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Ancient Egyptian Spellbook Deciphered

A similar though much older Egyptian papyrus text (image via Jeff Dahl / Wikimedia)

Researchers in Australia have decoded an Ancient Egyptian ritual codex containing spells to cure demonic possession, treat black jaundice, and find success in business and love. The complete 20-page illustrated parchment booklet, thought date to the 7th or 8th century, contains 27 spells and “a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power.” The translation, by Macquarie University professors Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, is called “A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power.”

At the time the handbook was written, the Egyptians had become Christians; in the opening of the codex an appeal is made to Baktiotha, a mysterious divine figure that some believe was an exotic name for Christ. Choat and Garner, however, have called Baktiotha and “ambivalent figure” and believe that the codex was written by Sethians, a Gnostic sect that traced its spiritual knowledge to Adam and Eve’s third son. Sethians were regarded as heretics by the church, and their invocations were eventually purged from magical texts. This codex may then be a transitional document, as other similar texts contain far more references to Orthodox Christianity.

It is not known where the codex originated or who would have used it, but the booklet was acquired by the university from a Vienna antiques dealer in 1981. The new translation is the first volume in The Macquarie Papyri series, with two further volumes planned.