Magic 1

  1. Discuss the importance of the action of the magico-religious function as it is seen within the context of general Indo-European culture. (minimum 100 words)

Within the general Indo-European and applying Dumezil’s Theory of Tripartition, a culture is divided into three classes: the sacral class, the martial class, and the economic class.  The magico-religious function would fall into the first class of people.  These are the people who would serve as priests and magicians within their culture (Mallory 131-2).  They would preform rites of passage as needed, as well as preside over other seasonal and cultural celebrations.  It was the duty of the priest to be sure that all proper forms of sacrifice were observed and that each necessary holiday was celebrated appropriately.  It was the function of the magician to perform rites of passage as needed, but also to act as seers and spell casters for both individuals and institutions within their culture.  In some cases the function of the priest and the magician would overlap, however their paths diverged more in some cultures than others.


[Introduction to questions two and three: As different Indo-European societies developed, the figure of the magician in those societies evolved in differing ways, for example: in Roman society the magical function evolved, it was divided away from the priestly function and regulated by a different set of laws while in the evolution of Gaelic culture the magical and priestly functions remained entwined within the same cultural functionary.

  1. Discuss your understanding of the evolution of the magician from early to late periods within one Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

The cross contamination of cultures, as they have shifted and merged into one another complicates this questions.  Within the classical era of Greece, there existed the magos.  This magos was a Persian priest or, more generally, someone who specializes in religion.  They were known for being particularly pious (Graf 20).  It is important to note that though they were known for their skill and expertise in magic and religious work, they were, by definition, outsiders.  This marked them, and ensured that they were not a part of the mainstream culture at the time.

By the 5th century BC, the magos became known less as a wise man, and more like the wanderer of the night, associated with the maenads and the initiates.  These accounts come from Heraclitus of Ephesus, wherein we can begin to see a negative connotation of the magician taking hold.  The magi were considered to be crazy, and practicing false religions, and were lumped in with the faithful practitioners of ecstatic (Bacchic) cults.  In this era, the magos was likely less a sorcerer, and more like the other practitioners of magic: the beggar priests (agurtes) and diviners (mantis). He was a professional of rites, and lumped into the category of men were feared by some, lived on the fringes of society, and were experts in various cults (Graf 21-22).

Later, Sophocles in Oedipus Rex describes the magicians, and considered them to be close in nature to the agurtes, the beggar priest.  This means he has no place in official society, unlike the diviner.  He basically describes the magicians as con artists who practice tricks of the mind and slight of hand in order to profit, rather than as men who were skilled in the art of magic.  The magos and the agurtes shift from being more respected members of societies and transition to those found on the fringes of societies.  The diviner has the official status in the polis, and the beggar priest stands opposite him (Graf 22).

Plato, in the Republic, lumps the magicians together even further, combining both the initiates of ecstatic cults and the practitioners of black magic.  He considered them specialists of “ evocations and magic bonds,” particularly because of the all the curse tablets, and implements of magic that have been found all across Attica (Graf 22-23).


  1. Compare and contrast the culturally institutionalized position of the magician within at least two Indo-European cultures. (minimum 300 words)

Within ancient Greece the diviner was granted a place in the polis.  This is the mantis, and he stands opposite the magi and the agurtes.  Any magical work that is performed outside of the state is a crime, and punishable as such, because the position of these sorcerers threatens the relationship between the humans and the gods (Graf 25).  Interestingly, Athens did not have as many harsh laws regulating the work of magic within its limits.  Plato says that it is a good thing that Socrates settled in Athens because if he had lived anywhere else they would have prosecuted him for black magic and sorcery.

This contrasts sharply with ancient Rome, who pulled heavily from the works of Plato, where in the Laws he proposed harsh punishment for practitioners of magic.  Part of this was because he distinguished a distinct difference between magic and religion, where magic tried to convince the gods very specifically to bend to your will, and religion leaves the gods a choice (Graf 27).

In Rome, the existence of the Twelve Tables was meant to combat the practice of black magic.  The malum carmen is the harmful charm that is spoken as an incantation to achieve results.  The example given (“Do not put a curse on the crops of others”) explains how the effect of making a neighbors harvest disappear, is illegal, though possibly logical, since that would be the natural consequence of performing a spell to increase your own harvest, though it may pull a neighbors crops into your own fields. It should be noted, however, that the crime was not practicing magic, but rather theft. It all came back to the mundane (Graf 41-2).

