Magic in Ancient Iran

Jong, Albert de. 2019. Iran. In David Frankfurter (ed.), Guide to the study of ancient magic (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 189). Leiden: Brill.

In the midst of academic debates about the utility of the term “magic” and the cultural meaning of ancient words like mageia or khesheph, this Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic seeks to advance the discussion by separating out three topics essential to the very idea of magic. The three major sections of this volume address (1) indigenous terminologies for ambiguous or illicit ritual in antiquity; (2) the ancient texts, manuals, and artifacts commonly designated “magical” or used to represent ancient magic; and (3) a series of contexts, from the written word to materiality itself, to which the term “magic” might usefully pertain.

The abstract for Albert de Jong’s chapter:

This chapter examines illegitimate ritual forms in ancient Iran as practices deemed unacceptable by Zoroastrianism. It surveys specific negative roles and opponents listed in textual sources as “evil,” beginning with the daevayasna (worshippers of incorrect gods), yatu (sorcerers), and paririka (witches). Next, it looks at the supposed dewesn sect of devil-worshippers and jadugih, the legal charge of sorcery in later Zoroastrian texts. Finally, the chapter explores the reasons for difficulties in reconstructing illicit ritual practice in Zoroastrianism as well as challenges posed for any archaeological reconstruction of such activities.