Friday, August 28, 2015

Goeteia is for Suckers: Magic Lamps & Underworld Descents.

Jack's Note: While attempting to write an article on distinctions between ancient magic and religion, I've decided to blog about the areas where the two subjects coincide to illustrate that the line between the subjects was far more permeable, and far more interesting than many people realize. This is more for my own peace of mind – so I don't derail what little I have to say in the article – than for any other reason. I do hope, however, that long time readers of my blog find it interesting. Also, the title of this article exists primarily for my own amusement.

A Cult with Heavenly Lamps.

Between 1965 and 1970, an excavation by a team from University of Texas headed by James Wiseman made an interesting discovery in the ancient city of Corinth: it was an underground bath, filled to the brim with terra-cotta lamps!

The excavators took to calling the remains the Fountain of the Lamps, and all things told they found over four thousand of the lamps. David Jordan, in his excellent article Inscribed Lamps from a Cult at Corinth in Late Antiquity, writes:

“The strikingly large number of lamps suggested to the excavators some after-dark cult that evidently practiced there for almost a hundred years until around the middle of the sixth century, when either an earth-quake or human efforts sealed off the entrance to the room. […] Four of the lamps have graffiti, the texts of which, as published by James Wiseman, invoke angels and Eros and mention Jesus and Jews. ”

We will return to Wiseman's inscribed lamps in time, but for now just let that information settle into the back of your mind.

Asklepios visits a dreamer at his temple.

“What did it mean for a real flesh-and-blood person in ancient Greece - not some Mythical or Legendary figure - to make a journey consciously, deliberately, knowingly into another world?

And in particularly: how could such a person go down or claim to go down into the world of death while still alive, touch the powers that live there, learn from them, and then come back to the world of the living?

The answer is extremely simple.

There was a specific and established technique among various groups of people for making the journey to the world of the dead; for dying before you died.

It involved isolating yourself in a dark place, lying down in complete stillness, staying motionless for hours or days. First the body would go silent, then eventually the mind. And this stillness is what gave access to another world, a world of utter paradox; to a totally different state of awareness. Sometimes that state was described as a kind of dream. Sometimes it was referred to as like a dream but not a dream, as really a third type of consciousness quite different from either waking or sleeping.

There used to be a whole technical language associated with the procedure; an entire mythical geography. And there was a name that the Greeks, and then the Romans, gave to this technique.
They called it Incubation.”
— Peter Kingsley, Reality. (P. 30 - 31.)

One might pause here to note that Kingsley has conflated Katabasis (“to go down”) rites aimed at the Underworld and Incubation, but the practices were readily interchangeable and this tendency can be at least apologized for. Despite this:

It was extremely wide spread and best associated with the cult of Asklepios, who made use of it for the purposes of healing. An excellent report on the 'dreams' provided by sleeping on the floor of Asklepios' temple is one such as this:

“(I dreamed) that I should proceed in the following way: first, mounting the chariot, I should go to the river which flows through the city and then, when I reached the spot where it leaves the city, I should perform the ἱερἀ ἐπιβόθρια [i.e., sacrifices in the ritual pits]; for thus he [s.c. Asclepius] named these rites. Having dug the pits, then, I should perform the sacred rites over them to whomever of the gods it is most fitting. Next, turning back and taking up small coins, I should cross the river and throw them away. And I believe he gave me some other instructions in addition to these. Afterwards, I should go to the holy shrine and offer perfect sacrificial animals to Asclepius and set up holy craters and distribute holy portions to all the fellow-pilgrims. And (he indicated) that it was also imperative to cut off part of the body itself in behalf of the safety of the whole. This, however, would be too great a demand, and from it he would exempt me. Instead, I should take off the ring which I was wearing and offer it to Telesphorus. For this would do the same as if I offered the finger itself. Furthermore, I should inscribe on the band of the ring “Son of Cronus.” After this there would be salvation.”
— Aristides, Oratio XLVIII. 27

Daniel Ogden notes that it was probably one of the most common psychic tactics for contacting ghosts (of all varieties) in the ancient world:

But what “really” happened after a consulter had performed his rites at the tomb? How did he experience the ghost? There is no direct evidence, but there is a strong circumstantial case for believing that he went to sleep and dreamed (“incubation”), perhaps on top of the tomb, and perhaps on the flece of the sheep that he had just jugulated for the ghost and immolated for the nether gods. Curiously, the Greeks and Romans tended to attribute the practice of incubation on the tombs of the ordinary dead to other races or religions, but in so doing at least demonstrated their familiarity with the custom. It is ascribed to the Libyan Nasamones (first by Herodotus) and Augilae, the Celts, and eventually, in the fifth century A.D., to the Christians and Jews. The Pythagorean Apollonius of Tyana's consultation of Achilles coincided with him spending the night on his barrow; Philostratus implies that he slept there (enucheusein). Plutarch's tale of the Pythagoreans discussed above may imply that Theanor slept at Lysis's tomb to receive his prophecy; Pythagoras had himself wittily affirmed that the dead spoke to the living in dreams. [...]”
— Ogden, Greek and Roman Necromancy. (P. 11.)

Later on, when discussing the tactic more extensively, he adds:
It is not surprising that ghosts should have been sought in dreams,since they often visited the living spontaneously in this way. This was, for example, how Patroclus appeared to Achilles in the Iliad, how Diapontius appeared to Philoaches in Plautus's Mostellaria, and how his dead son visited Epicrates in the first-century A.D. Nakrason in Asia Minor.”
— (Ibid, P. 75.)

To this we might add that the most likely event that took place when one approached the Trophonius'
katabastion (“place of descent”), was that following specific rites such as the offering honey-cakes to the snakes that inhabited the cavern, one most likely slept. Indeed, the situation becomes all the more interesting when one takes a glance over at Peter Kingsley's Reality and In the Dark Places of Wisdom. In both of those works he traces incubation practices to the cult of Apollo. In particular, he connects the practices to the Iatromantis and the cult of Apollo Oulios (“Apollo the Destroyer”; Kingsley indicates this can also be understood as “Apollo the Healer”)!

