Em Hotep Digest vol. 02 no. 08: Magic in Ancient Egypt

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Em Hotep Digest

000 - 208 tabThis week Em Hotep Digest takes a look at magic in ancient Egypt.  Magic as both a creative concept and a deity, magicians and their work, spells and sacred texts, wands, magic bricks, charms and amulets, all these are discussed in detail within, along with photography and contributions from the Em Hotep BBS folks.


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Contributors:  Thanks go to Claudia Ali, Géraldine Ashby, Yvonne Buskens, Ia Georgia, Heidi Kontkanen, Joan Lansberry, Vicky Metafora, Nebty, Richie O’Neill, Keith Payne,  friends from the SSEA/SEEA, and all the other people who contributed to the various conversations in the Em Hotep BBS group.

Would you like to be a part of the Em Hotep group?  Doing so is easy.  Just follow this link to the Em Hotep BBS group on Facebook and request to be added.  An admin will add you as soon as we notice you have requested to join.  Read the About section at the Facebook group site to get an idea of our few rules, and then join in.  It’s that easy.


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Magic in Ancient Egypt


From Ancient Egypt by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

“The ancient Egyptians had a word, heka, which we translate as ‘magic’.  But we must not corrupt its meaning with modern associations of magic—the idea of magic as non-establishment, or as an alternative to the generally accepted religions norm, would not have applied in ancient Egypt.

A “wishing bowl" as desribed by Howard Carter, from the treasures of Tutankhamun (Photo by Richie O’Neill)

A “wishing bowl” as described by Howard Carter, from the treasures of Tutankhamun (Photo by Richie O’Neill)

Heka, for the ancient Egyptians, conveyed a sense of the catalyst or energy that made creation possible.  So every time a ritual was performed involving heka, it was as if a further development was thought to have been made in the process of creation.  In the mythology of creation, heka was associated with sia, ‘divine knowledge’, and hu, ‘divine utterance’.  Heka was itself considered to be neither good or bad, but as an energy or power it could be channeled in either direction…Similar to heka was akhu, which tends to be translated as ‘sorcery’, ‘enchantments’, or ‘spells’.  Again, akhu was in itself neither a negative or positive phenomenon and it could be worked in either direction” (p. 440).


From Red Land, Black Land, by Barbara Mertz

A prescription for asthma from the Ebers Papyrus. The prescription calls for herbs to be placed on a heated brick so that the patient could inhale the fumes (Source: National Library of Medicine—National Institutes of Health)

A prescription for asthma from the Ebers Papyrus. The prescription calls for herbs to be placed on a heated brick so that the patient could inhale the fumes (Source: National Library of Medicine—National Institutes of Health)

“Normally definitions are a good way of beginning a discussion. They nail down the terms to be discussed and prevent ambiguities. But let us supposed that we are conversing with a Theban priest of the Eighteenth Dynasty. We want him to tell us about Egyptian science; and in order to explain what we mean, we give him Mr. Webster’s definitions [for magic, science, and religion].

“The priest would not disagree with the definitions; he simply would not know what we were talking about. We would have some difficulty in translation, to begin with, since the ancient Egyptians had no word for “science”. They had no word for “religion” either. Magic? There is a word which we translate by that term, but our priest would not apply it to the same things we do. He would scratch his shaven head as we tried to explain the difference between “natural” and “supernatural,” and if we finally succeeded in getting across “an organized body of knowledge, systematized…and arranged in accord with certain laws,” he might very well give us a lecture on the systematized Egyptian calendar of religious festivals and the rituals appropriate to them.

“The point is one which cannot be made too often or too emphatically. To the Egyptians, as to many other peoples, the categories which we have distinguished were not mutually exclusive. They were not even separate. If a man came to an Egyptian doctor with a broken leg, the physician might apply a splint, rub the leg with a mixture of honey and herbs, pronounce a magical incantation, and hang an amulet, like a religious medal, around the sufferer’s neck. We would say that he had employed several different methods of healing, only one of which could be considered effective. But the Egyptian patient would have been highly indignant if his medical advisor had only used the splint” (p. 203-4).


