Hellenic Magic Ritual
Hellênikê Magikê Teletê
Magicus Ritus Graecus
The following is a general framework for a Neopagan Hellenic Magical Rite (Greek: magikê teletê, Latin: ritus magicus) derived from ancient sources. The general structure derives from the Neoclassical Sacrifice: General Celebratory Ritual Outline, which contains full annotation of its sources; only the specifically magical aspects are annotated in the following. The purpose here is to set out Hellenic practice, not to discourage or disparage deviation from this norm. Also, this document is limited to the structure of the ritual and does not cover the principles of spell construction.
The entire ritual should be memorized; it is not effective to read during a magical operation. (Memory is part of the basic training of a Magos; there are also spells for memory improvement
Cleanliness is crucial; bathing in running water is best. You and your assistants (Grk. sunergoí, Lat. adiutores) should dress in clean garments, typically an ungirded white linen robe or toga (Grk. himátion); avoid wool and leather, which are ritually impure. Your hair should be unbound except for a white woolen band or a wreath (especially of a plant dear to the God, such as laurel or olive). Participants may be barefoot and anointed. (All this is typical. Specific operations may require you to be skyclad, to wear a black garland, to be girded with palm fibers from a male date palm, etc.) The Hellenic Magos occasionally uses a magic wand (Grk. ho magikòs rhábdos, Lat. magica virga) or may hold a virgula divina (divine sprig, e.g. of laurel or olive; Grk. thallós), amulet or fillet, as needed by the working [wand]. Sometimes preparatory sexual abstinence (for 24 hours., 3 days, or 7 days) is appropriate (to build libido), as well as either dietary restrictions (no meat, uncooked food, or wine) or fasting. Before the operation you should prepare any amulets, phylacteries, substances, etc. that you will need. [preparation]
In general, your attitude should be one of good cheer (eúphrôn), trust and self-respect, not humility or fear; think of a Homeric hero seeking aid from a superior. However, it is foolish to attempt to compel a Divinity.
iij. Timing and Location:
Magic is best performed at liminal times and places, that is, on the cusp of change, neither here nor there, neither now nor then. For example, places include crossroads, roofs, hearths, boundaries, thresholds, the shores of bodies of water, as well as consecrated sanctuaries. Times include the new moon, full moon, dawn, dusk, midnight, moonrise, the solstices and equinoxes. These general considerations aside, the specifics of a working and astrological considerations may dictate the particular time and place. [liminal]
iv. The Altar:
The altar (Grk., bômós, Lat. ara) may be a wooden, brick or stone table, pillar, heap of stones, a stack of sod cut for the occasion, or anything else that can accomodate the equipment, the sacred fire (see The Fire, below), and perhaps an image of the God to be invoked. The altar may be portable or permanent, but it is most convenient if it is at least waist-high. An indoor altar should be covered with a clean linen cloth. [altar]
v. The Sanctuary:
The sanctuary (Grk., témenos, Lat. templum) is often defined by a wall, although that is not necessary; indeed it may be defined just for the working by the Circumambulation. Also you may define a temporary sanctuary by unfolding a sufficiently large white linen cloth.[cloth] If the sanctuary is permanent, it is usually entered from the east. An indoor sanctuary should be swept clean, especially by a besom (ritual broom, especially made of laurel). [sanctuary]
vi. The Fire:
A permanent altar may have a large built-in hearth in which wood (e.g. grapevine, laurel, juniper) or charcoal can be burned. On the other hand, one or more candles or oil lamps (filled with olive oil, never red in color) can suffice for an altar fire, unless other substances are to be burned, in which case a brazier will be required. The fire is lit before the start of the working. [fire]
vij. Lustral Water:
Fill a portable lustral bowl (khernibeíon) with pure (preferably spring) water for purification. (Ordinary tap water can be purified by the addition of a little previously consecrated water, salt or natron.) The lustral water should be discarded (as impure) after the working. [water]
Incense may be burned on the altar fire or in a censer. Censers may be lit before the operation is begun, but additional incense is normally burned during the working. The most commonly used incenses are frankincense, myrrh, styrax and kyphi. Incense is most commonly prepared by grinding the ingredients and combining them into small pellets (pítura), although uncut incense may be burned. Sulphur may be burned for purification. [incense]
ix. Other Offerings:
Magical workings usually call for libations of (unmixed) wine, honey, milk, water or oil, and food offerings such as fruits, vegetables, bread, cakes and broth (most often in units of seven). Solid food offerings may be burned on the altar fire or brazier; otherwise they are put in an offering dish for later dedication. Liquid offerings may be poured on the ground, the altar fire (for flammable liquids), or into an offering dish. [offerings]
x. Verbal Performance:
Ancient magic differed from ordinary religious ritual in that spells were silent or murmered (Lat. susurrus magicus, Grk. ho magikòs psithurismós), as opposed to ordinary prayers, which were normally spoken out loud. There seem to be two reasons for this. First, spells are often concerned with private matters, for which even ordinary prayers might be silent or murmured. Second, magic often inverts ordinary practice as a way heightening consciousness (hence the use of archaic words, foreign languages and pantheons, inverted rituals, etc.).[verbal performance] On the other hand, audible incantations can help to entrain your assistants with your intentions.
