Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Syncretic Egyptian / Graeco-Roman magic from the collection of texts known as the Papyri Graecae Magicae.
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Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#1 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:31 am

To kick things off, I'll post an article written by esteemed forum member Leonardo Drakon:

Leonardo Drakon wrote:I write quite a bit about the PGM, clearly it is very important element of my magical and spiritual practice. Yet despite working very closely with some Graeco-Egyptian deities, I do not strongly identify with either Greek or Egyptian “religion.” So why do I place such high value on the PGM? This is a question that I have recently begun to dig into and attempt to understand for myself. But before delving into that, lets start with the basics. PGM is the Latin acronym for the Greek Magical Papyri (Papyri Graecae Magicae). We know that these texts are very old, contain information about ‘pagan’ as well as Abrahamic magical practices, and that they are the textual predecessors to the Solomonic and Cyprianic grimoire tradition. Thanks to the pioneering works of Stephen Skinner and Jake Stratton-Kent and several other magician scholars there is a growing appreciation for the PGM amongst today’s magical practitioners.

PGM XXXVI. 1-34. "Charm to Restrain"
PGM XXXVI. 1-34. “Charm to Restrain”
But, what exactly is the PGM? I’ve seen this question more than a few times and it is generally followed by an Amazon link to the English Betz edition. This is in fact correct as that book is a translation of the PGM, and the best available in English.

But the PGM is not a book in the usual definition of the word. It is more accurately described as a collection of spells and rituals. These were written and carefully curated by the magicians, sorcerers and healers who lived in hellenized Egypt between the second century BCE and fifth century AD. Many of these individual ‘spell books’ are themselves compilations of prior compilations, and often claim extreme antiquity from oral transmission and/or mythic origins. We should take a moment to put this in perspective; the historical value alone is incredible.

The PGM as we know it today was first published in Greek and German by Preisendanz in 1928. The Betz edition is the English translation with a few additions including the Demotic and Coptic spells omitted by Preisendanz. The majority of the collection is believed to come from a private library or perhaps the tomb of a magician in Thebes. Naturally, while the history is quite interesting, it is the content of the papyri that is the real treasure. Over seven-hundred years of written practices and rituals document a magical tradition that have persisted and thrived alongside Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and Semitic cultures.

While many spells of the PGM draw on the names of familiar gods and goddess, there is nonetheless something very alien and unfamiliar about how these otherwise familiar deities are portrayed. In Betz’ own words:

In this older material, the Greek gods are alive and well. But Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, and others are portrayed not Hellenic and aristocratic, as in literature, but as capricious, demonic, and even dangerous as in Greek folklore.

(Betz., pp xlv.)
Indeed, as Betz continues to explain, the PGM preserves the common folk traditions of the ancient Mediterranean and is a far more accurate representation of the local and household beliefs, practices and cults of the people than any of the state mythologies. While the major state gods are acknowledged as part of the vast spiritual landscape, they are generally not the deities to whom spells and petitions are directed. The most called upon – and perhaps even patron gods – of the PGM have relatively minor and even adversarial roles in the state religions of late antiquity. One such example is Typhon who emerges from the PGM as a primordial deity of raw magical force and shares epithets of authority with Apollo. He and Set and the conflated Typhon-Set are far more significant and venerated in the papyri than in Olympic and Osirian myth where they are portrayed as demonized rebels. Fittingly, the traditional goddess of witchcraft, Hekate, reigns as the supreme female divinity of the papyri – chthonic, celestial and terrestrial, she leads the spirits of the restless dead and is the ancestral mother of all.

There is no ordered pantheon of white-clad aristocratic gods reflecting a stratified society; no, the spiritual landscape of the PGM is one of animated forces, volatile and visceral spirits. It is a landscape of magic and witchcraft, in which the flow of power and information is multi-branched and multi-directional. Spirits called angelos carry messages and omens from the gods to mankind, while operating spirits, daemons, work on behalf of the magicians and carry messages in the opposite direction – from mankind to the gods and the dead. Needless to say, these terms did not carry with them any sense of morality, a daemon or an angelos is neither good nor evil, as they are rather ambivalent and indifferent to our moral codes.

If there is one take-away from the PGM, it is that spirits are everywhere; they howl and hiss wildly in the wind, they meet us in our dreams, they fuel our passions, protect our homes and inhabit the liminal wilds. Even the spirits of plants must be approached appropriately on the correct day, under the correct moon phase and with the appropriate ritual decorum in order to ensure the magical potency of an herb. The PGM preserves a tradition in which these spirits and gods are invoked, venerated, conjured, petitioned, compelled, bribed and brought into pacts via offerings and potent incantations. Some even require blood sacrifices and mysterious rites performed at riverbanks, crossroads, graveyards and other liminal places under the darkness of night.

