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Ancient Egyptian Magic

Ancient Egyptian Magic by Bob Brier

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Ancient Egyptian Magic was the first authoritative modern work on the magic of ancient Egypt, delving into the occult practices and spiritual beliefs across thirty centuries of dynastic rule during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Though it was written in 1980, and much has been learned since that time, this authoritative work will appeal to anyone interested in Egyptology, the history of magic, and the occult, ancient religions, and mythology. While a few of the conclusions asserted by the author are clearly in error when considered from an initiatory magical point of view, he offers a voice of objectivity in terms of Egyptology itself. On page 12, the author makes the statement, “While Budge is an almost inexhaustible source of information, much of what was then believed about magical practices has been revised, the knowledge of the language has increased greatly, and even the concept of magic has changed.” Since this text was written in 1980, the above statement has been true several times over now; however, there is still considerable value in Bob Brier’s Ancient Egyptian Magic, as these excerpts clearly attest. (Find on Amazon)

Posts in Axiomata are curated citations excerpted from works focusing heavily on practical aspects of the Western Mystery Tradition.
Axiomata is Greek for ‘something worthy.’

From the Text Ancient Egyptian Magic

The ancient Egyptian believed that, with the proper combination of spell, ritual, and magician, virtually anything was possible. This book is about the spells and incantations the magicians of Egypt used for more than thirty centuries. p. 12

Not until the eighteenth century did modern linguists begin to suggest that the ancient Egyptian language was not mere pictograms, but was also composed of signs that had phonetic value—they represented sounds. p. 23

For the ancient Egyptian, hieroglyphs were not mere signs used to convey messages. They were objects bound by the rules of magic, just as all other objects in their world. p. 33

Egypt had two kinds of magicians. There were trained priest-magicians who were from established temples and who were part of the orthodox hierarchy. Then, there were what we might call “lay” magicians, untrained men who practiced magic but who were not attached to any institution. The second type was closer to our faith healers, or occultists. p. 34

Egypt was a theocracy—its political ruler was a god. As a god, the pharaoh ultimately was responsible for maintaining the divine throughout Egypt. Obviously, the king could not be present for all the ceremonies at the various temples in Egypt. He needed delegates who could take his place at temple functions. As the functions became more and more numerous—sometimes several ceremonies each day at each temple—the delegates became more and more numerous. This was the origin of the priesthood. p. 34-35

The highest ranking physicians were priest. Since Sekhmet was probably the most important god associated with the medical arts, it was from the priests of Sekhmet that the doctors came. p. 55

It was Toth who restored Horus’ damaged eye after the battle with Seth. Because of his association with the healing of eyes, Horus became the patron of the oculists in ancient Egypt. p. 56

Several temples obtained great reputations as places of miraculous cures, and to these came a constant procession of the suffering. One such place of healing was the Temple of Dendera, which seems to have provided two different methods of treatment. p. 56

One of the most colorful figures in Egyptian history, Hatshepsut refused to rule as queen and had herself crowned king. p. 57

While both the priest-physicians and the lay-physicians used a combination of sound clinical medicine and magic, there was a third kind of physician, the magician, who was not trained in medical practice but used only incantations, amulets, and other magic to cure his patients. p. 59

If a single theme prevails, it is the belief in the magic of similar. For any substance or object believed essential to health, a substance or object similar in color, or texture, or shape might be substituted. p. 63

The London-Leiden Papyrus amply illustrates the continuation of the belief in portions of animals being able to transmit properties of the entire animal. p. 65

This astrological specification is purely Greek, as the Egyptians did not practice astrology. p. 65

Paul Ghalioungui, one of the great authorities on ancient Egyptian magic, gives an interesting account of how the mandrake was picked in antiquity. p. 66

As part of his pharmacopoeia the Egyptian physician used a great variety of minerals, plants, and parts of animals. p. 66

There is a popular misconception that mummification is a lost art, that the method used by the ancient Egyptians is no longer known. This simply is not true. Egyptologists have a fairly complete knowledge of how bodies were mummified, lacking only a few minor details. p. 68

