The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells is by far a stupendous book for any person who has a genuine and sincere love for ancient magic and the study of antiquity. The ancient spells and rights are 2,000 years old. It is believed the Leiden Papyrus came from the same system of magic as the PGM, this is also the same period The Testament of Solomon was written too. The popularity of magic ring lore stemmed in this period too. The ancient Graeco-Egyptian system of magic also represents the multicultural society that existed in Egypt two millennium ago, which is fascinating. It is easy to think this book is strictly Greek methodology by the mere title, but ancient Greek is the majority of the language it was written, but the other parts were written in Demotic (the common writing language of all native Egyptians). The diversity in the text reveals adaptation of antiquated cultures of the Greeks, Egyptians, remnants of the Babylonians, Jewish people, and Persians. In this article I will be pointing out A) methods, B) beliefs, C) why this system is the establishment of modern western occultism, D) why a practitioner should study this magic, and E) the historical value this adds to western magic as a whole. Every system of magic has a method and methodology, so hereafter we begin. The methods in the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae), or The Greek Magical Papyri, are very ancient as we can tell by the ingredients.
There is heavy usage in frankincense, myrrh, laurel, and olive; this is important because of the emphasis applied on the usefulness of these particular herbs and their religious/spiritual significance. Frankincense and myrrh were so valuable that even King Solomon opened up trade routes for these ingredients and it was his lover, Sheba. Frankincense and Myrrh were given to Joseph and Mary in the New Testament of the Bible, and these ingredients were used by the ancient Egyptians. The importance of this herb only emphasizes not just the exotic vitality people applied to these herbs, but also the spiritual value. Laurel is another longstanding tree that is hard to spot in too many latter grimoires in the occult at a much later time. Laurel was associated with the Sun God, Apollo, and in the PGM interchangeable with Helios, IAO, Yahweh, Ra, Horus, and other solar deities. In PGM I. 262 – PGM II. 184 are rites for invoking Apollo to scry and divine, a twig of laurel was one of the most crucial ingredients, but there are other places in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells that require laurel crowns, wands, leaves with sigils, and items which are useful to the system of magic.
Olive was a popular Mediterranean because of its many uses; it was used for light in olive oil lamps, mixing with water to scry, tables, and wands. Olive was associated with Athena in the ancient Greek world, King Solomon also made his temple doors framed with olive wood, and the cherubim who had their wings hoisted above the ark of the covenant. It was this one simple vegetable that transformed the world of hard times into a much easier time, So it was no wonder that the PGM placed it as one of the primary vegetables and woods of this system. Granted there are other herbs that were used in this ancient system of magic, but it is my personal opinion that these are the four main herbs that every practitioner of this system should work to educate themselves in every regard with the PGM. However, there is more to this system than herbs, but also the methods of The Greek Magical Papyri. One of the most common arts spoken of in the books is dealing with daemons, but in this period it could be the soul of a person or non-human entity, sometimes a god itself. So this was a period before Christianity labeled demons of Hell as the spawn of Satan. One spell calls Zeus, “daemons of daemons.” Another spell in the PGM calls a human spirit a daemon. This drives me to the conclusion the Graeco-Egyptian magicians just thought spirits were spirits, whether humans or gods. This provides further evidence that the Christians were not the first nor the last to turn gods and goddesses into demons, these were polytheistic practitioners who demonized their own deities.
While some forms of magic that borderlines religious methods of devotion, the Greek Magical Papyri is entirely different in this regard. This ancient group of magical texts is not designed for worship, but for manipulation of the spirits. One spell has the magician call forth Demeter so he can blow out her torches and he will light them after the earth goddess of the seasons does as he wishes. She carries the torch to find Persephone in the underworld. Protection is very important for the magician in this system, hence phylacteries were made for spells that were used to manipulate the gods. It is written that was an ancient Egyptian practice to manipulate spirits and gods by Stephen Skinner, this theory would have a strong foundation as many scholars would observe The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Some Egyptologists believe that the spell you recite for your heart to be lighter than a feather was to manipulate the scales held by Thoth at the time of judgment for the soul, rather than actually having a pure heart. The technique used in this practice would be the heart of the Roman Catholic exorcisms and Goetic exorcists’ practices to manipulate the spirits.
