TO the peoples of antiquity Egypt appeared as the very mother of magic. In the mysterious Nile country they found a magical system much more highly developed than any within their native knowledge, and the cult of the dead, with which Egyptian religion was so strongly identified, appeared to the foreigner to savour of magical practice. If the materials of the magical papyri be omitted, the accounts which we possess of Egyptian magic are almost wholly foreign, so that it is wiser to derive our data concerning it from the original native sources if we desire to arrive at a proper understanding of Egyptian sorcery.
Most of what has been written by Egyptologists on the subject of Egyptian magic has been penned on the assumption that magic is either merely a degraded form of religion, or its foundation. This is one of the results of the archæologist entering a domain–that of anthropology–where he is usually rather at a loss. For example, we find Sir Gaston Maspero stating that “ancient magic was the very foundation of religion. The faithful who desired to obtain some favor from a god had no chance of succeeding except by laying hands on the deity, and this arrest could only be effected by means of a certain number of rites, sacrifices, prayers, and chants, which the god himself had revealed and which obliged him to do what was demanded of him.” 1 Then we find Dr. Budge stating that in the religious texts and works we see how magic is made to be the handmaiden of religion, and that whereas non-Egyptian races directed their art against the powers of darkness, and invoked a class of benevolent beings to their aid, the Egyptians aimed at complete control over their native deities.
Let us glance for a moment at the question of the origin of magic. Considerable diversity of opinion exists regarding this subject among present-day anthropologists, and the works of Frazer, Marett, Hubert, and Mauss, etc., although differing widely as regards its foundations, have thrown much light upon a hitherto obscure problem. All writers on the subject, however, appear to have ignored one notable circumstance in connection with it–that is, the element of wonder, which is the true fount and source of veritable magic. According to the warring schools of anthropology, nearly all magic is sympathetic or mimetic in its nature. For example, when the barbarian medicine-man desires rain he climbs a tree and sprinkles water upon the parched earth beneath, in the hope that the deity responsible for the weather will do likewise; when the ignorant sailor desires wind, he imitates the whistling of the gale. This system is universal, but if our conclusions are well founded, the magical element does not reside in such practices as these. It must be obvious, as Frazer has pointed out, that when the savage performs an act of sympathetic magic he does not regard it as magical–that is, to his way of thinking it does not contain any element of wonder at all; he regards his action as a cause which is certain to bring about the desired effect, exactly as the scientific man of today believes that if he follows certain formulæ certain results will be achieved. Now the true magic of wonder argues from effect to cause; so it would appear as if sympathy magic were merely a description of proto-science, due to mental processes entirely similar to those by which scientific laws are produced and scientific acts are performed –that there is a spirit of certainty about it which is not found, for example, in the magic of evocation.
It would, however, be rash to attempt to differentiate sympathetic magic entirely from what I would call the “magic of wonder” at this juncture; indeed, our knowledge of the basic laws of magic is too slight as yet to permit of such a process. We find considerable overlapping between the systems. For example, one of the ways by which evilly disposed persons could transform themselves into werewolves was by means of buckling on a belt of wolfskin. Thus we see that in this instance the true wonder-magic of animal transformation is in some measure connected with the sympathetic process, the idea being that the donning of wolfskin, or even the binding around one of a strip of the animal’s hide, was sufficient to bestow the nature of the beast upon the wearer. In passing, I may say, for the sake of completeness, that I believe the magic of wonder to be almost entirely spiritistic in its nature, and that it consists of evocation and similar processes. Here, of course, it may be quoted against me that certain incenses, planetary signs, and other media known to possess affinities for certain supernatural beings were brought into use at the time of their evocation. Once more I admit that the two systems overlap; but that will not convince me that they are in essence the same.
Antiquity of Egyptian Magic.
