Coptic Magical Texts
1. Amulets 2. Incantations 3. Handbooks
International Summer School in Coptic Papyrology
23rd July - 30th of July 2006, Austrian National Library, Vienna
Magic: A technique of making use of
Various aimes: protection, defense, healing;
power, sexual disposability; cognition and
Nevertheless, the forms are more or less the same,
whatever the scope.
Various contents, e.g. a magical design, usually in
combination with magical names, an allusion to
the danger from which the amulet should protect
(e.g., snake bites), etc., or religious texts, in
particular psalms, or portions thereof.
Addressed to one or several particular powers, or
spirits, for the benefit or the harm of one or
several particular persons.
<sops ayv <parakalei motn npoyèai
enetnran mn net(n)qom èekas
etetnebi pitkas mn évne nim etéoop
(n)anastaàhy tée nkiraàhy aio aio
I beg and implore you for the sake of the
integrity of your names and your powers that you
take away the pain and any disease that there is
for Anastahēu, the daughter of Kirahēu – come,
come, quickly !
BKU III 387, 36-41
Stereotyped introduction: <sops(P) ayv
“I beg and I implore you” <parakalei Mmok / MmvtN
The invoked dÊnamiw / dunãmeiw may be named before, or
It may be called God Almighty, seemingly in a thoroughly
orthodox Christian form. But note that the very same wording
may also have Gnostic character.
pèoeis p(e)nnoyte ppantokratvr Le Muséon
The Trinity may be invoked:
pçvt péhre pe(p)neyma (e)toyaab
BKU III 389.1
We can identify pagan gods, mainly Egyptian: Isis,
and Gnostic figures, but the vast majority of beings
that figure in the magic papyri are Christian, in
accordance with the religion of the country and of
the authors of the texts.
GOD ANGELS DEMONS SAINTS
Nevertheless - there is great influence of
apocryphic literature (mostly lost and hence
unknown to us)
W. Vycichl, Copt. Encycl.:
Names and Magical Words
A name is not only a simple means of identification
but a part of personality. He who knows the name,
the “true name,” of a god or a demon has a better
chance of coming in contact with him.
Some of these names are secret. Thus, Jesus Christ
possesses a written name that nobody knows except
himself. A spell speaks of the “great, true name of
the Father,” another of the “great name,” and there
are also his “true name” and his “hidden names.”
A frequent palindrome is Ablanathanalba
[ablanauanalba], probably of Semitic origin,
often misspelled, a sign that its palindromic
character was not always apparent to the Coptic
Agramma Chamari [agramma xamari] is
often used with a preceding name as well as
with Iaō Sabaōt [iav sabavt, Hebr. Yåhū,
“God”; ‚|£bå’ôt, “armies”].
It is used frequently and has been explained
as the name of an angel.
akramaxamari Le Muséon 101, 56 ll. 68, 77-8, 83
apaaxamaxamari BKU III, 387.3-16
RAMaxAMARIVSAbAVU Kropp I, 50.7
Abraxas [abrajas] is not only the Gnostic name of
the highest god but occurs also in the combinations
Iaō Sabaōt Abraxas and Jesus Abraxas.
abrasaj Kropp I, 50.8; iav sabbavu atvnai elvei
elemas mikjanuhr abrasakj ib. 16.38-9
The name of the Phoenician sun-god, Baalsemes
(literally “the Lord of the Sun,” Hebrew ba‘al
shemesh), appears among other sun-gods, and once
in a list of angelic aeons.
Bainchōōch [bainxvvx], with graphic variants,
once written with seven omegas, is Egyptian [bA n
qqw] and means “Spirit of Darkness.”
Marmaraōth [marmaravu] (Syriac, “Lord of
Lords”) designates in the Coptic Magical Papyrus of
Paris the sun-god Iaō. A similar form, Barbaraōth
[barbaravu], the name of the highest god in the
same papyrus, remains unexplained.
Some attested variants:
marmariv marmariovu marmarivu mamarivu
marmaroi marmaroy marmaroyax (Hebr. rûåH
Semesilam is from semes, “sun” (Hebrew shemesh);
the second part of the name has been compared with
Hebrew ‘ōlam, “world.”
Maskelli Maskellō is a strange formation, once used
to designate the goddess of fate.
The name Zagourē is once written over the design
of Typhon or Seth. zakoyraj Kropp I, 50.7
Four bodiless creatures with four faces and six
wings in the book of Revelation are called Alpha,
Leōn, Phōnē, Anēr. Alpha is the bull; Leōn, the
lion; Anēr, the man; and Phōnē, the eagle.
They represent the four evangelists.
The seven archangels are called Michaēl, Gabriēl,
Raphaēl [àrafahl], Suriēl, Zetekiēl (Zedekiēl),
Salathiēl, and Anaēl.
