Thursday, May 12, 2016

Images, Amulets and Votives of the Danubian or Thracian Rider and the Great Goddess.

Thracian cavalry on a Greek vase.
WARNING: The author of this article is NOT a scholar of any kind. Any and all opinions expressed within are his own, and should not be mistaken for being authoritative in the least. He remains as perplexed as he was when he first encountered the Danubian / Thracian Rider votives, and as perplexed as ever regarding Thracian religion. Despite that, he hopes that some day he won't feel like a total idiot when attempting to parse these matters.

Heroized Gods and Great Goddesses
As individuals that follow me on other social media sites are probably aware: in recent months, I've been digging through the Campbell-Bonner magical gem database. Partially, this is to see what amulets correspond to spells and rituals in the Greek Magical Papyri, and how the voces magicae were applied to gems.

But while digging through them, I encountered a few carved gemstones, similar to other magical gemstones and amulets from late antiquity, that I want to comment on. They correspond to votives and images found in Rome and Eastern Europe, often featuring a Hero or Deity on horseback, or a pair of Horsemen facing what may be called a 'Great Goddess.' If this interpretation seems a little hazy, it is because there is no scholarly consensus as to who either the Horsemen (or Horseman) or the Goddess specifically represent. As if this was not complicated enough, there appears to be multiple disagreements over which cultures they belong to. However, they include symbolism and motifs that can be found in votives and reliefs, among other things, from Asia Minor, or Anatolia (modern day Turkey), Eastern, Central, and Western Europe. And at the very least, we can get a glimpse of those parallels.

In this entry, though I have few over-reaching conclusions. I can only point to the images themselves, and what I feel is evident in some of them, and to relevant articles on the subject.

Images and possible amulets of a lone Rider

Images of the Thracian and Danubian horseman by himself can be found in and on Thracian tombs, such as these two images of the Riders in combat (or in a ritual dance emulating combat, depending on the interpretation) such as those found at the tomb discovered near Alexandrovo in the year 2000, and believed to have been closed and turned into a tomb (possibly after being a mystery cult site) between the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE. The image from the Southern wall is too damaged to be useful for our purposes, however the images over the Northern wall and Central Chamber are definitely worth taking a look at:

(Alexandrovo: Northern wall painting feating Thracian Horseman in combat or ritual. Source.)

(Alexandrovo: Wall painting over the central chamber. Source.)

Additionally, the Alexandrovo kurgan contains an image of the Thracian horseman, and a nude figure bearing a double-axe, in a hunting scene similar to those found on reliefs elsewhere:

(Alexandrovo: Central chamber fresco, depicting the Thracian horseman hunting a boar and possibly Zalmoxis wielding the Double-Axe. Source.)

One might compare it to a marble votive of the Thracian horseman, spear raised in the same position, dated to the 2nd or 3rd century (of the common era, I think?):

(Marble votive from Bulgaria. Source.)

A recent discovery, in Perperikon, Bulgaria, is a figurine of what is believed to by Apollo, wearing a Phrygian cap, with his arm positioned to throw a spear in the same style as those Rider votives that feature the hunting position.
(Apollo figurine from Perperikon.)

A number of those images I've consulted outside the gems have yielded inscriptions to Apollo, and sometimes even Asklepios (which we'll return to in a bit), and one cannot help but admire this relief made to Apollo-Sozon from about C.E. 225 – 250, from Anatolia / Asia Minor. In it, he bears both the Phrygian cap, and a Double-Axe similar to the nude figure from the Alexandrovo kurgan:

(Apollo-Sozon relief.)

One might compare it to the relief / frieze found at the Felix Romuliana in Serbia, in which the Horseman again appears to be carrying a Double-Axe:

(Felix Romuliana frieze. Source.)