Like all magic, Egyptian magic was of prehistoric origin. As the savage of today employs the sympathetic process, so did the savage of the Egyptian Stone Age make use of it. That he also was fully aware of the spiritistic side of magic is certain. Animism is the mother of spiritism. The concept of the soul was arrived at at a comparatively early period in the history of man. The phenomenon of sleep puzzled him. Whither did the real man betake himself during the hours of slumber? The Palæolithic man watched his sleeping brother, who appeared to him as practically dead–dead, at least, to perception and the realities of life. Something seemed to have escaped the sleeper; the real, vital, and vivifying element had temporarily departed from him. From his own experience the puzzled savage knew that life did not cease with sleep, for in a more shadowy and unsubstantial sphere he re-enacted the scenes of his everyday existence. If the man during sleep had experiences in dreamland or in distant parts, it was only reasonable to suppose that his ego, his very self, had temporarily quitted the body. Grant so much, and you have two separate entities, body and soul, similar in appearance because the latter on the dream plane exercised functions identical with those of the former on the corporeal plane.
The Wandering Spirit.
But prehistoric logic did not stop here. So much premised, it extended its soul-theory to all animate beings, and even to things inanimate. Where, for example, did the souls of men go after death? Their bodies decayed, so it was only reasonable to suppose that they cast about them for other corporeal media. Failing their ability to enter the body of a new-born infant, they would take up their quarters in a tree, a rock, or any suitable natural object, and the terrified savage could hear their voices crying down the wind and whispering through the leaves of the forest, possibly clamoring or entreating for that food and shelter which they could not obtain in their disembodied condition. All nature, then, we see became animate to early man, and not less so to the early Egyptian than to others. But his hunting life had made prehistoric man exceptionally cunning and resourceful, and it would soon occur to him–in what manner we do not presume to say, as the point greatly requires elucidation–that we might possibly make use of such wandering and masterless spirits as he knew were close to his call. In this desire, it appears to me–if the statement be not a platitude–we have one of the origins of the magic of wonder, and certainly the origin of spiritism. Trading upon the wish of the disembodied spirit to materialize, prehistoric man would construct a fetish either in the human shape or in that of an animal, or in any weird presentment that squared with his ideas of spiritual existence. He usually made it of no great dimensions, as he did not believe that the alter ego, or soul, was of any great size. By threats or coaxings he prevailed upon the wandering spirit–whom he conceived as, like all the dead, cold, hungry, and homeless–to enter the little image, which duly became its corporeal abode, where its lips were piously smeared with the blood of animals slain in the chase, and where it was carefully attended. In return it was expected, by dint of its supernatural knowledge, that the soul contained in the fetish should assist its master or coadjutor in every possible way.
Coercing the Gods.
Egyptian magic differed from most other systems in the circumstance that the native magician attempted to coerce certain of the gods into action on his behalf. Instances of this elsewhere are extremely rare, and it would seem as if the deities of Egypt had evolved in many cases from mere animistic conceptions. This is true in effect of all deities, but at a certain point in their history most gods arrive at such a condition of eminence that they soar far above any possibility of being employed by the magician as mere tools for any personal purpose. We often, however, find the broken-down, or deserted, deity coerced by the magician. Of this class Beelzebub might be taken as a good example. A great reputation is a hard thing to lose, and it is possible that the sorcerer may descry in the abandoned, and therefore idle, god a very suitable medium for this purpose. But we find the divinities of Egypt frightened into using their power on behalf of some paltry sorcerer even in the very zenith of their fame. One thing is of course essential to a complete system of sorcery, and that is the existence of a number of spirits, the detritus of a vanished or submerged religion. As we know, there were numerous strata in Egyptian religion–more than one faith had obtained on the banks of the Nile, and it may be that the worshippers of the deities of another as magical on the first introduction of a new system; in fact, these may have been interchangeable, and it is possible that by the time the various gods became common to all the practice had become so universal as to be impossible of abandonment.
