Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coptic Christian Spells

One of the joys of the boundary between Pagan and Christian is seeing the way the lines between the two blend and merge. Hagiography is one wonderful example of this, with pre-Christian devas/deities popping up as saints all over Christian history (hello Bridget!) I recently picked up a book on early Christian magic spells, many citing Pagan and Christian deity, all used daily for over a thousand years in Egyptian Christianity.

The book is Ancient Christian Magic, Coptic Texts of Ritual Power by Marvin Meyer (Professor, Claremont College) and Richard Smith (Princeton University Press, 1999). The authors go to great lengths to address spells for luck, health, sex, protection and fertility within a context of a culture that swirled in the "ocean of cults and sects that flowed around the Roman Empire," before magic became antithetical to Christian belief. Gnostic sects were a major contributor to the magical beliefs of the times, and early church fathers condemned these sects often for that cause. Gnostic spells for ascending to heaven, incorporating Christian sacramental customs, abound. Likewise, to an early Christian, calling on Isis and Osiris in a love spell would be akin to our use of Romeo and Juliet as paradigms today.

These spells are a religious cacophony! The petitioners call on Mary, Gabriel, Michael, Osiris, isis, Horus, Solomon, Zeus, angels, Adam, Eve, and Egyptian deities I have never heard of from Batha to Harmozel! Such religious motley stew had meaning to the petitioners, who included herbs, oils, incantations and special signs and inscriptions with their words of petition, all to create a spell for a desired outcome. While modern Pagans/Christians try to explain their religious paradigms with great care and often little hope of understanding, the Coptic Christian calmly recited:

"Greetings to the powers!
Greetings, cheubim!
Greetings, seraphim!
Greetings to the twenty-four elders of the heavenly church
and everyone who dwells in it.
Greeting to the shining sun!
Greetings you twelve rulers in charge of the houses of the night.
Greetings Harmozel, the great ruler, gathering together the heavenly and earthly beings. . ."
(spell for a good singing voice, to be recited over a chalice, to Harmozel, with specific recipe for a magical ink to use on the properly prepared papyrus.)

No part of this spell includes an apology for using Christian and Pagan deity.

The spells for sexual attraction and love are great fun to read, and include straight and gay petitions. Here, in a particularly sweet spell, a man begs a magical oil to bring mutual love to his intended:

Oil! Oil! Oil! Holy OIl!
Oil that flows from under the throne of Yao Sabaoth! Oil with which isis anointed Osiris's bones, I call you Oil!
The Sun and Moon call you! The stars of Heaven call you. . . and you must make my love be in her heart and hers in mine (like) a brother and sister, or a bear (who) wants to suckle her young. Yea, yea, I (invoke) you, the one whose head is in heaven, whose feet are in the abyss, before whom is (what) is also under the Sheep, behind whom is (what) is also under Draco, the heaven of all darkness is hung. . .

Here the magical call is for a gay lover:

Celtatalbabal. Nnasknekie, by the power of Yao Sabaoth, ROUS ROUS ROUS ROUS ROUS ROUS ROUS

I adjiure you by your powers and your amulets and the places whre you dwell and your names, that just as I take you and place you at the door and the pathway of Phello son of Maure, (so also) you must take his heart and his mind; you must dominate his entire body:

He must seek me from town to town, from city to city,
from field to field, from regions to region,
untel he comes to me and subjects himself under my feet -
me Papapolo son of Noe
while his hand is full of all goodness,
until I satisfy with him the desire of my heart
and the demand of my soul,
with pleasant desire and love unending,
right now, right now, at once, at once! Do my work!

Sadly, there are no included spells by women to attract sex or love from a man, though the authors mention they exist! (And we girls wanna see them! The authors do not mention if lesbian spells exist; though if they do, we wanna see them, too!) However, there are spells included by women, including spells to stop unwanted male sexual advances:

O binding of the sky,
binding of the earth,
binding of the mountain,
binding of the water,
binding of the ring of the father,
binding of the ax that is in a hand of flesh,
binding with which Christ was bound upon the wood of the cross!

May the present binding be upon the male organ of N. toward N. He must not be able to release the virginity of No; hemust not become hard, he must not have an erection, he must not ejaculate. . . May the flesh of N. be like a corpse; it must not be able to get out of the tomb, yea yea at once!

Spells abound for healing, for sleep, for safe delivery in childbirth, for protection from illness and evil curses, for good luck in business. Some petitions are to silence sleeping dogs, to bring on menstruation, instructions for amulets to bring power.

To a Coptic Christian, spells were a daily part of life. The use of spells, amulets, power oils, magical inks, all sound more today like a Wicce/Pagan/Witch than a typical Christian. Yet in the early Coptic church, magic and Christian worship were interchangeable. Calling to Jesus, Mary and Osiris were common prayers. Asking the assistance of the powers of the earth and the powers of angels was normal. Trying to be a Christian and Pagan wasn't a question - everyone felt comfortable with both - and more.

Obviously I am offering this vision of Coptic spellcasting as an example of how to explore the boundaries of religious expression. Putting together a religious faith should be a path to a faith that nurtures each of us. In no way am I saying that personal religious expression is the be all and end all of faith; helping others and political action remain central. Yet having a personal faith that fits is itself central to finding the inner resources to put that political action out there.

Coptic Christian Spells offer one model of a new way to express multiple layers of faith.


  1. This is on my Amazon wishlist. Now I really want it!

  2. I got mine used, so keep trying for a good price! It is a wonderful read, and opens doors to so much Christian and Pagan history I didn't know!

  3. These spells are such fun! Of the three you posted, my favorite is the last one: a binding spell on a penis! What a creative way to protect without being malevolent or destructive. I especially like the invocation of binding forces at the beginning, forces whose actions serve to preserve and keep things whole. I need another book like I need to sprout feathers, but I may have to look for this one. Thanks for writing about it. :-)

  4. Oh this is ridiculous! The Bible speaks out against homosexuality!

  5. Actually, the bible only speaks out against MALE homosexuality. At no point does it address, either negitivly or positivly, FEMALE homosexuality.

  6. The Bible doesn't even really condemn it in the way people think it does. It says men should not lie with men, or they'll die. That's the literal translation. As for morality, I don't really know, and for me it's not an issue.