While the Greeks left room for the magician in their society, mainly through the practice of divination, the Romans considered the magician to be solidly on the outskirts of society.  One of the reasons magic was considered particularly dangerous was because of its supposed silent nature.  If you were making silent prayers, it was often assumed that they were harmful, because why else would you not say them out loud. There were other restrictions on magic.  One such was noted in Cicero’s Laws II.  It was intended to stop non-public sacrifices, with are similar to non-verbal prayers.  The excerpt states  “Let there be no sacrifices at night by women with the exception of those made for the people, and let them not initiate anyone with the exception of the traditional initiations for Ceres, according to the Greek rite” (Graf 59).  These are all indications of how as time progressed, and the Romans grew out of Greek culture, the magician was divided away from his role in the state, and relegated to fringes of society, governed by different law than those that governed the state officials.


  1. Identify the terms used within one Indo-European language to identify ‘magic’ and ‘magician’ examining what these terms indicate about the position of the magician and the practice of his or her art. (minimum 100 words)

There are a variety of terms that are used to describe magic and magician, and the connotation of the word would change depending on which term is used to describe a magical person or magical act.  Mageia, the Greek word for magic, is what is practiced by the magos or magi, the magician or sorcerer.  The term magi comes from Persian, and when used in Greek refers to a foreigner.  There is a kind of grudging respect because they are skilled in a responsible for “royal sacrifices, funeral rites, and for the divination and interpretation of dreams” (Graf 20), however due to the cultural and political tensions between Persia and Greece, they were not trusted.  The Heraclitus prophecies threaten these “wanderers of the night, … the magi, … with tortures after death” and torturing with fire because the mystery initiations were impious rites.  There are other subsets of terms used to describe the various magicians.  The agurtes were beggar priests, who people could go to for individual work, with the likelihood that the amount you paid them would effect what they told you.  The mantis was a diviner.  He was the freelance diviner, as opposed to the institutional diviners.  Both of these people were defined in the Derveni papyrus as “a professional of rites” (Graf 21).  They were lumped in with the night wanderers because they were privy to and specialized in the secret rites.


  1. In Norse culture we see magic divided into to primary methodologies known as Galdr and Seidhr. Galdr is very much the formal magic of sound, word and poetry meaning literally to intone while Seidhr is the magic of the spirits and is used by the folk in their everyday lives to assist in their crafts and arts. Compare the methodologies of spoken word magic and spirit magic and discuss their cultural significance within at least one Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

Within the Hellenic hearth culture there is no example that is as clean as the delineation between galdr and seidhr.   There are many examples of spirit magic, perhaps the best being that of Pythia and oracular magic.  Oracular magic like that that is demonstrated by the Oracle of Delphi and the Oracle of Dodona “relied on mortals through whom a god was believed to speak” (Johnston 33).  In this method the humans delved into much deeper relationships with the divine, and the consciousness of the two often seemed to merge.  Another related example is that of the mantis.  Manteis were those people who were freelance magicians, and freelance diviners.  They offered divinatory clarification and advice as well as acting as an intermediary between the folk and the gods, helping them to strike bargains.  Much the way that high magic is practiced in the modern era with the magician building up his personal authority in order to achieve his ends, the mantis was able to converse with and bargain with the spirits on behalf of those who didn’t have the authority and training to do so on their own.

While there are clear examples of spirit magic, it becomes difficult to tease the formal, spoken magic away from magic that deals with the spirits.  This is because the vast majority of the spoken magic also deals with the spirits, often calling them directly to take part in the magical work.  This can be seen in the variety of hymns from ancient Greece.  They are a powerful spoken magic, however that spoken magic is used as an evocation to a spirit.  Rather than acting as a magical spell for a certain task, it calls to a spirit for a reason.  Sometimes the spell is the task, but a spirit is still called to assist in the magical act.  For example: if performing the saucer divination of Aphrodite (PGM IV. 3209-54) you call to her “the mother and mistress / of nymphs” and with the proper steps of the spell she will appear and before you and reveal to you those things that were concerning you that caused you to call her.  So while the spell is somewhat complex, with steps taken in preparation, and has specific words that must be spoken, the fact remains that it is not solely a divination spell, it is a spell to call the aspect of a goddess to you to reveal answers to you.

There are other examples of spells in the Greek Magical Papyri that include certain sounds that must be made, including descriptions of what those sounds should feel like within your mouth as you make them.  Apollonius notes in his discussion of Hellenic magic ritual that “for greatest effectiveness, certain spells or parts of spells (vowel chants, etc.) – the spells proper (Grk. epôdaí),- must be sung or recited sonorously, if circumstances permit. In any case, all ritual actions should be accompanied by appropriate verbal formulas, in the mind (by attentive imagination) if not out loud” (Sophistes “Hellenic”).  He notes that in ancient magic, spells were either silent or murmured, differing sharply from prayers and sacrifices that were made.  Graf also mentions this in his discussion of how it was not culturally okay to partake in silent prayers (Graf 120).  The inclusion of audible sounds “can help to entrain your assistants with your intentions.”   This is another example of how while there was likely both spoken magic and spirit arte, it was difficult to draw a clear line between the two different kinds of magic (Sophistes “Hellenic”).