If our conclusions are correct, it would seem that Maspero’s statement that magic is the foundation of religion is scarcely consonant with fact. We have seen that at least the greater part of barbarian magic so–called–that is, sympathetic magic–is probably not of the nature of magic at all, so that the scope of his contention is considerably lessened. Budge’s dictum that the magic of every other nation of the ancient East but the Egyptian was directed entirely against the powers of darkness, and was invented to frustrate their fell designs by invoking a class of benevolent beings, is so far an error in that the peoples of the ancient Orient invoked evil beings equally with good. At the same time it must be admitted that Egyptian magic had much more in common with religion than most other magical systems, and this arose from the extraordinary circumstances of the evolution of religion on Egyptian soil.
EGYPTIAN OCCULTISM AND SYMBOLISM
Of all civilizations known to us through history, that of ancient Egypt is the most marvellous, most fascinating, and most rich in occult significance: yet we have still much to discover, and although we have the assurance of Herodotus that the Egyptians were “beyond measure scrupulous in all matters appertaining to religion,” the ancient religions–or such fragments as survive–appear at first glance confusing and even grotesque. It is necessary to remember that there was an inner as well as an outer theology, and that the occult mysteries were accessible only to those valiant and strenuous initiates who had successfully passed through a prolonged purification and course of preparation austere and difficult enough to discourage all save the most persistent and exalted spirits.
It is only available to us to wander on the outskirts of Egyptian mythology. The most familiar symbolic figures are those of Isis the moon goddess, traditional queen of Egypt, and Osiris her husband; and when we read that Isis was the sister, wife, and mother of Osiris we must seek the inner meaning of the strange and impossible relationship. It has been lucidly explained by Princess Karadja in her King Solomon: a Mystic Drama, 1912, pp. 130 to 131:
“Originally the dual souls are part of the same Divine Ego. They are golden fruits upon the great Tree of Life: ‘male and female He created them.’
Isis is the Sister of Osiris because she is of Divine origin like himself, and is a sprit of equal rank.
She is his Wife, because she alone can fill his highest cravings.
She is his Mother because it is the mission of Woman to restore Man unto spiritual life.”
How Osiris was slain by his brother Typhon–or Set–the spirit of evil, and dismembered into fourteen fragments which were scattered and bidden by the destroyer; how Isis, widowed and broken-hearted, sought patiently until she found each fragment, and how Horus her son when he grew to manhood challenged and conquered Typhon–all this is the figurative rendering of the eternal battle between light and darkness.
Typhon or Set symbolises autumn, decay, and destruction, Osiris springtime, light, and the fertilizing and growing powers of nature. Isis is typified in many forms, but was especially revered as the goddess of procreation, universal mother of the living, and protectress of the spirits of the dead. Her symbol was the cow, and she is usually depicted wearing cow’s horns, and between them the orb of the moon.
But more ancient and more exalted than Osiris was Ra, the sun god, whose worship was blended with that of Isis and her husband and son. The priests of Ra established a famous temple at Heliopolis, and founded a special system of solar worship. Just as the Emperor Constantine subsequently fixed as saints’ days in the Christian church the days which had been dedicated to the ancient pagan gods, so the priests of Ra adapted their cult to the tastes and notions of the people, and a whole company of subordinate gods figured in the religions of lower Egypt for many centuries. Sometimes divine virtues were portrayed in very material forms.
Between 4000 and 2000 B.C., the worship of Amen, or Amen Ra, as the greatest god of the Egyptians, was established at Thebes, which became the centre of religious teaching. The priests grew more and more powerful until finally the high priest of Amen–whose name means the “hidden one”–became the king of upper Egypt. Amen was regarded as the creator, with all the power and attributes of Ra the sun god, and as ruler of the lesser gods.
