The ancient Romans believed in magic, and practised magic. Farmers like Cato used spells to fix fractures in bones or machines. Doctors used spells as part of their healing.
Impotence, for example, was believed to be caused or cured by witchcraft. A witch would tie a string made of threads of different colors around the man's neck, take dirt mixed with her spit (saliva was believed to have magical, healing properties) and mark a magical sign with the mixture on the man's forehead. Finally the witch would recite a spell to allow him to enjoy making love again.
Magic could also be used to curse enemies. Written curses were inscribed on lead tablets. Some have survived, including one asking a demon to bring defeat on two rival chariot racing teams, the Green Team and the White Team. Lead tablets could also be employed to evoke powers of healing, as could charms shaped in the form of the affected limb.
I used this in my historical romance Flavia's Secret, in a scene where Flavia and Marcus visit the healing shrine of the Roman Baths and Flavia sees supplicants evoking the goddess Sulis for help:
"There were many gathered on the platform overlooking the shrine, men, women and children, some seemingly hale, others bowed down with dry coughs, peeling skin and twisted limbs. Attendants, conspicuous by their haughty bearing, bustled about strewing flowers around a statue to the goddess, supervising the lighting of candles, writing messages to the goddess on tiny lead tablets, and bringing water from the spring in small cups. Flavia was pierced by the sight of a boy with a withered hand throwing an ivory model of an arm into the shrine, his face bright with the hope that this offering would make his arm well. She prayed silently to Christ for the boy’s healing. "
Some Roman spells have survived and are still known today. The conjuring phrase, ABRACADABRA was known and used in the Second Century AD. It was written on amulets worn around the neck to cure fever.
The charm was written like this:
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R - A
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A
A - B - R - A - C - A - D
A - B - R - A - C - A
A - B - R - A - C
A - B - R - A
A - B - R
A - B
One of the most important instructions would hold equally well today - that anyone attempting magic or healing should be sober.