  1. Discuss the existence and relative function of trance-journey magic within at least one Indo-European culture. (minimum 100 words)

In many Indo-European cultures trance work is often linked to divination of some sort. Trance, and trance-journeying appear to be a common method for conducting divinatory magic.  The most prominent example of trance-journey magic within ancient Greece remains the existence of the institutional oracles.  These women would enter a trance state in order to commune with the divine and receive answers from the spirits.

For example, the oracle of Delphi (the Pythia) was said to sit above a chasm in the rock, on a three-legged stool, and breathe in the vapors of the mountain. The ancients believed these vapors were the breath of Apollo, and by breathing it in, he (or his daimons) would possess her and speak through her (Johnston 44-7).  This is the idea that “when this prophetic potency mixes with the Pythia’s body, it opens up channels through which her soul can receive impressions of the future” (46-7).


  1. Discuss the place of alphabetic symbolism (runes, Ogham, Greek letters, etc) as part of the symbolism of magical practice within one Indo-European culture examine how this alphabet may or may not relate to the earlier sound, word and poetic magical methodologies. (minimum 300 words)

Within ancient Greece the use of the Greek Alphabet in divination was, while not the most famous method of divination, a useful tool for many people.  A common method for this style of divination was to place pottery shards that had been inscribed with the letters and shake them in a drum frame until one or more leapt out (Sophistes “Oracle”).  Divination was a deeply ingrained magical practice within ancient Greece.  It is interesting to note, however, that the institutional manteis was likely not using the alphabet system to divine, and that the freelancer diviners were more likely to use the alphabetic method for divination.

The letters of the Greek alphabet are used in the creation of amulets.  This can be seen in the variety of examples within the Greek Magical Papyri.  For example, PGM VII. 206-7 describes the creation of an amulet to prevent coughs.  The magician takes hyena parchment and inscribes a series of ancient Greek letters.

When referring to sounds, it is interesting to note that sometimes within the Greek Magical Papyri, there are direct intrusions on how a specific sound is to be made, and the feel of it in your mouth.  For example, in PGM V. 1-53 it directs the magician to pronounce AOIAO EOEY by saying “the ‘A’ with an open mouth, undulating like a wave; / the ‘O’ succinctly, as a breathed threat, / the ‘IAO’ to earth, to air, and to heaven; / the ‘E’ like a baboon; / the ‘O’ in the same way as above; / the ‘E’ with enjoyment, aspirating it, / the ‘Y’ like a shepherd, drawing out the pronunciation.”  This detailed description implies that the exact way in which the letters were said, and the exact sound they made, was imperative to the successful completion of the magical act, in this case, creating and working with an oracle.


  1. Discuss three key magical techniques or symbols from one Indo-European culture. (minimum 100 words each)

Rites of Binding (defixiones)

Binding spells are found in the curse tablets that are scattered across the ancient world, most notably the Mediterranean area.  They are text, primarily written on tablets of lead, that are intended to force another to the magician’s will, or make them unable to follow their own desires.  The texts themselves are divided into five different types of spells: judicial, erotic, agonistic, anti-theft, and economic.  In these cases, while the written texts have allowed us to study them, the part that is more important is the rite itself where the binding is carried out (Graf 119-123).  The text of who is bound and in what way conveys the intent of the spell, the there were also instructions for the magician for how and where to send the tablet down, whether by burying or sinking or nailing, etc.  The magician treated with chthonic beings to help him carry out the binding spell (Graf 134-5).


There are a whole host of techniques revolving around divination.  The famous methods of divination involve the use of direct visions either directly to the querant or through an intermediary (Graf 197).  This is what is seen at the Oracle of Delphi and the Oracle of Dodona.  This type of divination uses trance work to determine the message.  There are instructions to conduct such a direct vision in the Greek Magical Papyri specifically with Apollo (PGM VII. 727-39).  There is also the use of augury to conduct divination, as well as knucklebones (or astragaloi) and basic lots for sortilege.  This is what we most often use in modern paganism.  Some other methods include divination through lamps, mirrors, or bowls of water.  These methods often have an elaborate set of directions to prepare the magician and the object for use.  For example, one set of instructions explains how to take a bronze vessel and fill it with a specific type of water depending on who you wish to contact, as well as the words to say over it in preparation (PGM IV. 221-258).