Additionally, and I note and add these because they may play a role in syncretic images that appear later (such as St. George spearing the dragon), there are a series of gems in the Campbell-Bonner database that depict a singular horseman spearing a woman. These gems have been labeled variously as “Solomon spearing Lilith,” “the Holy Rider Spearing the Evil One,” and so forth. I cannot say for certain that they are not Judeo-Christian, but their style is reminiscent of the carved gemstones and amulets I will eventually get to and certainly belong with the Danubian Rider images:

(Gemstone: Rider on rearing horse spearing a female figure being trampled by his horse. 4th century CE. Source.)

(Gemstone: Pretty much the same as above, minus inscription on the back. 4Th - 5th century CE. Source.)

While I have limited myself to two images, there are at least a dozen of them in the depths of the database, all variously named, but all similar in images and motifs. I cannot prove in any form or fashion that they are linked to the others, but I strongly suspect that they are.

While the single rider can often be found hunting or in a ritual or battle, he can also sometimes simply be shown riding and making a gesture known as the Benedictio latino:

(Thracian rider from the Burgas museum in Bulgaria. 2nd century CE. Source.)

This gesture is important to note for later amulets and images, as it will appear again, but it is also seemingly associated with the Thracian cult of Sabazios specifically, and the votive hands that have been left behind and been called “the Hand of Sabazios,” such as this one from the British Museum:

(Hand of Sabazios from the British Museum. Source.)

Another of the above reliefs, this one from the 1st or 2nd century CE, is a grave relief featuring the Thracian Rider making the benedictio latina as he faces what I think is a tree with a giant snake wrapped around it:

(Thracian Rider. Source.)

Two Riders & a Great Goddess

There are also reliefs depicting two riders. One relief, found near Krupac, Yugoslavia, features two riders with what appears to be an altar featuring a coiled snake:

(Krupac figure. Source.)

Nora Demitrova comments that it is:

[...] a late-2nd century A.D. dedication to Apollo and Asklepios found in Krupac, in eastern Yugoslavia. The relief depicts two horseman facing each other […].”
Based on the inscription (which, frankly, I don't care to transcribe – see the PDF link above or view the article on the JSTOR link) she indicates:
“Thus one horseman is presumably Apollo, and the other Asklepios. The relief is most easily understood if we explain the rider as a convention for divinity of some kind, personalized by the inscription.”

It is particularly compelling because it contains both horsemen, which we begin to see in the votives for the Danubian Riders:

(Lead Danubian Rider votive. Belgrade museum. Source.)

These votives seem to include themes seen above in the Thracian and Danubian Rider images, as well as a central Goddess figure who has been variously argued to be the Celtic Goddess Epona, Artemis, Magna Mater, and probably at least four other Goddesses I don't even remember. The arguments back and forth seem to be somewhat furious, but it there does seem to be some overlap between the images of Epona feeding horses, and the Danubian Rider votives.

Take, for example, this relief image from Augustae, featuring both the Rider in a hunting position and the Goddess beneath, flanked by horses:

(Augustae relief. Source.)

And this image of Epona, enthroned, flanked by Horses:

(Epona relief. Source.)

Obviously, I do not intend to imply that the Goddess in the votives and reliefs and amulets is always Epona. I strongly suspect that she is always a 'Great Goddess,' that is a Goddess who rules the entire Sublunar realm, and that Epona is one of the syncretic strands the votives tie in to.

(Lead votive plaque for the Cult of the Danubian Rider. 1st century CE. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Source.)

(Lead icon of the Danubian Horsemen. Belgrade museum. Source.)

Finally, we come to the gemstones I encountered. Each of these has been interpreted as involving the Danubian / Thracian Riders, and Magna Mater. The riders, as on the votives above, flank and often make the Benedictio latina gesture to the Goddess. However they are also, as the single rider gems seen far above, show with their horses standing atop human bodies.

(Danubian Riders and Goddess. Venus Victrix on the reverse side. 2nd century CE. Source.)

(Goddess flanked by Riders wearing Phrygian caps. 3rd century CE. Source.)

