Texts labeled as ‘magical’ in modern scholarship figure prominently in the written legacy of all ancient cultures in West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, presenting a key source for the history of religions and ideas in antiquity. They include ritual instructions and recitation texts as well as explanatory texts of various kinds and written documents that were themselves part of magical ritual practices.
A wealth of magical texts from the various regions and periods of antiquity has been preserved: Cuneiform texts in different languages, inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs, papyri with Hieratic, Demotic, Coptic, and Greek texts, curse tablets with Greek and Latin inscriptions, Aramaic magic bowls, and many other texts, which are all the subject of specialized philologies dedicated to deciphering, editing, and interpreting the respective text tradition.
What these multifaceted text traditions have in common is that they have been recognized as key sources for the cultural history of antiquity. They shed light on religious beliefs, early concepts of the world, scholarly traditions, and early forms of science. They provide insight into social and cultural norms, but also conflicts and the precarious existence of the individual in pre-modern societies. What these texts also have in common is that they are considered testimonies to a tradition of knowledge that has a certain overall coherence and is made up of various interconnected strands, some of which are still relevant to present-day ideas and practices.
Research on magical text traditions is currently dominated by two paradigms: On the one hand, studies emerging from the respective philologies by experts scattered worldwide populate the research field. Conference volumes bring them together; handbooks collect culture-specific overviews, usually following an additive pattern. On the other hand, studies with a global approach to magic look macroscopically at the various text traditions, which then appear like stars to the naked eye in the night sky: fascinating, somehow similar, but only dimly recognizable.
MagEIA follows a different approach and has the ambition to be, as it were, a spaceship that allows highly specialized philologies to see other text traditions not only dimly like stars with the naked eye, but to visit these foreign stars in a joint research unit under the guidance of the relevant specialists. With the establishment of an international centre for interdisciplinary and comparative research on magical text traditions, we want to complement the juxtaposition of disciplinary contributions with joint, interdisciplinary work formats; we want to enable a direct engagement with the textual sources in an interdisciplinary context, and consolidate ephemeral meetings with long-term collaboration.
Methodologically, we start from a pragmatic definition of 'magical texts' that reflects both etic and emic categories. With a research programme that focuses on texts, MagEIA is committed to the philological standards of the individual disciplines; at the same time, especially for magical texts, the materiality of the tradition has considerable significance. Overall, MagEIA's research approach is cross-cultural and comparative; interconnections and interactions are explored as well as independent developments, whether analogous or divergent.