To fully understand the rites of mummification, one must know the Egyptian myth of the god Osiris, who is the archetype of all mummies. p. 68

The Egyptians were preoccupied with the dead body and with the notion that it must be intact and have a proper burial for resurrection. p. 68-69

Osiris, who achieved immortality, became the god of the dead, and all Egyptians wished to join him. This is why in the Book of the Dead and in other magical spells dealing with the dead the deceased is often called Osiris or this name is joined with that of Osiris (for example, Osiris-Ani). This is so that the deceased, too, will resurrect. p. 69

We were not able to learn the details of the ancient process of mummification by deciphering Egyptian texts. No complete embalmer’s manual has been found, and the Egyptians left few writings on their unique art. However, it has been possible to learn how it was done by modern analyses of ancient mummies. p. 69

Despite the theatrics, Pettigrew was a careful observer, and his demonstrations yielded much important information on the embalming process. His major work on the subject, History of Egyptian Mummies, published in 1834, was the first English work on Egyptian archaeology. p. 72

The best ancient source of information on the details of embalming is Herodotus, who visited Egypt as a tourist around 500 B.C. He appears to have been fascinated with mummies and left a lengthy account of mummification in The History, II, 86-89. p. 72

Probably, embalming did not take place in a permanent building. Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, is often referred to as “in his tent.” This probably refers to the embalmer’s tent, which was called “the pure place of the Good House.” p. 76

This use of resin led to the mummy trade that prospered for centuries and even gave rise to our word mummy. Since the Middle Ages bitumen, a mineral formed of hardened pitch, was viewed as a cure-all by physicians. The major source of bitumen was a mountain in Persia where the substance was called mummia. When early travelers to Egypt first saw mummies with blackened, solidified resin, they thought it was bitumen. Soon the embalmed bodies from with the pseudo-mummia was extracted were called mummies. p. 77

The magical unguents used in embalming were the same lotions used in daily life. There was a traditional group known as the Seven Sacred Oils, and cosmetic kits frequently had seven little pots to hold them. p. 78

At this point the internal organs, which had been removed from the body and dehydrated, were wrapped and placed in the four jars made especially for the purpose. These jars, often highly ornamented, were associated with the four sons of Horus. Each contained a different organ. The lid of each was carved in the shape of one of the sons: Mesti, the human-headed son; Duamutef, the jackal; Hapi, the baboon; Qebesenef, the hawk. The jars were made of various materials, most commonly limestone, but also alabaster and faience. These jars were called “canopic jars” from the Greek legend of Canopus, the pilot of Menelaus, who was buried in Egypt. He was said to have been worshipped in the form of a jar with feet. p. 80

Once the wrapped internal organs were placed in the canopic jars, a fluid called the “liquid of the children of Horus” was poured in and the jars sealed. The four jars were then placed in a small chest with four compartments, one for each jar. At this point a magical spell was recited to invoke the protection of the sons of Horus. p. 80

Humans were not the only creatures mummified. Various sacred animals also were preserved for eternity. The most famous animal cemetery is the Serapium at Saqqara, where the mummies of the Apis bulls were entombed. p. 93

Mummification, which is so closely identified with ancient Egypt, is often taken as evidence that the Egyptians were preoccupied with death. The truth is quite the opposite. The Egyptians loved life so much that they developed elaborate embalming rituals and techniques in order to prolong it. The goal of mummification was not to preserve a dead body, but to prepare it for an eternal life. p. 95

We know very little about this architect of the first pyramid, yet he is one of the most intriguing figures in all of ancient Egyptian history. On the base of a statue found near the pyramid was an inscription bearing the name Imhotep. This Imhotep had many titles, among them Vizier, Physician, Chief Builder for the Pharaoh Zoser, and High Priest of Heliopolis. While this is practically all we know of him, we do know that Egyptians of later dynasties revered him as a sage, and the Greeks deified him as Asclepius, the god of healing. p. 97-98

Every pharaoh was to perform a magical ceremony of rejuvenation every thirty years (or often less). p. 98