For greatest effectiveness, certain spells or parts of spells (vowel chants, etc.) – the spells proper (Grk. epôdaí, Lat. carmina) – must be sung or recited sonorously, if circumstances permit. In any case, all ritual actions should be accompanied by appropriate verbal formulas, in the mind (by attentive imagination) if not out loud. [verbal performance]
Normally you enter the sanctuary from the right and approach the altar from the east. Carry the Khernibeion (bowl of lustral water) to the right around the altar three times, which delimits the sacred from the profane. (If you have assistants, they follow you to the sanctuary, but proceed directly to the altar, so that you encircle them with the altar.) [circumambulation]
While circumambulating you may recite an invocation such as this [pronunciation]:
I circle round creating sacred space,
invoking from the Heavens holy grace.
I call the Gods to guard this solemn rite,
and ward this hallowed ground with walls of light.
Let sky above and earth below unite,
a bond established by Olympic might.
Let fear and discord leave without a trace,
and peace prevail within this holy place.
Let word be deed by this decree.
As it is said, so must it be!
Érgon ho lógos genésthô tôde múthô.
Háte legómenon toûto êdê éstô! (Grk.)
Sit verbum factum hoc decreto.
Ut dictum est, sic statim fiat! (Lat.)
More briefly you may say:
I circle round [the altar].
Periérkhomai [ton bômón]. (Grk.)
[Aram] circumeo. (Lat.)
The sanctuary is thus consecrated by holy words and becomes a fanum (Grk. hierón). When the circumambulation is complete, take your position facing the altar in the direction appropriate to the working (normally you face to the east) and place the bowl on the altar.[direction] You may declare:
Begone, whatever is unholy!
Hekàs, ô hekàs, éste bébêloi! (Grk.)
Procul, o procul, este profani! (Lat.)
Take a burning brand from the sacred altar fire and thrust it into the lustral water (Grk. khérnips, Lat. aqua lustralis); this consecrates the water, making it húdôr theíon (Grk., holy water) or aqua igne sacra inflammata (Lat., water inflamed by sacred fire). You may say something like the following during this consecration:
Cool Water from the Earth below,
Bright Fire from the Air above,
Opposed, give birth to all we know,
United now in perfect Love.
By Harmony thus unified,
May all our Arts be purified.
iij. Purification (Khérnibes):
For purification (Grk. khérnibes, Lat. lustratio) dip your hands in the lustral water; your assistants purify themselves the same way. Everyone’s hands are dried on a white linen cloth. Sprinkle lustral water over the altar, the offerings, the sacred area around the altar, and all the participants. While doing so, you may say:
For this purification you may use your right hand, an aspergillum (Grk. perirrantêrion), a sprig (especially of laurel or olive), or the firebrand. [lustration]
iv. Beginning (Katárkhesthai):
If others are present, call for silence:
Euphêmeíte! (Grk.: Speak no evil! Quiet!)
Favete linguis! (Lat.: Hold your tongues!)
