PhD Student at The Open University, Adam Parker writes for The Conversation about ancient love spells and charms.
Valentine’s Days is not all love hearts and roses for everyone. For the hapless in love, the day can be a yearly reminder of failed romances, unrequited love and the seemingly unending search for the illusive “one”.
Such problems of the heart span cultures and history. The inhabitants of the Graeco-Roman world suffered the same heartaches and the same emotional highs and lows as we do today. While we are left with apps to swipe on, a greater belief in magic in this period provided interesting opportunities to find love.
Hope was placed on spells, mysterious words and magical objects to grant the gift of love on their users or to take it away from rivals.
Ticks and fish blood
The Greek Magical Papyri are a series of ancient spell books from Egypt from between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD. They are a sort of do-it-yourself guide to magical rituals that offers solutions to problems like finding a thief, keeping calm, curing fevers and demonic possession. Unsurprisingly, love charms feature prominently.
Depending on the lengths a hopeful lover was willing to go (and their level of lust/obsession/desperation) there was something for all levels of effort. Some spells are “simple”: “To get a certain [her]at the baths: rub a tick from a dead dog on the loins.”
Others require a bit more preparatory work. One advertised as the “irresistible love spell of attraction” asks the unlucky lover to use fish blood to write a spell invoking demons on the skin of an ass. They must then wrap it in vetch (a plant with pink flowers) and hide it in the mouth of a recently deceased dog.
Love potions themselves have a long history and are discussed in several ancient texts. A Demotic (written in ancient Egyptian) spell proposed the following method:
Take the fragment of the tip of your fingernail and apple seed together with blood from your finger… Pound the apple, add blood to it and put it in the cup of wine. Recite [the given spell]seven times over it and you should make the woman drink it at a special time.
This visceral recipe is a variant of a spell that also added semen, and the hair of a dead man to the mixture.
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