The Third Dynasty left the legacy of the step pyramid; the Fourth Dynasty completed the transition to the true pyramid. At present tremendous argument exists about how this occurred, centering on the pyramid at Meidum. The Meidum pyramid is one of the most imposing structures in all of Egypt, yet little is known about it. p. 102-103

If the theory of the collapse of the Meidum pyramid is correct, the Red Pyramid is the first true pyramid, evolving out of about a half dozen step pyramids, the unsuccessful Meidum pyramid, and finally the Bent Pyramid. This makes it somewhat unlikely that the pyramid shape had any great magical significance to the Egyptians. Rather, it was the result of gradual architectural changes. p. 105

These revolving stars were called “indestructibles,” and one pyramid text says that the dead king ascends to heaven to join the “indestructible stars.” p. 107

The last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas, began a very important and truly magical pyramid tradition. Located at Saqqara, his pyramid is, on the outside, quite like those of the other kings of the Fifth Dynasty. On the inside, however, the walls are covered with hundreds of magical inscriptions. The hieroglyphs are colored blue so that they stand out clearly against the white limestone. There are long vertical lines from ceiling to floor separating each column of hieroglyphs, each column forming a separate unit called “an utterance” by the Egyptians. These inscriptions are called the “Pyramid Texts.” They are spells that deal primarily with three stages in a king’s resurrection: (1) his awakening in the pyramid; (2) his ascending through the sky to the netherworld; and (3) his admittance into the company of the gods. p. 113

The end of the Old Kingdom marked the end of the pyramid era—nothing like them would ever be built again in Egypt. Middle Kingdom pharaohs returned to pyramids, but these were mud-brick buildings cased with limestone. They have not withstood the centuries, and today, from a short distance, they look much like natural hills. p. 116

During the Old Kingdom there was little comparison between the spells carved inside the pyramids and carvings on the walls of the tombs of the nobility, which may suggest that the magical spells were a carefully guarded secret of the priests. p. 119

When Egypt reestablished stability in the Eleventh Dynasty, a new custom arose. The nobility began placing magical spells on their coffins. p. 119

In the Old Kingdom, sarcophagi and coffins were viewed primarily as houses for the deceased. p. 119

The difference between a sarcophagus and a coffin is mainly the material of which each is made. One fits inside the other. The inner is made of wood, the outer of stone. The Egyptian name for the outer stone coffin was neb-ankh, or “lord of life,” since its function was to protect the inner coffin. p. 120

One feature common to most Middle Kingdom coffins was the double udjat-eye. Two Eyes-of-Horus were painted on the outside of the coffin… p. 121

Perhaps the most important feature of these coffins of the Eleventh and Twelfth dynasties was the magical spells written on them. These spells, which have become known as the “Coffin Texts,” are really a link between the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead. p. 122

Eventually, these texts would become so numerous and complex that they would not fit on a coffin. This led to their being written on papyrus, which became known as the Book of the Dead. There was, then, a rather orderly literary progression from Pyramid Texts to Coffin Texts to the Book of the Dead. p. 122

Like the Pyramid Texts which preceded them and the Book of the Dead which followed, the Coffin Texts have no real structure. They are merely a collection of diverse spells designed to bring about specific effects. p. 122

Just being a magician, without using the power, will enable the deceased to pass by various guardians to the netherworld. At various points in the crossing he will be asked, “Who are you?” The answer that will admit him is, “I am a magician.” p. 125

Aside from eating other magicians’ powers, there are other ways the deceased will obtain magical ability. It will be brought to him by mysterious characters known as the “porters of Horus.” These porters, who brought Horus his magic, are commanded to do the same for the deceased. Interestingly, while they bring (magical) knowledge, they also have the power to make one forget things it is better to forget. p. 125-126

It is knowledge of magic which creates passageways to the next world. p. 126

One of the most curious facts about the Coffin Texts is that, while many gods were named and invoked, Osiris, the god of the dead, whom one would expect to be the most important, was not the most prominent of the gods mentioned. Shu, the air god, seems to be the most important in the texts. p. 127-128

