It’s St. Valentine’s Day and for anyone trying to navigate the confounding world of dating, I have some ancient Christian wisdom that may change your love life forever.
Everyone in antiquity used magic for a staggering range of social crises from childbirth to chariot races; so, it should come as no surprise that Christians deployed spells to cope with the greatest crisis of all: how to win the girl of your dreams.
These spells are what you might expect from the ancients—graphic, desperate, and grossly misogynistic. So use at your own risk! I’m operating under the assumption that ancient Christians knew what was best in matters of love.
The extant corpus is truly staggering, so as part of my ecclesiastical duty, I’ve found the best one to use for Valentine’s Day this year. It’s not too weird, but leverages just enough ritual power to do the job.
The following excerpts come from Heidelberg Kop.518, a Coptic love spell found in Egypt that dates to around 800 CE. The original user inscribed the spell along with unintelligible drawings on a piece of parchment and apparently discarded it. If you want the entire spell, you’ll need to check out my “further reading” section at the bottom. It’s quite lengthy.
Among its many strategies, this spell invokes…
This spell invokes the heavenly powers of the archangels. Sure they have better things to do than helping with your amatory woes (like stemming an endless tide of demonic forces), but perhaps they will deign to assist you?
“By the great power of the archangels Michael and Gabriel
who go to wherever ____ daughter of ____ is…
fill her heart with every fiery desire
and every longing and every passion and every form of love…”
Archangels are ubiquitous in Late Antique magic, marked by the telltale suffix –el (note, for example, the less popular Raphael, Suriel, Uriel, etc.). Both Greco-Roman and Jewish magic invoke archangels, so this alone is insufficient evidence to label this spell as explicitly “Christian.” Especially when you consider…
Just in case you don’t completely trust the archangels to do your bidding, this spell also invokes Apollo and Zeus to cover all your bases. You can’t go wrong with a little bit of divine insurance.
…be a mediator!
Illumine the abyss!
Bring ____ daughter of ____
To ____ son of _____”
Here we problematize further the label “Christian spell.” I don’t hesitate with this label due to some notion that Christians didn’t practice magic (because they certainly did). I hesitate because what constitutes a “Christian” in Late Antiquity? Can we nail down this guy’s religious affiliation because he invokes Zeus, Apollo, Gabriel, and God? Possibly, but we find that ancient people leveraged as many strategies as possible to regain agency in a brief and brutal life.
3. Magic Words
Have you ever been at a loss for words? Ever stumbled in expressing your feelings that words gushed out like some incomprehensible stream of consciousness? Well fret no longer. With this spell, gibberish helps to harness and direct ritual power! Don’t forget everything that follows should be in Coptic. So pronounce your diphthongs correctly…otherwise I can’t guarantee the divine forces will hearken to your voice.
“Draw the prayer…bind them with linen strips; smear them with mud; burn them in the fire…when you write: ENASSAABRAN…NSHOURAN SHOUTABIN SHOURABATAN SHOURACHAN BAN SHOUSHF SHOURACHAEL PRIM PRIMPE…”
Scholars call these long strings of incomprehensible words voces magicae—essentially “magic words.” Although people often become fixated on “what do these mysterious words mean?” a better question is: “What did these voces magicae do for the practitioner?” Words, particularly vowels, were believed to harness ritual power. Speech not only enabled people to communicate with the divine, but it also had an ability to instigate action. Voces magicae, therefore, constitute ritualized speech. Who cares that they don’t convey meaning when you believe they are doing something?
Admittedly, I haven’t tried any of these spells for myself. But if you are the risk-taking type…start practicing your Coptic this Valentine’s Day.
…and don’t tell St. Valentine.
Meyer, Marvin and Richard Smith, eds., Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), 161-164