Updated date:

What Are Love Spells? An Exploration of Their History and Anthropology

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

Love spells come from all over the world and throughout history.

Love spells come from all over the world and throughout history.

Re-examining Our Thoughts on Love Spells and Magic

Humans have lived for a long time, so we have the tendency to collectively forget things. We also tend to love something only to get spooked in the very next moment. We worry if our interests may appear to forsake science or religion, and our worries often turn into prejudices.

I want to help remove prejudices about love spells and love magic. Sure, there have been some instances of dangerous things people did in the name of love (obsession), but try to step back from that for a moment. Love spells are a broad category, so I'm going to do a quick overview on this topic. If there's more interest, I might dig into more history on magic.

Love Spells Are Ancient

Archaeologists have found written love spells on cuneiform dating all the way back to 2,200 BCE in Iraq. I would argue that spells have been around ever since humans began to worship and consider higher powers or beings. I think humans began to formulate religious ideas because they have a higher capacity than any other known species for language.

When you have a higher awareness for language, you can think about abstract concepts—namely infinity. When you have the power to think about infinity, you have the power to think about the potential of a god or multiple gods.

Love spells are not anything new. They're not automatically holy, and they're not automatically evil. They're a kind of tool or expression, and depending on what you put into that tool or your expression, it can begin to paint a better picture when it comes to meaning and intent. I'll try to put this into a metaphor. Just because I have a baseball bat in my house doesn't necessarily mean I use it to beat thieves who enter my home. I could use the bat to simply play baseball.

Religions, Power, Xenophobia

Believe it or not, Christians have used love spells in practice, particularly during the renaissance period. Love spells do not belong to any one particular group. More conservative generations of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others have forbid magic and pronounced it as solely evil. This gave magic a sour reputation. Some religions were afraid of people's exploration of herbs or deemed magical actions as criminal. Consider the witch hunts and the Spanish Inquisition—we can easily tell the past was full of fear and confusion.

There were fears of people using magic for nefarious means, overpowering systems, or simply scamming people. Today scientists would argue over the results of love magic and whether it works. They would take a logical approach, of course. Frankly, love magic sometimes just deals with chemicals, and we'll get to that here in a moment. Today several ancient magic practices would be considered something else in modern science.

Throughout history, people who have different cultural identities and different rituals have often been targeted and persecuted by the majority or those in power. Many scrolls, texts, and written documents have been intentionally destroyed by institutional powers. For example, Egypt was considered one of the most magical empires during its reign of power, and over its 1,000 year history, the famous Great Library in Alexandria was burned multiple times. Some scholars suggest the library was intentionally targeted to get rid of texts on magic. There is likely more to the history and myths of Egypt than we know in the present.

Sometimes dominant cultures teach people to look at customs with fear and derision as a way to usurp power. I think it's important to slow down and understand people's practices, and it's important to slow down and look at magic as something that isn't just ominous, mysterious, or unreasonable. Magic was part of people's trades and traditions passed down from their families. There have been cultural genocides taking place for millennia, so if you have fear or derision about of magic, it might be coming from a place of domination rather than logic. You might have fears of other people merely because they are culturally different from you.

Astrology Used to Be Practical and for Agricultural Purposes

Astrology used to co-exist with religion, science, and magic, but certain groups of people polarized it, made it seem unfamiliar, and abandoned it. (These different schools of thought co-existed quite happily during the renaissance.)

What's confusing is that texts that would eventually be used in the Bible, which is an anthology not a book, were created when the zodiac was embedded in the zeitgeist. There are tons of references to astrology and the symbols of the zodiac in the Bible, but if you're taught to avoid astrology and that it's evil, then those symbols will be harder to discern. People in power love to censor and whiteout information. They want to create confusion because then they can rule over you. Be careful of those who have sway over language.

Magic is ultimately a form of expression and one that many would like to be silence—in large part because the people in power are racist or xenophobic.

Do Diligent Research and Find Strong Sources

When it come to anything that people say is occult, evil, too strange, weird, abnormal, you should pull up an encyclopedia and do some research. Read your history. Read about other cultures. You'll often find that what you've been taught or what society thinks actually hasn't always been the norm.

Study things you've been taught as fact. Study things you have been taught as myth. You'll find people have been lying or distorting information. You have to be active about your education.

do-soul-mates-exist-ill-explain-to-you-why-the-answer-is-yes

Ancient Greece and Magic

According to Christopher Faraone, a University of Chicago classics professor specializing in texts and practices related to magic, in Hellenistic Greece, there were two main categories of love spells: eros and philia.

  • Eros was practiced by men.
  • Philia was practiced by women.
  • Seldom did women practice eros. It was done by courtesans who lived lives more similar to men in that they had more freedom. Wives were constrained to their relationships.

