Sunday, 12 August 2012

Angels and Daimons in the Greek Magical Papyri

Richard Dadd, Come Unto These Yellow Sands, 1842.


Apart from the gods, parehdroi are also identified with angels and daimons, whose presence is frequent in the Greek Magical Papyri. In a generic sense, angels and daimons are a class of beings who are intermediate, apparently, between gods and humans. These spiritual beings, in the sense that they do not have a human physical location and limitations, are subordinate to the gods. They are found in the air, on the earth, in the waters, and in the sea. Daimons can also be the spirits of the dead. However, some passages in the Greek Magical Papyri refer to the gods as ‘daimons’. For example, in PGM IV. 460 Helios Horus is referred to as “daimon of restless fire.” There are two rites which present the nature and purpose of angels and daimons assuming the form of a parehdros. The first rite, which is called 'The spell of Pnouthis, the sacred scribe, for acquiring an assistant',[1] the parehdros is characterised as an angelos, which means ‘angel’, and at times this characterisation is interchangeable with theos, a ‘god’, without having any special connotations. This is clearly evident from the following passage of the rite:

And this is spoken next, “Hither to me, king, I call you, god of gods, mighty, boundless, undefiled, indescribable, firmly established Aion. Be inseparable from me this day forth through all the time of my life.” Then question him by the same oaths. If he tells you his name, take him by the hand, descend and have him recline as I have said above, setting before him part of the foods and drinks which you partake of. And when you release him, sacrifice to him after his departure what is prescribed and pour a wine offering, and in this way you will be a friend of the mighty angel. When you go abroad, he will go abroad with you; when you are destitute, he will give you money. He will tell you what things will happen both when and at what time of the night or day. And if anyone asks you, “What do I have in mind? Or what has happened to me? Or even what is going to happen?” Question the angel, and he will tell you in silence. But you speak to the one who questions you as if from yourself. When you are dead, he will wrap up your body as befits a god, but he will take your spirit and carry it up into the air with him. For no aerial spirit which is joined with a mighty assistant will go into Hades, for to him all things are subject. Whenever you wish to do something, speak his name alone into the air and say, “Come!” And you will see him actually standing near you. And say to him, “Perform this task” and he does it at once, and after doing it he will say to you, “What else do you want? For I am eager for heaven.” If you do not have immediate orders, say to him, “Go lord”, and he will depart. In this fashion, then, the god will be seen by you alone, nor will anyone ever hear the sound of his speaking, just you yourself alone. And he will tell you about the illness of a man, whether he will live or die, even on what day and at what hour of the night. And he will also give you both wild herbs and the powers to cure and you will be worshipped as a god since you have a god as a friend. These things the mighty assistant will perform competently. Therefore share these things with no one except your legitimate son alone when he asks you for the magic powers imparted by us. Farewell.[2]

This angel and parehdros, whose magical name provided in the rite is “Souesolyr phthē moth,”[3] is revered as a “mighty angel,”[4] “a mighty assistant,”[5] and “god of gods.”[6] The sovereignty of this mighty angel and parehdros is reinforced in lines 130-131, “And the gods will agree with him on all matters, for apart from him there is nothing.” At one point the magician addresses a spell to Helios and Selene as an adjuration of the assistant but no words or phrases actually imply that the parehdros is subordinate to Helios and Selene.

In the second rite, the 'Lunar Spell of Claudianus and ritual of heaven and the north star over lunar offerings',[7] the angel has a subordinate status who obeys the commanding spell of Selene. This radical difference in status is also emphasised by the fact that the angel or daimon acting as the parehdros is never referred to as a ‘god’. The spell begins with instructions for the magician to create a pleonasm from which he is to mould an image of Selene, make a shrine of olive wood that should not face the Sun, dedicate it with lunar ointments and preparatory rites, and finally to proceed with the spell. The spell consists of the magician asking Selene to send forth one of her angels or daimons to act as a parehdros for the magician by reciting:

