Ancient Egypt Magic Figurines and Statues part 1

May 4, 2011


Ancient Egypt Magic Figurines and Statues part 1
Front and back views of a magical figurine made of dark wax, c. 100—200 AD.
Human (?) hair has been inserted in the figurine's navel. The back conceals a scrap of a papyrus containing the written part of the spell. 
Among the most sinister objects from the ancient world are figurines in human shape which were used to cast a spell on the people they depicted. Such objects only survive when they were buried as part of the rite, usually in the vicinity of tombs.
The British Museum has a small figurine made in dark wax which dates to the period when Egypt was under Roman rule
It has strands of human hair pushed into its navel and a scrap of papyrus inserted in its back.
The hair would transfer the essence of the person it belonged to into the figurine. Rites performed over the figurine would then affect the owner of the hair.
In the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, some curse spells recommend mixing the hair of the intended victim with the hair of a dead person. The scrap of papyrus which contained the written component of the spell is now unreadable, so the exact purpose of this wax figurine remains unknown.


A more gruesome figurine, now in the Louvre Museum, Paris, is in the form of a woman with her arms tied behind her back
Nails have been driven deep into the clay body of the woman. Drawing on parallels from European witchcraft or Caribbean voodoo, the obvious assumption is that this figurine was intended to kill the woman depicted or to cause her severe pain. However, written sources prove that figurines were used in variety of ways in Egyptian magic.

Objects found with the Paris figurine make it clear that infliction of physical harm was not the intention.
The Paris figurine was buried inside a clay pot together with a lead lamella inscribed with a love charm in Greek. The charm invokes Thoth, Anubis, Antinoos (a lover of the Emperor Hadrian who was deified after drowning in the Nile) and the spirits of the dead. Several spells in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri for gaining the love of a man or woman describe just this type of procedure. A magical papyrus in the Louvre directs the magician or would-be lover to make a figurine in the form of a kneeling woman with her hands tied behind her back.
The names of powerful demons are to be written on the woman's limbs. Possibly the
Paris figurine conceals a scrap of papyrus with such names written on it.
The lover then pierces the body with thirteen needles or nails, saying each time 'I pierce the stomach or throat [etc.] of X, that she may think of no-one but me'.
Terracotta figurines of bound Nubians, c. 20th— 19th centuries BC.Thesewere probably used in a cursing ritual. 
An invocation to deities, demons and spirits was to be written on a lead tablet and tied to the figurine with a knotted cord, or buried close to the figurine in a graveyard. If possible, these objects were to be buried in the grave of someone who had died young or through violence.
Such spirits were more likely to linger on earth and show malice against the living, so they could be manipulated by the magician.
The only pains to be inflicted by the needles were the pains of love. The magician intended to make his victim wild with desire.
It appears from the lead tablet that the Paris group was made for a woman pursuing a man, but the sex of the figurine was not changed to suit this. The wax figure in the British Museum could also be a love charm.
The gap between love and hate is notoriously narrow. In some spells in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, the victim is threatened with madness or death if they do not feel love for the magician's client.
Such figurines do count as examples of aggressive magic.
This type of magic was not merely the product of foreign influence.
The use of figurines was thought by Classical and Early Christian writers to be characteristic of Egyptian magic. The Alexander Romance, written around the third century AD, describes the magical exploits of the Pharaoh Nectanebo. This legendary figure seems to be based on two kings called Nectanebo who reigned in the fourth century BC.2 Necta-nebo II was the last native-born ruler of ancient Egypt
The legendary Nectanebo is said to have repelled invasions by making wax models of his own ships and men and those of the invaders.
Terracotta figurines of bound Nubians, c. 20th— 19th centuries BC.Thesewere probably used in a cursing ritual.
After placing them all in a bowl of water, Nectanebo would wave his ebony rod and invoke gods and demons to animate the wax models and sink the enemy ships. This caused the real enemy fleet to founder, until the day when the gods decreed that his reign should come to an end and Nectanebo was forced to flee to Macedonia.
This all sounds like picturesque invention, but it does agree quite closely with what is known of the secret rituals carried out in temples.
In The Book of Overthrowing Apep, wax models are made of current enemies of the state, as well as of the eternal forces of chaos. These enemies were identified by the use of their names and then destroyed in a variety of ways.
Similar rituals are known from other sites, such as the temple of the goddess Mut at Heliopolis and the temple of Osiris at Abydos
Magic of this kind can be traced back at least as far as the late third millennium BC.
A spell in The Coffin Texts refers to the breaking of pots and figurines.
Archaeologists have found the remains of such rites at the royal cemeteries of Giza, Saqqara and Lisht, and at several Egyptian forts in Nubia.
Broken pots and clay or stone figurines are inscribed in the hieratic script with lists of the enemies of Egypt.
The body of the figurine may be flattened into a tablet shape to give more space for the text. On the back, the arms, or the arms and the legs, are bound together. In the more detailed examples, the heads display foreign features and hairstyles.
Terracotta model of a woman pierced with iron nails, c. 200—300 AD. This figurine was buried in a pot with a lead tablet inscribed with a love charm. 
The inscriptions are known as 'Execration Texts'. These texts some-times threaten death to specific people. More often, they simply consist of the name, parentage and tide of the enemy. It must have been the words spoken and the actions performed during the dedication rite that actually inflicted the curse. The Execration Texts are aimed mainly at enemy rulers, nations and tribes in Nubia, Libya and Syria-Palestine. A few Egyptian traitors are named and there is a catch-all clause against any man, woman or eunuch in Egypt who might be plotting rebellion.
The named traitors tend to be officials serving royal ladies, so it is possible that they were involved in harem conspiracies. An execration rite may sometimes have been carried out after the execution of a criminal.
By killing the enemy's name, which was an integral part of the personality, this rite would extend punishment into the afterlife.
The Execration Texts provide valuable information on the foreign enemies of Egypt, but the lists soon became fixed. Names were repeated, sometimes in garbled versions, long after an enemy had ceased to be a physical danger. The spirits of defeated enemies or executed traitors were probably regarded as a continuing supernatural threat, which needed to be met with magic. Some of the Execration Texts end with a section mentioning every evil word, thought, plot or dream.

