Cover image for Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World Edited by Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler

Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World

Edited by Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler


$38.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02258-1

272 pages
6.125" × 9.25"
13 b&w illustrations/1 map

Magic in History

Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World

Edited by Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler

“This book is as professionally and indeed attractively produced as are the other volumes in the worthy Pennsylvania State Magic in History series.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In the religious systems of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean, gods and demigods were neither abstract nor distant, but communicated with mankind through signs and active intervention. Men and women were thus eager to interpret, appeal to, and even control the gods and their agents. In Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World, a distinguished array of scholars explores the many ways in which people in the ancient world sought to gain access to—or, in some cases, to bind or escape from—the divine powers of heaven and earth.

Grounded in a variety of disciplines, including Assyriology, Classics, and early Islamic history, the fifteen essays in this volume cover a broad geographic area: Greece, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Persia. Topics include celestial divination in early Mesopotamia, the civic festivals of classical Athens, and Christian magical papyri from Coptic Egypt. Moving forward to Late Antiquity, we see how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each incorporated many aspects of ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman religion into their own prayers, rituals, and conceptions. Even if they no longer conceived of the sun, moon, and the stars as eternal or divine, Christians, Jews, and Muslims often continued to study the movements of the heavens as a map on which divine power could be read.

The reader already familiar with studies of ancient religion will find in Prayer, Magic, and the Stars both old friends and new faces. Contributors include Gideon Bohak, Nicola Denzey, Jacco Dieleman, Radcliffe Edmonds, Marvin Meyer, Michael G. Morony, Ian Moyer, Francesca Rochberg, Jonathan Z. Smith, Mark S. Smith, Peter Struck, Michael Swartz, and Kasia Szpakowska.

Published as part of Penn State's Magic in History series, Prayer, Magic, and the Stars appears at a time of renewed interest in divination and occult practices in the ancient world. It will interest a wide audience in the field of comparative religion as well as students of the ancient world and late antiquity.

“This book is as professionally and indeed attractively produced as are the other volumes in the worthy Pennsylvania State Magic in History series.”

Scott B. Noegel is Associate Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington. Joel Thomas Walker is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Washington. Brannon M. Wheeler is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Chair of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington.



List of Abbreviations

List of Figures


Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler

Part I Locating Magic

1. Here, There, and Anywhere

Jonathan Z. Smith

Part II Prayer, Magic, and Ritual

2. Thessalos of Tralles and Cultural Exchange

Ian Moyer

3. The Prayer of Mary in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels

Marvin Meyer

4. Hebrew, Hebrew Everywhere? Notes on the Interpretation of Voces Magicae

Gideon Bohak

5. Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq

Michael G. Morony

Part III Dreams and Divination

6. The Open Portal: Dreams and Divine Power in Pharaonic Egypt

Kasia Szpakowska

7. Viscera and the Divine: Dreams as a Divinatory Bridge Between the Corporeal and the Incorporeal

Peter Struck

8. Stars and the Egyptian Priesthood in the Graeco-Roman Period

Jacco Dieleman

9. Divination and Its Discontents: Finding and Questioning Meaning in Ancient and Medieval Judaism

Michael D. Schwartz

Part IV The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

10. Heaven and Earth: Divine-Human Relations in Mesopotamian Celestial Divination

Francesca Rochberg

11. Astral Religion and the Representation of Divinity: The Cases of Ugarit and Judah

Mark S. Smith

12. A New Star on the Horizon: Astral Christologies and Stellar Debates in Early Christian Discourse

Nicola Denzey

13. At the Seizure of the Moon: The Absence of the Moon in the Mithras Liturgy

Radcliffe Edmonds




Scott B. Noegel, Joel T.Walker, and Brannon M.Wheeler

The thirteen essays in this volume have their genesis in an international conference that we organized at the University of Washington, held on 3–5 March 2000. The conference papers examined the manifold techniques and traditions, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, individual and communal, by which the people of the ancient and late antique world attempted to interpret and communicate with the divine powers of heaven and earth. Our goal at this conference, as in this volume, was to investigate the topic of magic and the stars in an interdisciplinary framework extending from the ancient Near East to the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic literatures of late antiquity. Our interest in this subject has been inspired by parallel developments in several academic fields. Since the early 1980s, the fields of Classics and ancient history have witnessed a dramatic increase in academic publications on the subject of “magic.” The new wave of scholarship reflects one wing of a broader revival of research into the religion and mythology of the Graeco-Roman world that has developed since the late 1960s. The new scholarship encompasses a variety of methodological approaches and emphases, but there are several common themes worth noting. First, there has been a veritable flood of new editions and translations of the major corpora of Graeco-Roman “magical” papyri, amulets, and other artifacts. The new collections of translated sources have made the magic of the ancient world accessible not only to other scholars and their students but to a sizable and diverse audience of general readers.