Then begin to offer incense; you may make libations of wine (or other liquids as appropriate to the Deity) and burn food offerings, such as cakes and broth, at this time.
v. Invocation (Klêsis):
While continuing these offerings, recite the prayer of invocation. You may also stretch out to the God your hands holding any wand, virgula or other instrument you may be using. The typical prayer has three parts (invocatio, narratio, preces), but they may be treated flexibly: the last two may be inverted, and all three may be repeated more than once.[prayer]
a) Invocatio (Grk. Epíklêsis):
The purpose of the Invocatio (invocation proper) is to get the God’s attention, so He or She is invoked by name, epithet and special qualities (aretalogía) appropriate to the operation. For this purpose you should be familiar with the God’s mythology. Thus you might say such as the following:
I offer Thee this spice, O (name),
(names and epithets)
Attend my prayer and come Thou here to me,
(names and epithets)
Hail, my Lady/Lord, (and) hear Thy epithets:
(names and epithets)
Or by whatever name is Thy delight,
Approach and come Thou to this sacred rite.
The following may be repeated ad lib. with offerings to attract the Divinity:
Klûthi mou! (Grk.)
Exaudi me! (Lat.)
Come to me!
Elthé moi! (Grk.)
Adveni me! (Lat.)
Hither, Blessed One!
Deûro Mákar! (Grk.)
Huc, Beate/a! (Lat.: masc./fem.)
To all of these may be added the God’s name (in the vocative case).
b) Narratio (Grk. Aphêgêsis):
In the Narratio you establish your qualifications in seeking the presence of the Deity, often by displaying esoteric knowledge. Typically this takes three forms: First is the invocation of the God by secret names (so called “barbarian names”). Second is the recitation of previous situations in which the God has helped you or others in similar situations, for which you may mention relevant myths. Third is the recitation of instances in which you have fulfilled your vows and obligations to the God. Here are some examples:
I know Thee and I know Thy secret names:
I’ve said Thy symbols, signs and secret key,
which Thou, O Master/Mistress, hath divulged to me,
(your magical name), born of (mother’s name).
If ever I’ve fulfilled the vows I’ve made,
Then hear me now and grant to me Thine aid.
The formulas of invocation (“Come to me!” etc.) may be used here also.
c) Preces (Grk. Déêsis):
In the Preces or prayer proper you state your request.
Accomplish now this deed, and as I pray
Give heed to me, and to these words I say:
Since the Gods are wiser than we are, it is often advisable to add an “escape clause” such as this:
Or if this may not be, then what is best.
The petition may be finished by:
Now! Now! Quickly! Quickly!
Nûn! Nûn! Êdê! Êdê (Grk.)
Nunc! Nunc! Iam! Iam! (Lat.)
Some or all of the prayer is repeated seven or (less commonly) three times; other numbers may be appropriate for specific workings. Each repetition is accompanied with further libations and burnt offerings of incense etc. [repetition]
Libations of wine or oil may be poured on the altar fire, and it is considered very auspicious if the fire flares up, for it is a sign of the God’s presence. Libations may be accompanied with cries of:
Be kind! Be Thou propitious!
Propitius/a esto! (Lat.: masc./fem.)
vi. Working (Prâxis):
When you perceive the God’s arrival, begin the working proper (prâxis). It may involve additional operations (e.g., consecration of tools or amulets, healing, divination) which can be conducted now that the cooperation of the God has been secured. This may include sonorous incantations (Grk. epôdaí, Lat. carmina), chanting or singing of secret names and magic words (Grk. magikoì lógoi, Lat. voces magicae), as well as libations and other offerings. You may repeat the “Now! Now!” formulas after any petitions.
vij. Thanks Offerings:
When the operation is complete, you (and your assistants) may make additional thanks offerings of incense, wine, etc.; with them you may say:
Spondê! (Grk., spon-DAY)
Libatio! (Lat., lee-BAH-tih-o)
viij. Release (Apólusis):
The thanks offerings may accompany or be followed by a release such as this:[release]
Depart, O Master/Mistress, to Thy Realm,
To Thine own Palace, to Thy Throne.
Restore the Order of this World.
Be gracious and protect me, Lord/Lady.
We thank Thee for Thy presence. Go in Joy!
Depart, my Lord/Lady! Hence! Farewell!
Ápage, O Kúrie/Kuría! Hekás! Khaíre! (Grk.)
Apage, O Domine/Domina! Procul! Vale! (Lat.)
may be repeated until the God is perceived to have departed. It is appropriate to “blow a kiss” to the departing Deity: kiss your palm and then stretch out your arm.
