Inviting gods: Cases of theophanies in the PGM collection

Eleni Chronopoulou
2016 Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae  
Theophanies are a structural element of every religion and are based, partly, on the effort to reinforce the religious credo of believers -the appearance of a god before the eyes of a human proves his existence and his power -and, partly, on the need of humans to reassure their faith, always seeking proofs. Probably the earliest description of a theophany is in the Epic of Gilgamesh but certainly the most impressive is the Homeric narration of the encounter between Athens and Ulysses under a
more » ... e, where they talk and laugh like old friends. However, testimonies of theophanies can be also found on the margin of official religion, in the field of magic. The difference here is that god does not appear voluntarily but is compelled by the power of the magic rituals to reveal himself and serve human desires. In this paper, I intend to unfold the PGM (Papyri Graecae Magicae) collection, and, bearing in mind its magico-religious syncretistic character and the multi-cultural and multi-religious environment of its Greco-Roman Egyptian origin, to describe the magical procedures aimed at the appearance of the god and then to analyze their underlying similarities and compare them with the "official" theophanies, in order to detect repeated motifs, influences or problems. human encounter was not described simply to enhance a particular individual, but was always carried out with larger societal and covenantal concerns in mind, as Savran states. 2 These limited manifestations are of particular importance, because they somehow minimize the difference between human and divine and bridge the gap between them. In theophanies, the place, the time, the form of the manifestation and its purpose were usually left to the discretion of the deity. Theophanies also appear in the realm of magic. However, here the manifestation of the god loses the elements of suddenness and unpredictability, because it is not the god who takes the initiative to be seen but he is compelled to do so and is forced to be manifested by magical formulas, incantations and voces magicae. In magic, the deity is usually called in order to reveal the future and to guarantee a prosperous life and his support and protectiveness once and forever to the practitioner. Although it does not have a malicious purpose, the idea of a god compelled to serve human desire seems to cross the permitted borders, was branded as hybris and was therefore prohibited, being exiled to the weird world of magic. This is of course an important distinction between religious theophanies and magical theophanies. However, the greatest testimony of magic in antiquity, the Greek Magical Papyri (hereafter PGM) collection, is full of such magical rituals. Let me begin with some introductory remarks on Magical Papyri in general, for those who are not familiar with the context of magic. The PGM is a body of papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt. They contain a variety of magical spells and formulas, hymns and rituals. The majority of them date back from the 2nd century AD to the 5th century AD. Created in the multi-cultural and multi-religious environment of Greco-Roman Egypt, they are a unique testimony and their editions, especially that of Preisendanz, 3 which incorporated almost all, have offered much to the understanding of the magical-religious amalgam of the Roman Imperial period. At the same time, however, the PGM is a collection characterized mainly by its lack of homogeneity. Written over a period of more than three hundred years, by different hands and under unknown circumstances, most of the papyri contain a variety of recipes and magic spells that do not allow us to easily classify them and draw conclusions about their origin and use. This paper aims to examine a magical ritual called "the spell of Pnouthis" aiming at the apparition of a deity and other cases of theophanies from the same collec-
doi:10.1556/068.2016.56.1.2 fatcat:2zeoyaerhngjpmm7l74yf6hq6a