Greek Curses

Greek Curses

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Dr Esther Eidinow speaks about Greek inscribed curses, c.6th-1st centuries BCE,
Greek and Roman Curses - presented by the Hellenic and Roman Societies - 17 March 2015

Mythology and History of Lemnos

For ancient Greeks, the island was sacred to Hephaestus, god of technology, who fell on Lemnos when his father Zeus hurled him headlong out of Olympus. There, he was cared for by the Sinties, according to Iliad or by Thetis (Apollodorus, Bibliotheke I:3.5), and there with a Thracian nymph Kabiro (a daughter of Proteus) he fathered a tribe called the Kabiroides. Sacred rites dedicated to them were performed in the island.

Hephaestus' forge, which was located on Lemnos, as well as the name Aethaleia, sometimes applied to it, points to its volcanic character. It is said that fire occasionally blazed forth from Mosychlos, one of its mountains. The ancient geographer Pausanias relates that a small island called Chryse, off the Lemnian coast, was swallowed up by the sea. All volcanic action is now extinct.

The name of "Lemnos" is said by Hecataeus to have been a title of Cybele among the Thracians, and the earliest inhabitants are said to have been a Thracian tribe, whom the Greeks called Sintians, "the robbers".

Apollodorus (Epitome I:9) records that when Dionysus found Ariadne abandoned on Naxos, he brought her to Lemnos and there fathered Thoas, Staphylus, Oenopion, and Peparethus. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (xxxvi. 13) speaks of a remarkable labyrinth in Lemnos, which has not been identified in modern times.

According to a famous legend, the women were all deserted by their husbands for Thracian women, and in revenge they murdered every man on the island. From this barbarous act, the expression Lemnian deeds became proverbial among the Hellenes. The Argonauts landing soon after found only women in the island, ruled by Hypsipyle, daughter of the old king Thoas. From the Argonauts and the Lemnian women were descended the race called Minyae, whose king Euneus, son of Jason and Hypsipyle, sent wine and provisions to the Achaeans at Troy. The Minyae were expelled by a Pelasgian tribe who came from Attica.

The historical element underlying these traditions is probably that the original Thracian people were gradually brought into communication with the Greeks as navigation began to unite the scattered islands of the Aegean the Thracian inhabitants were technologically primitive in comparison with the Greek mariners.

The worship of Cybele was characteristic of Thrace, where it had spread from Asia Minor at a very early period. Hypsipyle and Myrina (the name of one of the chief towns) are Amazon names, which are always connected with Asiatic Cybele-worship.

In another legend, Philoctetes was left on Lemnos by the Greeks on their way to Troy and there he suffered ten years' agony from his wounded foot, until Odysseus and Neoptolemus induced him to accompany them to Troy. According to Sophocles, he lived beside Mount Hermaeus, which Aeschylus makes one of the beacon points to flash the news of Troy's downfall home to Argos.

History of Lemnos

Homer speaks as if there were one town in the island called Lemnos, but in historical times there was no such place. There were two towns, Myrina (also called Kastro), and Hephaestia which was the chief town. Coins from Hephaestia are found in considerable number, and various types including the goddess Athena with her owl, native religious symbols, the caps of the Dioscuri, Apollo, etc. Few coins of Myrina are known. They belong to the period of Attic occupation, and bear Athenian types. A few coins are also known which bear the name of the whole island, rather than of either city.

A trace of the pre-Greek Lemnian language is found on a 6th century inscription on a funerary stele, the Lemnos stele.

Coming down to a better authenticated period, we find that Lemnos was conquered by Otanes, a general of Darius Hystaspis. But soon (510 BC) it was reconquered by Miltiades the Younger, the tyrant of the Thracian Chersonese. Miltiades later returned to Athens, and Lemnos was an Athenian possession until the Macedonian empire absorbed it.

In 197 BC, the Romans declared it free, but in 166 BC gave it over to Athens which retained nominal possession of it until the whole of Greece was made a province of the Roman Empire in 146 BC. After the division of the empire, Lemnos passed to the Byzantine Empire.

Like other eastern provinces, its possession changed between Greeks, Italians and Turks. In 1476 the Venetians and Greek Byzantines successfully defended Kotschinos against a Turkish siege. But in 1657 Kastro was captured by the Turks after a siege of 36 days. In 1770, Kastro was besieged by Count Orlov. During the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812, Admiral Senyavin won the naval Battle of Lemnos off the coast. In 1912, Lemnos became part of Greece during the First Balkan War.

Modern history of Lemnos

Today the island of Lemnos or Limnos has about 40 villages and settlements. The province includes the island of Agios Efstratios to the southwest which has some exceptional beaches and the only desert in Europe!

Lemnos is a military base of Greece as it stands on a strategically important part of the Aegean Sea. During the First Balkan War, the Naval Battle of Lemnos took place here on January 18, 1913, in which the Ottoman navy sought to thwart Greece's capture of Aegean islands. The Greek fleet under Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis was in the port at Moudros when they received signals that the Turkish fleet was approaching. The Greek fleet decisively defeated the Turkish fleet, which retreated to the Dardanelles and did not go out again throughout the war. The Greek battleship Limnos was named after this battle.

During World War I, the Allies in early 1915 used the island to try to capture the Dardanelles Straits, some 50km away. This was done chiefly by the British and largely through the enthusiasm of Winston Churchill. The harbour at Mudros was put under the control of British Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, who was ordered to prepare the then largely unused harbour for operations against the Dardanelles.

The harbour was broad enough for British and French warships, but lacked suitable military facilities, which was recognized early on. Troops intended for Gallipoli had to train in Egypt and the port found it difficult to cope with casualties of the ill-starred Gallipoli campaign. The campaign was called off in evident failure at the close of 1915. Mudros' importance receded, although it remained the Allied base for the blockade of the Dardanelles during the war.

In late October 1918, the armistice between Turkey and the Allies was signed at Moudros.

After the Red Army victory in the Russian Civil War, many Kuban Cossacks, fled the country to avoid persecution from the Bolsheviks. A notable eviction point was the Greek island of Lemnos where 18 thousand Kuban Cossacks have landed, though many would die of starvation and disease. Most left the island after a year.


The most detailed discussion of the concept is found in Proclus' De decem dubitationibus circa Providentiam, a propaedeutic handbook for students at the Neoplatonic Academy in Athens. Proclus makes clear that the concept is of hallowed antiquity, and making sense of the apparent paradox is presented as a defense of ancient Greek religion. The main point made is that a city or a family is to be seen as a single living being (animal unum, zoion hen) more sacred than any individual human life. [6]

The doctrine of ancestral fault is similarly presented as a tradition of immemorial antiquity in ancient Greek religion by Celsus in his True Doctrine, a polemic against Christianity. Celsus is quoted as attributing to "a priest of Apollo or of Zeus" the saying that "the mills of the gods grind slowly, even to children's children, and to those who are born after them". [7] The idea of divine justice taking the form of collective punishment is also ubiquitous in the Hebrew Bible, e.g. the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Shechem, etc. and most notably the recurring punishments inflicted on the Israelites for lapsing from Yahwism. [8] [ incomplete short citation ]

In Christianity Edit

The Bible speaks of generational sin in Exodus 20:5, which states that "the iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the sons and daughters — unto the third and fourth generation." [3] This concept implicates that "unresolved issues get handed down from generation to generation", but that "Jesus is the bondage breaker. [and] He is able to break the cycle of this curse, but only if we want Him to." [3] James Owolagba says that in addition to prayer, frequent church attendance including regular reception of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, aids in delivering an individual from generational sin. [9]

The formalized Christian doctrine of original sin is a direct extension of the concept of ancestral sin (imagined as inflicted on a number of succeeding generations), arguing that the sin of Adam and Eve is inflicted on all their descendants indefinitely, i.e. on the entire human race. It was first developed in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, in his struggle against Gnosticism. [10] [ incomplete short citation ] Irenaeus contrasted their doctrine with the view that the Fall was a step in the wrong direction by Adam, with whom, Irenaeus believed, his descendants had some solidarity or identity. [11]

Eastern Orthodoxy Edit

Ancestral sin is the object of a Christian doctrine taught by the Orthodox Church as well as other Eastern Christians. Some identify it as "inclination towards sin, a heritage from the sin of our progenitors". [12] But most distinguish it from this tendency that remains even in baptized persons, since ancestral sin "is removed through baptism". [13]

St. Gregory Palamas taught that, as a result of ancestral sin (called "original sin" in the West), man's image was tarnished, disfigured, as a consequence of Adam's disobedience. [14] The Greek theologian John Karmiris writes that "the sin of the first man, together with all of its consequences and penalties, is transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human being is a descendant of the first man, 'no one of us is free from the spot of sin, even if he should manage to live a completely sinless day'. . Original Sin not only constitutes 'an accident' of the soul but its results, together with its penalties, are transplanted by natural heredity to the generations to come . And thus, from the one historical event of the first sin of the first-born man, came the present situation of sin being imparted, together with all of the consequences thereof, to all natural descendants of Adam." [15]

Roman Catholicism Edit

With regard to breaking generational curses, clergy of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal have developed prayers for healing. [16] Roman Catholic priest James Owolagba teaches that novenas and the reception of the sacraments are indispensable in delivering one from generational sin. [9]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Greek translation of which uses "προπατορική αμαρτία" (literally, "ancestral sin") where the Latin text has "peccatum originale", states: "Original sin is called 'sin' only in an analogical sense: it is a sin 'contracted' and not 'committed' – a state and not an act. Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants." [17] Eastern Orthodox teaching likewise says: "It can be said that while we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal sin, because his sin is also of a generic nature, and because the entire human race is possessed of an essential, ontological unity, we participate in it by virtue of our participation in the human race. 'The imparting of Original Sin by means of natural heredity should be understood in terms of the unity of the entire human nature, and of the homoousiotitos [18] of all men, who, connected by nature, constitute one mystic whole. Inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable: "Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption" (St. Cyril of Alexandria). ' " [19]

Judaism Edit

The Hebrew Bible provides two passages of scripture regarding generational curses: [20]

The Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and truth … Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents each will die for their own sin.

The Talmud rejects the idea that people can be justly punished for another person's sins and Judaism in general upholds the idea of individual responsibility. One interpretation is that, even there is no moral guilt for descendants, they may be negatively impacted as a consequence of their forebear's actions. [20]

Hinduism Edit

The thin bamboo rod in the hand of the Brahmana is mightier than the thunderbolt of Indra. The thunder scorches all existing objects upon which it falls. The Brahmana's rod (which symbolizes the Brahmana's might in the form of his curse) blasts even unborn generations. The might of the rod is derived from Mahadeva.

Hinduism has family curses, elsewhere. [22]

Japanese Shinto Edit

Greek mythology Edit

In Greek mythology, the Erinyes exacted family curses. [24] [23] Certain dynasties have had tragic occurrences happen upon them.

The House of Cadmus, who established and ruled over the city of Thebes, was one such house. After slaying the dragon and establishing Thebes upon the earth that the dragon terrorized, Ares cursed Cadmus and his descendants because of the dragon's sacredness to Ares. Similarly, after Hephaestus discovered his wife, Aphrodite, having a sexual affair with Ares, he became enraged and vowed to avenge himself for Aphrodite's infidelity by cursing the lineage of any children that resulted from the affair. Aphrodite later bore a daughter, Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, from Ares' seed.