If you have assistants, declare the formal end of the working by saying:
The Rites are done.
Teletaí eisi téleiai. (Grk., The rites are complete.)
Ilicet. (Lat., You may go; it is done.)
You and your assistants step backward out of the sacred circle (which opens it), turn around to the right, and leave without looking back. If your assistants are unfamiliar with the practice, you may say something like:
Step backward through the sacred circle, turn
toward your right and do not look behind.
Depart and keep your silence till we’re gone.
The working will be most efficacious if you and your assistants have no converse with one another or with other people before retiring for the night (or at least no sooner than removing your ritual robes). [closing]
This rite includes various words and phrases from ancient magical practice. In most cases these are given in Greek, Latin and English. Each Magos must decide, based on his experience as well as on the knowledge of his assistants, what balance to use between English, which is immediately comprehensible, and ancient words imbued with power through ancient magical practice. One reasonable compromise is to say the word or phrase twice, in English and in one of the ancient tongues. Following are guidelines for reasonably authentic ancient pronunciation.
Contemporary scholarship has established the following pronunciation for Ancient Greek, as transcribed here in the Roman alphabet (see also A Brief Guide to Ancient Greek Pronunciation). Vowels: a = o (as in “not”), e = ay (as in “bay”), ê = long eh, i = ee, o = oh, ô = long aw (as in “awe”), u = ü (like German ü or Spanish y-grec), au = ow (“cow”), ei = long ay, eu = eh-oo (blended), oi = oy (“boy”), ou = oo (“boot”). Consonants: mostly as in English, with the following exceptions: kh (or ch) = aspirated k (as in Scottish “loch”), ph = aspirated p (alternately, f), th = aspirated t (alternately, th as in “thigh”), z = dz, r is rolled. In many cases the accented syllable (which should be at a higher pitch) is marked (á etc.); if it is not, the syllable with the circumflexed vowel (e.g. ê) often bears the accent; this is perhaps the best that can be done in a simple Roman transcription of Ancient Greek. For magical purposes an acutely accented syllable should be a full musical fifth higher than the other syllables, and a grave accent should be a major third higher; the circumflex accent rises and falls. (See A Brief Guide for more on the pitch accent.)
Vowels and consonants are in general pronounced as in modern Romance languages such as Italian and Spanish. However, note that in Classical Latin c, g, t are always hard (even in “tio”), r is rolled, and v = w. Accent is on the second to last syllable (penult) if it is long (or there are only two syllables), otherwise on the third to last (antepenult).
For “magician” I use the term Mágos (Lat. Magus), which can refer to a man or a woman [LSJ, s.v.]. (For convenience I use the masculine pronoun for both male and female Magoi.)
The Hellenic Magos does not generally use an athame (ritual knife); if he uses a knife, it is usually for the sacrifice. In addition to the magical wands and sprigs mentioned in the text, it is worth noting that Egyptian magicians sometimes used bronze serpent-wands, perhaps representing the Goddess Weret Hekau [MAE pp. 11, 78, fig. 3]; She may correspond to Hekate. Protective circles were inscribed in the dirt with a boomerang made of hippopotomus ivory decorated with apotropaic symbols [MAE pp. 40-1, 78, figs. 19, 20, 38, 70]. Also, magic rods were sometimes used as instruments of authority [MAE pp. 78-9]. Although these are Egyptian practices, it must be recalled that the Greek magical papyri have much in common with Egyptian magical practice.
For examples, see for general preparation: PGM I.54-7, III.691-2; for ritual garb: PGM I.38, II.70-2, III.305-6, 619-20, IV.174-5, 214, V.452-4, AM pp. 80, 82, 87-8, GTM p. 48, MAE p. 77, MAW p. 116; for girding with a male date palm: PGM III.613-19, IV.905, 1341-4; for annointing: PGM II.74-5, V.235-6; for abstinence: PGM I.291-2, III.303-4, IV.26, 52-6, 735-6, 784-5, 898-9, IV.3210.
GTM pp. 46-7, MAW p. 116, e.g. PGM IV.28-30, 56-60, 700.
See, e.g., PGM III.295-9, 304-5, IV.2190, XIII.1010-12.