It has been asked why the Egyptians, who had no belief in a material resurrection, took such infinite trouble to preserve the bodies of their dead. They looked forward to a paradise in which eternal life would be the reward of the righteous, and their creed inculcated faith in the existence of a spiritual body to be inhabited by the soul which had ended its earthly pilgrimage; but such beliefs do not explain the attention bestowed upon the lifeless corpse. The explanation must be sought in the famous Book of the Dead, representing the convictions which prevailed throughout the whole of the Egyptian civilization from pre-dynastic times. Briefly, the answer to our question is this: there was a Ka or double, in which the heart-soul was located; this Ka, equivalent to the astral body of modern occultists, was believed to be able to come into touch with material things through the preserved or mummified body. This theory accords with the axiom that each atom of physical substance has its relative equivalent on the astral plane. It will therefore be understood how, in the ancient religions, the image of a god was regarded as a medium through which his powers could be manifested. “As above, so below”; every living thing possessed some divine attribute.
Faith in prayer was an essential article of the Egyptian religion, and the spoken word of a priest was believed to have strong potency, because it had been the words of Ra uttered by Thoth which brought the universe into being. Amulets inscribed with words were consequently thought to ensure the fulfilment of the blessing expressed, or the granting of the bliss desired.
The Book of the Dead was not only a guide to the life hereafter, wherein they would join their friends in the realms of eternal bliss, but gave detailed particulars of the necessary knowledge, actions, and, conduct during the earthly life to ensure a future existence in the spirit world, where everlasting life was the reward of the good and annihilation the fate of the wicked, thus showing that the belief in the existence of a future life was ever before them. Various qualities, though primarily considered a manifestation of the Almighty, were attributed each to a special god who controlled and typified one particular virtue. This partly accounts for the multiplied numbers of the Egyptian gods, and with the further complications that resulted from invasions and the adoption of alien beliefs, the religious philosophy of Egypt is not easy to follow, and is often seemingly contradictory; but when we take into consideration the vast period during which this empire flourished it is natural that the external manifestations of faith should have varied as time went on.
A knowledge of life, death, and resurrection of Osiris is assumed, and his worship in association with Isis and Horus although not necessarily under these names, is continuous. Horus is frequently alluded to as the god of the ladder, and the mystic ladder seen by Jacob in his vision, and the ladder of seven steps known to the initiates of Egypt, Greece, Mexico, India, and Persia will be familiar to all students of occultism.
Throughout the whole of the Egyptian civilization, which lasted for at least 6000 years, the influence and potency of amulets and talismans was recognised in the religious services, each talisman and amulet having a specified virtue.
Certain amulets not only were worn during life, but were even attached to the dead body. They are described in the following notes
The Crux Ansata, or Ankh, was known as the symbol of life, the loop at the top of the cross consisting of the hieroglyphic Ru (O) set in an upright form, meaning the gateway, or mouth, the creative power being signified by the loop which represents a fish’s mouth giving birth to water as the life of the country, bringing the inundations and renewal of the fruitfulness of the earth to those who depended upon its increase to maintain life. It was regarded as the key of the Nile which overflowed periodically and so fertilized the land.
It was also shown in the hands of the Egyptian kings, at whose coronations it played an important part, and the gods are invariably depicted holding this symbol of creative power; it was also worn to bring knowledge, power, and abundance. Again, it had reference to the spiritual life for it was from the Crux Ansata, or Ankh, that the symbol of Venus originated, the circle over the cross being the triumph of spirit, represented by the circle, over matter, shown by the cross.
The Menat, were specially dedicated to Hathor, who was a type of Isis, and was worn for conjugal happiness, as it gave power and strength to the organs of reproduction, promoting health and fruitfulness. It frequently formed a part of a necklace, and was elaborately ornamented; No, 4 from the British Museum, is a good specimen, the cow being an emblem of the maternal qualities which were the attributes of the goddess, who stood for all that is good and true in wife, mother, and daughter.
The Two Plumes, are sun amulets and the symbols of Ra and Thoth, the two feathers being typical of the two lives, spiritual and material. This was worn to promote uprightness in dealing, enlightenment, and morality, being symbolical of the great gods of light and air.
