Defining the Magical Practitioner in Antiquity

When we think of curses, we think of a magician, or even a witch, who’s up to no good in the dark of the night. Ancient literature teems with this figure: the witch of Endor, Medea, even followers of Jesus figure into this portrait of the evil magical practitioner (Gordon 253).

I want to set aside the specific question of cursing for a moment, and look at how we define the magical practitioner in antiquity. I would argue that we can’t define such a person—or at the very least, that it’s hard to pinpoint such a figure.

While I may not draw a hard and fast line between religion and magic, others have attempted to define what separated magicians from their religious counterparts. I want to look at some of these categories and determine whether or not they are useful for analysing magic in antiquity. In many ways, these categories reflect the similarities between the two spheres rather than any inherent differences.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons.