Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part2/6

Apr 6, 2011

Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part2/6
Part of a late version of the Book oj the Dead, c. 6th—3rd centuries BC. The vignettes show the deceased encountering underworld deities and demons

In one of the body of texts known as the Hermetica, Thoth says that his words may be copied down, but they must only be shown to initiates who are morally and intellectually worthy.
This emphasis on secrecy has been ascribed to fear of persecution.
The Emperor Augustus (30 BC—AD 14) ordered the destruction of thousands of magical books, but these were works of divination and prophecy which were considered politically dangerous. The idea that magical knowledge should be reserved for the worthy few is a very ancient one. The story cycle in Papyrus Westcar includes an incident in which King Khufu asks the magician Djedi to help him find out the number of secret chambers in the temple of Thoth in order to copy them in his tomb. Djedi admits to knowing how to obtain this information, but avoids telling the king, who appears in an unfavourable light in this story.

A text composed around the same time as Papyrus Westcar purports to describe conditions during an era of civil war and social unrest. It lists reversals of the natural order, such as noble women forced to wear rags, serfs lauding it over their masters, and starving families abandoning newborn children. A passage relating to magic states:
Behold the hidden chamber, its books are stolen. The secrets in it are revealed. Behold, magical spells are revealed. Incantations are made rough by being repeated. (Admonitions of Ipuwer)
Being 'made rough' could mean either 'made useless' or 'rendered dangerous'.

This passage goes on to talk about the destruction of government and legal records. The magic books are clearly deemed as vital to society as these other types of document. It must be the books of ritual magic that protected cosmos, state and king that are referred to here. The complaint is probably that they have been debased by being adapted for private purposes.
Secrecy was also a virtue in itself because of the mystique it gave to the magician. This mystique was encouraged in various ways. Ingredients used in magic might be given bizarre names that sounded impressive and prevented ordinary people from understanding and copying the spell.
Even quite humble, everyday spells often make grandiose claims for their antiquity and origins. A collection of gynaecological spells and remedies c.1900—1800 BC; is said to have miraculously appeared in a temple during the reign of King Khufu (twenty-sixth century BC), who had it brought to his treasury. The introduction to another spell claims that the original was discovered in an ancient chest beneath a statue of Anubis in the early third millennium BC. Other spells were allegedly owned or used by famous kings and royal ladies.
Individual spells and collections of magic were attributed to gods or to ancient sages such Imhotep and Hardjedef. Some spells insist that they are secrets of the House of Life which must not be revealed to the common man. Most of these claims should not be taken seriously.
Some Egyptian texts do state that death was the penalty for anyone who read books of temple magic without proper authority. However, much funerary and everyday magic seems to have been adapted from these books.
Some Houses of Life were particularly renowned for their libraries. In several Egyptian stories, lector priests or scribes travel from the capital to consult the ancient records at Hermopolis, the cult centre of Thoth (frontispiece). A rare example of a magic book survives from a temple library at Abydos, the sacred city of Osiris


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