Early scholars wrote off these unfamiliar aspects of PGM spirituality as a syncretism of the religions of late antiquity with non-Greek and non-Roman magical and folk elements (in other words, non-western ;)). For years this was the safe academic approach of interpreting the papyri. To do so in any other way would irreparably shatter the glass tower of a romanticized classical antiquity and the ‘civilized’ origins of western culture. Needless to say, this perspective is not only historically inaccurate, but it reeks with the fear of a society still repressed by the moral dogmas of the Christian church. As A. A. Barb, quoted in Betz’ introduction, writes:

Much that we are accustomed to see classified as late ‘syncretism’ is rather the ancient and original, deep-seated popular religion, coming to the surface when the whitewash of ‘classical’ writers and artists began to peal off…

(Betz, pp. lii. note 46)
Indeed, when we peal aways this facade of idealized ‘classicism’ and dig into the PGM, we unearth the folk origins of the magical traditions…not those of the state religions celebrating social order and stratification through their “whitewashed” pantheons, but the ancestral traditions of the common people. These magical practices are deeply rooted in goetia, in chthonic and liminal gods, in necromancy, and in real down and dirty spirit work!

The papyri do not present a unified religion or belief system, they instead compose one of the most comprehensive written records of magical practices that transcend any concept of country, religion, race or language. Practices such as blindfolded initiations, spoken words of power, honoring the directions, magical symbols and spirit signatures, scrying, spirit journeys, dream incubation, fetish-making, offerings to spirits and a plethora of others techniques have direct counterparts in nearly every extant magical tradition on earth. These techniques and practices are truly universal and are so deeply engrained in the spiritual matrix of so many cultures, that we must assume that they originate from a common ancestral origin in our remote prehistoric past. In other words, what is shared by the PGM, traditional witchcraft, indigenous shamanism and the living spiritual traditions around the world is the magical tradition itself!

Here magic is inseparable from the spirit-world. Success depends on the ability of a practitioner to be able to communicate and form alliances and pacts with specific daemons, gods, and other spiritual beings. Spirits are what fuel and empower the magic; period. This is the common thread that weaves the spells of the PGM into a cohesive and practical magical system; and what links today’s living traditions with their ancestral past. This is the legacy of the PGM.

The importance of spirit work and personal spirit relationships has been gaining a lot of traction in modern western ceremonial and “High Magick” groups. Last December, Aaron Leitch wrote a incredibly poignant and informative piece on the this very topic entitled The Lost Secrets of Western Magick Revealed. If you haven’t read it, do so, as it brilliantly highlights the differences between modern western occultism and traditional magical practices. In an attempt to reclaim these “lost secrets” occultists and modern western magicians are incorporating various aspects of traditional spirit work into their practice, in particular turning towards the New World traditions born out of the African diaspora.

However, an authentic ‘western’ spirit-based practice has always existed and is preserved for us in the Greek Magical Papyri. The PGM is not just another collection of spells and rituals or another “magical paradigm,” it is our link to the living magical tradition itself through familiar cultural symbols. By practicing the magic of the papyri we effectively tap back into that primordial tradition of magic and interaction with the spirit-world that has been part of our human story since time immemorial.
(http://voces-magicae.com/2015/10/16/why-the-pgm/)
Cheers,

Provenant


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monsnoleedra
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#2 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 2:34 am

That's a pretty good write up regarding the PGM. Seem's every time I go through it I find something new or it makes me look at things in a manner I hadn't though of in a similar light. Quite a bit of combining aspects of various divinities powers as well. Not conflating them together as one but combining or joining them together.
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#3 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 6:42 am

Provenant wrote:To kick things off, I'll post an article written by esteemed forum member Leonardo Drakon:

Leonardo Drakon wrote:

In this older material, the Greek gods are alive and well. But Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, and others are portrayed not Hellenic and aristocratic, as in literature, but as capricious, demonic, and even dangerous as in Greek folklore.


That is a rather interesting point. I am not sure that I am a fan of the PGM but perhaps there is a need to look at it as a folk magic tome.
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#4 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:48 am

Great article and thanks for setting this up Prov. ;)

Mods - If you happen across any PGM related threads already on the site, feel free to move them here to flesh out the forum a bit.
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talerman
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#5 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:14 am

A very interesting article. A good one too.

I found amazing that according to our member Leonard Drakon there was an aristocratic and also a rural way how ancients gods were approached and understood.

This idea is extremelly intriguing.... :goodpost

I have a lot of questions prepared, but let us see how this thread develops.
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monsnoleedra
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#6 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:05 am

talerman wrote:A very interesting article. A good one too.