In the ancient times, men used spells to entice or draw women to them. There is a psychological effect to this: if you know someone has cast a love spell on you and you actually do like that person, then the love spell would function more like a love signal or gesture. It's a flirtatious device. Essentially, the love spell signals interest and the person who receives it, if they know it, can then respond to it.

  • Love spells were not always used to bind people or hypnotize them to be with someone.
  • Some scholars see the spells men used on women as a form of kidnapping.
  • Eros was a more aggressive form than philia.

Philia type of love spells were meant to help women feel beautiful, youthful, and attractive to their husbands or partners. There was fear that their spouses would leave them. In Ancient Greece, men could freely leave their wives, but women couldn't leave their husbands. In order to keep the relationship, women used philia to maintain their beauty and to keep some peace. This kind of magic was considered healing and therapeutic. The women used magic for affirmation and to build confidence.

do-soul-mates-exist-ill-explain-to-you-why-the-answer-is-yes

Love Magic for Different Reasons

Spells have been cast for millenniums in hopes that people will find passion, romance, marriage, or other types of unions. Sometimes these spells may have been cast in an attempt to break up a marriage or create confusion and discord.

Spell casting is done in a variety of ways from: using flowers and herbs, writing messages in bottles, dolls, meditations and prayers, rituals, drinking potions, sacrifices, playing songs, using incense and fire, and lighting candles.

Tablets and texts indicating love spells have been found all throughout the world including Egypt, China, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.

The Greek Magical Papyri was a series of spell books in Egypt. The books date back to the 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE. The books had formulas and recipes for people to do on their own (a.k.a. DIY magic.) It told them how to summon gods, to stop thieves from breaking into their property, to find wealth, to remedy illnesses, and of course charm people with love. People are still to this day trying to do all these things with various means, whether magical or not.

Some of the Greek Magical Papyri spells were simple, like finding a tick from a cat and rubbing it on the back of the neck. Others required much more work and get pretty gross. The text also heavily details how to use figurines in rituals, something akin to Voodoo.

Love Magic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period

With the dominance of Christianity and Catholicism in Europe starting in the Middle Ages, love spells could be seen bending to the religious zeitgeist. Dolls with messages have been found in old churches. People would take candles and other items from mass and use them as part of their rituals to attract, allure, and secure love.

During the Renaissance period, people of status and fame were more often the target of love spells. Some historians believe that men were more likely to cast spells than women because they would target unobtainable and younger women in hopes that they would succumb to their desires. Women more commonly appear to use magic in literature. This is likely because men didn't want to be associated with spells. For the most part, men used magic for competitive means while women used magic for communal or cooperative means.

Different Contexts for Love Spells

Throughout the ancient world, love spells (or curses) were generally personal, private contracts between a person and a deity, god, angel, or demon. People would use their own nails, hair, and blood to make contracts and put down words on a material. Items were often left in natural landscapes or places considered sacred. They could be thrown into the bottom of rivers where they may never turn up, they could be buried in a forest, or even dug into a person's grave.

Aelius Promotus, an Alexandrian physician, encouraged spells for medicinal uses. He had a certain strange formula for how to prevent pregnancy. On the other side of spell crafting, aphrodisiacs were considered a type of love magic to help win back some desire. Some aphrodisiacs have been proven true. (Figs, oysters, chocolates, asparagus, and strawberries are a few.)

Some people would also use love magic to try and heal from bad experiences or a breakup. If you've ever been cheated on then you know how emotionally and physically exhausting a heart break can be. For some, it feels like their heart has taken on real damage. Some love magic was meant to heal and soothe that terrible pain. (I think Pepto Bismol does the trick these days, personally.)

Spells, tokens, rituals, and the like show the extent of what people in ancient times would do to try to procure love. People weren't quite sure what were all the right ways to find love, and clearly people didn't always accept that someone just wasn't that into them. Love spells were not always meant to be arcane and grandiose or spooky. Sometimes these were just creative displays and expressions meant to grasp with abstract concepts like romance, unrequited love, and euphoria. Love spells sometimes were meant simply as a form of flirting.

Desire Leads Us to Fascinating Decisions

In the present, some witches who perform love spells do believe their enchantments will work, and they attest to their formulas. I think they genuinely believe they are helping people as a kind of auxiliary doctor or therapist or healer.

Other people are using people's anxieties and fears to get some money off them. Scammers are the real issue here.They know what people want. They know people will pay them big money to help them "attract" the person of their dreams. My suggestion would be to do anything like this for free and with a grain of salt. If you have to shell out big bucks for love... something is wrong.

