Ancient Egypt Magic Figurines and Statues part 2

May 4, 2011

Ancient Egypt Magic Figurines and Statues part 2
Wooden figure of a hippopotamus demon coated in black resin, c. 1295 BC. This object may come from the tomb of King Horemheb in the Valley of the Kings at
In the legend of Nectanebo, the royal magician fights his enemies principally with magic. In reality, Egyptian magic was generally used to supplement more concrete forms of attack or defence.
Many Egyptians may have thought that ritual was more effective than mere human action because it harnessed divine powers, but they did not place total reliance on it. The Execration Texts found in Nubia date to a period when the Egyptians were building and garrisoning a series of massive fortresses there.
The burial of 'captive figurines' or execration texts on pots may have been part of the foundation ceremonies for such forts.
In Egyptian society, the use of magic rarely seems to have precluded more practical action. This can be seen in both magic for the state and magic for the individual, but it was a factor not always appreciated by later commentators on Egypt.

Terracotta figurines of bound Nubians, c. 20th— 19th centuries BC.Thesewere probably used in a cursing ritual
These commentators are likely to have been influenced by Egypt's literary tradition. In literature, magical methods are given prominence: they naturally make for a more picturesque story. The Setne cycle contains several examples of the use of magical figurines. In the first part of the cycle, Prince Naneferkaptah makes a model boat and crew, probably out of wax. He gives the 'breath of life' to the figurines by reciting spells over them. This boat enables him to reach the place where the Book of Thoth is hidden and he throws down sand to part the waters of the Nile. The wax boat probably represents the Sun Boat and its celestial crew.
In this episode, the figures are simply helpers who row the magician as if he was the sun god. In another part of the Setne cycle they are used much more aggressively. Setne and his wife have a son called Siosiris, who even as a child possesses remarkable magical powers.
Spell for driving out poison, c. 13th century BC. The spell refers to making a cat out of wax and a human figure out of dough.
A Nubian chieftain comes to the court of Ramses II and challenges Egypt's wise men to read a sealed letter without opening it. Only the prodigy Siosiris is able to perform this feat.
The letter relates how, centuries before, a Nubian sorcerer had worked magic against the Pharaoh Siamun of Egypt. This sorcerer made a litter and four bearers out of wax and recited spells to give them the breath of life. The bearers travelled to Egypt and took the sleeping Siamun from his bed. They carried him to Nubia and beat him with five hundred blows in front of the Nubian ruler. When Siamun was returned to his palace he summoned his wise men and magicians.
Terracotta figurines of bound Nubians, c. 20th— 19th centuries BC.Thesewere probably used in a cursing ritual.
A Scribe of the House of Life called Horus recited protective spells over the Pharaoh and tied an amulet to him. Then Horus went to the temple of the creator god Khnum and asked for guidance. That night, as Horus slept in the temple, Khnum appeared to him in a dream. The god told Horus about a magic book hidden in a chest in a sealed chamber of the temple library.
When Horus had copied out a spell from this book, he was able to animate a litter and bearers made of pure wax. He sent them to Nubia to fetch and beat the Nubian ruler.
These animated figurines behave like bau and other divine messengers, who are said to strike those they are sent against.
The whole episode also recalls the numerous spells in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri which invoke gods and demons to send nightmares to the client's enemy.
One spell to send evil dreams invokes Seth, both in words and by making a model hippopotamus in red wax. In general, the story seems to fit with the growth of aggressive magic in the Graeco-Roman Period.
However, the aggressive use of figurines is recorded in much earlier magical tales.
A fragmentary papyrus (Papyrus Vandief) dating to the late sixth or early fifth century BC contains the tale of a young magician called Meryra.
Stories about Meryra were being told at least as early as the thirteenth century BC. In Papyrus Vandier, Meryra goes down into the underworld to save the sick Pharaoh Sisobek by winning him a longer life-span from Osiris. The king's other magicians are jealous of Meryra.
While the young magician is trapped in the underworld, they encourage the king to marry Meryra's wife and to kill Meryra's young son.