From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“By one definition, magic is the apparent manipulation of supernatural forces to change the form of things or influence events. The Egyptians believed that magic was the “key” that enabled them to attain wisdom, and there was no real distinction between magic and religion. Magic was regarded not as low-level sorcery but as a sacred science and creative force that had existed prior to the establishment of the universe. The Egyptian word for magic, heka, probably meant “to control powers.”

“Magic existed at all levels and permeated most aspects of the society. State and private magic were not contradictory methods but were believed to influence two different areas. Through the temples cosmic magic sought by means of the daily rituals to maintain the balance and order of the universe and to prevent the return of chaos. By offering to the gods the priests attempted to renew the process of creation, to ensure immortality, earthly fame, and success for the king, and to bring fertility and prosperity to the land. This great temple magic (designed to preserve the world order) was regarded as an exact science and was revealed only to the elite body of temple priests.

In this protective amulet of Pataikos the god stands on two crocodiles while strangling snakes, from which it was to protect the deceased in the afterlife, Late Ptolemaic Period, Brooklyn Museum (37.949E)

In this protective amulet of Pataikos the god stands on two crocodiles while strangling snakes, from which it was to protect the deceased in the afterlife, Late Ptolemaic Period, Brooklyn Museum (37.949E)

“On the other hand, private magic executed by local magicians was practiced to protect individuals against their own fears, which included sickness, harmful animals, drowning, hunger, thirst, aggression, and asphyxiation. Using simple spells, these magicians possessed secret techniques and probably some basic healing skills. One of their first duties would be to try to overcome these perils and afflictions, believed to be caused by negative energy, by blocking off the negative forces” (p. 169).


Heka as Deity

From The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard Wilkinson

004 - 208 - kp - 000 Heka“For the Egyptians, heka, or ‘magic’ was a divine force which existed in the universe like ‘power’ or ‘strength’ and which could be personified in the form of the god Heka.  Mythologically, heka was believed to have existed from the time of creation and to have empowered the creation event so that the god Heka could likewise be seen as a creator god.  At Esna, although doubtless based on late popular etymology, his name is thus explained as ‘the first work’.  Magic empowered all the gods, and Heka was also a god of power whose name was tied to this meaning from the Twentieth Dynasty onward by being written emblematically with the hieroglyph for ‘power’, although originally the god’s name may have meant ‘he who consecrates the ka’, and he is called ‘Lord of the kas’ in the Coffin Texts (CT 261).  Because of his great power the Pyramid Texts make it clear that Heka was feared by the gods themselves (PT 472), and he was said to accompany the sun god in his barque as well as to protect the god Osiris in the underworld” (p. 110).


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Yvonne Buskens took this photo in the RMO Leiden (acc no F 1962/12.1) and provides this explanation:

“In ancient Egypt, the funerary boat transported a mummy to its final resting place or, if buried with the deceased, took soul of the dead on its eternal journey: the use of a magical object to realize the ideals.

This is a terracotta model form one of the earliest representations of a funerary boat (Naqada II). Nice other feature on this model (but you cannot see it so good on this photo) is that on the prow and stern from this model there is a depiction of a frog (half). In later times the frog is associated with Heket ,the goddess of childbirth and fertility in Ancient Egypt. The boat is sometimes associated with a womb, the dead figure lying in fetus position.”


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Magicians and Their Work


From Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David

“Magicians were regarded as priests and scholars who could read and write the hieroglyphs, which gave them ultimate knowledge and control. They were trained for many years, and as apprentice magicians were instructed by masters at special schools and temples. In the House of Life attached to many of the temples the priest-magician would be taught to read and understand the sacred texts. Here the official Books of Magic were kept as part of the royal archive. Magic was thus an integral element of the state system, and magicians were never regarded as “strange” or abnormal. Their activities, whether for the state or for the individual, were part of mainstream belief and practice.

“It was thought that since they were in direct contact with the architect of the universe and knew the secrets that went back to earliest times, magicians could re-create the conditions of the time of creation. With their unique knowledge the magicians were expected to guide others along the path of wisdom. Although the events of an individual’s life were believed to some extent to be predestined, magic could be used to influence and change the course of destiny and to avoid some of the dangers” (p. 171).

