The Coptic Spell Book

Grimoires, magic book, spell book...whatever you call them these strange and mysterious tomes have been rumored of and spoken about for centuries. Whether they are playfully depicted in movies like Hocus Pocus or were used as a reason to steal people from their homes in the middle ages on claims of illegal witchcraft, you’ve probably stumbled upon a story of a spell book in one form or another in your life. But, what about when those spell books are discovered?

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Also known as ‘An Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power’, the Coptic Spell Book is a scroll full of invocations and spells. It gets its common name, the Coptic Spell ook, because of the language it was written in. Coptic is an Egyptian language that is based on the Greek alphabet augmented with letters borrowed from Demotic, the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. The book itself dates back to, approximately, the 8th century BCE and likely originated in Upper Egypt. Researchers classify it as a codex and it made from 20 bound pages of parchment.

The text was originally discovered in 1981 when a researcher was going through the extensive papyrus collection at Macquarie University and it was recently translated by Malcolm Choat and Ianin Garnder.

The book seems to be laid out purposefully. It begins with a series of invocations which eventually culminate in drawings and words of power. These invocations are followed by spells to cure various ailments, spiritual issues (including possessions), and finally spells to bring about desirable things like success in love and business.

Surprisingly, the Coptic Spell Book contains links to Christianity. Many of the invocations are actually Orthodox Christian invocations. However, it’s main focus seems to be Sethian. Sethians were a group that held that Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, in high regard. The book also calls upon Baktiotha, who is an ambivalent figure. However, according to Live Science, “The researchers believe that the invocations were originally separate from 27 of the spells in the codex, but later, the invocations and these spells were combined, to form a "single instrument of ritual power.”

Who was this codex created for? It would not necessarily need to be a priest, monk, or another religious figure. Perhaps it could be used by those outside the ranks of the clergy or religious world. I certainly think this is a possibility because of the spells included, especially towards the end. While it would make sense to include healing spells and cures to ailments to a religious text for religious use, I think the addition of things like success and lay spells indicates lay-person usage.

The above image is entitled Museo Archeologico - Milan. It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 and was taken by Jose Luiz Bernardes Riberio.