(Danubian Riders, Goddess, animals, and busts of Selene and Helios. 2Nd - 3rd century CE. Source.)

And while I had hoped to make a few more comments and show a few more images, working on this entry has tired me out. So, at least if there is interest, I will have to return to writing about the subject and flashing images another day.

While I doubt anyone learned anything, I hope they at least appreciate the images.

Be seeing you,

Monday, May 9, 2016

May 9th: Lemuria & Lemuralia

Mosaic featuring Romulus and Remus.
“It is an equal crime to eat beans and the heads of one’s parents.”
- Horace.

“Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans!”
- Empedocles.
I believe that at the heart of it, ancestor worship is about revering “the good” in one's ancestors and emulating those actions out of reverence and deference.

And yet, I suspect, there is something else. One of the problems that is emblematic of of online debates about ancestor worship is a general “all or nothing” attitude that one sometimes encounters: either an individual seems to be expected to worship every ancestor they have ever had (because history is a series of blocks we all stand on?) on one end or one encounters those on the other side who declare that every ancestor they have ever had was a worthless bastard, and thus the practice is meaningless!

I find both attitudes to be deeply suspect. The latter issue I shall not discuss at length except to openly beg the question of: does anyone truly believe there is no one who has any redeeming elements in their entire genetic line and history? As for the earlier... Writing on the subject of belief in the dead, Lewis Bayles Patton comments that:

“Although, according to antique, the dead lost their physical powers, they lost none of their higher spiritual powers of knowledge, feeling, and will. Ancestors retained a keen interest in their posterity and actively intervened in their affairs. Enemies preserved their original hostility to their foes.”
(Spiritism and the Cult of the Dead in Antiquity. P. 4)
There is a question I feel inclined to ask: what does one do if their ancestor acts aggressively, as an enemy might? While it is easy to dismiss this possibility, there seems to be evidence that the ancients believed this could be the case:
“And Orpheus says: “Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. [...]”
(Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedo 1.11.)

Today marks the occasion of just such a festival for release from lawless ancestors: May 9th (as well as the 11th and 13th of May), known to the Romans as Lemuria or Lemuralia. I feel I should let Ovid speak directly as to the nature of the festival:

When from that day the Evening Star shall thrice have shown his beauteous face, and thrice the vanquished stars shall have retreated before Phoebus, there will be celebrated an olden rite, the nocturnal Lemuria: it will bring offerings to the silent ghosts. The year was formerly shorter, and the pious rites of purification (februa) were unknown, and thou, two-headed Janus, wast not the leader of the months. Yet even then people brought gifts to the ashes of the dead, as their due, and the grandson paid his respects to the tomb of his buried grandsire. It was the month of May, so named after our forefathers (maiores), and it still retains part of the ancient custom.”
(Fasti, Book V.)

Later, after discussing the rites that the paterfamilias was expected to perform on the date, he explains the origin of the Festival:
“Why the day was called Lemuria, and what is the origin of the name, escapes me; it is for some god to discover it. Son of the Pleiad, thou reverend master of the puissant wand, inform me: oft hast thou seen the palace of the Stygian Jove. At my prayer the Bearer of the Herald’s Staff (Caducifer) was come. Learn the cause of the name; the god himself made it known.

When Romulus had buried his brother’s ghost in the grave, and the obsequies had been paid to the too nimble Remus, unhappy Faustulus and Acca, with streaming hair, sprinkled the burnt bones with their tears. Then at twilight’s fall they sadly took the homeward way, and flung themselves on their hard couch, just as it was. The gory ghost of Remus seemed to stand at the bedside and to speak these words in a faint murmur: “Look on me, who shared the half, the full half of your tender care, behold what I am come to, and what I was of late! A little while ago I might have been the foremost of my people, if but the birds had assigned the throne to me. Now I am an empty wrath, escaped from the flames of the pyre; that is all that remains of the once great Remus. Alas, where is my father Mars? If only you spoke the truth, and it was he who sent the wild beast’s dugs to suckle the abandoned babes. A citizen’s rash hand undid him whom the she-wolf saved; O how far more merciful was she! Ferocious Celer, mayest thou yield up thy cruel soul through wounds, and pass like me all bloody underneath the earth! My brother willed not this: his love’s a match for mine: he let fall upon my death – ‘twas all he could – his tears. Pray him by your tears, by your fosterage, that he would celebrate a day by signal honour done to me.”

