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by Archaeology Newsroom

Magic and the dead in classical Greece

During the late archaic period of Greek history, there emerged a class of professionals who specialized in rituals used to control the dead, many of which could be described as “magical”. The word for this specialist, γόης, and the word for his art, γοητεία, in fact became common terms for what we now call “magician” and “magic”. The γόης, as we see him in classical Greece, particularly did three things. 1) He appeased and averted ghosts who were out of control and causing trouble for the living. His techniques included creating statues of the ghosts, feeding those statues and then either binding them, to stop the ghost from moving, or leaving the statues in the wilderness. 2) He could call up ghosts to serve the living. Sometimes the ghosts gave prophecies; sometimes they could be forced to hurt individuals among the living with whom the γόης or his client were angry. 3) He developed rituals in which the living could participate, that guaranteed that when they died, their own ghosts would be happy in the afterlife. In this role, the γόης was closely connected to the development of mystery cults in Greece.