See for example PGM IV.171-2 and MAW p. 116.
MAE p. 77, MIAS p. 228.
E.g. PGM IV.910, 919. On the red-taboo see PGM I.278, II.57, IV.1391-2, VII.595, xiv.120-1; red is an inauspicious color in Egyptian magic [PGM p. 336, MAE p. 81].
For the use of natron (a natural compound of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate), see e.g. PGM IV.2970, xiv.119-20. On salt and water see MIAS pp. 226-7, 229.
MAW p. 179, e.g. PGM IV.215, 1309-16, 2678-84.
E.g. PGM I.289, IV.1393-4, 2191, V.230-4, XII.21-3, xiv.65-8.
See GTM pp. 57-8, MAW pp. 82-3, RMAP pp. 25-8. The so-called “Mithras Liturgy” [PGM IV.475-829] contains good examples. On singing and chanting in Egyptian magic as a way of distinguishing it from ordinary speech, see MAE p. 68.
See, for example, PGM IV.2970-2. See also MIAS p. 295 and AM p. 152 = Lucian Philopseud. 12. The circumambulation may be three times for the Three Worlds (Sky, Sea, Underworld), seven times for the Seven Planetary Spheres, or nine times for the Nine Rings of Ocean [CGDS s.v. circumambulation].
See, for examples, PGM III.310, 325, 692, IV.261, 1096, 3195, VII.600, XII.213-15, XIII.8, 641-6, 824-42, 855-70.
See LSJ, s.v. kherniptomai; Aeneid II.279, MIAS pp. 20n7, 228.
See “Prayer in Magical and Religious Ritual” by Fritz Graf in MH (ch. 7). For examples see PGM III.30-41, 494-610, IV.261-85, 489-537, 2520-2567, 2785-2879, V.400-21, VI.6-45, VII.668-85, 756-94, VIII.1-26. For offerings with the prayer see e.g. PGM II.25. For the use of magical virgulae see e.g. PGM I.72, 264-5, II.30, III.704, IV.905. On “escape clauses” see RMAP p. 23. The prayers are in heroic hexameters, translated here as iambic pentameter.
See PGM passim (e.g. IV.209, 539, 986 for three, IV. 908, 959, 1271 for seven); see also MAW p. 74.
Based on PGM IV.3120-4, V.41-52, xiv.86-7; see also PGM I.94-5, 185, 342-7, II.176-83, IV.1061-5, VII.334. Voces magicae for release include
ANANAK ÔRBEOUSIR AEÊIOUÔ
[PGM IV.920] and Khôô or , which is the Coptic word for “depart” [PGM IV.1066 & note]
E.g. PGM I.38-9, IV.43-5, 2491-2, VII.440-2, MAW p. 115.
Good general introductions are MAW and AM. Then study PGM; good examples are I.262-347, II.1-64, IV.154-285, 475-829 (“Mithras Liturgy”), 850-929, 930-1114, V.96-102, XIII.1-343, xiv.117-49. Flowers [HM] has adapted for modern use many of the spells in PGM. Although these papyri are from Egypt, they reflect Greek magic more than Egyptian; in any case magical practice was cosmopolitan in late antiquity [PGM pp. lvi-ii, MAE p. 163].
Luck, George. Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.
Chevalier, Jean, & Gheerbrant, Alain. A Dictionary of Symbols, tr. by John Buchanan-Brown, Penguin, 1996.
Mauss, Marcel. A General Theory of Magic, tr. by Robert Brain, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
Flowers, Stephen Edred (ed. & intro.). Hermetic Magic: The Postmodern Magical Papyrus of Abaris, Weiser, 1995.
Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., & Jones, H. S. A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. with suppl., Oxford University Press, 1968.
Pinch, Geraldine. Magic in Ancient Egypt, University of Texas Press, 1994.
Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World, Harvard University Press, 1997.
Faraone, Christopher A., & Obbink, Dirk. Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, Oxford University Press, 1991.
Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion, Oxford University Press, 1983.
Betz, Hans Dieter (ed.). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Versnel, H. S. “Religious Mentality in Ancient Prayer,” in H. S. Versenel (ed.), Faith, Hope and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, E. J. Brill, 1981.
Hellenic Magic Ritual