Cadmus, annoyed at his accursed life and ill fate, remarked that if the gods were so enamoured of the life of a serpent, he might as well wish that life for himself. Immediately Cadmus began to grow scales and change into a serpent. Harmonia, after realizing the fate of her husband, begged the gods to let her share her husband's fate. Of the House of Cadmus, many had particularly tragic lives and deaths. For example, King Minos of Crete's wife fall madly in love with the Cretan Bull and bore the Minotaur. Minos would later be murdered by his daughters whilst bathing. Semele, the mother of Dionysus by Zeus, was turned into dust because she glanced upon Zeus’ true godly form. King Laius of Thebes was killed by his son, Oedipus. Oedipus later (unknowingly) marries the queen, his own mother, and becomes king. After finding out he gouges his eyes and exiles himself from Thebes.

Another dynasty that was cursed and was subject to tragic occurrences was the House of Atreus (also known as the Atreides). The curse begins with Tantalus, a son of Zeus who enjoyed cordial relations with the gods. To test the omniscience of the gods, Tantalus decided to slay his son Pelops and feed him to the gods as a test of their omniscience. All of the gods, save Demeter, who was too concerned with the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, knew not to eat from Pelops’ cooked corpse. After Demeter had eaten Pelops’ shoulder, the gods banished Tantalus into Tartarus where he would spend eternity standing in a pool of water beneath a fruit-bearing tree with low branches. Whenever he would reach for a fruit, the branches would lift upward so as to remove his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he would bend over to drink from the pool, the water would recedes into the earth before he could drink. The gods brought Pelops back to life, replacing the bone in his shoulder with a bit of ivory with the help of Hephaestus, thus marking the family forever afterwards.

Pelops would later marry Princess Hippodamia after winning a chariot race against her father, King Oenomaus. Pelops won the race by sabotaging of King Oenomaus’ chariot, with the help of the king's servant, Myrtilus. This resulted in King Oenomaus’ death. Later, the servant Myrtilus, who was in love with Hippodamia, was killed by Pelops because Pelops had promised Myrtilus the right to take Hippodamia's virginity in exchange for his help in sabotaging the king's chariot. As Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelops and his line, further adding to the curse on the House of Atreus.

King Atreus, the son of Pelops and the namesake of the Atreidies, would later be killed by his nephew, Aegisthus. Before his death, Atreus had two sons, King Agamemnon of Mycenae and King Menelaus of Sparta. King Menelaus’ wife, Helen of Sparta, would leave him for Prince Paris of Troy, thus beginning the Trojan War. However, prior to their sailing off for the war, Agamemnon had angered the goddess Artemis by killing one of her sacred deer. As Agamemnon prepared to sail to Troy to avenge his brother's shame, Artemis stilled the winds so that the Greek fleet could not sail. The seer Calchas told Agamemnon that if he wanted to appease Artemis and sail to Troy, he would have to sacrifice the most precious thing in his possession. Agamemnon sent word home for his daughter Iphigenia to come to him so that he may sacrifice her, framing it to her that she was to be married to Achilles. Iphigenia, honored by her father's asking her to join him in the war, complied. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter and went off to war.

Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and mother to Iphigenia, was so enraged by her husband's actions that when he returned victorious from Troy, she trapped him in a robe with no opening for his head whilst he was bathing and stabbed him to death as he thrashed about. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, was torn between his duty toward avenging his father's death and his sparing his mother. However. after praying to Apollo for consultation, Apollo advised him to kill his mother. Orestes killed his mother and wandered the land, ridden with guilt. Because of the noble act of avenging his father's at the expense of his own soul and reluctance to kill his mother, Orestes was forgiven by the gods, thus ending the curse of the House of Atreus.

Witchcraft Edit

The term witchcraft is not well-defined, but within at least factions, the belief in family curses persists. [25]

Modern skeptics deny that curses of any nature, including family curses, even exist, [26] [27] even if some fervently believe in them. [28]

Modern Western attitudes to personal individuality and to individual achievement do not always sit well with notions of inherited sin. [29] Psychologists and philosophers tend to portray persistent human failings as part of human nature, rather than using "original sin" metaphors. [30]

Nathaniel Hawthorne felt his family was cursed, due to his ancestors, John Hathorne and his father William. William Hathorne was a judge who earned a reputation for cruelly persecuting Quaker Christians, and who in 1662 ordered the public whipping of Ann Coleman. John Hathorne was one of the leading judges in the Salem witch trials. He is not known to have repented for his actions. So great were Nathaniel Hawthorne's feelings of guilt, he re-spelled his last name Hathorne to Hawthorne. [31]

Famous examples Edit

  • The Curse of the Braganzas (from John IV of Portugal to Louis Philip)
  • The Curse of Tippecanoe, not quite a family curse, but deserves mention
  • The Kennedy curse (from Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. to Maeve Kennedy McKean)
  • The Sedgwick family
  • The Von Erich family
  • The Family of Bruce Lee, also known as "The Curse of the Dragon" (Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee)

As he lies dying, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet Mercutio says, "A plague o' both your houses," blaming both the Capulets and Montagues. As the play progresses, his words prove prophetic. [33]

There is a family curse in The House of the Seven Gables. [34]

In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, there was a feeling the Baskerville's family had legendary family curse, of a giant black hound, ". a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon." [35] [36]

In the 2007 South Korean psychological-supernatural suspense horror film Someone Behind You a young woman named Ga-In (Yoon-Jin-seo) sees families and friends slaughtering and attacking one another and realizes that she is followed by an unexplainable curse causing those around her to get rid of her. Despite all of this she is constantly reminded by an eerie student to never trust her family, friends, and not even herself. Ga-In has hallucinations of those who would attempt to attack her, then sees a disturbing vision of a monstrous being warning her that the bloodshed will intensify. The film was also released in America retitled as Voices. [37]

The 13 Biggest Assholes in Greek Mythology

It’s a mystery why ancient Greeks worshipped their gods, because their gods were all complete dickheads. They could — and did! — steal, rape, torture, or kill pretty much anyone at any time. Of course, the kings and heroes of ancient Greece was also often terrible people, so maybe the gods were just par for the course. Here are the 13 biggest assholes in Greek myths — because a list of all the assholes would have taken forever.

Where to start with this guy? Zeus was of course the guy in charge of the gods and the universe. Everyone, both mortal and immortal, called him father — both to represent his status and because in ancient Greece there was a 30% chance that Zeus actually sired you. Zeus cheated on his wife Hera constantly, and the sex didn’t need to be consensual — once he decided to fuck a woman, he was going to fuck her, and if he had to be a swan, a bull or a golden shower of light to do it, he didn’t care. Like all the gods, Zeus could hold a grudge, so if you pissed him off once, you were completely screwed, as Prometheus found out when he gave humanity fire. Zeus chained him to a rock and had an eagle eat Prometheus’ liver every day for eternity — just for being nice to us.

To be fair, Zeus had a pretty fucked up childhood. After hearing a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him, his dad Cronus the Titan ate all of his children — Zeus only escaped because his mom fed Cronus a rock in baby clothes, which he assumed was his kid. It takes a special kind of asshole to not just kill his own kids, but eat them (let alone be dumb enough to mistake a baby for a rock). But Cronus didn’t do things by half measures — he didn’t just overthrow his own dad, Uranus, but he castrated him, too.

Cronus’ dad wasn’t really any better a father, honestly. Uranus was essentially the sky, who made love with Gaia, the Earth — who, according to some versions of the myth, was his mother, by the way. Gaia gave birth to the Titans and a few humongous monsters Uranus imprisoned the monsters in Tartarus, deep inside his mom, where they hurt the hell out of her (no pun), causing her to conspire with Chronus to kill and castrate Uranus (Gaia was very firm about the castrating part). Father’s Day must have been super-awkward in ancient Greece.

I didn’t mentioned the worst part about Zeus’ constant seduction and/or sexual assault of every pretty girl in Greece — his wife Hera would inevitably torture the the women, too. Like some wives, Hera blamed the women for their husband’s infidelity (admittedly, it was kind of tough to punish the king of the universe for anything), even if they had tried to refuse Zeus’ amorous advances. Hera turned them into monsters, banned them from giving birth on land, tricked Zeus into murdering them and more — any children resulting were not spared either, as Hercules learned when Hera tried to kill him for his entire life, starting when he was a baby. Of course, she wasn’t much better with her own kids when she gave birth to the ugly Hephaestus, she threw the baby off a mountain.

Hades was the lord of the underworld and death, but he was generally a pretty chill guy. That is, until he saw Persephone, the daughter of the goddess Demeter. Like so many of the male gods, Pluto believed "why ask a woman on a date when you can just abduct her against her will," and he kidnapped her to be his bride. Not only was this a dick move to Demeter and her daughter, it was a dick move to all of humanity — Demeter was the goddess of the harvest, and she was so upset at her daughter’s disappearance that she forbade the world from producing any food. Zeus eventually forced Hades to give Persephone back to her mom, because everybody was starving to death — but not before he tricked his bride into eating some pomegranate seeds, ensuring she spent three months a year with him in the underworld.

Even the wisest and kindest could be kind of a dick sometimes. Athena was generally the most levelheaded of all the gods, but even she had a temper. When Poseidon raped the beautiful priestess Medusa in one of Athena’s temples, the goddess was so pissed off that Medusa had somehow not managed to fend off the advances of the god of the sea she turned her into a monster with snakes for hair, and then she later helped Perseus kill Medusa. Athena was one of the goddesses who helped start the Trojan war, because she was pissed off when Paris awarded Aphrodite first prize in an impromptu goddess beauty contest. And when she heard about a woman named Arachne, who boasted she was better at weaving than the goddess herself, she challenged the mortal and lost… and was so mad she turned Arcahne into a spider.

You didn’t have to be a god to be an asshole in ancient Greece (but it sure helped). Even the “heroes” managed to be pretty unheroic sometimes, especially Jason, of “And the Argonauts” fame. The story goes that he was supposed inherit Thessaly, but his uncle Pelias killed the king when Jason arrived, Pelias sent him to go fetch the Golden Fleece to prove his claim to the throne. While this was an adventure, it was also a heist, because somebody already owned the Fleece, namely King Aeetes. Jason didn’t just steal the fleece, he stole Aeetes’ daughter Medea, whom Jason had promised to marry for helping him get it. Once Jason was back in Thessaly and one the throne, he kicked Medea to the curb — as well as the children she’d given him — and married some chick from Cornith instead. This did not go well for Jason.

Why did this not go well for Jason? Because Medea was CRAZY. She betrayed her father and helped Jason steal the Fleece for love, that’s fine. But she helped Jason to escape by distracting her dad by murdering her own brother, cutting him into pieces because she knew her dad would need to find them all to give his son a proper burial. And when she and Jason made it back to Thessaly, she used her magic to trick King Pelias’ daughters into thinking they could make their dad young again by cutting him into pieces and making soup out of him. That’s fucked up. But it — and Medea — gets worse when Jason abandoned her, Medea gave his new bride a dress that set her on fire when she put it on, then she killed the kids she had with Jason.

Antaeus was a more traditional asshole. The son of Poseidon and his grandmother Gaia, the half-giant Antaeus literally just hung out by a road and killed anyone stupid enough to agree to fight him in a wrestling match. He took all their skulls with the intent of turning them into the world’s creepiest shrine to his dad. Thanks to his mother, Antaeus was undefeatable whenever he was touching the ground. He just killed a lot of travelers until Hercules wandered by, picked him up, and crushed him to death.

