Pathfinder: Magic and Religion in Antiquity

(Or How to Pass your N.E.W.T.S circa 200 C.E.)


 This pathfinder is for students of ancient religion and magic, such as those in religious studies programs with a concentration in ancient Mediterranean. The goal of this pathfinder is to provide information on primary and secondary sources in the field of ancient religion in the region surrounding the Mediterranean. Knowledge of Latin and Greek and Coptic is helpful when using most of the primary sources listed in this guide; some, however, are in translation. The pathfinder is divided into eight sections. The first lists textbooks that provide introduction to the field . The second is in the format of a .pdf file and contains an ordered list of pertinent Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Library of Congress class numbers, Dewey Decimal System number (DDS) and relevant descriptions that enable students to locate materials associated with specialized interest within the field. The third section lists numerous  primary sources that are important for understanding magic and religion in Antiquity, though like all bibliographic listings in this guide, it is far from comprehensive. The fourth section provides a short list of reference sources that could be useful. This includes dictionaries, encyclopedias and lexicons. The fifth section is on monographs published between 1950 and present. The sixth section gives a numbered list of periodical where articles in the field may be found. The seventh section contains a numbered list of electronic databases that may be useful, some of which are subscription based only, though most large universities will have access. The eighth section gives a comprehensive bibliography for materials concerning magic in the ancient world and is created by the chair of the department of Greek, Latin, & Classical Studies, Dr. Radcliffe Edmonds III at Bryn Mawr College.


Sean Doherty ©

Defixione from Aquae Sulis, Bath, England.


Magic and religion in antiquity were intertwined and can be treated together as a single topic. For introductory purposes the following texts have been divided into Greek religion, Roman religion, Christianity and Magic. Christianity was on religion among many in the Roman empire and therefore I have only treated it briefly. The sources for this pathfinder are religion and magic, thus, I will put together a pathfinder for early Christianity in due course. The following sources are foundational texts for this topic and are used in most courses. For more specific and advanced texts see section five, Monographs, and section eight, Conclusion for an even more comprehensive bibliography than I have provided.


  • Ancient Greek religion / Jon Mikalson. BL783.M55 2005
  • Religion in the ancient Greek city / Louise Zaidman and Pauline Pantel.BL785.Z3513 1992


  • Religions of Rome Volume 1: a history / by Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price. BL802.B43 1998
  • An introduction to Roman religion / John Scheid. BL803.S3413 2003


  • The New Testament : a historical introduction to early Christian writings / Bart Ehrman. BS2330.3.E38 2012
  • The Gnostics : myth, ritual and diversity in early Christianity / David Brakke. BT1390.B69 2010


  • Magic and magicians in the Greco-Roman world / Matthew Dickie. BF1591.D53M3
  • Magic in the ancient world / Fritz Graf; translated by Franklin Philip. BF1591.G7213 1997


This section gives the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings, Library of Congress class numbers and their corresponding Dewey Decimal number. These headings and class numbers are useful for research purposes. There are likely to be many more specialized headings, I encourage you to spend time searching your university catalogs for terms related to this area. When in doubt, contact  your reference librarian!

LC Subject Headings for Magic and Religion in Antiquity


Accession Number: P.CtYBR inv. 1791

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


In the author’s opinion, the most fascinating part of this pathfinder is on the primary sources. Below you will find bibliography separated into four sections, Greek, Roman, Christian and Magic.  Most of theses sources are texts used as magical spells (Greek magical papyri) or in religious rites (Ritual texts for the after life) or to enact the powers of the underworld to attain one’s desires, usually in the form of defixiones (Curse tablets and binding spells from the ancient world). Some however, like Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, a second century Latin novel described by the author as a Milesian tale, details the story of a man named Lucian who is on a quest to see real magic with disastrous results. Another such literary source is from Lucian of Samosata, who also wrote in the second century. His satire “Alexander the False Prophet” concerns the cult of Glykon and its premiere Alexander of Abonoteichus. The two pieces of literature are of course fictional but one can extrapolate kernels of truth on magic and religion during that period.


