An Ancient Egyptian Magic Love Spell That Was Found On Papyrus Has Finally Been Decoded

No one is certain how the papyrus with the ancient Egyptian magic spell ended up at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Egyptian pyramids and a camel.
Chris McGrath / Getty Images

No one is certain how the papyrus with the ancient Egyptian magic spell ended up at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

A delicate piece of papyrus that has two beautiful birds drawn on it — and which contains an ancient Egyptian magic spell — has finally been deciphered by scientists. Besides reputedly being a potent love spell, Korshi Dosoo, a lecturer at the University of Strasbourg in France, noted that, “The most striking feature of the papyrus is its image.”

As Live Science reports, the Egyptian magic spell has been found to date back 1,300 years and was written during an era in which the vast majority of Egyptians would have been devout practitioners of the Christian faith.

The image that was drawn on the papyrus shows two birds, or other magical winged creatures, with one of these birds aiming its beak directly into the wide open beak of the other bird beside it. The bird with the open beak is pictured with something that is being aimed into its head such as a nail — although this could also be an Egyptian symbol of some kind. Drawn directly around these birds are wide, outstretched arms that surround them on both sides.

Another intriguing feature in the drawing of this Egyptian magic spell are what appear to be chains — or some kind of bond — that connects the two winged creatures. It has been surmised by scientists that the differences in the two animals may be attributed to the artist’s desire to show that they are members of the opposite sex.

The magic love spell was written in Coptic, with part of it translating to “I call upon you, who is Christ the god of Israel,” and continuing later with the phrase “You will dissolve.”

Dosoo believes that the papyrus may have once been part of a larger book that would have been used by an Egyptian magician — and that the drawings in particular may have caught the eye of the magic practitioner’s clients. After all, one of the key points of magic spells is to invoke an atmosphere that will stimulate belief in the spell that is being conducted, and this drawing certainly does that.

“From an observer point of view, we could say that the image might have enhanced the performative aspect of the spell — the client might find the weird drawings an impressive addition to the overall atmosphere and impression created by the ritual.”

Dosoo also speculates that this love spell may have been used for a more complicated case, as texts from this era point to such spells being conducted to force the hand of women who would normally be unattainable for a variety of reasons.

“Christian literary texts from Egypt which mention love spells often imply that the problem is not that the woman doesn’t love the man per se, but that he does not have access to her, because she is a young unmarried girl protected and secluded by her family, or already married to someone else.”

At the moment, the origin of the now deciphered papyrus bearing the ancient Egyptian magic spell is unclear — as no one is quite certain how it ended up at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. There are no records to show that it was either purchased by or donated to the institution.