Ancient Egypt Fertility Magic guide

May 13, 2011

Ancient Egypt Fertility Magic guide
Block from a tomb at Giza, c. 2300 BC. In the middle of a procession of female dancers and young boys stands a figure masked like Bes who holds a scourge and a hand-shaped wand. This unusual scene has variously been interpreted as a puberty ritual, a harvest festival, or a protective rite.
In Egyptian religion, the fertility of animals and crops was chiefly associated with male deities, such as Osiris, Amun-Min and the earth god Geb, but human fertility was more the domain of goddesses, such as Hathor, Isis, and Heqet. A snake goddess called Renenutet was linked to both human and crop fertility'.
Renenutet is often shown suckling a divine or royal child and was revered as 'the nourisher of children'. She was also the 'Lady of Granaries'. Renenutet was honoured in shrines set up in granaries and in the fields at harvest time.

Agricultural fertility, especially the production of cereal crops, was one of the main concerns of the state religion. The blessing of the gods was asked on the fields, and the first fruits of the harvest seem to have been offered in local temples. The king took part in rites to make the Nile rise and the crops grow. The state cults included gods such as Min and Amun-Min whose festivals promoted both crop and animal fertility.
In the early third millennium BC, an ithyphallic statue of Min was yearly carried out of his temple to tour and bless the fields.
This ceremony was later reduced to a symbolic visit to a temple lettuce garden.1 If this was a general pattern, it seems that the agricultural rites of the state cults became increasingly remote from the peasants who actually worked in the fields.

The peasant farmers must have turned to beliefs and practices of their own. In this area, magic and religion are particularly hard to separate.
In the vicinity' of Akhmim, where the god Min had his ancient cult centre, crude phallic figurines are still set up in fields.
This custom is likely to go back to ancient times and the figures may be derived from the ithyphallic image of Min. They are probably used today because their sexuality is thought to stimulate crop growth and because an erect penis is thought to frighten away the afrits who threaten crops.
Some Egyptian paintings of the sixteenth—fourteenth centuries BC show objects resembling 'corn-dollies' in reaping and threshing scenes.
In modern Egypt, these objects are known as 'corn-brides'. They are plaited in traditional shapes from the first corn of the harvest.
After being placed on the winnowed heaps of grain, they are hung up in houses and shops to bring good luck and prosperity until the next harvest.
The Ancient Egyptian 'corn-brides' were probably used in a similar way.
Only a few spells relating to crop production have survived. This isprobably because most of the magic used by peasants in the fields belonged to an oral tradition. The rubric to one short spell describes how to set up a 'scarecrow' consisting of a cake stuck on a branch.
The words summon Horus to frighten off plundering birds. Two spells to be cast over a field invoke a group of deities, including a divine herdsman, the Canaanite god Hawron, to protect cattle from attacks by wild animals.
Funerary stela of Taimhotep, wife of the High Priest of Ptah at Memphis, 1st century BC. The inscription relates how she and her husband prayed to the god Imhotep for a son. She is shown (top right) adoring six deities: Sokar-Osiris, Apis-Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Horus and Anubis.
Spells to help and protect animals are better attested than those concerned with crops. A veterinary papyrus of around 1900 BC is mainly concerned with diseases of cattle. Its remedies are chiefly of a practical nature, but herdsmen seem to have had something of a reputation for magic. A story in which a chief herdsman meets a goddess or demon beside a lake refers to the herders' knowledge of 'water charms'. Simple spells for getting cattle safely across water and 'warding off the crocodile by the herdsmen' are recorded in some tombs of the third millennium
Tomb scenes which show cattle being taken across a canal can include a figure making a special protective hand gesture.
The gesture some-rimes has a caption explaining 'This is protection'. It is also made in scenes of animals giving birth
In desert hunting scenes of the late third and early second millennia BC, the same gesture is made by the man handling the hunting dogs. In each case, the gesture seems intended to protect animals in time of crisis. The hand gesture was no doubt reinforced by a simple spoken formula. Amulets based on this gesture were worn in the third millennium BC, so it was used to protect humans in crisis too.
An enigmatic tomb relief featuring a masked-figure with a hand- shaped wand may show a rite to protect children at the crisis-point of puberty. The masked figure, who is holding a scourge as well as a hand-wand, is probably playing the role of the lion-dwarf later known as Aha or Bes. A few canvas Bes masks have survived
The person playing Bes stands in the middle of a group of dancing children.
He is shown as the same size as the children, but may have been an adult dwarf. First in line come girls wearing kilts and long pigtails. Next are five naked boys waving sticks or plants of some kind
At the end of the row a group of boys is trying to escape from a hut.
This hut game has been interpreted as a puberty ritual, similar to those found in some recent African cultures.
The scene has also been viewed as the prelude to a circumcision ceremony. The circumcision of young men is shown in a few tombs of this period. Others assume that there must be a connection with the reaping scene immediately below and identify the event as a fertility dance taking place during a harvest festival.
These ideas need not be contradictory. The protection of children and crops were both in the sphere of the harvest goddess, Renenutet. A ceremony to prepare boys for life as sexually mature adults could well have been planned to coincide with harvest time.
The fertility of crops, animals, and humans were of equal and inter- locking importance.