Second, recent work has provided compelling documentation for the broad area of overlap between “religion” and “magic” in the Graeco-Roman world. From the courtrooms of classical Athens to the horse-racing stadia of late Roman North

Africa, there is ample evidence for the deployment of magical rituals, objects, and words. These written, spoken, or sung words—whether we call them spells, incantations, or charms—draw upon a ritual and conceptual vocabulary closely linked to “official” forms of civic and public prayer. In contrast to earlier scholarship, which tended to see such shared elements as evidence for magicians’ surreptitious appropriation of public religion, recent scholarship has preferred to view “magical” and “religious” practices as part of a continuum that encompassed both individual and communal forms of piety. This perspective has the distinct merit of moving the study of ancient magic to a more central, respectable position in the field of Classical Studies. As Fritz Graf has observed, “magic, in a certain sense, belongs to antiquity and its heritage, like temples, hexameters, and marble statues.”

A third characteristic of the “new wave” of scholarship on Graeco-Roman magic—its attention to the cross-cultural and international dimensions of magic in the Mediterranean world—charts a particularly exciting frontier. Recent research has clarified many aspects of the intimate relationship between Graeco- Roman “magic” and its antecedents in indigenous Egyptian tradition, while other work has begun to examine the relationship between the magical and divinatory traditions of ancient Syria and Mesopotamia and those of the Graeco-Roman Near East. The implications of this research reach far beyond the study of “magic” texts alone. Thus, as conference organizers and editors, we were particularly interested in drawing attention to the wealth of new scholarship on “magic” in various fields of Near Eastern and Biblical Studies. Since the late 1970s, there has been a steady stream of new translations and synthetic analyses of the divinatory and astrological traditions of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel. These path-breaking studies of Near Eastern religious traditions, however, have rarely enjoyed a distribution beyond major university libraries, and their existence has often escaped notice even among scholars of Graeco-Roman magic. Our selection of essays for this volume, therefore, was guided in part by a desire to bring to a wider audience some of the best current work on divination and astrology from the fields of Egyptology, Assyriology, and Biblical Studies.

As we formulated our conception for this volume, we also were keenly aware of the burgeoning interest in astrology, divination, and other forms of “magic” among scholars of late antiquity. Despite the objections of many clerics (whether bishops, rabbis, or culamà’), the sun, the moon, and the stars often retained their traditional association with divine power in the thought-world of late antiquity, and their movements remained the subject of extensive learned and also popular debate. Various forms of divination—ranging from Christian versions of Graeco-Egyptian lot divination to talmudic strategies for dream interpretation— developed out of, and gradually transformed, ancient methods of ascertaining the will of the gods. Followers of all three Abrahamic monotheisms continued to perform invocatory rituals inherited from the polytheist past, despite frequent denunciations of these rituals as survivals of “paganism” or “idolatry.” As with the study of Graeco-Roman and Near Eastern magic, a spate of recent editions and translations has now made accessible substantial excerpts from the vast range of late antique “texts of ritual power.” The conceptual framework used to approach this material has also changed, as scholars have abandoned the conventional evolutionary schema (i.e., magic as a degenerate form of religion) and have focused increasingly on the sociological functions of the accusation of magic.

Increased dialogue with current scholarship on Graeco-Roman religion similarly has begun to reveal how much Christian conceptions of “magic” owed to Graeco-

Roman antecedents but also where Christian ritual and theory diverged most fundamentally from the polytheist past.

