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Magic & Religion: the Classical World

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Ruth McClelland-Nugent

on 21 January 2014

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Transcript of Magic & Religion: the Classical World

Magic & Religion: the Roman World
Interacting with the Supernatural
Official state religion of Rome
Familial religion in Rome
Religions of the empire
The limits of religious tolerance
"Magic" and its users
Mystery Religions and magic
State Religion
Contractual: Civic requirement to participate in certain public ritual
In return, the gods protect and promote Rome
Priests (and Vestals) interact with deities in several ways. Propitiation and sacrifice, but also channeling powers of gods for divination. Ex: haruspex
Familial or Private Religion
Wide range of personal philosophies and other religions are tolerated. Some Roman beliefs:
Spirit of the place--genius loci
veneration of Vesta (hearth)
The soul or genius
"Lares and Penates"
The Religions of the Empire
When encountering foreign gods, Roman policy is usually to worship them, too. Syncretism: these deities are aspects of Roman gods
Other gods may be adopted informally and in a widespread manner (e.g. Epona by cavalry)
Foreign practices more likely to be perceived as "magical"
Limits of tolerance
No conflict, as long as other religions do not subvert Roman authority or religion
problematic examples: Druids, Isis cult, Christianity
problematic but tolerated: Judaism, Mithraism
Conflicts are never about theology, but actions
Who are the "magic" users ?
"Magus"-- a magician or wonder-worker. Often a foreign religious figure; may be defined very differently in cultural context.
"Maleficia" -- malevolent magic user, or "witch." Usually works privately.
"Pharmakeus" -- person who works with drugs and herbs. May be benevolent ("herbalist," "druggist," or malevolent ("poisoner."
"Philosophus"-- pursuer of knowledge in ethical or natural realms. The latter may
be perceived as magic.
Mystery Religions

Offer spiritual transformation, relationship with deity
Usually deal with afterlife
Many include a dying divine figure who is resurrected (Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus)
Full rituals known only to initiated
The most ultimately successful of these (Christianity) will define its own rites as sacraments or mysteries, not magic
Full transcript