Prince Khaemwaset, also known as Setne the Magician, from Saqqara, New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, Brooklyn Museum (37.513) (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

Prince Khaemwaset, also known as Setne the Magician, from Saqqara, New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, Brooklyn Museum (37.513) (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

From Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz

“What are these activities? They would certainly include the following: cursing (including killing); curing; erotic magic; agricultural (including weather); divination; resurrection…Spells designed to curse and kill an enemy conform more closely to our definition of magic, in that they are normally free of invocations to a god. Egyptian cursing texts were written on rough pottery bowls or on figurines, which were then flung down and smashed to bits. The inscriptions name the enemies whose lives are to be broken as the bowls are smashed. Many examples name the rulers of cities in Syrian or Nubia, so they must have been official state curses. Others name Egyptians: ‘Ameni shall die, the tutor of Sit-Bastet.’ These may have been private grudges. With the meticulous thoroughness which I like to consider typically Egyptian, another text curses: “Every evil word, every evil speech, every evil thought, every evil plot, every evil thing, every evil dream,” and so on, through a long list of evils. In the cursing ritual, the effacious elements are two in number: first, the ritual act, which is an application of the principle of imitation (as the bowl is “killed” the enemy is killed; second, the power of the word, which is also twofold. The identity of the enemy with the object to be broken is assured by the writing of his name upon it; the phrase ‘he shall die’ is a homicidal attack, magically speaking” (pp. 215-6).

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Ia Gerogia shared the above photo from the Louvre (E10777) of a greywacke statue of a priest of Bastet covered in magical formulae.  She explains from the website “He holds a cippus, a magic healing stela, with the head of Bes and the child Horus on the crocodiles.”


Communicating With the Gods

From Mummies, Myth and Magic by Christine El Mahdy

“It is easy to conclude from the tomb paintings that the Egyptians worshipped dozens of gods.  But, in fact, the ordinary Egyptian would have recognized very few deities.  Foremost of these would have been the god of the immediate area, statues of whom stood in the local temple beyond sight of all but the priests.  This deity was conceived of as an ancestral hero whose ka, if treated correctly, would bring benfit to every individual still living within his locality.  The Egyptian would be unlikely to have worshipped this god, as we understand it, but would rather have negotiated with him.

“As a first step in this procedure, gifts were offered to attract the attention of the god.  If the offering was seen as acceptable, the god might consider the request favorably.  Should the gifts be insufficient for the god to hear the plea, more gifts could be offered.  As a last resort the supplicant could make one final strong demand.  Should this fail, the donor might actually curse the soul of the divine, for not responding in the expected manner” (p. 139).


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Figurines such as the above were included in the grave goods of men, women and children in Predynastic burials and are thought to have been for assistance to the deceased in regeneration and rebirth into the afterlife.  British Museum (EA 32139-44) (Photo by Heidi Kontkanen)


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Spells and Paraphernalia


From Ancient Egypt by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

“A variety of wands and other paraphernalia of popular ritual have survived from ancient Egypt, as have collections of magic spells recorded on papyrus.  The aim of these spells tended to be to ward off danger, such as the threats posed by snakes and scorpions, and to prevent or cure illness and particularly problems relating to fertility, pregnancy and birth.  As in funerary religion, there was clearly a strongly held belief in the creative power of the words and images used in Egyptian magic.  Knowledge of the relevant names was essential for the magic to prove effective” (p. 441).

Magical amulets from the Louvre (Photo by Keith Payne)

Magical amulets from the Louvre (Photo by Keith Payne)


The Magic of Hieroglyphs

From The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Helen Strudwick, gen. ed.

“Like all pictures, hieroglyphic designs were invested with magical powers.  The ancient Egyptians believed that words had the power to create—it was enough to pronounce the name of an object or being to give it tangible life.

“Reading a carefully inscribed word on the walls of a temple, which was a sacred place, therefore became very dangerous, particularly if it was the name of a harmful god, such as Seth, the murderer of Osiris, or Apophis who, from the distant margins of the created world, threatened the sun each morning.  To prevent these divine creatures from entering the human world, the signs representing them were often scored across or stabbed with many daggers” (p. 476).