In order to take revenge from a distance, Meryra makes 'a man of clay' and sends him to the world of the living. The clay man orders Pharaoh to burn the jealous magicians in the furnace of the goddess Mut at Heliopolis. Sisobek does not dare to disobey this grim supernatural messenger.
He has the magicians executed and their bodies burned. It gives added point to the story that the magicians suffer the fate which they themselves would have inflicted on model or real captives during execration rituals.
Earlier still, Papyrus Westcar (c. seventeenth century BC) includes the story of the Chief Lector Priest Webaoner and his unfaithful wife.
Webaoner was informed by a servant that his wife was meeting her lover in a garden pavilion by a lake. The Chief Lector Priest sent for a gold and ebony box, which contained either his magic scrolls or the ingredients needed for spells. He made a crocodile out of wax and gave it to the servant with certain instructions. When Webaoner went away to attend King Nebka, his wife invited her lover to meet her in the pavilion.
Afterwards, as the lover set out across the lake for home, the servant tossed the wax crocodile into the water. It grew into a real crocodile seven cubits long (about three and a half metres). The crocodile seized the lover and dragged him under the water.
After seven days at court, Webaoner invited King Nebka to come home with him to see a marvel. He took Nebka to the edge of the lake and called the crocodile.
It appeared from the depths, carrying the lover.
Miniature statue-stela, late 1st millennium BC. It shows Isis holding the infant Horus (right); a head of Bes (top left); and Horus triumphing over dangerous animals and reptiles (bottom left).
The king was alarmed by the huge crocodile so Webaoner turned the monster back into a wax model. The Chief Lector Priest explained how he had been betrayed and Nebka ordered the lover to be given to the crocodile.
The wax model became a giant crocodile again and carried the lover back to the underworld.
King Nebka, and King Khufu in the framing story, both approve of this act of magical revenge. It is not certain that the author meant his readers to share in this approval. The story is reminiscent of the tomb curses of the late third and early second millennia BC which threaten offenders with 'the crocodile in the water and the snake on land'.
In these curses, the tomb-owner appeals to a divine court of justice to enforce his threats, but Webaoner acts like a god, judging the living and directing their fate in the underworld. Later in the same story cycle, the peasant magician Djedi refuses to exercise his powers of life and death over humans to entertain the king. In Papyrus Vantlier, Meryra seems to be rebuked by Osiris for sending the 'man of clay'.
There is a curious echo of the Webaoner story in a spell to keep a man's wife faithful to him in one of the Graeco-Egyptian papyri.
The magician is to make a crocodile out of clay and put it in a lead coffin. He must write on the coffin a name of power and the name of his wife.
Presumably the fearsome crocodile was to prevent any lover from approaching the wife. Elsewhere in the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, wax models are used to invoke various deities in much the same manner as drawn images. For example, a spell to summon Thoth involves the making of a wax baboon.
Animals made of wax and other substances do figure in spells of the second millennium BC, but in everyday magic they rarely act as animated agents for the magician.
One possible instance is an anti-venom spell which involves making a scorpion out of clay and turquoise, to fight 'mouth against mouth and tooth against tooth'. Since this scorpion was to be 'put on' the patient, it should probably be classed as an amulet rather than a figurine.
Figurines animated by magic are more common in the funerary sphere. The figurines and statuettes of servants found in burials of between about 2500 and 1500 BC have the same function as the figures in wall reliefs and paintings. They could be animated by spells to provide services in the afterlife for the deceased. Named servants were some-times shown in the tomb reliefs or depicted by figurines.
This may have meant that their kas could be invoked by name and compelled to serve the tomb-owner.
The tomb-owner was represented by a particular type of funerary figurine known as a shabti or ushabti. The earliest examples, which date to the twenty-first century BC, are made out of wax, mud or dough
The use of these magical materials suggests that the shabtis of this period were intimately linked with the person of the tomb-owner.
The early shabtis consist of a roughly shaped nude body which was wrapped in linen and placed in a model coffin. Spells must have been said over this substitute body to identify it with that of the tomb-owner.

