Jenay Clark

Chapter 7

Prayer in Magic and Religious Ritual

Fritz Graf


"The relationship between magic and religion has long been a problem widely discussed among historians of religion. Opinions ranged from the one extreme position that magic is different from and in strict opposition to religion if not its most dangerous opponent to the other where the term magic is denounced as a semantic trap and altogether expelled from scientific vocabulary" (pg.188).


ö The basics for this chapter as stated by the author is to see whether or not some of the prayers included in the collection of the Papyri Graecae Magicae are different from the other traditional non-magical prayers.


I. Sir James Frazer

a. Magician-constrains, coerces, and forces the divinity to do his will

b. Religious man- submits himself to God's overpowering will

c. Believes that prayer is the "quintessence of religion" so he chose to focus on this aspect in his chapter.

d. Papyri published during the later part of the 19th century contained spells, hymns, and prayers. Scholars could no longer ignore its significance.

e. Alluded to ritual text of mystery cults that the magicians used and Homeric verses.

f. Frazerian dichotomy-"implicitly devaluating magic (at least from a Christiano-centric point of view), helped to facilitate this interpretation and prevented the apparent permeability between magic and religion from becoming a problem"


II. Importance

a. To the Greeks, a magician wasn't simply somebody who recited or uttered spells but he prayed to the gods as well.

b. Plato used prayers and spells to help him persuade the gods.

c. Several words appear that allude to magic. Appear in titles of spells and throughout the text.

Formula- the spoken magical action appears

Prayer-appears the most

III. Prayers are tripartite - structure is functional as well as very important

a. Invocation- calls the attention of the divinity and invites it to come and participate in the ritual. Myths, cult-places, and epithets of the gods being called are surely mentioned so that the god will feel obligated to come.

b. Narrative or second part/middle part- the person asking for something gives his/her credentials or qualifications so that they can establish their right to ask the divinity something. Present their sacrifices.

c. Final section- contains the actual wish that is addressed to the specific god of gods. The wish is brought forth as soon as the divinity is addressed, not wasting any time.

d. Certain prayers (189-190) and their interpretations are left up to the individual and adapted in their own way. For example when referring to a persons name the person praying, they can customize this part to fit the prayer. The (NN) means a persons name is to be inserted and can be left up the person praying whether or not they will mention their name or the other person involved.

ö According to Frazer, there is still no difference between religion and magic up until this point. Like religion all the parts are there, the epic listing of the divinities and the invocations. Demons also appear as well as evil forces.


IV. Sacrifices- nearly all Greek prayer accompanies a sacrifice

a. Burnt offerings

i. For a spell to do good spices are in order: storax, myrrh, sage, frankincense, and the pits from fruits.

ii. For a spell to do harm you need: "magical material of a dog and a dappled goat, as well as of a virgin untimely dead"

ö Graf sums this magic up as not being any different than from religious prayer. Notable exceptions include the prayer in the voces magicae to Selene-Hecate and the material magica in the black magic version of the ritual.


V. Egyptian Influences

a. The magical words that aren't understandable or indistinguishable in certain parts of magical prayers are thought to be the names of Egyptian epithets or divinities.

b. There function includes invoking divinities. By using it, the magician makes certain that the god listens since the invoker has used the widest sphere of the god's activities and characteristics.

c. Hermes' many celestial names that aren't traditionally known are used in some prayers and involve using the Egyptian influences.

i. Hermes' many names aren't used to force the god to do something, however, they are used to display the knowledge displayed by the invoker. Gods reveal Hermes many names.

ii. When invoking the magician behaves not much differently than an initiate of a mystery cult.

VI. Magic and Religion with regards to prayer are the same according to Graf

a. Coercion is present but not a strong enough force to take it literally or deriving magic from religion.

b. Separate classes of coercive spells and rituals also exist, however, there aren't enough of them to make them a distinguished part of magic.

c. One ritual spell that uses the coercive spell is the Eight Book of Moses

VII. Hierarchy

a. Supreme god "great name"

b. Lesser gods

c. Evil daemons (i.e. planetary gods on the other side) and the helpful angels

ö Magic especially used daemons and angels, whom the magician could command with the help of the supreme god.

ö Magicians weren't much different then from the religious individuals

VIII. Ritual

a. Contained fumigations

i. Appear in the Orphic Hymn-religion and magic both

ii. Libations also common to religion also appear

iii. Animal sacrifices


IX. Differences

Animal sacrifices usually appear in holocaust or strangulation forms but never in the Olympian version of sacrifice.

a. Followed by the animal sacrifice there were usually group meals

b. When the animal parts were eaten the magician usually appeared alone, in contrast to the sacrificial meal that occurred.

c. Magician is an isolated individual

i. Itinerant specialists working for a customer

ii. Individual layperson-practicing the ritual in their own interest

ö The differences between prayer and magic are according to Graf very important: "the community, which finds its identity and its feeling of communitas in the Olympian sacrifice and the ensuing meal, is absent from the magical praxis".

ö The sacrifices in the Papyri Graecae Magicae are not public festivals

ö Both holocaust and libations with fluids occur outside magical ritual in "religious" rituals.

ö Burnt offerings in rituals are strange-salt and soil. Burning these commonly meant alienation from the human world and moving the magician to in a sphere closer to the divinity where they will talk.

ö Burnt offerings in the Prayer to Selene were used to work either good or bad. To work good: one had to burn spices and a fruit pit. Evil: magical material of a dog, a goat, and a virgin.

ö Slander spell of Selene- warranted unholy actions as well.

ö The main distinction of magic according to Graf is the ritual and not in the prayers themselves and not so much in the form of the rituals. Magic and religion share the function.

X. Conclusion

"In the world of syncretistic religion and magic, no provenances and clear borrowings of traditional formulae can be shown" (197).

Return to Main Page: CLST 4003H. Honors Colloquium on Greek Religion. Spring 2002