Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part4/6

Apr 6, 2011

Kinds of ancient Egypt written magic with online video part4/6
Part of the London- Leiden Papyrus, a collection of spells written in Demotic, 3rd century AD. The spells invoke supernatural beings from many cultures, but the magic is largely Egyptian in character.

A group of magical papyri now in Leiden, Holland, may have come from Memphis. They contain adminstrative texts and accounts, as well as magical spells written in several different hands. Possibly they were used by a family of scribes who did standard government work as well as practising magic. Many of the magical papyri cannot then be called 'books of magic'. The spells they contain were just one part of the owner's collection of knowledge.
Other papyri mix magical and medical texts, showing that to most Egyptians the distinction would have been virtually meaningless. The language of some of the oldest magico-medical texts may go back to the third millennium BC, but none of the surviving manuscripts actually dates to this period. It is clear from the texts found on the walls of some pyramids that collections of spells existed at this time, but again none survive on papyrus.


The Pyramid Texts are written in the prestigious and beautiful hieroglyphic script. This is standard for inscriptions carved in stone or painted on objects. Most funerary magic is in the hieroglyphic script. Even funerary papyri normally use hieroglyphs or a cursive version of this script
In general, however, texts on papyrus were written in the simpler and quicker hieratic script
From the period between about 2000 BC and 1550 BC, a number of papyri survive which contain medical and magical remedies for various illnesses, accidents or complications of pregnancy. Several of these papyri describe their contents as 'the secrets of the doctor'. They appear mainly to be manuscripts owned and used by practising doctor-magi- cians
In the years between 1 5 5 0 BC and 1350 BC, Egypt acquired an empire in the Near East and carried out a vast programme of temple building. Only a few texts dealing with everyday magic date to this era.





Such texts become more common again in the thirteenth century BC and continue during a long period of political disunity(c.1069—747 BC).
These spells are for a wider variety of problems and the magic has become more cosmopolitan. It is also more literary, some of the spells being vivid miniature dramas or narratives. Other types of text relating to magic, such as dream books, calendars of lucky and unlucky days and written amulets, survive from this period (figs 16, 37). Single spells on ostraca or scraps of papyrus are quite common, and spells started to be inscribed on stelae and statues.
A number of important magical texts survive in papyri dating between the sixth and second centuries BC. This period covers the last native Egyptian dynasties and the early years of Greek rule. The interpenet- ration of Greek and Egyptian culture was a slow process, so Greek influence cannot be assumed. Scripts for magical rituals in temples and scrolls relating to private magic survive. Illustrations had become an important part of magical texts

Many stelae and statues covered with complex magical texts also date to this era
A large quantity of texts best described as the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri were produced between the first century BC and the fifth century AD. Some are written in the Egyptian language in a shorthand script known as Demotic
Others are in Greek, but their content shows a great deal of Egyptian influence (see Chapter Twelve). Some-times both languages occur in one papyrus or even within the same spell.
Some of these papyri may have been the work books of professional magicians. The spells cover a wide range of everyday problems, but oracles and divination play a much greater part than in earlier collections of magic.
The last form of the Egyptian language was Coptic, which was written in the Greek alphabet with the addition of a few Demotic signs. When Egypt was converted to Christianity, spells were adapted to the new religion and written in Coptic


A further development from the second century AD onwards was the Hermetic texts, which claimed to be the teachings of Thoth. The language of most of these texts is Greek, but a few are found in Coptic or Latin versions. Some of the Hermetica are manuals of magic, alchemy or astrology

A great deal of written magic has then survived from ancient Egypt.
The majority of it was recorded in order to be spoken or chanted aloud. The Egyptian words that we translate as 'spells' nearly all relate to the spoken word. One term for magic was 'the art of the mouth'. Many spells are divided into two parts: the rubric, that is the instructions on what the magician is to do, and the script: the actual words to be spoken.
The rubrics are much more detailed and specific in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri than in earlier collections of magic.
The instructions usually specify at what stage in the proceedings the words are to be recited and how many times they are to be repeated. 'To be said four times' is a common rubric. This may be once for each of the main directions, thus covering all lines of attack. Four is thought of as the number of totality in many cultures. Seven was also a number much favoured in magic and some formulae are to be recited seven times.
Spells had to be distinguished from everyday speech, so they were usually chanted or sung rather than simply spoken. The exact pronunciation of many of the words was important, particularly cryptically written words that claimed to be the secret names of gods and demons. This knowledge was presumably passed down in oral tradition.
The Graeco-Egyptian papyri sometimes mention the tone of voice in which divine names are to be pronounced. In one Hermetic text, the deified Imhotep explains that 'the very quality of the sounds and the intonation of the Egyptian words contains in itself the force of the things said.
An important element in magic that largely depended on the spoken word was the use of puns. Many Egyptian words which looked different when written in the hieroglyphic or hieratic scripts sounded the same when pronounced. This was thought of as a meaningful connection rather than as mere coincidence. Much myth-making arises from puns, such as the story that men (remtj) came from the tears (remtj) of the sun god. Dream interpretation was largely based on puns. To dream of a harp (bnf) meant something evil (bint) would happen to you, but to dream of a donkey (a3) meant that you would be promoted (sa3).
Magic also used similarities in pronunciation as if they formed a physical connection. One spell invokes Seth in his role as a thief to protect beer,because the words for theft and beer sound the same when pronounced.

Although so much emphasis is placed on the spoken word, written magic had powers and virtues of its own. The Egyptians referred to the symbols of the hieroglyphic script by the same word that they used for images of the gods. In some copies of The Pyramid Texts and The Coffin Texts, and in inscriptions on magical figurines, the hieroglyphs which take the form of living creatures are mutilated. Birds are shown without their feet and snakes are cut in half. It was necessary to read these texts aloud to enact the spells, but this might also animate the individual hieroglyphic images. Some of these images were thought to pose a threat to the dead. Others may have been mutilated to prevent them leaving the tomb and withdrawing their protective power.
In the hieroglyphic script, the power of the image and the power of the word
arealmostinseparable.


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