At a time when many turn to dating sites to find love, the idea of mixing love and magic is quite alien. However, that is exactly what some Egyptians did 1300 years ago, as an ancient piece of parchment deciphered by an expert reveals.
An illustrated love spell
The papyrus, which has been given the rather poetic name P. Macq. Inv. 588, depicts two creatures facing each other, possibly birds. They are surrounded by fragments of sentences which reference biblical characters and events. The text is written in Coptic, a language which descends from ancient Egyptian and which uses the Greek alphabet. It became the liturgical language of Egyptian Christians known as the Copts.
A new analysis of the papyrus led by Korshi Dosoo at the University of Strasbourg established a resemblance to other similar manuscripts and rituals of the period, arriving at the conclusion that this might be a magic spell to generate love, and possibly protection, between two people.
'This image shows affinities with a number of similar tableaux from other texts of the same genre, and analysis of these images, alongside textual evidence, suggests that they may be understood as a representation of a ritual intended to unite two lovers,’ Dosoo writes in his study, which was published in the Journal of Coptic Studies.
An ambiguous image
The differences between the two figures could suggest that one is male and the other female, and that they are possibly united sexually, or held together by chains. Instead of being depicted back to back, which would suggest a separation, the two figures face each other and this indicates that the subject is a love spell. According to Dosoo, this drawing might have been made with the aim of impressing the client who requested the spell, as well as adding to their mystery.
There is also a mention of the biblical figure Achitophel, the counsellor of King David who would end up turning against him. For Dosoo, this is a sign that the spell aims to expel bad influences. The mention of an exotic deer musk perfume is a further hint at the attraction between lovers.
This papyrus fragment might be part of a larger volume, possibly a collection of magic spells. Despite all these elements, the task of interpreting the text and establishing its age remains a difficult one according to Dosoo. So we advise out readers to think twice before using it on a person of their choice.