Iatromantis figures were a breed apart among the ancient Greeks.

They were specialists at invoking other states of awareness, in themselves and others.

And apart from being famous because of their poetry, one particularly technique they were well known for was the incantatory device of repeating the same words.

This point has very real significance. You may have noticed that at the start of his poem Parmenides keeps on repeating the same words over and over again.”
Kingsley, Reality (P. 34.)

By Kingsley contention – and I suspect his more correct than incorrect, his reliance on Harrison's
Themis aside – Parmenides proem is not merely a quaint story where a Goddess explains Reality Itself to a dumb mortal. It is far, far more: if Kingsley is correct, it is one of the most ancient Incubation reports we have available, and it demonstrates just how far the practices had spread. It was being used by those visiting necromantic oracles, by those incubating the ghosts of heroes on their tombs, by the cult of Asklepios, and by the Iatromantis figures who were adepts at incantatory poetry!

And there is another group who was using such rituals, one that long-time readers of this blog have probably already guessed about: the itinerant magicians and Goetes who wandered the ancient world.

Lamp (Corinth Type XXIV), 1st century A.D.
Ceramic. (Note: this is a lamp from Corinth, but not one of the inscribed ones discussed above and below.)

 Magic Lamps & Underworld Descents

There are a number of magical spells from the PGM for inspiring a 'direct vision.' These manipulate all manner of impliments to cause the spell to work, ranging from words written on leaves or recited over seeds, to inscribed magical lamps whose light inspires magical visions when one sleeps beneath them.

One of these that I have mentioned before occurs in PGM LXX. 4 – 25:

ASKEI KATASKEI ERŌN OREŌN IŌR MEGA SAMNYĒR BAUI (3 times) PHROBANTIA SEMNĒ, I have been initiated, I went down into the underground chamber of the Dactyls, and I saw the other things down below, virgin, bitch, and all the rest.” Say it at a crossroad, turn around and flee, because it is at those places that she appears. Saying it late at night about what you wish, it will reveal it in your sleep; and if you are led away to death, say it while scattering the seeds of sesame, and it will save you.”
— Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (P. 297.)

Betz, in his
Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus, suggests that it fell into magical hands through the mystery schools and that it has Orphic elements. This, rather than Georg Luck's suggestion that it may be an invocation of Orpheus, seems rather likely.

Of key note are the lines:
“Saying it late at night about what you wish, it will reveal it in your sleep; and if you are led away to death, say it while scattering the seeds of sesame, and it will save you.”

In conjunction with these lines, Betz himself states that:
“Parallels in the Greek catabasis literature, however, show that the phrase points to a situation in the netherworld, where visitors must expect sudden attacks by underworld demons in charge of the punishments. Protection against such attacks is advisable for those who dare enter the land of Hades, whether as visitors or on that last journey of the soul. At the moment of such an attack, the operator is advised to identify himself with the goddess Ereschigal by pronouncing this formula [...]”
 We find a similar dual purpose in the inscriptions left behind at Corinth: some appear to be requests for benevolence and aid, while others themselves salute Deities and Angels:

The above is the first inscription, and not terribly interesting, despite the reference to Angels and water. I include it just for the sake of doing so, frankly.

The second, however, is far more fascinating and finds a direct parallel in the PGM:

This inscription, dedicated to Sabaoth (“Lord of the Hosts”) and the Angels is paralleled in PGM VII. 1009-16 (to be inscribed on Laurel leaves rather than on a lamp):

I call upon [you], SABAŌTH, Michael, Raphael and you, [powerful archangel] Gabriel, do not [simply] pass by me [as you bring visions], but let one of you enter I and reveal [to me] concerning the NN matter, AIAI ACHĒNĒ IAŌ.” Write these things [on leaves …] of laurel and place them by your head.“ (“Divination By Means of a Boy.” Betz, P. 145)

The third and final inscription is one of the most intriguing, given that it falls outside the two above:

My suggestion as to what the cult was practicing, given the parallels, is that it was divine and angelic incubation using the lamps in the bath as mediatory devices. I could, of course, quote at least a dozen more PGM spells for the lamps (those with the time, check out PGM I. 262 - 347 for a lamp dedicated to Apollo that will allow you to summon heavenly gods and chthonic daimons”) comparisons and how they tie together, but it would become tedious and boring. Chances are, I will revisit this topic again, anyway.

Now, given the above: if we have early Christian cultists, magicians of varying stripes, and all manner of mystics and poetry fueled madmen performing incubation, katabasis descents and the like is this: where do we draw the line at what is 'religious' and what is 'magical'?

I'll return to this question again if I visit several other topics it occurs when I think about, but the question itself plagues me. Where did the lines between mysticism, religion, and magic get drawn? And, in light of actual historical evidence, do they appear to be nothing more than arbitrary lines in the sand to anyone else?

Be seeing you,

Mournful Cries: Of Sorcerers & Spirits

Author's Note: This was originally a post up at the Starry Bull blog. I'm pretty sure the old blog has been pulled down since the group was reformatted (I wish you all the best!), and I'm posting it here so that people can still access it if they want to.

The Sorcerer
The professional practice of Goetia primarily arises out of the late archaic age of Greece, gaining momentum around 500 - 400 BCE. The word means “lamenting,” or “wailing,” and describes the actions of the professional (known as the Goes, which is commonly glossed as “sorcerer”) who was employed to deal with restless ghosts. Morton Smith writes of it:

The common Greek word for ‘magician’ in Jesus’ time was goes (plural goetes). […] Here goetia (what goetes do) is one special technique like others named, a recognized and legitimate function. It seems to have been a sort of Greek shamanism, a form of mourning for the dead in which the goetes became ecstatic and were thought to accompany the dead on their journey to the underworld.”i

The word Goes – from which we get Goetia – has two primary etymological roots:

Goös: “a highly emotional funeral lament” performed by Greek women in antiquity. The opposite of the Threnos, an emotionally controlled form of lamentation.