As the ghost gave this charge, they yearned to embrace him and stretched forth their arms; the slippery shade escaped the clasping hands. When the vision fled and carried slumber with it, the pair reported to the king his brother’s words. Romulus complied, and gave the name Remuria to the day on which due worship is paid to buried ancestors. In the course of ages the rough letter, which stood at the beginning of the name, was changed into the smooth; and soon the souls of the silent multitude were also called Lemures: that is the meaning of the word, that is the force of the expression. But the ancients shut the temples on these days, as even now you see them closed at the season sacred to the dead. The times are unsuitable for the marriage both of a widow and a maid: she who marries then, will not live long. For the same reason, if you give weight to proverbs, the people say bad women wed in May. But these three festivals fall about the same time, though not on three consecutive days.”
So the festival itself goes back to the foundation of Rome, following the slaying of Remus by Romulus. It is a day in which the dead, wronged or angered or not, are propitiated so that they might be kept from harming their line in the days that follow.

In many respects, I cannot help but compare Lemuria to the Greek festival of Anthesteria, although we are entirely lacking in Dionysian elements (at least as far as I can tell). While they both fall on different dates (although this may be due to calendar changes, as Ovid seems to suggest) the places where they overlap are fascinating: in addition to propitiating the dead and holding that the time of the festival was their time (as well as 'dangerous' or 'impure'), the Vestals made mola salsa: a flour-based salted cake, made from the first wheat harvested that year. I cannot help but compare that act to the creation of pottage offered to Hermes Kthonios during Anthesteria, although I acknowledge that they are different: the Vestals would use the mola salsa again during sacrifices at Vestalia and Lupercalia. However, the fact that the 'first wheat' was used seems similar to my mind of the pottage made during Chytroi, which often included the first fruits and grains. The final similarity between the two is that both Anthesteria and Lemuria were considered “unlucky,” although the Romans felt that these three days rendered the entire month of may unlucky (and especially bad for marriages).

Sign of the Fig.

 As for the performance of the rites, Ovid's directions are more or less straightforward:

“When midnight has come and lends silence to sleep, and dogs and all ye varied fowls are hushed, the worshipper who bears the olden rite in mind and fears the gods arises; no knots constrict his feet; and he makes a sign with his thumb in the middle of his closed fingers (the Sign of the Fig), lest in his silence an unsubstantial shade should meet him.

And after washing his hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted; but while he throws them, he says: “Haec ego emitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis.” (With these beans I redeem me and mine.)

This he says nine times, without looking back: the shade is thought to gather the beans, and to follow unseen behind. Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze, and asks the shade to go out of his house. When he has said nine times, “Manes exite paterni!” (Ghost of my fathers, go forth!)
He looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites.”

On my end, I do not feel simply offering black beans to propitiate the ancestors is enough. The beans – which are a taboo object in certain cultures that associate them with the dead – are not all that I plan to offer, though. While I am perfectly content to propitiate and dismiss the more noxious ancestors, I find myself desiring to make honey-cakes for those ancestors who do their job. I am certainly not a Vestal virgin, and making mola salsa is perhaps not something I should do, but I still think even a festival such as this can include... less dramatic and fearful offerings. After all, it's what magicians do, and today is a good day to do it, I think.
“… 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.”
(The Derveni Papyrus.)

Be seeing you,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Devil You Know.

