Where possible I like to go to the original source material when I’m writing rituals or doing research into the mythology or the characteristics of a goddess or god that I don’t know well. Unfortunately, I am basically unilingual, English with a little French, so I must rely on translated material.
And, although the Greek plays and much of the mythology, and Roman material, has been translated, there is a real shortage of material on magical beliefs and practices on the day-to-day level. How did ordinary people do curses and blessings in the ancient world? How did they see the world of gods and spirits? What were their real beliefs about witchcraft and sorcery?
The kind of first-hand accounts that make these things come to life are rare. And far too many of the popular authors in the occult and neo-Pagan community are either making things up or misinterpreting fragments of lore.
So, I was very pleased indeed to get Daniel Ogden’s book. He includes 340 newly translated sources ranging widely from curse tablets to popular tales to first-person accounts of magic workings (and detailed ritual scripts) to folk tales and legal cases. As well as the primary sources Ogden provides explanatory notes on the original source, its historical and cultural context including legal issues, as well as cross-referencing the sources to others in this collection and referring to other related ideas.
A rich and very valuable collection, divided into fifteen chapters on sorcerers of various ethnic origins, witches, ghosts and necromancy, curses, erotic magic, poppets and amulets. The section on Drawing Down the Moon, the numerous mentions of Hekate, and other mentions of ideas that have crossed into neo-Paganism interested me, particularly.
No-one is going to sit down and read this collection from beginning to end, but it is already a valued addition to my shelf of Greco-Roman literature, I find myself dipping into it frequently for inspiration, and I will strongly encourage anyone else who is interested in working with those gods or in those traditions, to get a copy. There is an extensive bibliography for follow-up and future research and excellent indexing of sources alongside the general index.
~ review by Samuel Wagar
Author: Daniel Ogden
Oxford University Press, 2009
400 pg. Paperback £32.35 / $54.40 Can / $41 US