Four Ways to Love: How the Ancient Greeks Used Magic to Fulfil Hopes, Dreams, and Desires
For the ancient Greeks, 'love' was categorized into distinct words, each representing a different kind of infatuation; which is considerably different from our ideas of generalizing all aspects and types of 'love' into a single word. This played a significant role when working with magic spells and amulets, as the intention of the magic would be focused on what kind of love or relationship a person was seeking to obtain or strengthen.
Common Terms for Love
The most commonly used 'love' terms in Greek were:
- agape: selfless, unconditional love. This was a love that you extended to all people, regardless if they were family members or distant strangers. It is the love that all people should strive to have towards other human beings. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of the word "charity."
- philia: a type of love referring to friendship, and highly valued by the ancient Greeks. It was connected with deep comradely friendship, such as warriors who fought together on the battlefield. It was also about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, and sharing your emotions with them. Philia could also refer to the love between parents and their children, although sometimes 'storge' could also be employed to explain that kind of love.
- storge: a type of familial love. It can be similar to philia when referring to the love between parents and children. As a general idea, storge is the kind of love which comes from familiarity or dependency and, unlike philia or eros, it is not connected with any personal qualities of the other person.
- eros: named after the Greek god of fertility, eros was usually used to say what agape and philia cannot be, or represent, which is sexual or lustful love. Eros did not always have a positive connotation as it was viewed as dangerous, an irrational form of love that could possess a person.
Magic Spells for Eros
For the people who lived in the Ancient eras, magic also served the purpose of explaining relationships between cause and effect by using ideas, analogies, and symbolism which people could relate to. In his book, "Ancient Greek Love Magic"(2001), Dr. Christoper Faraone explains about love magic and the meanings of love in ancient Greek magic.
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Like most Roman era spells related to eros, it is common to find ones which commanded ghosts to prevent the female victim from enjoying everyday life and dragging her to the man who was performing the spell. Although the God Eros is mostly associated with rituals and conditions related to passionate love, Pan could also be the source of this sudden and uncontrollable love sensation.
The Eros Farnese, a Pompeiian marble. ( Public Domain )
Many ancient Greek incantations were designed to induce eros seizure and some of them were very short and simple. Those spells focused on the victim’s desire in a way that was unbounded by time and space. However, this is not the case for the most popular Greek eros types of charm, the 'agoge' spell, which had a consistent narrative: it “leads” the woman immediately from the house of her father or husband to the practitioner, a movement that mimics in some obvious ways the transfer of a bride from her old home to her husband’s home, as Dr. Faraone described.
Spells narrating female victims being set on fire or the burning of figurines with herbs and spices were probably some of the most popular eros magic, or agoge spells, in Greek antiquity. They were intended to cause the woman to burn with passion.
A second type of eros magic, though not as popular or violent as other agoge spells, appears often in the context of traditional courtship and marriage: the throwing or presentation of enchanted 'apples’ or other kinds of similarly seeded fruit. Magic spells involving apples and pomegranates had been used much earlier in history, with records dating back from a 9th century BC cuneiform collections of Neo-Assyrian ritual texts.
A Red-Figure Plate with Eros as a youth making an offering. ( Public Domain )
Popular Love Spells Relating to Philia intentions
Males were not the only users of love magic in ancient Greece, although they had some monopoly over spells used to induce eros, desire. Women were equally adept in performing magic spells, but the types of magic they used, and contexts in which they used them, were considerably different. They were often designed to retain or regain philia or agape, to create affection in a spouse, a lover, or some other person to whom the practitioner already had contact.