Ancient Greek Love Magic – Spells for Attraction: Aphrodisiacs, Curses, Voodoo Dolls, Secret Names and Coercing Eros

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In ancient Greece all forms of unrequited love had magical solutions. The lover could send Eros to do his bidding, curse the loved into her arms, or use aphrodisiacs.

In the ancient Greek world not all was fair in war, but it certainly was in love. Unrequited love and sexual desire are the main reasons for employing a witch in the literary sources and ancient Greek spell books and collections abound with magical cures for heartache, many of which involve supernatural coercing of the beloved. Some even aim, with malicious intent, to separate lovers.

Binding Spells: Cursing Tablets and Ancient Greek Voodoo Dolls

The common method of controlling a prospective lover was through a binding spell. Such magic could incite hunger and desire for the curser and a great unhappiness that could only be quelled by being together. The most popular manner of cursing in all of Classical Antiquity was through cursing tablets, also known as defixiones. Over 1,600 such tablets have been found. Traditionally, the tablet was made of lead, the curse was inscribed in the lead, and then it was folded or rolled up and pierced shut with a nail and deposited, frequently in a cemetery.

Such a spell may take the shape of this 4th-3rd century BCE defixio, found in a Macedonian cemetery:

“Pausanias binds Sime, daughter of Amphitritus (may no one except Pausanias undo this spell) until she does for Pausanias everything Pausanias wants. May she not be able to lay hands on a sacrificial victim of Athena, nor may Aphrodite look kindly upon her, until Sime holds Pausanias tight.”

Another popular form of binding a lover was through the use of clay or wax puppets, similar to the modern popular notion of Caribbean voodoo dolls. Numerous puppets have been found, as well as instructions for making them.

One papyrus from Hellenistic Egypt instructs the man who wishes to bind a woman to make one male and one female figure out of clay. The female figurine is to be placed on her knees and with her hands behind her back. The curser is then to arm the male doll with a sword, like Ares, with which he strikes the neck of the female doll, which is then to be inscribed with a great number of exotic magic words of power. Then, the real magic of binding begins:

“Take thirteen bronze needles and insert one of them into the brain while saying: ‘I pierce your brain {name}’; insert two into her ears, two more into her eyes, one into her mouth, two below her rib cage, one into her hands, two into her vulva and anus, and two in the soles of her feet, while on each occasion saying once: ‘I pierce the {body part} of {name}, so that she may think of no one except me alone, {name}.'”

The violence of the language seen here can be unsettling to the modern reader, but was quite ordinary in the realm of Greek cursing and used by men and women alike.

Sending Eros and Using the Secret Names of Aphrodite

Deities could be petitioned to participate in the curse on a cursing tablet, but they could also be more directly involved through the use of special rituals or sacred names. The secret name of Aphrodite, one of which has been given as Nepherieri in an ancient Greek spell book, was thought to give its speaker a kind of direct access to the power of the goddess.

Several surviving spells concern the controlling of Eros. The magician was instructed to create a statue of Eros, usually from wax, which was to be imbued with the spirit of the god through a period of consecration or through the burning of offerings. The god-in-wax was then made to serve the magician who, it was instructed, was to send the god forth to create unbearable longing or sensual dreams in the beloved which would ultimately lead him or her to the magician.

Ancient Greek Aphrodisiacs and Lust Spells

There were of course simpler incantations to incite a man or woman with lust, but one assumes upon reading them that they were not expected to be nearly as effective as those with exotic ingredients and requiring the aid of a professional witch. This example takes a leaf from the Judgement of Paris:

“Whichever woman I give the apple to, whichever woman I throw the apple at and hit with it, may she put off everything else and become crazy with love for me. Whether she takes it in her hand and eats it, or puts it away in her dress, she will not stop loving me.”

The Greeks also had a great many aphrodisiacs meant to instil a desire that was more than just temporary. Most of them appear to involve the rubbing of pungent or stinging mixtures onto a man’s penis.

“Take a crow’s egg, the juice of the crow’s foot plant, the bile of an electric ray from the river, work them together with honey and say the spell whenever you work them and anoint your genitals with them. The spoken spell is this: I say to you, womb of {name} gape open and receive the seed of {name} … Say these things as you work the substances, and whenever you anoint your genitals, and so have sex with the woman you want. She will love only you, and no one but you will copulate with her.”

As for the success rate, the sources remain quiet.

Sources:

  1. Betz, H. D. (ed.), The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells, Chicago 1986.
  2. Collins, D., Magic in the Ancient Greek World, Oxford 2008.
  3. Ingemark, C. & Ingemark, D., Sagor och svartkonst under antiken, Lund 2004.
  4. Winkler, J.J., ‘The Constraints of Eros’ in Magika Hiera, New York 1991, 214-243.