An Ancient Egyptian Handbook of Incantations, Spells And Mysteries

Egypt is known for its majestic monuments – from the ancient pyramids of Giza to the Great Sphinx. For the avid traveler, these landmarks evoke an air of curiosity: the story behind their construction is convoluted, and almost enigmatic in nature. But that’s just the beginning. Researchers have now deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook whose origin is dubious, and maybe just as mysterious.

The codex, referred to as the “Handbook of Ritual Power” by researchers, introduces readers to a series of invocations – anything from love spells to prescriptions. The book itself is about 1,300 years old, and is written in an Egyptian language known as Coptic.

According to Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, professors at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, “It is a completely 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner.

The ancient book “starts with a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power, “ they state. “These are followed by a number of prescriptions or spells to cure possessions by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business.”

At this time, the origin of the book is a mystery. It is currently housed in the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University in Sydney, and was acquired in 1981 from Michael Fackelmann, an antiquities dealer from Vienna. But where Fackelmann got the codex is unknown, although the writing seems to suggest that it came from Upper Egypt – maybe in the vicinity of Ashmunein/Hermopolis.

It is believed to date back to the 7th or 8th century, and may be associated with a group of people known as the Sethians. During that time, Christianity was widespread amongst Egyptians and many held Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve in high regard. Church leaders, on the other hand, considered the Sethians to be heretics. As such, by the 7th century, the group was largely extinct.

Researchers suspect that the book, with its mix of Sethian and Orthodox Christian invocations, may be a transitional document. It was mostly transcribed before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, and used by ritual practitioners outside the clergy.