But neither shall I be silent respecting that piece of knavery of these (sorcerers), which consists in the divination by means of the cauldron. For, making a closed chamber, and anointing the ceiling with cyanus for present use, they introduce certain vessels of cyanus, and stretch them upwards. The cauldron, however, full of water, is placed in the middle on the ground; and the reflection of the cyanus falling upon it, presents the appearance of heaven. But the floor also has a certain concealed aperture, on which the cauldron is laid, having been (previously, supplied with a bottom of crystal, while itself is composed of stone. Underneath, however, unnoticed (by the spectators), is a compartment, into which the accomplices, assembling, appear invested with the figures of such gods and demons as the magician wishes to exhibit. Now the dupe, beholding these, becomes astonished at the knavery of the magician, and subsequently believes all things that are likely to be stated by him. But (the sorcerer) produces a burning demon, by tracing on the wall whatever figure he wishes, and then covertly smearing it with a drug mixed according to this manner, viz., of Laconian and Zacynthian asphalt,— while next, as if under the influence of prophetic frenzy, he moves the lamp towards the wall. The drug, however, is burned with considerable splendour. And that a fiery Hecate seems to career through air, he contrives in the mode following. Concealing a certain accomplice in a place which he wishes, (and) taking aside his dupes, he persuades them (to believe himself), alleging that he will exhibit a flaming demon riding through the air. Now he exhorts them immediately to keep their eyes fixed until they see the flame in the air, and that (then), veiling themselves, they should fall on their face until he himself should call them; and after having given them these instructions, he, on a moonless night, in verses speaks thus:—
Infernal, and earthy, and supernal Bombo, come!
Saint of streets, and brilliant one, that strays by night;
Foe of radiance, but friend and mate of gloom;
In howl of dogs rejoicing, and in crimson gore,
Wading 'mid corpses through tombs of lifeless dust,
Panting for blood; with fear convulsing men.
Gorgo, and Mormo, and Luna, and of many shapes,
Come, propitious, to our sacrificial rites!
Source: Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, trans. J.H. MacMahon, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, eds. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)
A few days ago, I wrote about the origins of the “Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon” passage in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook.” The lines come from Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies, an early Christian work from the fourth century CE. The thirty-fifth chapter of book four, from which the incantation derives, contains an interesting bit of skeptical inquiry that’s worth looking at in full. In the chapter, Hippolytus describes how pagan priests use stagecraft and trickery to create the illusion of an appearance of the dread goddess Hecate.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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