The Single Plume, was an emblem of Maat, the female counterpart of Thoth, who wears on her head the feather characteristic of the phonetic value of her name; she was the personification of integrity, righteousness, and truth.
The Cartouche, or Name Amulet, was worn to secure favor, recognition, and remembrance, and to prevent the name of its wearer being blotted out in the next world. This is a very important amulet, as the name was believed to be an integral part of the man, without which his soul could not come before God, so that it was most essential that the name should be preserved, in order, as described in the Book of the Dead, “thou shalt never perish, thou shalt never, never come to an end,” the loss of the name meaning the total annihilation of the individual.
The amulets of the Angles and the Plummet, were symbols of the god Thoth, and were worn for moral integrity, wisdom, knowledge, order, and truth. Thoth was the personification of law and order, being the god who worked out the creation as decreed by the god Ra. He knew all the words of power and the secrets of all hearts, and may be regarded as the chief recording angel; he was also the inventor of all arts and sciences.
Bes, shown in Illustration No. 11, Plate I, was a very popular talisman, being the god of laughter, merry-making, and good luck; by some authorities he is considered to be a foreign importation from pre-dynastic times, and he has been identified with Horus and regarded as the god who renewed youth. He was also the patron of beauty, the protector of children, and was undoubtedly the progenitor of the modern Billiken.
The Tat held a very important place in the religious services of the Egyptians, and formed the centre of the annual ceremony of the setting-up of the Tat, a service held to commemorate the death and resurrection of Osiris, this symbol representing the building-up of the backbone and reconstruction of the body of Osiris. In their services the Egyptians associated themselves with Osiris, through whose sufferings and death they hoped to rise glorified and immortal, and secure everlasting happiness. The four cross-bars symbolise the four cardinal points, and the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, and were often very elaborately ornamented. It was worn as a talisman for stability and strength, and for protection from enemies; also that all doors–or opportunities–might be open both in this life and the next. Moreover, a Tat of gold set in sycamore wood, which had been steeped in the water of Ankham flowers, was placed at the neck of the deceased on the day of interment, to protect him on his journey through the underworld and assist him in triumphing over his foes, that he might become perfect for ever and ever.
The Heart was believed to be the seat of the soul, and Illustrations Nos. 20, 21, 22, Plate II, are examples of these talismans worn to prevent black magicians from bewitching the soul out of the body. The importance of these charms will be realized from the belief that if the soul left the heart, the body would quickly fade away and die. According to Egyptian lore at the judgment of the dead the heart is weighed, when, if found perfect, it is returned to its owner, who immediately recovers his powers of locomotion and becomes his own master, with strength in his limbs and everlasting felicity in his soul.
The buckle of the girdle of Isis was worn to obtain the good-will and protection of this goddess, and symbolised “the blood of Isis” and her strength and power. Frequently made of carnelian it was believed to protect its wearer from every kind of evil; also to secure the good-will of Horus; and, when placed like the golden Tat at the neck of the dead on the day of the funeral in the soul’s journey through the underworld it opened up all hidden places and procured the favor of Isis and her son, Horus, for ever and ever.
The Tie, or Sa is the symbol of Ta-urt, the hippopotamus-headed goddess, who was associated with the god Thoth, the personification of divine intelligence and human reason; it was worn for magical protection.
The Scarab was the symbol of Khepera, a form of the sun-god who transforms inert matter into action, creates life, and typifies the glorified spiritual body that man shall possess at the resurrection. From the enormous number of scarabs that have been found, this must have formed the most popular of the talismans. The symbol was derived from a beetle, common in Egypt, which deposits its eggs in a ball of clay, the action of the insect in rolling this ball along the ground being compared with the sun itself in its progress across the sky; and as the ball contained the living germ which (under the heat of the sun) hatched out into a beetle, so the scarab became the symbol of creation. It is also frequently seen holding the disk of the sun between its claws, with wings extended, and it is thought by some authorities that the scarab was taken as an emblem of the sun, because the burial of its ball was symbolic of the setting sun from which new life arises with each dawn.
