Classic textbook on magic and the occult in ancient Greece and Rome, written by Georg Luck. As the first comprehensive sourcebook and introduction to magic from the perspective of practitioners of that time, it was groundbreaking. Contemporary scholars have grounds to take exception with some of Luck's characterizations (particularly with his practice of linking modern concepts of parapsychology with occult practice in antiquity), but nevertheless owe him a great debt for having trailblazed an esoteric field of academic inquiry.

Arcana mundi translates to "secrets of the universe". The secrets of the universe were encoded in its hidden (or "occult") nature. Magic, daemonlogy, divination, astrology, and alchemy were all developed as systems intended to tap into the occult nature of the world through symbolic and phenomenal systems which were resonant or covalent with the arcana mundi.

The six chapters of Arcana Mundi are composed thematically, and incorporate commentary and primary texts:

  1. Magic
  2. Miracles
  3. Daemonology
  4. Divination
  5. Astrology
  6. Alchemy

Here is a sampling of primary sources:


From the Leiden Papyrus (PGM 2:98-102):

If someone is possessed by a demon, say the Name and hold sulfur and bitumen under his nose. He will speak at once, and the daemon will go away.

If you want to kill a snake, say "Stop. You are Apyphys." Take a green palm branch and take the marrow, split into two parts, say the Name over it seven times, and the snake will at once be split in two or burst.

To send dreams to someone, the magician has to draw a rather complicated figure on a linen sheet and recite a formula. This forces a minor demon to go to the bedroom of X and give him a dream specified by the operator. The priests at Epidaurus used similar techniques to induce dreamful sleep for patients in incubation in the temples of Asclepius.


Excerpts from the Great Magical Papyrus in Paris (=PGM 1:170-73)

For those possessed by daemons, a well-tested charm by Pibeches. Take oil from unripe olives together with the plant mastigia and lotus pith and cook it with colorless marjoram, saying "...IOEL, HARI, PHTHA..., come out of X...I conjure you...who are in the midst of land and snow and fog, Tannetis, let your angel descend, the pitiless one, and let him arrest the daemon that flies around this creature shaped by God in his holy paradise...I conjure you by him who has moved the four winds together from the holy eternities, by the heavenlike, sealike, cloudlike, the firebringer, the invincible...I conjure you by him who...created the universe from a state of nonbeing into a state of being."


These are some of the questions asked of the Oracle at Dodona, from the Dittenburger MSS Sylloge 793-95, 797-99:

Heraclides asks Zeus and Dione for good fortune and wants to know from the god about a child, if he will have one from his wife Aegle, the one he has now.

Nicocrateia would like to know what god she ought to offer sacrifice in order to get well and feel better and make her illness go away.

Lysanius wants to know from Zeus Naios and Dione whether the child Annyla is expecting is his or not.

Cleotas asks Zeus and Dione whether it is profitable and to his advantage to keep cattle.

(These are a few scant lines from more than 120 primary source documents contained in the book proper.)

Georg Luck is professor emeritus of classics at Johns Hopkins University, where his current research interest is use of entheogens in antiquity. Arcana Mundi will be released in an expanded, two-volume set by an Italian press (Mondodori) in 2002.

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