Ancient Egyptian Handbook of Spells Deciphered


An Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power (as researchers call it) has been deciphered disclosing a chain of invocations and charms. It contains love spells, exorcisms and a treatment for black jaundice (a possibly deadly disease). Written in Coptic (an Egyptian language) the 20 page illustrated codex dates back around 1,300 years. This picture shows part of the text.
Credit: Photo by Ms. Effy Alexakis, copyright Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre

Researchers have deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook, disclosing a number of spells and invocations.

Among other things, the Handbook of Ritual Power, as researchers call the novel, tells readers the best way to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat black jaundice, a bacterial infection that’s still around today and can be deadly.

The novel is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It’s made of bound pages of parchment a sort of novel that a codex is called by researchers.

It’s a whole 20-page parchment codex, including the handbook of a rite professional, write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors in Australia at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in their own publication, A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power (Brepols, 2014).

The historical novel begins with a drawn-out chain of invocations that culminate with words and drawings of power, they write. These are followed by several prescriptions or charms to heal possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and company.

For example, to subjugate someone, the codex says you must say a magical formula over two nails, and then drive them into his doorpost, one on the right side (and) one on the left.



The Sethians

Researchers consider the codex may date to the 7th or 8th century. During this time around, many Egyptians were Christian and the codex includes several invocations

Nevertheless, some of the invocations look more connected with a group which is occasionally called Sethians. This group held the third son of Eve and Adam, Seth, in high esteem and thrived during the early centuries of Christianity in Egypt. One invocation in the recently deciphered codex calls the living Christ, Seth, Seth.

The opening of the codex identifies a divine figure named Baktiotha whose individuality is a mystery, researchers say. The lines read, I give thanks for you and I call upon the one that is lord over the forty; you, the Baktiotha: The amazing one, who’s really trustworthy and the nine types of serpents, in accordance with the translation.

The Baktiotha is an ambivalent figure. He could be a great power and a ruler of powers in the material world, Choat and Gardner said at a seminar, before their publication on the codex was released.

Historical records suggest that church leaders regarded by the 7th century, the Sethians were either extinct or dying out and the Sethians as heretics.

This codex, with its combination of Orthodox and Sethian Christian invocations, may actually be a transitional record, before all Sethian invocations were purged from magic texts written, the researchers said. They noted that you’ll find other texts that are not dissimilar to the codex that was recently deciphered, but which include not less fewer Sethian attributes and Orthodox Christian.

The researchers consider the invocations were initially different from 27 of the charms in the codex, but afterwards, these charms and the invocations were joined, to form one device of ritual power, Choat told Live Science in a e-mail.

Who’d have used it?

The identity of anyone who used this codex is a puzzle. The user of the codex wouldn’t normally always have been monk or a priest.

It’s my sense that there were rite professionals outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but just who they were is protected from us by the fact that folks didnt actually desire to be labeled as a magician,”Choat said.

Some of the language indicates that it was composed with a male user from using the text, needless to say, he said at heart, nevertheless, that wouldnt have prevented a female rite professional.


The source of the codex can also be a mystery. Macquarie University got it from Michael Fackelmann, an antiquities dealer in late 1981. In the 70s and early 80s, Macquarie University (like many groups around the world) bought papyri from Michael Fackelmann, Choat said in the e-mail.

But where the codex was got by Fackelmann from is not known. The style of writing indicates that the codex initially came from Upper Egypt.

The dialect indicates an origin in Upper Egypt, possibly in the area of Ashmunein/Hermopolis, that has been Choat, a historical city and Gardner write within their publication.

The codex is currently housed at Macquarie University in Sydney in the Museum of Ancient Cultures.