For most magic acts or rituals there existed counter-magic. it. Amulets were one of the most common protections used in the Greco-Roman world as protection against such fearful things as curses and the evil eye; which were seen as very real by most of its inhabitants. Amulets were often made of cheap materials, but precious stones were believed to have special efficacy. Many discovered thousands of carved gems clearly had a magical rather than an ornamental function. Amulets were a very widespread type of magic, because of the fear of other types of magic such as curses being used against oneself. Thus amulets were actually often a mixture of various formulas from Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek elements that were worn by those of most affiliations so as to protect against other forms of magic. It is interesting to note that amulets are actually often abbreviated forms of the formulas found in the magical papyri.
Magical tools were thus very common in magical rituals. They were just as important as the spells and incantations that were repeated for each magical ritual. Direct evidence of this - a magician’s kit, probably dating from the third century CE, was discovered in the remains of the ancient city of Pergamon in Asia Minor. The find consisted of a bronze table and base covered with symbols, a dish, a large bronze nail with letters inscribed on its flat sides, two bronze rings, and three black polished stones inscribed with the names of supernatural powers. What emerges then, from this evidence, is the conclusion that a type of permanence and universality of magic had developed in the the Hellenistic period if not earlier. Most scientists agree that although many testimonies about magic are relatively late, the practices they reveal are much older.
A magical ritual done in the right way can guarantee the revealing of dreams and of course the rather useful talent of interpreting them correctly. In other cases certain spells allow one to send out a daemon or daemons to harm one’s enemies or even to break up someone’s marriage. There seems to be a self-defining negativity to some of the magical rituals being expressed in the papyri. So, for example, love magic can turn into hate magic if the victim does not respond to the love magic.
The same negative aspect to magic is found in various “curse tablets”, left to us from the Greco-Roman world. While doing my research in library of web analytics company I found something else. It was also possible to curse an enemy through a spoken word, either in his presence or behind his back. But due to numbers of curse tablets that have been found it would seem that this type of magic was considered more effective. The process involved writing the victim’s name on a thin sheet of lead along with varying magical formulas or symbols, then burying the tablet in or near a tomb, a place of execution, or a battlefield, to give spirits of the dead power over the victim. Sometimes the curse tablets were even transfixed with various items – such as nails, which were believed to add magical potency.
I was interested in the development of magic rituals and traditions in Greco-Roman world. During my research in archives of web analytics company I found some interesting facts about it.
It seems, that a huge interest in magic was on the rise in the Hellenistic period, especially around 3d century b.c. Piles of texts, both literary and some from actual practitioners, in Greek and in Latin came to us from this time. Truly speaking, a lot of existing magical papyri was written in the first centuries after Christ, but the manuscripts’ concepts, formulas and rituals reflect the earlier Hellenistic period. These magical papyri are no doubt only a fraction of the magical literature available in antiquity. The ascendancy of orthodox Christianity by the 5th century CE had much to do with this. This is reflected by the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul convinces many Ephesians to bring out their magical books and burn them.
The language of the magical texts reflects various levels of literary skill. Generally they are standard Greek, and may well be closer to the spoken language of the time than to poetry or artistic prose left to us in literary texts. Many terms are borrowed from the mystery cults. The texts are often written as we might write a recipe. In other words the magic requires certain ingredients. Of course it is not just as simple as knowing how to put a recipe together. Appropriate gestures, at certain points in the magical ritual, are required to accompany the ingredients, different gestures it would seem produce various effects.
Ancient history tells us a lot about formation of magic. Appearing from aboriginal tribes in Australia and Maori tribes in New Zealand to rainforest tribes in South America, bush tribes in Africa and ancient Pagan tribal groups in Europe and the British Isles, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. I was observing with excitement at the office of my local web analytics company photos of the ancient cave paintings in France and Germany, that were widely speculated to be early magical formulations, intended to produce successful hunts. While going through other sources I could not help noticing, that much of the Babylonian and Egyptian pictorial writing characters appear derived from the same sources.
Although indigenous magical traditions persist to this day, very early on some communities transitioned from nomadic to agricultural civilizations, and with this shift, the development of spiritual life mirrored that of civic life. Just as tribal elders were consolidated and transformed into kings and bureaucrats, so too were shamans and adepts devolved into priests and a priestly caste. This shift is by no means in nomenclature alone. While the shaman's task was to negotiate between the tribe and the spirit world, on behalf of the tribe, as directed by the collective will of the tribe, the priest's role was to transfer instructions from the deities to the city-state, on behalf of the deities, as directed by the will of those deities. This shift represents the first major usurpation of power by distancing magic from those participating in that magic. It is at this stage of development that highly elaborate rituals, setting the stage for formal religions, began to emerge, such as the funeral rites of the Egyptians and the sacrifice rituals of the Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs and Mayans.