Image taken from Legend of the Witches. (1969)

“The Man in Black sometimes plays on a Pipe or Cittern and the Company dance. At last the Devil vanisheth, and all are carried to their several homes in a short space. At their parting, they say: 'A Boy! Merry meet, merry part.'”
- Christina Hole, A Mirror of Witchcraft. (Chp. 2: “Coven and Sabbat: III. Meetings in Somerset. [Glanvil.])

Or Maybe You Ought to Know Him.
A few weeks ago, Pat Mosley published an interesting blog entry on Patheos in which he presented the case “inviting Satan back to Wicca” which generated a few responses (see here, here, and here. EDIT: And HERE! I should note that I share certain opinions with Bro. B.) All things told: Mr. Mosley's perspective is fascinating and if you have not read the blog entry yet, please feel free to take some time and browse it before returning for my response.

More recently, Aaron Leitch has weighed in on the topic, largely flipping the discussion on its head, which I will return to in a bit.

Moses. With Horns. But still not a God.
He is a God. You Know, with Horns.”

Early responses I saw to Mr. Mosley's thoughts varied, but some of them in particular stood out. One of these was the oft-repeated phrase seen in various Facebook comments to the point of: “Satan is not my Horned God!”

This phrasing, and many subsequent notions revolving around the “Horned God,” poses problems for almost any debate on the matter. One of these is that the titular God with Horns is identified variously, both within British Traditional Wicca (hereafter BTW) covens, and the name of the God can vary depending on the Tradition, and outside it. Inside the BTW structure, there can be no doubt as to who we worship: we know their names, and we shout their names and cry for joy and dance in their honor. But we've all taken oaths against revealing these names to the outside public, thus creating the need for the shorthand abstraction: “The Horned God.”

But in doing so, we open ourselves up to interpretations that may range far outside what was initially anticipated. When identifying the “Horned God,” those who worship him may refer to any number of Gods and individuals ranging from Pan, to Cernunnos, or even Herne the Hunter (who, as far as I know, was not a God, but did have horns). Given enough time, someone will inevitably discover that medieval images of Moses sometimes depict him with horns, and he'll be shoe-horned into the role... But I digress.

Nonetheless, the role of the Horned God, as a “Intercessor” is important regardless of who, specifically, the title refers to.

Even the Folk had Devils.

As I noted earlier, Mr. Leitch recently flipped the discussion on its head by arguing from a different train of thought as many of the others confronted by this debate. In his entry, he writes:
But then there is the folk Satan. The Satan of the common people, and the one described in the grimoires. He is very much akin to the Horned God of Wicca, the Lord of Nature and Spirits. He is the Man of the Crossroads, summoned for divination and favors. He is the trickster. If you draw upon Biblical imagery for him, he is the angel who accuses you of wrongdoing on behalf of God (that’s right, he works for the Big Guy in the Bible) and offers temptations much as Pan did before him. Christian tradition actually establishes Satan as the “god of this world,” in charge of physical reality (again, working for God) until Christ comes to establish a new celestial kingdom.”

In doing so, he takes the discussion along a trajectory that I quite enjoy.

In her Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Emma Wilby recounts the complaint of a clergyman from Scotland recorded in 1677 regarding a fairy familiar that:
the vulgar call white deviles, which possibly  have neither so much power nor malice as the black ones have, which served our great grandfathers under the names of Brouny, and Robin Goodfellow, and, to this day, make dayly service to severals in quality of familiars.” (P. 16. Emphasis mine.)
 There is a sudden, curious orbit that we can take in the early modern period: it appears that even fairies, those elemental spirits beloved and known by the common individual (Agrippa's “poor and mean men”) could be understood as a type of “devil,” although certainly not as terrible as the typical demons of the Christian world. If we follow the orbit, we shall come upon precisely the sort of “folk devil” we are looking for.

