Painted wooden cippus showing Horus standing on crocodiles
Possibly from Memphis, Egypt Late Period, after 600 BC
A cure for bites and stings
A cippus was a type of stela that healed and protected against snake bites and scorpion stings. It was thought that water poured over the cippus gained healing properties. This example is surmounted by the head of the household god Bes, who protected the family from malign forces. Cippi typically show the infant Horus standing on crocodiles and holding dangerous animals such as snakes, scorpions and lions in his hands.
According to myth, the infant Harpokrates (Horus the child) was bitten or stung while in hiding with his mother in the marshes of the Delta. The lament of Isis stopped the celestial boat of the sun-god, who was supposed to be protecting the child. Re sent down his messenger Thoth, who cured the child by reciting a long list of spells. He promised that all that he had done for Harpokrates would be done for any human.
The spells first spoken by Thoth were inscribed on stelae to prevent and cure stings and bites, as well as many other complaints. All manner of conditions of unknown origin, such as convulsions, were attributed to poisoning of the blood. These were regarded as an intrusion of the forces of chaos into the ordered world; the spells were an attempt to combat the unknown.
This clay figurine is a bound captive or enemy and was used in temple ritual to destroy the enemy. The spell written on this figurine is done in red because red was associated with destruction. After the ritual these objects would be destroyed.
Terracotta bottle shaped like a women feeding a baby
This vase contained mother’s milk, which was thought to be very magical and strong. It was used in many spells and potions, especially for spells for women trying to have a child. It could also be used as a remedy for sick women and children.
Her name roughly translates as “Worker from afar”, she is a particularly mysterious other world divine being in the Greek pantheon. Hecate was seen as the goddess of magic, witchcraft, night, moon, ghosts and necromancy.
She was the only child of the titans Perses and Asteria from whom she received her powers over the heavens, earth and seas. She could bestow mortals with wealth, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to herds of cattle. She could also withhold these gifts. After the defeat of the Titans, Zeus honoured Hecate and allowed her to maintain her dominion.
She is usually depicted as a woman holding twin torches on Greek pottery. She sometimes wears a knee length maiden skirt and hunting boots, much like the goddess Artemis. In statues Hekate is often depicted in a curious triple form as goddess of crossroads.
Her familiars were a black she-dog and a polecat. The black dog was said to be the Trojan queen Hekabe who leapt intot he sea after the fall of Troy and was transformed into a dog by the goddess. The polecat was said to have originally been a witch called Gale who was transformed into a polecat as punishment for her incontinence. Others told that the polecat was Galinthias, nurse of Alkmene, transformed by the angry Eileithyia, but received kindly by Hecate as her animal.
She aided Demeter in her search for Persephone using her torches to light the goddess’ way throughout the darkness of night. After Persephone’s return Hecate became her companion and minister in Hades.
She was identified with a number of other goddesses in the ancient world which lead to some confusion which lasts to this day. These include Artemis the Virgin Huntress, Selene the Moon goddess, the sea goddess Krataeis, the Thracian goddess Bendis, Maira the goddess of the Dog Star, and the Eleusinian Daeira.
Her titles include: the destroyer (Perseis), angry/terrible one (Brimo), lady of the underworld (Aidonaia), three formed/three bodied (Trimorphis), of the crossroads (Trioditis), night wandering (Nyktipolos), tender/delicate (Atalos), nurse of the young (Kourotrophos), leader of dogs (Skylakagetis), and queen of those below (Anassa Eneroi).
She had very few public temples in the ancient Greek world however. Instead she was honoured at small household shrines. These were probably made to help ward off evil and malevolent powers of witchcraft. Her most important cultic sites were at Eleusis, and Samothrace. The mysteries of Samothrace were celebrated in Hecate’s honour.
"Hekate Einodia, Trioditis [Trivia], lovely dame, of earthly, watery, and celestial frame, sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed, pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade; Perseis, solitary goddess, hail! The world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near." - Orphic Hymn 1 to Hecate
Some “binding” curses in Ancient Greece were said to physically bind victims and inflict injury upon them. Another type sought to bind victims in a different way. The goal was to incite an uncontrollable passion (eros) in the victim.