The Pyramid Texts

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

“The oldest and most carefully structured funerary texts are those found in the pyramids of nine kings and queens of the late Old Kingdom (Sixth through Eighth Dynasties).  On internal evidence, these Pyramid Texts date to at least a century before the earliest preserved copy.  Some reflect traditions of burial, in the ground or in mud-brick mastabas, that predate even the earliest pyramids…

“The Pyramid Texts are not a haphazard collection of ‘magical’ spells, but three different genres, each with a specific function and relationship to the architecture of the pyramid chambers in which they are inscribed…

The Pyramid Text of Pharaoh Teti showing his cartouche (Photo by Keith Payne)

The Pyramid Text of Pharaoh Teti showing his cartouche (Photo by Keith Payne)

“In spite of differences in age, form, and content, all Egyptian funerary texts belong to only one of three basic genres of funerary literature, each with a specific function.  Protective spells, or ‘incantations’, are designed to guard the tomb and its contents on earth.  The best examples occur in the Pyramid Texts, but others appear in the Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead.  Ritual texts accompany the various funerary rites that the living perform on behalf of the dead.  These include the Offering and ‘Resurrection’ Rituals of the Pyramid Texts as well as the later Mouth-Opening Ritual and the Ritual of Embalming.  Personal spells, the largest and most varied of the three genres, are intended to aid the deceased in making a successful transition from this world to eternal life in the next.  Their focus is entirely on the hereafter:  guides to its topography, charms for changing into whatever form may be needed to overcome its obstacles, spells to secure assistance or protection from its inhabitants, the correct words to help in its final judgment, and prayers to its gods for acceptance into their company” (pp. 38; 43)


Magic Bricks

From The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson

“Set of four bricks that were often placed on the four sides of the tomb during the New Kingdom in order to protect the deceased from evil.  Surviving examples date from at least as early as the reign of Thutmose III until the time of Ramesses II.  A socket in each brick supported an amulet, the form of which depended on the cardinal point where the brick was placed:  thus the brick beside the western wall included a faience djed pillar, that beside the eastern wall incorporated an unfired clay Anubis, and those beside the southern and northern walls contained a reed with a wick resembling a torch and a mummiform shabti-like figure respectively.  The amulets themselves usually faced toward the opposite wall.  The bricks were inscribed with sections of the hieratic text of Chapter 151 of the Book of the Dead, describing the role they played in protecting the deceased from the enemies of Osiris” (p. 168).

Magic bricks from the tomb of Henutmehyt (Yvonne Buskens, contrib.)

Magic bricks from the tomb of Henutmehyt (Yvonne Buskens, contrib.)


Magic Wands

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

“Common components of Middle Kingdom mortuary assemblages, carved ivory wands are known by actual examples from representations on coffins of the period.  Almost always carved from the tusks of hippopotami, the wands follow the shape of the incisor.  The flat bottom is usually left plain, and the rounded end is often decorated with the head of a lion or leopard and followed by a procession of wild animals and monsters with protective significance.

Ivory magical wand, excavated at Lisht, Tomb 475, Middle Kingdom, Metropolitan Museum of Art (22.1.154a,b) (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

Ivory magical wand, excavated at Lisht, Tomb 475, Middle Kingdom, Metropolitan Museum of Art (22.1.154a,b) (Photo by Joan Lansberry)

“These wands are generally associated with beds in the frise d’objets on Middle Kingdom coffins.  It has been suggested that they were used to draw a protective circle around the bed to ward off snakes and scorpions.  Many of them do show marks of wear at the tips where they must have been drawn along the ground.

“A number of these wands are inscribed with the phrase ‘Words spoken by the many amuletic figures…we have come that we may afford protection.’  The wands may also have been used to protect women during childbirth, and in that context they may also have had funeral significance both for the protection of the deceased, and in association with rebirth.  Most of these knives appear to have been deliberately broken at the time of burial as were other votive objects, particularly during this period” (pp. 127-8).