During the period of the Coffin Texts, the Middle Kingdom, mummies were often covered with a mask intended to protect the face of the deceased. By the New Kingdom this mask developed into the anthropoid coffin, shaped realistically like the human body and serving as an envelope for the corpse. p. 128-129

Just as there were changes in the shape of the coffin from the Middle to the New Kingdom, there were changes in the text which accompanied it. The Coffin Texts were a relatively short-lived phenomenon, being in vogue primarily during the Middle Kingdom. With the advent of the New Kingdom, they were replaced by something far more elaborate, the Book of the Dead. p. 129

Of all the magical objects an ancient Egyptian would want, perhaps the most important was the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is not really an accurate title. It was not a single work but rolls of papyrus recording roughly similar material, of which hundreds of versions have been found. Collectively, they are known under the title the Book of the Dead. p. 130

While the Pyramid Texts were magical spells for the pharaohs only, the Coffin Texts were for anyone who could afford a coffin with magical inscriptions. p. 130

In general, the Book of the Dead dealt with several phases of the deceased’s existence. The important stages were: 1) the protection of the body in the tomb; 2) the journey to the netherworld; 3) the judgment by the gods; 4) existence in the next world, once accepted by the gods. p. 130-131

The Egyptians perceived the deceased as being composed of several elements, the most important of which were the ba, the ka, the shadow, and the physical corpse. p. 134

The ba is the most difficult to describe because, while it was a part of the deceased, sometimes the Egyptians viewed it as a complete mode of existence of the deceased. In some ways it was a part and in some ways it was the whole. p. 134

Because the Egyptians rarely spoke of the ba of someone who was alive, it seems as if it came into existence when the person died, or was the mode of existence of the deceased. p. 134

Because the ba was essential for the deceased’s continued existence in the netherworld, a special chapter in the Book of the Dead was intended to assure that the ba would be reunited with the deceased. Chapter 89 is called “The Spell for Causing the Uniting of the Ba and Its Body in the Netherworld.” p. 134

Next in importance to the ba was the ka. This entity was a kind of astral double, an abstract duplicate of the deceased which needed a place to dwell. The first choice of a dwelling place was the corpse, but in case the body was destroyed, often an Egyptian was buried with a ka-statue, a likeness of the deceased which the ka could recognize and in which it could live. p. 135

Because the Egyptians were resurrectionists, it was important that the body be intact. It is not surprising, then, that many of the spells in the Book of the Dead were concerned with preserving and reanimating the body. p. 135

The Egyptians believed in a judgment; the test for admittance into the next world was crucial. p. 136

In the objective test the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather. The [feather] hieroglyph designated the word “maat,” or “truth.” Thus the heart was being examined to see how truthful the individual was. p. 136-137

If this test is passed, then the “True of Voice” goes on to a second judging. He will enter into the Hall of the Double Truth where he will be judged by forty-two different gods. p. 137

One of the important features of this chapter of the Book of the Dead is that it reveals the names of the forty-two gods, giving the deceased some power over them. p. 137

But there is yet another barrier to entrance. After obtaining permission from the forty-two deities to enter, admittance is prohibited by the very parts of the entrance way. The only way the deceased my pass is to demonstrate his magical power by reciting the names of the various parts of the entrance. p. 138

It is interesting that knowing the names of the parts is the same as knowing the parts. This was a basic magical principle of the ancient Egyptians. Knowledge of the name of a thing is the same as knowledge of that thing; what is done to the name happens to the thing or person named. p. 139

One of the puzzling sections in the Book of the Dead deals with magical transformation. This section consists of about a dozen magical spells that, if recited, will cause the deceased to change into various gods, animals, plants, or other animate things. All the spells have the same basic format. The deceased is told to say that he is the god, animal, or plant he desires to be, and then he lists the attributes he especially wishes to have. p. 139-140

When the Book of the Dead first made its appearance in the New Kingdom it was considered to be essential to anyone desiring immortality. This belief continued well into the period of Greek occupation of Egypt. p. 140

Of all the magical objects used by the Egyptians, the amulet was by far the most popular. Judging from the number of them found in excavations, practically everyone in Egypt must have worn them. p. 141