In her excellent Restless Dead, Sarah Iles Johnston writes:
“Goös, in contrast, was spontaneous and emotionally powerful — sometimes excessively so. It is connected primarily with women, especially women who were related to the deceased. The songs these women sang emphasized their pain as survivors, and sometimes reproached the deceased for having left his family unprotected. In the Iliad, for example, Andromache describes to the dead Hector how Astyanax will have to beg for food at the tables of other men. Somewhat later, gooi began to carry the additional purpose of rousing the listeners to revenge; the singers did this by focusing not only on their own pain but also on the injustice of the death suffered by the deceased. Thus, the Chorus of lamenting women in the Choephoroi urges the listening Orestes to avenge his father’s death. Goös, in other words, became a means of eliciting help from the living, as well as a medium for complaining to the dead.

Rousing the living to action by complaining to the dead is but a step away from asking the dead themselves to bring help as well. Once the idea that the dead could be made to return had been introduced to Greek culture, it would have been natural to include such a request as part of a goös.”ii

Goao: “to lament, sing wildly, cast a spell.”

“The second phenomenon with which goetes regularly were connected was singing and more broadly music of all kinds. The Suda and Cosmas defined goeteia as an act of “calling upon” (epiklesis) the dead; earlier sources repeatedly connected goeteia with the epoide, or chanted song. The Dactyls were credited both with the invention of various forms of music and with the composition of epoidai. Their student Orpheus, of course, was the most famous singer of all – by classical times we find him using his lyre and his voice to persuade the gods of the dead to release the soul of his wife, and by Varro’s day he was known as the author of a book called the Lyre, which taught others how to invoke souls through music as well. The crediting of such a book to Orpheus verifies that in ancient eyes what Orpheus did with his music was not really different from the way a goes used epoidai or the incantations written on curse tablets to call up a soul, even if Orpheus and the goes desired the souls they invoked for very different reasons. Broadly, all of these connections between invocation of souls and song are part of a belief in the ability of all kinds of sound to enchant the individual soul.
But we need not go so far afield in proving the importance of this association between goeteia and song, for it is attested by the very term itself. As already noted, goes and its cognates are built from the same root as the older words goös and goao. This makes sense: the goes, like the lamenter, wishes to communicate with the realm of the dead…”iii

At the same time that the Greek city states were rising, and belief in the power of the dead was strengthened – possibly by contact with the Middle East and relevant beliefs in the dead in Mesopotamia and Egypt – local laws were enacted in a variety of regions which limited the performance of Goös and Threnos lamentations for the dead. While one could still travel to one of the major necromantic oracles (Acheron in Thesprotia, Avernus in Campania, Heracleia Pontica on the Black Sea, and Tainaron at the Mani peninsula),iv this capability was not possessed by all members of the city states, and this situation helped pave the way for a type of itinerant magical tradesman – the Goes – to travel the ancient world, offering both ecstatic rites to deal with potential problems resulting from the wrathful dead (bringing them into the Underworld, where they could find rest), and even to offer a variety of other magical services, such as cursing enemies, that often involved the very same spirits and the spirits and deities that ruled them.

One crucial element that Sarah Iles Johnston, in agreement with more recent scholarship on the matter (as opposed to Smith's older work), is that Goetia and Mystery Initiation seem to overlap. The mystical companion – which is not to say that both roles could not be shared by some individuals – of the Goes was the Orpheo-telestai. Like the Goes, the Orpheo-telestai traveled the ancient world offering rites of purification that could be extended to both the ancestral, inherited guilt of family lines, and toward restless souls. Plato refers alludes to such mystical cultists in the Republic as follows:

Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices.”v

Additionally one group of Daimons commonly associated with Goetia – amongst many other things already mentioned by Johnston – and initiations is the Dactyls. Writing on the Dactyls, the Logographer Pherecydes of Leros, places them into two groups. Those of the Right Hand, who are Goetes (Binders); and those of the Left Hand, who are Analuontes (Releasers from Binding). The Dactyls were credited with teaching Orpheus the epoide, or chanted songs. These Daimons tend to be conflated with the Corybantes and Kouretes, and it is unclear where the distinctions between them begin and end. Regardless, even E.J. Harrison makes note of the hefty associations with rituals involving binding and the Dactyls:

“As daimons whether wholly or half divine the Kouretes have all manner of magical capacities. These capacities are by Strabo rather implied than expressly stated and are especially noticeable in their Phrygian equivalents, Korybantes. The Korybantes bind and release men from spells, they induce madness and heal it. The chorus asks the love-sick Phaedra:

“Is this some Spirit, O child of man?
Doth Hecat hold thee perchance, or Pan?
Doth She of the Mountains work her ban,
Or the dread Corybantes bind thee?” [….]”vi

This is not to suggest all of the Goes were Orphic mystery initiators, or that all Orphic purification specialists were Goes. Rather, in some cases, it seems increasingly clear that their spheres of action both interacted, and some were both. An excellent example of this is the sketch of Pharnabazos in Pharnabazos, the Diviner of Hermes: Two ostraka with curse letters from Olbia by Andrei Lebedev:

“I propose the following explanation of the interrelation between the two graffiti. Pharnabazos and Aristoteles were two wandering priests, diviners and magicians working at the agora region of Olbia. They practiced divination, black magic and, presumably, purifications and initiations into mysteries for a fee [...]”

Earlier, Lebedev even suggested:
“Pharnabazos, then, seems to have been not only a diviner, but also a Bacchic priest, conceivably, an Orpheotelestes.”

Another such figure was Empedocles of Acagras (c. 492 – 432 BCE), who was widely credited as being a Goes (due to tales of his having raised the dead), his feats of wind-stopping and weather magic, and his indications that his capacities for such actions rested on his talent with poetry.

Rites of Goetia.


“… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magician is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are revenging souls. This is why the magicians perform the sacrifice as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable.”vii

Acts of ritual appeasement for the dead were by no means limited to being practiced by sorcerers. In fact, there are a number of ritual actions made to appease the dead that fall outside the strict sphere of Goetia, but which are corollaries to it. One of these is the Deipna Hecatates, or Hekate's Supper:

... [T]he offerings laid at the crossroads every month for Hekate. Their purpose was to placate not only this dread goddess of the underworld, but also we learn from Plutarch (Moralia, 709 A), the Atropopaioi, i.e. the ghosts of those who for some reason cannot rest easy in their graves, and come back to earth in search of vengeance. An army of these invisible and maleficent beings follows in the wake of its leader as she roams at large through the midnight world.”viii

Likewise, common offerings discovered at graves such as toys, ritual gifts of certain types of flowers, and offerings of libations may be considered to have been done both out of goodwill, and to appease and placate the dead so as to keep them from becoming restless and hostile. An interesting collary to appeasement in Goetic rites would be acts of persuasion. In the Greek Magical Papyri (hereafter PGM), the spirits of the dead are often treated – rightly or wrongly – as secondary to the Daimons and Deities that rule them. Thus one finds phrases of flattery as a common component in many rites. For example, PGM IV. 2967 – 3006 is a spell for picking a plant. In it, the plant itself is praised as a series of Daimons and Gods:
You were sown by Kronos, you were conceived by Hera, / you were maintained by Ammon, you were given birth by Isis, you were nourished by Zeus the god of rain, you were given growth by Helios and dew. You [are] the dew of all the gods, you [are] the heart of Hermes, you are the seed of the primordial gods, you are the eye / of Helios, You are the light of Selene, you are the zeal of Osiris, you are the beauty and the glory of Ouranos, you are the soul of Osiris' daimon which revels in every place, you are the spirit of Ammon. As you have exalted Osiris, so / exalt yourself and rise just as Helios rises each day. Your size is equal to the zenith of Helios, your roots come from the depths, but your powers are in the heart of Hermes, your fibers are the bones of Mnevis, and your / flowers are the eye of Horus, your seed is Pan's seed. I am washing you in resin as I also wash the gods even [as I do this] for my own health. You also be cleaned by prayer and give us power as Ares and Athena do. I am Hermes. I am acquiring you with Good / Fortune and Good Daimon both at a propitious hour and on a propitious day that is effective for all things.”ix

This aspect of flattering the spirits is by no means limited to plants; in other rites lesser Daimones are praised as deities, and so forth. Goetes were often criticized for their powers of persuasion; to the point that by late antiquity, the word Goes was applied to those accused of Sophistry. Plato also refers to this use of flattery, when he complains in Laws of those who “are so bestial as to ... say that they can lead about the souls of the dead and... persuade the gods, pretending they can charm them by sacrifices and prayers and spells.”


Exorcism and apotropaic charms and formulas to be used against hostile spirits go hand in hand, and the PGM is rife with them. Perhaps the best known ritual is PGM V. 96 – 172, better known as the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist, or the “Headless God” ritual. That it functions as an exorcism is beyond question, with lines such as these:
I call upon you, awesome and invisible god with an empty spirit, AROGOGOROBRAŌ SOCHOU MODORIŌ PHALARCHAŌ OOO. Holy Headless One, deliver him, NN, from the daimon that restrains him, ROUBRIAŌ MARI ŌDAM BAABNABAŌTH ASS ADŌNAI APHNIAŌ ITHŌLETH ABRASAX AĒŌŌY; mighty Headless One, deliver him, NN, from the daimon which restrains him. MABARRAIŌ IOĒL KOTHA ATHORĒBALŌ ABRAŌTH, deliver him, NN, AŌTH ABRAŌTH BASYM ISAK SABAŌTH IAŌ.x

Whether or not the function of exorcism is its primary, or only, function is a matter that will probably be debated from now until the end of time. A similar ritual, to be used if approached by a hostile ghost, is PGM LXX. 4 – 25:

Charm of Hekate Ereschigal against fear of punishment.
/ If he [the ghost] comes forth, say to him: “I am Ereschigal, the one holding her thumbs, and not even one evil can befall her.”

If however, he comes close to you, take hold of your right heel and recite the following: “Ereshigal, virgin, bitch, serpent, wreath, key, herald’s wand, golden sandal of the Lady of Tartaros.” You will avert him.

ASKEI KATASKEI ERŌN OREŌN IŌR MEGA SAMNYĒR BAUI (3 times) PHROBANTIA SEMNĒ, I have been initiated, I went down into the underground chamber of the Dactyls, and I saw the other things down below, virgin, bitch, and all the rest.” Say it at a crossroad, turn around and flee, because it is at those places that she appears. Saying it late at night about what you wish, it will reveal it in your sleep; and if you are led away to death, say it while scattering the seeds of sesame, and it will save you.”xi

Writing on this particular ritual Jake Stratton-Kent notes:

The ASKEI KATASKEI formula is, as we would expect, attributed to the Dactyls; unusually the author refers to it as an Orphic formula. This, in my opinion, does not and cannot imply that this is an invocation of Orpheus; an interpretation made by Georg Luck in Arcana Mundi. Rather it simply conforms to the ancient idea that the rites of the Dactyls came under the tutelage of Orpheus, or as we might say, the Orphic movement.

On a practical level, it is plain that both this formula and the recital of the symbols of Hecate – from an authentic initiation ritual – are here magical devices for protection in a variety of underworld contexts. So too, the leaving of the site without looking back conforms to both the myth of Orpheus, and the magical preparations made by Jason for obtaining the Golden Fleece. Plainly, these are authentic and widely known gestures and practices, worthy of our attention in the modern context.”xii

 One particular benefit from the use of ritual exorcism is that spirits harming others could be – instead of taken into the underworld – driven to the crossroads, at which point they would become confused and “stuck” by the mix of places. This meant that the crossroad thus used was a place where other items could be brought, and other rites and incantations could be performed, where the dead would be compelled to act upon the magician's wishes.

