and mediation to the holy martyrs at their shrines enjoyed a new means of communication with holy beings: the issuing of oracle 'tickets'. This was a millennia-old Egyptian ritual technique by which one would deliver a question to the god in two alternative written answers. The god, or now saint, would return the correct ticket, which would thereby assume the form of a protective amulet for the recipient. The procedure was aided by scribes and shrine attendants. Ticket oracles arose and thrived around saints like Colluthus, Philoxenus and Leontius. The requests would be formulated as appeals to God himself, suggesting an ecclesiastical hand insinuating a Christian orthodoxy into this altogether Egyptian ritual practice: 'O God of our patron St. Philoxenus, if you command us to bring Anoup to your hospital, show [your] power, and let the message come forth.'17 But if an earlier age of historians saw this kind of syncretism as tantamount to the smothering of Christianity under heathen ritual, we can now regard such practices as giving sanction and definition to Christianity in the landscape. As in Latin America, local ritual traditions offered Christianity a voice textured to the cultural landscape, not separate and imposed.18

The Christian construction of Egyptian religion: Sorcery and atrocity

The fluidity of local religion - its foundations in sacred landscape and practical ritual - made it a slippery (if actually identifiable) opponent for church leaders, as well as a malleable element for the popular recognition and assimilation of Christian schemes of power. Local religion did not, therefore, provide an effective counterpoint to Christian self-definition. Rarely do we find attacks on real cult practices like Shenoute's polemic against popular devotion to the cult of Shai, a deity of civic fortune, which he reports as taking place around lamps in homes in Panopolis.19 Heteropraxy here is a function of folk piety, not priestly sacrifice. By the fifth century Christian ideology needed to define itself against an identifiable enemy, a heathenism, an organised religion with full-scale temple cults. However, these cults had to be largely constructed from memory and caricature. One example of this caricatured invention of heathen cult is the depiction of the cult of the god 'Kothos' in the Panegyric on Macarius of Tkow (fifth/sixth century), where a temple and its popular

17 P. Oxy 1150; trans. Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian magic, 52-3.

18 Papaconstantinou, Le culte des saints en Egypte, 336-9; David Frankfurter, 'Voices, books, and dreams'.

19 Shenoute, 'The Lord thundered' (ed. Amelineau, 1: 379).

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