Amulets were designed according to strict traditions and their production probably was overseen by priests. The MacGregor Papyrus gives a list of seventy-five amulets, their names, and uses. p. 142

By far, the most numerous of all amulets found in excavations is the Eye-of-Horus. This was the highly stylized eye of the falcon god Horus. p. 144

Each element of the Eye-of-Horus represented a different fraction. p. 144

The total of the fractions is 63/64 the missing 1/64 supposedly supplied magically by Toth. The amulet was the udjat, or “sound eye.” p. 145

The reason for two Eyes-of-Horus of different colors possibly stems from a myth that states that one eye of Horus was the moon, the other the sun. p. 145

The Book of the Dead specifies that the tet is to be made of red jasper and is to be dipped in the sap of the ankh-imy plant. While this plant is not known to us, its name suggests some magical function having to do with overseeing life, since ankh-imy means “overseer of life.” p. 156

One group of purely funerary amulets considered absolutely essential for the mummy’s protection was amulets of the four sons of Horus. p. 156

In later stages of Egyptian history there was an innovative development. A new kind of protective amulet appeared which was more abstract than miniature representations of gods and objects—the written amulet. p. 162

This name was crucial, for knowing it would enable the magician to call the god forth. p. 164

There were also evil deities who had to be overcome. They are mentioned in the papyrus as the “Devourers of the West,” who swallowed the heart of those who did not pass their judgment in the netherworld. p. 164-166

An interesting feature of this amuletic papyrus is that it shows that the magical spell was not considered infallible. Some skill in argumentation and cajoling was required on the part of the magician, first to convince the god to come forth and then to convince the adversary that he would lose the battle. p. 166

Written amulets such as the ones mentioned here do not seem to have been used throughout Egyptian history. While amulets were used in prehistoric times, written amulets were a relatively late development, probably the result of an abstraction from the image of a god to merely his words of protection. p. 168

Small figures, usually of wax or clay, were an integral part of Egyptian magical practices. p. 169

Early in the Old Kingdom, there was a special chamber in the mastaba called the serdab, where a life-size stone statue of the deceased was housed. The purpose of the statue was to provide a resting place for the soul in the event that the body of the deceased was destroyed. p. 169

In the Eighteenth Dynasty the use of these niches changed slightly because the servant statues took on the additional function of magical protectors of the deceased as well as servants. Apropos of this change the priests added a new section to the Book of the Dead, Chapter 151. This chapter explains the placement and function of the protector statues. In each of the four walls of the burial chamber, about four feet above the floor, there was a niche containing a different protector. p. 174

Tuthmose I, in an attempt to safeguard his body, conceived a new plan: He would have a secret tomb cut into the desolate valley on the west bank. So concerned was he for secrecy that evidently the laborers who worked on the tomb were killed. p. 181

Since the main purpose of entombment was the protection of the body, the most important magical objects would be placed near it. p. 189

The body of Tutankhamen still lies in its stone sarcophagus in the tomb, while the golden shrines and outer coffin are in the Cairo Museum. The gold is inscribed with religious texts, such as Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, which deals with the creation of the world, and the Book of the Divine Cow, which tells of the sun god’s reign on earth and mankind’s punishment for lack of obedience. p. 190

All of these spells are designed to assure a safe journey through the tomb, underworld, and heavens. Thus, “If an accomplished scribe knows these divine words and his spells, he will come out and come down out of the interior heaven.” p. 190

Not only the religious and magical texts are important; their shapes are significant. The innermost shrine is shaped like the predynastic Palace of the North, the House of Flame, and thus symbolizes the dead king’s reign over Lower Egypt. The two middle shrines represent the Palace of the South, The Great House, and symbolize the king’s rule over Upper Egypt. The largest shrine is in the shape of the sanctuary of the Sed Festival, the king’s rejuvenation. So the shapes of the shrines go in the same order that the texts are to be read. p. 190-191

Between the shrine and the north wall were ten magical oars which were used to row the pharaoh’s boats to the next world. (These boats were the cresent moon and the ship-constellation.) p. 191