Scarabs of green stones with rims of gold were buried in the heart of the deceased, or laid upon the breast, with a written prayer for his protection on the day of judgment, whilst words of power were frequently recited over the scarab which was placed under the coffin as an emblem of immortality so that no fiend could harm the dead in his journey through the underworld. It is said the scarab was associated with burial as far back as the fourth dynasty (about 4600 B.C.); it represented matter about to pass from a state of inertness into active life, so was considered a fitting emblem of resurrection and immortality, typifying not only the sun’s disk, but the evolutions of the soul throughout eternity. It was also worn by the Egyptian warriors in their signet rings for health, strength, and virility, it being thought that this species of beetle was all males, so that it would attract all. manly qualities, both of mind and body. For this reason it was very popular as presents between friends, many scarabs being found with good wishes or mottoes engraved on the under side, and some of the kings used the back of scarabs to commemorate historical events; one in the British Museum records the slaughter of one hundred and two fierce lions by Amenhetep III, with his own hand.
Next to the scarab, the ancient Egyptians attached much importance to the Eye Amulet, which, from the earliest astral mythology, was first represented by the point within the circle and was associated with the god of the pole star, which, from its fixity, was taken as a type of the eternal, unchangeable as time rolled on, and thus a fitting emblem of fixity of purpose, poise, and stability. Later it was one of the hieroglyphic signs of the sun-god Ra, and represented the one supreme power casting his eye over all the world, and instead of the point within the circle is sometimes represented as a widely open eye. This symbol was also assigned to Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Ptah; the amulet known as the Eye of Osiris being placed upon the incision made in the side of the body–for the purpose of embalming–to watch over and guard the soul of the deceased during its passing through the darkness of the tomb to the life beyond.
It was also worn by the living to ensure health and protection from the blighting influence of workers in black magic, and for the stability, strength, and courage of Horus, the wisdom and understanding of Ptah, and the foresight of Isis.
It was also extensively used in necklaces on account of the idea that representations of the eye itself would watch over and guard its wearer from the malignant glances of the envious, it being universally believed that the fiery sparks of jealousy, hatred, and malice darting from the eyes of angry persons, envious of the good looks, health, and success of the fortunate ones, could so poison the surrounding atmosphere as even to cause sickness, decay, and death; horses were thought particularly liable to this injurious influence, and talismans to avert such a misfortune to them were hung on their foreheads, or over the left eye.
When two eyes are used together the right eye is symbolic of Ra, or Osiris and the sun; whilst the left eye represents Isis, or the moon, and is sometimes called the amulet of the two Utchats; the word Utchat, signifying “strength,” being applied to the sun when he enters the summer solstice about June 22d, his strength and power on earth being greatest at that time.
The talisman of the Two Fingers was symbolical of help, assistance, and benediction, typified by the two fingers extended by Horus to assist his father in mounting the ladder suspended between this world and the next. This amulet was frequently placed in the interior of the mummified body to enable the departed to travel quickly to the regions of the blest. Amongst the ancient Egyptians the fingers were ever considered an emblem of strength and power, the raising of the first two fingers being regarded as a sign of peace and good faith; the first finger being the indicator of divine will and justice and the only one that can stand erect by itself alone; the second representing the holy spirit, the mediator, a symbolism handed down to us in the extension of the index and medius in the ecclesiastical benediction. It is also interesting to note that at the marriage ceremony in olden days the ring was first placed on the thumb, as typical of man’s allegiance to God, and lastly on the third finger of his bride to show that next to God in the trinity, a man’s life should be devoted to his wife.