First of all, King Minos of Crete had the labyrinth built, and stuffed it with the murderous minotaur. No one has ever built a giant maze and put a monster in it with good intentions. He imprisoned the master builder Daedelus to make it, which wasn’t nice either. Minos tricked Scylla, the daughter of the king of Megara, into helping kill her father — and then afterwards, he decided to drag her behind a boat until she drowned for the crime he talked her into committing. But the best-known story of Minos’ assholery is when he sent his son Androgenous to fight in the Pan-Athenaeic Games, where he won. The King of Athens got pissed, and tricked the kid to fighting a bull, which killed him. Obviously, Minos was shitty to even to people he liked, so he kicked the hell out of Athens and demanded a sacrifice of seven completely innocent Athenian boys and girls every nine years to throw in the labyrinth. When Poseidon sent him a great white bull out iof the sea, Minos promised to sacrifice it to the god, but then switched it out — so Poseidon “punished” Minos by making his wife fall in love with the bull. Because Poseidon was also an asshole.

When Ixion married Dia, he didn’t pay the bride price, the traditional gift grooms gave to their fathers-in-law. Dia’s dad Deioneus was rightly offended at this, and in retaliation — not so rightly — stole a few of Ixion’s horses. Ixion’s response: Pushing his father-in-law into a bed of burning hot coals, murdering him instantly. But it gets worse! Ixion went insane, as the first (mortal) kinslayer in Greek mythology. Somehow, Zeus actually felt bad for the guy, and brought him to Mount Olympus where he immediately started trying to have sex with Zeus’ wife Hera. Zeus no longer felt bad for the guy. After creating a cloud that looked like Hera — which Ixion did fuck (his semen falling down the mountain and creating the centaurs, because why not) thus proving his guilt, Zeus strapped him to a burning wheel of fire in Hades for the rest of eternity.

12) Tantalus

Tantalus was hosting a barbecue for the gods when he decided it was be super-funny to murder his own son, cook him, and then secretly feed him to his divine guests. This did not fool the gods — well, it didn’t fool anyone besides Demeter, who was so busy mourning her recently kidnapped daughter she accidentally ate a piece of shoulder. Zeus immediately sent Tantalus to Hades, where he was placed in a knee-deep pool with an apple tree right overhead. It sounds all right until you remember that Tantalus was cursed with an eternal hunger and thirst, and the water and the apples shrank away from him, so he could never drink or eat. The gods resurrected the boy, along with a snazzy new ivory shoulder, and took him to Olympus. And then at some point, Zeus was still so mad as Tantalus he threw the kid off the mountain, because Zeus is an asshole.

13) Sisyphus

Sisyphus was a king who had a bad habit of murdering his guests, which was a major no-no back in ancient Greece (admittedly, it’s still kind of frowned upon). But what really pissed off the gods is how clever Sisyphus was. When he was first taken to Hades to be punished for his sins, he managed to trick Death into the chains intended for him, and then he escaped, while no one on earth died. And then when he was caught, he had his wife toss his naked body into the town square instead of giving it a proper burial he complained about this to Persephone, and asked if he could go topside to scold his wife. Persephone said yes, and Sisyphus escaped again. Eventually he was caught and chained in hell, where he was forced to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity.

Ancient Greek Voodoo? Oracles and Curses in Ancient Greece

Driven by dark and powerful emotions, such as hatred, jealousy, and anger, people in Ancient Greece sometimes appealed to chthonic gods and demonic powers to avenge those who had wronged them.

In “A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC-200 AD,” closing on June 24, you will find, among much else, artifacts used to curse an enemy and make him suffer in the way portrayed by his lead effigy. To ensure that such objects would reach the powers of the Underworld, the ill-wishers deposited them in the graves of people who had died young or violently, believing that their restless spirits were still lingering in the grave.

For more positive invocations of the supernatural, the Greeks also visited famous oracles, such as those of Delphi and Dodona, and posed questions to deities through oracular tablets, also featured in our exhibition. In one of them, from the late 5 th century BC, two parents ask: “About the child: will it learn to talk?”

It is with these strange yet familiar objects in mind that we explore today’s Off Center topic: Oracles and Curses.

While best known as a filmmaker and actor, Orson Welles was also an accomplished magician. As he explains in this interview on late-night TV, he at one point taught himself to deliver psychic cold readings, a task at which he became quite adept. In fact, he almost began to believe in his own powers:

It’s the occupational disease of fraudulent fortune tellers, and they have a name for it, it’s called becoming a shut eye. And a shut eye, in the argot of these crooks, is the fellow who begins to believe himself.”

In the words of author Siri Hustvedt, art critic Robert Hughes “was a large, ruddy, passionate man with a mordant, propulsive prose style, an acid sense of humor and a keen appreciation for the ridiculous in American culture.” All of these qualities are on full display in “The Curse of Mona Lisa,” a documentary in which Hughes rages against the effect of market forces on contemporary art--an effect that, from his vantage, amounts to a kind of curse:

“From the 60s on, the belief in art as a way of making money began as a trickle, turned into a stream, and finally became a great, brown, roaring flood. And what resurfaces after this deluge? Art, stripped of everything but its market value.

Photo: Onassis Foundation USA

This book is really about what we hope and what we fear, and it’s as though you take all of your nightmares about plague or destruction or war or torture or natural catastrophe, and you just wrap it into a huge single nightmare, you get the Book of Revelation. But it comes out with hope at the end, so it’s very appealing to people who live in times of huge turmoil.” In 2018, NASA hopes to launch the James Webb Space Telescope. One hundred times more powerful than the Hubble, it will reveal unimaginable vistas of the cosmos. Into the Unknown, a documentary by Oscar-nominee Nathaniel Kahn, introduces us to the scientists who work on this telescope--a telescope that in its way will serve as an oracle, answering our questions about the future, about the past, and perhaps even about the existence of life on other planets.

We don’t know what we’re going to see, because we’ve never observed in this region before, to this depth before, and every time we’ve done this as a species, we’ve discovered new things.”

Photo: Onassis Foundation USA

"Excavated bones reveal that the Shang inquired about everything from warfare to childbirth, from weather to illness. They asked about the meaning of dreams. They negotiated with the dead: on one bone, an inscription proposes sacrificing three human prisoners to an ancestor, and then, presumably after an unsatisfactory crack, the next inscription offers up five prisoners. Sometimes the Shang sacrificed hundreds of people at once.”

In her short story “The Headstrong Historian,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie narrates the experience of a Nigerian family across three generations, as they confront the influx of western missionaries and colonizers at the end of the 19 th century. At several key moments the family's matriarch visits an oracle, which in the context of the story comes to stand for the traditional cultural practices upended by colonialism:

Nwamgba, who still found it difficult to remember that Michael was Anikwenwa, went to the oracle herself, and afterward thought it ludicrous how even the gods had changed and no longer asked for palm wine but for gin. Had they converted, too? In this essay for Lapham’s Quarterly, South African artist William Kentridge recalls his childhood reaction to the myth of Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa. The story begins with a visit by King Acrisius of Argos to an oracle, who tells the monarch that he will be killed by his grandson. Acrisius subsequently does everything in his power to avoid this fate, only to finally meet it through a series of unlikely plot twists:

How could so many chance events, so many unlikely elements—the discus, the disguise, the date of the athletic competition—conspire to make the predicted inevitability? Maybe every step I took, or didn’t take, was the wrong one. Maybe every decision that seemed unimportant would lead to consequences so much greater. Every decision was the wrong decision. In his short story “Funes, the Memorious,” Jorge Luis Borges imagines the life of a man condemned to remember every last thing he’s ever seen, in all its infinite detail. This affliction ends up as a curse, trapping the hero in a cycle of endless recollection:

With no effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese and Latin. I suspect, however, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions. In the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.

For over a thousand years, from 800 BC to 400 AD, the ancients would make pilgrimages to Delphi in central Greece, in the hopes of gleaning answers from that city’s famous oracle. These pilgrims--sometimes individuals, sometimes representatives of entire city-states--would ask a question to the Delphic Oracle, and receive their replies from a priestess called the Pythia. Her answers, it was believed, were direct transmissions from the god Apollo. In this episode of BBC’s “In Our Time,” Professors Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall, and Nick Lowe introduce us to the most famous oracle of the ancient world:

10 Allegedly Cursed Objects

Believed to have come to the surface 1.1 billion years ago, this gem is estimated to be worth $200-250 million. It has traveled the world but now resides in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and some believe it is cursed, with a whole mythology claiming that great misfortune and misery will befall any who dares to wear the 45.52 carat diamond. Rumored victims of the diamond have suffered disgrace, divorce, suicide, imprisonment, torture, financial ruin, lynching, or decapitation. One was even said to have been ripped apart by dogs, and another by a French mob. However, skeptics say this curse was a ploy to enhance the Hope Diamond's mystique and value.

2. The Busby Stoop Chair

English drunkard Thomas Busby sealed his fate when he murdered his father-in-law Daniel Auty in 1702. For his crimes, he was executed by hanging at a crossroads near a humble inn. But the story goes that this was not the end of Busby's killing. A chair that looked on to the site of his execution is believed to carry a curse—whoever sits upon it will supposedly die from a frightful accident. Still, the chair lingered in the inn until 1978, when the owner gifted it to the Thirsk Museum, where it now resides high on a wall, where no one need fear an accidental sitting.

3. The Crying Boy Painting

Another curse out of England comes from this popular 1950s reproduction of Bruno Amadio's "The Crying Boy" painting. The superstition goes that the pictures of this mournful child cause fires. Its source was an article in the tabloid The Sun from September 4th, 1985. A couple’s house burned down, but the fire didn’t burn “The Crying Boy.” A local firefighter then noted that there were other fires that left only an undamaged "Crying Boy" painting.

4. The Hands Resist Him Painting

Another tale of cursed art surrounds this painting of a young boy and a female doll standing before a window. Painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in 1972, "The Hands Resist Him" belonged to actor John Marley before ending up on eBay in 2000 with claims it was cursed. The anonymous sellers said it was found abandoned behind an old brewery. Soon after taking it home, their young daughter claimed the figures in the painting moved at night, and even stepped out of their frame to cause chaos in the home. They posted photos as proof. As may be the case with the Hope Diamond, the curse story drove up the bid to $1,025.00.

5. The Terracotta Army

In 1974, seven peasant farmers in China were digging a well for their village when they accidentally uncovered the 2,200-year-old Terracotta Army, an astonishingly detailed series of 8,000 sculptures that had been long buried as part of a grand tomb. The find has been a great one for China, bringing academics and busloads of tourists. But those who found it gained only misery. The Chinese government claimed their lands and destroyed their homes to properly unearth this army, financially ruining not just these men, but most of their village. Painful deaths followed for three of the seven, because as one of the survivors points out, they could not afford health care. Some have blamed government callousness for these men's fates. Others believe that this is a curse similar to that of Tut's Tomb.

6. Tut's Tomb

Perhaps the most famous curse of all is the Tomb of Tutankhamun, the burial place of the 19-year-old pharaoh. All who enter—be they bandit or archaeologist—are said to be struck with bad luck, illness, or death because of the curse of the pharaohs. Belief in this curse predated the 1922 Howard Carter expedition to find Tut's tomb, but his discovery unleashed new life for this legend. The first to die was the canary that was rumored to have led Carter to the tomb's hidden location. Some say it was eaten by a cobra, a symbol of Egyptian royalty, while others insist it wasn't even killed, but rather given to a friend. Soon thereafter, Carter's financial backer Lord Carnavon died when a mosquito bite became infected. Twenty more deaths of people would get blamed on the curse by 1935. Still, skeptics suggest coincidence or a deadly fungus from the tomb are to blame.

