downward. Occasionally we find Υ instead of the characters just described.32
The eta-like characters are sometimes found on other medical amulets, such as the stomach amulets that bear the design of the lion-headed serpent (Chnoubis), and the uterine amulets with the symbol that was recognized and fully explained by Delatte.
Like the sacred names, the characters were felt to be divine in themselves, and they might be addressed as divine beings. An expedition of the University of Pennsylvania unearthed a bronze spade-shaped amulet, of a kind commonly found in Palestine and Syria, so badly corroded that the inscription is almost destroyed; but the words φοβεροὶ χαρακτῆρες show that the characters, along with other divine or angelic powers, were invoked to protect the wearer of the charm.
The characters seem to bear no relation to the simpler, more methodically contrived signs used in cryptographic papyri, though these, like some of the characters, are derived from ordinary Greek letters. Nothing that we now know encourages the hope that a meaning can be extracted from the groups of characters in papyri and on gem amulets. Their power proceeded ex opere operato, from the time they were written or engraved.
The purpose of this section is primarily to set what is known, and what may, in time, be within the reach of patient investigation, apart from that which cannot be understood because it was without meaning from the beginning. That is to say, without meaning that can be expressed in ordinary language; for much that is unintelligible was still significant in the emotions of those who practiced and believed in magic. Nothing is more important in these studies than to recognize the limits of our knowledge. The remark attributed to Champollion, about the scent of “le fromage gnostique,” is still worth remembering. The enticing savor of the occult has led many inquisitive explorers into labyrinths and traps, and its attraction is not yet exhausted, if one may judge by the desperate attempts at interpretation that have been put forward even in recent times. Such further progress as may be made will come chiefly, I think, by noting the types with which the various magical words are associated, and by applying a sound knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, demotic, and Coptic to those inscriptions which seem to fall into pronounceable sound groups that may be words or short phrases. Of the longer sequences, some were intended to impress the hearer merely by their sound; others, the palindromes for example, by their effect when written out. In all that were unintelligible to the ear or the eye and were not invented merely to impress and deceive, one must allow for a genuine belief that they were charged in themselves with power which was exerted by the very act of inscribing or reciting them.
Some of the subdivisions suggested above have been adequately illustrated by examples, especially the magical words that seem to be derived from the Egyptian and the Semitic languages and the babbling sequences. In the following lists other groups are illustrated and a sufficient number of examples
32 Metropolitan Museum, Cat. Gems, p. 183, No. 386.