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Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween


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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #120 on: October 31, 2009, 01:03:45 am »

The lawsuit that prompted this curse apparently involves the testimony of three butchers (or perhaps cooks) and their friends, which this curse is intended to silence. The curse also binds the "tongue and soul" of Pyrrhias' wife, but there is no specific mention of her testimony since women were normally not permitted to testify in Athenian courts. The author of this tablet nonetheless feels compelled to bind the wife as well, fearing no doubt that her thoughts and her advice to her husband might help him win his case.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #121 on: October 31, 2009, 01:04:10 am »

Most pre-Roman binding curses, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and often idiosyncratic formulas, seem to have been inscribed by amateurs. There are, however, hints that professional sorcerers were inscribing binding spells in Athens as early as 400 B.C., as a passage from Plato's Republic suggests:

    And then there are the begging priests and soothsayers, who going to the doors of the wealthy persuade them that...if anyone wants to harm an enemy, whether the enemy is a just or unjust man, they [the priests and soothsayers], at very little expense, will do it with incantations and binding spells, since [they claim] they have persuaded the gods to do their bidding.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #122 on: October 31, 2009, 01:04:34 am »

A group of lead effigies dated securely to Plato's lifetime corroborates the philosopher's testimony. More elaborate than the spell cast against the butchers, each of these effigies, probably made by a professional sorcerer, is inscribed with a name or names and then entombed in a lead box, the lid of which is also inscribed with names. The first of this group to be discovered was found in a grave in the Kerameikos, one of Athens' ancient cemeteries, more than forty years ago. Its right leg is inscribed with the name Mnesimachos, and the lid of the coffin lists nine men, including Mnesimachos, and closes with a catch-all phrase: "and anyone else who is either a legal advocate or a witness with him." Three more figurines, of similar manufacture, were recently discovered in a grave near the first one. Of the four people named on these figurines, three--Theozotides, Mikines, and Mnesimachos--have extremely rare names, and can in all probability be identified with Athenian politicians who were prominent around 400 B.C. and who all were apparently prosecuted in this same period in lawsuits by men using speeches ghostwritten by the famous orator Lysias. Could it be that the same wealthy person or persons who hired Lysias to write speeches prosecuting these men in the courts also paid another kind of professional--a sorcerer--to cast spells against them, so they would be magically bound and unable to give their own speeches in defense?
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #123 on: October 31, 2009, 01:04:52 am »

This kind of cursing, especially in competitive situations, was as persistent as it was pervasive in the Greek and Roman world. To what degree was it tolerated by society? A character in one of Plato's dialogues, penned in the early fourth century B.C., asserts that "if it be held that a man is acting like an injurer by the use of spells, incantations, or any such mode of poisoning, if he be a prophet or diviner, he shall be put to death." It is clear that Plato's character thinks that magic, as a technique or technology, should be punished, but this is stated nowhere in ancient Greek or Roman law, which focuses instead on the use to which magic is put--if you murder someone with poison or a magic spell, the punishment is death. Eight centuries after Plato, the future St. Augustine could recall in his Confessions that as a youth he had refused a magician's offer to guarantee him victory in a poetry competition. Was he afraid of the legal or moral ramifications? Apparently not. He refused the offer, he says, because it would have involved killing an animal. It seems that, like the bound rooster used in the binding curse against the Carthaginian charioteer, the proposed ritual would have bound or impaled a living creature.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #124 on: October 31, 2009, 01:05:15 am »

What about the recent finds from underneath the Piazza Euclid in Rome? Were they curses designed to bind a rival or an enemy and prevent them from defeating the witch or one of her clients in an upcoming lawsuit or race? The Roman witch does seem to have used a similar technique: for each ensemble, she molded a single figure of varying materials (including wax and flour) and then placed the effigy in a lead canister. In at least one case she inscribed the canister with the name Antonius. But we must be careful not to jump to conclusions, because in the Roman period such effigies were adapted for a number of other uses and venues outside the realm of competition, particularly in elaborate erotic spells to force a person--usually a woman--to lust after a man.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #125 on: October 31, 2009, 01:05:31 am »

It is difficult for modern observers to understand the close connection between erotic magic and curses, until we realize that with few exceptions, eros, or erotic love, was understood by most ancient Greeks and Romans to be an accursed thing that attacked its human victims with torches and whips, made them ill, and could in some cases kill them. The second-century A.D. Greek physician Galen spends a good deal of time refuting the popular idea that erotic seizure is actually caused by the attack of a god who holds burning torches to the victim.
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« Reply #126 on: October 31, 2009, 01:05:48 am »