The study of magic in Arabic sources, and especially the relationship of those sources to earlier late antique or even ancient contexts, has been the topic of rigorous investigation since at least the mid-nineteenth century. Most of this work is philological in character, focusing on the editing and interpretation of key texts, but important advances have been made in constructing a general typology of magical practices and in tracing common etiological myths. Perhaps the bestknown Arabist studies of magic are the extant Arabic texts relating to the “Hermetic Corpus,” focusing primarily on the Tabula Smaragdina and related alchemical traditions said to have been transmitted from Alexander the Great via Apollonius of Tyana. Closely related to this is the so-called “Nabataean Corpus.” This corpus makes reference to a number of Arabic texts that purport to be translations of, or based upon, earlier “Nabataean” and other Hellenistic texts. Thus, for example, the corpus cites the Descent of Ishtar, known from more ancient Babylonian sources, and an account in which a golem (i.e., an artificial human)

is created by a chief magician named Ankabutha. In some accounts, this “Nabataean” knowledge is traced back to the contents of secret books bequeathed to the biblical figure Seth by his father Adam. The Arabic materials linked to the Sabians of Harran also include magical texts and traditions from earlier periods. Prominent among these texts is the Turba Philosophorum, a diverse compilation that includes the physica and mystica of Democritus, a manual of talismanic astrology attributed to Hippocrates, and the prophecies of Baba the Harranian. There are also vast fields of research on Arabic alchemy, divination, and the alphabetic and numerological sciences, which were understood as having ancient origins by Muslim, and later European, scholars who translated and studied them.

Only in recent years, however, have scholarly works on the magical traditions of the ancient world and late antiquity begun to engage the fundamental, and still evolving, debates about the study of religion and magic among sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars of comparative religion. Some have attributed the lack of previous engagement to the legacy of Durkheim’s argument that “magic” is to be distinguished from “religion” in that the structure and goal of magic is individual, not social. Such an approach excludes certain practices and texts from analysis on the grounds that the so-called magical phenomena are not relevant to the understanding of religion and its social function. Other historians of religions adopt this stance to justify the study of magic as distinct from religion. Marcel

Mauss’s “General Theory of Magic” outlines the social structure represented by the magician and his clients and how this structure is represented in the social efficacy of certain magical rites. Bronislaw Malinowski, in his study of the Trobriand islanders, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard, in his ethnography of the Azande, have taken similar approaches.

Many historians of religions have regarded magic simply as a type of religious practice and have tended to subsume magic and the phenomena associated with it under more ambiguous and undifferentiated categories such as “religious experience” or “ritual.” Such is the case with the influential work of Mircea Eliade, which often draws heavily on examples of phenomena that other historians of religions would characterize as magic. In his work on alchemy and geomancy, for example, Eliade analyzes alchemy and related divinatory techniques as evidence for the widespread influence of rituals that link cosmogonic symbols with the imaginary center of the world. In his works on Yoga and Shamanism too, Eliade similarly investigates individual connections to the sacred or divine. Yet, these connections clearly relate to the ancient Near Eastern divinatory, prophetic, and initiation practices that he chose to emphasize. Thus, though influential, Eliade’s application of models developed in Indian contexts to ancient Near Eastern materials has not always produced a more nuanced understanding of ancient magical practices. Similarly, his attempts to impose models developed from Near Eastern materials onto nonliterate cultures have not stood up to more recent critical analysis.

The focus on magical practices as examples of divine experiences has enjoyed much attention in a number of disciplines. Early anthropologists, like Edward Tylor, speak of “primitive” forms of religion as “magic” insofar as they treat coincidence as a means of divine communication.35 William James discusses religion as the objectification of unseen ideals and singles out a number of experiences that he labels “mystical.” For James, these experiences correspond to perceived lapses in rational explanations for psychological experiences.36 Some phenomenologists similarly subsume phenomena often associated with magic under their generic definition of religion. Gerardus Van der Leeuw, for example, contends that “power” is the object of religion and that the harnessing and objectification of power by man, experienced as the “sacred” through rituals such as sacrifice and divination, produces a variety of human religions. Later sociologists such as Joachim Wach and cultural anthropologists like Victor Turner also defined religion as the result of an experience, induced through various means, including those others might term “magical.”