All of these methods of divination are magic because they depend on having a relationship with spirits in order to achieve the results you desire.  Even if the result is no more than being able to interpret an omen, to be able to do that you must develop a relationship with a spirit to do so properly, and convince, cajole, bribe, etc. to get their help in the matter.  Divination within the Hellenic hearth culture is a form of spirit arte.  If you want something, then you have to find a spirit and win them over to your cause in order for that thing to happen.  This is seen time and again within the Greek Magical Papyri, as spirits are called for both simple and elaborate tasks.


There are a great many examples of amulets begin created and worn to achieve a certain end.  In paging through the Greek Magical Papyri, there are hundred of examples.  One category of amulets has to do with healing.  The magician takes the material required and inscribes a series of letters or sigils.  The person the spell is for then wears the amulet.  PGM VII. 213-14 describes wearing an olive leaf about the neck as an amulet, with a shape that looks like a cone inscribed on the shiny side of the leaf, and a crescent moon inscribed on the dark side of the leaf.   Another description of an amulet is PDM xiv. 1003-14 which gives instructions on how to create an amulet to cure gout.


  1. Discuss the relative place and methodologies of magic within your personal religious/spiritual practice. (minimum 100 words)

I have struggled with the concept of magical work, partly because for me it is so entwined with both trance and divinatory work.  The three all contain pieces of the others that make it difficult for me to pull out just one of them and discuss it independently of the others.  Magic is simply prayer with Intent, and so it is a very broad term that can encompass many things.

When I do magical work, it most often takes one of five different forms: trance work, divinatory work, ritual magic, healing work, or bardic work.  And these forms can happen at the same time, and often do.  I often use trance in combination with all of the forms, as well as independently to better focus the intent of the work, or to gain a clearer or more intense understanding of the desired outcome.  When I do divinatory work, I always call on Apollo Mantikos to aid me, making this a form of spirit arte.  Ritual magic is the kind of things that happen within a ritual.  Within ADF these are things like opening the gates and calling for the blessings.  When I do healing work, it is most often done with the aid of a spirit.  I make offerings to the spirit and call on them to help me focus my intent and lend energy to the person in need of healing.  Bardic work is done through trance and calling on various spirits for inspiration.  An initial offering is made to a spirit, and the outcome is often the creation of a bardic piece that can then be used to further honor the spirit.


  1. Into which basic categories would you divide magical arts and how do you see those categories functioning within the context of ADF? (minimum 300 words)

There are three categories that I think magic can fall into: magic for the benefit of the spirits, magic for the benefit of the self, and magic for the benefit of the community. Initially I had considered the theurgy and thaumaturgy categories, as those also resonate very well with my understanding of magic.  However, I’ve found as I work through my understandings, and perform more magical acts, that almost all the work I do calls on a spirit for aid, and thus, I don’t often operate in both categories.

Magic for the benefit of the spirits contains things like prayers and invocations to the deities.  These are most often audible or physical things that are given as a gift to the spirits to honor them in some way.  Magic that benefits the spirits is particularly important because it is through this magic that the *ghosti relationship is built, and through this magic that other types of magic become possible.  In the context of ADF, when we call to honor the Earth, the shining ones, the nature spirits, and the ancestors, we are invoking them to honor them and give them gifts.  In a typical High Day rite, this is often the purpose of the rite.

Magic for the benefit of the self are things like spells or charms for prosperity, protection, love, safe travel, etc.  These are things that while a spirit is often asked to assist with the charm, the intent is meant to benefit the magician in some way.  This type of magic is often not carried out within the context of the ritual we normally see in ADF.  However, as noted above, this type of magic would not be possible without the magic that is for the benefit of the spirits.

The final category is magic for the benefit of the community.  Magic within this category is what is seen most often in ADF rituals outside of the magic that honors the spirits.  Things like Opening the Gates and Calling for the Blessings benefit the community.  They allow all the participants in a ritual the opportunity to connect more deeply with the spirits and to receive their wisdom and blessings.  This magic is central to our being able to perform rituals.  Magic that benefits the community also contains work that is done for others, such as healing and protective charms.  Magic done to strengthen the community, care for the earth, or help someone through a time of transition is also benefiting the community.

For me, magic for the benefit of self falls short of the emphasis I put on magic benefiting the spirits and magic benefiting the community.  I think magic that benefits the community is the most important, and it is our relationship with the spirits that allow us to do it.


Works Cited:

Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Including the Demotic Spells. Chicago, Ill.: U of Chicago, 1986. Print.

Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997. Print.

Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ancient Greek Divination. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Pub., 2008. Print.

Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Print.

Sophistes, Apollonius. “Hellenic Magic Ritual.” Hellenic Magical Ritual. Biblioteca Arcana, 2000. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>.

Sophistes, Apollonius. “A Greek Alphabet Oracle.” A Greek Alphabet Oracle. Biblioteca Arcana, 1995. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>.


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