Between the innermost shrine and the sarcophagus was a wooden djed column, representing the backbone of Osiris and giving stability to the pharaoh. On each corner of the beautifully carved quartzite sarcophagus is a goddess stretching her protective wings. p. 192

The material out of which such amulets were made was an important part of the ritual. Usually, headrest amulets were made out of hematite, but in a break with this tradition, Tutankhamen’s amulet is made of iron. One of the earliest Egyptian uses of iron, it must have been a most treasured object. p. 193

On the arms of the king were numerous bracelets, and on his ankle was a gold amulet. While highly decorative, these ornaments probably also had magical protective powers. The hieroglyphic names for such jewelry meant protector of the arms and legs. p. 194

In all, 143 objects were found on the body of Tutankhamen. Many had magical significance and had been placed there to protect the king’s body and to ensure his well-being in the next world. p. 194-195

The strangest objects in the shrine were two alabaster cups, on serving as the top of the other. Inside the bottom one was a mixture of resin, salt, and natron. p. 196

Behind the Anubis shrine was the most important object in the room, the canopic shrine containing Tutankhamen’s internal organs. It was made of gilded wood. Similar to the stone sarcophagus, on each side was a carving of one of the four protective goddesses. Each of these goddesses was associated with one of the sons of Horus who, in turn, protected the internal organs. Amset was guarded by Isis, Hapi by Nephthys, Duamutef by Neith and Qebensenef by Selket. p. 196

One of the most interesting magical objects in this room was a wooden mold in the shape of Osiris. This mold was lined with linen and filled with rich topsoil deposited by the Nile. Seeds, mostly for grain, were planted in the topsoil. When they sprouted, they would be a green, living representation for Osiris, symbolizing resurrection. Tutankhamen had sought to identify himself with Osiris in that way and bring about his resurrection. p. 197

The sacred oils must have been especially precious to the ancient Egyptians, as Tutankhamen was buried with thirty-four heavy alabaster vases containing more than one hundred gallons. p. 197

There is an interesting parallel from the tomb of Sit-Hat-Hor-Yunet, a princess of the Twelfth Dynasty. She was buried with a large alabaster jar containing what the inscription called “cool water,” which was supposed to be capable of bringing all living things into existence. p. 197

More than ten thousand individual objects were found, a significant number of which had magical import. One of the benefits of finding a royal tomb nearly intact was that it permitted modern scholars to see to what extent royalty adhered to the religion and magical practices of their day. p. 199

The ancient Egyptians believed a deceased person would continue living in the netherworld pretty much the same way he did on earth. It is not surprising, then, that they also believed he would be aware of what happened on earth after his death and that, if favorably inclined, he could help the living. p. 200

The Egyptians were extremely legalistic. The believed that there were divine tribunals in the netherworld which could decide legal matters on earth. One of the functions of the priests was to consult with the gods to settle legal disputes. p. 201

One letter to the dead, in the Cairo Museum, indicates that the Egyptians believed diseases were caused by malicious magic and could be cured by the magic of the deceased. p. 204

In the holy of holies were kept oracles—cult statues used for forecasting the future and obtaining divine guidance. p. 205

According to various ancient texts, oracles could nod their heads and even talk. p. 206

Oracles could also act as judges in courts of law. One ancient record tells of an oracle that wrote out its decision. p. 208

The oracles of Egypt were not only for the commoner. Numerous pharaohs have mentioned they consulted oracles. p. 210

The story is an indication of just how powerful the oracle statues were believed to be, both by foreigners and Egyptians. These statues could heal the sick, solve crimes, settle legal disputes, and send prophetic dreams. Because they had such diverse capabilities, they were called upon whenever a need arose and were an integral part of the ancient Egyptian’s life. p. 213

Since the beginnings of recorded history man has believed his dreams to be a means of knowing the future. The frequency with which dreams are mentioned in the first two books of the Old Testament is an indication of just how important they were in Biblical times. In Genesis alone, there are more than a dozen references to dreams, most of them prophetic. p. 214

