Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies IV.4.5-6 and IV.4.8:


A process during which magician performs miracles before summoning the god Asclepius for divination:


Putting a cauldron full of pitch upon burning coals, when it boils they plunge their hands in it and are not burned; and further they tread with naked feet upon coals of fire and are not burned. And also putting a pyramid of stone upon the altar, they make it burn and from its mouth it pours forth much smoke and fire. Then laying a linen cloth upon a pan of water and casting upon it many burning coals, the linen remains unburnt. And having made darkness in the house, the magician claims to make gods or daemons enter in, and if one some how asks that Asclepius shall be displayed he makes invocation, saying thus:

Apollo’s son, once dead and again undying!
I call on thee to come as a helper to my libations.
Who erst the myriad tribes of fleeting dead
In the ever-mournful caves of wide Tartarus
Swimming the stream hard to cross and the rising tide,
Fatal to all mortal men alike,
Or wailing by the shore and bemoaning inexorable things
These thyself did rescue from gloomy Persephoneia.
Whether thou dost haunt the seat of holy Thrace
Or lovely Pergamum or beyond these Ionian Epidaurus
Hither, O blessed one, the prince of magicians calls thee to be present here.

But when he has made an end of this mockery a fiery Asclepius appears on the floor. Then having put in the midst a bowl of water, he invokes all the gods and they are at hand. For if the spectator lean over and gaze into the bowl, he will see all the gods and Artemis leading on her baying hounds. But we shall not hesitate to tell the story of these things and how they undertake them.


These are Hippolytus’s explanations of how these feats are accomplished:


Cauldron Trick:

For the magician plunges his hands in the cauldron of pitch which appears to be boiling; but he throws into it vinegar and soda and moist pitch and heats the cauldron gently. And the vinegar having mingled with the soda, on getting a little hot, m oves the pitch so as to bring bubbles to the surface and gives the appearance of boiling only. But the magician has washed his hands many times in sea-water[[1]], thanks to which it does not burn him much if it be really boiling. And if he has after was hing them anointed his hands with myrtle juice and soda and myrrh mixed with vinegar he is not burned (at all).

Coal-walking trick:

But the feet are not burned if he anoints them with icthyokolla and salamander.[[2]]

Flaming pyramid trick:

This is the true cause of the pyramid flaming like a torch, although it is of stone. A paste of Cretan earth[[3]] is molded into the shape of a pyramid,--but the color is like a milk-white stone,--in this fashion. He has soaked the piece of earth in much oil, has put it on the coals, and when heated, has again soaked it and heated it a second and third time and many a time afterwards, whereby he so prepares it that it will burn even if plunged in water; for it holds much oil within itself . But the altar catches fire when the magician is making libation, because it contains freshly burned lime instead of ashes and finely-powdered frankincense and much [...] and of [...] of anointed torches and self-flowing and hollow nutshells having fire within them. But he also sends forth smoke from his mouth after a brief delay by putting fire into a nutshell and wrapping it in tow and blowing it in his mouth.

Linen cloth trick:

The linen cloth laid on the bowl of water whereon he puts the coals is not burned, because of the sea-water underneath, and its being itself steeped in sea-water underneath, and its being itself steeped in sea-water and then anointed with white of egg and a solution of alum. And if also one mixes with this the juice of evergreens and vinegar and a long time beforehand anoint it copiously with these, after being dipped in the drug it remains altogether incombustible.[[4]]

The bowl trick:

Nor shall I be silent about their lecanomancy which is an imposture. For having prepared some closed chamber and having painted its ceiling with cyanus, they put into it for the purpose certain utensils of cyanus and fix them upright. But in the midst a bowl filled with water is set on the earth, which with the reflection of the cyanus[[5]] falling upon it shows like the sky. But there is a certain hidden opening in the floor over which is set the bowl, the bottom of which is glass, but is itsel f made of stone. But there is underneath a secret chamber in which those accomplices in the farce assembling present the dressed-up forms of the gods and daemons which the magician wishes to display. Beholding whom from above the deceived person is conf ounded by the magicians' trickery and for the rest believes everything which (the officiator) tells him. (trans. F. Legge)



Hippolytus, Ref. Haer. 4.8-9:


A process for making "a fiery Hecate" fly through the air in order to awe one’s clients:


...Then as if inspired by Pheobus, he brings the lamp near the wall, and the drug having caught light is on fire. But he manages that a fiery Hecate should appear to be flying through the air... and taking the dupes on one side, he prevails on the m by saying that he will show them the fiery daemon riding through the air. To whom he announces that when they see the flame in the air, they must quickly save their eyes by falling down and hiding their faces until he shall call them. And having thus instructed them, on a moonless night, he declaims these verses:

Infernal and earthly and heavenly Bombo, come.
Goddess of waysides, of cross-roads, lightbearer, nightwalker,
Hater of the light, lover and companion of the night,
Who rejoices in the baying of hounds and in purple blood;
Who dost stalk among corpses and the tombs of the dead
Thirsty for blood, who bringest fear to mortals
Gorgo and Mormo and Mene and many-formed one.
Come thou propitious to our libations!

While he speaks thus, fire is seen borne through the air, and the spectators terrified by the strangeness of the sight, cover their eyes and cast themselves in silence on the earth.


This is Hippolytus’s explanation of how the feat is accomplished:


Fiery Hecate: The accomplice, hidden as I have said, when he hears the incantation drawing to a close, holding a hawk or kite wrapped about with tow, sets fire to it and lets it go. And the bird scared by the flame is carried into t he height and makes very speedy flight. Seeing which, the fools hide themselves as if they had beheld something divine. But the winged one whirled about by the fire, is borne whither it may chance and burns down now houses and now farm buildings. Such is the prescience of the magicians. (trans. F. Legge)