Bes were gradually replaced with Saints Victor and Colluthus, Mary, Christ, Gabriel and Michael. (Some Coptic spell manuals from the fifth or sixth centuries actually include both pantheons: Christ and Michael in one section, Horus and Isis in the other.)12 By the fifth century, indeed, a prominent leader like Shenoute did not know where to turn in combating unorthodox practices. One moment he might see 'magic' in the lingering heathenism of his region; the next, he would decry unsavoury ritual practices among the very ranks of Christians.

Christianity and the need for divination

Among the most basic functions served by temple cults in Egyptian society was divination: understanding the main temple god's judgments on social dilemmas through some ritual scenario. The god might be seen to move on his processional barque, or speak from an image in an incubation chamber, or issue written responses. Divination was the ritual means by which gods were involved in political and social life. Divination defined the gods' powers in society and, as in other traditional societies, articulated the traditional cosmology in the context of everyday life. Thus, in Athanasius' Life of Anthony 23 and 31-3, the chief powers ofthe 'demons', to which the saint's ownpowers are juxtaposed, consist of indicating future events, confirming arrivals, andreport-ing on the Nile's annual surge. Athanasius does not ridicule these services -indeed, he attributes the demons' mantic abilities to their quick flight - but rather reflects the diversity of ways that Egyptians, if not people throughout the Mediterranean world, sought larger, divine frameworks for their actions and experiences.

Much of the evidence for Egyptian religion in the second to fifth centuries comes, indeed, from the world of divination and exhibits the variety of media through which contact with a divine world was maintained. A large portion of the spells in the Greek and Demotic 'magical' papyri from this period seek access to divine insight, answers or epiphanies, usually according to ritual frameworks based in Egyptian temple practices. Two major fourth- and fifth-century cults - Bes of Abydos and Isis of Menouthis - were famed specifically for their oracles; and a wealth of papyri, archaeological and literary evidence through the third century testify to the centrality of divination as a basic feature of Egyptian temple practice. Even Athanasius, it was said, interpreted

12 E.g., Meyer and Smith, Ancient Christian magic, 95-7.

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