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8 Things You Didn’t Know About Egyptian Magic!

Ever wondered what are Egyptian magic, spells and amulets all about? Ever pondered what is so special about them? Ancient Egypt left behind a series of mysteries which intrigues us. You are here at the right page as we bring you through some insights you have never came across. This page will bring you through some interesting insights you never knew about Egyptian magic.

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1. Uses of Magic (also termed Heka) No, it isn’t Harry Potter or David Copperfield…

Ka statue of Hor Awibra. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

For starters, magic, also termed Heka in the Egyptian civilisation, was not the entertainment we know it to be today. It was a supreme spiritual experience that was used for protection against evil forces, healing of illnesses caused by supernatural forces and cursing enemies, preferably with something taken from the intended victim (fingernails/hair). Think: Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Gargamel from Smurfs.

2. Life after death Mummies and The Mummy...?

Anubis, supervisor of the mummification process. Underneath the lionbed are the four canopic vases, for the organs that were mummified seperately . Retrieved via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0 / Via commons.wikimedia.org

If you have watched The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, you will remember the scary mummies that rose from the dead and went after everyone. Fortunately or unfortunately, this does not happen in reality. Mummification is actually done to preserve a body for the afterlife, so that the soul can recognise the body! There is an elaborate ceremony known as the ‘The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony’ carried out by priests which involved touching various parts of the corpse with specific objects to restore the functions of the 5 senses. Such a ritual ensured that the dead is able to ‘live again’ in the afterlife and is of vital importance. If you have difficulty understanding this, just imagine if you were to wake up one day and not have your sight, hearing, or sense of touch because someone messed up your rite. We wouldn’t be surprised then, if you start going after them for revenge!

Also, if you are wondering about the treasures in the movies, those were because the deceased’s favourite possessions and magic amulets were usually wrapped together with the mummy for his enjoyment and protection in the afterlife. Hollywood does get some facts right :)

3. The Amulet of the Heart Now let me show you… The Shape of My Heart

Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Via creativecommons.org

Egyptians believed strongly in guarding the states of their hearts, relating back to the concept of “Maat”. Such a belief resulted in astounding acts such as mummifying the hearts separately in a glass jar for the “protection of the God Tuamutef” after one’s passing. Another way they looked to protect their hearts was to wear the Amulet of the Heart. According to several chapters in the Book of the Dead, this special amulet protected the carrier against monsters that were half human and half beast, and sought to steal hearts. Also, there were mentions that the Amulet of the Heart was buried in place of the original heart and would in turn bestow power upon the deceased to recite a “words of power” in the Judgment Hall of Osiris (where his heart is weighed against the ‘feather of truth’). Talk about a hearty gift!

4. Shabti dolls

Painted wooden shabti box of of the priest of Amun Amenhotep containing blue faience shabtis. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 / Via ancient.eu

Speaking of the afterlife, the Egyptians believed that life post-death is essentially the same as life on Earth. This means that the Egyptians had to continue working, toiling the ground and managing agriculture even after death. Doesn’t sound like much fun..

However, the Egyptians had their plans thought through. They created Shabti Dolls, which are handmade figurines that accompanied the departed to the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed that their sun god Ra, gave plots of land to the departed in the underworld ‘Amduat’, thus each doll figurine was crafted to represent a worker or servant that will carry out the departed’s work in the afterlife. The ingenuity doesn’t stop there! These figurines were also crafted with specific tools they were supposed to use to carry out their tasks and inscribed with spells that would activate them. Talk about good service!

5. Book of the dead

A detail from the Book of the Dead of Tayesnakht from Thebes. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 / Via ancient.eu

Unlike the popular Japanese anime series, Death Note, the Book of the Dead is not a notebook to plot your enemies’ deaths. In reality, it is a collection of spells that is supposed to direct and help the deceased in their afterlife, similar to the ‘The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony’ and Shabti Dolls. The most interesting bit though, is that these books were written specifically for any individual who can afford it. Hence, no two copies were the same. The Book of the Dead also contains spells that were supposedly able to transform the departed into mythical creatures to bypass danger and passwords for entry into various stages in the Underworld.

6. The Magic Wand! You may wonder?

Magical wand made of hippopatamus ivory inscribed with apotropaic figures. CC BY-SA 4.0 / Via ancientart.tumblr.com

Expecto Patronum! *zaps* If wands remind you of Harry Potter, you are not alone! But did you know that the Egyptians had wands too? Made from hippopotamus’ tusks, these wands were carved with deities, each consisting of 9 magical figures. The wands were used to draw a circle around the place where a woman was to give birth or nurse her infant as a form of blessing. It was also believed that the magicians were able to summon the powerful beings on their wands to carry out their wishes.

7. ChildBirth Bricks

Photograph of the painted mudbrick birth brick discovered at South Abydos, Egypt. Reconstructed painting of the scene of the mother and newborn baby on the bottom of the brick. University of Pennsylvania Museum E2914. / Via glencairnmuseum.org

Well, Childbirth was usually received by rituals, medico-magical spells, amulets and other distinct objects by Ancient Egyptians. These practices were necessary to safeguard the survival of both mother and child.

As such, according to a source from the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, woman in labour are expected to deliver her baby by squatting on four birth bricks; stacked in pairs. That’s right! Squatting! It was believed to be a common practice for the birthing mother during Pharaonic times. Moreover, these bricks allowed the child to be easily accessible to the midwives as the mother is being elevated from the ground.

If you closely examine, the bricks are colourfully engraved with images of a mother holding her child surrounded by two midwives on both sides and Hathor (A deity who is commonly depicted as a cow goddess and associated with motherhood, love and childbirth). The most intriguing part is that the women on the bricks are depicted with an unusual hair colour; blue. Blue being the colour of water is also associated with the oldest Ancient Egypt God; Nun. Therefore, equivalent to the power of creation and rebirth which symbolises the fact that these women have taken the form of spirituality.

Despite the medical advancement in the current era, being in labour is still not a breeze. That being said, can you imagine how tedious it would have been to squat on bricks during labour!? SALUTES TO THEM WOMEN!

8. Model women

Female fertility figurines. Located at Walters Art Museum. Retrieved via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0 / Via commons.wikimedia.org

These figurines is believed to be lasted from the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE) to the Third Intermediate Period (1069-653 BCE) by previous typologies.

There were several uncanny interpretations of their purpose. Some described “bed figurines” as concubines who would sexually arouse a deceased male. Others interpreted the presence of children by the “divine mother” theory, while childless figurines were believed to serve as “charms for sexual fulfilment for women! YES, WEIRD ISN’T IT! However, these theories and interpretations were eventually abandoned when figurines were found in a wide variety of tombs with no specific patterns.

The only prevailing belief and practice is that of protection. The figurines were customly broken to divert away evil spirits. These figurines would protect a mother and child from any danger. Furthermore, figurines made of wood and clay were “ritually manipulated” in customs to drive away poisonous creatures as well as cure stomachaches.

Maybe a little bit more wisdom would not hurt...

View this video on YouTube

Experience Ancient Egypt / Via youtube.com

Interested to know more about other Egyptian magical rituals. Check out this amusing video and be blown away by other interesting facts :)

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