In 1598 a wandering Scottish healer from Aberdeenshire by the name of Andrew Man gave a series of curious confessions: that he had become the consort of the Queen of the Fairies, and in doing so had gained the power to heal various illness and to encounter myriad spirits. Amongst these spirits was what appears to be the most idiosyncratic interpretation of the Devil:

“He knew Satan by the name of Christsonday, believing him to be an angel, clad in white clothes, and God’s godson, even though the latter had a ‘thraw’, or quarrel, with God, and was the lover of the elfin queen. Christsonday had marked the third finger of Man’s right hand, presumably in proprietal fashion. Man reported that the Fairy Queen had control of the whole craft but that Christsonday was the ‘gudeman’ who held all power under God.Furthermore he had seen dead men in the company of these two supranaturals, among them Thomas Rymour and James IV. Christsonday had appeared in the form of a horse (‘staig’) while the queen and her attendants rode on white steeds, when she convened to receive the obscene kiss. The accused attested that elves or fairies adopted the shape and clothing of ordinary men, though they were mere shadows, but more vigorous than mortals, and could indulge in playing and dancing whenever they pleased. The queen could choose to be old or young, could appoint anyone she liked as king, and could make love with whomsoever she wished. Although Man apparently met the elves in a fine chamber he would find himself in a moss, or bog, the next morning, their candles and swords turned into grass and straws; he had no fear of these creatures since he had known them all his days.”
- Edward J. Cowan, “Witch Persecution and Folk Belief in Lowland Scotland: The Devil’s Decade.” (In Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, Edited by Julian Goodaire, Lauren Martin, & Joyce Miller. P. 84.)

We might dismiss this entire confession, except that this is not the only confession from Scotland in which “Christonday” appears: in 1597, Christine (Christian) Reid was accused of peddling witchcraft due to her ongoing problems with Aberdeenshire millers.

Cowan writes:
“Christian Reid told Walter Miller that he and his mill were bewitched but if he would pay her she would provide a remedy, at least for the mill, because she could do little for him personally. Miller pronounced that he was not so concerned about his own health as he was about the mill. Since his surname was Miller his family had presumably followed the craft for some generations and he was thus mindful that they should continue to do so in the future. Reid consulted a witch who urged her to scatter some sand upon the mill-stones and wheels in the name of God and Christsonday so that the mill would operate in the old manner. And so due to the wrecking of the machinery, meal was ground in the old, less efficient way, presumably by hand.”
(Ibid, P. 81. Emphasis mine.)

And finally there is the figure of Marion Grant:
“She knew the Devil as Christsonday, carnally as well as socially, and had often danced with him and with ‘Our Ladye, a fine woman’, clad in a white petticoat. Grant allegedly claimed that she could charm a sword to ensure that its owner would never be wounded. The swordsman needed to hold the naked blade in his right hand kissing the guard, and then to make three crosses on the road with the weapon, in the name of Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Christsonday, a ceremony learned from the last-named, who also advised of a protective spell involving a cross made of rowan, or mountain ash, placed on a person’s right shoulder, before he turned round three times invoking the same foursome. The dreaded Scudder gathered a number of ‘deid folks baines’ from the kirkyard at Dyce, washing them lightly in water which she used on the sick William Symmer. She then ordered William’s mother-in-law to cast the bones into the River Don, whereupon ‘the water rumbled as if all the hills had fallen therein’. Such accounts seem to fit well with the attributed locations of witches’ conventions, in kirkyards, or at crossroads, mounds, hills, cairns and waters.”
(Ibid, P. 88.)
If these trials reflect anything, they reflect that fact that folk beliefs in the dead and fairies had combined with (often misunderstood) Christian themes, and yet individuals continued doing what their predecessors had done before them: talking with the spirits, receiving their aid, and having them play the role of the “Interecessor,” mentioned earlier.

In this sense, the folk devil – be it a “white devil” that is a fairy, a figure such as Christonday, or the spirits in the Grimoires – has perhaps more to do with witchcraft than the practitioners of modern witchcraft are keen to accept.

And perhaps they also have more to offer us than one would at first suppose.

Be seeing you,

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.