The wording is similar to that of contemporary spells on papyrus which promise to protect against the malice of demons and ghosts.
The Egyptians named in the Execration Texts are referred to as mut, the same word used of the troublesome dead in protective spells for private persons.
The red pots on which execration texts were written were ritually broken as part of the cursing ceremony in order to smash the enemy's power.
A pit near the Egyptian fort of Mirgissa in Nubia contained hundreds of such potsherds, as well as nearly 350 figurines.
Deposits of figurines have been found just outside various fortresses, tombs and funerary temples. The clay figurines were burned by being baked in a kiln and then buried, or nailed to outer walls, as the bodies of executed traitors and foreign enemies sometimes were.
Uninsurable clay figurines of bound men in foreign dress are likely to be relics of similar ceremonies
These foreigners are tied up in the same way as the enemies of Ra shown in the Underworld Books.
In a few Execration Texts the enemies are specifically identified with Apep or Seth. The Louvre figurine also has her hands tied behind her back
Some love charms in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri threaten to identify the woman with the cosmic enemies if she will not submit to the magician's lust. This type of love charm provides another example of a temple ritual being adapted for private use.
The more elaborate enemy figurines can be trussed up like animals about to be sacrificed. Some are shown with their throats cut, the method used to kill sacrificial animals. Temple texts identify such animals, particularly desert game, with the forces of chaos. The dismembered body of a Nubian and a flint sacrificial knife were found near the Mirgissa pit. Some Egyptologists believe that human sacrifices routinely accompanied execration rituals, others have argued that the figurines were normally a substitute for such sacrifices.
There were various magical techniques for disabling the enemies represented by such figurines. Some crude mud execration figures from a cemetery at Lisht were found in a model sarcophagus (outer coffin).

The Cairo Museum has several boxes containing clay 'captive figurines'.
The Book of Overthrowing Apep also mentions burying figurines, or figures drawn on papyrus, in boxes. This was presumably done within the temple precincts where the gods could guard the boxes.
The most graphic ritual was the burning of wax figurines in special furnaces.
Traces of melted wax were found beside the skull of the sacrificed Nubian at Mirgissa, and some magical papyri show the burning of enemies in furnaces or cauldrons
From the Egyptian point of view, the officiant in such rites was in a very powerful position. When he made figurines inscribed with the names of the enemies of state, he could add his personal enemies to the list.
One instance of a private perversion of this kind of magic survives in records of the trial of a group of soldiers and courtiers accused of conspiring to kill King Ramses in (c. 1184—1153 BC). As part of the plan, one of the conspirators managed to obtain a secret book of magic from the royal library. This enabled him to create inscribed wax figurines which he hoped would incapacitate the king's guards (PapyrusLee).
The conspirators also made wax gods, perhaps to invoke harmful divine
manifestations against the king (Papyrus Rolliri).
The secret book must have been something similar to The Book of Overthrowing Apep. The names of some of the defendants have obviously been altered in the court records. Divine elements in their names are replaced by the names or epithets of the forces of chaos and evil.
One is called by an epithet of Apep and another is called 'Ra hates him'. This was the first step in identifying these political enemies of the king with the enemies of Ra and the whole cosmic cycle, just as was done in the magic ritual.
The conspirators were either executed or forced to commit suicide.
The surviving records do not describe the crime in detail, but it appears that force or poison were to be used against King Ramses.

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