Additionally several PGM rites make use of sculptures or icons that Daimons are bound to. These are probably alterations of Kolossoi, poppets that were used to deal with Hikesioi Apaktoi (hostile visitants). Kolossoi could be made to bind even deities (such as Ares) to locations for purposes of protection, or to bind hostile spirits that were visiting. Thus is is a very small step to end up at the ritual actions found in The Sword of Dardanos (PGM IV. 1716 – 1870), where it is used as part of a compulsive love spell:

“Take a magnetic stone which is breathing and engrave Aphrodite sitting astride Psyche I and with her left hand holding on her hair bound in curls. And above her head: “ACHMAGE KAKPEPSEI”; and below / Aphrodite and Psyche engrave Eros standing on the vault of heaven, holding a blazing torch and burning Psyche. And below Eros these I names: “ACHAPA ADŌNAIE BASMA CHARAKŌ IAKŌB IAŌ Ē PHARPHARĒI.” [...]”xiii


The dead which remained outside the Underworld were subject to magical rites of compulsion; this is not to say that those within the Underworld could not be subjected to such procedures, but the fact that one did not need to evoke a given spirit out of the Underworld made certain types of rites more expedient. Compulsion came in multiple forms ranging from binding formulas as applied to the Kolossoi to the use of the compulsive formulas in lead Defixiones tablets for the purposes of curses.

A major subset of these rites are compulsive love spells; given that I don't want to be seen as encouraging such actions, I'll simply deal with this aspect in brief. Most compulsive love spells involving Goetia have two principle characteristics:
1. Petitioning the rulers of the dead (e.g. Hermes, Hecate, etc.) to compel one of the spirits to act on one's behalf.
2. Binding of a mortal individual to the spirit thus compelled, and directions given to the spirit to ensure that the individual falls in love with oneself, or one's client.

To be clear: these spells are a type of curse, and the actions that the spirit (most often a ghost) are directed to take fall in line with curses. For example PGM IV. 1390 – 1495, the “Love spell of attraction performed with the help of heroes, or gladiators, or those who have died a violent death,” has lines that read as follows:

“May bring success to him who is beset
With torments. You who've left the light, O you
Unfortunate ones, I bring success to him,
NN, who is distressed at heart because
Of her, NN, ungodly and unholy.
So bring her wracked with torment-and in haste.”xiv

To be clear – if you perform these rituals, you're an asshole. At the same time, it would be inapt to gloss over them and pretend that they were not offered to clients in antiquity, or did not exist. A huge chunk of the PGM rites dealing with the dead involve compelling them to torment some poor woman or another until she falls in love with the client. As distasteful as this may be, it is a byproduct of the view that they would respond to such formulas.

Similarly, the dead could also be compelled to assault one's enemies, tormenting them with madness, plaguing them with illness, and generally being a pain. Most of the Defixiones tablets deal with such elements.

Ogden writes of:
The importance of tombs as sites for the exercise of control over ghosts is demonstrated by the many curse tablets (in Greek katadesmoi; in Latin defixiones) and voodoo dolls (in Greek kolossoi) deposited within them. The tablets were addressed to the ghosts within, who were required to achieve, by means direct or indirect, the curse described.”xv

Meanwhile, the investigation of ritual actions towards compelling the dead later come together when Ogden discusses the act of handing over a name to the dead, particularly when it came to the act of divining by the dead the death date of an Emperor in Rome:

But it may have been feared that making such inquiries of ghosts could in itself, paradoxically, hasten the point of his eath. Such inquirites may have been tantamount to cursing their subject, given that in the simplest form of binding curse, one merely handed over the name of one's chosen victims to a ghost.”xvi

This again corresponds to some of the simplest forms of binding curses for the purpose of love. In PGM XXXVI. 187 – 210 one is instructed to write on a piece of unbaked pottery incantations to Triple Formed Hekate (who is acting in this manner as “The Demon of Love-Madness,” a title she obtained in late antiquity and which fueled such actions in the Deity's name), as well as the name of the individual to be bound to the ghosts... And as such be plagued until they fall in love. A number of pottery fragments, with names presumably given over to the dead, have been found at triplicate (triodos) crossroads. Whether these belong to curse rituals, or malevolent love-curses, is something I am, however, uncertain of.

Katabasis Rituals:

Katabasis rituals involved descents into the Underworld, to interact with the spirits that lived within that domain, as well as the the Deities of the Underworld. A visit to the Oracle of Trophonios, for example, involved a Katabasis format; individuals would have to be purified in diverse manners (ranging from animal sacrifice, to bathing without hot water), and then descended into a pit to deal with the Heroic Trophonios, and obtain necessary information. Like with so many other aspects of Goetia, it shares traits with views on Mystery Initiations. In Andromache Karanika's “Ecstasis in Healing: Practices in Southern Italy and Greece from Antiquity to the Present, the author notes:

“Plutarch (fr.178) describes an experience of the Underworld in terms of an initiation, for initiations were often staged as journeys to the world of the dead. In the 19th century, the first of the B-texts to come to the notice of scholars, i.e. 'Petelia', was associated with the oracle of Trophonios at Lebadeia in central Greece. According to Pausanias (ix.39), a man who wanted to consult this oracle had to descend into a chasm, having first taken a draught from the spring of Forgetfulness (Lethe) to obliterate his memory of the past and then another from the spring of Memory to remember what he would see in his descent. When he returned from the innermost cave that he had eventually been drawn into feet first, he was taken to the nearby throne of Memory where he was asked by priests what he had discovered about his future. Apart from the rather superficial point that at Lebadeia the oracle seeker had to drink water from both springs, there is an enormous difference between the two quests in the purpose of the descent and the function of the waters of Memory. At Lebadeia, a living man descends into an Underworld to witness and remember a revelation about the future; in the B-texts, the soul of an initiate descends into the Underworld to remember its past life (or lives). In ritual, and here we are again assuming that the Gold Leaves reflect the practices of initiation, the waters of Memory might 'be used to symbolize the initiate's training in memory or understanding of the cycle of reincarnations and the things she must do in this life to remedy or atone for past lives' (Edmonds, pp.107-08).”