  • Ritual texts for the afterlife : Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets / Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston. BL790.G73 2007
  • The Greek magical papyri in translation / edited by Hans Dieter Betz. BF1622.G8G74 1986
  • Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die griechischen Zauberpapyri volume I and II /K. Preisendanz.  BF1622.G8 P36 2001



  • Curse tablets and binding spells from the ancient world / edited by John G. Gager. BF1558.C87 1992
  • The works of Lucian of Samosata, Alexander the false prophet  / translated by A. M. Harmon. PA4231.A5 F6 vol. 4
  • Apulei Metamorphoseon libri XI / recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit M. Zimmerman. PA6207.M3 2012


  • Pagans and Christians in late antiquity: a source book  / by A.D. Lee. BR128R7L44 2000
  • The Greek New Testament / former editions edited by Kurt Aland. BS1965 1975
  • The apocryphal gospels texts and translations / Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše. BS2859.A3A66 2011


  • Arcana mundi : magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds : a collection of ancient texts / translated, annotated, and introduced by Georg Luck. BF1421.A73 2006
  • Ancient Christian magic : Coptic texts of ritual power / Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith. BF1591.A48 1994
  • A corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantations Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity / Dan Levene. BF1591.L48 2003a
  • Magic, witchcraft, and ghosts in the Greek and Roman worlds: a source book / Daniel Ofden. BF1591.O335 2009
  • Greek magical amulets: the inscribed gold, silver copper and bronze lamellae. part 1: published texts of known provenance. Papyrological Coloniensia 22.1 / Roy Kotansky. PA3339.P37
  • Apvlie Apologia sive pro se de magia liber; / with introduction and commentary by H. E. Butler and A. S. Owen. PA6207.A7 1967

3.1 Example Spell: PGM VII. 58090

PGM VII. 580–90

*A phylactery, a bodyguard against daimons, against phantasms, / against every sickness and suffering to be written on a leaf of gold or silver or tin or on hieratic papyrus. When worn it works mightily for it is the name of the power of the great god and [his] seal, and it is as follows: “KMĒPHIS CHRHYRIS102 IAEŌ AEĒ LAŌ OŌ AIŌN IAEŌBAPHRENE / MOUNOTHILARIKRIPHIAE Y EAIPHIRKIRALITHANYOME-NERPHABŌEAI.”103 These [are] the names; the figure is like this: let the Snake be biting its tail, the names being written inside [the circle made by] the snake, and

the character thus, as follows: Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.42.56 PM

The whole figure104 is [drawn] thus, as given below, with [the spell], “Protect my body, [and] the / entire soul of me, NN.” And when you have consecrated [it] wear [it].

Protective AmuletPGM VII. 580-90

*[This page is transcribed from Betz, 134 which was translated by Morton Smith. The Greek is taken from Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri (Preisendanz, 26). ]




The pantheon of the ancient world is quite crowed compared to modern monotheistic religions. These sources help get these names straight. I have also included some helpful dictionaries in Latin, Greek and Coptic for the translation of  primary sources.

  • Dictionary of gods and goddesses / by Michael Jordan BL473.J67 2004
  • The Oxford dictionary of classical myth and religion / edited by Simon Price and Emily Kearns. BL715.O845 2003
  • Encyclopedia of ancient deities / by Charles Russell Coulter and Patricia Turner. BL782.C67 2000
  • Dictionary of Roman religion / by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins. BL798.A35 1996
  • Religions of Rome Volume 2: a source book / by Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price. BL802.B43 1998
  • A Greek-English lexicon / compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott.   PA445.E5L6 1996
  • Oxford Latin dictionary / P. G. W. Glare. PA2365.E5 O9 1982
  • A Coptic dictionary, compiled with the help of many scholars /  W. E. Crum.  PJ2181 .C7
  • The Classical world bibliography of philosophy, religion, and rhetoric  / Walter Donlan Z7129.G7 C58

5. Monographs

This section comprises the most seminal works in the field of ancient religion and magic. It is broken down into five sections: Greek, Roman, Christian, Magic and Theory.


