Exorcism, love spells common in Classical Egypt: Australian researchers
Love potions - courtesy of Ted Drake via Flickr
By RANY MOSTAFA

CAIRO: A recent Australian university study claims that incantation rituals and the use of magic spells for love, business and fighting demonic possession were widely used by everyday Egyptians during the apex of the pre-Islamic period, and not solely the proprietary of clerics.

Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, professors respectively at Australia’s Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, say they have deciphered a 1,300-year-old Coptic booklet that contains a series of invocations, love spells, exorcisms and a spell to cure the fatal black jaundice bacterial ailment, Live Science reported.

According to the researchers, the codex says that in order to subjugate someone, you have to 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 “Handbook of Ritual Power,” as researchers call the booklet, “is written in Coptic script and comprises 20 complete illustrated bound pages made from animal skin. It contains instructions to cast love spells and to cure possession by spirits and various ailments along with spells to bring success in business,” said the researchers in their findings.

Since the handbook is a codex of incantations and potions, with mixes of both science and religion, it was not necessarily used exclusively by priests or monks.

“It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn’t really want to be labeled as a ‘magician,'” Choat said.

According to the researchers, the origins of the codex, which is now on display in the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University in Sydney, is also a mystery.

“The style of writing and the dialect suggest that the codex originally came from Upper Egypt, perhaps in the vicinity of Hermopolis (the modern Egyptian town of El-Ashmunein, 270 kilometers south of Cairo),” they said.

The belief that demons exist and can possess people is of course the stuff of fiction and horror films, but it is also one of the most widely-held religious beliefs in the world. Most religions claim that humans can be possessed by demonic spirits (the Bible, for example, recounts six instances of Jesus casting out demons), and offer exorcisms to remedy this threat.

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