Posted by: aediculaantinoi | April 8, 2014

Love Spells, Antinous, and Some Recent Issues…

So, as I mentioned in this post earlier today, a line of questioning that two of my students had with me inspired the blog post which follows here.

Many of you may recognize the figure above as the terra cotta “voodoo doll” found with a certain love spell, likely (but not certainly) near Antinoöpolis in Egypt, which seems to invoke Antinous as a daimon. Now, there is conjecture over whether this spell actually does invoke Antinous the god/hero/the Bithynian lover of Hadrian, or whether it’s just some other person named Antinous who happened to have died or have been buried in the vicinity of Antinoöpolis; this quandary is akin to wondering if a dead person named Tony might be St. Anthony if they happened to be buried near San Antonio, Texas–and while that may seem a bit silly as a comparison, it’s a fair enough point to make.

But, let’s assume that it does refer to Antinous in this odd fashion, and Antinous of Bithynia is the particular corpse daimon that is being invoked. (Although the likelihood that Antinous’ corpse was not in Antinoöpolis is another complicating factor with that matter…!?!) What, then does this spell tell us about Antinous, apart from this novel theology?

Let’s look at parts of the spell first:

I conjure you, Antinous spirit of the dead, in the name of the Terrible and the Fearsome, the name at whose sound the earth opens up, the name at whose sound the demons tremble in fear, the name at whose sound rivers and rocks burst asunder. I conjure you, Antinous spirit of the dead, by Barbaratham Cheloumbra Barouch Adonai and by Abrasax and by Iao Pakeptoth Pakebraoth Sabarbaphaei and by Marmaraouoth and by Marmarachtha Mamazagar. Do not disregard me, Antinous spirit of the dead, but rouse yourself for me and go to each place, to each neighbourhood, to each house and bring me Ptolemais, whom Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes; prevent her from eating, from drinking, until she comes to me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and do not allow her to accept the advances of any man other than me alone Sarapammon. Drag her by the hair, the guts, until she does not reject me, Sarapammon, whom Area bore, and I have her, Ptolemais, whom Aias bore, the daughter of Horigenes, subject to me for the entire extent of my life, loving me, desiring me, telling me what she thinks. If you do this, I will release you.

First of all, it tells us that this spell is very similar to a PGM IV spell, and the figure that was found with it matches exactly the recipe given in that spell. Why is that important? Because other parts of PGM include the spell that Pachrates/Pancrates of Heliopolis gave to Hadrian, and thus it is possible that the PGM IV document as-a-whole (which has some theological and structural similarities observed in the different spells throughout it) might have been something that could have circulated in Antinoan-related circles, and perhaps even in Antinoöpolis itself. It also uses Iao and Abrasax as voces magicae, which is very interesting theologically. Because of how this version is phrased, though, the first sentence quoted above almost reads in a way–at least to some people–as an echo of the Obelisk of Antinous, in which it says that the doorkeepers of the underworld open their doors to Antinous and praise him. Though it clearly means some other deity, whose name is being used to command and compel whichever “Antinous” it is here, the phrase “the name at whose sound the earth opens up, the name at whose sound the demons tremble in fear, the name at whose sound rivers and rocks burst asunder” has always struck a number of modern Antinoans as being something that they might say about Antinous himself in his more fearsome aspects (e.g. Antinous the Liberator).

Further, the spell is one in which a male is trying to elicit the attentions of a female, which is an interesting counter to the claims by some people that Antinous was a “gays-only” deity–the only love spell we have invoking him at all is not, and thus that is noteworthy, at least from a queer (rather than gay) theological perspective.

Whether this is our Antinous or not, though, this spell is important for another reason: it shows that there are “not-very-nice” aspects to the ancient cultus of Antinous as well as aspects that are much nicer, like calling him Deus Amabilis (“the Lovely God”) and other more tender-hearted and affable things. Ancient love spells were not “love spells” in the way we often think of them, they were “binding spells” that were intended to inflict pain and suffering on someone until they “came to their senses” and submitted to a would-be lover’s desires toward them. They were coercive, and blatantly and deliberately so; as such, they violated every concept of consent in erotic matters that we are aware of in modern society.

But, we don’t do this anymore.

It’s important not to whitewash the ancient cultus of Antinous–or any other deity in any culture–but it’s also not necessary, desirable, or remotely applicable to our modern situation to emulate or replicate, or even in many cases simply adapt, this kind of magical operation simply because it has a quasi-Antinoan stamp of approval and authenticity on it from the ancient world.

Given everything that has been happening in the wider pagan community recently, and the sexual ethics statements that are resulting from it (amongst other things), it feels necessary and very responsible to make this clarification, and thus I’ve made this entry.

What importance does this love spell have, then? If indeed it is our Antinous (and I, like most modern classicists, am going to assume that it is), it is part of the heritage–whether good or bad, positive or negative–of the wider cultus of Antinous; it presents a novel and unique theological perspective on Antinous not as a god or a hero but instead as a daimon; it has interesting further implications for what sorts of magical corpora were in vogue in Antinoöpolis in late antiquity; it has theological connections that are also intriguing.

It is not a model to be emulated, however, and thus is in the same category as slavery, pederasty, and imperialism (amongst many other things that we’ve abandoned, grown past, or in various other ways critiqued or abolished–for the very-definitely-better, too!) that occurred in the ancient world, which we can note and be honest about and discuss historically, but should not set out to idealize or imitate or practice.

Does that seem relatively clear? I hope so…

As the beginning of the season of Antinous the Lover approaches in less than two weeks, if one is in the mind of invoking Antinous in relation to love and love magic in particular, my suggestion would be to use high magic rather than low magic, so to speak: don’t create a spell to grab the attentions of a lover, but instead make a prayer to Antinous to make you open to love, and to attract a lover that is appropriate for you at your given place in life at the moment. It’s always better to ask nicely than it is to demand with threats, and this love spell not only compels the lover with severe discomfort, but it also compels Antinous. The name at whose sound the demons tremble, the earth opens up, and the rivers and rocks burst asunder–for our purposes here, Antinous–should, if anything, scare out and uncover the parts of ourselves that we have buried, have left empty to be inhabited by daimones of despair and fear, and un-dam the rivers within us that have been blocked.

If Antinous wills it, may it be so for each of us; and if Antinous does not will it, may we have peace with that fact.


  1. […] dealing with Antinous? The theology of Antinous as daimon comes from a very specific and not-necessarily-nice in its practical implications context; so, how do we go from that to a more general concept of this […]

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