The ancient Egyptian peasant hoped that his fields would produce enough crops to feed his family, that his livestock would reproduce themselves to provide meat, milk and working animals, and that he would have enough sturdy children to help work his land and look after him in old age. These were literally matters of life and death to the poorest sector of the population.
Most official Egyptian texts play down the importance of the family and emphasize the role of king and state in caring for everyone.
In reality, ancient Egypt was not a welfare state and the family was a vital economic unit. Instruction Texts mention the moral duty to look after dependent relatives and the importance and prestige of having many children.
The artisans at Deir el-Medina, who lived in a community which was supported by the state to a remarkable degree, gave great prominence to fertility deities, symbols and amulets in their homes.
In agricultural communities, human fertility is likely to have assumed even greater importance. Even the poorest peasant would probably have tried to purchase magical assistance in the crisis of infertility.
Nowadays, we tend to think of infertility in terms of failure to conceive, or to carry a child to term. In ancient times, death in childbirth and infant mortality were even greater threats to fertility.
Human fertility encompassed the successful conception, birth and rearing of children.
Much effort was directed at achieving this goal.
According to Clement of Alexandria, one of the six books of medicine kept in Egyptian temples dealt with gynaecological problems. This is confirmed by the fact that a surprisingly high proportion of all the surviving magic medical papyri either include, or consist of, gynaecology and obstetrics.
The oldest such collection dates to around the nineteenth century BC.
The magico-medical papyri contain pregnancy tests and remedies for impotence, sterility, miscarriage and difficult labour, as well as spells to promote milk supply and protect newborn babies. Even family planning is included, which fits with the general concern for the health of the mother shown in these papyri.
The threats to human fertility mentioned in the magico-medical papyri are of four kinds. The first is natural causes; that is, anything not attributed to a specific supernatural being or force.
Failure to conceive and difficult labour are often mentioned without any cause being given.
The second threat is from deities and demons. Among deities, Seth was associated with miscarriage and abortion. Many demons were held to be dangerous to a pregnant woman or a small child. One spell is designed to prevent a female demon from creeping in at night and kissing a young child.
The implication is that the demon's kiss would kill the child. The third threat is from the dead
One spell promises to control any male or female dead person who might give a woman mastitis and prevent her from feeding her child. Female ghosts seem to have been particularly feared. It may be that women who had died in childbirth, or without having any children, were thought to be jealous of successful births.
The fourth source of threat is ill-disposed living persons. Foreign sorcerers and sorceresses are listed as potential dangers, but it is some-times explained that they are demons in disguise.
A few spells mention protection against any noble or common women who might harm a newborn child. It is not certain whether this refers to female ghosts, to demons masquerading as humans or to ordinary women who possessed the Evil Eye. In modern Egypt and Sudan, protection from the Evil Eye is one of the main reasons given for keeping a mother and child in isolation for up to forty days after the birth.
A supernatural threat called for a response that invoked or manipulated supernatural powers. For problems which seem to be attributed to natural causes, a range of options was available.
One might be described as the 'medical option'. Herbal remedies, such as taking honey and fenugreek to 'loosen a child in the womb', were often resorted to.
Practices such as testing a woman's fertility by placing a cut onion in her vagina and then trying to smell it on her breath may sound bizarre, but were based on what the Egyptians believed to be the facts of anatomy.
They thought that in a fertile woman there was a link between the mouth and the 'open womb'.
As well as the medical option, there were the 'religious' and the 'magical options'. These are often difficult to distinguish.
The religious option involved supplication to a deity, and perhaps a visit to a temple and the dedication of offerings.
The magical option might also involve deities and lesser supernatural beings, but treated them in a different way.
Divisions between religion, magic and medicine which seem obvious to us would not necessarily have been meaningful to ancient Egyptians.
It was not essential to choose only one of these options.
Many Egyptians will have utilized the resources of religion, magic and medicine during their attempt to raise a family.

Most marriages in ancient Egypt were probably arranged between the parents of the young couple. However, the sexes were not strictly segregated and some marriages seem to have been based on mutual attraction.
Several anthologies of love poetry survive from the later second millennium BC. In these poems the lovesick often appeal to the goddess Hathor to grant them their beloved.
The favour of this goddess is obtained by prayer and offerings in the conventional religious manner, but magic is also mentioned. In the poems, the power of love is compared with the power of heka.
A poem written on a pot (Cairo Vase) describes how a young girl's love acts as a water-charm to keep her suitor safe as he swims across a crocodile-infested river to meet her. A poem on papyrus describes lovesickness as a condition that doctors and magicians are powerless to cure. 


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