In recent years a fresh approach to the study of magic has begun to emerge from within the history of religions. Rather than isolate “magic” as a peculiar phenomenon separate from religion or simply include “magic” as an undifferentiated aspect of religion, some historians of religions have attempted to explain magic as a distinct but integral component of religion. In part, this move is informed by a recognition that many of the written and oral sources available to historians of religions appear to distinguish certain rituals, experiences, and beliefs as somehow set apart from other public, common, or unspecialized aspects of religion. In some cases, the separation of magic from religion is polemical in character. Medievalists have helped to delineate how the cultivation of “magic” as a special set of knowledge and practices, and its relationship to Christianity and Judaism, was connected to important social and economic changes and to the increased attention to metaphysics and scientific thinking. Others see magic as an important subset of larger religious practices and ideas. Thus, scholarship on Indian and East Asian religions has acknowledged the native use of “magic” as a logic of thinking in Vedic and Buddhist texts.

It is this recognition, that “magic” constitutes a native category of thought in a variety of cultures and traditions, that typifies the recent shift toward the study of magic in the history of religions. This shift gives new theoretical weight to the notion of “magic” as a reified category into which we might place certain practices and ideas. The purpose of this classification is not, however, the labeling of selected phenomena as “magical” in a pejorative sense or in a way that might exclude them from the rational, acknowledged aspects of religion. Rather, the aim of such scholarship is to determine the meaning and significance of terminology, practices, and concepts that are evident in the textual and ethnographic record. “Magic” thus is viewed, not as a category that historians of religions impose on their material, but rather as a relatively limited set of phenomena recognizable in that material.

The difference separating this more recent approach from that of earlier scholars like Mauss and Malinowski is remarkable not so much for its theoretical insights as for its methodology. Most of the essays in this volume avoid entanglement in the definition of magic and begin by trying to understand the internal logic of particular “magical” documents or artifacts. These essays thus attempt to uncover the explanation of particulars ensconced in specific cultural contexts. Nevertheless, by using the term “magic,” this scholarship recognizes the inevitable need to translate and interpret those particulars into more generic terms. The result, therefore, is the beginnings of a far more nuanced and subtle understanding of “magic” as a generic category that is both part of the historical and ethnographic record and integral to theoretical conceptions of religion.

It is this background, then, coupled with our desire to make accessible the most recent scholarly advances in the study of ancient magic, that informs the thirteen essays in this volume. Like the conference that preceded it, Prayer, Magic, and the Stars deliberately collapses conventional disciplinary boundaries in its definition of the ancient and late antique world. Contributors to the volume include scholars from the fields of Assyriology, Egyptology, Classics, Jewish Studies, Early Christianity, Late Antiquity, and Early Islam; in geographical range, the essays cover material originating from at least eleven modern nations, stretching from western Iran to the central Mediterranean. What unites the essays is a common interest in methods of communication with the divine—various forms of divination, exegesis, or rituals used to interpret, invoke, or obstruct the superhuman power(s) of the cosmos. Though many of these rituals have traditionally been placed under the rubric of “magic,” others could just as easily be called religion. The inclusion of “prayer” in our title acknowledges the close connections between magic and more sanctioned forms of religious activity.

The “stars” of our title underlines another key theme: the intimate link between divinity and the celestial bodies throughout the ancient world and, to a lesser extent, in late antiquity. This fundamental aspect of ancient religion has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves, particularly in the fields of Classical Studies and Late Antiquity. There has been more recognition of the prominence of the stars in Mesopotamian religion, where the first cuneiform sign used to designate the word “god” appears in the image of a star. Yet even in Assyriology, and in Egyptology too, there is a need for more research. By investigating the role of the heavenly bodies in both public and private religions, across time, and throughout the ancient Near East and Mediterranean worlds, the essays in this volume reveal both shared cross-cultural assumptions about the divine power of the celestial bodies and striking differences in how humankind read and appealed to those divine powers.

This background and our goals also inform the organization of this book, which consists of four parts. Part i, “Locating Magic,” uniquely includes a single essay:

“Here, There, and Anywhere,” by Jonathan Z. Smith, one of the most prominent theorists in the comparative study of religion. Here Smith builds upon his earlier work by advancing a new typology for the study of religion in the ancient world and late antiquity.45 His typology consists of three components: “(1) the ‘here’ of domestic religion, located primarily in the home and in burial sites; (2) the ‘there’ of public, civic, and state religions,” usually centered on temples staffed by a special class of literate priests; “and (3) the ‘anywhere’ of a rich diversity of religious formations that occupy an interstitial space between these other two loci, including a variety of religious entrepreneurs and ranging from groups we term ‘associations’ to activities we label ‘magic.’” His topography of ancient religion provides a stimulating framework, one that insists on the comparative study of “magic” against the backdrop of broader changes in the political, economic, and cultural history of the ancient world. Smith points to the expansion and relative prominence of the religions of “anywhere,” over against and sometimes at the expense of the persistence of the religions of “here” and “there,” as one of the most significant developments of late antiquity.

