Glimpses of Egyptian Magic Part 5
Cultural Magic – Words and Spells
We have looked at the power of words, their divine origin, and their ability to form pictures of themselves. We also saw that a man’s name is a vital part of his being like his soul, and that knowing and saying a name of a god or man forces an answer from or has an effect upon the named one. (50)
It appears that the ultimate in Egyptian magical communication with the unseen was the spell. (51)
After studying Allen’s collection of the Book of the Dead, I think I would define an Egyptian spell as a series of carefully worded statements and sometimes commands that define a situation as the individual desires that situation to be. Great emphasis is placed on using the correct names in these spells. Spence tells us that these spells have to be said in just the right tone and under the proper circumstances. (52)
We are fortunate to have in the Book of the Dead a large collection of Egyptian spells that are readily obtainable in book form. The Book of the Dead is a collection of the spells that were written on papyrus and placed in the tombs to ensure the continued existence and well being of the deceased. They date from the 18th dynasty to the Late Period. (3b) Many of the spells in Allen’s translation start with a statement of their function. Here is a sample of what some of the spells were used for. There were spells for: praising Re, bringing the soul to the deceased, insuring the proper functioning of the body, going to any place in any form, protection from enemies, getting through the gates of Duat (underworld) and by their monsters, surviving the last judgment, knowing the gates and mounds of Osiris, knowing the gods of the caverns, and animating the ushabti (servant figures). Many of the spells end with the comment that “this is an excellent spell, proved a million times”. (53)
Before moving on to possession, astrology, and alchemy, I’d like to mention and example of magic that combines words and figures for the benefit of the populace. A type of object existed in Ramesside times and during the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. These were stelae containing a variety of representative figures (deities, animals) and texts. By drinking water that had been poured over these structures one could swallow and absorb the magic of the representation and texts. These stelae were placed in well traveled places for the benefit of many. (54)
Cultural Magic – Possession
There are a number of beliefs held by the Egyptians that can be classified as the magic of possession. These beliefs relate to the inhabitation of living form by living spirit. A very similar idea claims the possibility of intense interaction between entities in the spirit and entities in the flesh. Spence tells us that the Egyptians believed in demonic possession. In particular, one example relates the division of the body into 36 parts, each ruled by a demon. If the demon for a particular part acted up, the demon could be addressed and the problem cured. Fortunately there were also 36 gods to benefit those same parts of the body. (55) Weidemann tells us that good and evil demons constantly fought for the control of the body. The evil ones could be controlled by amulets and spells. (56) Another idea somewhat related to this presents the picture of wicked ghosts killing children by sucking their breath. The ghosts were discouraged by wearing garlic. (57)
It was also the belief of the Egyptians that gods and deceased humans could transform themselves into any form. The Book of the Dead has many spells for this purpose. Budge suggests that the idea of the gods tending to transform themselves into animals was the real conception behind the appearance of Egyptian animal worship.
Cultural Magic – Astrology and Alchemy
Budge and Spence tell us that the Egyptians believed in the efficacy of astrology, which claims that the configurations of the sky at a particular time affect the life of a person born at that time. They also had a conception of lucky and unlucky days whose degree of luck was based on mythological events that had taken place on those days. (59)
In reference to alchemy, Budge tells us that in the normal course of metal working ideas sprang up that fluxes and alloys had magical properties. The detritus formed by certain processes came to be identified with the body of Osiris and both of these sources of power and light. Spence suggests that this could be the beginning of practical and spiritual alchemy. The later uses the language of the former but suggests in allegory psychical and mystical secrets. (60)
These latest entries into the magical perspective of the Egyptians add the concepts of correspondence between earth things and sky things and between outer natural principals and inner sacred principals.