Legitimising Magic, July 13th-14th 2018

Foto: Nils P. Heeßel

“Magic” is one of the most colourful terms used to describe phenomena in the history of religions. From the beginning, magic acquired a distinct negative connotation. Early scholars of the history of religion used it intentionally to describe to describe certain knowledge, crafts and practises in ancient pre-Greek and modern indigenous cultures to stress the “otherness” of those cultures in comparison to that of the modern western world and its perceived foundation, the bible on the one hand and the Graeco-Roman world on the other. Despite the term’s obvious shortcomings as a just description of ancient and modern practices, it has never been dropped, probably for lack of a better term in modern western languages and in the respective ancient cultures. In Ancient Near Eastern studies, and by us, it is used faute de mieux, but with an explicit negation of any pejorative meaning, solely as a convenient, established term to describe an ancient belief system consisting of practices, incantations and rituals to influence the world.

As magic is a powerful means to influence the natural world and human beings, and is deeply connected to the divine sphere, persons using it are in constant need to justify its use. The ambivalence of magic to serve both well-wishing and ill-wishing aims puts practitioners ever at risk. Thus, practising magic in well-accepted social circumstances is vital, especially as perceived ill use might lead to an accusation of practicing witchcraft. This problem is often implicitly and explicitly addressed in the texts, which frequently stress the legitimacy of its current use.

The aim of this conference is to illuminate the strategies adopted to legitimise the practice of magic and to analyse how these justifications are phrased and formulated in various text genres, thereby revealing the underlying principles and unexplained axioms of using magic in the Ancient Near East.


Friday, July 13th

14.30 - 14.40 N. Heeßel/Elyze Zomer: Welcome and introduction

14.40 - 15.15 N. Heeßel: “I am the messenger of the great gods”. Users of magic as emissaries of the divine spher

15.15 - 16.00 Selena Wisnom: Weapons of words: the art of the āšipu in narrative poetry 

16.00 - 16.30 Coffee break

16.30 - 17.15 Avigail Mertens-Wagschal: “What's Love Got to Do with It?" Love Magic as Aggressive Magic

17.15 - 18.00 Gina Konstantinopoulus: Questioning the Place of Aggressive Magic in the Ancient Near East

19.00 Conference dinner

Saturday, July 14th

9.30 - 10.15 Daniel Schwemer: The Moon, a Doll, and a Reed Tube: New Light on SpTU 5, 241

10.15-11.00 Manuel Ceccarelli: Mythische Hintergründe mesopotamischer Beschwörungen in kulturanthropologischem Vergleich

11.00 - 11.30 Coffee break

11.30-12.15 Elyze Zomer: Making Sense of Evil in Mesopotamian Magic

12.15-13.00 Frank Simons: Speak softly and carry an e’ru stick

13.00-14.30 Lunch break

14.30-15.15 Paul Delnero: Naturalizing the Supernatural: Magic, Ritual and Everyday Life

15.15-16.00 Final discussion