7. Iceman

Another mummy believed to carry a terrible curse is Ötzi, also known as the Iceman. Discovered in September of 1991 in the Ötztal Alps in Italy, Ötzi is a mummy of a man who is believed to have lived around 3,300 BCE. A glacier surrounded him after he died of exposure, and preserved his body. But once unearthed, rumors of a curse surfaced too, and grew stronger as people linked to him began to die, often in violent accidents. All told, seven deaths have been tied to Ötzi's uprooting, including forensic pathologist Rainer Henn who was killed in a car accident en route to give a speech about the Iceman, mountaineer Kurt Fritz who died in an avalanche, and hiker Helmut Simon, who discovered the Iceman on a hike with his wife and later died after falling off a treacherous path.

8. James Dean's Little Bastard

"Little Bastard" was what Dean called his silver Porsche 550 Spyder, the car he died in following an accident in 1955. After that, the vehicle was purchased by hot rod designer George Barris, who planned to sell it for parts. The curse narrative was born when the car fell and crushed a mechanic's legs. As parts of the car sold, the curse is said to have spread. A doctor who bought the engine was killed in a car accident another victim who bought the transmission was severely injured in a crash. The tires sold from Little Bastard blew out simultaneously, sending their buyer to the hospital. While the shell of the car was being transported, the truck carrying it crashed, and the driver was killed. From there, the shell was stolen and the curse of Little Bastard went quiet as its location became unknown.

9. The Phone Number +359 888 888 888

You might think a cursed phone number sounds like the plot to an uninspired horror flick, but anyone who had the number listed above since its first issuing in the early 2000s has died. That includes the CEO of a Bulgarian mobile phone company who died of cancer at 48, as well as two crooks—one a mafia boss and the other a cocaine-dealing estate agent, both of whom were "gunned down." All three died within four years of one another. Since then, the telephone number has been suspended, and the company that owns it refuses to comment as to why.

10. The Basano Vase

Legend has it that this silver vase made in the 15 th century was given to a bride on the eve of her wedding near Napoli, Italy. Sadly, she'd never make it to the altar as she was murdered that very night with the vase in her hands. From there, it was passed down her family line, but anyone who took possession of it is said to have perished soon thereafter. After untold deaths, the family boxed the vase away. It resurfaced in 1988 with a note that is said to have read, “Beware…This vase brings death.” However, when the Basano Vase was auctioned off for about $2,250, the note had been excluded from the item description. The pharmacist who bought it died within three months. Three more deaths of new owners followed until finally the curse seemed to go dormant when a desperate family demanded the police take it away. It has not been seen since.

The Greek Magical Papyri

An extract from the papyri, via The University of Chicago

The Greek Magical Papyri are a large collection of papyrus texts found in Egypt, spanning over 600 years of production. The texts are written by many different people and, as well as recipes for plant-based potions, they include lists of magical formulae, hymns and names of gods and demons who could be invoked to assist a practitioner.

There are also examples of instructions for making voodoo dolls. Some of the texts were found folded around locks of hair and fragments of clothing, perhaps implying that the papyri were seen as amulets in themselves. Modern-day scholars are undecided as to how secret or public these texts were, but references to priests in some of the later papyri perhaps suggests that magic was beginning to occupy a similar status to more formal religious practices in the latter centuries of the Roman Empire.

A prayer in the magical papyri attributed to the Archangel Michael, via The University of Heidelberg

We will probably never know the real position held by magic in the ancient world. But from the examples we have today, what is clear is that it transcended boundaries of gender and social status. Ancient magic seems to have been a particularly personal practice and, as a result, it gives us a fascinating insight into the everyday fears, loves and hopes of the people of ancient Greece and Rome.

What is ‘magic’ exactly or, more specifically, what is magic in an ancient context? The Oxford Classical Dictionary defines it as ‘a manipulative strategy to influence the course of nature by supernatural means’. The word ‘manipulative’ is important here as it refers to the element of human intervention that directs the magical act towards its objective.

Souls on the Banks of the Acheron’, by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1898, via Art History Project

Magic, with its potential to control the uncontrollable, is an inherently human preoccupation, and examples of it have existed for millennia in cultures throughout the world. For the purposes of this article, we are going to consider examples of magic used in the Classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

‘Circe offering the cup to Odysseus’ by John William Waterhouse, 1891, via Wikipedia

Magic in these ancient societies was loosely linked to religion and its efficacy was often dependent on the assistance of various deities. However, due to its often dubious practices, magic held a distinctive cultural status, since it was neither completely sanctioned nor completely forbidden.

Both the Greeks and Romans had laws restricting magical practices but, privately, magic appears to have had a powerful allure and was highly valued at all levels of society. Witches and magicians also appear throughout Greek mythology. A famous example is a sorceress Circe, whose magical potions restrained the wily hero Odysseus.

2400-year old ancient Greek curse tablets ‘call upon’ the gods of the underworld


Back in 2016, a team of archaeologists unearthed five ancient curse tablets from a grave in the Greek capital city of Athens. Found inside the grave of a young woman, the 2,400-year-old lead tablets bear curses aimed at tavern keepers. According to the researchers, they invoked the “chthonic” (meaning, ‘underworld’) gods of the time.

Of the five tablets, four are engraved with curses directed at four different husband-and-wife pairs, who worked as tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet is completely blank, which indicates that it likely had a spell recited orally over it. Perforated with an iron nail, each of these ancient artifacts was folded and carefully placed inside the grave, some 2,400 years ago.

The grave, as believed during ancient times, served as a path for the tablets to reach the invoked gods, who would then effectuate the curse. As the archaeologists pointed out, one of the tablets imprecates a curse against tavern keepers, named Demetrios and Phanagora. When translated to from Greek, the curse reads as follows:

Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead… I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on tongue.

According to the team, the term “kynotos” actually means “dog’s ear, and was a commonly-used gambling term, referring to the “lowest possible throw of dice”. Speaking about the unusual find, Jessica Lamont, a researcher at John Hopkins University, wrote as part of an article published in the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik journal:

[The] physical act of hammering a nail into the lead tablet would have ritually echoed this wished-for sentiment. By striking Demetrios’ tongue with this condemningly unlucky roll, the curse reveals that local taverns were not just sociable watering holes, but venues ripe for gambling and other unsavory activities in Classical Athens.

Piraeus, the ancient port of Athens. Source: Pinterest

Located near Piraeus, a port in Athens, the grave was first excavated back in 2003 by a team of archaeologists from the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Greece. Additionally, the researchers had also revealed that the grave likely housed the cremated remains of a young woman. The curse tablets, retrieved from the site, were then kept at the Piraeus Museum. Lamont added:

The way that curse tablets work is that they’re meant to be deposited in an underground location. It’s thought that these subterranean places provided a conduit through which the curses could have reached the underworld.

In fact, chances are that the woman buried in the grave was no way related to the tablets or the curses engraved on them. As the team pointed out, she might just have died at a time when someone belonging to the same community wanted to put these curses on the tavern keepers. The tablets, the researchers believe, were probably deposited along with the remains of the deceased. The writings on the tablets are surprisingly neat, and the actual prose of the curse quite eloquent. This in turn suggests that the incantations were authored by a professional curse writer. Lamont explained:

It’s very rare that you get something so explicit and lengthy and beautifully written, of course in a very terrible way… I think it’s likely that the person who commissioned them was probably in the world of the tavern himself or herself.

Image Credit: Jessica Lamont

The article was originally published in our sister site HEXAPOLIS, via LiveScience.

A Guide to Ancient Magic

Call it a happy accident: When a group of Serbian archaeologists recently uncovered a cache of 2,000-year-old skeletons, they unearthed a set of mysterious scrolls covered with Aramaic curses, too. As Reuters reports, the tiny scrolls were contained in what are thought to be ancient amulets and are covered with spells used in “binding magic” rituals of yore.

While the archaeologists work to decipher the scrolls (a process that could never be complete), why not take a moment to catch up on what historians already know about ancient magical rituals?

Spells were everything 

In ancient “binding magic,” it was all about the spells. Unlike modern-day magical phrases like, say, "bippity boppity boo," practitioners of magic in ancient Greek and Rome used spells to “bind” people up to different outcomes in sporting events, business, and personal affairs related to love and even revenge.

As Greek and Roman magic expert Derek Collins writes, binding spells had known formulas and named involved parties, like gods and people, and then connected them to actions or results. You could use a binding spell to invoke an upcoming athletic victory or ensure your happy marriage to a new partner—and to do so, you’d use powerful strings of words passed on by magicians or ordinary people.

Amulets were a must-have magical fashion accessory

Spells weren’t just said in the ancient world—they were written down. And like the objects found in Syria, the spells were often carried around with a person until they came to pass. Amulets designed to carry spells became a must-have fashion accessory and are regularly found in Ancient Greek and Roman grave sites and digs.

Though other ancient cultures, like that of Ancient Egypt, favored amulets with symbolism, Ancient Greek and Roman amulets were designed to carry spells, themselves. In 2011, archaeologists uncovered an amulet in Cyprus that was engraved with a palindromic spell, and in 2008, Swiss archaeologists found a gold scroll in a silver amulet capsule thought to have belonged to an ancient Roman child. Amulets may have looked decorative, but their contents felt like life and death to believers, who paid magicians to give them scrolls and talismans that put their intentions into physical form.

Curses and revenge were very much a thing

One of the more charmingly bitter traditions of ancient Greece and Rome were “curse tablets”—spells written on lead, wax or stone that laid out the ways in which people had been wronged. Think of curse tablets as the takedowns of the ancient world: If someone disrespected or harmed you, you could head to your local magician and pay to curse them. People cursed people who hurt their family members, but they also cursed them when they committed crimes or even entered into court cases against them. Large caches of curse tablets have been found in Roman digs in the modern-day United Kingdom.

One such tablet invokes the god Mercury to bring down a curse on Varianus, Peregrina and Sabinianus, whom the curser thought had brought harm on their animal. “I ask that you drive them to the greatest death, and do not allow them health or sleep unless they redeem from you what they have administered to me,” cursed the aggrieved Docilinus. Ouch.

(UCLA/Public Domain)

And then there were the curse dolls 

Of course, if someone dissed you, you also had the option of creating a tiny effigy to do harm to. Though sometimes compared to modern-day voodoo dolls, scholars still aren’t entirely sure what the tiny figurines used in binding magic in ancient Greece and Rome were for. What they do know is that the word “binding” was taken literally when it comes to these figures: They have been found in tiny coffins with bound hands and feet or mutilated bodies and seem to have been molded along with binding spells.

Not everyone in ancient Greece and Rome was into magic 

The descriptions above might make you think that everyone in the ancient world was into binding magic. But that wasn’t true: Historians now believe that magic was quite separate from ancient religion. Though both involved the gods, magic involved manipulating gods whereas other rituals relied on supplication and offerings in the hopes that the gods might favor the person doing the asking.

Anti-magic legislation existed in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome, even before the days of Christianity, but often such laws only covered magic that actually killed, as when a stepmother was sued for administering a fatal “love charm” to her stepson’s mistress. Lesson learned: If you only use your ancient curses, spells and charms to inflict mild harm instead of death, you should be okay. Now where did that curse tablet go?