By the eighteenth century BC, shabtis were usually made in stone or wood and their function had become more specific. A spell from The Coffin Texts written on the mummiform body of the shabti describes how it is to act as a substitute if the deceased is called up for compulsory labour on agricultural or irrigation projects in the afterlife
In life, the well-off no doubt avoided such public works by paying substitutes to labour on their behalf. Stress is laid on the shabti answering when the deceased's name was called, so once again there is a strong link between magical figurines and the concept of a person's name.
Other figurines from tombs seem to be intended as magical protectors for the deceased. Figurines of the four sons of Horus have the specific function of protecting the liver, lungs, stomach, and entrails of the deceased. At the period when these parts were put back inside the body after mummification, wax figures of the four sons of Horus were included in the packages. Fearsome animal-headed demons made out of wax or wood coated with bitumen were placed in royal tombs

Their role was presumably to protect the king from their own kind in the afterlife. Some of these demons have counterparts on the apotropaic wands
This is also true of many of the animal figurines found in burial equipment of the first half of the second millennium BC.
These include hippopotami, crocodiles, cats, and lions. Such figurines probably had spells said over them to animate them as 'fighters' on behalf of the deceased.
Protective spells may dominate funerary magic, but models used in everyday magic could have other functions. A spell for scorpion bite required the making of a wax cat

Cats were celebrated as snake killers in ancient Egypt and may well have tackled scorpions too.
In funerary literature, Ra and Hathor take on cat form to cut the chaos serpent to pieces
An elaborate anti-venom speJJ inscribed on a statue of the mid-first millennium BC seems to refer to a real cat. Possibly the poison was to be transferred into a sacred cat, who would be able to overcome this evil force.
The principle of transference is sometimes mentioned in the rubrics to spells. A spell to relieve stomach-ache in a papyrus of the late second millennium BC: is to be said over a 'woman's statue of clay'.
The rubric goes on to explain that the affliction would then be sent down into the 'Isis statue'.
Pottery figurines of Isis are virtually unknown from the period to which the papyrus dates. That could be because such figurines were destroyed as soon as the infliction had been transferred into them, but it seems more likely that a divine figurine would have been buried or dedicated in a temple after the rite.

It is possible that the spell is referring to a type of nude female figurine which was used as a fertility charm
These fertility figurines are found in burials, in the outer areas of tombs, in household shrines and in the temples of deities associated with fertility. Their purpose was to ensure a successful sex life, culminating in the birth of healthy children
Spells to alleviate stomach-ache and spells to relieve labour pains are sometimes grouped together in magico medical papyri. The laying of a hand on the belly is recommended in both cases, so a type of object related to childbirth might well appear in a spell for ordinary stomach-ache. A woman's figurine of Isis is also mentioned in an anti-venom spell. Scorpion bite sometimes seems to be used as a metaphor for all the mysterious and sudden afflictions of early childhood, so this may still be in the sphere of fertility.
Some figurines or statuettes used in magic represent deities more directly. One anti-venom spell is to be said over a wooden statuette of a divine falcon. This statuette is to brought near the sufferer and offered bread and incense. The magician is here treating the falcon statuette as if it was a divine image in a temple. Offerings of food, drink, cosmetics and perfumes were made to such images to induce a deity to manifest itself in the temple. It then became a source of power. Classical writers refer to this ability to animate divine images as something uniquely Egyptian.
The rubric of another anti-venom spell states that it is to be spoken over a wooden statue of Horus holding snakes and trampling a crocodile and a scorpion. Wooden objects of this description are rare, but numerous stone examples have survived
These are usually in the form of statue-stelae in which the figure of Horus is carved in three dimensions. Horus is shown as a naked child trampling on one or more crocodiles and gripping snakes, scorpions, and sometimes desert animals such as lions and oryxes. A head of Bes often appears above the Horus figure and numerous protective deities may be incised on the stela

Such objects are known as Horus cippi, or 'Horus on the crocodiles' stelae.5 They range in date from about the thirteenth century BC to the second century AD. Some were set up in temples. Others come from houses or tombs. A cippus is normally inscribed with several anti-venom spells.
The dual purpose of such statue-stelae was to repel actual poisonous reptiles or dangerous animals and to cure those who had been bitten
They also functioned in a more general way against supernatural beings envisaged in animal or reptile form. Collections of similar or identical spells were sometimes inscribed on statues of deities, kings or high-ranking priests and officials. These statues often incorporate a cippus
Divine statues of this type most commonly portray Isis, sometimes with Horus beside her.
Other examples show Neith, whose temple at Sais was so renowned for its doctors. In the late first millennium BC, statues of this type were set up in temple sanatoria. These were buildings inside the precincts of a temple, where people came for healing dreams or cures worked by drinking or bathing in holy water.

