Update Sourcebook & Catalogue of Ancient Magic Signs – July 2023

Dear Supporters,

thank you so much for your patience. Research is an expedition and can hold quite some unexpected challenges. Here are the news about what happened so far, why I haven’t released the Sourcebook yet, and what is going to come in the next weeks and months.

When I started the crowdfunding project I already had a comprehensive catalogue with thousands of signs and over a thousand pages based on my previous research. I had developed a typology of ancient magic signs which worked well most of the times and kept improving it when necessary. A lot of my work was based on copies of photos published in papers and books and black and white photos I received from museums and papyrus collections for my research.

When I compiled and structured the ancient sources for the Sourcebook and started writing it, the catalogue worked well. But more recently, various reasons led to the decision to start both books all over from scratch. Here are the most relevant ones:

Re-classification of magic signs

More and more museums and institutions started in 2023 to provide photographs of their papyri and artefacts online – and upon request even high-resolution colour photographs – for free. This enabled me to identify individual magic signs more precisely compared to older black and white photographs or low resolution b/w copies from images in publications. Over the last months I received new high-resolution colour images of all of the most extensive Greek magical papyri as well as photos of Greek and Coptic papyri which had been published without photographs.

Based on these new photographs I started to check the magic signs and a larger number of them – especially the ones that had been classified as „uncertain“ – could now be re-classified. This is great but it also meant that a lot of signs had to be re-drawn.

Changing of Group G6 – the largest group of magic signs

While I was checking and re-classificating the signs it became more and more apparent that looking for a specific sign within the group „G6“ can be very challenging and time consuming. G6 contains over 1.000 individual magic signs and the catalogue of G6 comprises 367 pages.

After spending a while with looking for and thinking over alternatives, I finally chose to expand the classification system of G6 and include a „letter-variant“. It is important to keep in mind that, while a lot of signs do resemble Greek letters, it is uncertain if they were intended to be understood as such letters. Still, in terms of finding a sign in the catalogue it is easier and much faster to look for, e.g., „A-shaped“ signs and their variants at one spot instead of having to go through all sub-groups.

In G6 the sub-groups depend on the number of strokes which constitute a sign. A sign shaped like „V“ would be categorised under sub-group G6-02 because it consists of two strokes. A major problem with the stroke-counting was to decide whether an additional tick or a short line or a curve at the end of a stroke were actually intended and should be counted as an additional stroke, or if they were just due to handwriting.

G6-signs are now classified under, e.g., G6-A-aa, G6-A-ab … When the „A“ has an additional small stroke or a bow or a tick somewhere its classification gets an additional „+“ sign, like G6-A+-aa. And when the A is written upside down or mirrored – which occurs quiete often with letter-shaped signs – it gets an additional „x“, like G6-Ax-ab. This way, all A-looking signs in G6 can be found at one spot when looking through the catalogue. And, concerning the future, this new system allows systematic research within the one day upcoming web database.

Re-checking the classification of magic signs and re-classifying the G6 signs took and takes a lot of time. Since the Sourcebook and the Catalogue are likely to become the standard handbooks for the next decades I want them to be as precise and user-friendly as possible.

Starting from Scratch with the Catalogue and the Sourcebook

After I decided to re-classify group G6 and better photos showed that more and more signs needed to be corrected in terms of their shape and therefore quite often needed to be assigned a different or new type, I had to spend more and more time checking back and forth with previous classifications and types when adding a new sign to ensure I use the right type in the Sourcebook. There was a point when I thought starting from scratch would be faster and more safe. Since the new photos made me to rework a number of the Sourcebook entries, I finally decided to start both books from scratch. The best decision I have made: The entire working process is now much faster and more safe and the positive side effect is that the Catalogue of those magic signs occurring in the ritual manuals will be available at the same time as the Sourcebook.

Drawings of the Signs

This turned out to take much more time than I had expected. Much more time. Especially the handwritten signs (in opposite to engraved signs) can often not be subsummized under an abstract main drawing. Most of the signs given in the ritual manuals need to be drawn individually. I thought this would be easier, but since precision and proportions are important I spend hours each day just for drawing the signs of the instructions I add to the Sourcebook.

Adding own Translations

The more time I spent with the Betz translation the more errors become apparent, and not only in the translations but also in a large number of the drawings of the signs. Translating the papyri from scratch would be faster but I always double check if there might be a paper or another good explanation for why the authors in the Betz edition translated the way they did. The Sourcebook now has a new translation for every entry. I also added descriptions and a discussion for each source where the Betz drawings of the signs are incorrect, which is basically almost every source.
Translating the original texts and describing and discussing the sign errors in Betz takes up a lot of additional time.

Writing in English

Somehow I underestimated how much longer it would take me to write in English instead of in my own mother tongue, and to look up the right ways to express my thoughts and the right vocabularies.

A new decree in Italy

A major problem occurred when Italy’s government published a new decree in April this year titled „Guidelines for the determination of the minimum fees for the concession of use of cultural heritage kept by national institutes and places of culture“ (D.M. April 11, 2023, no. 161 => the link to the official decree’s website is currently not available, here is a link to an overview in English: https://pro.europeana.eu/index.php/post/is-the-public-domain-under-threat-in-italy). There is a huge backlash but that’s currently the law. There are a lot of uncertainties within institutions especially when it comes to open access digital publications where the number of downloaded copies cannot be estimated. For explanation: If you want to publish a paper or a monograph digitally (in open access or paywalled), the fee for an image from a museum depends on the number of downloads. Some institutions, like the British Museum, offer steps like: up to 100 downloads, 100-250, 250-500, … while others ask you to provide a number yourself, like 1000. If this number is reached you have to re-apply for permission to publish the image and pay a new fee. You can imagine how time consuming this can be when you have many images in your digital publication and your publication is available for a longer period of time. It’s also a lot of administrative work for the museums. This is why more and more museums and institutions make their images (in lower resolutions) available for free for digital open access publications, but there is still a long way to go.

Back to the problem in Italy: This means that currently I cannot publish any of the photos of the papyri I received from Italian institutions and museums, even though I had originally permission to do so. Institutions are uncertain if the crowdfunding, my social media channels, and the self-publishing are indeed understood as non-commercial by the decree, especially because I’m a freelance archaeolgist. And: How should I track the downloads and numbers of shared copies of the Sourcebook – worldwide?

Current state of the books

The current state of the books is that about a 20% of the ritual manuals have been reworked, including drawings of all of the signs (as .ai, .svg, and .jpeg files).
You will receive about 25 pages of the Sourcebook and 25 pages of the Catalogue next week and I am very much looking forward to your comments. You will also receive the drawings of the first 100 magic signs as jpegs.


I am careful to provide a publishing date considering all of the current events, but it will be this year for both books. I think it might be useful to provide weekly short updates on Twitter and Instagram, offering a more spontaneous exchange with you and helping me to stay on track.

Thank you for granting me the time it takes me to make these two books as good and scientifically sound as possible.

All the best,

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