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Binding tablet

Binding tablet (Greek katadesmos, "inding"; Latin defixio, "fixation"), in Greek and Roman times, was a means of hostile magic for cursing, seducing, and controlling people. A binding tablet was normally a piece of lead, ritually consecrated, and dropped into a well, spring, tomb, opening of a cave, or some other entrance to the underworld. Mainly the purpose of the text on the binding tablet is to get the underworld deities, especially Persephone, to grant the magician power over another person or to bind that person to the powers of the realm of the dead. Many symbols and words of power, including the famed Ephesia Gramata frequently appear in these binding tablets.

The chemical stability of lead, especially when preserved under water or underground, have made these binding tablets one of the most durable artifacts of the classical cultures, and more than fifteen hundred of them have been catalogued by scholars over the past century and a half. The discovery of the oldest known examples occurred in Sicily and Attica (the Grecian area near Athens) that were dated in the fifth century BCE.

Their usage was widespread by Roman times, first century CE and thereafter. Instructions for manufacturing and consecrating them appeared in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri. They were written in various languages; two found in Roman Gaul represent examples of the longest surviving prose text of the ancient Gaulish language.

Their multipurpose usage is known to any student of magic: love, revenge, justice, success in business or legal matters, luck in gambling or sports, and so on. Binding tablets were closely tied to chariot racing, Roman's most popular sport, and in one instant a tablet was smuggled into the race track and buried under the starting gate before an important race.

Binding tablets were common in the Mediterranean area until the eighth century CE when the prohibitions of the Christian and Islamic religions finally sealed their doom. It is interesting, though, that a collection of late examples dates from the 17th century England, probably a part of a magical revival of the period. No documents related to the binding tablets surfaced, just the tablets themselves. A.G.H.


Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. St. Paul. MN. Llewellyn Worldwide. 2005. pp. 65-66

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