It seems that the Hellenistic times – which increased at its late years – metaphysical concepts of the Underworld were interlinked and combined together. Mystical cults, such as of Orphic, the Idaean Dactyls, of Trophonius and of Eleusis have been bound together into the people’s mind and, therefore, on numerous liturgical formulae (the known today magical papyri). An example is the Orphic Formula, ὁ λόγος ὁ Ὀρφαϊκός as depicted by the Hellenistic mystagogoi.

Ἀσκει κατασκει ερων ορεων ιωρ μεγα σεμνυηρ βαυϊ / γ’, φοβαντία σεμνή· τετέ[λ]εσμαι / καὶ [τ]ὰ ἄλλα εἶδον κάτω, παρθένος, κύων, / καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ πάντα.

The eminent Hans Dieter Betz (1980: p. 292) discuss a passage found in the PGM LXX – a twenty-eight lined formulae known as Catabasis Ritual – which displays the Orphic Formula combined with few (two out of six) words of the Ephesia grammata. The ἀσκει κατασκει are terms used in the Ephesian grammata, however the rest seems to be a magical verse. Clement of Alexandria considers the first phrase the formula to the Idaen Dactyls (Stromatis i. 15, pp/ 46-47). The following phrase - τετέ[λ]εσμαι / καὶ [τ]ὰ ἄλλα εἶδον κάτω, παρθένος, κύων, / καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ πάντα. – according to Clement is the Eleusinian, σύνθημα,‘password’ to the Underworld (Protr. 2.21 and also in Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, 1961, pp. 294 ff). Dieter translate it as follows:

I have been initiated, / and I descended into the (underground) chamber of the Dactyls, / and I saw the other things down below, virgin, bitch, / and all the rest.

The phrase “I have been initiated” by taking in granted the rest of the formulae assumes that the individual had passed an initiation which involves Hekate. In addition the initiation was held in an underground chamber, a crypt, similar with the venues used in Eleusis and in Lebadeia.

What we can conclude is that the magical papyri are not just a collection of hermetic or wizards’ magical formulas but at the same time a strong tool for the scholar to identify and underline lost rituals’ of the Hellenic mystical cults.

Reference: Hans Dieter Betz, (1980), ‘Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus’, History of Religions, 19 (4), pp. 287-295

Picture: Hecate; drawing by Stephane Mallaemè in Les Dieux Antiques, nouvelle mythologie illustrée, Paris, 1880.

More on magical papyri read here.