The Collar Amulet was a symbol of Isis, and was worn to procure her protection and the strength of her son Horus. In both examples the head of the hawk appears, this bird being attributed to Horus as well as to Ra. This collar, which was made of gold, was engraved with words of power and seems to have been chiefly used as a funeral amulet.
The Sma was a favorite amulet from the dawn of Egyptian history, and is frequently used in various forms of decorated art. It was symbolical of union and stability of affection, and was worn to strengthen love and friendship and ensure physical happiness and faithfulness.
The Ladder is a symbol of Horus, and was worn to secure his assistance in overcoming and surmounting difficulties in the material world, as well as to form a connection with the heaven world, or land of light. The earliest traditions place this heaven world above the earth, its floor being the sky, and to reach this a ladder was deemed necessary. From the pyramid texts it seems there were two stages of ascent to the upper paradise, represented by two ladders, one being the ladder of Sut, forming the ladder of ascent from the land of darkness, and the other the ladder of Horus reaching the land of light.
‘The Steps are a symbol of Osiris, who is described as the god of the staircase, through whom it was hoped the deceased might reach the heaven world and attain everlasting bliss.
The Snake’s Head talisman was worn to protect its wearer from the attacks of Rerek, or Apep, the servant of Set, who was typified as a terrible serpent, which when killed had the power of rising in new forms and who obstructed the passage to the heaven world. The serpent, although sometimes assumed to be a form of evil, was generally regarded as a protecting influence, and for this reason was usually sculptured on either side of the doorways to the tombs of kings, temples, and other sacred buildings to guard the dead from enemies of every kind, and to prevent the entrance of evil in any shape or form. It was also placed round the heads of divinities and round the crowns of their kings as a symbol of royal might and power, being one of the forms or types of Tem the son of Ptah, who is thought by some authorities to have been the first living man god of the Egyptians, and the god of the setting sun (in contrast to Horus, who was the god of the rising sun). Tem was typified by a huge snake, and it is curious to note in connection with this that amongst country folk at the present day there is a popular belief that a serpent will not die until the sun goes down.
The Sun’s Disk talismans are symbols of the god Ra, No. 45 being appropriately placed upon the head of a ram, the symbol of the zodiacal house Aries, in which sign the sun is exalted. It was worn for power and renown, and to obtain the favors of the great ones, being also an emblem of new birth and resurrection.
The Frog talisman was highly esteemed, and is an attribute of Isis, being worn to attract her favors and for fruitfulness. Because of its fertility its hieroglyphic meaning was an immense number. It was also used as a symbol of Ptah, as it represented life in embryo, and by the growth of its feet after birth it typified strength from weakness, and was worn for recovery from disease, also for health and long life, taking the place sometimes of the Crux Ansata or Ankh, as a symbol of life.
The Pillow was used for preservation from sickness and against pain and suffering; it was also worn for the favor of Horns, and was placed with the dead as a protection and to prevent violation of the tomb.
The Lotus is a symbol with two meanings. Emblematical of the sun in the ancient days of Egypt and typifying light, understanding, fruitfulness, and plenty, it was believed to bring the favors of the god Ra. Later it is described as “the pure lily of the celestial ocean,” the symbol of Isis, who is sometimes alluded to as “the white virgin.” It became typical of virginity and purity, and having the double virtue of chastity and fecundity it was alike prized for maiden- and motherhood.
The Fish talisman is a symbol of Hathor–who controlled the rising of the Nile–as well as an amulet under the influence of Isis and Horus. It typified the primeval creative principle and was worn for domestic felicity, abundance, and general prosperity.
The Vulture talisman was worn to protect from the bites of scorpions, and to attract motherly love and protection of Isis, who, it was believed, assumed the form of a vulture when searching for her son Horus, who, in her absence, had been stung to death by a scorpion. Thoth, moved by her lamentations, came to earth and gave her “the words of power,” which enabled her to restore Horus to life. For this reason, it was thought that this amulet would endow its wearer with power and wisdom so that he might identify himself with Horus and partake of his good fortune in the fields of eternal bliss.
