Delving into the PGM

It has been a long time since I last had that curiosity drive, that desire to learn, the impatience of reading one book after another and the urge of doing and practicing what the books say. Over the last couple of months, maybe three now, I have been so busy reading a lot about occultism, particularly about the PGM, that I can see my Wiccan practice taking a new route.

I have tried to reach out in the wiccan community to see who else practices the PGM and how it works within their wiccan practice, however, I have literally found only 2 other wiccans. There must be more out there, or maybe other wiccans who may want to find out more? So I have taken the decision to write about what I find and how my practice develops. If not, in the hope that others will get in touch and we can exchange ideas.

It is safe to say that I will not be breaking any oaths by speaking and writing about occult practices, as low and behold, this subject could not be more public if it wanted to. When it comes to my wiccan practice, I certainly will not be breaking my oath. So shall brush aside any wiccan specific practices.

This series of posts will be my view and my experience as I experiment with the PGM and at a lesser extent Hermetics.

How did it all start?

Last year (2020) I started training in Hermetics by one of our most respected elders in our craft. Never before I felt that I was at home with a ‘system’. We have been doing almost weekly lessons since August 2020 which has taken me on an interesting journey throughout this pandemic.

Hermetics is certainly fascinating and has lead met to read more on the subject. However, it was not until a friend posted a link to the SHWEP podcast, that my interest really sparked.

To quote from the SHWEP website:

The SHWEP is a free, (roughly) weekly podcast series exploring cutting-edge academic research in the study of Platonism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, the Kabbalah, alchemy, occultism, magic, and related currents of thought. These traditions, although largely rejected by the dominant modern empiricist world-view, are central to the history of western thought. The academic study of these often-obscure chapters in the history of ideas, under the general name of ‘western esotericism’, is bringing these currents of thought back into their rightful place as essential elements in the intellectual heritage of the western world. (SHWEP)

I must confess that this podcast is based heavily on history and at times I found it hard to keep up. However, absolutely worth it in order to understand or give you context to the different systems. I recommend that you listen to the podcast in chronological episode order.

One particular episode grabbed my attention, Episode 77: Korshi Dosoo on the Papyri Græcæ Magicæ and Western Esotericism. What a fascinating collection of papyri.

What is the PGM?

PGM, is a shorthand for Papyri Graecae Magicae, which is the latin name for the Greek Magical Papyri. This is the name that scholars have given to a collection of papyri from the Graeco-Roman Egypt. Mostly written in Greek, however, you will also find Demotic and Old Coptic written papyri. They span from around 100s BCE to the 400s CE. (Wikipedia)

This collection is not an ancient one, rather a modern collection that has been added over time. Karl Preisendanz in 1928 and 1931 published two volumes where he had the PGM in its original language alongside a German translation. The English translation was not published until 1986, when Hans Dieter Betz provided a full translation of the PGM collection in his book, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells.

I recommend that you listen to episode mentioned above if you want to know more precisely about the PGM.

What type of magic does it have?

Modern magic usually involves spiritual self-improvements, though not always. The PGM is more concerned with practical practices. It ranges from curing headaches, to cursing enemies, lots of love spells, divination work and many others. It certainly not a coherent system at all, since it is a collection of papyri of a range of centuries.

One part that seem to be common amongst the spells is the notion of invoking or evoking a helper spirit to do the magical work for you. To know more about the type of magic that it has, the best person to talk about this is Dr Stephen Skinner, and on this video:

Really worth watching the video above so you can understand what the PGM contains and how important it has been to the development of magic over the centuries, and still is.

To this date, I am yet to get hold of Dr Skinner’s book. Trust me, when I tell you, that I check almost daily for the re-print to be available. And will absolutely intend to read it as soon as possible.

How does this tie together to Hermetics or even Wicca?

Part of the Hermetics training that I have been doing involves a relationship or connection with your Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) or your Holy Daimon (HD). Before you switch off, HGA and HD is something I will talk about in later posts. However, I do understand that anyone having been brought up as a Christian will be feeling uncomfortable by these terms. This is why I use Guardian Spirit as my term of preference.

This is also evident in the PGM, where you cultivate a relationship with your spirit or spirits to help you work magic, as mentioned by Dr Stephen Skinner in the video.

I thoroughly recommend the book by Maja D’Aoust, Familiars in Witchcraft: Supernatural Guardians in the Magical Traditions of the World if you want to get a better idea on how magical practitioners throughout history use the help of their Guardian Spirit to practice magic. The author here has written a beautiful anecdotal-type historical text on how these supernatural spirits have been interpreted in the different magical systems.

But coming back to Hermetics, the similarity between achieving that connection with this Guardian Spirit struck a cord with me and some of the practices that are mentioned in the PGM, form part of my wiccan practice. However, I must agree with Dr Skinner when he mentions that there are 3 main modalities: magic, mysticism and religion.

Religion we can forget about, as for my version of Wicca, it is not a religion. However, Dr Skinner argues that mysticism is about making internal changes in your own body and soul. For me, Wicca fits into this modality. And then, there is magic, where Dr Skinner says is about making external changes in the world at large. And this is where the PGM is involved.

In my opinion, there is a very grey interconnected boundary between magic and mysticism. However, this may be my own Wicca practice influence. I can see how Dr Skinner classifies as different, though for me, they could be different and the same.

So what next?

Even though this collection of papyri has been studied and researched a lot over the years, I feel that the only way to fully understand it is to practice and do. Just like Wicca, it is about doing. Only by doing you can decide if you are on the right track and able to get some experience.

I have already experimented with a 2 week long ‘spell’ or magical working, which I do intend to write a post about later. However, my next experiment is the one I am most excited about, the famous Stele of Jeu. And more about that once I finish doing the work.

In the meantime, do not be an armchair witch or magician. Practice, do, experience and always meditate.

Lusete

Bibliography

Betz, H., 1992. The Greek magical papyri in translation, including the Demotic spells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cecchetelli, M. (2014). Book Of Abrasax. Nephilim Press.

Cecchetelli, M. (2013). The Holy Guardian Angel : on the practice and experience of the Holy Guardian Angel. Nephilim Press.

Centre of Pagan Studies. Tom McArthur presents An Introduction to the Greek Magical Papyri. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEpsPuAI1aI [Accessed 14 Apr. 2021].

Frater Acher (2018). Holy Daimon: Scarlett Press.

Glitch Bottle. #082 – The PGM & Practical Occult with Alison Chicosky | Glitch Bottle. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gK51FI8yezk [Accessed 14 Apr. 2021].

Maja D’aoust (2019). Familiars in witchcraft : supernatural guardians in the magical traditions of the world. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books.

Mierzwicki, T. (2006). Graeco-Egyptian magick : everyday empowerment. Stafford: Megalithica Books.

SHWEP. Korshi Dosoo on the Papyri Græcæ Magicæ and Western Esotericism – The Secret History of Western Esotericism Podcast (SHWEP). [online] Available at: https://shwep.net/podcast/korshi-dosoo-on-the-papyri-graeci-magici-and-western-esotericism/ [Accessed 14 Apr. 2021].

Watkins Books. Practical Graeco-Egyptian Magic by Stephen Skinner. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA3yE_UH1XE [Accessed 14 Apr. 2021].

Wikipedia. (2021). Greek Magical Papyri. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Magical_Papyri [Accessed 14 Apr. 2021].

Further reading