Pesesh-kef Wands

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

“One of the oldest and most mysterious rituals in the Egyptian mortuary cult involves the pesesh-kef wand, a long flint flake, split at one end.  Sometimes referred to as ‘fish-tail knives’, these implements are known from Predynastic burials and settlements.  In the New Kingdom they are depicted in representations of the ‘opening of the mouth’ ritual, and the reference to a pesesh-kef in the Pyramid Texts shows that they were already in use in Old Kingdom rituals.  Other Old Kingdom evidence for these implements includes a number of amulets which are clearly related by their shape, and the presence of model pesesh-kef wands as the central element of sets of model equipment…

Pesesh-kef knife inscribed for Pharaoh Khufu, Fourth Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts Boston (11.765) (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

Pesesh-kef knife inscribed for Pharaoh Khufu, Fourth Dynasty, Museum of Fine Arts Boston (11.765) (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

“The earliest reference to the pesesh-kef is in Pyramid Texts Spell 37, where it is said to make firm (smn) the jawbones of the deceased.  This spell endures as a part of the funeral ritual through the New Kingdom.  In the Pyramid Texts, it is followed by a reference to the ntrty instruments, which are said to open the mouth of the king.  These implements also normally follow the pesesh-kef in Old Kingdom offering lists, and hence were presumably used in the same ritual.  These blades, said to be made of meteoric iron or some other metal, always occur in pairs in the offering lists, one described as Upper and the other as Lower Egyptian” (p. 81)


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Joan Lansberry took the above picture of Isis as a magician at the Brooklyn Museum (05.395) with this description from the info card:

“Isis here holds a divine cobra, sometimes described as ‘great of magic,’ as if it were a magic wand symbolic of power and a conductor of supernatural force. For the Egyptians and many other cultures, a name was an integral part of its owner. Isis herself became ‘great of magic’ by leanring the the sun-god Re’s secret name. With it, she could use Re’s magic to revive her husband Osiris…”


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Amulets—Their Meanings and Shapes


What Was an Amulet?

From The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

“Small charm worn to afford its owner magical protection, or to convey certain qualities (for example, a lion amulet might convey strength, or a set-square amulet rectitude).  Attested from the Badarian Period onwards, amulets were produced both for the living and the dead.  Particular amulets were placed at specific places in the mummy wrappings.  The heart scarab was a specialized form of amulet to protect the heart of the deceased in the afterlife.  Amulets were made from a wide variety of materials, including faience, glass, and precious stones—with color often playing an important symbolic role—and in a wide variety of forms.  They might depict sacred objects (such as the djed pillar, the tyet girdle or wadjet eye); animals (bull’s head amulets were particularly common in the late Predynastic Period); or hieroglyphs (for example,  ankh or sa).  From the New Kingdom onwards, deities—especially household deities such as Bes and Taweret—were popular subjects for amulets” (pp. 24-5).

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Funerary Amulets

From Ancient Egypt by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

“Sections of the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead are concerned with instructions detailing where and when amulets or papyri should be placed on the body during the embalming process. Some of these objects were to be wrapped up in the bandaging, while others were to be brought into contact with the body temporarily to enable their magical properties to take effect. Pictures of certain amulets might also be drawn on the bandaging.

“The ideal, for those who could afford it, was to have a huge variety of amulets made of precious stones and metals. Amulets that had been worn during life incorporated in items of jewelry were often included in the burial. Of particular imposrtance were the golden vulture collar, the scarab worn over the heart and the Eye of Horus. Chapter 157 of the Book of the Dead was the ‘spell for the vulture of gold placed at the throat of the deceased’. The vulture was an incarnation of the protective mother goddess Isis, who kept her son Horus safe within her large encircling wings” (p. 408).

Amulet chain for a mummy, Ptolemaic Period, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)

Amulet chain for a mummy, Ptolemaic Period, RMO Leiden (Photo by Yvonne Buskens)


The Ankh Amulet

From The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson

017 - 208 - amu - 001“Hieroglyphis sign denoting ‘life’, which takes the form of a T-shape surmounted by a loop.  The pictogram has been variously interpreted as a sandal strap (the loop at the top forming the ankle strap) and a penis sheath.  Temple reliefs frequently included scenes in which the king was offered the ankh sign by the gods, thus symbolizing the divine conferral of eternal life.  In the Amarna Period it was depicted being offered to Akhenaten and Nefertiti by the hands at the end of the rays descending from the sun disk.  The ankh sign seems to have been one of the few hieroglyphs that was comprehensible even to the illiterate; therefore it is commonly found as a maker’s mark on pottery vessels” (p. 34).