It is, of course, difficult and futile to speculate as to the extent of the influence these Egyptian amulets and talismans exercised over this ancient people, but in the light of our present knowledge we feel that the religious symbolism they represented, the conditions under which they were made, the faith in their efficacy, and the invocations and “words of power” which in every case were a most essential part of their mysterious composition makes them by far the most interesting of any yet dealt with.
Gnosticism is the name given to a system of religion which came into existence in the Roman empire about the time Christianity was established; it was founded on a philosophy known in Asia Minor centuries previously and apparently based upon the Egyptian beliefs, the Zendavesta, Buddhism, and the Kabala, with their conception of the perpetual conflict between good and evil.
The name is derived from the Greek Gnosis, meaning knowledge, and, in brief, the gnostics’ belief was that the intellectual world, with its spirits, intelligences, and various orders of angels were created by the Almighty, and that the visible matter of creation was an emanation from these powers and forces.
The attributes of the Supreme Being were those of Kabala:–Wisdom–Jeh; prudence–Jehovah; magnificence–El; severity–Elohim; victory and glory–Zaboath; empire–Adonai; the Gnostics also took from the Talmud the planetary princes and the angels under them.
Basilides, the Gnostic priest, taught that God first created
- Nous, or mind; from this emanated
- Logos, the Word; from this
- Phronesis, Intelligence; and from this
- Sophia, Wisdom; and from the last
- Dynamis, Strength.
The Almighty was known as Abraxas, which signifies in Coptic “the Blessed Name,” and was symbolized by a figure, the head of which is that of a cock, the body that of a man, with serpents forming the legs; in his right hand he holds a whip, and on his left arm is a shield. This talisman is a combination of the five emanations mentioned above: Nous and Logos are expressed by the two serpents, symbols of the inner sense and understanding, the bead of the cock representing Phronesis, for foresight and vigilance; the two arms hold the symbols of Sophia and Dynamis, the shield of wisdom and the whip of power, worn for protection from moral and physical ill.
The Gnostics had great faith in the efficacy of sacred names and sigils when engraved on stones as talismans; also in magical symbols derived principally from the Kabala.
One of the most popular inscriptions was Iaw (Jehovah), and in Illustration No. 52, Plate IV, this is shown surrounded by the serpent Khnoubis, taken from the Egyptian philosophy, representing the creative principles, and was worn for vitality, understanding, and protection. The seven Greek vowels symbolized the seven heavens, or planets, whose harmony keeps the universe in existence, each vowel having seven different methods of expression corresponding with a certain force, the correct utterance of these letters and comprehension of the forces typified being believed to confer supreme power, bringing success in all enterprises and giving complete control over all the powers of darkness.
Illustration No. 54, Plate IV, is an example of the use of the magic symbols, the meaning of which has been lost. It is probably a composition of the initial letters of some mystical sigil, enclosed by a serpent and the names of the arch-angels Gabriel, Paniel, Ragauel, Thureiel, Souriel, and Michael. It was worn for health and success; also for protection from all evils, and it is cut in an agate and set in a gold mount.
A figure of a serpent with a lion’s head, usually surrounded with a halo, was worn to protect its wearer from heart and chest complaints and to drive away demons.
The mystic Aum, already described in the chapter on Indian talismans, was also a favorite with the Gnostics, and equally popular was a talisman composed of the vowels Ι Α Ω, repeated to make twelve, this number representing the ineffable name of God, which, according to the Talmud, was only communicated to the most pious of the priesthood. They also adopted from the Egyptians the following symbols: Horus, usually represented seated on a Lotus, for fertility; Osiris, usually in the form of a mummified figure, for spiritual attainment; and Isis for the qualities mentioned in the previous chapter.
“Etudes de Mythologie et d’Archéologie Egyptienne;” Paris, 1893.