Etymological evidence suggests that the priests of the House of Life ([symbols] per ankh) were the interpreters. Coptic writing, which is ancient Egyptian transcribed in Greek letters with a few characters added, is the strongest connection we have with vocalized ancient Egyptian. In the Coptic (Bohairic) version of the Bible, when the pharaoh calls for his dream interpreters, the word used for “interpreters” is spheransh. This is probably a corruption of [symbols] (sesh per ankh)—scribe of the House of Life. p. 217

Sleeping in a temple to obtain dream-oracles was almost a must for any Greek tourist to Egypt, and the Temple of Seti at Abydos was a favorite. p. 217

The Dream Book is written in hieratic, a cursive form of hieroglyphs. The text was first translated by Sir Alan Gardiner. Although Gardiner’s translation leaves little room for improvement, his commentary is weak. p. 217

There is, in fact, a general trend in Egyptology to view the ancient Egyptians as illogical people who could embrace all manner of silly notions. This approach is unfortunate. A careful attempt at analysis in the light of modern psychoanalytic research can yield insights into ancient dream interpretation. p. 218

The Dream Book may have been, then, more a teaching device for fledgling dream interpreters—or a do-it-yourself manual for those able to read—than a truly representative compilation of ancient Egyptian dream material. p. 218

Such considerations aside, the ancient Egyptian dream analyst’s approach was apparently guided more by set rules of thumb than by attempts to decode the hidden meaning of a given element in the manifest dream content and its relation to the dreamer’s personality or specific life situation. Nevertheless, there is evidence of clear recognition of the symbolic quality of a few recurrent themes that are somewhat similar to principles of modern dream research. p. 219

Several of the dreams are based on the principle of sympathetic magic: the idea that what one does to a statue or model will happen to the full-size victim [or beneficiary]. p. 219-220

Thus, while the Egyptians apparently recognized the symbolic nature of dreams, they seem to have believed in the objective universality of these symbols. However, one exception involves on of the most puzzling aspects of the Egyptian religion—the followers of Seth. p. 220

What is a real mystery concerning the Egyptian religion, and ultimately the Dream Book, is why there were followers of Seth. Given all the bad attributes of Seth, it is remarkable that there were large groups of his worshippers. It would seem as if this is parallel to our modern cults of Satan, but the followers of Seth were in no way discriminated against in ancient Egypt. p. 220

The followers of Seth may be the one exception to the universality of the meaning of dreams. Toward the end of the Dream Book papyrus was a section containing interpretations for dreams of the followers of Seth. All that is left of this section is the introduction, so unfortunately none of their dreams is preserved. But it does seem clear that for some reason the dreams of the Sethians were considered different from those of the followers of Horus. p. 220

The prophetic powers of the dream were a foregone conclusion. The priest-interpreter had gained possession of the key to unlock the secret meaning of magical texts. In so doing, he acquired knowledge of past happenings. By the same token, he was confident that by deciphering and decoding the secret imagery of dreams, he had discovered the key to unlocking the future. He also knew that dreams were inspired by the gods, and while ordinary mortals could not, in their waking hours, fathom the hidden or apparent impact of the dreams on human affairs, the dream interpreter served as a mediator between the dreamer and his god. p. 221

The Egyptians also believed that it was possible to cause by magic someone else to have oracular dreams. According to the Greek writer pseudo-Callisthenes, the last native kind of Egypt, Nectanebo, was a great magician who knew how to cause dreams in others. p. 222

Just as magic could be used to cause dreams, it could be used to ward off evil dreams or bad events foretold in dreams. A papyrus in the Hermitage Museum in Russia explains that one reason the Great God created magic was so that mankind would have a weapon for combatting the power of events both in dreams at night and during the day. p. 223

The conditions set up by this magical papyrus could certainly induce a hypnotic, if not hallucinatory, state. The dark cave, the incense, the flame, the solitude, all would contribute to what we today would call an altered state of consciousness. p. 223

The extraordinary lengths to which a magician would go to induce a dream indicates how important dreams were to the magical arts. To the ancient sorcerer the dream state was not a psychological phenomenon. It was a little-understood condition in which it was possible for man, for a brief period, to come directly in contact with the gods. p. 224

