What did people do to get a certain someone’s attention thousands of years before you could swipe left or right?
An 1,800 year-old Egyptian papyrus currently being translated has revealed what a team of Egyptologists, led by Robert Ritner of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, are calling an erotic binding spell. The spell is written in the ancient Egyptian Demotic script (not the hieroglyphs you’d probably expect). It’s basically a séance written on papyrus on behalf of a woman named Taromeway, calling upon a spirit to pretty much harass the object of her desire, Kephalas. The idea is for the haunting to continue until Kephalas becomes so overtaken with lust that he just can’t take it anymore.
“The image of a helpless, 'inflamed' lover continues in late Egyptian magic, and [this] papyrus exemplifies the characterization of such spells as subjugation rites with an emphasis on sexual domination rather than romantic love,” says a study recently published on the find in the Oriental Institute journal Göttinger Miszellen. It also explains why the drawing of a naked Kephalas facing the jackal-headed god Anubis appears to have certain parts of his anatomy grossly enlarged. NSFW as this is, it is meant to emphasize physical desire for Taromeway.
What is so unique about this particular spell is that it was cast for a woman pursuing a man instead of vice versa. Most erotic binding spells in Ancient Egypt were used by men to ensnare the women they wanted. Kephalas must have had no idea what he was in for.
"Women in ancient Egypt had far more rights than in contemporary societies, and more than is often the case in the modern Middle East," Ritner told SYFY WIRE. "This document is from the Roman period when all native Egyptians were at a social disadvantage, but it is clear that she had sufficient economic means to hire a professional priest to draw up the magical spell. And there was no social barrier to inhibit her from doing so."
Ritner further explained that Egypt was a community property state, unlike many ancient societies in which men owned all property. Women not only owned a third of joint property but also had the power to opt into prenuptial agreements, no-fault divorces (except if there was adultery involved), and the right to run their own businesses without a male boss over their shoulder. They also had the right to lease, sell, will or disinherit, and make legal contracts without male approval. The only downside was that women were less likely to be able to read and write, but only because those were skills limited to scribes and priests, who were traditionally male.
"This document is from the Roman period when all native Egyptians were at a social disadvantage, but it is clear that she had sufficient economic means to hire a professional priest to draw up the magical spell. And there was no social barrier to inhibit her from doing so," he said.
The spell not only calls up on what is translated as “the noble spirit of the man of the necropolis” to find this guy and “give him anxiety at midday, evening and all the time” until he succumbs to Taromeway, but also suggests that he trek across the constellation of Ursa Major to seek her out. That might seem like asking too much in the name of love, but as the spell says, Kephalas will be traversing space, “wandering after [Taromeway] while there is no woman on Earth whom he desires, as he madly pursues her.” Ursa Major was chosen for a reason. The ancient Egyptians had an advanced knowledge of astronomy, and they knew that constellation never dipped below the horizon.
As if that wasn’t enough, Anubis, better known as the god of embalming who brought mummification to the ancient Egyptians, shoots Kephalas with an arrow like a much more imposing version of Cupid. The spell ends by ultimately begging for him to “give his heart [to] Taromeway”. But what does the god often associated with tomb walls and the Book of the Dead have to do with romance?
"Anubis acts not only as embalmer but as armed guardian and gatekeeper in the underworld, so he is a natural figure to compel a ghost," said Ritner. "We gathered multiple images of Anubis with bows where his figure is used to ward off or control demons. "He is by nature a jackal, devourer of the dead—so his primary role as an embalmer and preserver is an ironic twist on his inherent instincts. Here he approximates an Egyptian Cupid, but he is no baby."
Can you imagine being dragged around the universe because someone wants you so badly they don’t care whether you feel the same way? Sex spells might not need wifi, but using your smartphone to swipe is so much easier.