By the end of the ptolemaic reign in 30 BCE the Greek influence over Egyptian culture had largely rewritten the details and specifics of how Egyptian symbols were present in the Greek and Roman mystery traditions. A hundred more years pass and the Jewish diaspora is in full swing and early Jewish mystical ideas blend with the advent of Christianity and the growing influence of Greek and Roman Mystery Traditions. By the later periods the area was under the sway of Coptic Christianity. Essentially this vast corpus of texts represents a dynamic interplay of religious and philosophical influences from around the region that was the foundation of western thought and culture.


To truly create a system of working these rituals and spells one would need to systematize them and distill out the coherent esoteric elements from the cultures, philosophies, and mystery schools which gave their influence to these works. Short of that there is a long history of magicians taking certain more famous elements of these texts and working them into contemporary traditions. Alternatively still, there are themes and trends we can see within the texts, as well as small books of magic within them presenting singular partial systems. These can be assembled into a workable whole, still primarily as a supplement to a larger magical practice. The Book of Abrasax by Michael Cecchitelli is an excellent example of utilizing the materials in the PGM along with other similar collections to create a praxis based approach.


The Mithras Liturgy (PGM IV 475 - 829), The Rite for Acquiring a Spiritual Assistant (PGM I 1-42), Eros – An Assistant (PGM XII 14 – 95), and the Stele of Jeu (PGM V 96 – 172) more popularly known as the Headless Invocation or the Bornless Invocation, are examples of well known texts from the papyri. The Eighth Book of Moses (PGM VIII 1 – 343) is an example of a singular collection of magical works, including an initiation ritual, forming a magic book all to itself.


There are additional works which provide material from this textual tradition. Here are links to several useful books which are available.


Academic Texts on Graeco-Egyptian Magic


Greek Magical Amulets - Kotansky's text on amulets, available in German, is the standard academic text collecting amulets.

Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World - Gager's text on curse tablets is the standard text on defixiones

The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation - Hans Dieter Betz's translation of the PGM is the standard collection for the PGM, and the Demotic spells.

The Leyden Papyrus - The Leyden Papyrus presents an additional collection of demotic papyri containing spells and information of alchemy, metallurgy, and gemology in Egypt in the 4th century CE.

Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power - Marvin Meyer is a leading writer on Gnosticism and early Christianity here he presents Coptic magical and ritual texts which are part of the same magical tradition from which the later papyri stem

A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power - The Macquarie Papyri are a newly published collection of Coptic magical texts which date to a period later than those collected by Preisendanz and Betz. This new publication presents a great deal of new and useful material

Belief and Cult in 4th Century PapyriM Choat is one of the translators of the Macquarie Papyri. I am not familiar with this text, but it appears to be an attempt to present religious philosophy and practice of the people who assembled the papyri.


Magical Texts on Graeco-Egyptian Magic


Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian MagicStephen Skinner's book is a significant addition to contemporary magical literature. It is one of the first thorough attempts by a magician to present a complete system based on the Graeco-Egyptian magical literature

The Book of AbrasaxMichael Cecchetelli's ritual handbook based in the PGM, PDM and Coptic materials is excellent. He avoids presenting ideological analysis and presents entirely a system of practice broken down based on different types of magical goals and workings. For the modern magician not interested in engaging in academic reconstruction, looking for a way to hit the ground running with this system, this is the answer.



Online Resources for Graeco-Egyptian Magic


The Greek Magical Papyrii in TranslationThe Betz Translation of the PGM on academia.edu uploaded by Roy Kotansky

The Demotic Magical Texts of the Leyden Papyriavailable at the internet sacred text archive

Diversity and Unity in the Greek Magical PapyriDoctoral Thesis by Eleni Pachoumi on the Greek Magical Papyri

The Bornless InvocationAlex Sumner's analysis of the Bornless Invocation. Unfortunately his sources are all modern magic and his analysis is based in the Golden Dawn system. The presentation of the Invocation is however my favorite, and the Journal of Western Mystery Tradition, including the work by Alex Sumner, is typically pretty interesting

Review of The Mithras LiturgyThe Bryn Mawr Classical Review article on Hans Dieter Betz's book on the Mithras Liturgy. The review itself provides some direction on context for exploring these materials, the book itself provides further


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