Ancient Egypt Remedies for helping women in childbirth

Oct 29, 2011

Ancient Egypt Remedies for helping women in childbirth

In real life, Egyptian midwives seem to have used both medical and magical methods to speed up labour. Medical remedies included swallowing a mixture of honey and fenugreek, or a vaginal suppository whose ingredients included incense, beer and fly dung. Spells of the second millennium BC for helping women in childbirth involve a variety of magical techniques, most of them similar to those used for treating diseases and minor accidents.
Identification with deities is often at the centre of these spells. The person helping the mother sometimes takes the role of Horus.


This could indicate that the helper was a male doctor, but cross-sexual identification is quite common in funerary literature and may have been in everyday magic too. The parturient woman is normally identified with either Isis or Hathor. In myth, Isis gave birth to a posthumous son after an unusually prolonged pregnancy. This made her an obvious model for women suffering from a long and difficult labour. One spell describes the trials of Isis and threatens the gods with cosmic disaster if they do not allow both Horus and the child of the human mother to be born.
In a spell from the same collection (Papyrus Leiden 1348), the patient is identified with Hathor. The last line of the spell affirms that it is Hathor, Mistress of Dendera, who is giving birth.
This refrain was probably chanted over and over again, giving psychological support to the mother.
Another of these spells depicts Horus comforting a distraught husband whose pregnant wife has cried out for a dwarf statue made of clay. Horus knows that this 'amulet of health' is to be fetched from Hathor, Mistress of Dendera. The dwarf is almost certainly Bes, who features prominently in the two Birth Houses attached to the Hathor temple at Dendera
A spell to 'bring down' the womb or the placenta, is to be said four times over a dwarf of clay tied to the suffering woman's head. The spell says that the 'good dwarf is sent to assist at the birth by Ra himself.
It is quite likely that dwarf amulets were obtainable from the Hathor temple at Dendera. Large quantities of votive objects were manufactured there for dedication in the temple during the mid-second millennium BC. Visitors may also have been able to procure the protection of the goddess and her helpers by buying amulets to take home with them.

Some columns of the Graeco-Roman Period temple at Dendera bear deep grooves. These were probably made to obtain particles of stone from the sacred fabric which could be drunk in water or incorporated in amulets. The crypts of the present temple are still visited by local women who desire to have children. Hathor, Lady of Dendera, retains a reputation for helping women with fertility problems some 1700 years after her cult is supposed to have died out.
The oracular decrees worn as amulets were also obtained from temples
A decree by Min and Isis promises the wearer that she will conceive healthy male and female children and that she will have an easy and joyful delivery. In another decree, a triad of gods undertakes to protect the wearer from miscarriage, from having twins, which was regarded as unlucky or particularly hazardous, and from any death or sickness while giving birth.

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