The three men of the burning furnace (Dan. 3:19–23)
occur in many texts: Shadrach, Meshnach, and
Abednego [Heb. Šadrak, Mēšak, ‘Abed negō].
The twenty-four elders of Revelation 4:4 have names
beginning with the twenty-four letters of the Greek
alphabet and ending in -ēl (Hebrew for
“God”): Achaēl, Banaēl, Ganaēl, Dathiēl, and so on.
Coptic magical spells [seem to be] full of senseless
names and deformations.
Bēth, apparently the name of a spirit and not the
Semitic word for “house,” is followed in a spell by
Bēthai, Bētha, Bēthari and then by Larouēl,
Marmarouēl, Metetiēl, Sriēl, Ermiēl, and others ...
In Coptic spells and amulets the seven vowels of the
Greek alphabet are widely used, either singly (as in
aehioyv) or written seven times (aaaaaaa,
eeeeeee, etc.). They are said to have a magical
power and some relation to the seven planets...
In another text – St. Mary’s Prayer Ad Bartos – she
Be greeted, diadem which is on his head –
be greeted, seven names who are hidden in it, and
which are a e h i o u v ! (Kropp III, 41)
The seven vowels may also be noted in a
diminishing number, from 7 for a to one for v.
This yields the form of a wing:
The same game is played with the seven
letters of abrasaj, though sometimes with some
Also other names or apaaxamaxam
elements are spelled
in this triangular apaaxama
form, e.g.: apaaxam
The Sator Arepo Square
In the Coptic tradition, the famous palindrome has
ARETO, rather than AREPO.
s a t v r
a r e t v
t e n e t
v t e r a
r v t a s
The magical texts seem to be full of
mistakes, of misspellings of the
magical names. Nevertheless, there
is at least one case where the extant
version of the spelling makes sense
in an impressive way. BKU III 387
is a parchment fragment addressing
IS XS for the protection of a
woman; after various magical
elements, the invocation turn to
three groups of three entities:
manij fareu fvranay
péomet nàoyrit etroeis epivt ppantvkratvr
You three guardias who watch over the Father the
abiot agariabio àragoyhl
péomet nàoyrit etroeis epéhre mpivt
ppantvkratvr ... who watch over the Son of the
Father the Almighty
bhu bhua bhuaei
péomet nàoyrit etroeis epePNA etoyaab ...
who watch over the Holy Spirit
These three groups of three names can each
also be found in other documents, although
each time with slight variations of the form
and the spelling. In our case, however, it can
be shown that the spelling chosen is
deliberate, and is chosen on account of an
elaborate calculation. We have to do with a
remarkable example of isopsephia, or
m 12 40
E.g.: a 1 1
n 13 50
i 9 10
j 14 60
The Minor Count: The Major Count:
a= 1 a=1 (= = 6)
l = 11 i = 10 (w = 90)
f = 21 r = 100
v = 24 v = 800
manij fareu fvranay
Associated with God Father
abiot agariabio àragoyhl
Associated with Jesus Christ
bhu bhua bhuaei
Associated with the Spirit
The main elements of invocations:
• The “prayer”: I beg and implore you...
• The names of the dunãmeiw invoked, the magical names,
the seven letters...
• Magical letters and pictures
The magical letters:
IS XS bhu bhua
bhua iav sabavu advnai
Troglitis myrtle (smÊrnhw).
smhrnhs troklçths Draw two pictures (z–dion),
grace svtion snay one for the pot, one
for your neck. 3 bricks
oya etqalaàt oya under the pot without handle (‘ear’) : abstinence ! Put
epekmote tvbe : g king’s salt around you.
àa tqalaàt natmaaèe : aknça : ka
àmoy prro Mpekkvte//
Text on top:
u(ysia) karbvn Née Nèoeit
éoyrh namàat neàmh efanos : libanos àooyt
mastix(h) Nàooyt koyrkoBIN : sthrj apokalaMVN
pqvrq Ntqalaàt : morshne z bht qb tafn z . .
àaqiè Nèhqe àaqin neqooqe éopéop z bht
Nrooyne z : ée nabraàam z klom narteme-
sias eèN tqalaàt
Offering: charcoal of olive wood
censer of white clay, real lamp oil : male incense
male mastix cucumber : styrax, calamus juice
the contents of the pot : myrtle 7 palm-leaf, bay-leaf 7..
purple mint baked (?) mint ... 7 virgin palm-
leaf 7 : Abraham’s wood 7 wreath of wormwood
(artemisia) upon the pot
Magical texts: In respect to their contents, they are of literary
character. In respect to their language standards, they are
comparable with documentary texts.
Magic: In the Pharaonic civilization, magic was an aspect of
From the standpoint of modern religions, like Christianity and
Islam, magic is strictly deprecated: it is in blatant antinomy
with their doctrines.
What is the position of Coptic magic of the period in