The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Jews, Christians, Gauls and Britons all dispensed curse tablets used placate "unquiet" graves, cast love spells and call up the spirits of the Underworld to make trouble. [Source: Christopher A. Faraone, Archaeology, March/April 2003]

Curse objects were used to call ghosts from the Underworld to bring suffering on one's enemies. They were often buried with the dead who were believed to have the power to pass them on to a party that could carry them out. Curses buried with people who died young were thought to be able to reach their destination quicker. Curses became such an annoyance in Athens they were outlawed. Even so they were secretly buried on the dead.

It is not clear what kinds of punishments there were if one was caught putting a curse on someone. One of Plato’s dialogues asserts that “if it be held that a man is acting like an injurer by these of spells, incantations or any such mode of poisoning, if he be a prophet or diviner, he shall be put death.” In this passage Plato’s character thinks that practitioners of black magic should be punished but in Greek and Roman law investigations of magic was only done if it was involved in a serious crime such as murder.

Categories with related articles in this website: Ancient Greek and Roman Religion and Myths (35 articles) Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy and Science (33articles) Ancient Greek History (48 articles) Ancient Greek Art and Culture (21 articles) Ancient Greek Life, Government and Infrastructure (29 articles) Early Ancient Roman History (34 articles) Later Ancient Roman History (33 articles) Ancient Roman Life (39 articles) Ancient Roman Art and Culture (33 articles) Ancient Roman Government, Military, Infrastructure and Economics (42 articles)

Curse inscription Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World BBC Ancient Greeks Canadian Museum of History Perseus Project - Tufts University British Museum Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive Metropolitan Museum of Art The Ancient City of Athens The Internet Classics Archive Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity Forum Romanum “Outlines of Roman History” “The Private Life of the Romans”| BBC Ancient Rome The Roman Empire in the 1st Century The Internet Classics Archive Bryn Mawr Classical Review De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Ancient Greek Voodoo Dolls

Archaeologists have found ancient Greek "voodoo dolls" called kolossoi , consisting of a small doll lying in a lead coffin. One such doll had its arms pulled back and a man's name inscribed on its leg. The man appeared to have been involved with a public trial with eight other men, whose names were inscribed on the coffin lid. Kolossoi figures have been found buried in a cemetery, but not inside graves, perhaps to draw the attention of Hades, god of the Underworld.

In Antinopolis, Egypt, a small effigy of woman, dated to the A.D. 4th century was found kneeling with her feet together and her arms tied behind her back. She is pierced with 13 pins: one in the top of her head, one in the mouth, one in each eye and one in each ear, one each in the solar plexus, vagina and anus, and one in the palm of each hand and in the soles of each foot. The effigy was wrapped in an inscribed table and sealed in a pit.

The doll surprisingly was commissioned by a man who wanted a the victim, a woman, to make live to him. The text of the tablet read: “Lead Ptolemasi, who Aias bore, the daughter of Horigense, to me. Prevent her from eating and drinking until she comes to me. Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and do not allow her to have experience with another man, except me alone. Drag here by her hair, by her guts, until she does not stand aloof from me.”

A magical handbook that has been found, dated to around the same time, has an image of a nearly identical effigy with instructions on where to place it and what to recite when doing so. The idea it seems was to cause the woman anguish so she would have feelings of affection for the man who pieced the doll.

Ancient Greek Curse Tablets

Curse inscription Archaeologists have found hundreds of ancient Greek curse tablets, which the Greeks called them katares , “curses that bind tight,” and they appear to have invented them with a great number focused on sporting competitions or legal contests. “To make such a “binding spell,” Christopher A. Faraone wrote in Archaeology magazine, “one would inscribe the victim’s name and a formula on a lead tablet, fold it up, often pierce it with a nail, and then deposit it in a grave or a well or a fountain, placing it in the realm of ghosts or Underworld divinities who might be asked to enhance the spell.”

Many ancient Greek curse tablets made of lead have been found. By far the most have come from Athens, where they have been found buried in cemeteries, inside sanctuaries and wells and outside theaters. They were purchased by shopowners, potters and tavern owners against rivals. Most were aimed at legal opponents. Some were directed at politicians. Many were accompanied by figures: a soldier with a bent sword a man with his hands tied behind his back, creatures with birdlike heads and pronounced sex organs. Many curses were put on bracelets buried with the dead.

Jessica Lamont, an instructor at John Hopkins University, told live Science: “The way that curse tablets work is that they're meant to be deposited in an underground location," such as a grave or well, Lamont told Live Science. "It's thought that these subterranean places provided a conduit through which the curses could have reached the underworld," and its chthonic (underworld) gods would then do the curse's biddings, Lamont said. The person in a garve containing curse tablets may have had nothing to do with the curses or the targets or initiators of the curse. They may have happened to die at the time when someone wanted to cast curses on others in the same community. At the time when funeral ceremonies are conducted, a grave "would have been accessible, a good access point for someone to deposit these tablets underground and bury them," Lamont said. [Source: Owen Jarus,, April 6, 2016]

Early curse tablets were filled with spelling and grammar mistakes which has led archaeologists and historians to surmise they were probably inscribed by amateurs, but there are hints of professional sorcerers making spells as early as 400 B.C. A passage from Plato’s Republic goes: “And then there are the begging priests and soothsayers, who going to the doors of the wealthy persuade them that. if anyone wants to harm an enemy, whether the enemy is a just or unjust man, they [the priest and soothsayers], at very little expense, will do it with incantations and binding spells, once [they claim] they have persuaded the gods to do their bidding.”

Book: Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World by John Gager, professor or religion at Princeton (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Texts of Ancient Greek Curse Tablets

A spell from Attica in the 4th century B.C. read: "I bind Kalais, the shop-tavern keeper who is one of my neighbors and his wife, Tahittra and the shop-tavern of the bald man and the shop-tavern of Anthemion and Polon the shop-tavern keeper. Of all of these I bind the soul, the work, the hands, tying and mind: all of these I bind to Hermes the Restrainer."

Another read: "I inscriber Selinonitios and the tongue of Selinontios, twisted to the point of uselessness.” A Hellenistic curse read: "I will tattoo you with pictures of terrible punishments suffered by the most notorious sinners in Hades! I will tattoo you with the white-tusked boar." Curses aimed at unfaithful lovers was common in Hellenistic Greece.

On dealing with the testimonies of three butchers in a court of law one tablet read: “Theagues, the butcher, I bind his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing. Pyrrhias: bind his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing. I bind the wife of Pyrrhias, her tongue and soul. I also bind Kerkion, the butcher, and Dikimos the butcher, their tongues, their souls and the speeches they are practicing. I bind Kineas, bind his tongue, his soul and the speech he is practicing with Theagenes. And Pherekles. I bind his tongue, his soul and the evidence he gives for Theagenes. All of these (i.e. their names) I bind, I hide, I bury, I nail down. If they lay any counterclaim before the arbitrator or the court let them seem to be of no account, either in word or deed.”

2,400-year-old Curse Tablets Target Tavern Keepers

In 2016, a John Hopkins researcher announced that five 2,400-year-old lead tablets that cursed tavern keepers had been found in a young woman's grave in Athens, Greece. Owen Jarus of Live Science wrote: “Four of the tablets were engraved with curses that invoked the names of "chthonic" (underworld) gods, asking them to target four different husband-and-wife tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet was blank and likely had a spell or incantation recited orally, the words spoken over it. All five tablets were pierced with an iron nail, folded and deposited in the grave. The grave would have provided the tablets a path to such gods, who would then do the curses' biddings, according to ancient beliefs. [Source: Owen Jarus,, April 6, 2016]

“One of the curses targeted husband-and-wife tavern keepers named Demetrios and Phanagora. The curse targeting them reads in part (translated from Greek): “Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead…I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue."

“The word kynotos literally means "dog's ear," an ancient gambling term that "was the name for the lowest possible throw of dice," Jessica Lamont, an instructor at John Hopkins University who recently completed a doctorate in classics, wrote in an article published recently in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. The "physical act of hammering a nail into the lead tablet would have ritually echoed this wished-for sentiment," Lamont wrote. “By striking Demetrios' tongue with this condemningly unlucky roll, the curse reveals that local taverns were not just sociable watering holes, but venues ripe for gambling and other unsavory activities in Classical Athens."

“The grave where the five curse tablets were found was excavated in 2003 by archaeologists with Greece's Ephorate for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The grave was located northeast of the Piraeus, the port of Athens. Details of the burial have not yet been published, but Lamont said that excavation reports indicate that it contained the cremated remains of a young woman. Lamont has been studying the curse tablets at the Piraeus Museum, where they are now kept. The writing on the curse tablets is neat and its prose eloquent, suggesting that a professional curse writer created the tablets. "It's very rare that you get something so explicit and lengthy and beautifully written, of course in a very terrible way," Lamont said.

“This curse writer, who probably provided other forms of supernatural services — including charms, spells and incantations — was likely hired by someone who worked in Athens' tavern-keeping industry, according to Lamont. "I think it's likely that the person who commissioned them was probably in the world of the tavern himself or herself," possibly a business rival of the four husband-and-wife tavern keepers, Lamont said.

Roman-Era Greek Tablet Calls Upon the Jewish God to Curse of Greengrocer

A 1,700-year-old curse tablet, whose contents were revealed in 2011, called upon Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, god of the Old Testament, to strike down Babylas identified as being a greengrocer. Live Science reported: “A fiery ancient curse inscribed on two sides of a thin lead tablet was meant to afflict, not a king or pharaoh, but a simple greengrocer selling fruits and vegetables in the city of Antioch. Written in Greek, the tablet holding the curse was dropped into a well in Antioch, then one of the Roman Empire’s biggest cities in the East [Source:, December 201]

“The curse calls upon Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, to afflict a man named Babylas who is identified as being a greengrocer. The tablet lists his mother’s name as Dionysia, “also known as Hesykhia” it reads. The text was translated by Alexander Hollmann of the University of Washington. The artifact, which is now in the Princeton University Art Museum, was discovered in the 1930s by an archaeological team but had not previously been fully translated. The translation is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. “O thunder-and-lightning-hurling Iao, strike, bind, bind together Babylas the greengrocer,” reads the beginning of one side of the curse tablet. “As you struck the chariot of Pharaoh, so strike his [Babylas’] offensiveness.”

“Hollmann told LiveScience that he has seen curses directed against gladiators and charioteers, among other occupations, but never a greengrocer. “There are other people who are named by occupation in some of the curse tablets, but I haven’t come across a greengrocer before,” he said. The person giving the curse isn’t named, so scientists can only speculate as to what his motives were. “There are curses that relate to love affairs,” Hollmann said. However, “this one doesn’t have that kind of language.”

“The lead curse tablet is very thin and could have been folded up. This side contains a short summary of what the inscription says and would have gone on the outside. It’s possible the curse was the result of a business rivalry or dealing of some sort. “It’s not a bad suggestion that it could be business related or trade related,” said Hollmann, adding that the person doing the cursing could have been a greengrocer himself. If that’s the case it would suggest that vegetable selling in the ancient world could be deeply competitive. “With any kind of tradesman they have their turf, they have their territory, they’re susceptible to business rivalry.”