The Djed Pillar Amulet

From The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson

018 - 208 - amu - 002“Roughly cruciform symbol with at least three cross-bars.  Its origins seem to be among the fetish symbols of the Predynastic Period, and it has been suggested that it might represent a pole around which grain was tied.  Over the course of time it came to represent the more abstract concept of stability, and, like the ankh and was scepter hieroglyphs, was commonly used in this sense in decorative friezes.  Although the djed pillar was originally associated with the god Sokar, Ptah, the patron deity of Memphis, is sometimes described as ‘the noble Djed’.  It was because of the association of Ptah with Sokar and therefore also with Osiris, god of the dead, that the djed pillar eventually became a symbol of Osiris.  In the Book of the Dead it is said to represent his backbone, and certain depictions of the pillar portray it with human arms holding the royal regalia” (p. 86).


The Tyet Knot Amulet

From The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson

019 - 208 - amu - 003“The so-called tyet ‘knot’ or ‘girdle’ was already a sacred symbol during the Old Kingdom, and was commonly depicted alongside the ankh and djed pillar.  By the New Kingdom it was described as the ‘knot of Isis’, perhaps partly in order to parallel the association between the djed pillar and the god Osiris, consort of the goddess Isis.  It was during this period that tyet amulets became comparatively common, the loop of the knot was sometimes replaced by a head of the cow-goddess Hathor, thus emphasizing the links between Isis and Hathor.

“The tyet resembles and ankh sign with its horizontal bar turned down at either side, and Spell 156 or the Book of the Dead states that it should be made of red jasper, which would have been symbolic of the ‘blood of Isis’.  Some tyet amulets were carved of carnelian, while others were manufactured in red faience or glass” (pp298-9).


The Eye of Horus Amulet

From Ancient Egypt by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin

020 - 208 - amu - 004 - ig“The Eye of Horus (the udjat– or wadjat-eye, literally ‘the eye which is whole or sound’) was an amulet in the shape of an eye.  It was placed over the incision usually cut in the left side of the abdomen of a dead body for the removal of the internal organs.  In one version of the myth of Osiris, his son Horus offered his healed eye to his dead father, and it was such a powerful charm that it brought Osiris back to life.  The myth of The Contendings of Horus and Seth tells us that Horus had his eyesight cured, and so his eye symbolized healing and the process of making whole.  The Eye of Horus was used as a protective amulet, symbolizing in particular strength and perfection” (p. 409).


The Heart-Shaped Amulet

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

021 - 208 - amu - 005“Four spells in the Book of the Dead (Chapters 26-29) ensured the heart’s protection, and each was supposed to be inscribed on a heart-shaped amulet (ib) of lapis lazuli, green feldspar or carnelian.  Although most heart amulets are uninscribed, their purpose was clearly the same.  They are found in a wide variety of materials, the most common of which are carnelian, basalt, hematite, and glazed composition.  The amulet was normally positioned on the breast, and sometimes several examples were provided for one mummy” (p. 181).


The Small Scarab Amulet

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

022 - 208 - amu - 006“An example of the ordinary uninscribed scarab…is made of diorite and quartz, slightly curved underneath, and is pierced from side to side to enable it to be strung on a cord or thread.  Such scarabs were included among the mummy wrappings either singly or in groups, and guaranteed the owner resurrection and new life.  They are made from various materials, most frequently different kinds of stone.” (p. 181)


The Papyrus Column Amulet

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

023 - 208 - amu - 007“Ancient Egyptians associated the green, fresh qualities of plants with youthfulness and new life, and the papyrus-column amulet was supposed to ensure that the deceased remained forever young and flourishing, and suffered no injury.  Chapters 159 and 160 of the Book of the Dead refer to this amulet; chapter 159 is a ‘spell for a papyrus-column of green feldspar to be placed on the throat of the deceased’.  Many of the surviving examples are in face green, although they are most commonly made of glazed composition than of feldspar” (pp. 181-2).


