September 7, 2022
Episode 148: Curses! Sarah Veale on Roman ‘Curse-Tablets’
Sarah Veale is a historian working on ancient temple-based curse-tablets in the Roman world. We talk about her work, particularly on the Roman temple of Magna Mater and Isis in modern Mainz, Germany. This temple has provided us with thousands of so-called curse-tablets, strips of lead inscribed with requests for divine intervention, folded or rolled up, and then thrown into one of the many fire-pits at the temple to be activated by the flames. This conversation brings up a lot of fascinating material for students of western esotericism, along with several important cautions: it leads us to question further the easy divisions sometimes drawn between religion and magic, to beware of relying solely on elite textual sources when interpreting the religious beliefs and practices of everyday people, and to look at some of the ways in which practices which we might be tempted to classify as ‘deviant’ or ‘fringe’ in hindsight have actually been mainstream religious staples in their time.
Specific points discussed include:
- The Roman cult of Magna Mater, or How An Anatolian Goddess Ended Up On the Romano-German Frontier Being Invoked in Curses,
- The domestication of ‘Eastern’ cults in polytheist Roman society,
- The Galli and their peculiar ways,
- The practice of offering votives in modern times and in antiquity,
- The ancient cult of Asclepius, and
- Some important insights into the religion vs. magic controversy, with some helpful cautions against interpreting religious practices based solely on elite textual sources.
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