Historiolae: The Spell Within the Story
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Article ID: 15801
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Jack Campbell
Posted: March 1st. 2015
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We don’t tell enough stories these days. When a child is sick, we give him/her medicine and tell him/her to lie down and watch TV, hoping they will then fall asleep. Even as a couple, a wife or husband similarly leaves the other to recover while lying down on the couch or in bed with a TV on. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there is also something we miss: the telling of the tale.
People like telling stories. We enjoy the attention we get from others as they listen to our stories. For ages and ages, we taught moral lessons and passed on wisdom through our stories. There are even forms of magick spells called Historiolae. Historiolae were spoken, used on amulets, and written on bowls for thousands of years.
There is power in stories. So why are they no longer used? One reason is because those who used them were either killed or forced to change. Another reason we don’t use them may be that people don’t have faith in a story being the actual ‘source’ of a power. There is also power in music, and many songs tell a story. In Gregory Maguire’s Out of Oz, one of the characters is a little girl named Rain. Rain is learning both Magic and reading at the same time. Rain states that to her all words are magic …and they are.
Many legends or folk stories are entertainment but many legends also teach lessons as they come to us from gods, who speak in tales of past and future. Thus, some stories were used as part of a spell. Historiolae is a mix of all of these. In the book, Emerging from Darkness, Studies in the Recovery of Manichean Sources by Paul Allan Mircki, and David Beduhn, they authors describe Historiolae as the “longstanding term for an abbreviated narrative that is incorporated into a magical spell”. In, Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek, Magic and Religion, there is an essay called ‘Incantations and Prayers for Salvation on Inscribed Greek Amulets’ by Roy Kotansky. He defines Historiolae as short stories recounting mythological themes that sympathetically persuade the sufferer’s illness to cease.
This is part of a spell from a third century A.D. as a cure for a migraine headache:
“Antaura came out of the ocean; she cried out like a deer; she moaned like a cow. Artemis Ephesia met her: “Antaura, where are you bringing the headache? Not to the…?”
Sadly the tablet on which this was written was broken here. Many practitioners have engaged in mediations in which we call upon past lives, find power animals and speak with Gods or Goddesses. Some of us have even used these techniques to feel better -- not necessarily to heal a major sickness, but for relief from headaches and such, most of us have gone to a dark room and meditated. So, in cases like above, you have a real time comparison from other cultures. There is limited information on how the ancients used Historiolae but there are some records of Historiolae in Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew and Aribake.
Another Greek spell to fight Strophus:
“Why do you fulminate, why do you stir like a dog, why do you jump up like a hare? Be quiet, intestines, stand still crocodile.”
This one does not speak in story form like the first one, but it’s still a format one could use. There are both long and spell forms of Historiolae. An Egyptian one against crocodiles goes: “It is Isis who recites: there is no crocodile.” In a way, these are all short stories, little small pieces to both tell a meaning and to convey a telling. The imagery in these stories is there. Egyptians believed there was power to be had by looking a crocodile in the eye. One could say they would be looking the crocodile in the eye while reciting this spell.
Another Historiolae is the story of Neptune who was taken ill. This is a neat form because while it’s still a story, this story is meant to be sung (“though in Latin when first written it might be more catchy”) and not spoken in the form of a telling. This is the Historiolae that some ancient Romans sang to heal their tonsils:
“Neptune had sick tonsils standing on a stone, here he stood and had nobody to cure him. So he healed himself with his triple ‘sickle.”
This next Historiolae comes from Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls, Volume One by Shaul Shaked, Siam Bhayro, and James Nathan Ford. This Historiolae was even very popular with Christians and, except for some small variations, it was written in a number of languages up to the Middle Ages in many languages including Coptic, Ethiopic and Greek. It was used as a spell to protect the life of a newborn baby.
“Semamit gave birth to twelve sons, and Sideros the wicked killed all of them. She stood up and fled from him, and went off to a mountain whose name is unique in the world. She made herself doors of bronze and bolts of iron. Soni, Sasoni, Sanigru, and Artiqu came and said to her: ‘Open up for us!” She said to them: ‘I shall not open for you”. They said: There is a place that we shall make and enter it.
“She stood up and opened the door for them. With them there came in Sideros, and he killed her son and strangled him. She stood up and cried towards him: “O Soni, Sasoni, Sanigru, and Artiqu! What have they done to him?”
“They stood up, chased him and caught him in the midst of Pelagos, the great sea and sought to kill and strangle him.
“He said to them: “Let go of me, and I swear to you in the name of He “who measured the water in the hollow of his hand’ that wherever the name of Soni, Sasoni Sanigru and Artiqu is invoked, I shall desist from killing, strangling the house of A. b. Q. and all the children that they have and will have.”
When I first learned of Historiolae, I fell in love with them. They are like folk stories or legends shortened down. Could some of the common legends also be seen as magic spells? However they were made, fashioned or wrought, Historiolae were used for thousands of years to heal people, to protect people, as love spells, as curses and as so much more.
As Witches, Pagans, or just lovers of good stories, we all can see the spell of love when our kids listen to our stories. Who’s to say how much more these stories could do if one just masters the art?
Bohak, G. (2008) . How Jewish was the Anicent Jewish. In Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (pp. 310-315) . Cambridge: Cambridge Press.
Mirecki, P. (2002) . Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Leiden: Brill.
Shaked, S., and Ford, J. (2013) . Aramaic bowl spells Jewish Babylonian Aramaic bowls. Volume one (pp. 13-25) . Leiden: Brill.
Faraone, C. (1997) . Magika hiera ancient Greek magic and religion. New York: Oxford University Press.
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Bio: Jack Campbell is the author of the novel Gothitik eSSentialS: Vampire Edition and upcoming Witch Edition. Jack has also been hard at work on a novel based on the Goddess Athena. As a follower of the Goddess Athena, he feels as though he has little choice but to research and write. Jack states Athena will let him know when he gets too behind in his work. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, two children, four cats, a snake, and a turtle.
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