A team of German university professors has set up a specialized center dedicated to researching and understanding ancient magic and magical texts, with a focus on the spread of that knowledge across ancient Egypt, the ancient Near East, and surrounding regions.
Dubbed “Magic between Entanglement, Interaction, and Analogy,” or MagEIA, the new center will spend at least four years and 3.5 million euros analyzing ancient magic and magical tests to determine how the texts and the ancient knowledge they contain originated and how they could spread from the Eastern Mediterranean to Egypt and Central Asia several thousand years ago.
Previous Research on Ancient magic Exists, but New Effort is the First of Its Kind
While previous attempts to understand how belief in ancient magic used by practitioners to cast spells, protect against enemies, or even find a mate have been undertaken, the new well-funded effort by the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) will be the first to look at the roots, documentation in texts, and eventual spread of magical knowledge across the region.
“Such texts, which are referred to as ‘magical’ in modern research, are prominent in the written traditions of all ancient cultures of West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean and represent an important source for the history of religion and ideas in antiquity,” says Professor Daniel Schwemer, a professor of Near Eastern Studies and one of the three professors headlining the unique study effort.
With the establishment of MagEIA, Schwemer and his colleagues Daniel Kölligan, professor of Comparative Linguistics, and Martin Andreas Stadler, professor of Egyptology, hope to understand the extremely ancient roots of such magic, and according to the press release announcing the effort, “provide new insights into how texts – and thus knowledge – could spread in an area from the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia several thousand years ago.”
Interconnections Between Traditions of Ancient Magic and Magical Texts Remain Unexplored and Poorly Understood
“In overarching studies on the history of magic in Western cultures today, the magical texts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are routinely presented as the earliest influences on the traditions developing in late antique and post-antique Europe, in addition to the Greco-Roman world,” explains Stadler.
However, just how this knowledge of ancient magic spread so far in antiquity is still not well understood.
“Questions about the interconnections, interactions, and analogies between the different traditions of magical texts remain unexplored, and the reciprocal relationships remain poorly understood,” says Kölligan.
To undertake such a comprehensive and as yet elusive undertaking, the team says that along with their respective areas of expertise, they have also enlisted the assistance of experts in classical philology, ancient history, and biblical studies.
“Grouped around this core are visiting scholars as fellows who come from a wide variety of disciplines and specialize in the various magical text traditions in antiquity,” the press release announcing the program explains.
As noted, the JMU commitment is also rather substantial, with enough money to conduct a thorough analysis over a four-year period.
In fact, according to the press release announcing the effort, “the main features of (the program) are the intensive personal involvement of the PIs in the research and a fellowship programme for visiting scholars from Germany and abroad who are invited for a period of up to two years and remain associated with the Centre after their return to their home institutions.”
MagEIA Will Take the Study of Magic in Antiquity to a New Level
While it may be years before any of the team’s most tantalizing findings are made public, the effort to study ancient magic and the magical texts used by its practitioners is undoubtedly compelling and may lead to some rather startling revelations.
Of course, there is no telling what these revelations may entail, but according to the trio of professors headlining the effort, “the new Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences MagEIA will develop methods of textual analysis and models of cross-cultural comparison that will take the study of magic in antiquity to a new level.”