Egyptian amulets like these
were thought to protect the
wearer from danger—
a much more pleasant sort of cat
magic than that found in the Greek
Photo by Jon Bodsworth
[Copyrighted free use], via
Humans have long thought that cats are magical creatures. Unfortunately, many humans have thought that cats do their most potent magic when they are dead. (This makes no sense to me at all, but then humans often do not make sense.)
Today’s post is not all warm and fuzzy. You’ve been warned.
With that thought in mind, today we are exploring two entries that describe cats being used in ancient magic rituals. These entries are found in the so-called Greek Magical Papyri, which are volumes that were discovered in Egypt. They date from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD.
Making an Esies
Our first entry (III.1–61) involves creating something called an Esies, or one of the sacred dead with special powers. The magician of ancient times might want to do this to take revenge on an enemy, for example.
The ritual involved drowning a cat while reciting a certain magic formula (do not try this at home). The magician called on a god, probably Atum-Ra, to exact revenge on some enemy. Apparently the magician could specify exactly what kind of revenge should be taken. After that, the magician would write a certain formula on a clean sheet of papyrus with cinnabar ink, wrap the papyrus around the cat, and bury the cat in a tomb. The burial required recitation of yet another formula.
Once all this had been done, the cat took on a powerful spiritual force that could supposedly “take care of” the enemy.
To send a certain dream to someone, the magician required a “completely black cat that dies a violent death” (do not try this at home either). He would use myrrh to write the dream on a bit of papyrus, which would then be rolled up and placed in the cat’s mouth (XII.108).
The text doesn’t mention what kind of dream—good or bad—could supposedly be sent using this method.
Regarding the ritual use of dead cats to magically take vengeance on an enemy or send a dream to someone, we think it is far better to (a) forgive, or take anger-management classes, and (b) mind your own business.
The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Ed. Hans Dieter Betz. University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 18, 157.
Engels, Donald. 1999. Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat. London: Routledge.