  • Greek and Roman necromancy / D. Ogden. BF1591.O33 2001
  • Ancient Mystery Cults / Walter Burkert. BL610B87 1987
  • Ancient Greek religion : archaic and classical / Walter Burkert. BL782.B8313 1985b
  • Greek Religion / Jan Bremmer BL782.B74 1994
  • Religions of the ancient Greeks / S. R. F. Price. BL782.P73 1999
  • Homo necans : the anthropology of ancient Greek sacrificial ritual and myth / Walter Burkert. BL788.B8713 1983
  • Miasma. Pollution and purification in early Greek religion / R. Parker. BL788.P37 1983
  • Orpheus and the Greek religion : a study of the Orphic movement / William Guthrie. BL820.O7G8 1952


  • Archaic Roman religion : with an appendix on the religion of the Etruscans / G. Dumézil  BL802.D813 1996
  • Emperor worship and roman religion / Ittai Gradel. BL802G69 2002
  • Roman religion / Clifford Ando. BL803.R66 2003
  • Temples, religion and politics in the Roman republic / Eric Orlin. BL805.O75 2002
  • The cult of Silvanus : a study in Roman folk religion  / Peter Dorcey. BL820.S47D67 1992
  • Rituals and power : the Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor / Simon Price. DG124.P74 1996
  • Roman honor: the fire in the bones / Carlin Barton. PA6029H62B37 2001


  • Christianizing the Roman Empire, A.D. 100-400 / Ramsay MacMullen. BR195.E9M33 1984
  • Jesus the magician / Morton Smith. BT304.93 .S63 1978


  • The Egyptian Hermes: a Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind / Garth Fowden. BF1591.F75 1987
  • Hocus Pocus : à l’école des sorciers en Grèce et à Rome / textes réunis et présentés par Christopher Bouix ; précédé d’un entretien avec Anne-Marie Ozanam. BF1591.H63 2012
  • Magic in the Roman world : pagans, Jews and Christians / Naomi Janowitz. BF1591.J36M3
  • History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe / edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark. BF1569.J6 2002
  • Magic and ritual in the ancient world. religions in the Graeco-Roman world 141. / edited by Paul A. Mirecki and  Marvin Meyer. BF1591.M3
  • Magika Hiera Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, / edited by Christopher Faraone and Dirk Obbink. BF1591.M35 1991
  • Naming the witch : magic, ideology, & stereotype in the ancient world / Kimberly Stratton. BF1591.S77 2007
  • Witchcraft and magic in Europe. Ancient Greece and Rome / Valerie Flint. BF1567.W58 1999
  • Studies in Magical Amulets: Chiefly Graeco-Egyptian, 1950 / Campbell Bonner. GR600.B6


  • Before religion: history of a modern concept / Brent Nongbri. BL430N57 2013
  • A General Theory of Magic. Translated by Robert Brain / Marcel Mauss BF1611 .M38 2001
  • “Trading Places” in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power / Jonathan Smith. BF1591.A55 1995

6. Periodicals

Articles published in the field of magic and religion can be found within the following periodicals, though this list is not exhaustive.

  1. American Journal of Philology
  2. Classical Antiquity
  3. Classical Quarterly
  4. Greece & Rome
  5. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies
  6. Journal of Early Christian Studies
  7. Journal of Hellenic Studies
  8. Journal of Roman Archeology
  9. Phoenix
  10. Religion in the Roman Empire

7. Databases and Online Resources

The above periodicals can be found with most searches in JSTOR. The other sources listed here are databases of primary sources which included inscriptions  in both Latin and Greek.


  1. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL)
  2. Inscriptiones Graecae
  3. JSTOR
  4. L’Année Philologique
  5. Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG)
  6. Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL)

Online Resources

These two resources link to the University of Chicago’s ETANA project pdf version of the Greek Magical Papyri. ETANA is a muli-insitituitional collaborative project which enhances the study of the history and culture of the ancient Near East by making available electronic resources.

  1. Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri I
  2. Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri II

8. Conclusion

This guide is meant as an introduction to the study of magic and religion in antiquity, I would be remiss if I did not cite an even more comprehensive bibliography which I came across after completing this pathfinder. If one would like further sources,  Bryn Mawr’s magic bibliography is an extremely thorough collection.


102 Chphyris is the Egyptian scarab, Khepri.

103 IAEŌ begins an often-cited palindrome, but it is not set out as such in Preisendanz. The copyist got one letter wrong ALITHA should be ALITHO

104 Preisendanz gives the opening words surrounding the serpent as TARĒON ĒOU PHI, but the photography (plate I, no.4) shows clearly the reading given in the transcription here.



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