Before the art of High Magic (Theurgy) and Low Magic (Thaumaturgy) this system was an admixture of both systems. Without a doubt there were many shamanistic practices; such as a spell you would say when you picked a plant and wrapped it in linen, the sun having specific animals at certain hours (as is indicated in To Build a Relationship with Helios), and the much deeper natural views where water was not simply water. As an example, rainwater was seen as water of the gods, the river was seen as the water of the Sun God, and seawater was conducive for calling terrestrial spirits. Keep in mind, just because this book has more natural magic associations let’s not forget the ceremonial magic aspects of the PGM.
The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells has some interesting views on early ceremonial magic. There are 2,000-year-old barbarous names that were later god names in ceremonial magic. The idea of the ABRACADABRA triangle method can also be found here but taken to much more extremes. Many letters and words would be used to fill spaces, makes shapes, draw images of gods, be used in phylacteries, and other formulas which served magical intentions. This is one of the original ideas that words carry magical powers for the usage of will.
Now as for the beliefs of these people who compiled this entire system together for latter magicians of our era, the beliefs and ethics were entirely different. The amazing part of this system is it seems to be one of the earliest systems to be both esoteric and exoteric, however, 2,000 years ago these magicians probably did not examine this dichotomy or label it. There was also the idea of necromancy and how items could carry power.
Esoterically, this text addresses the power of the magician. The PGM addresses the idea of the magician having enough willpower to control and manipulate nature, rather than stand weak against nature. However, this is a myth to some degree since the magician needed the gods to make a change and he could not make the change himself. There was a part in the To Establish a Relationship with Helios, “because knowledge of you deified us.” The magicians in ancient Egpyt and Greece were very intelligent, thus their intelligence was a key part of their magic. I must have been magic to outsmart the gods and spirits of the air using the talismans or learning the art of medicine. This almost follows the paradigm that the soul is in the mind in the ancient Greek world. Each of these symbols was used in an original system that we call the Greek Magical Papyri. This text also has a strange mixture of mystery school initiation writings, independent magicians, and priests of the Egyptian religion so naturally there will be the esoteric element. This independent thinking and interpreting these symbols to another shows how the occultist would see each and every symbol. Another esoteric view is the Sun was seen as the life of man. Many gods from many other cultures were conflated and deflated to other deities from other regions. This shows how the magicians saw them esoterically.
The exoteric value is the literal, external value. Without a doubt, these occultists believe these were the forces that governed the world around them, otherwise, they would not try to control them. The exoteric value also demonstrates a deity hierarchy, Helios being the highest god of this system and Selene being second in command. Helios was interchangeable with the Hebrew God and Selene was also many of the ancient Greek deities; to have control over these spirits exoterically actually empowers the magician to be an operator in his environment. That is part of the appeal of this magic too. There is a literal belief in gods, daemons, spirits, and shamanistic animals.
Once we learn how the beliefs of this systemic theory operate then the magician will be able to the value of this magical system in modern times.
In modern times we find that authors write books using methods from latter grimoires and even change the theological theory behind this magical liturgy. In the Ars Goetia the Triangle with a circle is used to summon the spirit and keep the magician safe from it. As you will see in the picture below.
The beauty of this triangle stems from The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells. If you look in the picture you will see a 2,000-year-old artifact that was used by Graeco-Egyptian magicians to control the spirit, but instead, the triangle had Hecate on all three sides and the stand had a circle that held a divination bowl.
Aleister Crowley’s Bornless Ritual is actually from The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells. This ritual is used to summon and control spirits from the Goetia of The Lesser Key of Solomon. It should also be interesting to note that Solomonic Magic began around the period of Graeco-Egyptian magic, thus came Solomonic liturgy mentioned in grimoires. The methods of using the wand to direct energy and the dagger to threaten the spirit also come from this system of magic. The PGM has contributed so much to modern magic that the only things that seem to have changed from the PGM to grimoires are the tools and religion to some extent. So why should you practice from the Greek Magical Papyri in Translation with Demotic Spells? The answer is simple, you will get the oldest methods that predate any grimoire. You, as a magician and occultist, will have a chance to get your hands dirty in the art of practice of a real ancient system, not purported ancient magic with a pseudo-history. I have gotten some of my best results from this system and encourage others to draw from it and learn from it. There is nothing like this system of magic. The PGM may have some holes due to not having the whole parts of the papyri, but there are certainly no traps like in the later systems of magic. This is my favorite system of magic by far.