“The use of Old Testament biblical metaphors initially suggested to Hollmann the curse-writer was Jewish. After studying other ancient magical spells that use the metaphors, he realized that this may not be the case. “I don’t think there’s necessarily any connection with the Jewish community,” he said. “Greek and Roman magic did incorporate Jewish texts sometimes without understanding them very well.” In addition to the use of Iao (Yahweh), and reference to the story of the Exodus, the curse tablet also mentions the story of Egypt’s firstborn. “O thunder—and-lightning-hurling Iao, as you cut down the firstborn of Egypt, cut down his [livestock?] as much as…” (The next part is lost.). “It could simply be that this [the Old Testament] is a powerful text, and magic likes to deal with powerful texts and powerful names,” Hollmann said. “That’s what makes magic work or make[s] people think it works.”

Ancient Greek Love Tablets

A curse that focuses on erotic love found on a potsherd perhaps heated in a ritual read: “Burn, torch the soul of Allous, her female body, her limbs, until she leaves the household of Apollonius. Lay Allous low with fever, with unceasing sickness, lack of appetite, senselessness.”

The text of one Greek curse found rolled up in the mouth of a red-haired mummy found in Eshmunen in Ptolemaic Egypt read: “Aye, lord demain, attract, inflame, destroy, burn, cause her to swoon from love as she is being burnt, inflamed. Goad the tortured soul, the heart of Karosa. until she leaps forth and comes to Apalos. out of passion and love, in this very hour, immediately. Immediately, quickly, quickly. do not allow Karosa herself. to think of her [own] husband, her child, drink, food, but let her come melting for passion and love and intercourse, especially yeaning for the intercourse of Aapalos.”

One tablet addressed to a ghost goes: “Seize Euphemia and lead her to me Theon, loving me with mad desire, and bind her with unloosable shackles, strong ones of adamantine, for the love of me, Theon, and do not allow her to eat, drink, obtain sleep, jest or laugh but make her leap out. and leave behind her father. Mother, brothers, sisters, until she comes to me. Burn her limbs, live, female body, until she comes to me, and not disobeying me.”

Hekate, Goddess of Witchcraft

According to Theoi Project: “Hekate (Hecate) was the goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, moon, ghosts and necromancy. She was the only child of the Titanes Perses and Asteria from whom she received her power over heaven, earth, and sea. Hekate assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone, guiding her through the night with flaming torches. After the mother-daughter reunion became she Persephone's minister and companion in Haides.

“Three metamorphosis myths describe the origins of her animal familiars: the black she-dog and the polecat (a mustelid house pet kept by the ancients to hunt vermin). The dog was the Trojan Queen Hekabe (Hecuba) who leapt into the sea after the fall of Troy and was transformed by the goddess. The polecat was either the witch Gale, turned as punishment for her incontinence, or Galinthias, midwife of Alkmene (Alcmena), who was transformed by the enraged goddess Eileithyia but adopted by the sympathetic Hekate.

“Hekate was usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman holding twin torches. Sometimes she was dressed in a knee-length maiden's skirt and hunting boots, much like Artemis. In statuary Hekate was often depicted in triple form as a goddess of crossroads. Her name means "worker from afar" from the Greek word hekatos. The masculine form of the name, Hekatos, was a common epithet of the god Apollon. Hekate was identified with a number of other goddesses including Artemis, Selene (the Moon), Despoine, the sea-goddess Krataeis (Crataeis), the goddess of the Taurian Khersonese in Skythia, the Kolkhian (Colchian) nymph Perseis, the heroine Iphigeneia, the Thracian goddesses Bendis and Kotys (Cotys), the Euboian nymph Maira (the Dog-Star), the Eleusinian nymph Daeira and the Boiotian nymph Herkyna (Hercyna).”

Orphic Hymn to Hekatê

Artemis-Hekate from Apollonia, Albania

To Hekatê (Greek Goddess of Witchcraft, Magic & Ghosts)
“Hekatê of the Path, I invoke Thee, Lovely Lady of the Triple Crossroads,
Celestial, Chthonian, and Marine One, Lady of the Saffron Robe.
Sepulchral One, celebrating the Bakchic Mysteries among the Souls of the Dead,
Daughter of Persês, Lover of Solitude, rejoicing in deer.
Nocturnal One, Lady of the Dogs, invincible Queen.
She of the Cry of the Beast, Ungirt One, having an irresistible Form.
Bullherder, Keeper of the Keys of All the Universe, Mistress,
Guide, Bride, Nurturer of Youths, Mountain Wanderer.
I pray Thee, Maiden, to be present at our hallowed rites of initiation,
Always bestowing Thy graciousness upon the Boukolos. [Source: translated by Adam Forrest, Hermetic Fellowship]

Einodian Hekatên, klêizô, Trihoditin Erannên,
Ouranian, Chthonian, te kai Einalian, Krokopeplos. Tymbidian, Psychais Nekyôn meta bakcheuosan, Perseian, Philerêmon, agallomenên elaphoisi. Nykterian, Skylakitin, amaimaketon Basileian. Thêrobromon, Azôston, aprosmachon Eidos echousan. Tauropolon, Pantos Kosmou Klêidouchon, Anassan, Hêgemonên, Nymphên, Kourotrophon, Ouresiphoitin. Lissomenos, Kourên, teletais hosiaisi pareinai, Boukolôi eumeneousan aei kecharêoti thymôi.

Magical Papyri from Ancient Greece

John Opsopaus of wrote: “Although most of the magical papyri were discovered in Egypt the nineteenth century and brought together as part of the Anastasi Collection, they were not completely published until 1925. In fact, the first complete translation into English had to wait until 1986 (Betz). [Source: John Opsopaus, Papyri Graecae Magicae |+|]

“It is quite likely that many of the papyri come from a single source, perhaps a tomb or temple library, and it is commonly supposed that they were collected by a Theban Magician. In any case, they are one of the best sources of Greco-Egyptian magic and religion, comparable to the Qumran scrolls for Judaism and the Nag Hamadi library for Gnosticism. We are extremely lucky that they have survived, since magical books and scrolls were often systematically burned (Acts 19:19 but not just by the Christians: Augustus ordered 2000 to be burned). |+|

Magic Engainion of an ancient Greek_house “The spells, prayers, etc. are organized by category: I. Protection II. Divination and Visions III. Self-Improvement IV. Health and Healing V. Craft VI. Miscellaneous “Here are the translations of a few spells, prayers, etc. that I thought might be useful or interesting. The information in [brackets] following each indicates the collection (PGM =Papyri Graecae Magicae, PDM = P. Demoticae M.), the papyrus number and the lines where the spell can be found. The source for these translations is Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. |+|

“Pronunciation of Magical Names: In general, most of the “voces magicae” (magical names) are written in Old Coptic, which used Greek letters, so you will do best if you think Greek. Thus, Y sounds between English “u” and “y”, something like German umlauted “u”. Pronounce CH as in German “ach” or Scotch “loch”. The symbol E' represents eta, so pronounce like a long “a” O' represents omega, so pronounce like a long “o”. The diphthong “OU” is pronounced like English “oo”. The symbols PH (phi) and TH (theta) probably should be aspirated “p” and “t”, but may have been pronounced like English “f” and “th” by the time the papyri were written. The symbol “NN” in a spell means “fill in the blank,” generally with the name of the one on whose behalf the spell is cast (thus, “NN” or “the NN man”), or with the question or problem to which the spell is addressed (thus, “the NN matter”). |+|

“Book I: Shall we write about the things not to be spoken of? Shall we divulge the things not to be divulged? Shall we pronounce the things not to be pronounced? - Julian, Hymn to the Mother of the Gods |+|

Protection Spells in Ancient Greece

magical intaglio Protective Spell: “Taking Sulfur and Seed of Nile Rushes, burn as Incense to the Moon and say, “I call on You, Lady Isis, whom Agathos Daimon permitted to rule in the entire Black Land [i.e., Egypt]. Your name is LOU LOULOU BATHARTHAR THARE'SIBATH ATHERNEKLE'SICH ATHERNEBOUNI E'ICHOMO' CHOMO'THI Isis Sothis, SOUE'RI, Boubastis, EURELIBAT CHAMARI NEBOUTOS OUE'RI AIE' E'OA O'AI. Protect me, Great and Marvelous Names of the God (add the usual [i.e., the protection you seek]) for I am the One Established in Pelusium, SERPHOUTH MOUISRO' STROMMO' MOLO'TH MOLONTHE'R PHON Thoth. Protect me, Great and Marvelous Names of the Great God! (add the usual) “ASO' EIO' NISAO'TH. Lady Isis, Nemesis, Adrasteia, Many-named, Many-formed, glorify me, as I have glorified the Name of Your Son Horus! (add the usual)” [PGM VII.490-504][Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

Restraining Spell: “Write on a Tin Lamella with a Bronze Stylus before Sunrise the Names “CHRE'MILLON MOULOCH KAMPY CHRE' O'PHTHO' MASKELLI (formula) ERE'KISIPHTHE' IABEZEBYTH.” Then throw it into River or into Sea before Sunrise. Also write on it, with the others, these Characters: ”[six symbols, see below] Mighty Gods, restrain (add the usual, whatever you wish).”[PGM VII.417-22] |+|

“[The six symbols are: (1) an X in a circle (2) a backwards capital E (3) a Z with a small circle at the end of each line segment (four in all) (4) draw a capital E on its side with the legs pointing down, add small leftward pointing feet to the first two legs, add two upward tick marks from the back between the second and third legs, extend the back to the left a little, and the first leg up a little to make a backwards L at the top-left corner, extend this upward from the left end to make a small |_| sign, then write a tiny U nested inside (5) an X with a small circle on the end of the right leg (6) a small epsilon or set membership sign.] |+|

Spell for Restraining Anger: “If you want Someone to cease being Angry with you, write with Myrrh this Name of Anger: “CHNEO'M” [probably Egyptian Khnum]. Hold it in your Left Hand and say: “I am restraining the Anger of all, especially of him, NN, which is CHNEO'M.” [PGM XII.179-81] |+|

Against Every Wild Animal, Aquatic Creature and Robbers: Attach a Tassel to your Garment and say: “LO'MA ZATH AIO'N ACHTHASE MA . . . ZAL BALAMAO'N E'EIOY, protect me, NN, in the Present Hour! Immediately, immediately! Quickly, quickly!” [PGM VII.370-3] |+|

Charm of Hekate Ereschigal Against Fear of Punishment: If He [i.e., a punishment daimon] 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: “Ereschigal, Virgin, Bitch, Serpent, Wreath, Key, Herald's Wand, Golden Sandal of the Lady of Tartaros!” And you will avert Him. “ASKEI KATASKEI ERO'N OREO'N IO'R MEGA SAMNYE'R BAUI (3 times) PHOBANTIA SEMNE', I have been initiated, and 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 the Crossroad, and 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 Seeds of Seseme, and It will save you. [PGM LXX.4-19] |+|

Indispensable Invisibility Spell: “Take Fat or an Eye of a Nightowl and a Ball of Dung rolled by a Beetle and Oil of an Unripe Olive and grind them all together until smooth, and smear your Whole Body with it and say to Helios: “I adjure You by Your Great Name, BORKE' PHOIOUR IO' ZIZIA APARXEOUCH THYTHE LAILAM AAAAAA IIIII OOOO IEO' IEO' IEO' IEO' IEO' IEO' IEO' NAUNAX AI AI AEO' AEO' E'AO'!” And moisten It and say in addition: “Make me Invisible, Lord Helios, AEO' O'AE' EIE' E'AO', in the Presence of Any Man until Sunset, IO' IO' O' PHRIXRIZO' EO'A!” [PGM I.222-31] |+|