In Egyptian temples of the second millennium BC, the most prominent statues were those of kings. Some of these royal statues were deliberately set up in the outer areas of temples to act as a focus for popular devotion. Statues of Ramses n 'who listen to prayers' are shown on private stelae. It was common practice to use a living or dead king as an intermediary when approaching the gods.
The king had an important role in popular religion but, with the exception of the use of royal names as amulets, kings do not feature very much in everyday magic.
An interesting exception is a damaged statue group from a chapel in the eastern desert near Heliopolis.
The statue shows King Ramses in (c.1184—1153 BC) seated beside a queen or goddess.
The goddess is probably Isis. One would expect Ramses to be playing the role of her son, Horus, but in the inscriptions he seems to be identified with the dawn god, Khepri. The thrones on which the divine pair sit are inscribed with a compendium of spells against dangerous animals and reptiles.
These seem to be copied from a collection kept in a temple library, possibly that of the House of Life at Heliopolis. One of the spells, a curse against Apep, the enemy of Ra, is almost identical to passages from The Book of Overthrowing Apep in the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus

The statue group was set up on one of the desert routes used by mining and quarrying expeditions. Such expeditions were sometimes provided with scorpion charmers

To judge from the texts on the statue of Ramses III, horned vipers were the main danger in the eastern desert. Expedition members probably visited the chapel where the royal statue was kept before setting out on the arduous trek through the desert. They may sometimes have had with them a scribe who was capable of reading the texts aloud, but the standard practice was probably to absorb the statue's magic by touching it, or by drinking water poured over it. One of the inscriptions describes the king as the lion who chases away all (hostile) gods and spirits.
The whole monument seems to be emphasizing that it is the king who is providing this magical service for his workforce and protecting the cities of Egypt from incursions by desert creatures.
Temple statues of priests and officials also provided a public service.
To set up a statue of yourself in an Egyptian temple was a privilege confined to temple personnel or granted to important officials as a mark of royal favour.
Such statues were thought to provide an alternative body for the person's ka. The ka became a resident of the temple and could share in the offerings made there to the gods. Temple statues of the early part of the second millennium BC often have inscriptions which address the staff of the temple, promising good fortune for them and their descendants if they will make offerings to the statue-owner.

Similar inscriptions are found on the outer areas of tombs and are based on the belief that the dead could act on behalf of the living, particularly in celestial courts of justice
Later in the second millennium BC, there was a shift in emphasis from the power of the dead to the power of the gods.
It became more common for lay people to visit the outer areas of temples in order to pray and sacrifice to the gods. Inscriptions on some temple statues of this period are addressed to anyone, rich or poor, male or female, who may visit the temple. In return for offerings, the statue-owner agrees to pass on the prayers and petitions of the visitor to the main deity of the temple.
Parts of these 'intermediary statues' have been rubbed away by the touch of thousands of hopeful hands over the centuries.
Some temple statues of the first millennium BC offered a different service to the visitor, that of magical cures. These 'healing statues' depict a standing, kneeling or squatting man. The statue-owner often holds a Horus cippus and there may be a basin in front of the statue base.
Such statues are usually covered with inscriptions, comprising prayers for the statue owner and anti-venom spells.7 Prototypes for some of these spells are found in The Pyramid Texts, but by the first millennium BC elaborate narrative spells had developed.
The cippi and the healing statues worked through physical contact with the patient. The head of Bes which features on many cippi often shows signs of rubbing. The hand of a healing statue might also be touched as part of the ritual. On the statue of a man named Djedhor, a spell written on the hand and arm promises the sufferer that the Hand of Atum will drive out the poison of Apep and bestow life, prosperity and health. The magical cure was probably supplementary to medical treatment, but if the patient recovered, offerings would be made to the spirit of the person who had set up the dppus or statue.

Anti-venom spells may seem rather specialized, but they did deal with a common hazard and one that particularly affected children. A healthy adult was not likely to die of a scorpion bite but a child was, and the welfare of children was very dear to the hearts of the ancient Egyptians.
Snakes and scorpions could also act as general symbols of the forces of chaos that threatened the safe and orderly life that most Egyptians hoped to enjoy. Hence these spells are found on everything from temple gateways down to miniature cippi designed to be kept in houses or worn as amulets.


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