Love spells and magic in general can be a form of entertainment and imagination work, but if you're starting to really get obsessive about someone and becoming more controlling and demanding then you're needing serious help, not in the love department but on a personal level. You need to respect that you can't force someone to love you. You can't free-will force everything around you. You have to accept the terms of the reality you are in. Consent is a requirement, not an option.

I would say love spells are meant to signal love, not signal hatred or dominion. They're meant as therapy: like focusing on the color pink, listening to some nice binaural beats, and taking a bath with some nice soap and red wine. These are things that can actually soothe you.

Love spells are a category. There is a multitude of ways you could perform them and it's not inherently toxic, obsessive, kind, constructive, or chaotic. It's what you put into it, your emotions, your thoughts, and your own performance. If you want to manifest evil intent, you can—but you shouldn't. No wise person would instruct someone to do evil. Wisdom doesn't align with evil nor nefarious acts. Seek wisdom, my friends! Don't seek toxic or bad romances. Seek something real and long lasting.

Let's review this again, shall we?

  1. Love spells are in part about intent, which isn't always straightforward.
  2. People look for love spells to: attract attention, to feel more attractive, to signal interest, to try to gain someone's affections, or to release one from bad and unwanted emotions.

We're all trying to learn different charms and charisma to get where we want to in life. There are definitely scientific ways to create more allure:

  • Certain chemicals and scents act like pheromones or endorphins. People are attracted to the scents of pumpkin, lavender, rose, and vanilla.
  • Chocolate has enzymes in it that women don't naturally produce. Chocolate has romantic connotations for a reason.
  • Pleasing music to our ears can calm us down.
  • Gastronomy is the art of cultivating good food. Who hasn't heard of getting to someone's heart through their stomach?
  • Beautifully written letters -- people have moved over seas for someone who could craft an amazing message. People are moved by language.
  • Dancing often gets people in synch and can have the effect of putting things in motion toward a romantic connection.

I think there are many things today that would be considered magic in the past. In fact, all of technology would look like magic to our ancestors. They were trying to discover what works, what doesn't, and how to scam desperate people. Some of their hunches about love magic were right -- flowers, scents, chocolates, certain tastes and the like can have an impact. Food can cause certain responses in your body that lead to desire. In the end, everything around us is made of chemicals. We are made up of chemicals and chemical reactions. What we eat, smell, see, and hear can have an influence on our bodies and minds.

Love magic should really be about creating healthy connections and restoration, not control, malice, greed, or jealously. Vices and trying to manifest them only create harm or distortion. I've known witches who say that creating a spell for good is more powerful than one that's malevolent.

What we find when we look at the anthropology of love spells is that humans around the world have similar expressions when it comes to romance, passion, and creating relationships. Our expressions also do not dramatically change over time. A powerful amount of affection for someone can make them wish to find magic to help them be with their desired crush.

Variety in Love Magic

Court cases in the past took place over love magic. In some instances, people believed that under the influence of love magic people swelled up and gained weight. Some people were accused and executed for love magic. People were hung simply for collecting herbs, flowers, lighting fires, and saying a few repetitious words. Violence was the wrong way to confront witchcraft both now and in the past.

*People were also accused of witchcraft for simply wearing the wrong color—looking at you, Salem Witch Trials. (The color was red.)

Love Spells Are Not So Scary

Love magic has at times helped people comprehend and meditate on the origins of their passions. Love spells can be used as a form of personal reflection and time to remember all the reasons you like someone.

Also, a lot of this is up to interpretation. A lot of the things we consider a love spell or love magic wouldn't be considered that in the past. Many Greeks used love spells in a way that was closer to cursing, which was often eros. Philia was considered healing.

Greek men often performed love magic not because they were lovesick, but because they wanted to dominate someone. Their reason for performing magic was ego-based and they only wanted to be in control and take charge.

References

  • Campion, Nicholas (2009). History of Western Astrology. (Vol. 2). The Medieval and Modern Worlds (first ed.). London: Continuum.
  • Cummins, A. (2012). The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-Century English Astrology and Magic. France:Hadean Press.
  • Faraone, C. (2018). The Transformation of Greek Amulets in Roman Imperial Times. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Gideon, B. (1996). Magic Papyri. In Traditions of Magic in Late Antiquity: Recipe-Books. Ann Arbor, MI: Library, University of Michigan.
  • Pientka, R. (n.d.). Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East. In Aphrodisiaka und Liebeszauber im Alten Orient’ (Vol. 2).
  • Walking Tours of Salem, Massachusetts, Bewitched After Dark. (Historic tour of Salem that teaches about the hysteria, events around 1692, and also has a catalog of documents around the events that took place leading to 25 deaths.)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Andrea Lawrence