While the Egyptians did not realize that the earth rotates around the sun, they did know that a calendar of 360 days will soon be out of phase with nature. For every year that passes, periodic natural phenomena will seem off by five days. If you are using a 360-day calendar, eventually the season you call “Inundation” will come when the land is dry, because the Nile starts to overflow its banks every 365 days. To correct for this discrepancy, the Egyptians at the beginning of every year had five “added days.” p. 225

The Greeks especially admired the Egyptians for their magical skills. They quickly equated their gods with those of the Egyptians—it is quite usual to find the names of Egyptian gods in Greek magical papyri. Also, many Greco-Roman spells were merely versions of much older Egyptian texts. p. 253

Another aspect of Egyptian magic the Greeks borrowed was the use and significance of stone in the production of amulets. p. 253

The Greeks continued the use of colored stone amulets, but they eliminated the use of shape—djed-colum, ankh-sign, Eye-of-Horus, etc.—as an indication of an amulet’s purpose. Instead, they inscribed a magical text on the stone, which what usually oval. p. 253

One particularly interesting category of Greek amulets became known as “gnostic gems.” These amulets normally date from the second or third century A.D. and are called “gnostic” because they were associated with the religious philosophy of spiritual knowledge considered heretical by the early Christian Church. p. 253-254

Inscribed magical gems were probably derived from Egyptian oracular papyri, which evolved as a kind of substitution for amulets late in the New Kingdom. p. 254

In addition to inscribed stones, magical papyri have survived from the Greek occupation of Egypt. While these papyri have many characteristics in common with Egyptian magical papyri, they also have distinct traits of their own. One typically Greek feature is that they contain numerous spells for communicating with the gods. p. 256

The London-Leiden magical papyrus describes a method that is a precursor of the crystal ball. It involves a young boy and a bowl of oil. In a darkened room the boy gazes into a bowl filled with oil. p. 256

While magical papyri of the Greco-Roman period assert that the technique of basin-divination, called “lekanomancy,” works, there are few eye-witness accounts of its use. One is the report of Thessalos, a Greek who lived in the first century A.D., who claimed to have studied magic in the temples of Egypt. His somewhat pompous account of his contact with the gods is fascinating. p. 258

Although the Greeks admired and were influenced by the magicians of Egypt, they also added much of their own to the magical corpus. One typically Greek aspect is the careful attention paid to the position of the heavenly bodies when gathering plants used in potions, or even when invoking the heavenly bodies for assistance. p. 260

The Egyptian tradition of magic carried on by the Greeks extended into the period of Roman occupation of Egypt. Even though the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered all magical texts destroyed, a considerable practice of magical arts continued in Egypt during the first few centuries of the Christian era. A great many of the practitioners were the Copts. p. 261-262

The Copts are the Christian sect of Egypt. The word “Copt” is probably a corruption of the Greek word for Egypt. When St. Mark began preaching Christianity in Egypt during the first century, he found the Egyptians ready converts. Since the Egyptian gods had always formed trinities, when St. Mark preached of another, it probably was not difficult to accept. Although Christians, the Copts were also Egyptian, so it is not surprising that they continued the practice of magic. p. 262

Coptic spells were somewhat different from their earlier counterparts. Although spirits still were called upon for assistance, they were angels; and, instead of a host of gods to be invoked, there was only one. p. 262

There is a Coptic wizard’s book of magical spells in the library of the University of Michigan that dates from around the seventh century. p. 262-263

These examples of Coptic magic illustrate the continuation of the eclectic nature of Egyptian magic throughout its three-thousand-year history. The Egyptians tended to view competitive belief systems not as rivals but as knowledge to be assimilated. It is not surprising, then, that the Egyptians simultaneously worshipped the one God, called upon demons and angels for special help, and used magical rituals, all the while incorporating the practices of their Greek conquerors. p. 265

Excerpted from:
Brier, Bob, Ancient Egyptian Magic, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980

Note: Any bracketed text is my notation.

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