I call upon you, mistress of the entire world, ruler of the entire cosmic system, greatly powerful goddess, gracious daimon, lady of night, who travel through the air, PHEROPHORĒ ANATHRA... OUTHRA. Heed your sacred symbols and give a whirring sound, and give a sacred angel or a holy assistant who serves this very night, in this very hour, PROKYNĒ BAUBŌ PHOBEIOUS MĒE, and order the angel to go off to her.[8]

The magician at this point is to continue the spell by reciting:

Mistress, send forth your daimon from among those who assist you, one who is leader of night, because I adjure you by your great names, because of which no aerial or infernal daimon can ignore you, MESOURPHABABOR BRAL IĒŌ ISI Ē  Come to me just as I have summoned you, ORTHŌ BAUBŌ NOĒRE KODĒRE SOIRE SOIRE ERESCHIGAL SANKISTĒ DŌDEKAKISTĒ AKROUROBORE KODĒRE SAMPSEI; hear my words and send forth your daimon who is appointed over the 1st hour, MENEBAIN; and the one over the 2nd hour, NEBOUN; and the one over the 3rd hour, LĒMNEI; and the one over the 4th hour, MORMOTH; and the one over the 5th hour, NOUPHIĒR; and the one over the 6th hour, CHORBORBATH; and the one over the 7th hour, ORBEĒTH; and the one over the 8th hour, PANMŌTH; and the one over the 9th hour, THYMENPHRI; and the one over the 10th hour, SARNOCHOIBAL; and the one over the 11th hour, BATHIABĒL; and the one over the 12th hour, ARBRATHIABRI, so that you may do this for me.[9]

The interesting feature of this spell is the uncertainty regarding which angel or daimon will execute the magician’s request. Although it is likely that the magician will expect the angel or daimon ruling over the hour the spell is executed to attend to his biding, this remains unclear.

The ritual uncertainty as to which entity will become the parehdros appears in the rite called the 'Powerful spell of the Bear[10] which accomplishes everything',[11] where the parehdros is referred to as a daimon but is not identified with a daimon of a dead person. In many cases, parehdroi are identified with the daimons of the dead but I must stress that they are not acknowledged as merely being normal spirits of the dead, but instead a being of different and interchangeable status.[12] In this spell the daimons are referred to as “assistants of the great god, the mighty chief-daimons,”[13] but as in the case of the rite of the 'Lunar Spell of Claudianus and ritual of heaven and the north star over lunar offerings', the magician is unaware of which of these faceless and subordinate spirits will do his bidding. However, the daimon invoked to perform the ritual duty of a parehdros in PGM I. 1-42 is none other than the mighty Agathos Daimon, the ‘Good Daimon’. This Agathos Daimôn is Agathodaimon, who was the beneficent spirit, protector god, and guard of the city Alexandria. Agathodaimon was a Hellenistic merging of a popular serpent god with the Egyptian god Shai. Although the magical name of the parehdros is “Arbath Abaōth Bakchabrē,”[14] it is not clear whether the magician is immediately equating the parehdros with the Agathos Daimôn or if it is merely a title, as the parehdros is also equated with Orion and Anubis confusing the applied identity. However, it is truly a powerful entity and not subordinate like the daimons of the 'Powerful spell of the Bear which accomplishes everything'. As the text states:

Come to me... who cause the currents of the Nile to roll down and mingle with the sea, transforming them with life as it does man’s seed in sexual intercourse, you who have established the world on an indestructible foundation, who are young in the morning and old in the evening, who journey through the subterranean sphere and rise, breathing fire, you who have parted the seas in the first month, who ejaculated seeds into the sacred fig tree of Heliopolis continually.[15]



[1] PGM I. 42-195.
[2] PGM I. 164-194.
[3] PGM I. 161.
[4] PGM I. 173.
[5] PGM I. 181.
[6] PGM I. 164.
[7] PGM VII. 862-918.
[8] PGM VII. 880-886.
[9] PGM VII. 891-907.
[10] This spell, like many in the Greek Magical Papyri, invokes the astral constellation of Arktos.
[11] PGM IV. 1331-1389.
[12] This is apparent in PGM IV. 1367 where the parehdros is mentioned as tartaroforos, which means ‘guarding Tartaros’.
[13] PGM IV. 1349-1350.
[14] PGM I. 36.
[15] PGM I. 31-36.

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