Witchcraft and Cartomancy in Anatolia’s Distant Past

Dr. Muammer Irec*

The supernatural concepts that developed as a result of man’s efforts to make sense of nature and the universe have shaped the individual and society from the beginning to the present day. From caves to sedentary life, from villages to cities, to metropolises where millions of people live together, our way of life has evolved in different ways, passing through different stages. In this process of change, people’s desire to meet their diverse needs and their desire to fulfill their deepest desires have nurtured supernatural concepts. Magic, which is part of it, covers “secret transactions and behaviors in which results contrary to the rules of nature have meaning”, as defined by the TDK. It is believed that the person or persons who cast a spell have the power to fulfill a requested request or expectation by influencing events and people. This definition applies almost everywhere in the world.

Divination, which is associated with magic and sorcery, is the activity of making predictions and making various statements about the future using organic or inorganic objects and using various methods. Both concepts have played an important role in the past and present of mankind. If archaeological, iconographic, written data exist and are compatible with each other, it may be possible to study witchcraft and fortune telling in the distant past.


It is not possible to clearly understand and revive abstract concepts such as magic and divination in prehistoric times when there was no writing. Much background reading on this subject has been done by many scientists such as archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, sociologists and experts in the history of religions. For example; Images of animals that can be hunted with arrows and spears on cave walls in Europe are interpreted in relation to hunting magic. It is claimed that the cave paintings may have been designed as the product of an idea to weaken animals and facilitate hunting. But the magic-hunting hypothesis weakens when considering animals depicted other than game. Therefore, one will never know exactly how well current predictions match the thinking of people in the distant past.

Performed as a witch in Latmos
figure in the cave painting.

Similar readings are also seen in some cave paintings found in Anatolia. Among the many cave paintings in the Beşparmak Mountains east of Lake Bafa are T-shaped head figures, made with stylized red paint. There are interpretations that a figure with his fists raised in these paintings, dated around 8000 years ago, could also be a wizard. But just like with the murals, this interpretation is only a guess to understand the past.

Paintings made by hunter-gatherer societies in caves and rocky areas and examples found in Neolithic settlements; It is discussed in relation to ritual, magic and shamanism. But of course it is not possible to fill these abstract concepts as in the modern sense. Due to the lack of guiding documents to make sense of past actions, personal ideas and animations stand out in this area. The effort here is actually very similar as long as prehistoric man tries to understand the universe, nature, in short, what is happening around him. Isn’t it as if modern man, while trying to understand the visual material of his ancestors from the distant past, has fallen into the same situation when trying to perceive and make sense of the world?


The iconographic elements of the buildings that began to be built in Göbeklitepe around 11,500 years ago also made a lot of noise in the scientific sense. The obelisks, which can reach tons of weight, and their reliefs, which were made with unprecedented mastery for the time in question, attracted great attention from world public opinion. Göbeklitepe, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2018, has sparked a discussion about the origin of many topics ranging from religions to gods, shamanism to witchcraft and astronomical observations. However, due to this excessive interest and researchers attaching too much meaning to the archaeological past, there is an incredible amount of information pollution on Göbeklitepe.

A view of Göbeklitepe, associated with shamanism, animism and witchcraft.

On the other hand, the monumentality and iconographic elements of Göbeklitepe will always remain a phenomenon that should be understood and explained. Past readings will continue on the symbolic meanings of the reliefs here, the purposes for which the monumental structures were used, what kind of thought the T-shaped obelisks were built, and which of the abstract mechanisms, including totemism, the animism and witchcraft, existed in Göbeklitepe.


As the hunter-gatherer lifestyle began to change and the sedentary lifestyle became more widespread over time, abstract systems that held people together developed. The supernatural forces they thought interacted with the needs of sedentary people underwent a transformation. With the emergence of writing, the development of the habit of keeping records, the proliferation of iconographic elements such as stone reliefs, wall paintings, representations on pottery and figurative elements in monumental structures have increased our knowledge of abstract concepts. Therefore, it has become possible to access resources that will allow making inferences about magic and sorcery. With this period, institutionalized notions such as gods and religions and guiding personal and social needs developed. Magic and sorcery are now attributed to the gods and the divine universe; associated with negative emotions and situations such as fear, hurt and violence. It has become a more tangible part of social life. So much so that 3800-3700 years ago there is a provision regarding the status of a person suspected of practicing witchcraft among the laws prepared by the Babylonian king Hammurabi.

An amulet of the god Bes.

In ancient Egypt, people had Bes tattoos on their bodies and wore small amulets that acted as amulets and talismans. In the case of birth, parents considered it the magic of the gods. In other words, actions related to magic and sorcery in Egypt are based on the theme of wish-fulfillment, fulfillment of an expectation through supernatural forces. Magic and sorcery were so integrated into the universe of the gods that he was deified as Heka. Given these examples, it can be said that magic began to acquire its current widespread meaning with the first cities and central settlements that emerged 6000 to 5000 years ago. In fact, things like having children and spouses, wealth, and finding solutions to sexual problems are the same today as they were thousands of years ago.


Presumably, the phenomenon of divination and knowledge of the future has existed in verbal culture for thousands of years. However, we cannot reach the evidence that will allow us to make inferences about fortune-telling and fortune-telling until written sources are formed in the distant past. Since writing began to be used much earlier in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the records are here; It provides detailed information on divination and prophecy. In Anatolia, it is clearly understood that divination, magic and divination had great importance in the Hittite written documents, which are the main source of reference in this context. For example, kings consulted fortune tellers before going on campaign or because of epidemics in the army. According to the texts, among the fortune-telling practices known in Hittite Anatolia, fortunes of birds, fortune, meat and snake come to the fore. Apart from these types, we know of instances where fortune telling, from lunar eclipses to dreams and interpretations for the future, is made.

Show how to read liver divination found in Hattusha
Terracotta liver model.

People’s fear of the unknown, future anxiety, and expectations about whether they will meet some of their needs play an important role in the development of divination. Such expectations have created a common cultural accumulation almost on a global scale. In this sense, the prevalence of divination and the fact that it is still alive today; It is also an indicator of the same continuity of psychological and sociological needs. It is possible to say that the fortune-telling adventure will not end in the near future, since divination after drinking coffee is an ordinary habit, or famous people as society’s fortune tellers . But in the age of technology, it seems difficult for those ancient traditions, which were so important to be banished in the past, to find a place in people’s inner worlds as they did in the past.

Magic and sorcery; Although today it evokes a bit of fear and a bit of fun, it has a history of thousands of years, shaped by our efforts to make sense of the world. Using all means to achieve what we desire is also a reality that has not changed for thousands of years. When clairvoyance and clairvoyance, which sometimes veer into an obsession with being aware of the future, are added to this unity, a very colorful, mysterious and exciting mixture emerges for some. Who can deny the fact that this mixture is the origin of sorcery and divination that still attract attention today?

* Archaeologist / Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, Department of Historical Environment and Cultural Heritage

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