Divination and Vision Spells in Ancient Greece

Direct Vision Spell “EEIM TO EIM ALALE'P BARBARIATH MENEBREIO ARBATHIAO'TH IOUE'L IAE'L OUE'NE'IIE MESOMMIAS, let the God who prophesies to me come and let Him not go away until I dismiss Him, OURNAOUR SOUL ZASOUL OUGOT NOOUMBIAOU THABRAT BERIAOU ACHTHIRI MARAI ELPHEO'N TABAO'TH KIRASINA LAMPSOURE' IABOE ABLAMATHANALBA AKRAMMACHAMAREI!” In a Bronze Cup over Oil. Anoint your Right Eye with Water from a Shipwreck and the Left with Coptic Eyepaint, with the same Water. If you cannot find Water from a Shipwreck, then from a Sunken Skiff. [PGM V.54-69] [Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

Request for a Dream Oracle: “Take a Strip of Clean Linen and write on it the following Name. Roll it up to make a Wick, pour Pure Olive Oil over it and light it. The Formula to be written is this: “HARMIOUTH LAILAM CHO'OUCH ARSENOPHRE' PHRE'U PHTHA HARCHENTECHTHA.” In the Evening then, when you are about to go to Sleep, being Pure in every respect, do this: Go to the Lamp, say 7 times the following Formula, extinguish the Light and go to Sleep. The Formula to be spoken is as follows: “SACHMOUNE [i.e., Sakhmet] PAE'MALIGOTE'RE'E'NCH, the One who Shakes, who Thunders, who has Swallowed the Serpent, Surrounds the Moon, and Hour by Hour Raises the Disk of the Sun, CHTHETHO'NI is Your Name. I ask You, Lords of the Gods, SE'TH CHRE'PS: reveal to me concerning the Things I wish.” [PGM VII.359-69] |+|

Spell for Revelation: [Addressed to Ursa Major (Great Bear)]: “KOMPHTHO KOMASITH KOMNOUN You who shook and shake the World, You who have swallowed the Ever-living Serpent and daily raise the Disk of the Sun and of the Moon, You whose Name is ITHIOO' E'I ARBATHIAO' E', send up to me, NN, at Night the Daimon of This Night to reveal to me concerning the NN thing.” [PGM IV.1323-30] |+|

Saucer Divination of Aphrodite: “Having kept oneself Pure for 7 days, take a White Saucer, fill It with Water and Olive Oil, having previously written on Its Base with Myrrh Ink: “E'IOCH CHIPHA ELAMPSE'R ZE'L A E E' I O Y O'” (25 letters [in Greek]) and beneath the Base, on the outside: “TACHIE'L CNTHONIE' DRAXO'” (18 letters). Wax over with White Wax. On the outside of the Rim at the Top: “IERMI PHILO' 6 ERIKO'MA DERKO' MALO'K GAULE' APHRIE'L I ask” (say it 3 times). Let It rest on the Floor and looking intently at It, say “I call upon You, the Mother and Mistress of Nymphs, ILAOCH OBRIE' LOUCH TLOR Come in, Holy Light, and give Answer, showing Your Lovely Shape!” Then look intently at the Bowl. When you see Her, welcome Her and say, “Hail, Very Glorious Goddess, ILARA OUCH. And if You give me a Response, extend Your Hand.” |+|

“And when She extends It, expect Answers to your Inquiry. But if She does not listen, say, “I call upon the ILAOUCH who has begotten Himeros, the Lovely Horai and You Graces I also call upon the Zeus-sprung Physis [Nature] of All Things, two-formed, indivisible, straight, foam-beautiful Aphrodite. Reveal to me Your Lovely Light and Your Lovely Face, O Mistress ILAOUCH. I conjure You, Giver of Fire, by ELGINAL, and by the Great Names OBRIE'TYCH KERDYNOUCHILE'PSIN NIOU NAUNIN IOUTHOU THRIGX TATIOUTH GERTIATH GERGERIS GERGERIE' THEITHI. I also ask You by the All Wonderful Names, OISIA EI EI AO' E'Y AAO' IO'IAIAIO' SO'THOU BERBROI AKTEROBORE GERIE' IE'OYA bring me Light and Your Lovely Face and the True Saucer Divination, You shining with Fire, bearing Fire all around, stirring the Land from afar, IO' IO' PHTHAIE' THOUTHOI PHAEPHI. Do it!” Preparation: having kept yourself Pure, as you learned, take a Bronze Drinking Cup, and write with Myrrh Ink the previously inscribed Stele [charm or amulet] which calls upon Aphrodite, and use the untouched Olive Oil and clean River Water. Put the Drinking Cup on your Knees and speak over it the Stele mentioned above, and the Goddess will appear to you and will reveal concerning what Things you wish. [PGM IV.3209-54] |+|

Self Improvement Spells in Ancient Greece

Circe turns Odysseus's men into animals

Memory Spell: “Take Hieratic Papyrus and write the Prescribed Names with Hermaic Myrrh Ink. And once you have written them as they are prescribed, wash them off into Spring Water from 7 springs and drink the Water on an empty stomach for seven days while the Moon is in the East. This is the Writing on the strip of papyrus: “KAMBRE' CHAMBRE SIXIO'PHI HARPON CHNOUPHI BRIONTATE'NO'PHRIBRISKYLMA ARAOUAZAR BAMESEN KRIPHI NIPTOUMI CHMOUMAO'PH AKTIO'PHI ARTO'SE BIBIOU BIBIOU SPHE' SPHE' NOUSI NOUSI SIEGO' SIEGO' NOUCHA NOUCHA LINOUCHA LINOUCHA CHYCHBA CHYCHBA KAXIO' CHYCHBA DE'TOPHO'TH II AA OO YY E'E' EE O'O'.” After doing these things wash the Writing off and drink as is prescribed. This is also the composition of the Ink: Myrrh Troglitis, 4 drams 3 Karian Figs, 7 pits of Nikolaus Dates, 7 dried Pinecones, 7 piths of the single-stemmed Wormwood, 7 wings of the Hermaic Ibis, Spring Water. When you have burned the Ingredients, prepare them and write. [PGM I.232-47] [Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

Another Memory Spell: “Take a Silver Tablet and engrave it [with the Uzait Horu, or “Sacred Eye of Horus”] after the God [i.e., Helios, the sun] sets. Take Cow's Milk and pour it [or, perhaps, heat it]. Put down [into?] a Clean Vessel and place the Tablet under [it] add Barley Meal, mix and form Bread: twelve Rolls in the Shape of Female Figures. Say [the formula] three times, eat [the rolls] on an Empty Stomach, and you will know The Power. [The formula]: “BORKA BORKA PHRIX PHRIX RIX O' . . . ACHACH AMIXAG OUCH THIP LAI LAI LAMLAI LAI LAM MAIL AAAAAAAA IIIY E'I AI O'O'O'O'O'O'O' MOUMOU O'YIO' NAK NAK NAX LAINLIMM LAILAM AEDA . . . LAILAM AE'O O'AE' O'AE' E'OA' AO'E' E'O'A O'E'A, enter, Master, into my Mind, and grant me Memory, MMM E'E'E' MTHPH!” Do this monthly, facing the Moon, on the First Day [of the month]. Prostrate yourself before the Goddess [i.e., Selene, the moon], and wear the Tablet as an Amulet. [PGM III.410-23] |+|

Spell for Strength: “PHNOUNEBEE' (2 times), give me Your Strength, IO' ABRASAX, give me Your Strength, for I am ABRASAX!” Say it 7 times while holding your two Thumbs. [PGM LXIX.1-3] |+|

Your Great Name, for Favor: “Everyone fears Your Great Might. Grant me the Good Things: The Strength of AKRYSKYLOS, the Speech of EUO'NOS, the Eyes of Solomon, the Voice of ABRASAX, the Grace of ADO'NIOS, the God. Come to me, Kypris, every day! The Hidden Name bestowed to You: THOATHOE'THATHO-OYTHAETHO'USTHOAITHITHE'THOINTHO' grant me Victory, Repute, Beauty toward all Men and all Women!” [PGM XCII.1-16] |+|

Business Spell: “Take Orange Beeswax and the juice of the Aeria Plant and of Ground Ivy and mix them and fashion a Figure of Hermes having a hollow bottom, grasping in his left hand a Herald's Wand and in his right a small Bag. Write on Hieratic Papyrus these Names, and you will see Continuous Business: “CHAIO'CHEN OUTIBILMEMNOUO'TH ATRAUICH. Give Income and Business to this place, because Psentebeth lives here.” Put the Papyrus inside the Figure and fill in the hole with the same Beeswax. Then deposit in a wall, at an inconspicuous place, and crown Him on the outside, and sacrifice to Him a cock, and make a Drink Offering of Egyptian Wine, and light for Him a Lamp that is not colored Red. [PGM IV.2359-72] |+|

Spell for Assertiveness: “Greetings, Lord, You who are the Means to obtain Favor for the Universe and for the Inhabited World. Heaven has become a Dancing Place for You, ARSENOPHRE', O King of the Heavenly Gods, ABLANATHANALBA, You who possess Righteousness, AKRAMMACHAMAREI, Gracious God, SANKANTHARA, Ruler of Nature, SATRAPERKME'PH, Origin of the Heavenly World, ATHTHANNOU ATHTHANNOU ASTRAPHAI IASTRAPHAI PAKEPTO'TH PA . . . E'RINTASKLIOUTH E'PHIO' MARMARAO'TH! “Let my Outspokenness not leave me. But let every Tongue and Language listen to me, because I am PERTAO' [ME'CH CHACH] MNE'CH SAKME'PH IAO'OYEE' O'E'O' O'E'O' IEOYO'E'IE'IAE'A IE'O'YOEI, Give me graciously whatever You want.” [PGM XII.182-189] |+|

Health and Healing Spells in Ancient Greece

altar with Aphrodite and Adonis

[Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

““O Tireless One, KOK KOUK KOUL, save Tais whom Taraus bore from every Shivering Fit, whether Tertian or Quartan or Quotidian Fever, or an Every-other-day Fever, or one by Night, or even a Mild Fever, because I am the ancestral, tireless God, KOK KOUK KOUL! Immediately, immediately! Quickly, quickly!” [PGM XXXIII.1-25] |+|

Spell for Coughs: In Black Ink, write on Hyena Parchment: “THAPSATE STHRAITO'” - or as I found in another: “TEUTHRAIO' THRAITEU THRAITO' THABARBAO'RI [symbol: an X in a circle] LIKRALIRE'TA - deliver NN from the Cough that holds him fast.” [PGM VII.203-5] |+|

Spell for Migraine Headache: “Take Oil in your Hands and utter the Spell: “Zeus sowed a Grape Seed: it parts the Soil He does not sow it it does not sprout.” [PGM VII.199-201] |+|

Spell for Scorpion Sting: “OR OR PHOR PHOR SABAO'TH ADO'NE SALAMA TARCHEI ABRASAX, I bind you, Scorpion of Artemisia, three-hundred and fifteen times, on the fifteenth day of Pachon . . .” [PGM XXVIIIa.1-7] |+|

