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July 24th, 2008


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11:52 am - Ancient magic and misogynist magicians
So, as many of you know, I'm a big fan of authentic (or authentically reconstructed) grimoires of ancient magic. The Greek Magical Papyri (or PGM for short), the Sepher Ha-Razim (a reconstructed Jewish magical text), and a variety of other sources really interest me. (For a selection of bits that really interested me a couple of years ago, check out my "Authentic Chaos" pages, which have transcriptions of a number of the spells.)

I have a very academic curiosity about how these spells worked, and I would love to try a few out, you know, just to see what happens. On occasion, I have, and some of the stories have been posted in my LJ and on my website.

Most of them, however, I can't manage to actually try. Either they're too fragmentary, too manipulative for my modern Neo-Pagan sensibilities, or just too generally disgusting for me to ever be willing to admit that I did them. (And who wants to do magic that they can't boast about, really? If you're not taking credit for at least twice as much as you actually do a spell for, you're not a real magician.)

Interestingly, I have fewer issues with things like drowning kittens and scooping the eyes out of doves and then setting them free in order to obtain love than I have with one particular line in a lot of the "purification" requirements:
"You may not approach a woman in her menses"
I mean, what the hell?

I can't tell you how often I've come across a perfectly awesome (and non-animal-mutilating) spell for something really cool only to have it require this stupid little instruction.

I understand that the ancients were rather anti-woman. I've had it explained to me (in academic settings) that in the ancient world, the concept of "leaky women" was particularly problematic. Bodily fluids are generally unacceptable in ritual (depending on culture. . . though while blood is almost always cool, menstrual blood just isn't). I know that the "don't trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die" joke is really old. Yeah, I get all that.

However, since we know that there's nothing wrong with menstruation, I generally have issues with these spells on a lot of levels. Perhaps I'm just too modern to try them, really?

Heck, forget the logical arguments: what am I supposed to do if I want to try one of these spells, wear a sandwichboard sign that tells women who are menstruating to "back the hell away"?

The issue really comes down to this: I really object to the idea that purification requires staying away from mensturating women (which implies that they're somehow "dirty" or "impure"), but I'm such a stickler for "authenticity" when it comes to trying out new (old) things that I generally just skip over these spells when I see them.

Maybe it's time to start re-writing some of these old spells. That sort of thing isn't new to me: I've done it many times. But I've always had such a violent reaction to the idea that women in a specific (and natural) state are somehow unclean that I've never even attempted it.

It's interesting to me that spells designed to incite lust in married women never specify, "and could you please make sure she's not, you know, bleeding everywhere?" You'd think that would be important, given their clear obsession with it. (For convenience, we're going to ignore my obsession with their obsession for now.)

Slimy, misogynistic ancient magicians. . .
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Tampico Trauma", -JB

(42 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:mischevousblend
Date:July 24th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
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There is a good Vodoun "Self Love" Spell that involves using post-orgasmic fluids :)
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
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Indeed, sexual fluids are reasonably common in some contexts (though most common in modern stuff, rather than IE stuff, particularly in Greece and Rome). I have a lot of information on sex magic that runs the gamut of "pretty cool," to "people really do that?" which is entertaining on its own.

If nothing else, sex magic is always fun to talk about. But it's most fun when both people are on the same maturity level (whatever that level might be: it's just as much fun to have a deep, completely serious conversation as it is to have a joking, immature one).
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From:tanrinia
Date:July 24th, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)
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actually, i've decided the joke is actually fairly good advice. if you recall my 'cassandra' post from a couple of years ago :)
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
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I dunno. I thought it was kinda funny the first time I heard it. But I don't generally find women any more scheming or gossip-prone than men, and certainly not more dangerous.

I find a great equality in the human race :) Anything you can say about the personalities of women is generally equally true of the personalities of men, regardless of proclivity to bleed. :)
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From:alvita_felis
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)
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Reminds me of the story somebody told me. An intelligent young woman wanted to learn magic and she picked up a book deemed a "classic". When she read on the first page that "a woman cannot dabble in magic", she turned it down.

A true, evertru story for many of us!
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
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"A Discordian is prohibited from believing anything he reads" for just that purpose, I think. :)
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From:arianrhodstorm
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)

Then there is the other half of the problem

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What if the magician who wants to try the spell IS a woman? There have been a couple of spells I've toyed with trying, but they needed to be done on the full moon. I that's just when I usually cycle.

