Ancient Egypt Demons and Spirits part 2 Sekhmet and New Year celebrate

Apr 4, 2011

Ancient Egypt Demons and Spirits part 2 Sekhmet and New Year celebrate
Bronze figurine of the protective deity, Tutu, late 1st millennium BC. This god had the epithet 'the one who keeps enemies at a safe distance'.

New Year was celebrated around the date that the inundation was expected to arrive. The run-up to New Year must have been a tense period. The flood might be too low, so that people would starve, or too high, so that people would be drowned. Plague and other infectious diseases might be rife. On a higher level, the whole cosmic cycle might either be renewed or ended. At the crux of this annual crisis were the five
'epagomenal days'.
The Egyptian year was divided into thirty-six ten-day periods, with five extra days added at the end. According to myth, these intercalary days were created in order that the five children of Geb and Nut could be born. Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days make it clear that nothing should be done during this dangerous period. The day which was supposed to be the birthday of Seth had a particularly evil reputation, but all five were known as 'the days of the demons'.


A spell called The Book of the Last Day of the Year was recited over a piece of linen fastened around the throat to protect the wearer against Sekhmet and her slaughterers.
On New Year's day itself, Egyptians exchanged presents, often in the form of amulets of Sekhmet or her feline counterpart, Bastet


These were intended to pacify the dreadful goddess whose demon messengers might bring plague, famine or flood.Egyptian astronomers failed to devise a leap-year system, so the civil calendar was usually out of step with the seasons. This must have presented difficulties for the specialists in ritual magic. Fear of Sekhmet presumably remained tied to the late summer and early inundation season.
The terrifying nature of the Arrows of Sekhmet made them powerful weapons if they could be harnessed to work on behalf of the magician.
One spell uses them against the Evil Eye. Another deity who might act both for and against humanity was Anubis, the jackal god
In real life, jackals and wild dogs were prone to dig bodies out of shallow graves and eat them. Making Anubis the guardian of cemeteries and the god of embalming is another example of the way in which the Egyptians tried to turn a negative force into a positive one.
Anubis was the guardian of all kinds of magical secrets. In Papyrus Jumilhac, he appears as the leader of the armed followers of Horus. His ferocity is a match for the violence of Seth. In magical texts of a similar date, Anubis is named as 'Lord of the Bau. Whole battalions of messenger demons are under his command. In magical papyri dating to Roman times, Anubis acts as the main enforcer of curses. The gracious deities of the cult temples are scarcely recognizable in the pitiless gods and goddesses encountered in everyday magic.
Most of the written evidence for this grim hierarchy of hostile deities and messenger demons only dates from the twelfth century BC onwards.
The splitting of a god into hostile emanations, and the joining of divine aspects into a pantheistic deity, are opposite sides of the same coin.
Some scholars see the whole phenomenon as part of an increasingly pessimistic strain in Egyptian culture caused by the country's political decline. It seems equally possible that this view of deities had long been part of popular belief, but that state control of religious art and literature prevented its expression before this period. Certain types of magical object suggest a long history for dangerous divine manifestations and composite deities.
Striking visual evidence is provided by one of the strangest of Egyptian deities, the hippopotamus goddess, Taweret. This name means 'the Great One', a pacificatory way of addressing a formidable deity. The goddess can be shown in human or hippopotamus form, but the name Taweret is most commonly applied to a grotesque composite being
She has the body of a hippopotamus with pendulous human breasts, the tail of a crocodile, and lion's paws. Sometimes she is depicted with a complete crocodile on her back, its jaws resting on top of her hippopotamus head. This sounds like the bizarre pantheistic deities of the late first millennium BC, but Taweret's composite form occurs in amulets as far back as the end of the third millennium B C .

Illustration of a pantheistic deity from a magical papyrus, c, 4th—3rd centuries BC.
Dangerous animals and reptiles are trampled underfoot by this composite deity.
Taweret provides an early example of the practice of combining all the fierce and protective powers of a deity in one image. She often holds a knife and touches a hieroglyphic sign that writes 'protection', particularly when she appears on magical wands and rods. These wands are flat, curved objects usually made of hippopotamus ivory. They are decorated with some of the earliest representations of a whole range of supernatural beings and divine manifestations
These objects are sometimes called magic knives, but they are nothing like the knives held by protective deities. The shape may be derived from a type of throwstick used against birds. Flocks of wild birds were a symbol of the forces of chaos in Egyptian art, so the throwsticks used to kill or stun them, or the clap-nets used to catch them, could symbolize the victory of order over chaos. In private magic they were emblems of the control a magician hoped to exercise over demons.
Another term that has been used to describe these objects is 'apotro paic wand'. Apotropaic means something that turns away evil, particularly evil spirits. The ivory from which most of the wands are made placed the formidable power of the hippopotamus in the hand of the magician. The earliest known wands go back to around 2800 BC.
These have points terminating in animal heads, either jackals or panthers, but little other decoration. Around 2100 BC, a new type of wand came into use with elaborate incised or carved decoration on one or both sides.
An array of creatures is shown and there can be brief inscriptions
The creatures include lions, panthers, cats, baboons, bulls, turtles, snakes, scarab-beetles, frogs and crocodiles. There are also imaginary monsters such as the Seth animal, the griffin, a panther-like beast with an elongated neck, a double sphinx the composite form of Taweret, and a naked bandy-legged dwarf with the ears and mane of a lion
This lion demon was later known by the specific name of Bes, while his female counterpart was Beset
At the period the wands were made, demons of this type seem to have had the general name of Aha, 'fighter'.

This name could be applied to most of the creatures that appeared on the wands. The fighters often brandish knives, torches or lamps. Some are shown gripping or stabbing snakes and other dangerous animals.
The bestiary of the wands has much in common with the animals and monsters who appear on slate palettes of the late fourth and early third millennia BC. These palettes seem to have been associated with acts of ritual magic in which the king overcame the enemies of Egypt.
Some of the entities on the wands can be linked with particular deities.
The strange quadruped with a long curved muzzle, tall ears and bifur-cated tail was a composite form of Seth. The griffin could also be a manifestation of Seth. Griffins and other monsters are occasionally shown amongst desert game in the hunting scenes that decorate Egyptian tombs. Beyond the confines of the Nile Valley, chaos was as powerful as order. The desert was believed to be haunted by ghosts and demons, particularly at night. The magician might have to make a spirit journey into this haunted realm to capture the power he needed.
The journey of Thoth into the desert to retrieve the power of the solar eye may be illustrated on the wands in the form of a baboon placed next to a wdjat eye. This group could also symbolize Thoth completing the lunar eye of Horus
A crowned ram's head probably represents the creator god Heryshaf. The frog was a symbol of the birth goddess, Heqet
The cat with a knife is identified in later Underworld Books as Ra, or his daughter the Eye Goddess, overcoming Apep. The double sphinx or lion is an earth god called the Aker who guarded the entrances of the underworld. Amongst these figures are symbols of power such as sceptres 

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