For the ancient Greeks magic (mageia or goeteia) was a wide-ranging topic which involved spells and evil prayers (epoidai), curse tablets (katadesmoi), enhancing drugs and deadly poisons (pharmaka), amulets (periapta) and powerful love potions (philtra).
The modern separation of magic, superstition, religion, science, and astrology was not so clear in the ancient world.
This mysterious, all-encompassing art of magic was practiced by both male and female specialized magicians who people sought out to help them with their daily lives and to overcome what they saw as obstacles to their happiness.
Magic in Greek Mythology
Magic appears in the mythology of ancient Greece and was associated with such figures as Hermes, Hecate (goddess of the moon and witchcraft), Orpheus, and Circe, the sorceress daughter of Helios who was an expert in magical herbs and potions and who helped Odysseus summon the ghosts from Hades.
In Dr. Christopher Faraone’s opinion, there is a lot of interesting research that has been done in relation to ancient Greek love spells and incantations.
Love magic embraced two rather different types of spells: one set designed to produce erôs (“erotic seizure”) in the victim, and the other used to create philia (“affection” or “friendship”), as Dr. Faraone explained in his book, “Ancient Greek Love Magic” (2001).
Amulets were the Trend of the Era
Amulets in ancient Greece were believed to have provided protection or the attraction of positive outcomes to situations or desires. These were worn around the neck or wrist of a person or placed in physical locations, such as a house, to provide the same intended results.
Commonly, Greek amulets were divided into two broad categories: talismans (which were believed to bring good luck) and phylacteries (which were intended for protection).
The materials used for talismans included bones, wood, stones, and sometimes semi-precious gemstones. They could also be written on small pieces of papyrus or a metal sheet.
They could be carried in a pouch or small container, or in small bags containing mixed herbs. And to complete the process, one had to invoke a god or goddess (usually Hecate), or multiple gods, and recite magical words of power.
Be aware of "Katares"
In Ancient Greece, no one was safe from the attacks of magic spells, including people of power such as politicians and orators.
Magic spells could be made in secrecy and hexes could be buried with the dead, who were believed to have the means to carry the curse requests to the underworld.
According to Lisa Orkin, many inscriptions on katares (or curses) found at the Kerameikos cemetery, near the ancient marketplace where politicians made public addresses, would begin with “ɪ ʙɪɴᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ ᴇᴀʀᴛʜ”.
A Bridge Between two Worlds
Necromancy, or the practice of invoking the spirits of the dead, was an illegal form of ritual in Ancient Greece but evidence suggests that it was practiced in secrecy.
The Necromanteion was an ancient temple dedicated to the god of the Underworld, Hades, and his consort, the goddess Persephone.
The ancient Greeks believed that while the bodies of the dead decayed in the earth, their souls would be released, and traveled to the Underworld via fissures in the earth.
The spirits of the dead were said to possess abilities that the living did not have, including the power to foretell the future.
Temples were therefore erected in places thought to be entrances to the Underworld to practice necromancy (communication with the dead) and to receive prophecies.
Oracles: The Celebrities of the Ancient World
The Oracles of Delphi, who were priests and priestesses, were perhaps some of the most important people involved with magic rituals in Ancient Greece. The oracles were believed to have the ability to translate cryptic messages direct from the gods, and to make prophetic statements.
The Pythia was the name given to any priestess who served as an oracle in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The priestess was a woman over fifty years of age, lived apart from her husband, and dressed in a maiden’s clothes. According to Plutarch, who once served as a priest at Delphi, the Pythia first enters the inner chamber of the temple (Adyton). Then, she sits on a tripod and inhales the light hydrocarbon gasses that escape from a chasm on the porous earth. This observation can be confirmed by modern geologists. After falling into a trance, she mutters words incomprehensible to mere mortals. These words are then interpreted by the priests of the sanctuary in a common language and delivered to those who had requested them.
Cartwright, Mark, ‘Magic in Ancient Greece'(2016)
Collins, Derek, “Magic in Ancient Greece” PDF (accessed Jan03, 2017)
Faraone, Christopher A., ‘Ancient greek love magic’ http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122299/ (accessed Jan 03, 2017)
Orkin, Lisa, ‘Archeologists Find Ancient Greeks Practiced That Old–Very Old–Black Magic’ (2001)
http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/22/news/mn-53984 (accessed Jan 03, 2017)
Wirth, Jennifer, ‘From Voodoo to Necromancy’
http://allday.com/post/10442-from-voodoo-to-necromancy-10-ways-the-ancient-greeks-used-magic/ (accessed on Jan 6, 2017)