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A History of Magic - notes, part 6



This is a continuation of my notes on Richard Cavendish's A History of Magic. These notes are just bits and pieces that I find interesting, so I highly recommend reading the actual book for all the details.


Today, we're talking about the Romans. They were big on making offerings to the gods. It was a sort of transactional relationship: I'll give you this offering to help empower you and you'll do your godly world-saving stuff. They had a set of rules called the Sibylline Books which outlined what should be done to protect the empire in different situations. Some of the remedies were dedicating a sacrifice to Mars, building a new temple for Venus, or offering games and slaughtering sheep for Jupiter. Even human sacrifices were offered under dire enough circumstances.


Tombs in ancient Rome were decorated with images that were thought to ensure a happy afterlife for the deceased. These images often alluded to stories of gods who were in love with mortals, likely in the hopes that the gods would show affection and be kind to the lost soul. The Romans would put flowers on graves-- a custom very common in the western world today-- to symbolize renewed life.


A common way Romans would curse their enemies would be to write the curse with the target's name on a piece of pottery or metal, then bury it in the ground (symbolizing sending that person to the underworld).


As for the Jewish and Christian inhabitants of the area, chapter 28 of Deuteronomy has curses against sinners which are so powerful that many religious services didn't read the chapter read aloud, fearing that the curses would target the congregation.


(Not mentioned in the book, but the beginning of this chapter of the Bible actually contains blessings for pious people. It then moves on to cursing sinners.)


That's it for this week.

Stay safe!

- me

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