A Contraceptive, the Only One in the World: “Take as many Bittervetch Seeds as you want for the Number of Years you wish to remain Sterile. Steep them in the Menses of a Menstruating Woman. Let them steep in her own Genitals. And take a Frog that is alive and throw the Bittervetch Seeds into its Mouth so that the Frog swallows them, and release the Frog alive at the place where you captured him. And take a Seed of Henbane, steep it in Mare's Milk and take the Nasal Mucus of a Cow, with Grains of Barley, put these into a Leather Skin made from a Fawn and on the outside bind it up with Mulehide Skin, and attach it as an Amulet during the Waning of the Moon in a Female Sign of the Zodiac on a Day of Kronos or Hermes [i.e., Saturn or Mercury]. Mix in also, with the Barley Grains, Cerumen from the Ear of a Mule. [PGM XXXVI.320-32] |+|

“A Prescription to Stop Blood: “Juice of “Great-Nile” Plant together with Beer you should make the Woman drink it at Dawn before she has eaten. It stops. [PDM xiv.953-5] |+|

“The Way to Know it of a Woman Whether She will be Pregnant: You should make the Woman urinate on this Plant, above [i.e., “Great-Nile” plant], at Night. When Morning comes, if you find the Plant scorched, she will not conceive. If you find it green, she will conceive. [PDM xiv.956-60] |+|

Craft Spells in Ancient Greece

Spell for Picking a Plant: “Use it before Sunrise. The Spell to be spoken: “I am picking you, such and such a plant, with my Five-fingered Hand, I, NN, and I am bringing you home so that you may work for me for a Certain Purpose. I adjure you by the Undefiled Name of the God: if you pay no Heed to me, the Earth which produced you will no longer be watered as far as you are concerned - ever in Life again, if I fail in this Operation, MOUTHABAR NACH BARNACHO'CHA BRAEO' MENDA LAUBRAASSE PHASPHA BENDEO' fulfil for me the Perfect Charm!” [PGM IV.286-95] [Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

Procedure for Obtaining Herbs: “Among the Egyptians Herbs are always obtained like this: the Herbalist first purifies his own Body, then sprinkles with Natron and fumigates the Herb with Resin from a Pine Tree after carrying it around the Place 3 times. Then, after burning Kyphi and pouring the Libation of Milk as he prays, he pulls up the Plant while invoking by Name the Daimon to whom the Herb is being dedicated and calling upon Him to be more effective for the Use for which it is being acquired. |+|

“The Invocation for him, which he speaks over any Herb, generally at the Moment of Picking, is as follows: “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 Drosos [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 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 [i.e., Mr-wr, the holy bull of Heliopolis], 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 [i.e., the cult statues] 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.” |+|

“After saying this, he rolls the Harvested Stalk in a Pure Linen Cloth (but into the place of its Roots they threw seven Seeds of Wheat and an equal number of Barley, after mixing them with Honey), and after pouring in the Ground which has been dug up, he departs. [PGM IV.2967-3006] |+|

Interpretations of Herbs and Other Ingredients: “Which the Temple Scribes employed, from the Holy Writings, in translation. Because of the Curiosity of the Masses they [i.e., the scribes] inscribed the Names of the Herbs and Other Things which they employed on the Statues of the Gods, so that they [the masses], since they do not take Precaution, might not practice Magic, [being prevented] by the Consequence of their Misunderstanding. But we have collected the explanations from many Copies, all of them Secret. |+|

“Here they are: A Snake's Head: a Leech.
A Snake's Ball of Thread: this means Soapstone.
Blood of a Snake: Hematite.
A Bone of an Ibis: this is Buckthorn.
Blood of a Hyrax: truly of a Hyrax [probably the rock hyrax, Procavia capensis].
Tears [Sleep Sand] of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Juice.
Crocodile Dung: Ethiopian Soil.
Blood of a Hamadryas Baboon: Blood of a Spotted Gecko.
Lion Semen: Human Semen.
Blood of Hephaistos: Wormwood.
Hairs of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Seed.
Semen of Hermes: Dill.
Blood of Ares: Purslane.
Blood of an Eye: Tamarisk Gall.
Blood from a Shoulder: Bear's Breach [probably Acanthus mollis L. or Helleborus foetidus L.].
From the Loins: Camomile.
A Man's Bile: Turnip Sap [probably Brassica napus L.].
A Pig's Tail: Leopard's Bane [probably a variety of leopard's bane in the genus Boronicum, or one of the heliotropes].
A Physician's Bone: Sandstone.
Blood of Hestia: Camomile.
An Eagle: Wild Garlic [Trigonella foenumgraecum, but the reading is doubtful].
Blood of a Goose: A Mulberry Tree's Milk.
Kronos' Spice: Piglet's Milk.
A Lion's Hairs: Tongue of a Turnip [i.e., the leaves of the taproot].
Kronos' Blood: . . . of Cedar.
Semen of Helios: White Hellebore.
Semen of Herakles: this is Mustard-rocket [probably Eruca sativa].
A Titan's Blood: Wild Lettuce.
Blood from a Head: Lupine.
A Bull's Semen: Egg of a Blister Beetle.
A Hawk's Heart: Heart of Wormwood.
Semen of Hephaistos: This is Fleabane.
Semen of Ammon: Houseleek.
Semen of Ares: Clover.
Fat from a Head: Spurge.
From the Belly: Earth-apple.
From the Foot: Houseleek. [PGM XII.401-44] [Similar lists can be found in De succedaneis transmitted among the works of Galen, Claudii Galeni Opera Omnia (Kuehn, ed.), vol. 19, 721-47 adapted version in Paul of Aegina, Paulus Aegineta, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum IX/2 (Heiberg, ed.), vol. II, 401-8 and in Dioscorides' Materia Medica.] |+|

Miscellaneous Spells in Ancient Greece

Prayer to Selene for Any Spell: “[Since several aspects of this ritual are contrary to modern Pagan and Wiccan ethics and practice, I had some misgivings about including it in this collection, but decided to do so, because the hymn is so beautiful, so moving and so empowering. It has been discussed by K. Kerenyi, “Die Goettin Natur,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 14 (1947), 39-86.][Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, |+|]

“Come to me, O Beloved Mistress, Three-faced
Selene kindly hear my Sacred Chants
Night's Ornament, young, bringing Light to Mortals,
O Child of Morn who ride upon the Fierce Bulls,
O Queen who drive Your Car on Equal Course
With Helios, who with the Triple Forms
Of Triple Graces dance in Revel with
The Stars. You're Justice and the Moira's Threads:
Klotho and Lachesis and Atropos
Three-headed, You're Persephone, Megaira,
Allekto, Many-Formed, who arm Your Hands
With Dreaded, Murky Lamps, who shake Your Locks
Of fearful Serpents on Your Brow, who sound
The Roar of Bulls out from Your Mouths, whose Womb
Is decked out with the Scales of Creeping Things,
With Pois'nous Rows of Serpents down the Back,
Bound down Your Backs with Horrifying Chains
Night-Crier, Bull-faced, loving Solitude,
Bull-headed, You have Eyes of Bulls, the Voice
Of Dogs You hide Your Forms in Shanks of Lions,
Your Ankle is Wolf-shaped, Fierce Dogs are dear
To You, wherefore they call You Hekate,
Many-named, Mene, cleaving Air just like
Dart-shooter Artemis, Persephone,
Shooter of Deer, night shining, triple-sounding,
Triple-headed, triple-voiced Selene
Triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked,
And Goddess of the Triple Ways, who hold
Untiring Flaming Fire in Triple Baskets,
And You who oft frequent the Triple Way
And rule the Triple Decades, unto me
Who'm calling You be gracious and with Kindness
Give Heed, You who protect the Spacious World
At night, before whom Daimons quake in Fear
And Gods Immortal tremble, Goddess who
Exalt Men, You of Many Names, who bear
Fair Offspring, Bull-eyed, Horned, Mother of Gods
And Men, and Nature, Mother of All Things,
For You frequent Olympos, and the broad
And boundless Chasm You traverse. Beginning
And End are You, and You Alone rule All.
For All Things are from You, and in You do
All Things, Eternal One, come to their End.
As Everlasting Band around Your Temples
You wear Great Kronos' Chains, unbreakable
And unremovable, and You hold in
Your Hands a Golden Scepter. Letters 'round
Your Scepter Kronos wrote Himself and gave
To You to wear that All Things stay steadfast:
Subduer and subdued, Mankind's Subduer,
And Force-subduer Chaos, too, You rule.
Hail, Goddess, and attend Your Epithets,
I burn for You this Spice, O Child of Zeus,
Dart-shooter, Heav'nly One, Goddess of Harbors,
Who roam the Mountains, Goddess of Crossroads,
O Nether and Nocturnal, and Infernal,
Goddess of Dark, Quiet and Frightful One,
O You who have Your Meal amid the Graves,
Night, Darkness, Broad Chaos: Necessity
Hard to escape are You You're Moira and
Erinys, Torment, Justice and Destroyer,
And You keep Kerberos in Chains, with Scales
Of Serpents are You dark, O You with Hair
Of Serpents, Serpent-girded, who drink Blood,
Who bring Death and Destruction, and who feast
On Hearts, Flesh Eater, who devour Those Dead
Untimely, and You who make Grief resound
And spread Madness, come to my Sacrifices,
And now for me do You fulfill this Matter.”
[Tr.: E. N. O'Neil] |+|

“Offering for The Rite: For doing Good, offer Storax, Myrrh, Sage, Frankincense, a Fruit Pit. But for doing Harm, offer Magical Material of a Dog and a Dappled Goat (or in a similar way, of a Virgin Untimely Dead). |+|

“Protective Charm for The Rite: Take a Lodestone and on it have carved a Three-faced Hekate. And let the Middle Face be that of a Maiden wearing Horns, and the Left Face that of a Dog, and the One on the Right that of a Goat. After the Carving is done, clean with Natron and Water, and dip in the Blood of One who has died a Violent Death. Then make Food Offering to it and say the same Spell at the time of the Ritual. [PGM IV.2785-2890] |+|

Love Spell: “Aphrodite's Name, which becomes known to No One quickly, is NEPHERIE'RI [i.e. Nfr-iry.t, “the beautiful eye”, an epithet for Aphrodite/Hathor] - this is the Name. If you wish to win a Woman who is beautiful, be Pure for 3 days, make an offering of Frankincense, and call this Name over it. You approach the Woman and say it seven times in your Soul as you gaze at her, and in this way it will succeed. But do this for 7 days. [PGM IV.1265-74] |+|

To be Able to Eat Garlic and Not Stink: Bake Beetroots and eat them. [PGM VII.173] |+|

To Let Those Who Have Difficulty Intermingling [i.e. Socializing]: Perform Well Give Gum mixed with Wine and Honey to be smeared on the Face. [PGM VII.179-80] |+|

To be Able to Drink a Lot and Not Get Drunk: Eat a baked Pig's Lung. [PGM VII.181] |+|

To be Able to Copulate a Lot: “Grind up fifty Tiny Pinecones with 2 ozs. of Sweet Wine and two Pepper Grains and drink it. [PGM VII.184-5] |+|

To Get an Erection: When You Want Grind up a Pepper with some Honey and coat your Thing. [PGM VII.186] |+|

Love Salve: Hawk's Dung Salt, Reed, Bele Plant. Pound together. Anoint your Phallus with it and lie with the Woman. If it is dry, you should pound a little of it with Wine, anoint your Phallus with it, and lie with the Woman. Very Good. [PDM xiv.1155-62]

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