Part ii, “Prayer, Magic, and Ritual,” contains four essays that reveal the rich diversity of approaches now being applied to the study of ancient magic. Ian

Moyer’s essay, “Thessalos of Tralles and Cultural Exchange,” examines the epistolary prologue of the text on astrological botany attributed to the first-century Greek physician Thessalos of Tralles. The story of Thessalos’s encounter with a native Egyptian priest in Thebes has stood at the center of many previous discussions of ancient magic. After a careful review of earlier interpretations, Moyer presents a novel reading of Thessalos’s revelation as a product of cultural exchange through the medium of ritual. The contribution by Marvin Meyer (“The Prayer of Mary in the Magical Book of Mary and the Angels”) addresses the much-contested taxonomy of prayer versus magic through the lens of a specific well-documented case study: a late antique prayer to the Virgin Mary preserved in Coptic, Ethiopic, and Arabic. Focusing on the Coptic version, Meyer demonstrates how a text like the Prayer of Mary in Bartos simultaneously belongs within traditions of both late antique “magic” and Coptic Christian piety. Gideon Bohak’s essay, “Hebrew, Hebrew Everywhere? Notes on the Interpretation of Voces Magicae,” addresses an important methodological question: how should scholars explain the often unintelligible and “powerful ‘alien’ words” that figure so prominently in the diverse magical texts of late antiquity. All too often, according to Bohak, scholars have posited a “Jewish” origin for particular voces on rather shaky philological grounds. Their learned etymologies may stem more from the authors’ Judeocentric and Christocentric perspectives than from any disproportionate Jewish contribution to the magical idioms of late antiquity. The final essay of the section, Michael G. Morony’s “Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq,” offers a general introduction to the “magic bowls” of southern Iraq and sketches an innovative and promising strategy to use the incantation bowls as documents for the social history of late antique Mesopotamia.

Part iii, “Dreams and Divination,” also composed of four essays, explores various strategies for communication with, or interpretation of, divine power. In “The Open Portal: Dreams and Divine Power in Pharaonic Egypt,” Kasia Szpakowska uses the inscriptions of two New Kingdom officials and a contemporaneous dream-interpretation manual to document a significant development in ancient Egyptian divinatory conceptions. In particular, she reveals how nonroyal figures gradually gained hitherto restricted access to the gods by way of ritual dreaming. Moreover, she demonstrates how this shift from royal to nonroyal access may have been influenced by political and cultural changes affecting the Egyptian empire in the aftermath of foreign invasions. As Peter Struck demonstrates in his contribution, “Viscera and the Divine: Dreams as the Divinatory Bridge Between the Corporeal and the Incorporeal,” a search for communion with the divine in the Graeco-Roman tradition often led believers to turn inward. Using evidence from Plato and the Hippocratic treatise On Regimen, Struck brings together the emphatically corporeal and the emphatically incorporeal regions of human existence. In particular, Struck investigates the tendency in ancient thought to link the viscera and the divine as reflected in many different forms of divination, even in what may seem to be the least corporeal of the divinatory arts, the practice of reading dreams. Jacco Dieleman’s “Stars and the Egyptian Priesthood in the Graeco-Roman Period” presents another case study in the Greek world’s fertile encounter with Egyptian culture. His analysis centers on a ritual text for astral divination whose importance lies in its use of two languages: Demotic (later Egyptian) for the ritual’s technical instructions and Greek for conjuring the deity. As Dieleman shows, the terminology and procedures of this ritual reveal a complex and lively dialogue between tradition and innovation in late

Egyptian religion. Michael D. Swartz’s “Divination and Its Discontents: Finding and Questioning Meaning in Ancient and Medieval Judaism” turns our attention to the close connection between the hermeneutics of Jewish divination (a world that is “inherently semiotic”) and methods of biblical exegesis. To demonstrate his argument, Swartz focuses on books of lot divination (goralot) whose worldview assumes that every detail of our environment has meaning and whose authors seek to reassure their readers of the sanctity of this hermeneutic. As he shows, these books register ambivalent attitudes toward divination by some rabbis in late antiquity and represent a well-established pattern common to many Jewish magic rituals in presenting their divinatory system as a substitute for the loss of specific Temple rituals.