The Snake Amulet

From Mummies & Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt published by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

024 - 208 - amu - 008“Amulets representing the head and forepart of a snake prevented the owner from being bitten or devoured by the hostile serpents of the Netherworld.  Chapters 33, 34 and 35 of the Book of the Dead are specifically concerned with the repulsion of serpents, but these texts are not found on the amulets themselves, despite Budge’s assertion to the contrary.  Some of the amulets, however, bear inscriptions linking them with the uraeus that the sun god Re wore on his forehead; this probably explains the form of the amulet, the owner invoking the aid of the god’s uraeus against the serpents of the Netherworld.  It was clearly important for the serpent’s head to be red; most examples are of carnelian…or someother red material such as jasper.


The Heart Scarab

From Mummies, Myth and Magic by Christine El Mahdy

“The most important amulet to be included in the mummy wrappings was a large stone scarab beetle.  According to Egyptian beliefs, the scarab, or dung beetle, regenerated itself magically.  The Egyptians saw the larvae emerge from the ball of dung pushed between the beetle’s forelegs, but never realized it contained eggs.  So the scarab came to be associated with miraculous rebirth.

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“The stone scarab was wrapped within the bandages of the body in close proximity to the heart.  The deceased was expected to produce his or her heart to place on the scales of Ma’at, goddess of truth, in the hall of judgement.  The spell inscribed on the back of the scarab—Spell 308 in the Book of Coming Forth by Day [aka the Book of the Dead]—not only enabled the dead person to produce the heart, but also begged that it should not betray the owner…

“The heart scarab came into use in the Second Intermediate Period and was traditionally made of a dark green stone such as serpentine; later examples were found in basalt or even obsidian” (p. 153).


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Richie O’Neill took the above photograph in the Cairo Museum.  As Richie explains:

“Number 41 on Howard Carter’s List of Treasures from the Tomb of Tutankhamun (Circa. 1333-1323 B.C.) is actually a group of four elaborate ankh candlestick holders (41A, 41B, 41C, 41D), ritual magic ankh lamps, four in total found on the lion headed couch in the antechamber as Howard Carter observed, “Absolutely new in type”.  Each one is about 23cm (9 Inches) tall and takes the form of an Ankh sign with arms and hands outstretched, of bronze, set into bases of black varnished wood.  Two of the bases are fitted with tubular torch holders of gilded bronze, one of which retains its twisted linen torch.  The remaining two bases appear to have been intended for use with floating wick candles in a little cup or bowl, both perhaps of gold which were stolen by the tomb robbers.  The “ankh” is a symbol of eternal life and strength and represents the life giving attributes of air and water.

The ankh is one of the most powerful of all ancient Egyptian symbols representing ‘Love, Life, Prosperity and Health.’”


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Links and Online Reads


A friend from the SSEA/SEEA provided a link to the page for the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project, which was initiated at the International Congress of Egyptologists in Rhodes, 2008.


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Claudia Ali took the above photo at the Egyptian Museum in Munich, Germany – Special Exhibition on Magic in Ancient Egypt 2010. The picture shows magical objects for love and fertility as well as votive offerings from women wishing to become pregnant.


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In the News and On the Blogs


Ateliers de Nebty posted updates to her wonderful blog (Nebty, in French)

American Chemical Society:  “Ancient ‘Egyptian blue’ pigment points to new telecommunications, security ink technology” (Claudia Ali)

Global Post:  “Pyramid belonging to Egypt pharaoh’s vizier discovered” (Vicky Metafora)


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Copyright by Keith Payne, 2013.  All rights reserved.

All photography by Richie O’Neill, Yvonne Buskens, Joan Lansberry, Heidi Kontkanen, and Keith Payne are copyrighted by their respective creators, who reserve all rights, and which is used by permission.  All other copyrighted images are used in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of copyright law.  Remaining photographs and images are either in the public domain or are shared via Creative Commons.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 1:46 pm and is filed under Em Hotep Digest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far


Great entry – thank you!

March 5th, 2013 at 3:36 am

Thank you, Diana! 🙂

March 5th, 2013 at 8:05 am

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