Ancient Egypt Demons and Spirits part 6 Egypt black magic causing sickness and promise protection

Apr 4, 2011

Ancient Egypt Demons and Spirits part 6 Egypt black magic causing sickness and promise protection


A stela of around the fourth century BC, set up in the temple of Khons at Karnak, purports to describe events in the reign of King Ramses 11 (c.1279—1213 BC). It tells how Bentresh, the younger sister of Ramses' Hittite queen, fell seriously ill. A learned scribe was sent to the land of Bakhtan to visit the princess. He diagnosed spirit possession and sent for an Egyptian god to fight the spirit. Ramses dispatched a special statue of the god Khons which had a reputation for driving out demons. Khons made a 'magical protection' for the princess which expelled the spirit. In return for
offerings from her father, the spirit agreed to stay away from Bentresh.
The King of Bakhtan proved very reluctant to return the wonder-working statue to Egypt.
In this text, the power possessing Bentresh is described as an akh. By the period in which the story was written, the word akh had become a general term for demon. Earlier, it referred mainly to dead people who had acquired the status of a transfigured spirit through the use of funerary magic
Families made regular offerings to their ancestors who had become akhu and prayed to them almost as if they were gods. The Egyptians sometimes wrote letters to their dead.
One such letter asks the deceased person to fight on behalf of his family. The dead could be 'fighters', just like the divine manifestations on the apotropaic wands.





The intervention of the dead in the affairs of the living was not always benevolent. Letters to the dead sometimes accuse akhu of causing sickness, legal problems, and other disasters. Emotional as well as physical problems might be blamed on supernatural beings.
One text implies that akhu might be the cause of discord in the home by possessing people and making them bad-tempered and quarrelsome.
There seems to have been a general belief that the dead were jealous of the living. Another Egyptian word for the dead, mut, nearly always seems to refer to jealous and dangerous ghosts. Many magical spells promise protection against any male or female dead person who might try to inflict harm. The female dead seem to have been particularly feared.

Certain categories of people were thought to have the ability to communicate with the dead, in order to discover their grievances and the ways in which they might be satisfied. This kind of communication did not have the sinister implications of necromancy. There seems to have been no prohibition on 'raising the dead' in Egypt. Nor does the practice of invoking creatures from the underworld imply the use of 'black magic'. Dealing with such powers was undoubtedly thought to be dangerous, but no fear of moral corruption was involved.
Some spells used in Egypt in the early first millennium AD aimed at subjugating a divine or supernatural being in order to create a permanent assistant for the magician. This practice resembles the use of 'familiar spirits' in later witchcraft. Aggressive magic might be performed with the help of such an assistant, including the infliction of madness or death.
This could certainly be classed as 'black magic', but it was the intentions of the magician, rather than his dealings with particular supernatural beings, that made it so. Pious Egyptians may have felt that some magical practices implied a lack of faith in the goodness of the creator, but there was nothing heretical about believing in demons and hostile manifestations of deities.
An Egyptian magician had to deal with a vast array of supernatural beings, from major deities and their emanations or messengers, to creatures of the underworld, foreign demons and malicious ghosts.
These powers might be the cause of a problem or the solution to it. The same being might be hostile in one context and helpful in another. Some are no more than convenient personifications, who were probably not believed to exist in any concrete way; others had distinctive forms and personalities and were part of folk belief. The methods by which such beings were controlled were partly a consequence of the type of people who most commonly practised magic in ancient Egypt.

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