Part iv, “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars,” moves appropriately ad astra to consider evolving ideas about the nature of the celestial bodies in the religions of the ancient world and late antiquity. Francesca Rochberg’s “Heaven and Earth: Divine-Human Relations in Mesopotamian Celestial Divination” demonstrates how Mesopotamian legal, religious, and cosmological conceptions, which identify the gods with celestial bodies and assume a reciprocal correspondence between events in the heavens and those on earth, profoundly influenced the practice of ancient Mesopotamian celestial divination. Rochberg also shows how the orderliness of the Mesopotamian cosmos hinged on the maintenance of reciprocal relations between heaven and earth. Thus, rulers, who needed to maintain order over their subjects on earth, had to observe through divination the omens in the heavens and to respond with the appropriate rituals to ward off the evil portended by some omens. As Rochberg illustrates, implicit in the practice of these rituals is the possibility that some procedure could persuade the gods to prevent the occurrence of the predicted event. Mark S. Smith, in “Astral Religion and the Representation of Divinity: The Cases of Ugarit and Judah,” compares the conception of divinity in West Semitic religion, as revealed by tablets excavated at the late Bronze Age port of Ugarit in northern Syria, with that of Judah, as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. As Smith demonstrates, for much of their history the people of Ugarit imagined their divine pantheon as a heavenly version of the royal patriarchal household, but with strong connections to specific celestial bodies. Later, their conceptualization of divinity shifted to place the storm-god Baal at the pantheon’s head, thus replacing the former chief god, El, and divorcing the pantheon from its long-held astral associations. Smith uses this model of change as an analogy to elucidate the emergence of Yahweh as the Israelite god and the subsequent eclipse of astral religion in Israel. He demonstrates, for example, how Israelites, by identifying Yahweh with El, retained a connection to astral deities in their attribution to Yahweh of a “host of heaven,” but rejected most other celestial associations, especially when the Neo-Assyrian empire and its astral cults began to expand their influence. Thus, Smith provides a strong framework for understanding the Israelite conceptualization of Yahweh and his celestial associations. Nicola Denzey’s essay, “A New Star on the Horizon: Astral Christologies and Stellar Debates in Early Christian Discourse,” revisits the oft-cited scholarly assumption that early Christians rejected outright Graeco-Roman systems of astrology. Her point of departure is the textual evidence for a lively and impassioned debate in which Christians engaged both sides concerning the validity—not to mention the true significance—of astrology and astrological prognostication. At the center of the debate were various interpretations of the significance and hidden meaning of the “star of Bethlehem” in the Gospel of Matthew. By examining a variety of early Christian exegetical traditions about the star, Denzey demonstrates how early Christians attempted to interpret the history of the Church within the hermeneutical framework of Graeco-Roman astrology. The final essay of the volume, Radcliffe Edmonds’s “At the Seizure of the Moon: The Absence of the Moon in the Mithras Liturgy,” introduces us to a set of ritual instructions found in the Mithras Liturgy that were used to prepare “magicians” for encountering the supreme sun-god Mithras. In particular, Edmonds focuses on the text’s instruction that the ritual preparations take place “at the seizure of the moon,” that is, when the moon is new, or absent from the heavens. Edmonds shows that the significance of the moon’s absence lies in its role in the genesis of souls, bringing them down from the upper realms into the world below. The moon also is absent from the experience of the “magician,” as he ascends to encounter Mithras on the rays of the sun through the air, winds, and the planets. Indeed, as we learn, the absence of the moon is not an isolated ritual detail, but rather corresponds to a pattern found throughout the whole spell, in which the moon’s absence is crucial to the magician’s project of immortalization through his contact with the powers of the sun. Edmonds’s analysis shows how the absence of the moon reveals the cosmology underlying this famous spell.

Thus we hope that this diverse collection of approaches and materials serves to suggest ways in which “magic” in the ancient world might be seen as a distinct but variegated phenomenon. These essays illustrate some of the various means by which ancients accessed the divine.

Mailing List

Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.