Homosexual Erotic Charms


Although the overwhelming majority of erotic binding spells from Greco-Roman antiquity express heterosexual desires, a few of them involve relationships between two men or two women. For example, one such spell, preserved on a papyrus from Egypt, i s a typical erotic defixio in every respect, except that both individuals named were males:

As Typhon is the adversary of Helios, so inflame the heart and soul of that Amoneios whom Helen bore, even from her own womb, ADONAI[[1]] ABRASAX PINOUTI and SABAOS; burn the soul and heart of that Am oneios whom Helen bore, for [love of] this Serapiakos whom Threpte bore, now, now; quickly, quickly. In this same hour and on this same day, from this [moment] on, mingle together the souls of both and cause that Amoneios whom Helen bore to be this Serapiakos whom Threpte bore, through every hour, every day and every night. Wherefore, ADONAI, loftiest of gods, whose name is the true one, carry out the matter, ADONAI. (P.G.M. XXXIIa.1-25; trans. E.N. O'Neill in H.D. Betz (1986))

Likewise, another otherwise ordinary spell on papyrus depicts a woman named Herais targeting another woman named Sarapias:

I adjure you, Evangelos, by Anubis and Hermes and all the rest down below; attract and bind Sarapias whom Helen bore, to this Herais, whom Thermoutharin bore, now, now; quickly, quickly. By her soul and heart attract Sarapias herself, whom [He len] bore from her own womb, MAEI OTE ELBOSATOK ALAOUBETO OEIO ... AEN. Attract and [bind the soul and heart of Sarapias], whom [Helen bore, to this] Herais, [whom] Thermoutharin [bore] from her womb [now, now; quickly, quickly]. (P.G.M. XXXII.1-19 ; trans. E.N. O'Neill in H.D. Betz (1986))

Another spell from Egypt, this time written on a curse tablet which dates to the third or fourth century C.E. and was discovered in Hermoupolis, is much more elaborate. The text, which features long addresses to a great divinity, repeats several times the same series of commands:

By means of this corpse-daemon inflame the heart, the liver, the spirit of Gorgonia, whom Nilogenia bore, with love and affection for Sophia, whom Isara bore. Constrain Gorgonia, whom Nilogenia bore, to cast herself into the bath-house for the sake of Sophia, whom Isara bore; and you, become a bath-woman. Burn, set on fire, inflame her soul, heart, liver, spirit with love for Sophia, whom Isara bore, she, surrendered like a slave, giving herself and all her possessions to her, because this is the will and command of the great god... (Suppl. Mag., no. 42)

Essentially, the god is instructed to compel Gorgonia to enter a bath-house, where a corpse-spirit in the guise of a bath attendant would heat her and thus inflame Gorgonia with love for Sophia.[[2]]

Whereas most erotic charms were binding spells meant to create a romantic bond, some were intended to have the opposite effect, and were employed by a third party to break up a couple and thus make one of the two lovers available for the jealous magic-user to ensnare. In addition to such heterosexual "separation" spells there also is a tablet from Nemea in Greece, dated to the fourth century B.C.E., which targets a pair of homosexual lovers:

I turn away Euboles from Aineas, from his face, from his eyes, from his mouth, from his breasts, from his soul, from his belly, from his penis, from his anus, from his entire body. I turn away Euboles from Aineas. (Trans. J. Gager (1992), no. 25)

Another lead tablet, from second- or third-century C.E. Alexandria, alludes to a much more complicated relationship between two men. The text, part of which is missing, is somewhat vague and its exact purpose has perplexed scholars. On one hand, it features elements of an erotic spell, but it also reads very much like a judicial curse:

[Magical names and commands] I adjure you by the name of Ge, KEUEMORI MORITHARCHOTH and chthonic Hermes, ARCHEDAMA PHOCHENSEPSEU SARERTATHOU MISONKAIKT and Pluto YESEMMIGADON MAARCHAMA and Kore Ereschigal ZABARBATHOUCH and Persephone ZAUDACHTH OUMAR. May Annianos lose his own power of recollection, and let him remember Ionikos only... [more magical names and commands]... Possess for me, Ionikos, the strength and the might of Annianos, so that you seize him and deliver him to the untimely dead, so that you melt his flesh, sinews, limbs, soul, so that he not be able to proceed against Ionikos and neither hear nor see any evil to my disadvantage, moreover prostrate under my feet until he is defeated... [more magical names and commands]... Control the love of Annianos for Ionikos before everything else... (Suppl. Mag., no. 54; for an image of this tablet, click here)

This text contains some elements of both erotic and judicial curses, but it is also missing some important elements of each, and so it appears to be a rather unusual hybrid. Its most recent editors have speculated that Ionikos was opposing Annianos in a legal matter, and that the curse tablet was prepared using some erotic binding formulas in order "to disarm and mollify Annianos with feelings of love for a false friend" while at the same time disabling him so that he would not be able to proceed again st Ionikos. But there is also the distinct possibility that this is one of the handful of magic spells involving homosexual love, and that the legal proceedings were a result of their relationship. Thus, this could be a combination of an erotic spell and a charm for victory in court. One's interpretation depends on whether he or she wishes to read either the erotic language or the judicial language as a metaphor intended to augment the other commands, or prefers to take both themes literally.

Compared to the hundreds of papyri, curse tablets and amulets which refer to heterosexual relationships, spells resulting from homosexual desires are extremely rare and comprise less than 1% of all erotic magical texts. Those quoted above, along wi th one unpublished defixio from Tyre,[[3]] are our only evidence for erotic magic being used by homosexuals.