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Into Coptic Magic with Korshi Dosoo
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In this extended interview we discuss a range of interesting Christian magical texts from the first millennium, considering how they were used, what they were meant to do, some of the background of lore and belief informing these texts, and related matters.
- A twenty-page, illustrated ritual-practitioner’s handbook from Egypt, perhaps 7th-8th century, consisting of a long, liturgical invocation of a being called Baktiotha, and instructions for customising the ritual to achieve different effects, including medical effects, erotic victory, dream-divination, and exorcisms, but also binding curses. Mentions the Barbelo, famous from ‘Barbeloite Gnosticism’, but supposedly long-suppressed by this late date. See Choat and Gardner 2013 (below).
- British Library MS Or 6796 (4) + MS Or 6796 (ca. 600 CE), a text 600 CE containing a prayer for protection against demons and the historiola of Jesus’ ‘harrowing of the unicorn’ (see Korshi’s great online article about this here).
- Ashmolean MS AN 1981.980 (# 84 in Meyer and Smith 1994, which see below).
Gimme that old-time religion.
Korshi Dosoo is a papyrologist specialising in magic. His PhD work, a study in ‘rituals of apparition’ from the Theban Magical Library, is essential reading, and his current project, based at the Julius Maximilian University Würzburg and entitled Coptic Magical Papyri: Vernacular Religion in Late Roman and Early Islamic Egypt, is making all manner of fascinating discoveries, as this interview demonstrates.
Works Cited in this Episode:
For the Prayer of Mary at Bartos, see notes to previous episode.
On Agrippa’s ‘magical alphabets’ see Karl Anton Nowotny. The Construction of Certain Seals and Characters in the Work of Agrippa of Nettesheim. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 12:46–57, 1949.
Anecdota Atheniensia is a collection of various East Roman texts drawn from manuscripts, first edited in Armand Delatte: Anecdota Atheniensia. Tome I.: Textes grecs inédits relatifs á l’histoire des religions. Number 36 in Bibliothéque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l’Université de Liége. Vaillant-Carmanne and Édouard Champion, Liége and Paris, 1927. In the interview we discuss the opinion of Marathakis that the Clavicula Solomonis stems from one of the texts found among the Anecdota, namely the Hygromanteia (‘Water-divination’) of Solomon, which can be found here: Ioannis Marathakis, editor. The Magical Treatise of Solomon or Hygromanteia, also called the Apotelesmatikē Pragmateia, Epistle to Rehoboam, Solomōnikē. Number 8 in Sourceworks of Ceremonial Magic Series. Golden Hoard Press, Singapore, 2011, p. 37 ff.
Gregory the Great’s discussion in exegesis of the Book of Job of the unicorn as representing the powers of the world: Commentary on Job 31.1-10, 31.29-35, in J.-P. Migne (ed.), Patrologiae Latinae, Paris, Garnier Fratres, 1878, vol. 76, p. 572-578, 589-594.
Korshi’s article in which this text is discussed: Korshi Dosoo. Suffering Doe and Sleeping Serpent: Animals in Christian Magical Texts from Late Roman and Early Islamic Egypt. In Jean-Charles Coulon and Korshi Dosoo, editors, Magikon zōon: Animal et magie dans l’Antiquité et au Moyen Âge, pages 495–544. Bibliothèque d’Histoire des Textes, Paris/Orleans, 2022a.
The Miracles of St Mercurius: Orlandi, Tito. 1976. Passione e miracoli di S. Mercurio. Milan: Cisalpino, 49-119, or Budge, E.A. Wallis. 1915. Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 257-282. Unfortunately Budge was working from a MS missing the part of the story with the magician, a remedy addressed by the mini-edition of the text to be found on pp. 165-168 of Korshi Dosoo. Two Body Problems: Binding Effigies in Christian Egypt. In Jay Johnston and Iain Gardner, editors, Drawing Spirit: The Role of Images and Design in the Magical Practice of Late Antiquity, pages 135–84. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2022b.
The Physiologos: see the translation of Michael J. Curley, editor. Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2009.
For the Coptic love-charm, see Paul Cecil Smither. A Coptic Love-Charm. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 25 (1939): 173-174.
M. Choat and I. Gardner, editors. A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power. Brepols, Turnhout, 2013.
Pierre-Yves Lambert. Celtic Loricæ and Ancietn Magical Charms. In Richard L. Gordon and Francisco Marco Simón, editors, Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference held at the University of Zaragoza 30 Sept.–1 Oct. 2005, pages 629–48. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2010.
Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott. The Monastic Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices. Number 97 in Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum. Mohn Siebeck, Tübingen, 2015., we cite pp. 159-65.
Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith. Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Harper San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 1994.