And is probably why I decided they just weren't worth it..
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Then there is the other half of the problem

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The moon stuff does come in sometimes, though it's not always as common as you might think.

I have a feeling, though, that the idea that "women aren't magicians" was probably the driving force behind this one.
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I dunno why, exactly, either. I suspect that the majority of the issue is that I can find a good chunk of stuff that doesn't have killing animals in there, but so little that doesn't have this little bit of "purification" involved.

I've also never really tried to adapt them, which is the other half of this.
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From:dubhlainn
Date:July 24th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
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I am not being sarcastic at all in this comment.

"You may not approach a woman in her menses"

When I read this line, granted without being familiar at all with the source material, I took it to mean "approach" as in the medeaval code of sexual relationships. I do not think avoiding sexual relations with a menstruating woman would be that difficult to handle. It may not be following the "pure" spirit of the spells but it would be a comprimise between a historic understanding and modern sensabilities would it not?



[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:July 24th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
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Generally, it means (in context) to "not be where menstruating women are." Sex, itself, is occasionally mentioned specifically as something to be avoided, so it's unlikely to be a straight euphemism for sex, I think.

And no worries, it doesn't sound sarcastic.
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 25th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
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Yeah. triadruid makes the point that it's less about "coming within so far" than it is "don't get all up on top of 'em" (bit of paraphrasing), which is likely true, and "approach" has connotations in English that should probably be taken into account in translation. I dunno. It's just ever so problematic to me on a number of levels, but less about the translation (you must admit, the sandwichboard has excellent YouTube possibilities) and more about the idea that it's "dirty" in the first place that bugs me.

Edited at 2008-07-25 03:15 am (UTC)
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 25th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC)
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*nods* It's that liminal inbetween stuff that gets most people in the ancient world. "Why nail a bat to your door to ward off evil?" "Because if we can't tell whether it's a bird or a mouse, the evil stuff can't tell if it's there to fight them or help them."

*nods* that does occur in the PGM, if I remember right. I suppose, though, that you might also have slaves to go get it, if you're a proper magician, or (more likely now that I'm thinking about it) you'd have lots collected before hand in little jars, just waiting to be used.
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From:wishesofastar
Date:July 25th, 2008 02:25 am (UTC)
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And who wants to do magic that they can't boast about, really? If you're not taking credit for at least twice as much as you actually do a spell for, you're not a real magician.

Misogyny is an ugly trait. In my opinion, arrogance is equally so.
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 25th, 2008 03:07 am (UTC)
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*laughs*
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From:nontacitare
Date:July 25th, 2008 03:23 am (UTC)
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Another way to look at it is that menstruating women have power, metaphysically speaking. I seem to recall some European culture having menstruating women walk over fields to ensure a good harvest. (I'm too tired to look it up right now.) The prohibition against menstruating women could well have been because women were seen as unclean, or because men didn't want women learning magic, but it could also have been an attempt to avoid a sort of magnetic wipe of a magical spell.

There are a number of spells requiring menstral blood, mostly regarding protection. I knew a woman who lived in a bad part of town and was sick of her apartment and car getting robbed. She hung up bloody tampons in her rearview mirror, on doorknobs, and in windows. No one ever broke in again.

According to Judika Illes, in ancient Italy those who didn't menstruate could purchase used menstral rags for use in spellwork.

Hm, there's a money-making idea...
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 25th, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
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Interesting, where (to use some pseudo-scientific terms) the menstruating woman creates catapsi or a form of "anti-magic." I hadn't thought of that, but you're very right, in that menstruating women are powerful women. I suppose that the statement could be a form of "self-defense" against magnetic wipe.

I have never quite understood the general terror that menstrual rags have caused men throughout history. I suppose it's something we don't really "get," but that doesn't have to make it frightening.

However, through fright, power. . .

And that's a hell of a great way to make some cash. I've always wished that there was a market for charlatan fakirs making magical amulets on the street corners. Those who knew how to make the RealStuffTM would make a killing.
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From:khep
Date:July 25th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
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I adore the topic of this post-- and go you by the way!

If I were spell-writing for something that required an intense and wonderful outcome, I'd write that the spell person should actively SEEK women going through their menses.

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From:chronarchy
Date:July 25th, 2008 11:21 am (UTC)
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*nods* That could make a lot of sense, though to a point it still relies on the "weirdness" (whether it's miracle or failure, it's still something liminal and un-ordinary) of menses, at least it doesn't degrade it.

Besides, I have no issue at all finding anything that women do naturally to be special :)

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