I found amazing that according to our member Leonard Drakon there was an aristocratic and also a rural way how ancients gods were approached and understood.

This idea is extremelly intriguing.... :goodpost

I have a lot of questions prepared, but let us see how this thread develops.


You also have to consider there is a considerable difference between the polis / civic and the home in how the ancient gods / goddess were approached. Then there is also quite a difference between how men and women approached the divine and the rituals / ceremonies that were clearly oriented towards each gender. The Hellene society had quite a few different stratification's in how their society interacted with the divine through the temple / sanctuary system.
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#7 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:40 pm

​Thank you for posting this Provenant. I'm greatly humbled by the "esteemed member" part :P

In regard to this topic, I'm glad to see that most people are interested and picking up on the folkloric element of the PGM. This hit me like a brick when I started to actually practice the spells of the papyri. All the systems of correspondences, hierarchies and the neat buckets of cosmological principles I spent years studying became very much secondary to the visceral and emotional spirit experiences, even when they didn't make much intellectual 'sense'.

It is also here where much of the syncretism comes into play as the practitioners were focused on tangible real world results and exchanged ideas and the spirits themselves with other cultures and traditions. This is very similar to what happens in parts of the world where "Folk Catholicism" is prevalent. Such as in cultures where practitioners maintain relationships with spirits and practices that pertaining to their ancestry and their local spiritual landscape regardless of how such concepts fit into the worldview of the Catholic church. However, on the other hand these practitioners also introduce aspects of the centralized religion into their own practices. I believe the PGM captures a moment in late antiquity where something very similar was going on, and I find that there is something fascinating about that balance between keeping tradition alive and folklore relevant while also becoming more globalized and adapting to more centralized hierarchical cosmologies.

monsnoleedra wrote:You also have to consider there is a considerable difference between the polis / civic and the home in how the ancient gods / goddess were approached. Then there is also quite a difference between how men and women approached the divine and the rituals / ceremonies that were clearly oriented towards each gender. The Hellene society had quite a few different stratification's in how their society interacted with the divine through the temple / sanctuary system.


Well said! Indeed the relationships between the living, the dead, the gods and the spirits seem to have always been rather fluid and dynamic, being constantly being redefined. This is something that is not first apparent when we first think of "Greek Mythology", since most of us have learned it as some sort of sanctioned doctrine of ancient religion rather than something pieced together from the stories, experiences and beliefs of the people living the tradition over millennia.
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talerman
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#8 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:53 pm

IMO there should be many differet influences on peoples' believes and practices in ancient time such as:

1. Aristocratic view - though I am still not sure what it is, but sounds good enough to me
2. Folk magic as seen through GMP
3. Official cults centered around the temples
4. Mystery cults such as from Eleus or Orphic
5. Philosopies, such as from Socrates and Plato
6. Influencial writers, such as Hesiodes and Homer.
7. Occult scripts about astrology, alchemy and magic, such as from Corpus Hermeticum.
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Re: Starting things off w/ an article by Leonardo Drakon

Post#9 » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:54 pm

​Indeed Talerman, I think you laid out some true sources of esoteric knowledge. Where it gets really interesting (in my opinion) is where and how these difference sources interact and how they reconcile differences in theory and praxis when brought together. Sometimes the temple religions influence the folklore, sometimes it is the other-way around. Sometimes the mystery cults arise from exploring philosophic principles, other-times philosophy is born from the experiences of being initiated into these cults. It's all quite fluid in my view with multiple streams of information slithering beneath the surface and we only ever get partial glimpses of the whole picture.

The PGM is simply one example of this melting pot of esoteric knowledge. I'll argue that the majority of the spells are folkloric in nature (from medicinal recipes to household fetishes and oracular dream spells); however, there are numerous references to temple rites (or borrowed temple practices) from Egypt and Persia together with the influences of Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophies in various spells. The hymns to Hekate and Helios are chalk full of Chaldean imagery and then there are spells like the so called Mithras Liturgy ( PGM IV.475-834) that speak to a context of initiation into the mystery cults.

What is missing from this huge collection of magic is the portrayal of the gods in their idealized "Olympian" forms. The notion of Mt. Olympus and these Gods in their gleaming white robes ruling over the world below that has been so popularized by classicists as a model of the ideal society is entirely absent from the PGM. This cosmological model simply did not suit the common people as it did the ruling elite. This is because such a model celebrates a hierarchical and centralized pantheon that essentially echoes the politics of the stratified and centralized state. The absence of this "aristocratic view" in the magical material is truly fascinating and shows us just how different the operating cosmology was for practicing magicians.
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