In the earlier referenced PGM LXX. 4 – 25, the magician states: “I have been initiated, I went down into the underground chamber of the Dactyls, and I saw the other things down below, virgin, bitch, and all the rest.” The “underground chamber of the Dactyls,” those same spirits credited with being both Goetes and Releasers from Binding, and the meeting of the Virgin, are most likely allusions to performing the ritual after performing a Katabasis ritual. Likewise, when we hear that Goetes became ecstatic and lead spirits of the dead into the Underworld, it is quite likely that they were performing Katabasis rites and using them to bring the spirits to where they needed to go.

Daimons and Familiars Spirits

The last area worth addressing for this (now ever increasing in length) blog entry prior to jumping ahead in time is the rituals which allowed a magician to acquire a spirit to serve him, or act as a tutelary guide. Of these sort there are a multitude; the first ritual found in the PGM (I. 1 – 42) is one to acquire a personal Daimon who acts as an advisor and instructor, and who after death “he will wrap [up] your body as befits a god, but he will take your spirit and carry it into the air with him.” It is worth noting that in this particular ritual, one will not go into the Underworld, but thereafter become an Aerial spirit like the Daimon attracted by the rite.

Of similar note is PGM IV. 2006 – 2125, “Pitys spell of attraction.” Here the skull of an individual is used, along with incantations and a variety of magical materia, to introduce a ghost to the power of Helios. Thereafter, with the blessing of Helios, the ghost becomes a type of magical companion or familiar spirit to the Goes and allows him to accomplish magical arts without the typical accoutrements of the practice: “Most of the magicians, who carried their instruments with them, even put them aside and used him as an assistant. And they accomplished the preceding things with all dispatch.”xvii

Medieval and Early Modern Goetia.

While it would take far too long – and this discussion on Goetia is already long enough in my opinion – to discuss all of the ways in which Medieval and later Goetia ties in with its roots, the practice itself did not die out in antiquity. Rather it mutated, re-emerging with peculiar strength between the late Medieval and Early Modern Period.

As it did in its earlier iterations, the affiliation between the practitioner and spirits who are associated with ruling the dead remains particularly tight. One of the rituals in Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft, entitled How to Raise Up the Ghost of One that hath Hanged Himself blatantly conjures the ghost “By the mysteries of the deep, by the flames of Banal, by the power of the East and the silence of the night, by the holy rites of Hecate [...]”. The ritual is performed to both enhance the capacity of the sorcerer – as the ghost instructs him on the finer details on where to find spirits and how to communicate with them – as well as offering, just as the Goes had in antiquity, the capacity to release said ghost from its afflicted state:

“Which Conjuration being thrice repeated, while the fire is burning with Mastick and Gum Aromatick, the body will begin to rise, and at last will stand upright before the Exorcist, answering with a faint and hollow voice, the questions proposed unto it. Why it strangled it self; where its dwelling is; what its food and life is; how long it will be ere it enter into rest, and by what means the Magitian may assist it to come to rest: Also, of the treasures of this world, where they are hid.”

Similarly, a restless ghost is employed so that the magician may make a pact with the Fairy Sibylia, once again with the ghost being promised peace from its state upon the conclusion of the pact with the Fairy. In this case, Sibylia represents the tutelary Sibyls, of which one was believed to have taught Aeneas the art of necromancy. The ritual which follows the Sibylia conjuration again involves requesting that the spirit teach one where to find “treasure hidden in the earth,” an extremely common exploit of necromancy in the early modern period.

As an example, one spirit found in a few of the Grimoires and spirit catalogs of the eras, is Naberius (Naberus; note that the spirit's name is subject to a variety different spellings). Weyer, in the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, states that this spirit is Cerberus. In at least some versions of the Grimorium Verum (either Joseph H. Peterson's translation, or Jake Stratton-Kent's True Grimoire are worth picking up by those interested), the spirit is again associated with magical treasure hunting (see link for full transcription):

“A large black dog, with a splendid golden collar, will prevent you from entering and will gnash his teeth, sending sparks blazing like diamonds in sunlight. That one is a gnome, to which you must proceed to point the wand, repeating three times as follows:

CERBERUS, CERBERUS, CERBERUS! By this wand, show me the way to the treasure!
The dog will whine three times in reply, and will wrap its tail around your wand, to teach you where the treasures are.”xviii

iMorton Smith, Jesus the Magician. P. 70
iiSarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead. P. 101.
iiiIbid, P. 111 – 112
ivDaniel Ogden, Greek and Roman Necromancy. P. 18
vPlato, Republic 2.364a–365b.
viE.J. Harrison, Themis. P. 26
viiDerveni Papyrus col. 6.1-11. Italix mine.
viiiThe Goddess Hekate, edited by Stephen Ronan. P. 57 – 61.
ixHans Deiter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation: Volume One. P. 95
xIbid, P. 103.
xiIbid, P. P. 297 – 298.
xiiJake Stratton Kent, Geosophia: Volume 2. P. 58
xiiiBetz, P. 69.
xivIbid, P. 65.
xvOgden, P. 3.
xviIbid, P. 156.
xvii Betz, P. 74.
xviii Joseph H. Peterson, Grimorium Verum. P. 67 – 69.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Treasure Hunt

“What’s that he holds?”
“A scrying mirror.”
“A what? His what?”
“An occult tool. A means for telling the past, present, perhaps even the future. He must have utilised some diabolical method to conceal his presence in the field. That is why he was not visible.”
“You think he sees what an arsehole he looks, standing there like the King himself?”
— Ben Wheatley's A Field in England.

Last night, VVF and I sat down to watch Ben Wheatley's A Field in England which can be best described as “a psychedelic horror movie” in which three men and one accomplice become caught up in the intrigues of a dangerous wizard during the English civil war. It was not – at all – what I was expecting. But it was still marvelous.

One of the major driving elements of the movie is – besides amanita muscaria in potentially dangerous doses – a favorite subject of mine: treasure magic. The men are told that somewhere, buried in the field, is a hidden and buried treasure.