The common name for these curses, or spells, was agoge or agogimon spells meaning ‘a spell that leads’ because the aim of the spell was to lead the victim to the practitioner.
Some of these curses mention body parts, often in violent overtones, by which the speaker wishes to enjoin their invisible agents to retrieve the victim. Often spells of this type are accompanied by a figurine depicting the victim bound.
One example of erotic curses comes from a 4th century AD magical handbook which refers to spells dating back further. Philtrokatadesmos thaumastos IV.296-469 is a ‘Wondrous Erotic Binding Spell’. It instructs its user to create two figurines; a male in the form of Ares holding a sword, and a female kneeling with her arms behind her back about to be stabbed by the sword. Various vocae magicae or magic words are to be written on the female figures head, eyes, ears, shoulders, arms, hands, breast, belly, genitals, buttocks and feet. The female figure is then to be pierced with 13 copper needles- one in the brain, two in the ears, two in the eyes, one in the mouth, two in the midriff, one in the hands, two in the pudenda, and one in each foot.
During each piercing the practitioner said:
“I am piercing [body part] of her, [name of victim], so that she may remember no one but me, [name of practioner].”
The spell was then written out on a lead tablet and recited.
In Egypt, a single lead tablet and a female kneeling figure, pierced with 13 pins matches this spell has been found in a pot. However the figure itself is not inscribed. It is now housed in the Louvre and has been dated to the 2nd/3rd century AD. In this example a man named Sarapammon who wishes to attract a woman called Ptolemais. His curse tablet reads:
“I deposit this binding charm with you, chthonic gods, Pluto and Kore Persephone Ereskhigal and Adonis, also called Barbaritha, and chthonic Hermes Thoth Phokensepseu erktathou misonktaik and mighty Anoubis Pseriphtha, who holds the keys of the gates to Hades, and chthonic daimones, gods, men and women who suffered an untimely death, youths and maidens, year after year, month after month, day after day, hour after hour, night after night. I adjure all the daimones in this place to assist daimon Antinous.
Rouse yourself for me and go into every place, into every quarter, into every house, and bind Ptolemais, who Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes, so that she may not be screwed, not be buggered, not do anything for the pleasure of another man, except for me Sarapammon only, whom Area bore, and do not allow her to eat, to drink, to resist or go out or to get sleep apart from me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore. I adjure you, corpse-daimon Antinous, by the dreadful and frightful name of the one at the sound of whose name the earth will open, at the sound of whose name the rivers and the rocks break. I adjure you, corpse-daimon Antinous, by Barbaratham cheloumbra barouch Adonai and by Abrasax and by Iao pakeptoth pakebraoth sabarbaphaei and by Marmaraououth and by Marmarachtha mamazagar.
Do not disobey, corpse-daimon Antinous, but rouse yourself for me and go into every place, into every quarter, into every house and bring me Ptolemais, whom Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes. Keep her from eating and drinking until she comes to me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and do not allow her to have experience of another man except me Sarapammon only. Drag her by the hair, by the inward parts until she does not stand aloof from me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and I have her, Ptolemais, whom Aias bore, daughter of Horigenes, subject for me the entire time of my life, being fond of me, loving me, telling me what she has in mind. If you do this, I will set you free.”
Along with underworld Greek gods, a Babylonian goddess, Egyptian divinities, daimones and the dead are invoked to carry out the curse.
Made of two bangles of beaten gold separated by alternating amulets of silver and gold. It is a very rare example, unique for this period. The amulets include animals figures: turtle, hare, snake, baboon and falcon, and symbols: ankh, wedjat eye, djed pillar, bat emblem and two-finger amulet.
The turtle was a symbol of evil, rendered harmless by being shown immobilized. The hare, noted for its fertility and survival skills symbolised life. The snake represented new life. The baboon, the herald of the rising sun, was also a manifestation of the god Thoth. The ankh was the heiroglyph for life. The wedjat was the powerfully protective healed eye of the falcon-god Horus. The djed pillar was the hieroglyph for stability. The Bat emblem was the face of the protective cow-eared goddess. The two-finger amulets may represent the fingers of the embalmer, giving extra protection.