Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part6/6

Apr 6, 2011

Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part6/6
Wooden spell board from Akhmim, c. 4th century BC. The inscription is a ferocious spell to protect the owner against any person or force who would harm him. Carved on the other side are seven wedjat eyes and figures of Ptah, Min, Thoth, Horus, Isis and Nephthys

In many spells, the magician's commands have authority because he knows the enemy's true name. The importance of the true names of gods has already been mentioned
Demons too had to be summoned or commanded by the secret name that summed up their essence. The magician may even claim to know the names of the demon's parents. This emphasis on exact identification is also found in legal documents. The language of such documents quite often influences Egyptian religious and magical texts. Humans were not afraid to argue their case in a cosmic court of justice.
Another line the magician might take was to try to trick the enemy into thinking it had attacked the wrong person. If a demon could be persuaded that it was injuring Isis and her divine child, rather than an ordinary mother and baby, it might be frightened into leaving. Alternatively, the magician might open negotiations and persuade the enemy to leave with promises of reward.

The written spells remaining to us seem to present a fixed script for the magician, but comparison with modern exorcism rites in Egypt and other parts of Africa suggests that the practitioner of magic would conduct a lively improvised dialogue with the spirit in possession of their client. Possibly two different types of magic coexisted in ancient Egypt, an intuitive improvised magic, transmitted orally; and a literary tradition in which the formulae became fixed so that their exactness and antiquity were thought to give them power.
If negotiation with a spirit failed, the magician might need to evoke more terrible powers to achieve his aims. One spell sets the notorious drunken fury of Seth and the poison of Shu against the spirit causing a disease. In another, spirits that might attack a herd of cattle are threatened with being hacked to pieces by the ferocious Syrian goddess Anath.
This type of threatening magic was sanctioned for official use against human enemies of the state, but its occurrence in private magic may have been held to be morally dubious. In spells of the second millennium BC, the only living people regularly threatened by the magician with demons and terrible deities are foreign sorcerers. In Egyptian literature, foreign sorcerers sometimes turn out to be evil spirits disguised as people, so this category may not count as ordinary human beings. At this period, there seems a reluctance to admit that any Egyptian might practise malicious magic.

In the first millennium BC, it became more common to attribute problems to the envy or spite of people who possessed the Evil Eye.
Spells written on wooden boards threaten any kind of person who might cast the evil eye on the magician's client with the most terrifying manifestations of various deities In one such spell, the aggressor is to be struck with the arrow of Sekhmet, penetrated by the heka of Thoth, cursed by Isis and blinded by Horus.

In the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, horrific beings are more regularly invoked to act against the living. Spells written in Demotic explain how to use the solar eye to cause a couple to separate, and how to direct the anger of Seth against your enemy and cause him nightmares or even death. Since people used dreams to interpret the future, sending dreams of ill-omen to someone could have a devastating psychological effect.

A peculiar feature of Egyptian magic was that threats might be directed not only at the forces causing the problem, but at the deities who were asked to intervene. One spell warns that no offerings will be made on the divine altars if the gods do not make the magic work. A love charm ends with a threat that Busiris, one of the sites where Osiris was buried, will be burned if the client does not get what he wants.
In myth, Osiris was the most vulnerable of the gods and this is exploited in magic. In the Book /or Banishing an Enemy, Osiris is threatened with not being allowed to journey to his two sacred cities, Busiris in the north and Abydos in the south. The magician even threatens to take on the role of Seth and destroy the body of Osiris. In one spell in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, the magician threatens to prevent the burial of the mummy of Osiris unless he gets his desire.
The most direct way to influence a god was to interfere with their cult.
Deities are sometimes threatened with the pollution and desecration of their temples and the slaughter of their sacred animals. A headache spell promises to kill a sacred cow in the forecourt of the cow goddess Hathor and slaughter a hippopotamus in the forecourt of Seth. The magician even threatens to wrap the sacred image of Anubis in a flayed dog skin and that of the crocodile god Sobek in a crocodile skin.

These sacrilegious acts would have been grossly offensive to any pious Egyptian.
Some threats involve cosmic disaster on a grand scale. The Nile will not rise, the sky will fall to earth, the whole cycle of the sun will falter, if the spell fails. The magician usually protects himself by saying 'It is not me that is saying this but X' — X being the god whose role he is playing in the rite. This suggests that even though it was only role playing, the Egyptians themselves had doubts about this procedure. Words were powerful, so such formulae might actually damage maat.
Possibly these formulae are not so much threats as predictions. The magician is speaking on behalf of humanity; reminding heaven that if people are not regularly cured and protected they will lose faith in the gods and cease to make offerings, maintain the temples, and respect sacred animals. The magician is only demanding the enforcement of a kind of divine contract. If the gods do not help mankind, the whole divine order will collapse.
It is probably wrong to give too much weight to this particular feature of magical texts. Threats are just one of a number of standard man-oeuvres. A personified disease, or the supernatural beings invoked to contend with it, may be pleaded with, cajoled, lied to, flattered and threatened, all within the same spell. Even then, the written script was only a part of the magician's armoury. Many other techniques were used in Egyptian magic.


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