In the Discoverie of Witchcraft, Reginald Scot writes of:
How many have been bewitched with dreams, and thereby made to consume themselves with digging and searching for money, & etc.: whereof they, or some other have dreamed? I myself could manifest as having, known how wise men have been that way abused by very simple persons, even where no dream hath beene met withall, but waking dreams. And this has been used heretofore, as one of the finest cousening feats: in so much as there is a very formal art thereof devised, with many excellent superstitions and ceremonies thereunto belonging, which I will set down as breefly as may be.”
(Discoverie of Witchcraft, “
How men have beene bewitched, cousened or abused by dreames to dig and search for monie [money].”)

Scot goes on to recount some of the ceremonies of such magical endeavors, and they are fascinating: the use of hazel wands (known sometimes as “wishing wands” which are essentially identical to the hazel dowsing rods used in Early Modern German mining), prayers and evocations of spirits, divining to find ideal locations for such pursuits.

In the Early Modern period, treasure magic was everywhere. Once you know how to look for it, you can't stop seeing it: it appears in the Grimoires, in tales of the intrigues of cunning-folk, and even in the ribald stories of out-and-out charlatans. In the Memoirs of Cassanova, the womanizer and adventurer sets aside two chapters in which he recounts a startling tale. In his tale, he recounts how he convinced a well-to-do family that they had buried treasure on their property. It is all part of his conartistry, however, and Cassanova primarily intends to bed the family's daughters. He convinces them to sew for him magical robes, and eventually proceeds out to practice a magical ritual that he intends to have “fail” (so that he can finish his seduction routine and then presumably flee the area in his typical fashion). The ritual goes pearshaped when an enormous storm arrives towards the climax. Cassanova is overcome:
Such a storm was a very natural occurrence, and I had no reason to be astonished at it, but somehow, fear was beginning to creep into me, and I wished myself in my room. My fright soon increased at the sight of the lightning, and on hearing the claps of thunder which succeeded each other with fearful rapidity and seemed to roar over my very head. I then realized what extraordinary effect fear can have on the mind, for I fancied that, if I was not annihilated by the fires of heaven which were flashing all around me, it was only because they could not enter my magic ring. Thus was I admiring my own deceitful work! That foolish reason prevented me from leaving the circle in spite of the fear which caused me to shudder. If it had not been for that belief, the result of a cowardly fright, I would not have remained one minute where I was, and my hurried flight would no doubt have opened the eyes of my two dupes, who could not have failed to see that, far from being a magician, I was only a poltroon. The violence of the wind, the claps of thunder, the piercing cold, and above all, fear, made me tremble all over like an aspen leaf. My system, which I thought proof against every accident, had vanished: I acknowledged an avenging God who had waited for this opportunity of punishing me at one blow for all my sins, and of annihilating me, in order to put an end to my want of faith. The complete immobility which paralyzed all my limbs seemed to me a proof of the uselessness of my repentance, and that conviction only increased my consternation.”
(The Memoirs of Cassanova, Chapter 22. Italix mine.)
Subsequently, at the culmination of the rite he retires and decides not to pursue the family's chaste daughers further, nor continue with his fraudulent and decietful activities... At least at that residence, anyway. There is some hilarity here: one of the more common intersections with treasure magic is that of Jupiterian magic. Jupiter is – rightly – the sphere of the storm God (the Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter), but who has been praised since ancient times as the dispenser of wealth. The Orphic Hymn to the Daimon praises the deity:

Thee, mighty-ruling, Dæmon dread, I call, mild Jove [Zeus], life-giving, and the source of all:
Great Jove [Zeus], much-wand'ring, terrible and strong, to whom revenge and tortures dire belong.

Mankind from thee, in plenteous wealth abound, when in their dwellings joyful thou art found;
Or pass thro' life afflicted and distress'd, the needful means of bliss by thee supprest.
'Tis thine alone endu'd with boundless might, to keep the keys of sorrow and delight.
O holy, blessed father, hear my pray'r, disperse the seeds of life-consuming care;
With fav'ring mind the sacred rites attend, and grant my days a glorious, blessed end.”
(Hymn to the Daimon, Thomas Taylor translation. Italix mine.)

Similarly, the Key of Solomon describes a Jupiterian spirit, Parasiel, which is “the lord and master of treasures, and teacheth how to become possessor of places wherein they are” when discussing the First Pentacle of Solomon, and we shall return to the Pentacles of Solomon later.

This is fitting – both to the narrative that Cassanova provides and to Ben Wheatley's amazing film – in that wealth, revenge, and tortures dire all belong to the terrifying power of Jupiter.

And of course, the annals of treasure magic and those who practiced it have no shortage of rogues even more dangerous and conniving than Cassanova. When Owen Davies discusses the act in Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History, he writes:
Treasure-seeking was one of those trades that led people to the doors of cunning-folk, people who in other circumstances would never have consulted them. In particular, cupidity brought together cunning-folk and the clergy, two groups who were otherwise in direct competition.” (P. 94)

We should also pause here to contemplate that not all engaged in the act were fraudulent practitioners. Many, however, certainly were:
Treasure seeking was a dangerous enterprise for cunning-folk to get involved in. With the exception of those who dug into Bronze Age barrows, the chances of finding buried treasure were exceedingly poor. As a result, many cunning-folk refrained from getting involved. […] Those, like Kingsbury, who took up the challenge were presumably either sincere in their quests and had faith in their magic, or were merely itinerant rogues who could disappear from the scene when the inevitable happened and nothing was found.” (P. 96)

Ben Wheatley's film does a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere of what it might have been like to fall prey to such itinerant rogues! But one might ask the question of how they all came to exist in the first place, and the answer is rather surprising: these practices have a wide distribution outside popular magic. They exist in folk stories, such as this one:

“A Welshman is guided by an English cunning man/wizard to a hidden enchanted cavern leading deep underground. In this passage hangs a bell which must not be touched for, if it is, the inhabitants of the subterranean chamber will awake and ask 'Is it day?' If this happens the answer must be given 'No, sleep thou on', as the inhabitants of this cavern are the still-living Arthur and thousands of his men, asleep in a circle, waiting until the bell is tolled for them to rise and lead the Cymry to victory. Within the circle lay a heap of gold and a heap of silver and the Welshman is told by the magician that he can take from only one pile – this he does, but on his way out he accidentally strikes the bell, having to give the required answer in order to escape with his treasure. He is warned that he must not squander what he has stolen from the magical dwelling of Arthur, but when it is all spent he pays a second visit to the cavern. This time however he forgets to give the correct formula when he accidentally rings the bell and several knights awake, beat him, and send him forth a cripple. For the rest of his days he is poor and could never again find the entrance.”
(Taken from Caitlin R. Green's But Arthur's Grave is Nowhere Seen.)