Since erotic magic aims at inducing such uncontrollable seizures in the victim, it is not surprising that images of hostile attack, whipping, and fire regularly appear in such spells. Take for example this spell inscribed on a potsherd found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, that may have been heated up during a ritual:

    Burn, torch the soul of Allous, her female body, her limbs, until she leaves the household of Apollonius. Lay Allous low with fever, with unceasing sickness, lack of appetite, senselessness.
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« Reply #127 on: October 31, 2009, 01:06:25 am »

Also from Egypt, at the site of Eshmunen, is the following spell, inscribed in Greek on a lead tablet that was then rolled up around some strands of brownish red hair and inserted into the mouth of a mummy, to whom the spell was apparently addressed:

    Aye, lord demon, attract, inflame, destroy, burn, cause her to swoon from love as she is being burnt, inflamed. Goad the tortured soul, the heart of Karosa...until she leaps forth and comes to Apalos...out of passion and love, in this very hour, immediately, immediately; quickly, quickly...do not allow Karosa herself...to think of her [own] husband, her child, drink, food, but let her come melting for passion and love and intercourse, especially yearning for the intercourse of Apalos.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #128 on: October 31, 2009, 01:06:44 am »

The most elaborate and disconcerting of all Greek efforts in this regard is a small clay effigy of a woman, probably from Antinoopolis, Egypt, which has been dated to the third or fourth century A.D. The effigy kneels with her feet tied together and her arms bound behind her back, and she has been methodically pierced with thirteen pins: one in the top of the head, one in the mouth, one in each eye and in each ear, one each in the solar plexus, ****, and anus, and one in the palm of each hand and in the sole of each foot. The effigy was then wrapped in the inscribed lead tablet and sealed in the pot. One would assume that this effigy was designed to torture a lifelong enemy. The inscription, however, reveals that a man named Sarapammon made or commissioned it in hopes of forcing a woman named Ptolemais to abandon her haughty demeanor and make love to him:
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #129 on: October 31, 2009, 01:06:59 am »

Lead Ptolemais, whom Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes, to me. Prevent her from eating and drinking until she comes to me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and do not allow her to have experience with another man, except me alone. Drag her by her hair, by her guts, until she does not stand aloof from me.
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« Reply #130 on: October 31, 2009, 01:07:17 am »

Like the charioteer curse from Carthage, which was accompanied by the trussed-up rooster, this spell combines two types of overlapping ritual operations, one that requires supernatural assistance and another that does not: Sarapammon directs a ghost to bind Ptolemais and to force her to come to him, and by binding the arms and legs of her effigy and then piercing it, he seeks by a sympathetic magic to bind her and most likely to torture her as well. A contemporary magical handbook, also found in Egypt, provides a recipe for a nearly identical effigy, telling the practitioner where to pierce the figurine and what to recite. The goal is apparently to make the woman feel aches and pains throughout her body that will cause her to remember the man who pierces the effigy.
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« Reply #131 on: October 31, 2009, 01:07:36 am »

The ancients also could use a pair of images to encourage sexual desire. In a Roman-era work from Egypt, probably by a professional sorcerer, two wax figurines were molded face-to-face in an erotic embrace, wrapped in a pair of papyrus sheets, and sealed in a clay pot. They were probably then buried in a cemetery. The innermost of the two sheets was inscribed with a long incantation that includes the following commands, addressed to a ghost:
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« Reply #132 on: October 31, 2009, 01:08:00 am »

Seize Euphemia and lead her to me Theon, loving me with mad desire, and bind her with unloosable shackles, strong ones of adamantine, for the love of me, Theon, and do not allow her to eat, drink, obtain sleep, jest or laugh but make her leap out...and leave behind her father, mother brothers, sisters, until she comes to me.... Burn her limbs, liver, female body, until she comes to me, loving me and not disobeying me.
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« Reply #133 on: October 31, 2009, 01:08:22 am »

The wax figures that accompanied this text may, on its face, seem less violent than the previous one--the woman is embraced, not stabbed with needles--but the method and the goal are quite the same: burning and binding will lead to complete submission of the woman to the desires of the man. A biography of Saint Irene, a ninth-century Cappadocian nun, tells of a novice who was attacked by a former suitor with exactly this kind of erotic spell:
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« Reply #134 on: October 31, 2009, 01:08:40 am »

...the girl was unexpectedly attacked by a seething passion which maddened her with a frantic lust for her former suitor and did not allow her to control herself. Violently leaping, screaming, moaning, crying and calling out his name in a loud voice, she assured with fearful oaths that unless someone would let her see him with her eyes and enjoy in excess his sight and conversation, she would hang herself. Then one could see her continually running to the gateway, urging her escape and with inarticulate screams and shameless gestures ordering the gatekeeper to let her out.
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