Do you want to cast love spells? Exorcise demons? Subjugate your enemies? These and other arcane invocations can be found in the Handbook of Ritual Power, an 8th-century, 20-page codex that has been translated and published by two scholars of religion and ancient history.

Image: Macquarie University, Ancient Cultures Research Centre.

The researchers, Malcolm Choat at Macquarie University and Iain Gardner at the University of Sydney, believe the 27 spells in the codex were originally scattered among other documents, and later combined with other invocations to form a "single instrument of ritual power."

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The book was written in the Coptic language, an adaptation of Greek script, during a period when many Egyptians were Christian. In fact, there are a number of invocations that reference Jesus Christ:

However, some of the invocations seem more associated with a group that is sometimes called "Sethians." This group flourished in Egypt during the early centuries of Christianity and held Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, in high regard. One invocation in the newly deciphered codex calls "Seth, Seth, the living Christ."

The opening of the codex refers to a divine figure named "Baktiotha" whose identity is a mystery…. The lines read, "I give thanks to you and I call upon you, the Baktiotha: The great one, who is very trustworthy; the one who is lord over the forty and the nine kinds of serpents," according to the translation.

"The Baktiotha is an ambivalent figure. He is a great power and a ruler of forces in the material realm," Choat and Gardner said at a conference, before their book on the codex was published. Historical records indicate that church leaders regarded the Sethians as heretics and by the 7th century, the Sethians were either extinct or dying out.

This codex, with its mix of Sethian and Orthodox Christian invocations, may in fact be a transitional document, written before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, the researchers said. They noted that there are other texts that are similar to the newly deciphered codex, but which contain more Orthodox Christian and fewer Sethian features.

The precise origin of the codex remains a mystery, although Choat and Gardner believe it was not necessarily intended for use by priests and other religious figures. "It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn't really want to be labeled as a 'magician,'" says Choat.