They can also be found in magical manuscripts from the British Isles, such as Sloane MS 3824 and 3825 (which can be viewed in the edition that was edited and published by David Rankine as The Book of Treasure Spirits), Folger VB 26, the Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet, and several other texts besides. Additionally one can find rites pertaining to treasure magic – or at least spirits which can tell one where treasure is hid – in more than a few of the grimoires. A number of these rituals coincide with working with fairies, who are also one of the types of spirits that were thought to guard buried treasure. The other types of spirit, of course, are ghosts and demons.

With such a wide dispersion of practices, it is rather startling that the subject isn't discussed half as often as one might expect. It is also surprising that, to the best of my knowledge, Wheatley's horror movie is the first of his kind: one can easily shape horror narratives involving ghosts, demons, and fairies and tie them together with the practice of treasure magic! But perhaps I shouldn't request more of such movies: being an American, if there is one thing I can count on Hollywood to do it is certainly to make terrible films from any subject matter along those lines.

In any event, the end of the film is jarring in comparison with the way it begins. At about the midpoint, psychedelic madness invades and permeates all the material to come afterward and intensity builds and builds on itself. This leads to – without wishing to spoil too much – one of the most fascinating “wizard battles” I have ever seen filmed in my life. One of the primary characters embraces his destiny as a magical practitioner, and is seen contemplating the spirit of the place – the dread guardian of the treasure that has been sought by his dangerous alter-ego – and proclaims that:

Look. An angel, mounting guard over the field's treasure!

This brings us back to magical materials involving such practices. Two items appear in the Key of Solomon, both fitting with the narrative of this blog entry:
The seventh and last pentacle of Jupiter. – It hath great power against poverty, if thou considerest it with devotion, repeating the versicle. It serveth furthermore to drive away those spirits who guard treasures, and to discover the same.”

Along with:
The fifth pentacle of Saturn. – This pentacle defendeth those who invoke the spirits of Saturn during the night; and chaseth away the spirits which guard treasures.”

The biggest concern of those who actually and ardently sought to conjure spirits to seek treasure, or simply sought treasure itself, was the spirits that guard it. These were ferocious chthonic spirits (or, as in the earlier legend, ancient knights that you don't want to piss off). They were dangerous enough that rituals to conjure and subsequently disarm them (presumably either through ordering them by divine names, or by displaying pentacles such as the above) involve requests one more frequently sees made to demons in the Grimoires:
[...] & we do again yet further by those present, & the efficacy, power & force thereof, Conjure, Command, Compel & constrain you all ye Spirits by name (as aforesaid) Sulphur, Chalcos, Anaboth, Sonenel, Barbaros, Gorson, (or Gorzon) Everges, Mureril, Vassago, Agares, Baramper, Barbasan, or some one, or any, or more of you, jointly & severally, to appear visibly, meekly & peaceably, in decent forms before us [….]”
(Sloane 3824, An Operation for Obtaining the Treasure Trove: The Invocation. From Rankine's The Book of Treasure Spirits, P. 30 – 47.)

This request to “appear visibly, meekly, and peacably” is frequently found in the grimoires where demons are conjured (and several of those abound in the above invocation!). The obvious reason is that such spirits can – and if they are angered
certainly will – appear in hostile forms, fumigating the area with hostile smells. One might again point to the event in Cassanova's fraudulent treasure rite: a storm which scares you shitless would not be an inapt occurance. Nor for that matter would hallucinating that the spirit has appeared in a hybrid form of man and beast and begun making threatening advances towards the circle.

Jake Stratton-Kent's first volume of The Geosophia has an account of a ritual – this time involving necromancy rather than treasure-seeking (although he certainly discusses that in the same book!) – in which spirits do just that:
On the other hand the lad who was beneath the pentacle, in greatest terror said, there were a million of the fiercest men swarming round and threatening us. He said besides that four enormous giants had appeared, who were striving to force their way into the circle. All the while the necromancer, trembling with fright, endeavoured with mild and gentle persuasions to dismiss them. Vencenzio Romoli, who was trembling like a reed in the wind, looked after the perfumes. I, who was as much in fear as the rest, endeavoured to show less, and to inspire them all with the most marvellous courage; but the truth is that I thought myself a dead man on seeing the terror of the necromancer himself. The lad had placed his head between his knees, saying: we are all dead men. Again I said to the lad: These creatures are inferior to us, and what you see is but smoke and shadow, therefore raise your eyes. When he had raised them, he cried out again: The whole coliseum is in flames, and the fire is coming down upon us: and covering his face with his hands, he said again that he was dead, and that he could not endure the sight any longer...” (P. 6) (For a blog entry in which I discuss this event a bit more, see Daimonic Agencies. For more on treasure magic, see The Treasures of the Earth... Although, really, I need to finish those entries.)
All things told, Ben Wheatley's film certainly hits “the right spot.” It may be sadly lacking in manifesting spirits, but the terror and moments where magical realism and the events of the narrative overlap is practically perfect.
I could probably babble on and on about the subject of treasure magic, and the movie, but it seems to me best to stop here. Make sure to see it. And if you ever plan to pick up a hazel rod and wander about seeking treasure in earnest: feel free to drop me a line. Even if I can't join you in the adventure, I'd love to chat about it.
Be seeing you,